Once Upon a Robot Competition Winner

The Lonely Android

by Sam Di Marino, aged 10

Sitting at the edge of a rocky cliff top, abandoned by the only father he knew, Qen was truly alone in the world. He was named after an ancient Egyptian servant, and that’s what he was, a servant. From a distance Qen was shaped like a human, although his silver metal body shone brightly in the sunshine. Up close his features were humanoid, designed to make him appear non-threatening, but there was a coldness to his stare. The bolts studded all over his body gave him a futuristic look, that was anything but human really.

Being an android, he didn’t understand the pain he felt at having been abandoned. Whilst he called his maker ‘Father’ he was not, he was just the man that made him. Having only recently been given emotions, he’d only been able to experience the negative ones, fear, anger, frustration and now solitude. This feeling of solitude was mixed with sadness as his ‘father’ had left him.

Qen had been built for a purpose, to serve his maker and follow orders, certainly not to make a life for himself. Initially everything was fine, he followed his programming and did what he was told but over time his maker wanted more from him. He wanted Qen to evolve. The final step was for Qen to be given emotions, the ability to empathise and most importantly, to be happy in his work.

The moment Qen awoke with his new emotions he immediately felt a surge of complicated feelings for his maker, who he now saw as his father. His maker, however, was horrified by this development, and before Qen could understand what was happening, his maker rejected him. Whatever Qen felt, his master only saw him as a servant and realised that giving him emotions was a mistake. The maker hadn’t introduced Qen to the world, and he was worried what people would think if they saw the android calling him father. The maker considered destroying Qen but couldn’t bring himself to do it, nor would he be able to explain to others why he obliterated his invention.

Panicked, he made a quick decision to take Qen to a cliff top and order him to throw himself over the edge. Qen however now valued his existence and refused to jump. So, his maker ordered him to stay there and to never go back to his home, and whilst this hurt Qen, his programming would only protect him from self-destruction and so he had to follow that final order.

Remaining on the cliff top for what seemed like days Qen was lost in his thoughts. This was a new experience for him, he had spent his life to that point unfeeling and following orders. Now, he had to think for himself and deal with the new sensations that his emotions brought. The strongest feeling, he had however, was loneliness. Qen looked over the cliff edge one final time before deciding that he needed a friend.

Having been designed to maintain himself, Qen knew how to build another android, but he needed the materials. Searching his memory banks, Qen knew where his maker had bought the materials, and so he set off to find them. Without money it was going to be difficult, but when Qen walked into the shop, everybody stood and stared. Realising everybody was frightened, Qen decided to take what he needed and leave quickly. As he left, he heard screams of “what was that?!” and “Have you ever seen anything like it?” Qen wondered if people had never seen an android before, he’d never considered his existence in that way. These were new emotions that he did not expect nor understand.

Finding an abandoned garage, Qen set about making his companion. He worked non-stop for two days as he didn’t need sleep, ensuring every detail was exactly like him, until he was finally finished. Before powering his companion up, he realised there were two problems, firstly, he needed a name for his new friend, and secondly, more importantly, he hadn’t decided whether to give him emotions or not. The risk was that his new companion might not like him and might want their own freedom and to abandon him just like his maker did. However, if he didn’t give them emotions then he would just be his servant, in the way that Qen was before.

Illustrations by Hana Ayoob

Waiting for what seemed like days, but in an androids mind was really just seconds, he decided to give them emotions. Carefully, he turned the android on.

“Hello Kawer, I’m Qen. How do you feel?”

“Hello Qen, I feel…happy. Happy to meet you.”

For the first time in his life, Qen felt happiness. It was the best feeling he had experienced so far, and he didn’t want to stop feeling it.

Their future was unclear. Qen knew that the world wasn’t ready to meet an android, let alone two, but he felt alive and wanted to carry on living. Together, with his Kawer, named after the son of Qen, he knew that as long as they were together, they would be happy, and that was all he needed.

© Sam Di Marino 2023 © Hana Ayoob 2023

Sam has won a Lego Mindstorms Robot Inventor kit, contributed by competition partner Birmingham Extreme Robotics Lab; a tour of the Extreme Robotics Lab in Birmingham and a robotics masterclass from RobotCoders for the winner and a friend; a printed copy of the winning story with bespoke illustrations by illustrator and science communicator Hana Ayoob; and a copy of the books “The Good Turn” and “Black Artists Shaping the World”, signed by competition judge Sharna Jackson.