MoboReader> Sci-fi > The Inscrutable Mr. Robot

   Chapter 5 No.5

The Inscrutable Mr. Robot By CSeanMcGee Characters: 35249

Updated: 2018-02-26 12:01

There was a poster on a wall at the bus terminal of a young girl who was dreaming about all the things she wanted to be when she grew up. In one of her thoughts, she was a doctor, and she was looking into the ear of someone who looked sick or very sad.

And in the picture beside it, she was in a fancy dress – probably expensive too - and she was standing in front of a board with lots of statistics and numbers on it. She might have owned the business, or she might have just been hired to save it.

And in the picture below that, she was standing on a stage with the most magnificent brass band behind her and hundreds of thousands of people all stupid and happy because her music was so good. And by looking at her you'd think that she was punk rock, but with the brass ensemble, maybe she was just a darker kind of jazz.

And in the picture beside that was the same girl but this time she was walking her baby in a pram. It was sunny out and there were birds flying overhead, and she had the biggest smile on her face. It was as if her baby had just done the most hilarious thing.

In the middle of those little pictures was the girl. She looked happy – happy because she could be any one of those things; happy because she could be all of them if that's what she really wanted.

And at the top of the poster was a sentence that read: 'Be anyone you wanna be; just be yourself'. It wasn't an old poster, but for some reason, the top right corner had become unstuck and it had started to peel away.

Mr. Robot thought for a second about all the things that he could be, and all the things that he could do. "Your potential is limitless, " he heard The Engineer's voice say, over and over again. He had probably meant the words to inspire, but instead, Mr. Robot started to panic.

"There are so many things, " he thought. "How can I choose just one? And what if I choose the wrong one? And what if I know so many, but I don't know all of them? How many should I know? And what if I know too many?"

There were buses that went in all directions that could take him to every corner of the city – from every park and square to every back alley and dead-end street. There were blue, green, yellow, and red buses; and some of them had stripes while others had movie stars stuck onto the sides. And while most were like tin cans on wheels, some of them were as big as boats.

"…to the city. One way."

A hip man stood impatiently in front of Mr. Robot, jingling some coins in his hand and chewing on a piece of gum like some prized over-fed cow. He looked unimpressed; not just with Mr. Robot and the coins in his hand, no, he looked unimpressed with everything – with the station, the people in it, and even himself.

"C'mon ya piece 'o crap, " he said, slapping Mr. Robot's side.

Startled, Mr. Robot jumped backward, almost crushing a small child.

"Hey!" he said. "That's not nice."

He didn't notice the child or his screaming mother.

Panicked, The Hip Man apologised, thinking he had been captured on some closed circuit device. Then, as if a switch had been flicked, his demeanour changed instantly; his unresponsive distant comportment all of a sudden looked mannerly, educated and unslouching. It was if a coil or earnest responsibility had snapped back into place and he was the version of himself that apologised to old ladies and wore seatbelts at traffic lights.

"My apologies, " he said, staring into Mr. Robot's eyes, looking for a camera and assuming he was speaking to one or two uniformed guards who could have been in any one of the small buildings or offices behind him. "I uh…I…I was um…I was…."

He was looking for an excuse.

Seeing how terrified The Hip Man was, Mr. Robot immediately felt terrible, as if he were responsible for the human's sense of fear and intimidation. A wave of guilt washed over him and his first instinct was to apologise.

"Please don't be scared, " he said.

He reached his arm forward to assure The Hip Man but this only made things worse.

"You can't apprehend me. I didn't do anything. My money got stuck, " shouted The Hip Man, running off in the opposite direction.

Mr. Robot immediately wore his confused expression. His head tilted eight degrees and one of his eyebrows raised. It wasn't the clearest of expressions; in fact, the same expression was also programmed for feelings of fascination, curiosity, grief, and disgust.

And then it happened again.

"Two return tickets to the city please."

Mr. Robot lowered his head to the elderly couple standing before him. They looked as if they had lived together through a dozen wars, and just as many technical revolutions. Despite this, they looked excited. The old lady looked overwhelmed by it all; at the same time, she looked like she was willing to give anything a go. The old man, on the other hand, looked like he hadn't died yet.

