Jean Clarke Oliver was small, much smaller than the rest of the people in the Tempus University, which made him feel strange as he walked down the hall, dragging a mop twice his height and a bucket full of water. Although he didn’t mind having to look up to people when he talked to them, he did hate how some people treated him because of his height. Students walked right by, never even saying a hello, and the faculty mostly did the same, some ignoring him completely while some others said hello but never held a conversation longer than a minute.
Still, he did not complain. Jean dragged the mop everywhere, following the strict schedule set by the school. In the morning, he dragged the mop through the main hallway, making sure to leave the entire place spotless. In the afternoon, he cleaned the windows; and in the evening, during the last hour of the day, he went through the bathrooms.
Though the school required him to complete all activities by a certain time, Jean did have freedom over the order to do them; so, he chose to clean the windows in the afternoon when he could see everything clearly.
Since the university sat at the top of a mountain, the main windows looked over all of the city against the ocean, the white walls of the spire-like buildings stretching high above the horizon. After a long day of menial tasks, most of which left Jean mentally numb, he took a moment to breathe in the scenery and let his mind wonder, imagining himself in the city, and dreaming the feeling of sand against his feet.
Ever since he could remember, he had lived in the school, working all day to keep the place clean and sleeping throughout the night. He only knew about the outside world by eavesdropping student and faculty conversations. So, looking out the window was his only way to see the rest of the world.
From time to time, he asked the school’s faculty why he was not allowed to go outside. But, most answered by laughing at the notion. “Just clean,” they always said. “That’s what you are meant to do.” But Jean still wanted to know more about the city; he wanted to know more about what was out there.
But, he was at a university. He could read.
At first, he read only a little, making sure to finish all of his tasks before reading. Most of the time, it meant speeding up one of his tasks in order to get some extra time. But as time went on, he started liking reading more and more until one day, he forgot about the windows.
When he remembered, Jean dashed out the library and encountered the sunset, a beauty behind the city, an image he had only ever imagined. He sprayed the windows at twice his normal speed, wiping faster than ever before, the squeaking sound echoing throughout the school’s empty halls. But as the sun hid at the horizon, his energy drained, and he began to feel tired.
And when the sun disappeared completely, Jean’s eyes widened at the sight, marveled at the lights coming from the city at night. He stared out the window until he realized something strange, an image on the window, his reflection.
During the day, since the sunlight hit the windows directly, he had never seen it. Extending out his long thin arm, he opened his hand and touched his image, the red lights for his eyes looking back at himself, his metallic body shining with the school’s synthetic light. I am, he thought. I am a robot. He shut down. His energy drained, he would not wake up until sunrise.