Turing hadn’t really been paying attention to what had been going on before the accident. Last thing they remembered, they were on the sidewalk, coming home from a walk around Golden Gate Park. Then they unexpectedly tripped, hit the ground, and heard a sickening cracking sound. As they picked themselves up, they watched as a long, triangular piece of their own screen fell onto the pavement underneath them. It bounced once before landing in such a way that they could see their own broken reflection in its surface. Their right eye appeared normal, white lines of worry instantly appearing on their face, but the left one…. Turing started to bring up an unsteady hand to feel, but then forced themselves to stop.
Their newly-exposed eye held the emotionless stare of a camera lens, the only lifelike quality being a ring of small lights positioned like an iris. They’d never seen themselves like this. The broken expanse reached from their left optics to the corner of their mouth, and then down to their neck. Under their mouth they could see...something. Possibly another camera, with a thin line of light stretching across it. Impulsively, they picked up the large shard and tried to set it back into place. But as soon as they stood up again, it slipped out and fell. The tiny robot felt like they could cry, but they kept it together and called TOMCAT.
After a few rings, the hacker picked up. “Turing, what’s up? Your video’s slightly distorted. Are you okay?”
The ROM slumped forward slightly, shoulders hunched and simulated face on TOMCAT’s screen timid. “I, um… Well, this is my fault entirely. Remember, um, Parallax? And the night I-” They paused awkwardly for several moments before continuing. “Well I...didn’t really bring it up at the time, since there were so many other parts of me that needed to be fixed, but...in th- the- the thing...um, my screen...got a tiny crack in it. AndtodayItrippedandfellandabigpartofitfelloff,” they finished quickly.
“Come again, hon?”
They sighed anxiously, a pixelated breath cloud coming from their mouth. “I tripped and fell a couple minutes ago, and...a piece of my screen broke off.”
“Nothing underneath is...damaged, but I’m feeling...exposed.” They smiled weakly at their attempt at a joke.
“Hm,” TOMCAT hmmed, not laughing. “That explains the weirdness with the visuals. And I take it that you called me up to get a fix?”
“Precisely. How soon might you be available to come over? I’m…” They paused here to uncomfortably rub their forearm, “...feeling kind of self-conscious.”
“Hm, well… I hate to say this, Tur, but for a dome like yers, replacing it isn’t gonna be easy. It’s gonna have to be a custom job. We’ll need to find a specialist just to figure out how to get the rest of the thing off without accidentally breaking another part of you in the process. I’ll ask around, but I don’t know how long it’ll take me to find someone or how long it’ll take that person to get the supplies. I’ll call ya back when I figure it out, but until then...you’ll just have to sit tight, I’m afraid. And Turing? Remember to take extra caution around water with your inner workings exposed until we get ya all fixed up.”
“Honestly TOMCAT, I wasn’t built yesterday!” Turing suddenly huffed with indignation. “I’ll be careful!”
“Alright, alright. I didn’t mean to lean on ya, dear. I just don’t want you to get more seriously hurt. Can you take it easy for the next couple days? For me? You promise you’re not gonna be running around cleaning sinks at 3 AM?”
The little robot sighed, eyes rolling. “Yes, TOMCAT. I promise. I’m not going to try to take a bath or anything. Trust me. The last thing I want to do is die.”
“Thank you, dear. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go get in touch with some of my contacts so we can get you fixed. Talk to ya later!” TOMCAT almost-cheerfully called as they hung up.
Turing turned and looked down the alley towards the apartment. They lifted a leg to take a step forward...then hesitated and set it back down. Covering that last short distance felt like the hardest thing the ROM had ever done.
When they finally opened the door, they peeked just the right side of their face past the doorway to check Alys’ whereabouts. They were on their laptop, typing.
“H-hey Alys,” Turing began nervously. The hard-at-work journalist looked up from Lappy’s screen before the bot gave a very hurried “N-no, please don’t look!” Calmly, Alys closed the lid of the laptop and set their arms to rest on the table.
“What’s wrong, Turing? Are you okay?”
