This story was written for the Reedsy.com prompt “Write about an android just trying to blend in with their human companions.” It is written from the perspective of the robot. People keep telling me about a plot twist at the end, but I am not sure what they are talking about.
Elanor paused before she spoke. Was it time for her to speak? Was that gap for dramatic effect, or was Thomas really done speaking? She ran through 47,329 scenarios in the 20 second silence and before she could insert her reply, she was beat to it by another.
She didn’t understand how they knew it was their turn. They had such a limited processing capacity, and yet with certainty they knew when it was their turn to speak. They did not appear to use the majority of their processing units or as they called them more colloquially called them “brains” to identify key parts of the narrative and verify it against their own memory archives in an attempt to select a similar narrative to repeat in the next interval of silence.
So many different narratives were occurring all around her that her auditory processors were not functioning optimally. The data was being recorded in the order it was received, but was not being sorted by source, and therefore was providing a jumbled, confusing array of words that she could not parse. Stepping closer to the speaker would limit the issue, and allow ideal focusing, but she had been told that degree of separation was unacceptable. They called her a “close talker”, and it took approximately 236 minutes over the course of 4.6 days for her to realize this had a negative connotation.
Following this failure she researched, and found that while humans themselves did not measure it, they all had a sense of the appropriate distance. It was especially fortunate that the research on this topic had given definitive distances depending on the relationship between those speaking.
It did not however help her inability to define relationships. She had, in equal measure, incorrectly determined a closer relationship than existed thereby alienating those to whom she was speaking, and a more distant relationship than was the case, resulting in hurt feelings by those who referred to her as distant and unable to connect.
She struggled with this in all her interactions. When she walked around with her neutral expression, she was told she was unapproachable. One person elaborated that she had “resting bitch face”. She attempted to always walk around with a slight smile, but it was not effective as she hoped. Some said she was “faking nice” and found her inauthentic, while others were inappropriately salacious with her.
The added processing to keep the façade in place, and then also to interpret all the micro expressions, body language, and tones occurring around her was a significant strain. It depleted her reserves far more quickly, forcing her to forgo after work activities to return straight home for her recharging. She sometimes was compelled to spend her breaks alone to reduce stimulation, and maintain her flailing energy levels to see out the day. Her colleagues called her a “snob” as they whispered about her, as if she were not capable of hearing them. That she thought she was so far above them that she need not lower herself to spend time with them. She could tell them the truth, as her research indicated that they would shun her for it.
She compensated as best she could, with pre-constructed elaborate responses for all scenarios. They worked most the time, except when she received an unexpected input. The cashier at the local superstore scoffed at having to repeat the offer three times, but she did not know they had a points card now, and she had not been prepared for the line on inquiry. After a long day of processing, running on fumes, she took longer than was acceptable to formulate a response.
And another opportunity to speak in this social circle was missed, as her focus was drawn to her shoes. They were wrong for this event. They had been so far deemed to fancy for everyday wear, too sexy for the office, and now too plain for the gala. They also were incurring a great deal of pressure in her toes, that would cause significant motor difficulties the following day.
Until one looked down, she was dressed as the others here were. Her dress hugged her curves, even as it restricted her range of motion. She paid extra attention to that which she carried, as dropped items could not be retrieved. The undergarments required for the ensemble sent continuous spikes of information, as they pulled, twisted, and scraped at her body performing their job admirably, but at a high cost. It was a struggle each day to determine what was or was no appropriate given the event, weather, trends, and she was often told that she showed up in the “wrong” attire.
Her hair, it was too complicated to consider, it was never “right”, no matter how much she tried. The texture did not seem to emulate any of those in the video tutorials she observed. It at least made more sense than makeup. Where the natural pigmentation of skin was hidden, and then artificial pigmentation was added to emulate the pigmentation color that was covered. It had to be changed over the course of the day, lest it be too bland or too bold for the time of day. To not wear any was frowned upon, almost as much as wearing it to excess.
Wait, was this it. Was this her chance? “I once got lost in the underground mall, and walked an entire block the wrong direction before I realized. I try to avoid it, but it was -20 out.” She held her breath. Was it a good comment? Was the timing appropriate, the audience? Would they find it implausible, too simple, too obvious? Another woman laughed and made a comment about winter. The topic shifted to the long winter in months, was that a success? She had participated, was that even the goal of this event? She was told to “network” and yet in context it made no sense. Several searches told her nothing in a lot of words. It was something to be spoken around, entire diatribes seemed to be dedicated to the overuse of it and other “buzzwords”.
Should she continue to audit this circle or was it time to “move on” and speak with other people. Thomas was familiar, he spoke in a measured tone, and always clearly annunciated his words. With a glance, she observed the nearest other circle was dominated by Glen.
Glen spoke very quickly, used slang, misused words, and when asked for clarification he often spoke overly slowly, as if he was speaking to a very young child. He had explained to her many times, and with erroneous detail, various aspects of robotics. He would spend hours explaining how her own ideas were actually incorrect. She was not sure how to make him stop. Whenever she gave her own fictitious degree, it had been fabricated by the institute that had created her, as proof of her competency on the subject, he reacted explosively. Perhaps it was better to continue here for a while longer.
She was not sure when she was to leave this event. She had in the past left both too early, and too late. It was only after that she realized that both could cause great offense. After several failed attempts at timing, she had decided to follow Jill. Jill worked in an adjacent department at a similar level, and also had no children or significant other. Jill unfortunately was not here tonight, so she would have to make an estimate. What she had learned over time was that she was to leave after those with young children, and before the single men. No one could explain why, and asking was a taboo.
Another hour passed, and she looked around to see the party was thinning out. It appeared it was time. Now she had to the most difficult of all maneuvers, the graceful goodbye. If she did not say goodbye, others could claim she left earlier or later and attempt to disgrace her at work the following week.
At the same time, announcing your departure was considered to be grandiose and self important. She also had to have a reason for leaving. She would have to reconsider acquiring a pet before her next social gathering, it was an optimum excuse for both parties and going home directly after work. She looked up as she stepped away, and was fortunate enough to accidentally make contact with her boss, who looked at her and then the door. She nodded and he walked towards her. She met him half way.
“Heading out?” He queried redundantly.
“Yes, early morning tomorrow.” She did not elaborate, as excessive detail was considered a sign of falsehood for some reason.
“Ok, see you Monday.”
“See you Monday.” She repeated as even though it was redundant, it was the socially acceptable response.
She left the party, driving to her home. When she arrived, she walked in shutting and locking the door behind her. She then went and checked that the blinds and curtains were shut. She walked to the desk, sat down in the chair, and removed her right ear. She then plugged in the two cables from the desk, the first for data, to upload her day to the institute, and the second for charging. She did after all have an early day tomorrow.
For a look at the reedsy contest take a look here for more prompts. https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/. It runs weekly Friday to Friday!