What We Talk About When We Talk About Giant Robots

This is the complete text of this story.

Mitch Kimura is talking. Mitch’s real name is Michio and he is captain of the baseball team and of the debate team and he will be valedictorian this year if Emma Nakatoshi isn’t, and Maddy Flores would like to hate him but she can’t, everybody likes Mitch. It’s December, finals week, and the four of them–Mitch, Maddy, Sophie Easton and Alex Lee–are lying in the grass down by the river, and the cicadas are buzzing all around them in the brown unfallen leaves and they’re all four a little sleepy because of the heat. Mitch is talking about robots.

“In the shows the pilot’s aways some kid,” Mitch is saying.

“Some genius kid who just happens to be in the right place at the right time–”

“The wrong place at the wrong time,” says Alex.

“And he’s usually an orphan,” says Sophie.

“Or at least he’s lost his mother,” says Alex. “Which is tough, because as the writer’s otaku introvert stand-in, your robot pilot is already like a hundred ten percent Freudian issues.” Alex is small and skinny and a chronic underachiever. He would be a candidate for class clown if he wasn’t so happy to be disliked. “And every girl he meets turns out to be a cyborg. Or a psychic clone. Or a cyborg psychic clone.”

Alex is deeply, helplessly in love with Maddy–something that doesn’t do either of them any good–and the whole school knows it, though Alex may have convinced himself Maddy doesn’t know.

“I saw him,” says Sophie. “The real one. In Huaqiangbei.”

Sophie Easton is tall and solemn and can easily pass for five years older than she is. She is a sculptor and the captain of the swim team and already has a free ride to the Rhode Island School of Design, which is why Mitch is headed for Brown instead of Harvard. Which is why even if Maddy can’t hate Mitch she should. Because Maddy is if possible even more in love with Sophie than Alex is in love with Maddy.

Sophie’s mother is something in the US trade representative’s office. Sophie was in Shenzen that day last summer when the war came to China. She doesn’t talk about it much.

“I didn’t know it was him, then,” Sophie says. “I mean, nobody knew who he was. He was just this scared Japanese kid in a powder-blue tracksuit, running for the shelters with the rest of us. And then this woman in a UN uniform showed up with a couple of military police and took him away. And then I knew.”

Alex says, “And then he climbed into his shiny white robot and saved the world.” He rolls to his feet. “For a week, anyway. Jesus.” He moves off a little way toward the river.

“What was he doing?” Mitch asks Sophie. “Trying to run away?”

“I guess so,” Sophie says.

“Good for him,” Alex calls up from the riverbank. “I would.”

They’re all quiet for a little while. Despite the heat it’s still December and the sun is very low, the light slanting through the spindly trees very orange. Down by the water, Alex is trying to skip rocks.

“I volunteered,” Maddy blurts out suddenly.

Alex scrambles back up the bank and stands over her. “You what?” he says.

“I volunteered,” Maddy repeats, not looking at him. “I’m dropping out. I start testing first week in January.”

Alex’s legs fold under him and he drops to the ground.

“Jesus,” he says.

“Oh, Maddy,” Sophie says.

If Maddy were to turn her head she’d see her there, just too far away to touch, her head pillowed on Mitch’s arm. Maddy doesn’t move. She can hear the cicadas, and the trickle of water in the river, and the traffic on the road a little way away.

Nobody says anything. ✪

Copyright © 2011 by David Moles.

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