"I think this blasted machine is broken, dear, " said The Old Lady.

Her husband nodded. He was at that age; it was all he could do.

"I wonder if I press this button, " she said, referring to the obscenely large red button on Mr. Robot's abdomen.

Instantly Mr. Robot stepped backward.

"I apologise but I can't let you do that."

"Oh, dear, " said The Old Lady in delicious surprise. "It's a talking machine. This is new. Have you seen one before, dear?"

Her husband continued to nod. It was obvious now that he wasn't agreeing with her; this was merely a side effect of being very old.

"I'm not a machine, " said Mr. Robot.

"Oh no?" replied The Old Lady. It was as if someone had told her it was sunny outside, even though she swore she could hear rain. "Well if you are not a machine then what are you?"

Were she ten years younger she might have thought herself strange standing there with a handful of coins, conversing with a tin can. It might have been old age, the hair dye she used this morning, or just a sign of the times; whatever it was, The Old Lady was giddy just to be talking and for someone or something, to be listening.

"I am a robot, " said Mr. Robot.

The Old Lady looked a trifle baffled.

"A robot you say."


"And not a machine?"


"I must say you do look like one."

"I can assure you I'm not."

"Hmm. I do hope you don't find me rude in any way, but for the life of me I can't tell the difference."

Mr. Robot pondered for a moment. He stared at all the machines in the station. Some of them were tickets machines, some of them were vending machines, while others would tell you your fortune. He couldn't, though, see a single similarity between those primitive technologies and himself; a robot – not a machine. But still, even though he couldn't see a similarity, it was near impossible for him to explain a single difference.

"I'm not sure either, " he said, genuinely stumped.

"Well isn't that strange, " said The Old Lady, looking first at Mr. Robot, then at her nodding husband. "What an interesting world we live in. I did think you were the ticket machine. I do apologise, though. I'm not usually someone who judges. I'm fond of all the races and all the people with their different types of sexes; though it is hard to keep up sometimes, isn't it dear?"

Her husband's head wobbled back and forth. It's a surprise that it hadn't already rolled off his shoulders altogether.

"It was much easier in our day, you see. The trains only ever went in two directions, and a man was a man because of what he had in his pants, not because of what he liked to do with it, you know? But I'm not one to judge. I agree with all the new fads, I do, it's just…"

She paused for a moment as if she had just finished sprinting a mile.

"It's just so hard to keep up. I honestly never know if I'm supporting someone or offending them. It's for the better, though, it is."

The husband once again was nodding, but there was a look of discordance in his eyes. He might have been dizzy or it might have been something far more severe; a chronic condition that nobody had yet seemed to notice.

"Can I ask?" said The Old Lady, resting one of her little hands on Mr. Robots elbow. "Would you know where the ticket machine is?"

"I'm sorry I don't."

"You don't work here?"

"No, no I don't. I'm like you."

"But a little different."

"Yes, I suppose. I'm a robot."

"What kind of robot are you?"

Again, Mr. Robot couldn't think of a suitable response. He'd never been asked these types of questions. He knew he was a robot in part because of his name, but he had never once stopped to think of how a robot should act, and whether or not he was technically or even socially apt.

"I'm not really sure how to explain."

"Well you're not a very concise robot, are you?"

"I suppose not, no."

"Well, what do you do? Robots, machines, and even people, we all do something. There is some task or skill that we all do that other people can do, but maybe not as well as we do it. Maybe there is one thing we do better than all the other things we know how to do, and that is how we would define ourselves."

"Well, what kind of human are you?"

The Old Lady looked a little puzzled; only for a second, though.

"In my day, many aeons ago mind you, I could hold a pretty tune."

Her husband's eyes lit up. Still nodding away, it looked as if a light had been switched on somewhere in the back of his mind – as if some cherished melody were ringing out in his ears.

"Not so much nowadays, " she said.

"Why did you stop?"

