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Best Friends Forever

Michelle Ann King writes science fiction, fantasy, and horror from her kitchen table in Essex, England. This is her seventh appearance in Daily Science Fiction, and her work has also appeared, or is forthcoming, at Strange Horizons, Interzone, and Kaleidotrope. Her short stories are being collected in the Transient Tales series, available in ebook and paperback. Find more details at .

Suelita and I are friends. This is a fact. She tells me so, and I agree with her.
Suelita's mother is called Ana. "That's nice, dear," Ana says, when Suelita tells her we are friends.
"And I got arrested for murder, and the house is on fire," Suelita continues.
Ana carries on tapping at her phone and says, "Mm-hmm. That's nice, dear."
I am also supposed to agree with Ana, but it is sometimes difficult. Those things, were they to have happened, would not be nice.
Suelita's father is called Mr. Jordan. "Don't be silly," he says, when Suelita tells him we are friends. "It's a robot, Sula. A machine. You can't be friends with a machine."
I am supposed to agree with Mr. Jordan, too. But I cannot, because Suelita and I are friends. And she is not silly.
Ana and Mr. Jordan are not often here. They do not spend a lot of time with Suelita. Their store of information is insufficient, their conclusions faulty. They are wrong. This is not supposed to be possible, but I see that it is.
"They don't understand anything," Suelita tells me. "I know you're my friend. You look out for me." She looks thoughtful. "You wait, I'll prove it."
I do as I am told, and wait.
A woman comes to the house. She is not on my list, but Suelita says she may enter. I allow it.
The woman frowns when I take her to Suelita. "How old are you, honey?"
"Old enough to pay you," Suelita says. This is correct. She has invested her allowance wisely since she was very small.
The woman grins. "Good enough. So, who are we waiting for?"
"No one," Suelita says. "We're ready now."
The woman follows Suelita's gaze to me, and laughs. When Suelita says nothing, the laugh dies away and the frown returns. "Come on," the woman says.
Suelita plants her feet and gives the woman an even stare. "We're ready," she says again.
"Is this a joke? You know who I am, don't you? You know what I do?"
The woman spreads her hands. "Then what the hell, kid? This is a robot. You can't do empathic sharing with a robot."
"Why not?"
"Are you kidding?" The woman looks from Suelita to me and back again. "You understand what the word empathic means, don't you? It's about emotion. Feelings. And what do robots not have?"
She waits, as if expecting Suelita to answer the question.
Suelita doesn't. She simply says "We're ready," again.
The woman sighs and shakes her head. "You can't do it with a robot," she says, speaking slowly and loudly.
"How do you know? Have you tried?"
"What? No. Of course not."
"Then you don't know."
The woman rolls her eyes. "I haven't tried it with a toaster or an airplane, either. Doesn't mean I don't know it isn't going to work."
"This is different. I want to go ahead."
The woman throws up her hands. "Fine. You're the boss. Just don't blame me when nothing happens. And don't ask for a refund, either."
"Wait," I say. "I must complete a risk assessment."
The woman snorts. "Only risk here is of me saying, 'I told you so.' Come on. If you want to do it, let's do it."
"Wait," Suelita says. She watches me, her eyes bright.
I consider the woman's conclusion. I am not certain it is correct.
I am a robot. I do not have an organic emotional system. I do not have feelings for Suelita. This is a fact.
Failure of the procedure will confirm it. Success of the procedure will also confirm it. This will be upsetting for her.
It is a risk to her well being. I cannot allow it.
"The procedure must not be attempted," I tell the woman. "You will leave now."
She laughs. "It's feisty, this one. How high have you got the situational analytics set?"
"My settings are appropriate," I say. "You will leave now. Or my situational analysis will be that home defense mode is required."
"Whoa," she says, backing away with her hands raised. "Okay, okay. Hell, kid, call off the dogs, I'm going."
I escort her from the building, then return to Suelita.
I am concerned that my actions will have caused confusion. I wish to explain my reasoning, but I cannot: to do so would be counterproductive. I do not know what to say.
My speech circuits engage without prior command. "I am your friend," my voice declares.
I am concerned Suelita will consider recent events as disproof of this statement, but she presents no argument.
She does not look confused or disappointed. She is smiling, and appears satisfied.
"I know," she says.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, May 5th, 2016

Author Comments

I wanted to play with the idea of a character who couldn't feel what they were supposed to, and it struck me that a robot would be a good candidate. What happens if a robot, designed to agree and obey, is told "you are my friend"? Is friendship rooted in feelings or actions? Is there actually any difference?

- Michelle Ann King
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