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Authors: William Campbell Powell

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Expiration Day

EXPIRATION DAY

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.

EXPIRATION DAY

Copyright © 2014 by William Campbell Powell

All rights reserved.

The author wishes to identify the following works and quotations as being in the public domain and to express his gratitude to the following compilers and publishers who have created online versions.

The Merchant of Venice,
by William Shakespeare. All quotations taken from Grady Ward's Moby Shakespeare and are in the public domain.

“Dear Lord and Father of Mankind,” by John Greenleaf Whittier (d. 1892). Hymn, taken from “The Brewing of Soma” and in the public domain.

Isaiah 61:1–3 (extract), from the World English Bible, and in the public domain.

A Tor Teen Book

Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC

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Tor
®
is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Powell, William Campbell.

Expiration day / William Campbell Powell. — First edition.

pages cm

“A Tom Doherty Associates book.”

ISBN 978-0-7653-3828-0 (hardcover)

ISBN 978-1-4668-3840-6 (e-book)

[1.Science fiction. 2.Robots—Fiction. 3.Coming of age—Fiction. 4.Diaries—Fiction. 5.England—Fiction.] I.Title.

PZ7.P8814Ex 2014

[Fic]—dc23

2013025453

Tor Teen books may be purchased for educational, business, or promotional use. For information on bulk purchases, please contact Macmillan Corporate and Premium Sales Department at 1-800-221-7945, extension 5442, or write [email protected]

First Edition: April 2014

Printed in the United States of America

0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

To Henry and Bron

EXPIRATION DAY

Sunday, July 18, 2049

What a funny old day!

We got a robot today. And it was my eleventh birthday. So I thought I'd start to write a diary, because it was a weird day, and if you can't even write a decent diary when you've got something to write about, what chance have you got when the days are dry and dreary?

But I'm not going to start every entry with “Dear Diary” or anything so Victorian. That would be just so wet. Anyway, I want to decide who's going to read it. Whoever you are, my distant, unknown friend, I need to see you in my mind.

Maybe no one will read my diary, except me when I'm ninety. So just in case, “Hello, me-of-twenty-one-twenty-eight! This is me-of-twenty-forty-nine.”

Maybe, though, my grandchildren are reading this. “Hello, grandkids! This is your dotty granny Tania writing, before she lost her marbles. I hope you've found me a nice home.”

No I don't hope any such thing. If I
have
to become anybody's granny, please don't let me be a
boring
granny. Instead I shall be a grand Dame, knighted for my services to the country, and I shall tell fabulous stories, mostly true, about my adventures as a spy, or a detective, or an actress. So by 2128 you'll need me, whoever you are, because there won't be many like me left.

And if you're just a boring old historian, or some kind of slimy-tentacled alien archaeologist called Zog from the Andromeda galaxy, trying to find out who on earth I am and what human beings were …

Do you have churches in Andromeda, Mister Zog? Weddings, christenings, and funerals? Too much detail, I think, at least for today. Anyway, my dad is a vicar. And in these times he has a lot to do. He says thirty years ago the churches were empty. Now they're full. Full of unhappy people, looking for help to make things bearable. Looking for the little rituals that make things feel normal.

The church business is good. But vicars are still poor. Mum says he's keeping half the village sane, but still we live on people's cast-offs. We have Value Beans in the larder. Our vid is someone's old 2-D model. And our “new” robot is a reconditioned '44 model, donated by a kindly parishioner.

But we
have
a robot, a real, honest-to-goodness robot. And Dad says even the bishop only has a '47 model. Ted, one of the churchwardens, dropped him off. Him? It? I'm going to keep on saying “him” for now, as his voice was rather deep, and very “Home Counties.”

We called him—the robot—Soames. It seemed like the perfect name for a 1930s butler—right out of an Agatha Christie 3-Dram. Dad activated him, and I watched as the eyes lit up for the first time. I asked Dad about that, and he smiled.

“Yes, there really isn't any need for glowing eyes. They're more for show, part of a retro look, that the psychologists say makes us feel more comfortable with them around. We see all the old-fashioned twentieth-century sci-fi movies, and we laugh, because they're so quaint. This is the same thing—robots deliberately made to look clunky and antique, and act like it, too, so we feel superior, rather than feel afraid.”

We had to do an imprinting, of course, to get Soames to recognize the voices of his new owners, so that he'd obey our orders.

“Michael Deeley, primary registrant. Acknowledge.” That was Dad.

“Acknowledged.”

“Annette Deeley, secondary registrant. Acknowledge.” Mum.

“Acknowledged.”

“Tania Deeley, junior registrant. Acknowledge.” Me, reading from the instruction manual and sounding very formal.

“Acknowledged.”

And that was it. Soames would obey Dad, then Mum, then me. In that order. There were a bunch of other commands built into his brain that we couldn't override, sometimes called the Asimov Laws, after some ancient writer who came up with the idea. Dad says Asimov's original laws were very simple, but Soames's version had been made very complicated by the lawyers. So under stress any robot just became completely useless.

Anyway, we put Soames to work doing the washing up. He didn't break anything, but I could have loaded up the dishwasher myself in half the time. Tomorrow, though, he will be faster, because he's learned what to do and where to put the plates afterward.

