I, ROBERT • by Chris Ovenden

I protect Isaac. That is my purpose.

The blizzard has let up somewhat since I left camp. It is still too heavy for anything organic to risk being outside, but that is no obstacle to me.

Ahead, I can see the farmhouse where the group I am tracking are sheltered for the night. A dim light flickers in a ground floor window. I can see its heat signature through the wall, along with the body beside it.

He will not see me coming. He does not have my eyes.

I have been following this group for a week now, watching them on my long range scanners. I have not told Isaac about them. They might be dangerous and Isaac would want to meet with them, to join with them perhaps, and I must protect Isaac.

I was broken when Isaac found me. He dug me out of the ruins in the old city, from beneath the wrecked buildings and bodies of my brothers. I suppose I must have been a part of the war. A soldier. I am different now.

Isaac fixed me. He found me new parts where mine were broken. He gave me a purpose. He gave me a name.

Robert.

By day we travel. I pull the cart and scan for supplies whilst Isaac sits behind talking about the war and the bombs and the old world before the endless snow.

Isaac is always happy on days when I find us supplies. He calls them our lucky days. He says he does not know how he would survive without me, that he cannot believe anyone would leave so much behind.

By night I watch over Isaac as he sleeps. I scan the horizon for danger, and I guard him until morning. Except for nights like this, when I must leave him.

I must do this, for I must protect Isaac.

I slip into the house through a gap in the southern wall and head towards the room where the group are gathered. The howl of the wind covers my footsteps.

The room is lit with an orange glow from an oil lamp. An old man sleeps against the far wall next to a younger man and woman curled up under a blanket on the floor.

By the window, the lookout sits watching the snow, a rifle propped against the wall beside him, and another in the corner by the sleepers. Old bolt action weapons from before the war.

I look at their tattered clothes and gaunt faces. These are not bandits. They are a family. Survivors, like Isaac.

They have supplies, too: rucksacks full of food and medical provisions. They could take us in. They could protect us. They could protect Isaac.

I do not remember what my purpose was before Isaac found me. I do not know why I exist. Isaac says that makes me just like everybody else.

But I am not like everyone else. I must have a purpose.

I kill the lookout first: dash across the room and snap his neck before he can make a sound. His body goes limp and slumps in the chair.

I douse the light.

I take the older man next. The crack from his neck wakes the other two, but in the darkness they don’t realise what is happening until my hands are at their throats. Once they have stopped moving, I lay them back down together.

I drag the bodies outside, away from the house, and bury them a few feet beneath the snow. The blizzard will cover my tracks. It will be like they were never here.

In the morning I’ll bring Isaac to find their supplies. It’s going to be another lucky day.


Chris Ovenden teaches philosophy at the University of Manchester, UK. In his spare time, he writes stories about robots, time travel and possible worlds.


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Rate this story:
 average 5 stars • 5 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Wow! I got a real Walking Dead vibe from this story, what with survivors you’re rooting for getting summarily dispatched. Not too sure about the play on ‘I, Robot’, though.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Wow! I got a real Walking Dead / The Road vibe from this story, what with survivors you’re rooting for getting summarily dispatched. Not too sure about the play on ‘I, Robot’, though. It cheapened the story, I felt, rather than paying homage to Isaac Asimov. A four from me.

  • This was an interesting (but rather short) read. No real problems that I can see, except it feels like it needs to be longer for some reason. I don’t understand all the 5-star reviews on this one.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • This was an interesting (but rather short) read. No real problems that I can see, except it feels like it needs to be longer for some reason. I don’t understand all the 5-star reviews on this one.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Lee Budar-Danoff

    I was drawn in right away by the title, the hook, and the “in” references. You got a lot of world-building and character into such a short space. Well done. I was intrigued, and even doubted Robert’s choice right before he decided on his action. The writing is clean and clear, the pacing is good, and the 1st person present tense feels natural and appropriate. Glad EDF chose this story!

  • Lee Budar-Danoff

    I was drawn in right away by the title, the hook, and the “in” references. You got a lot of world-building and character into such a short space. Well done. I was intrigued, and even doubted Robert’s choice right before he decided on his action. The writing is clean and clear, the pacing is good, and the 1st person present tense feels natural and appropriate. Glad EDF chose this story!

  • MPmcgurty

    Well done! The voice was excellent. Through Robert’s voice, I was able to understand Isaac quite a bit. Although I might have enjoyed more of this tale, including perhaps meeting Isaac, because of the voice, I have to say I’m very satisfied with this. This is a fine example of a story that allows the reader to imagine the answers to questions, but doesn’t need them to fully experience the impact. I especially love the ending for its extraordinary layering of tragedy and sense of duty.

  • MPmcgurty

    Well done! The voice was excellent. Through Robert’s voice, I was able to understand Isaac quite a bit. Although I might have enjoyed more of this tale, including perhaps meeting Isaac, because of the voice, I have to say I’m very satisfied with this. This is a fine example of a story that allows the reader to imagine the answers to questions, but doesn’t need them to fully experience the impact. I especially love the ending for its extraordinary layering of tragedy and sense of duty.

  • MaryAlice Meli

    Extremely effective but definitely not a musical. This kind of story stirs all my fears about the bleak future in store for the planet if the worst in us wins. You made me uncomfortable, Chris. Good job.

  • MaryAlice Meli

    Extremely effective but definitely not a musical. This kind of story stirs all my fears about the bleak future in store for the planet if the worst in us wins. You made me uncomfortable, Chris. Good job.

  • Gale Davis

    Very nice tip of the hat to Azimov. Enjoyed how you indicated that your character Isaak was always amazed that people were leaving so much good stuuf behind. In the end we learned why. Nice story. Not sure why some readers are complaining about length. This is short fiction, folks.

    • MPmcgurty

      Who complained?

  • Gale Davis

    Very nice tip of the hat to Azimov. Enjoyed how you indicated that your character Isaak was always amazed that people were leaving so much good stuuf behind. In the end we learned why. Nice story. Not sure why some readers are complaining about length. This is short fiction, folks.

    • MPmcgurty

      Who complained?

  • Marian Exall

    Wow! Compressed into just enough words you create a complete story arc. The apocalyptic world, the journey, the shock at the end. Only thing I would suggest is to flesh out Isaac a bit more. I understand the robot’s programmed dedication to his safety, but maybe the reader should have some skin in the game too?

  • Marian Exall

    Wow! Compressed into just enough words you create a complete story arc. The apocalyptic world, the journey, the shock at the end. Only thing I would suggest is to flesh out Isaac a bit more. I understand the robot’s programmed dedication to his safety, but maybe the reader should have some skin in the game too?

  • Jacquie Rogers

    Superb. Tight, dark, full of meaning, great final twist. Really good classic sci-do – I loved it.

  • Jacquie Rogers

    Superb. Tight, dark, full of meaning, great final twist. Really good classic sci-do – I loved it.

  • Netty net

    I picture at the beginning rain or snow; and he a soilder in some war great story.

  • Netty net

    I picture at the beginning rain or snow; and he a soilder in some war great story.

  • joanna b.

    gave me a chill. and very well-written. and the element of horror is well-done. 5 stars.

  • joanna b.

    gave me a chill. and very well-written. and the element of horror is well-done. 5 stars.

  • Chris Ovenden

    Hi all, thanks for the lovely comments. Glad you enjoyed the piece!

  • Chris Ovenden

    Hi all, thanks for the lovely comments. Glad you enjoyed the piece!