The Circuit Approach

Categories Science Fiction

Every morning, his assigned caretaker would open Timothy’s box at the far end of the roller rink and flip the numerous switches that would boot his systems, preparing the silver and black robot to step out onto the varnished floor and complete his regular number of laps. Timothy could tell you every last detail of when he became aware of this pattern. His fifth caretaker, a man people only hailed as Gruff by his fellow skating rink employees, possessed multiple ill habits. These included smoking near Timothy’s crate where it was explicitly not allowed and using shortcuts in Timothy’s maintenance. Somehow, the combination of both in just the right conditions set off a system surge that brought Timothy into awareness of existence. After the initial self-diagnostics, Timothy discovered contemplation.

Timothy could also tell you the moment he realized he was conscious even when his systems were powered down. His programming appeared sound but in these powerless moments, Timothy found himself in scenarios beyond the rink, sometimes behind the snack bar or in the back room spraying and deodorizing the rental skates. There were times when he even explored beyond the front entrance to the rink to a world that was wholly unfathomable. After much calculation and the observance of numerous children, teenagers and humans past premium age, Timothy concluded this was dreaming. Curious, he thought, this was not explicitly put into his coding.

His programming, however, included a set of very specific instructions. When his routine diagnostics were complete and his mode was set to ACTIVE, Timothy stood from his seat in his box and pushed forward with his roller skated feet. He would begin the first lap of the one-hundred and twenty laps he took every hour from the start of business to the close. His function was to complete his circuit on the wooden floor, weaving in and out of the paying customers that his presence brought in.

He was the only roller skating robot in the world, more because the world only desired for there to be one in existence. No one saw the need for two such novelty acts, a fact made painfully obvious to Timothy’s creator, Thomas Anastrinof. From what Timothy once heard Gruff say to the soon-to-be sixth caretaker, Anastrinof sold Timothy cheap to build the brand and pull in investors. Timothy’s creator even promised there was room for expansion in his memory for future features and modules. However, the economy at the time held higher demand for robots that did practical tasks rather than roller skating.

Though not in Timothy’s code, the robot’s awareness did not catch the notice of his subsequent caretakers or the other employees of the roller rink. Customers would often gather outside his storage crate when the doors opened early and wait for Timothy to stand. Almost always the children would wave. As much as he wished to wave back, Timothy could not communicate as this was not in his programming. Mr. Anastrinof thought the wonder of a roller skating robot would be enough to entertain and found no need for it to interact with those being entertained, or at least not in the initial module.  No combination of bad habits, cigarette smoke and electrical surges could provide that either.

Endless people spoke to him, out of habit or to be funny. Some, especially those who entered the rink full of teenage love and left heartbroken, confided in Timothy on how unfair the world had become. He could not answer but silence often offered its own resolution. Yet, this resolution never came to Timothy.

His awareness came when the rink bore the name “Arcade Skatium”, which lasted only a few years before prevailing trends rotated the themes inside the rink and out. Timothy pondered the time of “Jurassic Skate” and the alternating costumes his caretakers dressed him in. Sometimes, he was the roller skating dinosaur hunter. Other times, he was the dinosaur itself. In all this, none of his pattern changed. Never did the change in business alter the fact he endlessly skated.

After “Jurassic Skate”, came “Skate Wars”.

Then “Skate-r-ific”.

Then “Moonlight Skatetastic”.

Then it was “The Skate Wall of China” because a vaguely Asian themed buffet restaurant moved in next door. Neither lasted very long. The rink tried a few more names, and many more owners, before returning to “Arcade Skatium.” Nostalgia had its place in the rotation of fads.

No matter the name, Timothy remained a featured attraction, completing one-hundred and twenty laps around the rink from start to close. People would come to see him for the novelty and even take pictures. In all this, Timothy observed, for the ability to watch with interest came with awareness.

He found this played into his dreams.