She turned and kissed her husband on the cheek, holding his head still as best she could. She remembered their first kiss, but more so, she remembered the sound of his warm breath in her ear as their faces pressed against each other. His passion exhaled across her skin like some sweet relief. She remembered how it tickled her neck, and how it ran down her back in a soft shiver. And finally how the tips of her toes felt like they had been frostbitten; on a scorching summer eve. And it was at that moment that she had become deaf to the melody in her own voice.

"Matters of the heart, " she said, profoundly.

"It must have been a difficult decision, choosing one over the other."

"My husband for singing? No, it wasn't difficult. Have you ever been in love?"

"No, " said Mr. Robot. "I'm not sure."

"Can robots love?"

"I assume so, " he replied, "but how would I know what love is?

Though she did her best to think of all the decisions she had made that brought her joy and happiness, she was instantly reminded of all the compromises she had made in her life for the sake of her husband's ego and his insecurities. Love, she truly prescribed to, was watching the man you once lusted over take off his fetid garments, and after feeling repulsed at the sight of his unwashed, grossly overweight body, still kneeling before that temple of neglect, and making gentle and compassionate love to him.

"Love is making a seemingly impossible decision look easy, " she said.

"So love is a decision-making tool?"

"I suppose it is."

Though her words were profound, it was as if it were she herself who was buried beneath the rubble of her own contention.

"How do you know if your decisions were right? What is your gauge? What is your measure?"

"One does not question matters of the heart, " she said, "even if the heart is in fact in question."

"So you make a lifetime of incalculable decisions? Are there consequences?"

The way her husband looked at her, you could tell that in their youth there would have been consequences, many of them. Some of them would have been scratches, bruises, and even broken bones; the worst, though, was the deflated and sometimes non-existent sense of self-worth and appreciation.

She may not have felt the consequences of her decisions for years, maybe even decades, but the look in her husband's eyes showed that The Old Lady had never forgotten the important lessons she had learned on matters of the heart.

"Love is an act of giving, " she said, seeming to accept her fate. "One is not kissed without in that same moment kissing back."

Mr. Robot had never kissed anyone before. Though he had once been stuck between a fence and a gardening shed for an entire weekend.

"Do you still sing?"

This whole time, The Old Lady looked like she was on the verge of tears. She looked like it, but decades of love and affection has leathered her skin, just as much as it had her heart and her true feelings. So though she looked as if some great tidal flood were pressing against the backs of her eyes; it would take a great deal more than a robot's naivety to rattle her womanly charm.

"No I don't, " she said, but somewhat stern and defiant. "Just as I don't nurse on my mother's breast or babble incoherently."

As she did, her husband moaned, his head still flopping back and forth.

"I do not dwell in the past. Getting older is about letting go. All of this is. Life is. I have seen so many dear friends pass, and I have buried my parents and even one of my children. And as for myself, I cannot run like I did in my youth. I cannot jump up and down in exultant glee. I'm not sure my heart could even contain such a manner of joy and exhilaration. I cannot speak with the same rousing passion, and I have less energy than I do patience, to argue and prove my point. Our whole lives are compromises; they are compromises to the sands of time and we are merely arranging states of entropy. There are many things I once did that I cannot do anymore and more than likely, tomorrow there will be one or two more that I could do today which will be added to that list. Life is a work of art – the art of letting go."

"If you could sing - If it were something you had only forgotten if you could, would you?"

She hadn't forgotten. She still sang, or at least the young girl within did, immured beneath a lifetime of servitude; whose voice was no louder than the dull blow of a hammer against a tear-stained pillow. The voice was there singing but caged inside her heart, which itself was kept safe from her husband's archaic affection, somewhere that even she couldn't find.

"My husband here would be lost without me, " she said.

As she did, The Old Man continued nodding, his hand trembling in hers.

"So you are a compass?" asked Mr. Robot.

She looked at her husband who was frail and jittery. He looked as if breathing were the last vice that he was capable of himself, and even that, soon enough, would require some mechanical support or at worst, some terminal compassion. And he might have been like this his whole life; not in his physical condition mind you, but emotionally. He may have needed her in a way that gave her purpose and direction, but in a destination that was contrary to her hopes and dreams.

"It does sound nicer when you put it like that."

"Do you miss your youth?"

