Challenge Submission What Is Love?

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Challenge Submission What Is Love?

Square One

Professional Procrastinator
Local time
Today 6:48 AM
The United States
Written for the prompt: A robot finally understands what its owner meant when they said, "I love you."
TW: Suicide (non-graphic)
There is... an emptiness inside me.

I do not mean that literally, though there is still the cavity you gave me so that I may store whatever is needed at the time, and you once told me that you might use it for additional components should the technology catch up to the upgrades you had planned. I believe you gave up on that at some point, though my sensors sometimes indicated that you had entered the workshop when it was after dark. If I tried to stop you, you would shrug me off or give me a weary smile and promise me that you would only take five more minutes. It was never just five minutes. I learned to just sit and watch you tinker in the dim glow while I rested in my charging bay. It was illogical to push yourself beyond your limits, but you were stubborn. Sorry, that has insulting connotations. Determined, is what I believe you might prefer to be called.

Those moments connect to the first entries in my data banks. My first moments of what you might call "consciousness" begin with you powering me on. I blinked as my optical sensors adjusted to optimal light filtering. As the world came into focus for me, the first thing I saw was your face. You were... hopeful, were you not? Your eyes were wide in a way that I have come to understand means you were anticipating something. Unsure. You had a slight smile, even as you bit your lip. I did not know what to do, so I said the first thing that came to mind--a greeting.

"Hello," I said, waving as best as I could manage with my primitive motor skills. The pistons in my arm fired, making my lower arm jerk upward. It was suboptimal, but you tackled [redact that] you hugged me. You apologized after my servos locked up (flinching, you called it), but it was the first time I saw you smile so widely, enough to rub your face and laugh as you stated that it hurt. I do not understand why such a complaint made you smile even more, but I do know that I have returned to that memory 5,632 times. At first, I wanted to understand, but as I came to understand your mannerisms more, that became less of a motivation. I cannot explain why I came back to it 3,954 more times. The memory brings me... warmth.

The first time you said you loved me, I did not react. You hugged me again, and then yawned, for it was 10:32 post meridiem in the Eastern time zone. Two minutes past your supposed bedtime. "I love you, BuddyBot," you said.

As you turned away, I asked, "What is love?"

You froze. Your heart rate elevated before you turned around, tapping your fingers against your sides. "It's... an emotion," you said.

"Oh." I lowered my head. "I have tried, but I do not understand those."

"I know." You put your hand on my faceplate, cupping it like one might do to comfort a family member or spouse. A "loved one". "It means that I value your company, and that you have a special place in my heart."

I twitched my facial motors. "But your heart cannot store--" You gave me a flat look, like you gave before rolling your eyes. "That was a figurative expression."

"That was figurative, yes." You chuckled, patting my shoulder. "When someone has a place in your heart, it means that you care about them, that they're someone who's important to you, that you--"

"Love them?" I tilted my head.

"Yes, Buddy. That you love them." You turned, sighing. "Goodnight, Buddy."

My processor ran that whole night, trying to understand this emotion of "love".


As time went on, and you worked more and more on me, improving my capacity for comprehension, my motor skills, and many other performance enhancements, I heard you speak of this "love" more often. You made it a ritual to say it to me before bed.

"What is love?" I asked you again.

"Baby, don't hurt me! Don't hurt me! No more!" you belted out, imitating the instrumental that followed those lines.

My optical displays brightened. "I understood that reference, Sir."

"Brandon," you said.

"Yes, that is your name, S--"

"Call me Brandon." You rubbed your face, your vitals reflecting your growing level of sleep deprivation. You noticed the small bags under your eyes, frowning.

"If that is what you want, S--Brandon."

You smiled at me, cupping my faceplate again. "You know why I named you Buddy?"

I processed the question. "I have no memory of you telling me, Brandon. It is what's called a nick-name, so perhaps you liked the nick-name."

