Victor watched his master getting into the car, observed his five-fingered hands about this daily task. Twisting keys in the lock. Lifting the handle. Spreading for balance as he leant across the seat. Flicking delicately across the buttons of the stereo and tapping a rhythm to echo the music. Finally they gripped the wheel as the black Mercedes crunched off down the gravel drive.
Victor looked down at his own hands. Two wide, metal digits faced each other across a motorised palm, padded in case he clenched too tight. A hand to grip and prod. Open and closed, nothing more. A binary hand for a servant of silicon and tin.
Victor rolled into the kitchen, rubber tracks silent on the polished floor. He carried plates and mugs to the dishwasher, gripping and releasing each in turn, then prodded a button. As the machine rattled mindlessly into action Victor fetched the vacuum from a cupboard, pressing the on switch and gripping the nozzle as he dragged it around the floor, chasing down dust. Later he carried his mistress’s shopping in from the car, a long succession of plastic bags gripped and released safely back in the house.
Left alone in the late afternoon, he went to the breakfast table and reached out toward a slender vase of roses. Twin fingers spread wide, then closed gently around the bottom of the vase.
Lift, and turn so slightly, holding the delicate tube up to the light as he had seen his master do.
The vase swung down between his two flat fingers, petals and water cascading across the table.
At night, Victor plugged into the security system, overseeing the house through its hidden cameras. In the bedroom his master and mistress slept with hands entwined, fingers meshed.
The master enjoyed coin tricks. Victor replayed a memory, watching a circle of copper dance across those hands, fingers twitching and turning, making the metal flit back and forth, dart into the air and disappear, only to reappear between two outstretched digits. Five such delicate, flexible instruments – what joy to be human.
Victor wanted to see the fingers up close. He unplugged himself from the security net and quietly rolled down the corridor. Gripping the handle, he pushed open the bedroom door and approached the humans as they slept.
His mistress turned in the moonlight, fingers stretching out and running through the sheets, pulling them tight. Victor leaned forward, reaching out, trying to sense what each finger was doing, how such a marvel worked. The master shifted, disturbed by the mistress’s movement. Eyes opened slightly, then widened, staring up at Victor with an expression the robot had never seen before.
After de-bugging, Victor was sold to a shop. He gripped and released, fetching and carrying all day. When the till opened he would turn away, unable to look at the change being counted, unable to understand why.
‘Digits’ was first published in Carillon in 2007. It’s also one of the stories in my science fiction collection Lies We Will Tell Ourselves, still free on the Kindle until Sunday.