I dreamed a dream.
I started to open my eyes. I couldn’t move. I felt stiff as if all my joints were ridden with rust. My vision was hazy as I scanned my environs but the shutters of my eyes eventually adjusted focus. It was an unusually small living room with random household objects scattered about, not too tidy and not too messy. The walls and the ceiling were white with filtered sunlight coming from the tiny glass windows to illumine the room. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until I noticed the object a few feet beside me. It was a robot, not an android but a grey metal robot typically depicted in cartoons and children’s toys – a life-sized one. It seemed dead, with bolts and wires dangling from various hinges, and a cord on its back connected to the electrical outlet. It was being recharged, I assumed.
I tried to take a closer inspection but was held back by something that tied me to the wall. I labored to move an inch and slowly seemed to break loose from what restrained me. My whole body felt heavy as if gravity was pulling unusually strong. Closer, I approached. I was starting to master the weight of my body and the ache in my joints. Now inches away and still fighting the heaviness that weighed me down, I tentatively held out my arm to touch the odd thing. My fingertips finally made contact with cold metal shoulders, then all life – if any – drained out of me. I realized with dread that my arms and fingers were made of iron. I was very much like the thing beside me. I was a robot.
Panic overwhelmed me. I started blacking out but fought against it as I steadied my thin mechanical legs. I started noticing the wires and contraptions dangling from my extremities as I flailed about. I needed to get out! Suddenly, I heard noises from the only door visible to my right – like keys being inserted on a lock. Back to the original position I scrambled and acted dead, which, seemed ironic because I indeed I was.
Footsteps. They were getting closer but I couldn’t risk looking. Whistling. The tune reminded me of the seven dwarves’ song, Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s home from work we go. The tune kept playing on loop in my cube shaped head. The whistling was deafening and the footsteps finally came to halt directly in front of me. I could see human feet, male most likely, as I opened my eyelids a little, or shutters, or whatever I had for eyes. The human pressed a button somewhere and I was switched on like any ordinary machine that’s under control without a will of its own.
Welcome back master. A monotonous mechanical utterance came out of my voice box.
“Back to work you useless piece of metal.” He swore under his breath as he started walking to the back room.
Yes master. I picked a feather duster tucked on a shelf and commenced with cleaning motions. As I moved about, I caught my reflection on a mirror and saw the entirety of my stature for the first time. It was depressing. I was a robot in a dress. Ugh. What could be worse?!
I could still hear the man in the backroom. “I swear if you keep this up, I’m going to have you dismantled.”
It was odd. His words were angry but the tone of his voice was emotionless…almost like a record on playback. I needed to get out and find answers. I also needed to save my poor companion. I haven’t forgotten my kin still plugged in. From the backroom I heard water splashing, like from a shower. This is my chance!
I moved fast. I bolted straight for my companion and pressed its switch. “Wake up! Let’s get out of here,” I whispered as I shook it hard. It moved and stood upright all of a sudden. It didn’t seem sentient like me but still followed my commands. Thankfully, the door was left unlocked. Just as I opened it, the man emerged from the backroom.
“Why you…” The rest of the words trailed off as I ran for dear life, dragging the other robot by the arm. It looked dazed, not knowing exactly what’s happening.
The first thing I noticed was that the world looked dull and grey. The buildings all looked alike, square, upside down boxes with cut out rectangular windows. The smog-filled skyline looked gloomy, signaling an impending doom. There were humans passing by, walking or riding on vehicles and carriages. They didn’t seem surprised seeing two robots on the run. Other robots were also scattered about, doing mechanical tasks. Occasionally, humans glanced our way but continued with their uneventful routine. They seemed bored to death like nothing ever surprises them anymore. From the motions alone, robots and humans moved alike, indistinguishable.
“Get those two!” I snapped back to the immediate concern of self-preservation when I heard the man who was after us shout at two police officers passing by. They seemed to be the only ones who were concerned about his plight. Three humans were now chasing after us but my robot companion was too slow. The police officers were fast. I tripped on the wires dangling from my legs but got back up fast enough to elude the hands that almost grabbed my ankles.
My ankles. They looked like they changed color, from grey to flesh. Weird.
