Wild Pistols

A Sci-Fi Short Story written by Carla Ra

Wild Pistols

by Carla Ra

Carla is a scientist by day and a sci-fi writer by night. She is a Brazilian cosmologist (of the quantum kind), mathematician, and historian of science. With her secret identity as a sci-fi author, she likes to speculate on humanity using fantastical, science-based themes.

“Wild Pistols” was first published in Portuguese in a Brazilian sci-fi anthology. The author is also the translator of the English version.

website: www.authorcarlara.com

 

 

The low-frequency hoot lures me from a mile away to this small earth-toned mechanical owl perched on a town’s wooden sign. It reads, “Welcome to Centreville. 578 citizens. 175 robots.” The owl tilts its head in a greeting.

Howdy, owl friend!” I dust myself off, remove my hat, and bow slightly. Hip gears groan with the movement, dried by the dust’s ingress and the desert’s blazing sun. With this many metallic residents, there is likely a place where I can lubricate and, maybe, a place to call home.

The owl hoots.

No,” I answer. “I am not a citizen.” A second hoot, more inquisitive. I explain, “I am not a messenger either. I am a wanderer.” The owl hoots twice more, spinning its head upside-down. “No, I was not programmed to wander. I do it because I want to.”

No hoots this time. I get its confusion. No robot other than myself understands what it means to have desires. No other robot is sentient.

My owl friend directs me to the entrance arch, displaying the town’s name high in between the drawing of two smoking guns. The main road is a dusty street lined by two-story wooden buildings and smaller single-level lodges. Halfway down is a saloon. The name “Wild Pistol” is carved with bullet holes, one word at each side of the front swinging doors. The porch creaks with my weight, and I notice the interior falls silent. I slap dust from my coat and rub the toes of my boots on the back of my leg. It does little to enhance my appearance, but it is always best to try and make a good impression. I step inside, take off my hat, and nod around the room before approaching the counter.

The interior is small and cozy. There are a few tables scattered around and an old spinet piano in one corner. Behind the polished oak bar, a robot bartender waits for my order.

Howdy, cowbot!” I greet it. “I need a can of oil for my gears and a cognac for my motor.”

I can see cowbot recognizes we are of a kind, despite our differences. It is humanoid, like me, but oval-shaped, with silvery bodywork and a single wheel for feet. It cannot speak. I, on the other hand, was designed in the image and likeness of men—average in height, tanned skin, and short light-brown hair.

Cowbot whizzes off to another room, probably to find me oil. While I wait, I stretch my limbs to check which joints need lubrication.

The place is empty, except for a noisy fly and three gentlemen sitting around a stand in one corner. The look of the cards and chips on the table suggests they are playing Faro, although they have not moved since I entered and nodded my greeting. Their eyes are fixed on me. One of them, the most robust man, approaches, caressing his mustache in the same slow rhythm of his steps. The older men at the table—one smaller, one thinner—watch us closely. Their friend rests his right elbow on the counter, shifting his weight to it and crossing one leg in front of the other. Cowbot is back with my oil. The man stares at me while he orders:

Rob, another whisky.”

Rob, the bottender, leaves the cognac and oil before me and hurries to serve the other client.

Coming from far away, pal?” he finally asks.

I have been walking for days, coming from Maintown,” I answer with a smile, as I was programmed to do.

The robust man glances at his friends and back at me.

What do I call you?”

My name is David. I am a sentient robot.”

The raucous laughter coming from the corner draws our attention to the small old man at the table, holding a stack of chips. More than his disbelief, the guffaw shows the lack of many teeth in his mouth. He stands up and comes closer, pointing a staggering finger at me, his right eye almost shut.

You’re no robot!” he wrongly deduces. “And there’s no such thing as sentient robots.”

I am the first of my kind,” I explain.

The men look at each other, grinning. I, too, keep my smile to appear friendly. I do not want trouble.

Tell me something,” the mustache man says, squinting. “Do you think you’re a robot because of this bionic eye of yours?”

I suffered an accident a few years back that left the metallic parts of one arm and one leg exposed. Me being one of a kind, there were no pieces that matched my model to replace them. I had to change some of the parts of my metal skull as well, which left my electronic red left eye unmasked.

These visible robotic parts had to be adapted from other android models because of a setback.”

You fool!” yells the third man from his chair. “A mechanical part doesn’t make you a robot. Otherwise, I’d be one,” he says, stomping his right boot to lift the fringy pants above his knee, showing off his prosthetic leg. “You’re human!”

Their misguided impression is understandable. I am a unique specimen, after all—one achievement considered to be impossible until my creation.

The thin fellow with the mechanical leg knocks twice on the table.

You know what, I’ve heard about you in Dr. Geronimo’s mechanic shop last time I went there for a checkup.” He caresses the exposed cold steel. “You’re the poor soul who suffered that horrible train accident in Southville City. You had brain surgery and woke up thinking you’re a robot.”

The three men burst into laughter, making the bulky man spill his beverage all over the place. Rob wheels around him frenetically, mopping the floor. I pity him. He is a good exemplar of our family.

Poor soul,” laments the toothless old man, now standing beside his bulky friend. “They did a terrible job with your head.” He taps his finger on the side of his right temple.

I drop the smile to explain to my new friends my situation.

