“I’m not going to listen to any more of this nonsense, Anon,” Mom said, her voice several decibels louder than normal. “Androids don’t go to school!”
“If my purpose was not to attend school, why was I designed to appear as a human child?” I asked.
Mom and Dad stared at each other with wide eyes. Dad sighed and gave me a sad smile. “I guess we wanted to fit in with the rest of our friends. We couldn’t have biological children. When Mom made you, she gave us a child we could enjoy for the rest of our lives.”
Mom took a cleansing breath, like when she was doing her yoga routine, and lowered her voice. Her face resembled classic human beauty standards when she was relaxed, which only occurred 37% of each 24-hour period. Long shimmering black hair with white strands framed her symmetrical face. Her large brown eyes were filled with tears. According to my emotional sensitivity program, she was sad.
“Anon, there is no reason for you to attend school,” she said, wiping her eyes. “You’re already programmed to know everything you would ever need to know.” She patted the synthetic skin on my hand. “You’re a big help to me at home. How would I finish all my work for the corporation if I didn’t have you doing research?”
I did help Mom for 67% of my active periods. Not only did I research properties for the corporation to absorb into its ever-expanding empire, but I also did the house chores that couldn’t be completed by the cleaning bots.
Knowing I was useful made my core thrum with pleasure, but it wasn’t enough.
“All the other kids go to school,” I insisted, accessing my sulky voice program.
Mom and Dad looked at each other. Did they have a form of mind-speak not included in my family interaction files? Mom sniffed. Dad set down his tablet and took a sip of coffee.
“It might be instructive for Anon to experience school,” he said.
The next morning, I stood at the bus stop with a crowd of children, my backpack hanging from my shoulder and my Avengers lunch pail clutched in my hand. Although I would not require food and bathroom breaks, my realistic human design should allow me to fit in as a normal child.
“New kid, back of the line!” A large stocky kid pushed me on my chest compartment, causing me to lose my balance and tumble to the ground.
“Leave him alone, Mikey,” a soft but firm voice said. I looked up to see a girl, at least 47% shorter than the boy, in a pale pink dress standing in front of him, her hands on her hips. From my non-verbal language program, I knew that meant she was challenging him.
“Who’s gonna make me?” Mikey retorted.
“A little girl in a pink dress,” she said, touching his arm.
Zap! He jumped back like his circuits were overloaded and hit the ground with a loud thump. His eyes wide, he regained his feet with speed I would not have predicted. After giving the girl a hateful glare, he shuffled to the back of the line. The girl took my hand and helped me up.
“It’s hard being a new kid,” she said, leading us to one of the front seats. We had six empty seats around us. 88% of the other students preferred the back section of the bus.
“Yes, it is,” I confirmed. I watched her buckle her seat belt and then I did the same.
“I’m Adeline,” the girl said, tiny indentations on her face deepening with her smile. My program named them dimples. “Don’t pay any attention to Mikey. His parents knock him around at home, so he has to bring it to school. I always carry a zapper with me.” She showed me the small device. I scanned its circuits to construct one for myself later. It seemed wise to add a nonlethal weapon to my arsenal.
I smiled back, my program upturning my mouth. “Thank you for defending me, although you were not obligated by family connections to do so. My name is Anon.”
“Nice to meet you, Anon,” Adeline said.
When we got to school, Adeline walked me to the office where I was assigned to Mrs. Roberts’ fourth grade class. Although my actual educational level was post doctorate degree, my physical size and communication patterns were similar to a ten-year-old human child. Adeline was in my class, and that made my core hum.
After that, we walked around the playground as Adeline introduced me to her friends. The bell rang, and we lined up outside our classroom.
“Welcome to our class, Anon,” said a woman 37% taller than average, wearing a “Learning is an Adventure” t-shirt and jeans. Mrs. Roberts smiled, and then added, “Class, we have a new student, Anon. Please help him adjust to our class routines.”
My programming made classwork easy. Every time Mrs. Roberts asked the class a question, I raised my hand. After ten minutes, I noticed some of the students frowning in my direction and giving me what Adeline would later describe as “the stink eye.”
“Give other students a chance to speak,” Adeline whispered.
That’s when I realized being in class was not about showing everyone how much I knew. I was a circuit in a larger machine. Mrs. Roberts’ class was made up of many moving parts, or students. Every student needed to contribute to the class.
After one hour and thirty minutes, a bell rang. It was time for a recreation period called recess. I stood in line at the ball room to get a bouncy ball, per Adeline’s instructions. Just as the playground supervisor was going to hand it to me, Mikey pushed in and grabbed it. He ran out to the hand ball court, a posse of boys behind him.
“He can’t get away with that,” Adeline grumbled.
“I’ll go get the ball from him,” I offered. My programming offered an efficient solution, but I knew from reading the school rules booklet that striking Mikey’s head with my fist would end up with me being suspended. My prediction program told me Mom and Dad would not be happy with me if that occurred.
Instead I would enact my negotiation protocol. I approached Mikey, who was on the court playing handball. “Stop this game!” I said firmly, walking in the middle of their court.
“What are you doing?” the other boy on the court complained. Several kids in line at the side of the court started grumbling.
“Mikey, I stood in line before you to get that ball,” I said, reaching out.
“That’s too bad, you whiny weirdo!” he shouted. “Get off my court!”
Instantly, my emotional response program overloaded. My parents had never spoken to me with disrespect. I had been programmed with courtesy protocols that I suspected Mikey had no familiarity with. I was an intricately designed android with capabilities far beyond normal children. Yet this rude human child had overloaded my circuits with no regard for the consequences.
“If you don’t give me the ball immediately, you will regret it,” I warned, choosing a low growl voice.
“You gonna make me, Stick Boy?” Mikey scoffed.
This confused me. My assigned name was Anon, not Stick Boy. My reasoning program told me he was calling me this name to make me feel ashamed about my slender human frame. Although I knew Mom had designed me with a thin, compact body so that it would be easier to work in confined places, my core temperature burned even hotter. This human did not respect Mom.
No one could be allowed to do that.
“Yes. I will,” I replied. My wrist cannons popped out, each barrel as wide as Mikey’s arm. “Give me the ball!”
Mikey’s eyes bugged out, and he handed me the ball. His supporters scattered. Adeline and her friends walked up. “Let’s play before the bell rings,” she said. No one said anything about my guns.
That night when I sat with my parents at the dinner table (not that I ate anything, but they wanted me to keep them company), Dad asked, “How was your first day of school?”
My circuits flashed. “I met a new friend. She taught me lessons outside the classroom that were not part of my original codes. Damaged humans threaten other humans smaller than them, and you have to defend yourself.”
“That’s why I didn’t want you to go,” Mom said, wringing her hands. “You’re staying home with me.”
“Please, Mom. I want to stay in school. Friends and bullies are both essential to learning how to be human.”
Jodi Rizzotto is a full-time writer and former elementary school teacher living in Southern California. She holds a Master of Teaching degree from California Baptist University, Riverside. After growing up on Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, she writes fantasy because it contains more truth. When she’s not writing, she and her husband love exploring back roads in their Jeep and camping at the beach. She belongs to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the California Writers Club. Her short story “When Magic Failed” appeared in the April 2022 issue of Analogies and Allegories Magazine. “The Sea Cave” was featured in the anthology Magic Portals. Full publishing credits available on her website.