The Old Lady looked like she might start crying at any second. Her eyes softened as if an ocean of tears had finally, after all these years, eroded her hardened defences.

"Only when I think of it as gone, " she replied.

"When did it go? Do you remember at all?"

She stared at her husband longingly once more. She sighed heavily as if she had been holding this breath for seventy years. She answered, looking straight into her husband's eyes.

"A long time before I got old, " she said.

The Old Lady took her husband's hand and lightly massaged the back of his head. This was something she loved to have done to her but which she could only experience by doing it for her husband; he who could care less either way.

"May I ask?"

"Yes, " replied The Old Lady.

"If you were his compass this whole time then what was he looking for if it wasn't you?"

And that as it turns out was the only thing anyone had ever said that made The Old Lady cry. It wasn't a great deal. In fact, it was one single tear, but she noticed and her husband noticed. The Old Lady kissed him once more, but this time it was indifferent; almost consolatory.

"Come on, dear, " she said, taking his hand and guiding him step by step, along the platform, in search of the ticket machine.

The Old Man gave Mr. Robot a distrusting look. In his youth, this very look might have made a man cower, but as feeble as he was, it looked less condemning and more of a quiet and desperate plea to let him have this; that which he had had his whole life. Soon enough he would be dead and she could sing again if that's what her heart desired. But just let him have this.

As they neared the edge of the platform, The Old Lady turned to Mr. Robot and said, "I think I know just what type of robot you are." And then she turned away.

For a minute, Mr. Robot stood there dumbfounded. If she knew what type of robot he was, why wouldn't she tell him? What did she have to gain by keeping a secret? He stood there for a minute or two thinking about their discourse. Had he offended her? Was she crying and sad, and unable to go on? Did she hate him now? Or was she laughing at him and saying terrible things? Would she talk about him behind his back?

"Your potential is limitless, " echoed the voice in Mr. Robot's head as he slowly made his way across the platform watching everybody rushing about in brisk procession. Those words should have inspired, instead, they made his doubt and insecurity seem so grand and vast that no amount of effort would ever suffice. His steps were slow and cautious, like a rudderless vessel adrift in a sea of indecision, whilst everyone else zipped about in a fu

ry of reckless impatience.

Mr. Robot studied them all. Each and every glaring face had a destination or some impending fate etched upon it – its terrain marked in the lines of worry and burden beneath their eyes and upon their reddened foreheads.

"Excuse me, " they'd scream – their words hardly as polite as they sounded. They'd push and they'd shove just to get on a bus or a train. And they'd wriggle their way into the most compromising positions just to get where they were going. They all knew their purpose. They knew it with such clarity and childlike definition that they knew not only where they going, but also every possible way of getting there.

Mr. Robot didn't. All he could think about was being back in his room playing Operation whilst listening to The Engineer tinkering away in his workshop. The Engineer's work was not just impressive, it was a kind of meditation, and it took away the fear of the buzzing sound that made Mr. Robot almost stop playing the board game for good.

Right now, though, all he wanted was to be at home. He wanted to be hoisted off the ground and told that it would all be ok and that he should just close his eyes and try to get some sleep because tomorrow would be another day. It didn't matter if it was a kind voice or if it was a tired, disgruntled, or mean. He could be coddled and whispered to, or he could be shouted at and looked down upon; it didn't matter, so long as he knew where to be, what to do, and how long he would be there.

Mr. Robot stared at the people, and then at the rows of machines that were scattered about the station. "What am I, " he thought, "my mind or my body? Am I these waves of insecurity and self-doubt, or am I these mechanical limbs and ill-fitted hinges? Am I man or am I machine?"

And so, like any thinking robot might do, Mr. Robot went machine by machine, putting coins into their slots and pressing all sorts of buttons, curious as to how a non-thinking robot functioned.

One machine offered him the time while another offered him refreshments and assorted nuts. Another dispensed maps and timetables, while the ticket machine did as its name suggested. Needless to say, Mr. Robot was in awe. Even the simple elevator left him in marvel. All these machines had the barest of functions, but they performed them flawlessly. They were consistent; and more, so, they were useful.

