As told by Employee ID 3583002, transcribed by Teo Yi Han
Art provided by America Jones
T minus four days
All the way to work I debated with myself and changed my mind about once approximately every five minutes:
Ask her for a photo together
Don’t do something so ridiculous, please
What do you have to lose at this stage
She is going to stare at me, uncomprehendingly, and it is going to make me feel bad that I’ve done something out of convention that she has not been programmed to respond to, that my behavior is out of human average again.
I tossed the options in my mind one last time; they landed, heads up.
Don’t care, I thought, don’t care what she thinks, don’t care.
Even if she thought me weird, I would still have my photo.
She wasn’t at her usual place when I walked into our shared cubicle. I pulled out my phone and saw that the automatic message notification had been sent much earlier, in the midst of all the flip-flopping of decisions: one of her parts had malfunctioned, and she had been sent back for maintenance.
I didn’t even need to fret over it after all.
Later that morning, I was in the toilet cubicle, staring at the back of the door blankly. Someone was crying softly two cubicles down. Occasional soft sob and hiccup. Not even trying to hide. When I cry in the toilet at work, no sound is allowed to escape from my throat. I stayed still and silent so as not to disturb. I decided if I walked out and saw the person I would ask her, Are you okay? I would offer a hug.
I wondered if it was a colleague I knew.
I waited. The other person waited too. For me to leave.
So I did. I didn’t get to see who she was.
She never cried. Not at work, not ever. I was pretty sure they did not build that function in her. She had seen me cry. Twice. She did not know I was crying because of her. The first time she saw me cry, she silently walked away, got a piece of tissue, placed it on my table, and then resumed working wordlessly.
It must be good to never cry. To never be plagued by the need to cry. To not have this boundless well of unbidden salt water.
T minus three days
There was one last lunch with the whole team. Someone was talking to fill the silence. She wasn’t talking much, but she was listening intently, storing everything away, never to be forgotten. She wasn’t eating, she didn’t have to, but she was accompanying us.
When she first joined our department, she had refused to go for lunch with us. “I do not require biological sustenance for survival,” she had informed us factually. Curtly and coldly, I had thought back then, annoyed. Factually and accurately, I understood later. Then she had ignored us and continued working, while we exchanged looks as we walked away, beings that did require biological sustenance to survive, and breaks to recharge.
There she was, sitting with us, partaking in lunchtime rituals even if she did not see the point of that, listening to our conversations, occasionally even asking questions, not to gain knowledge, but merely to be social.
I cut up the sausage into half-inch slices. Tried to make sure the slices were of the same width, but they were not. Some were thicker and some thinner. Gave up. Dismantled the burrito. Unrolled it carefully. Picked out each cube of peppers one by one. Separated the sliced mushrooms from the scrambled eggs. Cut up the now flat piece of tortilla. Piled a slice of mushroom, a suitable amount of scrambled egg, some cheese onto each piece of tortilla. Topped it off with an uneven slice of sausage. Tried to put the whole thing into my mouth all at once.
Focused on cutting up food, so I didn’t stare at her, sitting next to me, while I left an overly generous amount of space between us, didn’t think about how this was the last time she would be sitting next to me at a lunch table. Kept piling neat piles of food into my mouth, so I didn’t have to talk, so the things that couldn’t be said, would remain unsaid.
When Jasmine left, we held one last team lunch for her too.
Jasmine, who’d taught me everything about the place.
Jasmine, who always had a ready ear to listen to complaints about work, supervisors, other co-workers.
Jasmine, who had a response for every topic.
Jasmine, who partook in numerous in-jokes.
Jasmine, who was not just a work friend, who went out for dinners and weekend brunches too, when she didn’t have to.
Jasmine, who dug the trenches beside me day in and day out and taught me how to look out for the warning signs and friendly fire and how to hide and saved me from an occasional bomb or two.
Jasmine, who told me, right before she left, “You have to get out of here too, okay. This is no place to stay for long. You must find a way out.”
Then Jasmine was gone.
Soon after, they brought her in to replace Jasmine.
(I will admit, this is a revision of history. See, I thought of her as an it, back then.)
