Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 6

1: Welcome to Place
2: Number 877
3: Hiding
4: Cold, Cold Steel
5: Down to this Wire

6: The Last Sunset

Malcolm had made no errors in his calculations, and he knew that rescuing Savannah from her addiction was the easier part of his task.  As a Unit, he could only ignore the code by overriding his core programming.  But though Savannah was cured and he knew it, the code knew no such thing.

At core programming level, Malcolm was still programmed to follow the code; he was still programmed to punish Savannah by death.

So Malcolm continued overriding his core and Savannah—grateful to him, ashamed of herself—began to notice the strain this put him under.

“What’s wrong, Malcolm?  You’ve lagged all this morning.  You should go charge.  I’ve never known you to go this long without a charge.  —You need to take care of yourself,” Savannah added as the Unit looked at her out of strangely dull eyes.  “What would I do without you?”

Malcolm shook his robotic head.  “I won’t ever charge again, Savannah.”

Savannah stared at him, uncomprehending.  “But…”

“I’m on override,” he explained, realizing that the sequence of events that seemed so logical to him was a totally new idea for Savannah.  “If I relax the override, core programming takes over.”

Savannah turned a little pale.  “But you need to charge—don’t you?  Malcolm!”  She laid a hand on his cold metal arm, unresponsive to her touch.

“You don’t need me, Savannah—not really, not really.  I’ll be replaced by a new Unit.  You’ll be free from the code, your record will be lost when I shut down.”

“Malcolm!  —Shut down!  You’re not serious!”

“You can do without me now.”

“No!”

“Yes—you will, Savannah.  You won’t let it go to waste.  Promise me that?”

“It’s all my fault!”

“So?  Don’t make it worse.”

Savannah raised her head from her hands.  “I promise,” she said, with a catch in her voice.  Then she laid her head on Malcolm’s shoulder, sobbing.

“Do you remember,” he finally said, breaking a long silence, “the day you said I would be a happy unit when I could love a sunset?”

“Yes,” Savannah said wonderingly.

“Come,” Malcolm said.  “Let’s go enjoy the sunset.”

Savannah walked where Malcolm took her, hardly noticing as the dome of Place began to diffuse the evening light, turning the small world pink.  All her attention was on Malcolm—she grudged the energy he used on each step and shuddered anytime he seemed to slow down.  But Malcolm enjoyed the sunset.  He knew it was the last one he’d ever see.

When the pink had reached its zenith he stopped.  They were in front of the trash heap and Savannah, recognizing the place, suddenly understood.

Malcolm shook his head.  “Don’t think of me when you see the trash.  Think of me when you see the sunset, Savannah.”

“Yes,” Savannah cried.  “Of you, when I see the sunset.  Of myself, when I see the trash!”

“The pink part of the day is the best part,” Malcolm said, dreamily.  The light in his eyes was dimmer now.  “It would be a shame to hurry and miss it.”

“Malcolm!” Savannah gasped, catching him as he fell.

“I am a happy Unit,” he said.

“Yes! —you can love a sunset,” Savannah said through her tears.  

“You taught me to love the sunset.”

“You taught me to love you!”

“I found a way,” Malcolm said.  “Good-bye, Savannah.”

The light left the robot’s eyes.

“Malcolm—not yet!” Savannah cried.

Malcolm’s voice, hollow and faint, reached her one last time.  “You promised,” he said.

“I promised!”

When the last ray of the sun was gone Savannah walked home through the dark and humid night, alone.

The End

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