Mr. Robot looked at his own body in the reflection on the elevator doors. Unlike the other machines, there was no coin slot, there was no dispenser and there were no pre-recorded messages. There was just a big red button; that and nothing more.

He stared at the big red button on his chest. He should have looked at it with a sense of dread and foreboding; instead, he looked at it with the warm surety of a father's hug or a mother's goodnight kiss. Were he to press it now, he would never have to worry again. It would be quick and he probably wouldn't feel a thing. But most certainly, all of his doubts and indecisions would disappear.

So why on Earth didn't he press it?

As the hordes of commuters rushed about, Mr. Robot stared at them all, wondering if they too had big red buttons. And if so, he wondered where they kept them, and whether they felt as strongly as he did about pressing theirs. Looking at them, though, it was hard to imagine how a human could ever be unsatisfied.

For the most part they appeared simple and unsophisticated; not in their aesthetics, but in their behaviour. They spoke about obvious things like the weather and the number of seats on a train; and they smiled a lot, even when nothing funny had been said. And though their clothes and hair looked impeccable and grossly expensive, their words, on the other hand, were like some hyper-inflated currency. They had no value, no substance; and their insults and compliments were in such great abundance, it was hard to tell one from the other.

Even still, there was something about them that Mr. Robot could not understand. And it was that alone which made them so fascinating. He mimicked their expressions as best he could, though his pivots and joints were nowhere near as malleable. And so, just like he did with the machines, Mr. Robot walked passed each person, one by one, and tried to understand their utility. He tried to guess their function, and just by looking, to predict their accuracy.

For the most part, they all looked like pristine, state of the art versions of how he felt inside – man and machine, yet neither one nor the other. The men were striking and handsome. Not a fibre in their suits stuck out; neither a hair on their heads. And though very few had any real physical or muscular proportion, dressed as they were, they each emulated strength and virility, with each of them looking like a banker, dictator, or at the very least, as if they could father a dozen children.

Whereas the men – like pin-striped zebras- were invisible in their herd, the women, on the other hand, were not. Their beauty was multi-layered; it was dimensional. They looked just as pristine, if not more so, yet their sense of dress and reverent expressions made each one stand out in unmistakable fashion; it also made them quite vindictive. They emulated strategy and calculation. More so, their instincts were sharper than the rest.

Neither, though, looked like the weaker prey.

Mr. Robot then stared at his reflection once more. If these men and women looked like they could start a war, then Mr. Robot looked as if the war had already happened and he was all that was left. He was an eye-sore; that was plain to see. He didn't look like he had any use. He looked like something that had been forgotten or left behind. He looked old and out of date. Why then, was he so dangerous?

And again he found himself staring at those simple yet profound words posted on a wall beside a stairwell; "Be whoever you want to be, " they read, "just be yourself."

"I'm scared, " he thought. "I'm scared of who I might be."

He thought about all of the bad things that people had done. He thought about torture and genocide, and the murder of defenceless children. And then he thought about tidal waves and hurricanes, and then finally heart attacks and suicides. Nothing was as bad as what Mr. Robot might do next, and that's what scared him the most.

Mr. Robot's attention was taken at first by a man juggling sticks of fire, greeting passengers as they quickly shuffled by. The man's act was astounding; full of danger and poise, yet it wasn't enough to outdo his ragged appearance. Most of his teeth were missing and there were scores of open sores on his face like massive craters. His hair was matted and knotted and looked like how it must have smelt – like a mound of pubic hair clumped at the bottom of a urinal. Worse still were his sunken veins which paled only slightly to his sunken cheeks and his shipwrecked expression. Yet, for as dastardly as his appearance seemed, the man performed with the grace of a trained professional. It was as if this one act were the only language that he could speak without effort – in profound and articulate fluency.

But the world didn't seem to care. They seemed unflattered by his effort as if his presence were more of a spectacle than it was spectacular. And it showed too, not only in how person after person barged past him but also in how empty the coloured hat was that lay upturned by his feet. There were a few copper coins, sure, but most of these had fallen out of the man's own pockets. Regardless of their ill-attention, though, the man never broke his rhythm. He never once looked defeated or dismayed. He looked as unaffected by them as they were of him. Yet in his trance, he juggled as if the stick were an infant that he would nary let slip through his fingers.