I was still dragging the other robot but one of the officers got to it and held it back. My grip wasn’t strong enough. I let go. Escape or die, I thought. I looked back as I ran. I gazed at my captured companion and saw a hint of sadness on its metallic face. Its fate was sealed and I felt responsible but I had to move forward as the other officer and the man were not giving up on the chase. I hailed a tricycle passing by. It didn’t stop. Several times I stumbled but got back up. To my surprise, a man on a motorcycle stopped a few meters ahead of me.
“Hop on!” he said, waving his hand in one swift motion. I ran as fast as I could and without hesitation, got up the bike. I didn’t care where we were going. I just needed to increase the distance between me and my pursuers, who were now panting from exhaustion. The last thing I saw was the police officer on his radio calling for backup.
I didn’t know the man on the motorcycle nor did I have an idea on where we were going. I just felt I could trust him. After several minutes of driving by building complexes, evading police patrols, and passing by a bridge, I felt it was safe to come down. He let me down and went on his way. I looked around and a few meters away, I saw a tower. It pulled on me, beckoning me. I didn’t – couldn’t – resist. I felt like the answers to my hows and whys were there.
I entered the first level. It looked like an arena of some sort and was packed with people, thousands of them. The entire structure was cylindrical and bleachers were circling the hall. A game or competition was ongoing. The people were cheering like a mob. Everyone was so engrossed with the game, shouting, shrieking, and not caring about everything else that’s happening. The people were in revelry but they looked like they were all in sync in the chaos, like one big automated machinery. Nobody really needed to think. It was all pure instinct. I wondered if I wanted to be like them. It was sickening.
As I scanned the crowd I saw several police officers in the arena. They spotted me. I needed to look for a way out. I climbed the bleachers and saw a door going to the next level and went that way.
The second level was a smaller version of the first, an extension actually, but the people were watching the game from screens. They were yelling and cheering much like those in the previous level but some were distracted and engaging in their own small conversations. My pursuers were banging on the door, bent on capturing me, so I climbed yet another level, then another, then another.
As I climbed higher and higher up the tower, I noticed something odd. Things were changing. The halls were getting smaller and smaller. There were fewer and fewer people inside the halls and the higher I climbed, the people seemed more…human. I also noticed my body was changing. As I climbed higher, I felt more in control of my movements. First, my entire legs became flesh. Then, my arms. I was becoming human!
The halls had windows. I looked out the window each time I went up a level, and each time I gazed out, the view was changing. The outside world was becoming livelier, more vibrant, and cleaner. The buildings weren’t so imposing and box-like anymore but came in different shapes, colors, and sizes. I felt like the top level was within reach.
I lost count of the number of levels I climbed but since the halls have gotten smaller as I went higher, I finally entered a small room. It was about 30 square meters, carpeted, with wooden pillars decked with intricate carvings. There were a few people of varied ages, most of them quite mature. One group was playing charades. Another group was playing various instruments like in a mini orchestra. Yet another group was busy with their paintbrushes and easels. A few of them looked at me and smiled. Some invited me to join them.
“The authorities are after me. I need help.” A look of concern fell on their faces. We were startled by loud banging on the enormous wooden door. I looked around but it seemed like I was at a dead end.4
This is it! The beginning of my demise.
I felt a tender hand on my elbow. It was a kind-looking old lady nudging me back to the moment. I noticed everyone in the room was urging me to act on something. They were pointing up. Lo and behold, there was a hidden door to the attic – the final level. I climbed up and grabbed an arm that extended from above. I was hoisted, the door behind securely shut, and no one would ever be able to follow or harm me.
The moment I stepped inside the last room, I turned completely human. There were others, albeit very few, in the room – singing songs, engaging in deep conversations, smiling, and laughing. They were unlike the other humans outside the tower or the ones at the first few levels. They were humans who thought for themselves and did not just accept what was thrown their way. They enjoyed their individualities and used that to create a harmonious blend. They savored each moment, not taking part in the ever churning and often uncontrollable machinery of a society that has spun out of control. There was meaning and purpose in the things they did. They welcomed me into the fold. I felt safe. I was free.
I looked out the window. The trees were green, the streams were immaculate, the birds were singing an aria, and the sun shined its glorious light on peach and yellow flowers. There is hope after all.