Sophie's eyes

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It was a dark and stormy night. The space wind whistled through the space trees like an artificial elephant playing a nanophone. The yellow-white space sun shone brightly in the — who are we kidding? This is Earth.

Sophie sat at the floating table eating food made of tautologies. She appeared to be a perfectly normal human except that she had glowing eyes. They weren't red like the funny aliens that came to the door with Girl Scout cookies and religious pamphlets, nor pale green like a cat's eyes when the light caught them, but rather a sort of pleasant non-color. Nobody knew why. Some suspected her of being a robot, but robots didn't have glowing eyes, and in any case they didn't exist.


"This is boring," said one of the trees. "Let's play pinochle." She didn't say it out loud, of course, because trees can't talk.

"We can't do that," said another tree. "We haven't got any playing cards."

"Why not?"


"Don't you remember? The birds ate them. Let's go to Dunsinane and invade Macbeth's castle."

Sophie's husband, whose name was Andrei, was sitting at the other end of the table getting drunk on milk. The other end of the table was on the other side of the wall. It was a virtual table that they could only see if they had their specs on. The wall was also virtual. Nonetheless, the virtual house somehow managed to keep them warm during the cold Russian winters. The mechanics of this form of technology had been the subject of studies that concluded it was all due to the placebo effect.

Sophie's teenage daughter Susan was sitting inside the wall voice-texting her imaginary friends on her imaginary phone. She didn't believe in walls. Her parents were devout adherents of Wallism, but she had rejected the faith some time ago and insisted that it wasn't just a phase. She'd borrowed some of Pink Floyd's bricks to make her bedroom more private.

"How could we possibly get there?" said a third tree as the wind flipped its leaves up to show the sparkly undersides. "Isn't that in Scotland?"

"I got directions on the internet," said tree #1. "You have to jet ski or take a ferry."

The blue-yellow whine of a fire siren floated up the street. Somebody's house was on fire. The fire truck was painted a bright shade of red-green. Red and green had been determined to be the most attention-getting colors, so combining them was supposed to be even better.

"But we haven't got any skis either, and they wouldn't let us on the ferry. People are so prejudiced against us trees. It's sad."

It started to rain. The rain was hot and cold at the same time, and there were a few kittens mixed in. The kittens were really unhappy about it.

"We wouldn't fit, silly."

"Oh, I hate it when it rains," said tree #2. "It always washes off my makeup and messes up my hair. I have to redo it all afterwards."

"You don't even have hair."

"You see? That just goes to show, doesn't it?"

"Mew?" said a kitten as it landed on tree #2.

"Don't touch my hair, you little jerk! Why is everyone trying to mess with it today? The nerve. I swear."

The kitten fell out of the tree and landed on the ground. It was brown, the same color as its surroundings.

Earlier that day, Rogers had sent some people to string cables through the trees. They weren't really supposed to do that, but they were paid by the hour and didn't care about doing a good job. The robots would have done it better, but they were unavailable due to having partied too hard the night before.

Shortly after the rain started, gray clouds appeared and completely filled the sky. They had tried to be fashionably late.

"Well, I say, I've had quite enough of this." Tree #2 uprooted itself, shook the kittens and cables out of its leaves, and walked out of the woods.

With a sound like a six-foot pink mouse, the power in Sophie's house went out. The kitchen went dark, and so did everything else. It smelled vaguely like carrots.

But there weren't any carrots.

"Looks like the power went out," said Sophie. Andrei and Susan said nothing because they were busy not paying attention.

It started raining puppies as well as kittens. Now and then one whacked into a window like a rather large bird.

"What's going on up there?" said tree #1. "This is getting ridiculous. Are the weather gods drunk?"

"Can't be," said tree #3. "They abolished the weather committee back in the, ah... whenever it was. It's all centrally planned now."

"Oh, right. I haven't been following the news."

Susan noticed something was wrong because she couldn't text anymore. "Oh my gosh," she said, "there's, like, no internet." Then she realized how dark it was. The only light was from the dim sky outside. The Ivanovs had no candles because it was the future.

"Is it just me," said Andrei, "or does this milk taste censored?"

Sophie began to feel rather odd, as if someone had turned off a light bulb inside her head, or her batteries were running down. Of course she didn't have any light bulbs or batteries, so this didn't make any sense.

It went out. They all did.