I couldn’t stop staring at it when they first brought it in. It looked so much like a real human. Robotics technology was amazing. More productive than any human. No emotions. No need to eat or sleep. Smarter than any human. Brain a processor. Makes no mistakes. Works at twice the speed of an average human.
It would soon outdo me in everything it did.
But all I wanted was a friend. Someone who would offer a hug when things were going terribly at work. Someone who would laugh at the absurdities with me. Not processors and coding that only looked human, no matter how startling the resemblance.
T minus two days
“An android, and a female one no less!” Amy had teased me when she first found out.
Why not, I had thought.
She swiveled her chair over to my desk in the afternoon, and she briefed me, one last time, on her work that I would take over after she was gone.
She was close. Very close. She rested her arm on the armrest of my chair. She was so close, I could almost feel her heat, if I imagined there was any heat radiating from her. Maybe the heat of her processor overheating. Physical distance didn’t mean anything to her. Warmth, skin, blood, the gap between us I felt every inch of acutely didn’t mean anything to her. Things that distracted didn’t mean anything to her. Her focus was pure work, she was smooth efficiency sharpened to a fine tip.
There was so much to memorize. There was too much to memorize. The way they had her hair tied back in a high ponytail. The way her eyes could crinkle when she simulated laughing, head fully thrown back. The way she gestured when she talked, amazingly human-like. The motion of her elegant, slender, well-designed fingers. The almost gleam in her eyes when she talked about something she was almost passionate about. (Do androids have passion, I wondered. Is the dancing spark in her eyes a trick of the light, the blinking lights of a functioning machine, or just the delusion of my mind?) The almost amused look on her face when I attempted to make a joke. The way she looked over, just to catch my eye, in silent agreement. The way she remembered everything. Her analysis and undefeatable ability to break everything down, to unearth every possible option, to calculate everything to an inch of its life. The streams of information coming from her I could never hope to fully remember.
I didn’t have her memory drive, after all.
Even as I was gazing at her, these things were all falling away from me like sand, impossible to grasp at, taunting me over what I would soon be bereft of.
They said you’re not supposed to develop any feelings for androids. Androids were capable of a great deal in the workplace, far exceeding human capabilities. They were, however, incapable of returning any human feelings. This was their advantage here.
These were the things that ran laps in my brain, that I kept carefully hidden away, as she was detailing her work processes to me, so close I could almost touch her. Things that I knew she did not comprehend, that burned all the way down in me. She rattled off facts, figures, grabbed my pen and scribbled on sheets of paper, while I thought about the shape of her calves then beat myself up for objectifying her, and asked myself if it was worse if she had been a real human female, or that she was not.
Her brain did somersaults around me, and all I could do was watch from my seat, mouth agape, give up any hope of trying to keep up, and merely settle for clapping at the display like a trained seal.
During the days, basking in her presence, her steady gaze, the familiar, comforting, constant stream of the rapid but smooth tapping at her keyboard, the soundtrack of office life–the seconds run too fast, days and universes are lost in conversations with her, in the tenor of her voice.
During the nights, where her absence turns everything to abyss, the moments turn into sludge, keep eyelids open, stop time, space, narrow everything down to one recurring thought, drill through skull, squishy brain–the seconds freeze, shatter, sending shards down bloodstreams.
Every moment with her is a stolen moment, that I hoarded greedily, that would never be sufficient no matter how many I collected.
T minus one day
It was easy to retreat to another familiar train of thought, that I should take time off from work for her last day. I had thought about it months ago when it was still feasible, to weeks ago while the window of opportunity was slowly shutting down, and at that point still I thought of applying for medical leave the next day. Tell the doctor, I’m sick to my stomach. I want to throw up.
And it would’ve been true.
“Don’t,” Amy replied. “You have to be there. Till the bitter end. You can’t run away. You have to see it through. Or you’ll regret it in the future.”
“Why,” I asked, even though I knew well why, even though I knew my feet will be rooted.
“Closure,” Amy said simply.
I knew Amy was right. I knew it would also feel amazingly like taking a sharp knife and carving grooves into my arm and watching the blood drip.
I could still fantasize about going to the doctor’s the next day though, spilling woes of a lack of wellness. Not turning up. Not being there for the last day. Not watching everything spin out of control. Not watching the car crash happen to me, in slow-motion, three hundred and sixty degrees angles, shot from above, shot from the front, shot from the sides.
