Will Pybern was an android. Of this he was certain. Sure, he looked as perfectly human as any other little boy of about nine or ten years old. But he knew that he was an android nonetheless.
Of course, nobody else seemed to know that Will was really an android. He was always careful not to behave in too superhuman a manner. When the teacher asked a question of his class, Will always made certain that he answered only just a little ahead of anyone else and that he didn’t raise his hand for every question, just the interesting ones. He also made it a point not to regularly outperform his classmates in sports. In fact, sports often left him feeling weak-legged and out of breath, but Will just figured that this was a feature that his creator (whoever that had been) had programed into him in order to make him seem more realistically human.
Will had a lot of features which seemed designed to add to his realism. Sometimes he would appear to come down with one of any number of human illnesses. Other times, he would suffer a very convincing approximation of an injury. The area just beneath his skin-like outer covering was filled with a red substance which was remarkably similar to actual blood (though Will felt that the exact color could have been a bit more accurate). The fact that Will so closely resembled a real human in so many ways let him know that he was a highly sophisticated android.
The only people whom Will suspected of having knowledge of the fact that he was an android were his parents.
His parents always acted as though Will was their natural son, but this was certainly an act. It was possible that they knew the people who had created Will or had even played a part in his creation themselves. This last possibility Will highly doubted—Neither of his parents seemed interesting enough to have been involved in anything so exciting as the secret creation of a highly sophisticated android.
Will’s mother worked as an editor for a furniture catalog and spent most of her time wishing that she made enough money to own the furniture that she sold. She had real taste, she said, just no way to show it. Will couldn’t see what was wrong with the couch they had. His superior android mind had analyzed the couch and found it eminently satisfactory for sitting while playing video games.
Will’s father, on the other hand, barely seemed to notice that they even owned a couch. He seemed to always have his eyes focused on the pages of a book (not exciting books about adventure, but books about excruciatingly boring topics like international law and the sub-prime mortgage scandal—whatever that was). Indeed, it was a wonder that Will’s father didn’t injure himself more often as he weaved through the living room without once lifting his eyes from the page. Will supposed that reading boring books must be the entire job description of his father’s career as an economist.
No, Will doubted very much whether his parents had actually been involved in building their android son. More likely, the only secret they were keeping from him was that they had adopted him as what they thought was a human baby.
Will spent a lot of time wondering about his origins. He desperately wanted to know who had created him and to what purpose. He would spend hours reading all he could about artificial intelligence—Books that featured androids in space battles were the best. But, for all the books he read and all the wild theories he formed (could he have been created by aliens and sent to Earth to gather intelligence on whether humans are ready to join an intergalactic federation or whether they should instead be destroyed?), Will was no closer to an answer.
Truth be told, the main reason that he was so interested in discovering his creator had less to do with searching for his ultimate purpose and a great deal more to do with finding out if there were any other androids his age with whom he might be friends. Being the only artificial lifeform at your school is a lonely business. And, while the human children were all nice enough, Will always felt that he never quite belonged.
The older Will grew, the more difficult he found it to keep his secret. On the playground, surrounded by ten year-olds, Will could have even shouted about his robot powers and everyone would have just taken it as a part of playing pretend. But as the years passed, the world of pretend grew smaller and the need for discretion grew greater.
By the age of fourteen, Will found himself becoming less social with the other children. In addition to his need to keep his android nature a secret, Will felt that he had less in common with human children than ever. As the others endlessly politicked amongst the various cliques and desperately vied to be the coolest, Will couldn’t help but feel that such activities were beneath an android, that his sophisticated design was meant for something better. So he mostly kept to himself. He was never rude to anyone, but he kept his eyes focused on the pages of a book as often as possible.
But there were times when books didn’t seem to be enough. Will met Melanie when he was almost sixteen. She was talkative, energetic and beautiful. And she seemed to like Will very much.
“It’s your eyes,” she said. “I look at them, and I always see you thinking, noticing something that none of the rest of us notice.”
Will would walk Melanie home from school whenever he could, listening the entire time to the sweet music of her voice as she talked. He listened as she complained of her algebra teacher’s unfairness. He listened as she told him of her plans to travel the world and see its wonders, just as soon as she could get out of this nothing little town. He listened as she told him how much she missed her mother, dead of cancer. He listened and he said very little.
