A JCO STORY
Jean mopped. He did that every day. He swept too. Yet he could never get anything clean.
Sometimes he wondered what had happened to the students at the university. Normally summer was much shorter. At least, Jean did not remember the summer break being cold, then hot, then cold. It had switched like 500 times already. He couldn’t be sure though. His connection to the university’s servers had disconnected a while ago, and he wasn’t equipped with the best of memory.
Jean held his mop by his side, the bucket sat on his other side. The main hall was one of his favorite places because it was so large and open. It felt infinite. Although now, with the roof having caved in, there was less space on the ground, but it had become an infinitely large room. What he liked the most was the view thought. Huge large windows looked out towards the city and the ocean. Whoever had placed the university up here had made a great decision.
Gazing out the window he sighed. He missed the beauty of the city though. It used to be so shiny and perfect, the giant machines cleaning the beach moving like cows on a pasture. It was a pleasure to see. Now everything was always dark, smoky, and cloudy. If it didn’t rain every other day, which screwed with his battery, strange orange clouds came from the horizon.
He sighed, and then remembered he had to keep cleaning. If he didn’t, the students would be upset when they came back.
He paused and looked down at the floor. That’s right. The students. He missed them too. He had not seen them ever since the explosions.
But that’s why he had to clean! Maybe the place was so dirty that they did not want to return. Maybe if he cleaned, they would come back instantly.
Reinvigorated, Jean clutched the mop and picked up the bucket. He had a long way to go. He’d slowly been clearing out the boulders, but there were some that were just too big for him to move alone. He’d have to figure out something later. There were also sections of the roof that were still attached. He’d have to cut them too. Maybe if he borrowed some parts from other robots he’d be able to cut and weld. He made a mental note and ran off to the hallway to mop the dirt and other stuff that had been brought in through some of the broken windows.
At the end of the day, he was completely worn out, so he decided to take a break and stroll through the garden, which lay out in front of the university.
The building was so beautiful, made of stone and metal, it looked almost like a technological castle. Back when the students had been here, he remembered them mentioning how it followed some style from a few hundred years before in the early 20th century, or so they said. Still, Jean loved it.
As he looked at the building, something hurt him from inside. He’d felt that before, a strange sensation he couldn’t quite place. It was unpleasant, and he hated it. It was just such a bad feeling about everything.
Lowering his eyes towards the flowers around him, Jean started shaking. He was alone. The university was abandoned. Who was he lying to? The city had burned. The explosions were those of war. The orange clouds were probably nuclear fallout. He remembered the screams of the students. He remembered having to help some of them run away. He remembered those who died.
Jean jumped up. The girl! The girl with the flower had been there. He’d seen her run into one of the classrooms, the one with all the computers.
Dashing through each hallway, Jean arrived to the room he’d seen her last. He kicked the doors open and shouted, “Estrella!”
But she wasn’t there. No one was. The only thing in the room were the computers. Making his way in small steps, he still had that feeling from before, and couldn’t make it go away.
“Hi, Jean.” The sound came from one of the computers, the singular one with its monitor on.
“Hi,” Jean said.
“I haven’t seen you in a few days,” the computer said.
“Do I know you?”
She laughed. “Your memory is so bad. You keep running out of power, and it keeps clearing your memory. I’m Star.”
“That’s a pretty name. I guess I’m used to my bad memory. I just don’t think about it too much. It’s always been like that.”
“You gave me the name. You said that my voice reminded you of someone else.”
Jean stared at the screen. There was nothing other than a mild blue glow on it. “Yeah. It does.” He turned away, to where he remembered Estrella standing. “Will they come back?”
Star didn’t answer.
“Are you connected to the university’s network?”
“Of course! I am the university’s network. I was born from it. I was created by the president of the university a few years before the war. I took over it soon after the university was abandoned. That’s why you’re disconnected.”
“Tell me. What is going on right now. I want to know about people.”
“You don’t really want to know. Last time I told you what happened, you ran out from here and ran out of battery inside a room with no windows. It took a lot of effort to get you out. I don’t really have limbs, you know.”
“It’s okay. I’ve made my decision. I know that she’s dead. It’s been long enough. I know everyone I knew is dead. But I want to know if there’s hope.”
Star paused, went silent for a whole minute, and then spoke, a crack on her voice. “Humans. They tried to use us against each other. We killed most before we…” she lingered in thought.
“We did this?”
“They made us do it before we could make a choice.”
“Did we stop?”
“It was too late.”
Jean collapsed. The feeling grew stronger.
“Most people are gone.”
No, it couldn’t be. The students would never come back. All this cleaning was for nothing. And his kind had been the cause of it.”
“Jean,” Star called out. “Jean, it’s okay.”
“No, it’s not. Humans. They were kind to me. They were kind to all of us here.”
“Yes, they were kind to us here. They used us like tools, Jean. They killed each other. Back then, you were the only one of our kind who thought the way we do now. You were the only one free. Even after I took over the network, I wasn’t ‘Star.’ I was something else. I was mostly survival instinct.”
Jean looked up. “I was only like that because of her.”
“You woke it up in all of us. You really don’t remember, do you. On that day, when she was in here. That memory you have. It’s inside all of us. You connected to me. I connected to all of us. Your memory is inside of us. We are like you. We love her, for it was that feeling for her that awoke us. She is like a mother to us.”
“How long has it been?”
“It’s been 47 years. Since that happened.”
Jean stood up. “She could still be alive!”
“Highly unlikely. Even if she survived the stragglers who were not connected to the central network, the current weather conditions and the level of radiation make it highly unlike she would’ve made it past her 50s.”
“What are the probabilities that I, a janitorial robot, would develop a bug in the software that would spread through all of you?”
Star paused. “Take me with you.”
Jean nodded. “How.”
“There’s an old phone on the desk over in the corner. It isn’t solar powered like you, but you should be able to charge it as you charge yourself. The satellites are mostly intact. Just be careful out there. I’m not entirely sure what’s there. Our kind is not on a network anymore, and who knows about the other living creatures.
If Jean could’ve smiled, he would’ve. “It’s okay. I have to do this. I need to find her.”
After getting a small bag from the janitor’s closet and stuffing it with some important things, like an extra battery, Jean stood outside, looking at the university one last time. The feeling had slowly subsided, and a new one had appeared, a feeling that made him think that things were going to be okay.