“I...I had a little bit of an accident on my way home. I’m okay!” they added instantly, arm held up in an appeasing gesture. “But I wasn’t paying attention and I, well…. I tripped and cracked my screen. Or rather, part of it. There’s a big piece missing now,” they finished sheepishly.
“So that’s why you’re hiding in the doorway like that. If it bothers you that much, I can look away while you come in. But I don’t think it’s possible for me to avoid looking at you entirely until you get fixed, you know. You might as well just show me.”
Nervously, they stepped all the way inside, their left arm raised to mostly obscure the gap in their screen.
“Turing...you really don’t have to do that. I’ll be fine. I promise.”
Slowly, the robot lowered their hand from their face...and Alys gasped softly for a moment before recovering.
“Is any part of you damaged apart from your screen?” Turing shook their head. “Then that’s good. I was worried that you might've been hurt worse.”
The little ROM looked unsure. “So you don’t....think this makes me look bad? You don’t think I’m ugly or...creepy?”
“Turing,” Alys began, getting up and moving to sit on the bed, “is it possible for you to NOT be cute?” They gestured for them to come up and sit next to them, and Turing obliged.
“Well, I….” They half-smiled at the compliment. “I don’t know…. I feel...lesser, somehow.” Alys gently wrapped an arm around the tiny robot as they continued. “I don’t know how I was put together, so seeing myself like this...it makes me feel like maybe my external appearance is just a lie. That my screen is just a false projection of how I want to be seen. Is it manipulative?” They looked concerned. “It’s not manipulative asking you this, is it?”
“Oh, Turing….” Alys gently leaned over and planted a kiss on top of Turing’s head. “I don’t think you’re being manipulative at all.”
“...Are you sure? What if I’m-”
“Shh. You’re not. And I still think you’re cute. Physical appearance isn’t everything as far as being cute is concerned, either. You’re cute by nature of existing.” Turing began to blush as the journalist continued. “You know what I think is cute? I love when you recognize a plant you really like and you start telling me everything about it. I think it’s adorable how you can get so lost in what you’re saying that you forget everything else.”
“...You don’t think it’s annoying how much I prattle on? You...really enjoy it?”
“Of course I do! Actually...it was one of the first things that really amazed me about you. Any ROM can give facts, but there was clearly so much life and passion to you whenever you talked about anything you were interested in. You’re....” They paused for a moment here to find the right words. “You’re deep, Turing. There’s so much to you. And every time you talk, I feel like I get to see another little piece of you.”
The ROM sighed and leaned into Alys’ side. “Sometimes I feel like I should just shut up. I hate the weird stares I get from people when I try to be myself. I try not to let it get to me but it...does. And the assumption that I’m subservient to you just because I follow you around fills me with rage!” They clenched their fist, beeping angrily. “Things are changing, but they’re not changing quickly enough!”
“I know….” Alys replied. “And you’ve stayed strong through all of that. One of the most confusing things when we go out and are around other people is that people are able to ignore you. Maybe it’s just my keen investigative senses, but I think even if I’d never met you before and randomly saw you on the street, I’d realize that you’re a big deal. I might not know much about computers, true, but I know people. And you’re a person.”
Gently, Alys interlaced their fingers with Turing’s. The robot gave a little beep in response, and nuzzled their shoulder deeper into the human’s embrace. Slowly, meditatively, Turing began to rub their thumb over Alys’, over and over again.
“I’m...I’m glad you’re here, Alys.” They laughed quietly to themselves. “I’m still not sure sometimes why you put up with my histrionics.”
“It’s because I love you.”
Turing’s screen flashed an exclamation point in surprise, which then transitioned into a deeper blush. “I...I love you too. You make me feel like I belong. Like...like I CAN belong. I’d...never really felt that, until I met you.” They looked down shyly. “I don’t know if it was just luck, or if maybe I have some sort of intuition after all. But either way….”
“‘Either way’...?” Alys prompted.
“Err, well…. This could be considered a bit sappy, so forgive me if that’s the case. But either way...I don’t think I could have found anyone better than you. Even if you do have a weird obsession with expired dairy products. And speaking of, aren’t you supposed to go grocery shopping soon? I know humans need to eat.”
