Story "Every Civilised Person"
Today, Smartass announced we knew our ABCs and that 'we must start reading books'. He never explains why we must do this or that. There are two books in the Centre. Both are old and well-thumbed, their pages faded and crumbling. There's one enormous fat book called An Obstetrician's Reference Guide. The other one is thin with lots of pages missing. Smartass says it's a great book because it used to belong to Chief Physician himself. I've no idea who Ch. Physician was or when he croaked, but his book is a pain to read. Kir and I spend hours struggling through the words trying to decipher the letters they're made of. While some words are familiar, most aren't which causes us to hate reading even more than we do Smartass himself.
"Every civilised person must know how to read," Smartass keeps droning. "You can't damage books. You can't rip up pages."
"You've got to learn, my darlings," Trash beams as she tucks us up in bed. "I'd love to know how to read, I really would."
"Ask Smartass to teach you, then," Kir perks up. "Then you can read them books and tell us what they're about."
"I can't," Trash rattles her enormous feet, turning away. She looks as if she's about to cry which is stupid as droids can't cry, everybody knows that. "My functions are primitive. And so are theirs. This is what caused it all."
She refused to explain what primitive functions were and what they had caused, exactly. She probably didn't know herself.
* * *
We had to struggle through Mr Physician's book from our first ninth birthday until our second tenth. Every human has two birthdays a year. According to Smartass, this is because humans get born twice and droids only once. Birthdays are called parties when we are given bowlfuls of sweet stuff called marshmallows. It tastes too good for words but there isn't enough of it. It was Idiot who brought it to the Centre, just like he'd brought spam. He had found cratefuls of spam and lots of fat bags with pasta and cereals but only one box of marshmallows. He said they came from the mall. He used to go there every day before ratdogs arrived and put an end to it. Smartass says it was a long time ago, even before our first birthday.
Our first birthday was actually Smartass' idea. He never told us why he needed it. Not that we cared, really. And now we definitely didn't care any more - because we finally had become interested in what Chief Physician's book said.
We got drawn into it, trying to guess the meaning of all the words in it. The earth, the sun, the sky, the sea; a city, a house, a road, a tree... I nearly jumped when I realised that a house was a place for people to live in, just like our Centre. The sun was a big lamp hanging high in the sky. The road was a staircase, only instead of leading up and down, it lay flat on the ground.
We went through the book line by line, page after page, until we learned that it was about a Baddie called Psycho who used to prowl the city at night killing people who lived in the houses.
So when Idiot started again about him being a murderer, I just said, "You're a Baddie, that's what you are. You're Psycho."
"I am," he agreed. "A psycho murderer. But I'm no Baddie."
"Did you leave any evidence behind?" Kir demanded. "When you murdered the hundred and eighteen kids down there?"
"Dunno," Idiot mumbled. "I don't think so. Or maybe I did. Please dismantle me."
It all ended with Smartass coming and yelling at us for no reason at all, threatening to take away Mr Physician's book. Because, he said, even though reading was good for us, saying stupid things wasn't.