More Human Than Electric Sheep
"Next subject," the intercom crackles, "A. Robot, engineer, waste disposal. New employees, six days."
A large man enters the test administrator's office, awkwardly pats his hands against his standard-issue paper gown.
"Come in," says the administrator. "Sit down, Mr. ... A. Robot, was it?"
"Anthony. The name's Anthony Robot."
Robot takes a seat, frowning at a collection of strange devices on the administrator's desk. An automated black pump lifts, sucking air into its ruffled chambers, then lowers, hissing oxygen into a tube. A small camera follows Robot's every move, presenting him with a close-up of his own iris on its display.
"Do you mind if I recharge my... watch while I'm here?" Robot produces an AC adapter, turns in his seat, craning his neck as he tries to spot an outlet. There is no watch on his arm.
"Please," the administrator insists, "just don't move."
"Oh, sorry." Robot grinds his teeth nervously, a cascade of sparks spilling out onto his lap and the office floor. "I already had an IQ test this year. I don't think I've ever had one of these-"
"Reaction time is a factor in this," continues the administrator, "so please pay attention. Now, answer as quickly as you can."
"You're in a desert, walking along in the sand when all of a sudden-"
"Excuse me, Anthony, but did you just say 'beep boop'?" The administrator raises an eyebrow.
"Sorry, I misspoke. Nerves. Hah." A segmented mechanical arm snakes out from below his hospital gown, dabs at black beads of motor oil escaping the pores on his forehead with an embroidered handkerchief. The pattern is an elaborate family seal featuring gears and circuitry. "I meant to ask what desert I'm in."
"It doesn't make any difference what desert, it's completely hypothetical."
"But how come I'd be there?"
"Maybe you're fed up. Maybe you want to be by yourself. Who knows? You look down and you see a tortoise, Anthony. It's crawling towards you-"
Puffs of steam escape from Robot's ears, filling the room with a comical train whistle sound.
"You reach down, you flip the tortoise on its back, Anthony."
Robot's neck twitches involuntarily, unhinging a panel full of blinking LEDs, an oscillating red emergency beacon, and a klaxon blaring at full volume.
"The tortoise lays on its back," the test administrator continues, raising his voice, "its belly baking in the hot sun beating its legs trying to turn itself over but it can't, not without your help, but you're not helping. Why is that, Anthony?"
Robot's eyes bulge, unwind from their sockets like lightbulbs and dangle on his cheeks from fiber-optic cables.
"They're just questions, Anthony. It's a test, designed to provoke an emotional response. Shall we continue? Describe, in single words, only the good things that come in to your mind about... your mother."
"GOTO LINE 20", replies Robot. "PRINT 'HELLO WORLD!' "
The administrator cocks his head to the side, locking eyes with A. Robot as his left hand fumbles in one of the desk's drawers. His posture eases as he finds what he is looking for.
"Well, Anthony," the administrator smiles, "it looks like the test was a success. You have been identified as a good driver. Here is your license."