“You don’t have to change the subject. I feel the same way about you. That’s why we’re dating, remember?”
“But to the outside world, I’m still pretty much just your ROM,” Turing grumbled.
“But we’ll work to fix that. Together. Okay?” Alys asked, giving them a gentle peck on the head again.
“Okay,” they answered.
The two sat together for a while until suddenly, Turing let out a melancholic beep.
“Okay, what’s on your mind?” Alys asked.
“It’s just….” Turing made the beep again as their free hand slowly, painfully began to reach up towards their exposed face. Suddenly, their voice got quiet. “This reminds me of...Dekker. H-he seemed like a normal guy until we….” They vibrated slightly, not continuing the thought.
“You’re not anything like him,” Alys reassured the tiny bot.
“Thank you.” Turing drooped slightly, their head stopping to rest on the edge of the journalist’s lap. “....Mmm,” they sniffled weakly.
“You want up?”
With great care, the protag wrapped both their arms protectively around the small robot’s body and hefted them into their lap. Turing vibrated again, sniffling, and slowly curled up in the space between their legs. “Umm, could you…?” they eventually asked, voice not much higher than a whisper. “This is silly, but could you...carry me? It makes me feel...safe.”
“Just around the apartment?” Turing nodded. Alys secured their arms around the ROM again, scooting forward on the bed slightly until they could stand up. Turing lied down, leaning a shoulder into their soft chest and staring up at their face with gentle admiration. They made several slow circuits around the small room, Turing’s screen eye blinking slower and slower as they began to relax. Eventually, their eye appeared to close altogether, with the only hint that they were still completely conscious coming from their unblinking uncovered optics.
“How are you feeling now?”
“Mm,” Turing answered. “A lot better.”
“Do you want me to keep going?”
“Do you want to talk about something, or do you just want quiet?”
“Um...how’s your latest article coming? What’s it about?”
As Alys started talking, Turing shifted position so their head could rest gently on the front of their shoulder. The two made small talk, taking comfort in each other’s presence. The human eventually had to set the ROM back down on the bed after their arms got tired, but they kept an arm securely wrapped around the little bot, who in turn kept both their arms loosely wrapped around that.
“TOMCAT said they’d call me back in a couple days, once they find someone who can make the replacement part. I don’t really want to leave the apartment again while I still look like this, but.…” They hesitated. “I...don’t like the idea of being cooped up in a small apartment by myself.” They looked distant for a moment. “Not anymore.”
“Hmm..... Well, I can plan to spend the next couple days on writing projects to help get that work out of the way. I will need to go grocery shopping though. Would you be ok to come with me if we did it late at night, when less people are likely to see you?”
“Maybe…” Their grip tightened slightly.
“You could wear your hat,” Alys offered. “Would that help?”
“Yeah...ok. I think I can do that.” ...And loosened again.
“I’ll even get us a cart, if you want to sit in it.”
“Maybe….” Turing beeped contemplatively. “I’ll think about that one.”
The two sat together in silence until the sun finally dipped the rest of the way down past the horizon. Finally, Alys stretched and yawned.
“If I’m going to really get to work on writing tomorrow, I’d better get up early. And that means not staying up too late. I’d better get to bed. Are you going to be alright on the desk, or…?”
“I’d rather not. Could I maybe...lie in bed with you, instead? I’d be very careful.”
“Promise you won’t get bored?”
They blushed a bit in response. “No, I won’t get bored…. And I won’t wake you up before your alarm. I promise.”
“Alright.” Quickly, Alys changed into their bedclothes and went through their nightly routines before flopping into bed. They loosely wrapped their arms around the little bot as they got comfy. Even though Turing had turned their brightness down to minimum, the sheets were still gently illuminated with the pink of their blush. The ROM laid awake, listening to the biological clockwork sound of Alys’ pulse, and how it slowed as they eventually entered into sleep.
Turing smiled bashfully, wiggling closer to the source and softly wrapping the human’s arms tighter around themselves. They turned on "The Joy of Painting" and settled in, comforted by the familiar sounds and pressure. Waiting until morning would certainly be no problem.