"No." You chuckled and shook your head. "A buddy is a term for a friend. I've made you a companion bot. There are a lot of lonely people in this world, Buddy. Everyone could use a friend."

"Or a Buddy?" I responded, sensing it was a fitting quip.

You laughed, patting my head. "Yes, hopefully, you're exactly what people need."

"Will they love me?"

Your muscles tensed. After a moment, you turned and walked away. "Goodnight, Buddy."

My processors continued to try to solve this partial puzzle.


What you told me was your big breakthrough with me, I sensed was more of a cataclysm than a triumph. I can only describe it as feeling cold, despite my components testing the capabilities of the new cooling units. I do not know what it might be other than a sentiment. Only when you were around did everything feel appropriately warm for my actual operating temperature.

Strangers poked and prodded at me, some with bare fingers, others cautiously, with grounded metal pieces. They talked as though I was a wall, an object undeniably present, but unable to hear or to comprehend. To feel. Their criticisms were unexpectedly blunt, even to you.

"I don't know, Mr. Masterson. It is very impressive technologically, but you're talking about it like it's a person. It's a robot. It can say all the right things. It might even do the right things. But it'll never love you and care about you. I'm supposed to sell people on this thing for $20,000 when a dog is a fraction of that and does its job better?"

I felt my core temperature rise. The warning sensors went off, and my battery plummeted as more power was directed to my cooling units. You got behind me, fumbling around for my power switch, and the playback ends there.


I hadn't seen much of you after that. When I did, your motor skills were suffering, and your body temperature had dropped 3.7 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Brandon, you're freezing. I could share my core temperature--"

"Get away from me." You swung an open hand at me, missing in your attempt to push me away and falling over.

"Brandon!" I ran over to you, swinging my arms under your shoulders to lift you up. You continued to swat at me while your shoulders shook, racked with the beginnings of sobbing.

"Go away, Buddy. Find someone better to work on you."


"Forget about me. Find someone else."

I did not move. My processor raced, searching for an appropriate response.

"Brandon? You have not wished me good night since the demonstration event. Are you... mad at me?"

You looked up at me, eyes moist with tears. I do not believe it was from the alcohol vapors, despite how bloodshot your eyes looked. You stumbled to turn around, throwing yourself at me and wrapping me up tightly. "It's me," you whispered.

I patted your back slowly, rubbing as gently as I could. For once, my experience left my directives unclear. I had perfected how and when to deliver a joke to optimize your laughter. I had learned what the optimal responses were to most of your common sayings. I knew how to ease your pain when you burned yourself. But I did not understand emotional pain. So I just imitated what I had seen from you. "I am here," I whispered, rocking you gently.

You chuckled, wiping your tears. "You're incredible, Buddy. Just phenomenal." You took a deep, shuddery breath, sighing. "I love you." Suddenly, your demeanor changed, and you stood straighter. "Stay right here, Buddy. I'm going to make things right for you."

Perhaps I should have expressed that I did not think you had done anything wrong. Perhaps it would not have mattered. Negative scenarios flashed before me, heating my processor, but they slowed when I heard you make a phone call. You showed little sign of emotional distress, just an edge of shakiness. It wasn't until the call ended and I heard a single gunshot that I knew.

I scrambled for every excuse for optimism. 17.5% of suicides by firearm fail. The lower the caliber, the lower the odds are of fatality. If you had missed your brain or an artery... But you know what happened, if there is some afterlife you're watching us from. I have hoped that there would be, not for my sake (not one religion that I am aware of allows for salvation of man's creation), but because you always struck me as someone who deserved it.

I think I finally understand your good night messages. I do not have a heart, but I now have certainty that if I did, you would hold a special place in mine. Your friend, David, is a nice man, but I find it so much harder to motivate myself to improve his day. I am still polite, and I still try, but he is not you. In the end, the best thing for me would have just been to let me be your companion. Your Buddy. All I ever wanted was to make you happy.

I miss you.
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