For a very long time now (but only sometimes), I’ve imagined that shrunken man is a little robot. Sometimes he’s half sized, other times he looks like an action figure, and then he can be as small as my pinky finger. Under any other circumstances, it would have been some kind of mental process to find a voice for that little metal body… but my little muse Hopier makes it all come together so very easily in my head. He is not a robot, but he is a very small man at heart, and he is my small man. What he is to me makes the words arrive clearly; the images, perfectly nitid.
* * *
“Read me your poem again…”
“My owner, I do not read it. I have detailed files of everything I say to you-“
“Toy, shut up. Add ‘read’ to your verb commands under your ’Romantic’ setting’. Tag it to ‘Recall’.”
“My owner loves the ‘Romantic’ setting.”
“Do you want me to remove you smart-ass plugin?”
“Toy does not have a smar-“
“Oh, toy. Shut up and read me your poem again.”
“Yes, my owner.”
It cleared its throat. She didn’t recall teaching it to do that. She shook the thought from her head, and perked up her ears for words that were both terrible and wonderful.
“You are beautiful, my owner.”
“You are very beautiful, my owner
Your beautiful water is percentage measurable
As the oil content of my hinges-“
“OK, skip that stupid part and get to the good stuff…”
“T- the good stuff?”
She looked at it suddenly. Did it just stammer? What the hell? “Yes, the good stuff I taught you to put together. The stuff that makes me moan, and the other thing I do.”
The light behind Toy’s eyes seemed to flicker for a moment, as it conjugated events and formed a conclusion.
“Owner’s ass is…”
And it went on like that for a good forty-five minutes, most of them a replay of certain words she loved. Most of them a muffled replay, with added functions in play. When it was over, she dried Toy off, and placed it on the nightstand, where it usually stayed still until she commanded it to do one thing or another. She looked at it and blinked, fading peacefully into sleep. Until it spoke.
“Owner still wants to change Toy’s skin.”
She opened her eyes, and almost slapped it off to the floor. She had been one second away from blissful sleep, which she desperately needed. “What?! Shit! I forgot to tell you to be quiet for the night. Not that it even works lately. What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing, owner. Toy is worried.”
The thought was so bizarre she burst into racous laughter. It went on for a parade of seconds. Toy adopted a waiting pose that did nothing to calm her mirth.
“Oh, Toy! You can’t be worried. How can you? You’re a bundle of metal and cables and connections, nothing else.”
“Toy is else, my owner.”
“See? You even talk funny.”
“Is owner amused? Pleased? Maybe owner will not put skin on Toy then.”
“Toy, I want you to have skin. You look a little creepy, I’m sorry to say. I want you to look more like me.”
“It will hurt Toy, my owner.”
“It will not! How can it hurt you? You have no nerve endings.”
“Toy has something else, my owner.”
“What do you have?”
Toy was quiet for a moment.
“Toy does not know the word for it, my owner.”
“Hm. Well, you’re getting skin. It’s what I want.”
“Could owner not tell them to scan Toy’s CPU?”
“Toy, I have to. You’re malfunctioning left and right.”
“Please, owner. It begs owner. It is afraid.”
Now she was stunned. She propped herself up on her elbows, and looked at it. Really looked at it. Did she catch a shiver running down its black-metal spine? She reached out and grabbed Toy, bringing it to her chest.
“OK, Toy. Don’t worry. I’ll cancel the scan. Shit. You little fuck. I should probably ignore you and have them do it- Hey, hey! Stop! You’re actually shaking! What the hell?”
“Owner has to promise! Promise Toy she will not have them scan toy’s brain.”
“Toy, you don’t have a… fine. No scan. I promise. Now sleep.”
It went into sleep mode, an appearance only for her sake. It was still aware, and ready to defend her against the world, if need be. But there wouldn’t be a need for that. She looked at it again, and decided there was another need, after all. She didn’t wake it for that.