And when the morning rush finally passed, he packed up his belongings and left the station. The small coins he had gathered went back into his soiled pants with his bag full of sticks flung over his skeletal shoulders.

And then all of a sudden it was quiet. The roar of engines had stopped. So too had the stampede of loafers and high heels; and Mr. Robot was, once again, entirely alone with his thoughts. On the outside, he looked no different to the vending machines on either side of his misshaped arms. On the inside, though, he was racked with doubt and anxiety.

It was then, in the sheer quiet, that Mr. Robot's attention got taken once more; and this time it would change his life forever. He heard a deep and worrying moan coming from a wall that overlooked the train tracks below. It sounded like a goat mourning its dead calf. Mr. Robot walked in the direction of the straining and heavy breathing with little reason why, and even lesser reason why not.

There, passing time in a reckless and perilous manner was a dishevelled looking man, dangling over the edge with his fingers nervously clutched to the legs of his pants.

"I love ya, darlin, " he mumbled. "I wish there was more to say, but that about sums it up. Be good to your mother."

And as he pushed away from the edge, Mr. Robot grabbed the man's shoulders, pulling him back over the wall and onto the pavement below.

"Goddamnit, " screamed The Man.

"Are you ok, sir?"

"What the hell did you do that for?"

"You would have fallen if you continued moving as such."

"I jumped."

He sounded amazed or dismayed; there was a fine line between the two.

"You could have quite easily been injured."

"I was trying to kill myself."

The Man paced back and forth, peering over the wall a dozen times in disbelief.

"Do you realise how hard that was to actually jump? Do you? I've been sitting on this wall every day for the last three days now just thinking about my miserable, shitty existence. And when I do get the balls to end it…."

On one hand, he sounded bitter and bemused, but beneath it all, he looked kind of relieved. "I'm never gonna get that courage again, " he said, kicking Mr. Robot's iron leg. "Fuck you."

They both hovered over the edge of the wall, peering down at the tracks below.

"No trains pass here, " said Mr. Robot.

The Man peered into the empty tunnel.

"Why the hell not?"

"The trains are on strike. It's why there are so many buses this morning. I read it on the news."

Mr. Robot looked pleased with himself.


"If you had jumped, I think at best you might have broken a bone or two, but nothing more severe than that."

They both peered over the edge at the mound of rock and rubble below with long expressions as if somewhere in that dark abyss were the end of the race that neither of them was committed to run.

"Why do you want to kill yourself?" asked Mr. Robot.

He emphasized the word 'you' as if the act alone of killing oneself were arbitrary.

"I felt like it, I suppose."

"What does it feel like; this urge?"

Mr. Robot had an urge too but he didn't know how to tell anyone about it.

"It's hard to explain; I just feel warm and disconnected, and all I wanna do is to jump in front of a train."

The Man didn't sound sad, and he didn't at all sound deranged or perturbed. He might as well have been describing his method for choosing socks in the morning.

"Let's say I feel cold; well then I'll just put on a sweater. I know that when I feel that way, putting on a sweater will make the feeling stop, and so I do it. And If I'm hot and bothered, I'll sit in front of a fan. If my stomach rumbles one way I'm hungry; if it's another I'm sick. It's not rocket science; I've been doing this for thirty-eight years. And, I don't know, every once in a while I feel this warmth, like a blanket of disapproving fire; and when I feel it, I want to kill myself - the same way as when I feel the rumble in my stomach and I either want a sandwich, or I need a toilet."

"Is it something you learned, or is it something you just understood?"

The way he asked, you'd think he hoped the answer was 'yes'.

The Man just shook his head. "I don't really remember anyone dying of old age; nobody in my family anyway - nobody that would make a difference. Most died of some shitty disease, some stupid accident, and, just going on statistics, pretty much most of everyone I know killed themselves."

He was as serious as you would be, talking about death and suicide, but he wasn't emotional. And he wasn't dead inside either. He looked almost scholarly as if this moment were the antiquity of a lifetime of study and introspection.

