13 May 2024

A meeting on Milford Station

This is a short story, a SF retelling of a famous film. If you are old enough, you will recognise it…

I’m recording this so that even if the memories become lost to me, there will be a record of what happened. I hope others may avoid the pain we both experienced and perhaps learn from us.

The first time I saw Laura, she was lying at the foot of a flight of steps on Platform 7 of the local railway station. She had stumbled and hurt her ankle. I was the closest MedTech, so I went there immediately I got the alert. She looked so vulnerable as she sprawled there. Her face betrayed the pain she was clearly in, her face tight, biting down on her lower lip. She was massaging her ankle as I arrived.

She looked up at me as I dropped my bag and knelt beside her. She smiled, and her face opened up. Even before she spoke, I felt a sensation inside me that I had never experienced before.

“Oh, I didn’t want to bother anyone. I’ll be fine when I rest a moment.”

I pushed back the sensations I was registering, only, as required, asking for permission to examine her ankle.

“Of course, now you are here, but I’m sure I will be OK.”

I probed the joint gently. She winced slightly, but I couldn’t detect any break, and as I scanned it all I could detect was a slight swelling. I reassured her there seemed no permanent damage, then strapped the joint to give a little extra support.

“May I help you up? You should be able to walk with care.”

I held out my hands to her, she took them and eased herself upright. She winced as she put weight on the ankle, but it held. She took a step, then another, moving with more confidence.

“Thank you. I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.”

No one had ever asked for my name before.

“I’m Andy, Andy Tech.”

“Well, thank you, Mr Teck, I’m Laura Jesson. I really thought I had broken something there.”

With that, she slowly hobbled down the platform to where a train was just arriving. I watched her walk away, uncertain about what I was experiencing. When she reached the train, she stopped by an open door and looked back. Seeing me watching her, she gave a wave and climbed in.

She waved!

The following week, I was on duty in the local pharmacy, administering COVID22 vaccines. She was buying painkillers. As she turned away from the counter, she noticed me and smiled. It was the same wide smile I had seen last week, and it triggered the same unfathomable sensations within me.

“I hope your ankle is not still giving you pain. It would mean I had assessed your condition incorrectly.”

“Oh no, I just have a mild headache from the train journey.”

With that, she smiled again and went on her way.

I didn’t see her for two weeks after that. Then, returning to my work station after attending to someone who had become unwell, we met again. I was surprised that she remembered me, but there it was again, that smile and, for me, that same reaction. I was confused, I had never had such regular contact with a woman like her before. I could not understand what happened in me each time we met.

This pattern continued through the winter into spring. We would meet on a platform somewhere, exchange a few words and move on. Without fail, that smile. I memorised every tiny element of it. On the days we did not meet, I would recall each instance from my memory to replay.

Then, on a warm spring day, as I was walking from the station to my duties in the local hospital, I came upon her, sitting on a bench by the river.

“Isn’t this the most wonderful day, Mr Teck? Or may I call you Andy? Please, sit her a while with me and just look at the world as it bursts into life after the winter. We can share my sandwiches.”

Of course, I couldn’t accept, and made my apologies.

“I have not time, I’m afraid. I’m on my way to the hospital to start a shift.”

“Oh, what a shame. Perhaps another time.”

Another smile.

I hurried off. Now, I realised the significance of the smiles and her friendly manner. She wants me as her friend, perhaps even more, She doesn’t, she cannot, know my true nature. Not for the first time, I wonder what the explanation might be for my response to her overtures.

I tried to avoid her from then on, but it became clear that she was deliberately seeking me out. I could see she was developing feelings towards me, feelings that I could not return, although I realised, with shock, that I wanted to. Finally, despite the mental discomfort and confusion it triggered, I was compelled to tell her.

“My name is indeed Andy Tech, but normally it is expressed as Andy, Tech 2571c. I am an android Medical Technician or paramedic, based at this Railway Station for minor accidents such as you experienced. I was manufactured less than a year ago. I began working at the station to assist my acculturation to human society.”

“Oh, Andy, please don’t tease me like that. I know we meet so infrequently but I have become very fond of you. There, I’ve said it. I know I’m married, but I like being with you. I want to spend more time with you.”

“I am sorry, Laura, but it is true. I am programmed to be friendly and approachable with other humans, but it gives me a great deal of leeway in how this is expressed. I must confess, though, that the attraction you seem to have for me, which has become increasingly plain, has confused me. When I walk towards you and see you smile with pleasure at my company, it disturbs me in ways I cannot understand, other than as a form of attraction to you.”

“Please, Andy. Don’t talk like this. If you don’t have the same feelings for me, just say so,”

“I do Laura, I do not understand them, but I do.”

For a while, we continued to meet openly on the station, finding quiet corners to sit, simply holding hands. It became clear that she wanted more from me, but I was unable to give it to her, I am simply not built that way.

Then, one day as we met, and I took her hand, we were disturbed by two women friends of Laura’s. I quickly converted my grasp into a handshake and went on my way. One of them recognised me, although not from where. I had administered a vaccination to her a couple of weeks ago. I could not continue the deception. The consequences for Laura would be too great if our relationship became public.

I resolved to end it, to say I was transferring to another area after promotion, to say that taking our relationship further would only cause hurt to our families. I planned our final meeting for the same railway station platform on which we had first met. However, before I had the chance to say anything I was recognised by another tech, Dolly. She was an earlier generation to mine and her nature much more obvious. As she chattered away to me, observed by Laura, she was finally forced to accept my true nature. I saw her face as Dolly finally left us.

“You were telling me the truth.”

I nodded, “Yes.”

“It is true also that somehow I have developed feelings for you. Perhaps something has gone wrong with my programming, perhaps all of my generation will develop emotions. Whatever the reason, I am still not human. I am an android.”

“I don’t care, Andy. My feelings for you, my love for you is the same.”

“I can’t give you what you deserve, Laura. I am literally not built to give you what you should expect to get from a human male.”

“I don’t care,” she repeated.

“I’m sorry Laura.” I walked away, leaving her standing on the platform. I could hear her sobbing and tried to ignore her. As I turned for one last look, I saw her move to the platform edge as an express train thundered through. I shouted as she stepped closer, then saw the lights of the train flash across her face as she stood there.

I assume she went home. From what she had told me, her husband, Fred, was a kind and patient man. He would be waiting for her. With him, she had a future.

I looked up at the building I was about to enter. Above the door was a sign – REPROGRAMMING

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