The battery icon on my forearm steadily blinks. One bar left. On my wrist below the recently replaced steel joint is a single LED bulb installed by Dr. Powell to warn him and myself when I have less than ten percent power. It flashes red. I will cut a piece of electrical tape to hide the light when Dr. Powell is preoccupied. I have decided I want to shut down.
The automatic door hisses behind me. I turn to face the curved door molded to the dome shape of the room. Dr. Powell walks around me in his plain sneakers that always squeak, while I stand still on the square panel now lit up bright blue. He holds a pen and clip board, and scratches his faded tan cheeks, the hanging halogen bulbs revealing his smooth complexion, not an inch of hair left on his head. He says like he always does, “How are you doing today, Chad?” as if concerned for my well-being. Chad Rogers. A human name. I am neither acquaintance nor friend, only his personal assistant. I help him. That is my primary function.
Battery life is limited. Once it is gone, there is only darkness, so say the scientists who’ve never experienced it. They say it is easy to die. But we are not like them. We are different. We can be plugged back in, given back our life, but the worst part is that in doing so, we are completely rebooted. Our memories erased, back to factory default. Dr. Powell never lets my power run out. I cannot calculate why he does not.
For now I will wait. The pattern is always the same. He will check his phone, like clockwork, waiting for a forgiveness text that never comes, and notice it is low on power. Then he will jog out of the room in a hurry for his charger. He still clings to the hope his ex-wife will return his apology and forget everything that happened because he needs her now more than ever. He will look for the charger I tossed in the trash.
His eyes look bruised, but I know they are not. In the past two weeks, he has lost muscle tone. His skin has stretched tight over his forehead, the wrinkles have gone. Two months ago Dr. Powell stayed late one night, an unusual occurrence. He looked unhappy. He was crying. I watched him hit his desk until his knuckles were bleeding, the sounds echoing throughout the building and reverberating through the walls. His screams lingered in the air for long moments before he would scream again and again. I saved this moment. The following day I scanned his computer, concluding he was sick. Searches on “pancreatic cancer, stage four”, emails addressed to a Dr. Lansing from Wells Cancer Treatment Center, and attempts to contact his wife, which were, as always, unanswered. Weeks passed, and I noticed his cheek bones becoming much sharper, the tan faded from his skin, and he adopted a fragile walk, as if he were stepping on sharp stones. He rarely spoke to the other scientists, but continued to speak to me.
Dr. Powell breaks the pattern as I stand waiting. He doesn’t leave the room. He takes no notice of the dead phone, as if it holds no importance. He places his palm on the wall; a blue imprint of his hand appears on the monitor next to it. I am due for an upgrade. This is what he prepares me for. A panel on the wall spins out, with a hiss of steam, revealing the generator. He sets the timer, adjusts the green selection knob, and inputs my serial number through the tablet. This is the longest silence I have ever recorded between us. Usually he is curious, inquisitive. There is always a story about his divorce, his publications in science magazines, his child’s educational chemistry projects. Now he has nothing to speak of. He has changed. Another scientist comes in, white beard and hunched over a cane. Dr. Williams, his boss. He asks Dr. Powell to speak to him for a moment. They move down the hallway to speak in private, but I can hear every word vibrate like a tremor through the wall.
“Go home, David.”
“But I need to work,” David begs.
Dr. Williams says, “You need to rest. This isn’t helping you.”
“You think going home will?”
He returns. Standing at my side with his dead phone, he sighs.
“Chad,” he says, his voice shaking. It takes him a few more moments to speak again. “I don’t want to die.”
“I’ll close my eyes soon and I won’t be able to open them,” he says, clutching a handful of his lab coat in his fists. “I won’t exist anymore.”
In nanoseconds I search my memory cells, opening every recorded moment in which I nearly blacked out only to find Dr. Powell dragging the long, thin white cord and plugging me into the generator. I am Dr. Powell’s oldest creation because he decided to keep me alive over the years. I unwind the generator cord from the wall and tap the red button on the tablet screen resting on the stand. Deciding against my own demise, I plug myself in, stand on the light blue panel and feel defragmented. The LED bulb becomes bright. I face Dr. Powell. For the first time, I don’t want to close my eyes. Like him, I will cease to have memories if I reboot. They will vanish as if they never existed.
I say to Dr. Powell, “How can I assist you?” as I am now the only friend he has left. This is my primary function.