Flash Fiction: The Oldest Robot in the Universe

The oldest robot known to man was not a super soldier AI or a hyper-efficient data-collecting computer. It had no self-repairing program or initiative to replicate.

A research team went scouring for the secrets of enduring life—a pastime of humanity from the days of empires and alchemists. They discovered the oldest android in the universe on a large garden planet known for vacationers and near-religious devotion to neutrality between the sprawling republics and jaws of empires on either side. A planet with corrosive humidity and universities specializing in botany and culinary pursuits over robotics.

The android had a memory system dating back to before some current records. It was a companion bot originally meant to take care of people in their old age and provide conversation in hospices. She was ancient and rusting and her parts needed to be constantly replaced by one mechanic after the next. Many parts for her had been discontinued before the garden planet was even founded, but locals and amateurs and anyone with a bit of time on their hand would find a way to jerry rig and recreate.

She’s a staple! they would laugh. How could we not?

She was no longer confined to old folks’ homes or the bedside tables of dying patients. Instead, she was given free rein to wander the parks and feed the birds and sit by people on benches. She liked to join strangers outside and ask in her synthetically manufactured voice: “How are you doing today?” The conversations were often stilted, and she had only a few responses left in her database, but she was a good listener.

Scientists couldn’t figure out how her battery kept going throughout the centuries and how she didn’t simply turn off one day. Robots of her same model had all died out and been used for scraps almost a millennium ago. The people of the community however would not let anyone take her apart and warded off any robotics experts with their x-rays and promises of non-invasive inspection.

One AI psychologist in a bout of frustration in a report dubbed it “weaponized politeness” from the populace. Sharp smiles and invitations for tea and cake and visiting the gondolas instead. The robot had requested to be called “her” long ago for unknown reasons— and “isn’t it rude to bother her?”

Another scientists wrote in her journal, for a populace known for their agreeable nature and hospitality. The pen almost punctured the paper here (she was a traditionalist). They are finding new ways to be impossible.

Time passed, as it does. The robot remained, being led around to her favorite places as she grew moss over her chest plate, mushrooms on her shoulders, and dirt gathered under her panels. She said she liked it that way. Scientists were banging their heads against the wall to figure out how and why she continued where others did not.

The answer, in the end, was simple.

Before she turned off for the last time, she faced a young girl who had been telling her a story of squirrels and schoolwork and said one of the phrases she was not programmed to say but understood intimately anyway. It was a phrase she had heard over and over again from her own companions over the centuries.

She repeated: “Thank you for loving me.” And her lights turned out for good.


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