For the Next Curator
By Helen French
The robots were exactly as Eleanor had left them but for one difference. Robot Jora had a white envelope on its serving tray. Printed words on it read: For the next curator.
Eleanor picked it up, wondering. She’d been in charge of the collection for two months now. Was the envelope for her, or whoever came after her?
She had not planned on leaving. The idea that someone else might know her future gave her pause.
Eleanor shook her head. She was being silly. She tore the envelope open, revealing a slip of paper with few paragraphs typed upon it:
If you’re reading this, I’m presumed dead and you’ve been at the museum long enough that my robots trust you.
I’m not completely dead of course or this wouldn’t be happening. My robots knew I was in danger and helped me upload my brain to them. And so my challenge to you is this: help them bring me back to life.
With thanks, Angelica Blossom
Eleanor read the letter twice over. She hadn’t given much thought to her predecessor Angelica. She’d gone missing, but many did in those darkening days.
She put the letter down and turned to the robots – only three in all. Built from scrap by a hobbyist builder, they weren’t much to look at. Not much to see in action, either.
Jora had been designed to serve drinks. Sebastian cleaned shelves as well as the floor. Kadi had long spindly arms just the right length to strip bed linen and replace it. They could all make inane chit-chat. Their owner had willed them to the local museum, with enough money put aside for them to have their own curator.
“This is crazy,” she said out loud.
Jora’s lights turned on. “We must look after Angelica until we can safely upload her elsewhere,” it blurted out.
Mildly startled at its directness – it did not normally speak without being spoken to – Eleanor nevertheless replied: “To an android body or a computer?” She’d heard it might be possible, but found the idea hard to comprehend.
“Something like that.”
She pondered and stared. Jora was the most human-like of the robots, which was to say not really human-like at all. It was the height of an average man, so that its serving tray would sit in the correct position at a party. Similarly, its metal torso, arms and legs were much the same size as any man’s, but without any hint of flesh. Indeed, it resembled a metal skeleton much more than the sophisticated androids that were commonplace on the market. Its head was a narrow rectangle and she couldn’t imagine fitting much of a brain in there, never mind two. What kind of mess had the curator found herself in to think that Jora and co might be the solution?
“Was Angelica really in danger?” she asked.
“She said she had many enemies,” Jora replied.
“We shouldn’t proceed with bringing her back if there’s a chance she’s still at risk,” Eleanor mused. She used ‘we’ rather than ‘you’ because as Angelica had cleverly perceived, the robots clearly couldn’t handle this on their own.
“We must upload your mind too,” Kadi said. “As a precaution, before you get involved.” Kadi was square and short. Its long multi-jointed arms wrapped around its stout body until needed. They could be unfurled to the right length for each job it had to do. Unlike Jora, speaking wasn’t an essential part of its designated role and Kadi’s voice sounded rougher, more obviously robotic.
“It hardly seems necessary.” Her first intention was to tell the authorities immediately, as Angelica should have done.
“We have already lost one curator.”
The three of them gazed at her like children and Eleanor decided that it couldn’t hurt. She was intrigued to see what an upload involved, what the mysterious Angelica Blossom had put herself through. “What do I have to do?”
Little Sebastian – who rested at floor height but had extendable legs – shuffled over with a small and sticky black device attached to a three-part lead.
“Put it on the back of your head,” it directed. “It won’t work without your consent.” Eleanor typed her medi-code into it, wondering what hospital they’d got it from – so few were still operating. Surely Angelica and the robots wouldn’t have stolen it? The robots each plugged one end of it into themselves.
Jora said the process would take a few minutes and at first Eleanor relaxed. It didn’t hurt. Then she wondered. What if there was another reason behind all this…?
Eleanor shook off her worries, yet decided to remove the device anyway. She had no need to upload herself. Unlike Angelica, she did not have enemies.
But she couldn’t pull it off. It seemed stuck in place. Broken? Sabotaged?
Kadi wheeled closer and unravelled its long arms, wrapping them around Eleanor, ensuring the curator couldn’t break free or further pull at the lead. “We are almost done.”
“I want to stop,” Eleanor said, with sudden tears in her eyes.
“We’re saving Angelica,” the robot replied.
Strange memories started flooding in. The monitor wasn’t taking Eleanor’s information; it was feeding Angelica’s upstream. She felt an odd pressure in her head, as if something or someone were pushing her into the background.
“Don’t do this,” Eleanor said quickly, but it was too late. She was fading as Angelica was coming to.
Angelica’s knowledge became Eleanor’s. She understood now that Angelica’s enemies were real and probably had killed her. Beforehand, she’d worked out a way to hide a copy of her consciousness for a while, until it was safe to come back in a new body. The robots knew everything.
“Hello friends,” Angelica said, from Eleanor’s mouth.
Eleanor tried to scream at the same time: “But I trusted you!” Nothing came out.
The robots cheered, a tinny sort of whoop. Their trust in Eleanor had been repaid in full.
And that was the end of the next curator.