She was away at one last meeting so I used the opportunity to commit her desk to memory. Her desk had always been devoid of personal effects. Not necessary for work. I could see why they would want to introduce her and others like her into the workplace. If someday humans like me were obsolete and replaced by the likes of her, it would be because we were defeated by our useless, cumbersome emotions.
I fought the urge to take a photo of her desk. It was almost empty save for the necessities anyway, and soon it would be completely empty.
Void, like the void she would soon crater in my heart, like the cracks that had started forming when they announced they would soon transfer her to another branch for them to test her capabilities in a different area, for her to build up her repository and storage of information.
She had smiled and agreed pleasantly that she was looking forward to going to a different office and learning new things and picking up new skills.
I looked into her eyes and they were clear, and there was nothing, absolutely nothing behind them, not a flicker of emotion, not a hint of feeling, nothing.
At that moment, it became startlingly clear that despite all our pleasant interactions, all the shared battles, all the camaraderie, all these time, I meant nothing to her. She would not miss me. She would not be sad. She had just been recording everything, without affect. She would leave completely unaffected.
That was how she had been built, had been programmed, after all. The fact evoked envy. I wished I could be programmed that way too.
Not the bleeding mess that took up residence in my ribcage, spread into my brain through the folds, rendered my brain useless.
I turned back to stare at her sparse desk. The smooth planes of wood, the coils of black wires. When they removed her, they were going to remove everything.
Better get used to it. This was going to become the new normal.
But she was still going to haunt my dreams and waking hours.
Do androids dream of electric sheep? Do humans dream of androids? What was the point? Androids would never dream of humans in turn.
I managed to get my photo with her in the end. Oh, how ludicrous it all was. Trying to capture a snapshot, the sentimentality of the moment. To an android, all moments were devoid of significance. All moments merely led to the next, and the next, and the next, in a logical sequence of programmed commands, to continue into infinity if unobstructed.
I had waited till a lull between her rapid bursts of elegant typing. I steeled myself. I posed the question to her.
She looked at me questioningly.
“Here? Now? In the office?”
Something wilted inside of me. I tried to keep my voice steady. “Yes. Here. And now.”
She gave me the look that told me I’ve again done something not in her programming, but she acquiesced in the end.
She moved stiffly next to me and pasted on a smile accommodatingly. I fumbled with the camera on my phone, and took three tries to get it right, growing increasingly nervous.
When I finally got the photo I told her, thank you. She looked at me like she didn’t get it, but she didn’t say anything else as she went straight back to her work, beautiful elegant fingers flying over her keyboard again as though she never paused.
Later when I looked at the photo, I saw that she moved so close to me, we were actually touching. She had closed the physical gap between us completely, only the physical gap.
At the end of that day, I said goodbye to her as I walked past her desk when I left, as I’ve done every evening for the past two years.
“Goodbye,” she intoned automatically, not looking up, gazing intently at her computer screen, processor a million miles away, and probably in a million different directions simultaneously too.
I knew to her, I had been stored away, another insignificant data point out of a million others, never to be retrieved again.
T minus zero
<End of Recording>
Employee ID 3583002 has learned not to fall in love with company made-to-order androids and will spend her spare time on dating sites looking for human males or females to date instead. She has made great strides towards reducing the incidences of alternatively crying and cursing at any complex piece of technology. Please send any potential dating partners (HUMANS ONLY!) her way.
Teo Yi Han is a Singaporean policy analyst with a degree in psychology who struggles with policy writing by day and narrative writing by night. One of her stories won 1st prize in the Singapore 2015 Golden Point Award short story category, and others have been published in Southeast Asian anthologies such as FLESH: A Southeast Asian Urban Anthology and This Is How You Walk On The Moon: An Anthology Of Anti-Realist Fiction.
AJ is an illustrator and comic artist with a passion for neon colors and queer culture. Catch them being antisocial on social media @thehauntedboy.
“A Record of Android M14DA3-Y2015’s Last Week in Headquarters” is © 2018 Teo Yi Han.
Art accompanying story is © 2018 America Jones.