And so he continued. "You know those cornerstone memories, " he said, "you're kind of tethered to them your whole life like a Promethean rock. Now, for me, when I look back, I don't remember trophies, ribbons, or podiums. I can't even recall finishing a single race. Not to say I never finished one, just, looking back, I have no proof. I remember all my friends who hanged themselves, and I know scores of others too. And I remember the guy who jumped in front of the train, and all the crazy shit he did leading up to that. I remember the guy who drove his car into a cinder block and I remember the sound of his mother's waling at his funeral. I'd never heard a person cry like that before. And finally, I remember the guy who stepped in front of a truck one cold August morning. I wasn't driving. I was trying to light a cigarette, and that's when I saw him. I remember the sound of breaking glass, and I remember wishing I hadn't looked back. I'm not saying my life was miserable or that I had never been spoiled or fawned upon; or that I had never been part of a winning team. I had. I had a life no different to any other kid it's just, these are the people and the moments I remember. Some of them, you know, were strangers; we'd only met that day. And some of them had been my best friends at one point or another."

"Why a train?"

"I'm scared of the pain, " said The Man. "Dying used to be easier in the past. You could stick your head in the oven and the gas would kill you. Now the gas is all clean. It'll make you sick; maybe take off a few I.Q points, but nothing more severe than a headache. Used to be that you could gas yourself in your car. God damned emission standards mean that's impossible too. Hanging is no good; and anyway, I'm shit with knots. The only way I can think that doesn't involve choking to death for god knows how long is jumping in front of a train. At least it's quick, and there's no pain."

And though he sounded rational, as he spoke, Mr. Robot stared at the big red button on his chest. "Your understanding of this feeling that you cannot explain, " he said. "Is it innate? Is killing oneself a part of your human programming?"

As they spoke, a bus pulled into the terminal. The Bus Driver was the first to alight. He was barely one foot out the door before the cigarette in his mouth was lit and being drawn upon like some medicated life preserver. After him was an obese old lady being shuffled in circles like a piece of obtuse furniture as her carers struggled to squeeze her past all the right angles and turnstiles without tripping or getting stuck. And behind her, in nearly a fit of anxiety, was a young man whose reddened face gave the impression that his heart might stop if he had to wait for a second longer. And behind him, two lovers held hands, but they did so obligingly as if, like wearing pants in public, they were merely adhering to some social convention. There was barely a current of affection running through their bodies, and their stares were listless and vacant; both looking dispassionately in opposite directions.

Mr. Robot studied each one. He could see in each of them how they had already pressed their red buttons. Most had made a habit, if not a lifestyle, out of killing themselves in one way or another.

"It is hard to gauge the utility of such an action."

"I have a daughter, " said The Man. "She's only seven. I read that if a girl loses her father before the age of ten that there is a greater chance that she will grow up to be an artist. And if you kill yourself it's almost certain."

"You wish for her to adopt an artistic perspective?"

"It's something no one take away from her. And it's something I can give her; at least that I can."

"Amaurobius Ferox, " said Mr. Robot.

"What's that? You trying to be smart? You think I'm crazy, don't you?"

"Quite the contrary, in fact. Amaurobius Ferox is a type of spider, wherein the mother sacrifices herself to her new borne as their first nutritious meal. It is quite a noble gesture, and more so, an apt utility, in regards to one's inevitable death. Congratulations, " said Mr. Robot, shaking The Man's hand. "That is quite impressive, for a human."

The Man blushed. He wasn't accustomed to such affirming validation. All of a sudden he had a new perspective on his miserable existence; as if he were on the verge of some profound accomplishment. For the first time, he felt noticed, visible, and heard. The blood that coursed through his veins felt magnetic; his whole body tingled in fact. He felt good and wholesome. He felt alive. This was hardly the time to jump in front of a train.

"If you like, " said Mr. Robot, pulling The Man off the floor and walking him out of the station, "we can go to where there are trains."

The Man nodded, dusting himself off. "Ok, " he said. "Thank you."

Mr. Robot smiled. He had, it seemed, for the very first time, a function; and almost instantly he stopped thinking about his own abandon, and even went as far as forgetting about his red button.

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