“Folks comes by ever so often.” The old man motioned toward the parking lot, empty save for my utility shuttle. “Trains, though — ” He shook his head and paused a long time before continuing. “Ain’t been no trains for years.”
“It’s been twenty years, sir.”
He looked at me for the first time since we met at the station door. “I reckon you’d know. Your kind seem to know it all. Robots visit sometimes. Not often. Better things to do, I reckon.”
“We’re just folks, Mr. Lee. And not robots. Androids are different.” I resisted the urge to explain further. Undoubtedly, he’d heard it all before.
He turned away. “I’d offer you some lemonade, but talking tin boxes ain’t got no use for such foolishness.” His gaze lingered on the forested ridge on the far side of the tracks. “Deer come down at night sometimes. I like to watch ’em. Ain’t shot one in years and years. I miss the taste of venison.”
“I know.” I gripped the arm of my chair and thought of venison fried in a skillet along with sliced potatoes. I shut down my visual receptors for a moment and tried to remember the smell of fire, the taste of animal flesh. No good. My memories were indistinct as wood smoke. The wood under my metal and plastic hand felt like any other hard surface.
“Why have you come?” He already knew, of course. The station was no longer of any use, save as an artifact of a bygone age. Few cared much about history. The young were too busy living and training. Those of us who have made the transition from organic to android avoid the past as much as possible. We don’t need to be reminded of the price paid for practical immortality.
“The station, Mr. Lee. It has to come down. This whole area is a reserve now. A sanctuary for wildlife.”
“Whole world’s gonna be a reserve soon. You got reserves for everything, ‘cept people. Pretty soon there ain’t gonna be nothin’ but wildlife sanctuaries and metal people. What are us real folks to do? This station is all I got.”
“I’m as real as — ” I broke off, realizing the stupidity of what I’d started to say. Human, I am, but not human in the way I was before. God knows, organics throw it in my face often enough. “The Parks Service will relocate you, sir.”
Mr. Lee laughed and sat down in a chair next to mine. “Only relocation I need is across the tracks, son. Next to my Ginny.”
Ginny? A quick data search revealed the name of his wife. Arletta. Two boys, both dead. No Ginny.
He chuckled, correctly interpreting my silence as confusion. “Ginny was my dog. A Sheltie. Lived near sixteen years. I laid her to rest on top of that bare knob across the way. Figured I’d have my ashes scattered there.”
I thought of a dog. Nothing special. Just a mutt my father brought home from a shelter. Gentle eyes. Smart as hell. “I had a dog once. She died.”
I remembered light slanting in through two tall windows, a long leather couch. I was reading a book. Spook lay beside me. In memory I saw her plain, but there was no warmth against my hip, no touch of cold nose to my hand. The vision softened and went away.
“Dogs are good people,” said the old man. “Better’n most.”
“Yes.” My voice cracked, as if I had something in my throat. Hard-wired emotional circuitry. I no longer have a throat.
“Everything dies,” said Mr. Lee. He sounded sympathetic. “It’s sad when they go, but we got our memories. I think of Ginny ever day.”
I stood up, walked to the door. “You have two weeks, Mr. Lee. Be ready.”
He didn’t say anything. Just came to the door and watched me leave. I fully expected to hear that he had killed himself, but it didn’t happen. He was moved to a relocation camp just outside the reserve. Two weeks later we tore out the tracks and removed all traces of the station.
I kept track of Mr. Lee for reasons I didn’t care to examine. Six months after he was forced to leave the station, he died. His remains were cremated. It’s the law and what he wanted anyway.
The mortuary clerk was unexpectedly difficult. “I can’t hand over cremains to just anyone. We have rules.” She consulted her comp. “Mr. Lee was a veteran. He’ll go into one of the mausoleums set aside for them. That way, if his family ever wants to find him…” She shrugged.
“There is no family. Didn’t he make a special request?”
The woman laughed. “They all make requests. We got rules.” In spite of her words, she looked back at the display, scrolled down a few lines. “He asked for his ashes to be scattered — there are grid coordinates.”
I checked the coordinates, though I knew the location already. “Tell you what. Send half the cremains to the mausoleum. Give me half to scatter on that hill.”
She had rules, but she also had a heart. My actions were those of a person who remembered what that was like.
It was a month before I could rent a flitter and deliver Mr. Lee to Ginny. After scattering his ashes, I stood on that bare knob and tried to think of something to say. Nothing occurred to me. My belief system does not include an afterlife or a concept as foolish as a Rainbow Bridge. I did feel good about carrying out Mr. Lee’s final request.
Androids dream. It’s a programmed impulse designed into our rest cycles. Droids need to clear their minds. After all, our brain patterns are the same ones we had when we were organic. They get cluttered with ephemera. Spook comes to me in dreams.
Not as often as she did when I was real.
JR Hume is an old Montana farm boy who writes science fiction, a little fantasy, some weird detective tales, an occasional poem, and oddball stories of no particular genre.