And then, because it was the summer holidays, there was no school, so I got him to play table tennis, because it was my birthday and Dad said I deserved a treat for that. Soames spent most of the time picking up the balls, when he didn't crush them underfoot (two destroyed) or knock them into the lamp shade (one out of reach).

Then we took him around the house, showing him where everything was. So we can tell him to tidy the house now, and everything will find its way back to where it was on my eleventh birthday. Or whenever.

Big deal.

Okay. I'm not frightened of domestic robots, honest. But can you make one that can play table tennis, please?

Monday, July 19, 2049

Hmm. If you are Zog, that probably didn't make a lot of sense, did it? I mean, you must think that Soames is the height of our technology and I haven't said who I am and where I live and all sorts of stuff.…

I'm Tania Deeley, though I did mention that in an offhand sort of way. Eleven years old—of course—and an only child. I live in a Green Zone village, just outside London, where my dad's the vicar and my mum's, well … Mum. I go to school in the village. I don't really have any proper friends at school, but there are a few I play with sometimes.… It's okay, I suppose.

Dad's busy right now—vicar stuff—and he's banished me upstairs, to the spare room with all his books. It's not really being banished if I'm
here
—it's my favorite place, full of treasure. Books. Proper books: books that have never been digitized. I've loved this place since I was tiny, and nobody ever told me the books were too old for me, so I just read whatever came to hand, curled up in the big reading chair, soaking up every word. For once, I'm not reading a book, but I am in the reading chair, snuggled up and rereading yesterday's diary entry in my AllInFone.

My
new
AllInFone, Mister Zog. Not reconditioned, for once. Not some parishioner's cast-off. It was yesterday's
other
present, my actual birthday present, as really Soames wasn't
my
present. It's got this sweet diary app that can either take voice dictation, or I can type on a full-size holographic projection keyball, and it's all encrypted, so no one can snoop what I write. I won't go on about it, in case you think I'm a gadget freak, which I promise you, I'm not. But it is neat. End of gloat. Done.

Mum's upstairs, too, pottering around, doing jobs, though Dad might call her down later. She helps him a lot with the counseling. When the “parents” come round, trailing the pieces of their broken world for him to put back together.

When their Ellie or their Sammy or their Vidhesh goes back to Banbury, everything comes apart.

Today it's Mr. and Mrs. Ellis, so that means it's their Julia heading back to Oxted. Oxted, Mister Zog? The Robot People. In Banbury. And before you ask, no, Julia's not their “Soames.” She's their daughter. The polite word that the grown-ups use is a “teknoid.” But I've spoken to her. She's just a
Mekker
. (Dad says that's not a nice word. So don't you use it, Mister Zog.)

Listen, Mister Zog, I don't eavesdrop when Dad's doing vicar stuff, but sometimes voices do carry. And then I can't help putting two and two together. So I've got a good idea what's going on right now. Mr. Ellis is taking the lead, while Mrs. Ellis is sitting, sobbing, as they explain to Dad how Julia's too much to cope with. How it was all right when she was little, it was just like having a real daughter. But she's grown up too much.…

I'd asked Dad about it while we were waiting for the Ellises to arrive.

“Dad, why are they sending her back?”

“Because the illusion is broken. Because they can no longer believe Julia is their human child.”

“But what's changed? I mean, she looks the same and acts the same.”

“And talks the same? Yes. They wanted a daughter so very much. But they couldn't have a child of their own. So they went to Oxted and got themselves a teknoid.”

“Teknoid?”

(Yes, Mister Zog. I only learned the word today, when Dad told me. So now I'm telling you. So just sit still at the back of the class and don't interrupt.)

“Sorry, Tan. Teknoid is from the Greek ‘teknon,' meaning ‘a child.' That's just your dad showing off his Greek from Theological College. A teknoid is an android that specifically looks like a child. So, yes, picking up from our chat yesterday, Oxted could make Soames look and speak and move exactly like a human. But it's incredibly difficult and expensive, so they don't.

“They have to do it for the teknoids, because we have to believe they're human. The thing is, Tan, if you don't do it quite right, it's really creepy. It's part of what vicars have to learn, to help them counsel people. The phenomenon is called the Uncanny Valley, after the title of the paper that first suggested the theory, back in the nineteen-seventies.”

“So?”

“So something has happened to break the illusion, and Julia is now in the Uncanny Valley. The illusion is so fragile, maintained only by the initially strong desire for a child. Maybe it's an accident that's triggered it. Maybe it's just an accumulation of little oddities. I'll find out when they arrive. Either way, the illusion is ended, and the Ellises can't bear the presence of their unmasked teknoid. Love has turned to fear. And guilt. Which is what I've got to help the Ellises get through now.”

At which, with perfect timing, the doorbell rang, and I scooted upstairs.

 

 

That made sense. Suddenly it's all over school that such-and-such is a robot, and it gets back, and the charade is over. The parents try to tough it out for a few weeks, but they know everyone else knows, and they buckle. Sometimes they move away, try to make a new start. More often they just make the phone call to Oxted. So I guess they're organizing the “memorial” service with Dad now. “Our daughter, sadly taken away before her time…”