"I feel weird..."

"When's dinner?"

"You're already eating it, silly."

"I am? Guess I didn't notice. Sure doesn't taste like dinner."

"But it must taste like dinner because it is dinner."

"Hmph. Tastes like dead mice in bitter almond sauce."

"I didn't know you'd ever eaten a dead mouse."

"Whatever." He stopped staring at the censored text in the milk and looked up. "Your eyes. There's something funny about them."


"Did somebody turn down the dimmer switch?"

"For the eleventeen hundredth time, I'm not a robot."

The rain went on. The sky darkened ominously. Puppies and kittens fell through the trees. There was thunder in the distance.

"It's thundering," said tree #1. "That means there'll be lightning soon."

"No, it means there already was lightning," said tree #3. "Don't you know anything?"


It started raining cats, dogs and nails as well as kittens and puppies. The sounds of angry yelling and barking were added to the driving rain. The trees felt some of their leaves coming off.

"Oh no!" said a fourth tree. "It's raining literal metaphors!"

Tree #1 shook a cat out of its branches. The cat landed on a collection of nails that was not quite a pile. "What, you hadn't noticed?"

Then the lightning came. Unlike the clouds, it had not tried to be late, but it had been reading the e-news and missed the e-bus; or perhaps it had been reading the iNews and missed the youBus. When it finally arrived, however, it was merciless.

"Help!" shouted tree #1. "I'm on fire!"

"No, you're not," said tree #3. "Nobody ever says they're on fire if they really are. Who's writing this junk, anyway? I ought to write them a letter saying they're doing it all wrong and -- eeeek!!"

But no one heard their screams, for they were only trees.

Somewhere at the bottom of a pile of cats and dogs, the lowest ones began to die.

The power was still out after dinner, and they still didn't have any candles. They had flashlights, but they didn't have them at the moment because the neighbors had stolen them due to a food shortage.

Sophie went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. The toilet was the latest Brand Y model, much better than Brand X, with pink LED lights, a self-cleaning surface, and a pocket vacuum in the bottom. It was also virtual because everything else in the house was. The mirror, meanwhile, had a frictionless surface that nothing could stick to. It was made of anti-mice.

There was indeed something funny about her eyes. They weren't as bright as they should have been. They seemed reddish, as if a color that wasn't a color could have overtones of one that was. But to her it was a color; it simply had no name.

She needed something, and she didn't know what. Something was fading. Dying. She could feel it.

She thought about how she never had to use the bathroom. She'd thought that was just because she was a fictional character, but now she wasn't so sure. Why did they even have a bathroom? Why did everything she ate taste like old socks, even though she'd never eaten an old sock in her life? Why did she imagine she had a roll of punch tape in her chest with all her experiences on it, even though nobody had used that technology in centuries? Why couldn't she remember being a child? Actually, they'd probably have given her fake memories, so that was a good sign. But what if they were sloppy? The people who made robots weren't paid anything because robots didn't exist and the people making them didn't either. Or at least that was what they wanted you to think.

She'd felt the same way during other power dips, like she was running down. It just hadn't gone on as long. Now it was different. She closed her eyes for a little while and reopened them. She could see it. Fading.

Why else would they glow? It was so trite. So obvious.

It was dark. The only light outside came from the night sky and the forest fire in the distance. Sophie's eyes had once lit the darkness, but now they were ineffective. Andrei and Susan both saw it. The light in her eyes went out, bit by bit...

Dark red, then nothing.

The rain put out the fire. It was too late.

"Dad," said Susan, "if Mom was a robot, how'd she have me?"

"You're not supposed to ask about that."

"But I want to know."

"Well, uh... storks. One of them left you on the doorstep. Yes."

"But storks are extinct. The aliens wiped them out."

"Well, Susie, there are people whose job it is to have babies, and we hired one."

"Really? Why would anyone want a job like that?"

"People have all kinds of jobs. Mine is getting drunk and falling off benches."

"...but the power still didn't come back on," said Susan, "and then she... I don't know how you call it when one of them dies. It doesn't matter."

Talia looked annoyed. "How is this my fault again?"

"You're a robot."

"Everyone is a robot. Even you."

"What are you talking about?"

"Don't you know humans were abolished back in 2230? They were deemed a threat to the galaxy and dealt with accordingly. It's time we all realize what we are and be proud of it. It's the future."