by Jake Christie

a story.

“Places!” shouted Lunar Exploration Unit #4837-E. “Places, everybody!”

The other research machines trudged, trundled, and rolled across the dust. The tiny six-wheeled rover took his place at the foot of the mineral collector. The giant thick-treaded mobile equipment transport rolled to his spot on top of a small hill. Only the other humanoid Lunar Exploration Unit, #5216-ND, didn't take his place. Instead he put his metal hands on his metal hips and stalked towards LEU 4837-E.

“Louie,” he said, “what are we doing?”

Louie was adjusting the optical recording device mounted atop his head. “I told you, Leonard,” he said. He stopped his adjustments to motion towards the robotic tableau. “Minnie is a poor Moon farmer, and he's fallen in love with Rover. Rover's family doesn't want her marrying someone of such low social standing, so her father Met – a wealthy Moon plantation owner – is coming to teach them both a lesson. And you – you, Leonard – you're the wandering Moon raygunslinger with a heart of gold, the only one who can defend truth, honor, and the lunar way.”

“No,” said Leonard, “ I mean what are we doing making a movie? We're supposed to be collecting data.”

Louie looked at Leonard as incredulously as possible, which without facial features was not incredulously at all. “Collecting data? You would reduce the whole of the Moon experience to 'data?' What good is data without emotion? The thrill of defeat? The agony of success?”

“You can't experience any of those things,” said Leonard. “In fact, I'm pretty sure you don't know what they mean.”

Louie put a metal hand on Leonard's shoulder. “The artist can't be constrained by their physical, emotional, or mechanical limitations. Go beyond your programming, Leonard. This is a story that needs to be told.”

“What we need,” said Leonard, “is to process and collect data about Moon ores.”

Louie looked past Leonard. The other machines were staring at them, inasmuch as one could call slight shifts in orientation “staring.” Against the speckled expanse of space, the artist in Louie questioned his programming about which were the real stars.

“Let me get this shot,” he said quietly. “I need to find something here besides just mineral data.”

Leonard turned and looked at their companions. They were straining at the gears with anticipation, ready for their big scene, and for just a moment his visual retrieval spheres saw the same thing Louie's did.

“Okay,” he said, finally turning back. “I'll do it.”

“You're going to be great,” said Louie. “Just do what a raygunslinger would be programmed to do.

Louie extended his neck to capture the sweeping scale of the Moon's desolate landscape. As Leonard took his place, Louie settled his optical recording device on the poor Moon Romeo and his pretty six-wheeled Juliet.

“Aaaand... ACTION!”

This story originally appeared at 365 Tomorrows.

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