One day, as he walked Melanie up to her house, she turned and looked at Will in his eyes. Though he had always taken great pride in what a convincing and sophisticated artificial life-form he was, Will was sure then that Melanie would see right into his mechanical soul and he would be discovered. Instead she leaned forward and kissed him, slowly and deeply. In that moment, Will wanted to tell Melanie the truth about himself. In that moment, Will wanted to take her into his bed. But when the kiss ended, Will simply wished her good night and turned to walk home. She called after him once, but he did not turn.
They didn’t speak much after that.
When Will graduated high school, he was very near the top of his class, but not so near as to draw attention to himself. He had grown quite adept at blending in, a lone android in a crowd of human beings.
At university, Will majored in engineering and robotics, desperate to understand the technology that had created him. He studied hard and took on independent research projects. But everything he studied seemed too rudimentary, so crude compared to the advanced construction required to create an android that could so perfectly emulate a human in almost every way.
Though Will now spent far less time devising wild hypotheses regarding his origins, the feeble robotics technology he now encountered caused him to conclude that he had more likely been built by either a highly secret government agency with access to advanced technology or by aliens. Either way, he was unlikely to find out until such time as his progenitors either contacted him or until something in his own programing suddenly became active and let him know. All he could do was to continue blending in, to continue to live his illusory life.
Thus it was that upon graduation from college, Will took a job for a firm which helped to design manufacturing automata for car companies. The work was dull and repetitive and it often occurred to Will that his android intellect might have allowed him to devise robots a hundred time more sophisticated than those his company built, most of which were little more than fancy ratchet drivers. But to excel was to stand out, and Will knew that he could never invite that sort of attention.
He lived alone. Though he was genial and somewhat social with his coworkers, he was extremely careful never to let anyone get too close. He read as much as ever, but while he used to read technical manuals and robo-centric science fiction, he now found himself increasingly interested in mysteries and classics—anything with human emotions and human interactions. His isolation was not easy and often he wished he was human.
One day a coworker swore that he had seen Will’s exact double riding a crosstown train. For a moment Will’s mechanical heart leapt. He was certain that it had been another android from his same line, a compatriot with whom he could share the world.
Questions sprung from his mouth. Where exactly had the double been sighted? Which direction was he going? What color were his eyes?
For a moment, his coworker looked a little frightened at the sudden avalanche of inquiries and then he said, “Don’t get all excited, mate. He didn’t look that much like you. I think it was really just the haircut and the geeky way he dressed.”
Will couldn’t help but feel a little foolish. It must have been a coincidence.
Years passed. And while the robotics at Will’s firm were improving, they were still light-years removed from the exceptional engineering of Will himself.
Will retired at the age of sixty and he still marveled at the extraordinary detail and accuracy with which he had been constructed. His skin had slowly grown wrinkled, just as if he was human, and his hair had grayed. But he wondered if the aches he felt were a part of his design or just the product of time. He felt as though his interior structure was rusting and perhaps it was. But who knew how long an android might live?
Retired life suited him. Will reveled in being crotchety to young people and in taking his time to do absolutely everything. He had decided that if he made such a great illusion of being an aging human, he might as well act like it. He even thought of trying to make some genuine human friends, but after all these years of carefully avoiding any human connection, he found that he wasn’t sure how.
So it was that the crotchety old android took his time slowly crossing the street while out for a nice walk on a sunny day. And so it was that a blue car going far too fast around the curve in the street collided with him.
Will blacked out for a moment as he fell to the pavement. When he was aware again, he could see the young lady behind the car’s steering wheel staring at him with an expression of wild-eyed panic plastered across her face. He raised a shaking hand toward her but, rather than come to his aide, she simply drove away, if anything, driving faster than she had been already.
It occurred to Will that his computational circuits must have been pretty badly rattled as he was having a hard time focusing on anything, but he soon concluded that there was no one else around who might render assistance. After a moment’s agonizing consideration, he decided that this was probably for the best, as any human would have sent him to a hospital where his secret would have been at last exposed.
With an extraordinary force of will, he managed to raise himself to his feet. It felt as though the metal endo-skeleton of his left leg might have broken, so he favored the other. And though he was clearly critically damaged, Will somehow hobbled the rest of the, thankfully very short, distance to his home. There he sat down in a recliner.
Will could have called for an ambulance. He could have called for anybody, but who would know how to repair him? And even so, his secret would be discovered.
Will merely sat there, imagining the pistons crumpled inside of him, the pneumatic fluids leaking into his interior cavity. His cognitive processes felt disconnected and distant. He wasn’t sure how much time was passing. His internal chronometer must have been damaged as well.
Silently, alone in his dark living room, Will Pybern went off line.