She lay as still as she could on the mattress on the floor. Pain. Pain. There was nothing here for the pain. In her mind she was running through a list of things she would never do again. Walk. Stand up. Run. Not in any order. Cook a meal. Go to the toilet unaided.
She had made him put the mattress down on the floor. She thought now it was a bad idea. She would never be able to get up from here. There would be no sleep. On the other hand she had been able to heft herself onto the mattress on the floor and she simply had not fancied being lifted up and carried to the bed by him.
The first few days had been difficult. But she had food then. There was no food now. She could see the increasing concern on the monitor, his monitor. She couldn’t focus on that. She needed a plan. Her plan had been, as she remembered from so long ago, not to spend her old age like this. Not to die on a floor alone. She had planned proper retirement in a proper retirement home with a garden and lawn bowls. Not this gritty, resentful, dirty existence. Nonetheless she thought now it had all served a purpose. Pain, searing pain. Hunger. She thought that she had achieved what they wanted. There was a point to it. Maybe, after all. Nonetheless even though she had contemplated this end for awhile, she was not ready for it. She was not certain that if faced with the prospect of taking her own life she could do it. It would be useless to command him to do it.
She just hoped they would come in time. It would be nice to have a conversation with another living human. A proper conversation, it had been some time. The most she had done for the past several years was barter for food. They had no interest in her except as a means of income. She was a curiosity. They knew she was clever. Thought maybe she was evil, a witch, a sorceress. Nonsense, with no science behind it. She had no doubt they were waiting for her to die. Then they would come and take everything. This heartened her a little. Pain. Searing pain. Civilisation she thought, had not sunk so low that they would attack and steal from an unarmed old lady. Perhaps they knew she was not defenceless. Perhaps they knew about him. Perhaps they would come if they could see her on the floor now.
So much pain. She felt she had been barking orders all morning. He was good, kind, caring, but a machine. She knew all of it was just programming. Kindness, programmed in. Thank goodness for decent programming and for programming decency, hadn’t that been the slogan of Christian Bots International, a life time ago. If only god could see humanity now. That’s why he, the machine would also be useless in a fight. He would harm no one. She had to rely on herself for any defence.
She could live with the pain really, it was the hunger that was difficult. She was sweating. Cold. Hot. Cold. Hungry. In pain. There was nothing for it, she would have to send him to get food. That would be difficult. She knew someone might come. She had made him transmit the signal. They would be unlikely to bring her food. They were coming to take not to give. The most she could hope for was a mercifully quick end. And she wanted to eat before that end.
She tried to calm herself, to think of what she might give him to take, that would be so valuable that they would barter with him. She had a lot of stuff even now. She had some of their money but that would be useless. She would need to give them something they could use. She racked her brain, tried to be calm. She was certain her hip was broken. She could almost feel the bits floating around inside of her pelvis. It had always been her worst fear.
She was old, poorly fed and living was hard here. She knew it would happen and in a way she was glad it had happened here at home. Upstairs too, which was even more of a bonus. It would have been so much worse out there alone. Here she could just wait. In fact it had been positively fortuitous, although she suspected the person slowly making their way across the sea to her didn’t feel that way. That is if they were coming, and she was not sure they were. They had to, she told herself, had to. Hot. Cold. Hunger. Pain. She got him to wipe the sweat from her. He would need to go outside soon and stand in the sun to recharge. Marvellous machine that he was. Charged by the sun. They couldn’t do that anymore. That was gone. Past.
It hadn’t even been a hard fall. She suspected she had been lying to herself for sometime about how fit and healthy she was. She was probably fragile and had been for a while. She wondered really that the villagers had not come sooner. She would have to rely on magic tricks to frighten them away if they came now. Pain. Hunger. Cold. Hot. Cold again. She needed food.
She needed a clear mind, hunger and pain. Pain and hunger. She had been through worse. Had she? She could not remember when. Finally she settled on the torch, the little gold torch. It came on when you pressed the end but you had to keep pressing it. She hoped it still worked. She only needed it to work once, long enough to get her food. She sent him to get it. Told him how it worked.
Told him she needed food. Sent him reluctantly out the door. She could see he was afraid. Told herself he was a machine and that was programmed fear, not real fear. Not the fear she was feeling somewhere lurking between the heat and cold, the hunger and pain. Fear, coiled deep inside like a snake hibernating, waiting for the right occasion to leap out and strike her down. She must keep that under control. Let the snake sleep on. There is no danger here. The danger has passed. The end is inevitable.
She would never have sent him if she wasn’t desperate. She wasn’t even sure after all this time if they would recognise what he was. He looked relatively human. She only wanted bread. She had no need of the torch and maybe they could use it. She didn’t care. She had bartered with them for years but felt no affinity for them. No affection. Poor stupid creatures living in the darkness, never seeking out the light anymore. Paying the price for the past but never gambling that the future could be salvaged. That’s what she was doing here. Gambling that someone out there could salvage the future.
She heard the door close as he left. There was nothing now but to lie and wait. It needed to be near dark to demonstrate the torch. She knew the possible consequences, these were the remnants of society. They had no love of machines. Hadn’t machines got them here? Some small outpost in the darkness, clinging on to life, whilst all around them the sea crept in and the animals got bigger, stronger, hungrier. The villagers might just tear him to pieces and what then. She would die alone here and the thing, the thing she most needed to pass on would stay here with her. He was the transmitter, sending the signal. Why on earth had she stayed here. Why hadn’t she gone on. Questions she couldn’t answer. This had been home. She had been injured, healed, couldn’t go on. Her family were buried somewhere here. All those things seemed to matter at the time. And at the time, it had been hers and hers alone and she had the knowledge.
Now none of those things mattered and someone travelled across the sea, risking life and limb for a small piece of technology she would gladly have given over years ago. It was a stupid thing to have done.
Pain. Hunger. She could deal with one but not both. Hot. Cold. Hot again. She was sure she was fading.
It was long after dark when she heard the door open. He came up the stairs. He had bread. He fed her tenderly and slowly. She was grateful. He sat down beside her, crossing his legs in that vaguely mechanical way. It was comical, they had made a robot able to cross its legs because it was a position that made humans feel at ease. All that engineering so people could feel at ease. It hadn’t worked.
‘What happened?’ she savoured the bread, aware it could be her last ever food. It was a big round loaf. It would last her a day or two.