They were at the kitchen table, tinkering with a toaster; Bobby asked for a tool, and Drew handed it to him.
“Mind you, that’s not an entirely bad thing, having your birthday forgotten, but it means everyone I once knew is dead, or close enough it makes no difference.”
Bobby removed a screw with light, delicate motions. Everything he did was precise and careful. “I remember.”
Drew made a face. “No offense, but you don’t count. You remember everything with that AI brain of yours.”
He’d had Bobby for going on ten years, acquiring updates and improvements as they hit the market, courtesy of the government’s program to provide affordable caregivers to old farts like him. Real people cost too much—the same reason they’d gotten rid of all the “homes”—so androids had taken over the market.
It wasn’t all bad. In fact, most days, it was pretty good. Bobby helped him dress in the morning, made him breakfast, then let Drew lean on his arm for a slow shuffle to the shore. Bobby did the housework and ran any errands, kept him company, and was pretty damn good at cribbage and poker. Drew wouldn’t play chess with him, though; Bobby trounced him every time. In the evening after dinner, Bobby read to him from Drew’s extensive collection of ebooks. They were currently going through Charles Dickens.
“Should I rescind my birthday wishes?” Bobby held out a hand. “Small pliers.”
Drew gave it to him with a hand spotted and vein-gnarled from age. “One hundred is a hell of an age.”
“You don’t sound pleased to have achieved it.”
“I’m not. Everything hurts all the time, and the day I enjoy a good shit is a stellar occasion.” Bobby opened his mouth, and Drew held up a hand. “Stuff it. I don’t want to hear any pithy comments about my bathroom habits.”
Bobby obediently kept what he’d been about to say to himself. While he fixed the toaster, Drew gazed out the window. It faced the bird feeders, which were heavily visited. The kitchen table was one of his favorite places to spend a few hours. He loved watching the birds fly in, dicker over pecking order, feed, and fly out. It was the best entertainment there was. Bobby had to fill the containers, though. Drew could no longer walk and carry seed at the same time, and he sure as hell couldn’t get up on a stepstool to reach the higher feeders.
“We’re going down to the beach after you finish up here.”
“Let’s wait until after dinner. The light will be more soothing then.”
“Nope. We’re going now, and don’t argue. Bring a chair and the ereader. I want to sit and watch the water while you finish Great Expectations.”
“Of course, Drew. It’s your special day, and you should do whatever you like.”
“I damned well will, too.” Latching on to the edge of the table, he struggled to his feet. “I’ll get ready.
Bobby quickly put the toaster back together. “It should perform adequately now.” He glanced at Drew. “Please wait. I will assist you.”
“I’m going to take a piss,” he growled. “Don’t need help for that. Just get the stuff and meet me by the back door.”
It took him long, painful minutes to get to the bathroom and empty his bladder, using walls and furniture for balance there and back again. Humiliating, that’s what it was. He was goddamn sick and tired of the daily struggles to do the simplest things.
Bobby, who would always be thirty and handsome, waited patiently at the door. He could exhibit a wide variety of expressions, and he smiled as Drew finally joined him. “Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be.”
They began the careful trek to the shore. Drew was hungry, but he ignored his gnawing stomach; it wasn’t happy no matter what he did. Eat, don’t eat—all the same lately.
The breeze was light, barely ruffling the water. Across the bay was the city, and he was glad he didn’t live there. Bobby set up a folding chair a few feet from the incoming tide, and Drew sat with a huff. Even sitting wasn’t easy anymore.
Bobby stood beside him, eternally untired, turned on the ereader, and picked up where he’d left off. Drew knew the ending, but he loved the words.
The last chapter of the story unrolled through Bobby’s sonorous voice, and Drew watched the sea and the sky and gave thanks for a wonderful life. One hundred fucking years! Even now, that was considered a big deal.
After Bobby said, “The end,” Drew straightened as best he could. “What time is it?”
Daylight had given way to dusk, which had folded to twilight. Darkness was right around the corner.
“Good enough. Kneel beside me, Bobby.” The android gracefully dropped to the hard-packed sand, well within reach of Drew. “It’s time to say goodbye, old friend. Thanks for your help all these years. Couldn’t have done it without you.”
Bobby appeared to be puzzled. “I don’t understand, Drew. Are you going somewhere?”
“I am. Please let me finish before you say anything.” He inhaled, the air filling only half his lungs. Years of smoking and pollution, what the hell. “My will is in the desk, second drawer on the right. There’s no one left I care about, including an ungrateful son who never calls or writes. Fuck him. Fuck ’em all.” He touched Bobby’s arm, which felt almost human if he didn’t think about it. “I’m leaving what little remains to the company that made you. They deserve it more than anyone else I can think of. You kept me as healthy and sane as possible. No price can be put on that.”
“I don’t like the way you’re talking, Drew. Please stop.”
“Say goodbye, Bobby.”
Frowning, the android said, “Goodbye.”
Drew sat back, satisfied and at peace. “Now kill me.”
“You know I can’t do that. The Laws of Robotics prohibit—”
“That last upgrade? I tinkered with it a bit.” Drew smiled. “I used to be a robotics researcher, did you know? Did it, taught it. I know my goddamn way around a circuit board or two.” He tightened his grip on Bobby’s arm. “Override,” he said clearly. “Bobby, you will kill me now. Choose the quickest, least painful method.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’ve never been more sure of anything. Get on with it. The light’s going.”
Bobby rose. “Yes, Drew.” He placed his hands just so on Drew’s neck and neatly, efficiently, broke it.
“Happy birthday, Drew.”
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