I Am a Robot on Mars
By Jill Hand
I slowly rise from the platform where I’ve been recharging for the past seven hours and thirty-three Earth minutes. Yawning, I stretch my metal arms, feeling a twinge in my left shoulder as I do. My metal joints pop, and my metal neck squeaks as I slowly turn it, first left, then right. I am an aging robot, and could do with oiling and an upgrade to my CPU, but such things aren’t available here on Mars. I must put up with the squeaks and the stiffness as best I can.
I glide into the kitchen, where the female robot with whom I reside is preparing fuel that will keep me going until midday.
“Good morning,” I say to the female robot. Without turning around, she says,: “The cat vomited on the hall rug again.”
I tell her I’ll clean it up as soon as I’ve consumed my robot fuel. The cat is my responsibility. Although the female robot and the two small robots who are currently shoveling fuel into their mouths at the kitchen table enjoy petting it and playing with it, when it comes to cleaning its litter box and attending to its vomit, I’m the one who is expected to deal with it.
I clean up the cat vomit and give the female robot a goodbye peck on her metal cheek. I tell the small robots to behave themselves. I don’t want to hear that they’ve been throwing Mars rocks at the garage of the robot next door again.
The small robots go on consuming their fuel. They don’t appear to be listening to me. They rarely listen to me.
I get into my robot vehicle and pilot it over the rocky terrain to my place of business. Parking behind an outcropping of red Mars rocks, I step out and onto the deck of a pirate ship, for I am Wicked Jake Finnegan, captain of the Nimble Jenny. It flies the skull and crossbones and is the most feared vessel on the high seas.
I swagger across the oak boards of the deck, moving easily with the pitch and roll of the ship. I’ve been at sea since I was a lad and am more at home on the waves than I am on dry land. I see some of the crew are holy stoning the deck, others are sharpening their cutlasses. Still others are lounging about, drinking rum, the lazy rascals. I greet them with a loud, “Avast, me hearties! What skullduggery have ye been up to in my absence?”
The first mate, a one-eyed reprobate called The Turk, tells me they boarded a Spanish galleon full of gold and silver from the New World, and took all aboard prisoner.
“Good work!” I tell him, approvingly. “There will be an extra ration of rum for all hands!”
The Turk looks confused. “You mean we’re getting bonuses for landing the Davidson account?”
The Turk must have been hit on the head once too often during one of our skirmishes with other pirates or with the crew of some merchant vessel, one not flying the English flag but perhaps belonging to the mincing French or the sly Spanish. I tell him aye, the crew will be getting bonuses, if that’s what he wants to call it. At that, they give a hearty cheer. I’m pleased to see them so happy. A happy crew is a productive crew and there’s lots more ships to plunder if we’re going to keep up our reputation as the most feared vessel on the high seas.
I go below to my cabin, where I plot a course for Tortuga and think about Jenny, a lass I used to know, long ago.
Hours later, I’m feeling peckish. It’s almost two bells, and there’s nothing to eat in my cabin but hardtack and some moldy bits of cheese. I decide to row ashore in the dinghy and find some grub.
I sing as I row, pulling hard on the oars and bawling, “I’m in for the tin, the grog and the gin, I’m in for the beer and tobacco…”
I step out of the dinghy and onto a street in wartime London. I am Captain Jack Finnegan of the Royal Air Force. I resolve to go looking for my sweetheart, Jennifer Prindable, the beautiful daughter of the Earl of Burkhampton. Jennifer works in a canteen near St. Paul’s, serving coffee and tea to ambulance drivers and air raid wardens and Londoners who’ve been bombed out of their homes.
The Jerrys shot down my Lancaster over Belgium, rotten luck, forcing me to bail out. I have just now returned to England, after months of being moved from one hiding place to another by members of the resistance.
At the canteen, I patiently wait in the queue until it’s my turn. Then Jennifer (darling girl!) turns to me. I smile roguishly and ask for a large coffee.
“You mean a venti?” She looks bored and is chewing gum. I hope she hasn’t gotten it from an American G.I. The Yanks (oversexed, overpaid and over here, as the saying goes) are always offering girls chewing gum and cigarettes and nylons to get them to go out with them. Jenny yawns and I wonder if perhaps she’s tired from sleeping in the underground during nighttime bombing raids. She doesn’t appear to recognize me. It must be because I’m still clad in rough peasant garb, unshaven, my hair straggling over the collar of my jacket.
“Yes, a venti, if that’s what they’re calling it these days. I’ve been away, you see,” I tell her, smiling. She doesn’t return my smile. Expressionlessly, she draws my coffee and places it on the counter. I pay and leave, resolving to see her later, when I’m back to looking like my old self.
I drink my coffee while seated on a bench in Regent’s Park, while eating a ham and tomato sandwich that I purchased from an old codger who was selling sandwiches outside the gates. I’m pleased to see that despite rationing, food vendors are still plying their trade on the streets of London.
Replete, I get into the dinghy and row back to the Nimble Jenny under foreboding grey clouds, as herring gulls whirl and cry overhead. Once on board I tell the crew to look sharp; there’s a storm brewing. They must batten down the hatches and go aloft and reef the mainsail.
The Turk asks if that means we’re about to be audited by accounting. I tell him aye, however he wants to put it, just look sharp. Then I go to my cabin, where I plot a course for the Cayman Islands and try not to think about a certain young lady named Jenny.
I can’t recall what happened to Jenny no matter how hard I try. I loved her very much and I’m terribly sad that she’s no longer around, but what happened to her? Did she die? Did I drive her away? I can’t recall. I vaguely recall her angrily telling me that I lived in a dream world and I needed to snap out of it, but that’s ridiculous. I’m completely rational. A captain of a pirate ship is a man of action; he can’t live in a dream world.
Later that day, I climb into my robot vehicle and pilot it across the rocky Martian terrain towards home, because I am a robot on Mars.
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Jill Hand is the author of The Blue Horse, a science fiction/fantasy novella from Kellan Publishing. Her work has appeared recently in Another Realm, Frostfire Worlds, Jersey Devil Press, Loud Zoo, Nebula Rift and T. Gene Davis’s Speculative Fiction, among others.