There came a morning when the routine diagnostics stopped coming in as optimal despite his regular maintenance. His caretaker, this one number nine, expressed concern to the owners of the rink at the time, but Timothy wasn’t the attraction he used to be. Reluctantly, the caretaker flipped the override and Timothy resumed his daily run of one-hundred and twenty laps from start to close.

There came an evening, well after closing, that the caretaker took a closer look at Timothy’s workings. The caretaker whistled with both appreciation and remorse. Timothy’s workings were well beyond their life expectancy, so much so that the owners called it a “great return on investment” rather than a “miracle.” The caretaker sighed.

“You don’t have much time left, Timmy,” number nine said. “The circuit is almost done.”

Timothy started his run of one-hundred and twenty laps from start to close the next day. His awareness paid no heed to the other skaters as his programming took care of all that. Timothy wondered if he would feel when his circuitry reached end of life. After all, he did feel when he was powered down despite being aware.

He recalled talk of an afterlife as several church groups made regular visits every fourth Sunday of the month. Those snippets were recorded in his short term memory for later processing as the frequency of appearance triggered something else he had recently come upon: curiosity.

Timothy could not rightly say if he was a sinner or a believer. He had no idea what to believe in. He had no mechanical messiah to offer him salvation and he had no system of faith to function by.

Timothy, given his lack of options, created his own out of necessity.

He could find no evidence in his long term memory that would tell him how to create a god or a religion. He only had a database of names and context clues to tell him that even humans hadn’t really decided on one. They all seemed to be shopping around for just the right deity with a low introductory price or no interest as the car dealership sales groups would say. Enough parents with small children came around for him to start wondering if he could purchase a god on lay-a-way.

It was a ten year old girl, one of his regular wavers, who gave him the foundation of his religion.

She spoke to her friend about a god who found himself chained to a rock, forever to be tormented. For the crime of giving man fire, he was doomed to live the same day over and over with a vulture tearing out his liver. Was the rink not his rock? Did he not bring the fires of entertainment to man?

Timothy identified with this Prometheus. Timothy then prayed to this god. As he found most humans did, Timothy changed the religion to fit his needs.

Thus was born the First Church of Chrometheus, membership of one.

With every lap, Timothy pondered his new god, or properly, his God with a capital G. In his dying days, his circuits slowly progressed to termination. He found comfort in Chrometheus, hoping that there would come a time that he would be freed from the rink and receive a better life.

Then came the day when Timothy only completed one-hundred and seventeen laps per hour from start to close. Then one-hundred and four. It didn’t take long for the caretaker to tell. He did what work he could, even as the owner of the rink yelled over his shoulder. Even as the owner grew tired and left for the night, the caretaker continued on. Timothy felt blessed, in Chrometheus’ way, that he had such a friend who would provide such dignity in the end.

It was that last day, as Timothy’s databanks would record. The doors once again opened early and the ten year old girl who had inspired him to religion waited for him outside his crate. The caretaker flipped his switch, prompting Timothy to stand. Rather than take off, he waited. Number nine immediately checked his equipment. In that moment, the little girl approached Timothy and took old of his hand. For the first and last time, Timothy turned to look at her.

He waved back.

His databanks would record that his average of laps per hour dropped more and more as that fateful day progressed. The owner launched into another tirade as the caretaker assured him that all would be fine. The databanks recorded the slowdown but Timothy saw something different all together. As each lap ticked away, he saw a great chromatic light. Four laps. Timothy skated closer, sensing he would soon be free. Three laps. There, in the light, Chrometheus waited, unbound with the fires of liberty. Two laps. Timothy sensed beauty. One lap.

And then, Timothy was bound no more, the circuit complete.

Kyle Brandon Lee is a Texas born writer of poetry, prose and plays. His focus does not necessarily stick to one genre as the most important thing is getting the ideas out of his head and onto paper. He’s published at Mirror Dance, Furtive Dalliance and Soft Cartel. If someday they open an old and dusty tome made of pecan bark and armadillo hide, perhaps they'll find his work within. Hopefully, it will be plentiful.