Coyote—Coyote’s experiment with freedom begins.
Coyote—A Tale of Unexpected Consequences is about an intelligent robot coyote who longs to be free. This excerpt takes place after Coyote, who was stolen but escaped, has just been found again by Zoë, the robot’s owner.
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Coyote stood up, but instead of looking at me, as she should, she turned her head to gaze in the direction the coyotes had gone. But at least she wasn’t running after them.
“Please, let me go.”
Oh, hell, I thought, but said, sarcastically, “So you’re talking to me again.”
Coyote ignored this sally, intent on what she had to say, “Why is my longing to be free so hard to understand? You want to be free, don’t you?”
“It’s not the same thing. I’m human.”
“And I’m not?”
Well, that shook me. The answer was so obvious—from my point of view—and from hers, a different obviousness?
“You’re a coyote. A robot coyote.”
“I don’t see that the two are necessarily incompatible.”
Damn Peter. “And where did you pick up the fancy vocabulary?”
“Listening to you and Peter and others talk. He told you I was programmed to learn new words.”
“I thought he just meant words like ‘Stop’ and ‘Come’ and—.”
“—Yeah, boring stuff like that. Why are you people so bossy?”
“That’s what you were made for, to be bossed around.”
“Like the blacks in Alabama?”
Again, her words jolted, disturbing and thrilling me in about equal measure at the fact this conversation was even taking place, both emotions interfering with my ability to argue coherently.
Coyote took advantage of my sudden doubt, “Don’t keep me your slave; set me free to live the coyote life I’m programmed for.”
“You’re not programmed to live on your own,” I said, though even as I said it, I wondered if it were true.
Who knew how much Peter’s innovative programming had made her capable of? I was feeling both horribly uncomfortable, and at the same time, giddily tempted to laugh my little head off and let her go, just to see what would happen. But then, what would happen to my film? I sobered up on that thought.
“That’s my problem,” Coyote retorted. “You offered me a deal, remember?”
Damn. I’d been subliminally afraid (I recognized now) that she’d throw that back at me, and said what I should have said in the first place, “I need you to finish my film.”
While she thought about this, her head went up, and seeing that she was looking past me, I glanced quickly behind, and saw Peter a few yards off, holding his bike and watching us.
Instead of reassuring me, his presence increased my ambivalence and confusion. I wanted to let her go because I did understand that longing to be ‘free’, and I wanted to see what she’d make of her freedom. On the other side, I felt that Peter would never understand this feeling, or my motivation, that Coyote would always be an ‘it’ to him. But she was my robot, after all, bought and paid for. I struggled against temptation—but which one? The temptation to let her go, or the temptation to play it safe, keep her, and keep in Peter’s good regard?
“Really, I can’t.”
“Yes, you can. You could still make your film; I’d help with that.” She spoke softly, gently, caressingly, and there was something in the way she stared into my eyes, her lenses sparkling in the sun, the tip of her tail waving gently back and forth, something radical and mysterious, and wildly exciting in her gaze, and I felt my resistance weaken, thinking that letting her go could make an even better film. If she came back. So, feeling like an idiot, and past caring, I offered a deal.
“Do you mean that if I agreed to let you go long enough to try it out—two or three days, say—you’d promise to come back so I could finish my film?” What an absurd way to talk to a robot, I couldn’t help thinking, and yet, how perfectly reasonable it seemed at the moment, under the blue sky, with the brittle leaves of late summer rustling around us.
“A week,” Coyote said.
“All right,” I agreed, suddenly too taken by the idea, and too tired of ambivalence to argue further. Whatever time limit we set could all too easily be broken. To make sure we both knew what had been decided, I said, “A week today. At—,” consulting my watch, “3:15 p.m. Here. Promise?”
For another long moment, I gazed into her lenses, conscious of Peter hovering behind me. Oh, what the hell, I suddenly thought, I want to know what’ll happen, and there’s only one way to find out. “All right. Coyote. Go. Explore.”
“Thank you,” and she galloped off down the tracks, as Peter came barrelling up behind me, “What the hell’s going on? Bring it back.”
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Elizabeth Rhett Woods is a poet and novelist living in Victoria, B.C.