The Wellmachine Robot
by Lon Prater
In the last days, the boy's father left him alone in the tunnels beneath their house
with many splendid inventions to take care of him. There was the Skin Farmer,
who scrubbed and bathed the boy, and grew enough fresh protein from his
sloughed-away cells to serve up a thin meat patty every other day. Two or three of
the Firefly Bulbs always traveled with him in the dark, while the others were
plugged into the gusty old Wind Turbine, recharging. There were the Silent
Sentries who guarded the doors with long, air-cooled noses that they somewhat
arrogantly claimed would shoot knives of red-hot light at any one from above,
Alive or Not Alive, who tried to enter.
But most splendid of all was the Wellmachine Robot. The boy's father had built
her with soft padded arms to hug, and a soothing female voice that sounded like
the boy's mother's had, before she joined the dead above. Wellmachine Robot
knew thousands of stories and games. She never tired of entertaining the boy, of
spraying bandages on his skinned knees, of answering his questions and teaching
him things about the world.
"Where is my father?" the boy would ask when he was six, and seven, and eight.
"He's gone to look for help," Wellmachine Robot would say, stroking his hair and
making sure her audio output was loud enough to drown out the moans of the dead
above that sometimes came through the ventilation shafts at night.
When the boy was nine, and ten, and eleven, he no longer asked that question.
He no longer asked Wellmachine Robot very much at all, preferring to spend his
time listening at the ventilation shafts or sharpening bits of metal he found lying
about and tying them to sticks. On especially dull days, he would see how close to
the Silent Sentries he could get before they became alert. (About fifteen feet at
first, then gradually closer and closer.)
Wellmachine Robot followed the boy at all times, even when the boy became surly
and shut doors in front of her or knocked her off balance.
"I am too old for you now," the boy said. "Stay away."