Mike Resnick: “Robots Don’t Cry” (c) 2003.

“There will be rose and rhododendron
When you are dead and under ground;
Still will be heard from white syringas…”

A verse from “Elegy Before Death” by Edna St. Vincent Millay  (1892 – 1950).*
Quoted within the story “Robots Don’t Cry” by Mike Resnick.

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Mike Resnick: American writer. Science fiction and fantasy. Nonfiction.
Author of several novels, short stories, editor of anthologies.
Winner of Hugo and Nebula awards. Major awards in the US, Japan, France, Spain, Croatia and Poland. His work has been translated into several languages.

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“Robots Don’t Cry” by Mike Resnick won the 2004 Hugo Award for Best Short Story.

Set on a planet millennia into the future, when humans have colonized distant worlds:   It is a story about a robot named Sammy, a caregiver for Miss Emily. A story of a robot’s loyalty, honesty, and of the ability to think and feel.

The story is told in the first person, by the narrator, a human.
The narrator, and his business partner, a galactic alien called Baroni, are antique hunters, searching for millennium-old objects and collectibles, on old deserted planets, planets once settled and then abandoned. On one such planet, Greenwillow, an abandoned farming colony, they find a robot in a barn, under a pile of ancient computer parts and accumulated junk. Baroni figures that the robot is about 500 years old — a collectible.

The narrator contacts their ship to send robots, Mechs 3 and 7, to reactivate the antique robot. The robot comes to life and observes everything has changed. He tells the narrator his name is Samson 4133, but Miss Emily had called him Sammy.

Using holographic technology, Sammy creates scenes exactly as they had happened centuries ago. A young girl appears. She has a prosthetic left leg. In a happy voice, she tells Sammy she loves him. Sammy talks about Emily’s pain.

As they watch the holographs, and listen to Emily and Sammy talk, Baroni senses that Sammy is capable of emotions — he understands pain causes discomfort. Baroni recognizes that Sammy does not wish Emily to know he feels sorrow and compassion for her. He tells her he is a robot and cannot feel sorrow.

When Emily is about thirteen, her face is disfigured by a fungus disease. The farming colony is a small one and a doctor comes to visit once a year, and when the colony’s population declines, no doctors come.

At twenty, Emily is emaciated, and her hands and face are ravaged by disease. She sobs that no one can stand to be with her. Sammy touches her gently on the shoulder. Emily pleads with him to promise her never to leave her. And he promises.

Various catastrophes wipe out crops, and the families begin leaving the planet. Emily has lost both her parents: her mother died when Emily was 19, and two years later, her father died. Emily chooses not to leave the planet.

When Emily is about 30, she is very weak. She is dying. She has become blind, and she asks Sammy to read to her. The poem she wishes to hear is by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Sammy protests that the poem is about death. But she tells him all life is about death. Sammy reads the verse:

“There will be rose and rhododendron
When you are dead and under ground;
Still will be heard from white syringas…”

When Miss Emily died, Sammy buried her beneath her favorite tree. It is now a barren spot. On her tombstone, he had carved:  “There will be rose and rhododendron.”

Sammy stayed in the barn, until his battery power ran out. He knows that the antique hunters want to sell him, but he wishes to keep his promise to Emily, never to leave. He offers a compromise: He wants to be able to cry. If they can wire him to be able to cry, he will leave with them. The narrator says that robots don’t cry. Sammy corrects him: Robots cannot cry.  Baroni knows at that moment that Sammy loved Emily.

The narrator’s robot Mech 3 deactivates Sammy, and puts in tear ducts with a supply of saltwater solution for tears. But Sammy cannot cry: He remembers that Miss Emily said that tears come from the heart and the soul. Sammy says he is a robot, he has no heart and no soul. He cannot cry.

The narrator is moved, by Sammy’s loyalty and honesty. He decides not to take Sammy away, but instead, to bury him next to Miss Emily. Sammy knows he cannot be reactivated ever again, but in this way, he will keep his promise to Miss Emily. He is not afraid: she was not afraid to die.

At Sammy’s burial spot, the narrator places an engraved tombstone with Sammy’s name, and a tribute: Australopithicus Robotus.

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* Coming up — separate posting for the entire poem
“Elegy Before Death” (1921) by Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1892 – 1950.