I was created by mechatronic Dr. Dirceu Arantes in his mechanic shop in Liechester. His creation, me, an android with a conscience, was overly criticized, and he was accused of ethical breach.”

Dr. Arantes is the only human who ever understood me. I miss his companionship, but I had to flee from his side to spare him from unfair accusations. Now I wander aimlessly. I do not search for meaning because my existence is enough. Being the first of a kind justify my being. The loneliness, however, is bitter. I seek to settle into a community to enjoy life among humans.

I proceed, “Dr. Arantes invented the story about the train wreck to save his career since I, a robot, cannot lie to humans.”

With a skeptical glance at his friends, the old man grabs his belt with both hands, showing off the large buckle with the image of a rooster engraved.

Holy cow!” he says. “The gentleman really believes his story.”

It is the truth, for I cannot lie.”

Why don’t you prove it to us, then?” suggests the heavy man, holding his glass high with a grin on his face that crooks his mustache. “How about a duel? If you’re a robot, you won’t hurt yourself, right?” he teases, laying the left hand on the holster attached to his waist.

His friends cheer at the idea, but I stand by. A duel would be too dangerous for them. Humans cannot match my superior strength, vision, and reflexes. I cannot bet on his safety.

I am programmed not to hurt human beings.” Rob looks at me curiously. The others are still chuckling, sipping their drinks. “You can shoot me?” I suggest. “It would have the same effect.”

Mustache man chokes and spits his drink back into the glass.

Do you want to send me to jail?” he shrieks. “If I killed you, I’d get arrested, dumb bastard!”

I assure you I will not get killed.”

The silence that ensues highlights the dust sparkling in the few beams of natural light piercing the room. The fly buzzes around. Rob sweeps the floor while waiting for new orders.

Why don’t we do it like this,” the man at the table suggests, leaning forward to hide his steel limb. “You accept the duel.” His friends cheer for this idea, but the man raises his hand, asking for silence.

I told you—”

Yeah, yeah. Hear me out,” he interrupts me. “Since you’re a robot,” he pauses and clears his throat before continuing, “you’ll have to miss the shot. After all, robots can’t harm people, as the friend already reminded us.”

The trio looks at each other, and the toothless man comments, “Besides, you wouldn’t have to worry about losing your life. Even if you’re not a robot, you could easily hit this target here.” He points to the bulky man. “He’s drunk as a skunk.” He lets out a loud, gaudy laugh.

Hey!” roars the friend. “I’d never lose to him!” The vigorous objection makes his mustache jump off his face, together with a few droplets of spit.

The man at the table stands up and, again, holds his hand up high. His friends quiet down. “What do you say?”

Three pairs of wide-open eyes stare at me. His suggestion makes sense; it is indeed harmless. One single shot would not damage me and, if I miss on purpose, the human will not get hurt. I think this way I can prove to my new friends I am, in fact, a robot and gain their trust. They might welcome me to the town once they see I’m authentic. It would be nice to call Centreville home.

All right,” I agree. “We can do it. I will not hurt you.”

I can’t promise the same,” jokes the mustache man with a large smile, raising his glass above his head.

The deal is sealed with a united cheer of “Bravo!” and another round of drinks.

Rob, make a contract for the duel,” my opponent orders. “Ah! Too long since my last duel. Be aware, pal, I’m the fastest gun in this town,” he says, slapping my left shoulder.

A drop of oil in my arm, and I am ready to go. The sunset paints the street gold. The toothless man yells a duel is about to take place, and the scarce people outside run to hide. The other friend and Rob watch us through the crack in the saloon’s door. We assume our position.

Three steps and shoot,” instructs the duelist. I nod. The toothless man begins to count.

One.”

I hear ravens cawing in the distance; I must not hit one of them. Now that the count has begun, I think that I should have thought this situation through. There is still the risk I will hurt an unaware bystander by mistake.

Two.”

The wind whistles, blowing from the West. I must adjust my aim slightly to the left to compensate. The safest option is probably to shoot at the ground, between the opponent’s feet, then I will not hurt anyone.

Three!”

Two shots shatter the stillness, followed by birds flapping wings. I stare into my opponent’s eyes. He looks horrified.

Damn you lunatic! You shot my foot!” he screams in pain, hopping on his left leg.

Oh no. I hit him. What did I do? I hurt a human! I feel my chest heat. How did this happen? The wind must have calmed down at the moment of fire. My circuits are overheating. I look down and see that his bullet hit my chest; a rusty-colored fluid gushes from the hole. Something is wrong. I think it hit one of my hydraulic actuators, causing oil to leak. My system is shutting down. The projectile must have damaged my CPU. One of the pistons in my chest probably got broken; there is compulsive pulsation on the left side. I am losing my sight. My legs do not respond to my commands, and I fall to the ground.

Both spectators and Rob lean over me. I see them blurred. They are saying something, but I cannot understand them. Probably the oil messed with my electronic components. I lift a hand to tell them it is not their fault, just a weak spot in my armature. They should check on our other friend. He needs their help more.

My CPU is hot, but the other parts of my body are cold. Is this death? What is death to a robot?

I shall not panic. This is not the end for me. There is always the possibility of restoring the data. I will have a new body, but I will be me. I hope the damage was not too severe. I hope my memory can be recovered. Above all, I hope I can still be sentient after the restoration.

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