by Ken McConnell
I picked up the tiny crystalline stone and turned it over gently in my metal fingers. It was Quartz, the most elemental ingredient of all Silicants. From this common rock all artificial life has been created.
I come from a rock. The rock is not alive, but I am. The rock cannot appreciate its own beauty, but I can.
I can see the patterns in the crystal and I am attracted to the light from the suns that reflect and refract on the surface of the rock. I have never considered a rock before, certainly never been attracted to them.
There is plenty of beauty on this barren world, but nobody seems to see it but me. Is it because I am fundamentally, such a part of this place? I do not know.
I started collecting rocks as I noticed them in my daily travels. I put them in a line along the floor of my closet. As a Silicant, I have no personal property. By most laws, I am property. So I have no personal space to put things.
My owner, Devon Ardel, noticed my collection one afternoon when she came in through the back door to her living unit. My closet is just that, a small, thin space where normally humans put outer clothing. Except on Ocherva, it is hot and dry; most humans wear very little clothing. Devon set me up with the space to store my spare parts and some lubricants that I need to keep my mechanical parts functioning within normal parameters. I also have a power receptacle that I recharge from.
She noticed the growing collection of rocks and asked what I was doing.
“I am collecting rocks,” I said.
“Why?” she asked, amusement clearly in her tone.
“I am collecting them because they are beautiful.”
She looked at me as if I were defective. Then she got down on her knees and examined them more closely. She picked one up and raised an eyebrow at the crystalline structure inside it.
“You’re right, Thirty-seven. They are quite nice.”
I nodded curtly, which is the closest I get to simulate agreement. She stood back up and looked at me oddly again with her blue eyes.
“You can keep them, I suppose. If you find anything with a purple color, I would like to display it on the end table.”
I nodded again and she went inside and never mentioned my rock collection again.
As time passed, I kept noticing more and more beautiful rocks and I added them to my growing collection. I soon filled up my tiny closet space with boxes of rocks. They were all very important to me and yet I did not understand exactly why. I had never collected anything before.
Devon found me in the tavern sweeping the floor and took the broom from me forcefully.
“Thirty-seven, what the hell were you thinking?”
I stood there looking at her blankly with my eye lenses. I had no idea what she was talking about. I rarely do, when she addresses me without preamble.
“Your rock collection is getting out of hand. I can barely get around in my home without tripping on a rock. You can stop ridding the desert of all the rocks.”
My collection had grown to encompass every spare bit of floor space in her living unit. I quickly outgrew my closet for storage space and just started lining them up along the base of the walls. She was clearly upset.
“I am sorry, Miss Devon. I will move them out of your home.”
“Now would be good. What is it with you anyway? Since when do androids collect things?”
I had no answer.
“Never mind, just get them out of my house.”
She pointed for the door and I left without delay.
I could not part with my rocks. I knew them all very well. There were two thousand and twenty-four rocks in my collection and each one was unique unto itself. Not unlike Silicants or other sentient beings.
I could not keep them in Devon’s house; I had to move my collection. But where would I put them?
I picked up number one thousand and forty-one and stared at the brown swirls in the sandstone. I recognized it by its shape and color. I recognize others, both sentient and inanimate, by their shape and color. I put the rock back down on the floor and surveyed my collection.
Every rock was cataloged in my memory cells. I knew where it was found, what it was composed of, how it looked and how heavy it was. I didn’t really need to possess all these rocks. I could return them each to where I found them. And so I did. By sunset, I had returned the rocks to the desert in the exact spot from which I had taken them.
Number five hundred and sixty-two weighed four point six two pounds and was mostly Quartz. It had a round outside surface, smooth and orange like the sand of Ocherva. Inside, was an explosion of purple and clear Quartz.
I set the rock on Devon’s end table and waited for her to arrive home from her shift. She came inside and looked around curiously at the absence of the rock collection. I watched her from the far end of the room where I stood, motionless, at the recharging outlet.
She fell into the easy chair and kicked off her boots. It had been a long day for her and she was clearly tired. She noticed the rock on the end table and smiled. Picking it up in her hands she admired the colors under the glow of a nearby lamp.
She looked around the room for me and finally found me standing against the wall.
“Thank you Thirty-seven. It’s beautiful.”
I tilted my head and blinked my photoreceptors. My metal hand gently clenched the first rock I had collected. I could not part with it.