How the Robot Learned Love
Ocasar's heavy limbs sank into the slop of the Haunted Wood's swamp, metal casing caked with mud and other unmentionable filth. His movements were automatic and detached, hibernation setting on and piloting his mindless journey through the uninhabitable land. There was no conscious movement, and his path did not waver as he crushed countless saplings and creatures underfoot. His path was steady and unbroken, his limbs moving with a jerky rhythm.
As his shoulders rolled, the metal plates scratched against themselves, the movement made all the louder by an increasing coverage of rust. His body had been continuously decaying for years in its own robotic manner. Bolts had come loose and his gait was awkward, a precarious swaying burdening his speed and agility. The whirring from within his body had become louder, an ominous cloud of exhaust trailing thinly in his wake. His internal fan hummed like a heartbeat, but wasn't.
Ocasar noticed none of this.
The swamp he was trudging through meant nothing to him as he burrowed within his own metallic shell, lost in the haze of his memory. The life he lived now passed by him in a blur as he recounted his past.
Eighty years ago he was in Altador, beside his mistress.
The fluttering of her skirts against his paw set his synapses on fire, and he scanned the movement for danger. Threat: nonexistent.
He resumed scanning the area, his mind establishing a perimeter in the deserted quarry. Her fidgeting did not go unnoticed, but he had long since programmed himself to ignore the motion, easily. He was a very efficient bodyguard; it was his primary directive.
As he analyzed the potential threat of a nearby Alabriss (minimal), she turned to him suddenly and he determined the area secure before shifting his attention onto her, alert. Her pulse was abnormal, and he considered proposing a medical scan. In his experience she had violently refused when he requested the analysis in the past, so he remained silent. He awaited her instruction or commentary, well used to her propensity for inane chatter.
In a rush of movement she groped at his face, and her hoof strained for purchase on the slick metal. Ocasar shifted to accommodate, leaning in towards her and tilting his head until the hoof slid easily into a groove on his jaw and held there, suspended. The movement of his body was fluid and silent, a result of the care and frequent oiling at the hands of his handler.
"Bodyguard," she said curiously, her gaze focused on him with childlike trust that belied her physical maturity. "Bodyguard, what is love?"
She said the word in a rush, her voice hushed and reverent. Ocasar studied her tone and expression, silently noting her anxiety. Her heart was beating rapidly, and her cloak had fallen off one shoulder at some point during her nervous fluttering. His programming told him to right her clothing, or suggest that she do so, but he had come to learn better in his tenure as her guardian. Only Mistress Niihre could initiate contact, he had learned. Do not touch Mistress Niihre outside of an emergency, she had instructed.
Above even his programming in the chain of command were Mistress Niihre's orders.
His vocal processors spat his immediate answer out in a flat tone, his words rough like unpolished stone. "Exact definition: unknown. Results on this word contradict one another, Mistress."
She leaned forward in an effort to dislodge her hoof from his face and the limb lifted and fell back to her side, the cloak slipping further down her pearly pink fur. He almost replaced it.
"Why did I even ask, Bodyguard." Her voice carried easily in the silence of the quarry, and he recognized it as shrill and angered. This did not startle him, long ago used to the irrationality of her moods. They swung from extreme highs to harsh lows without any discernable indication of why.
Mistress Niihre shifted further from where he stood motionless, shrugging the cloak upwards onto her shoulder with easy practiced ease.
She turned to leave without warning or command, and he moved in line behind her, following behind unasked. It was his primary directive.
Seventy-two years ago he was in Faerieland, ensconced in the riches of her new kingdom as his Mistress ruled at the side of her husband. She had requested his transfer personally, having long ago become accustomed to his bulky presence. Her extra shadow, his place as her side unwavering as she navigated the choppy waters of her arranged marriage.
Ocasar stood at her side, silent and intimidating as she admired the lump of heir in the downy crib in front of them. A miniature copy of his Mistress from twitching ears to knobbly knees. The foal had been under his protection from womb to this small, frail body, and Ocasar felt torn on which of the two required the most careful watching.
For no reason at all he shifted, gears working and thick wires flexing to accommodate the movement as he peered down at the small prince. The soft pink bundle curled around a plush body, and his internal computer whirled furiously in an effort to categorize the soft object. It appeared in none of his word banks, and an optic scan revealed little more than wads of cotton covered by brightly colored cloth. He continued in vain to process this object until Mistress spoke, unknowingly redirecting his attention.
"Remember... Do you remember, Bodyguard, when I asked you if you knew what love was?" Her voice was hushed, her body tense and withdrawn from him as she gazed steadily into the crib.
"Yes, Mistress." His voice matched her low pitch and volume, his vocal processors accommodating the unspoken request for quiet. His own rumbling voice sounded strange in the empty silence, otherwise filled only with two sets of unhurried breathing and his own mechanical whirs. It was true, though; he did remember. His memory was picture perfect, every instant since his awakening committed and compacted perfectly to a small collection of data, and backed up in the main system regularly. He briefly reviewed the instance she spoke of.
"This..." She paused, setting her hoof on his paw and bringing them both to rest on the crib railing. He moved perfectly in synch with her, lest she be burdened with the weight of his limb. Her gaze remained on her son, and heir to this kingdom. "This is love, Bodyguard."
He tracked her gaze, committing the new knowledge to memory as he surveyed the plush object with newfound interest. "Thank you," he said, appropriately appreciative. "I understand now. I will not forget."
Her open affection startled him as she leaned into his body, fur tickling the sensors of his casing in an unfamiliar manner. He thought to pull away from her overbearing warmth burning hot against his side, pink body tickling him unnaturally. He remained still though, accepting of her whims as always.
"I am glad. Soon I'll be gone, but love will stay with you... Ocasar." Her heart, newly weakened from an overwhelming physical strain, hummed heavily against her ribcage. He hadn't realized she was aware of his name, and he scanned her again as he processed this information.
"Yes," Ocasar agreed easily, still speaking at a low volume.
"Always," she added, voice unmistakably firm even in the quiet, an order present behind the word.
Her body sagged heavily against his, weakened with relief. One less burden taken from her only seemed to weigh her more heavily to her approaching grave, her ties to the world unraveling with every reassurance made.
For Queen Niihre death came swiftly afterwards, and for all involved the world seemed to dissolve in a haze of grief. The young prince slept fitfully or not at all, uncomfortable always without his mother and her dark companion.
Deactivation typically followed the death of a master, but Ocasar had been released from all duties and turned out free at the request of his Mistress.
Five months from now he will fall unsteadily to the floor of a forest clearing, the woods unusually silent around him. Pieces of his armor will be missing and scattered in a trail behind him, and those that remain on his steel skeleton will be rusted and more scrap metal than functioning machinery.
Hibernation will be beyond the capabilities of his working processors, and living in the bleak present now a necessity if he wishes to conserve needed energy. Memories will be fading, and his recollection of her disappearing into the haze in which he lives.
He will reach into the hollow cavity within his own chest, previously impenetrable but now protected only by a layer of metal no thicker than foil. From this cavity he will pull the soft plush body, stolen from a long dead prince's crib.
"Love," he will say. "Love." Vocal processors rusty with disuse and age, failing just as rapidly as the rest of him. These will be his last functioning moments. A glitch leaving his voice caught on repeat, his last thought voiced as he sags against the soft grass. Error, total system failure. Termination sequence activated.
"Love. Love." Ocasar rasps uncontrollably. Plush form clutched to his chest, held against his body in a vice grip as all systems shut down.
He holds it to him always.