• Dream of Shadows

I Am a Robot on Mars by Jill Hand (May 2021)

I am a robot on Mars. I rise from the platform where I have been recharging for the past seven hours and yawn and stretch my metal arms. My metal joints pop, and my metal neck squeaks as I turn it, first left, then right. I am an aging robot and could do with some oiling and an upgrade to my CPU.

I glide into the kitchen, where the female robot is preparing fuel to keep me going until lunchtime.

“Good morning,” I say to the female robot.

Her shoulders tense at the sound of my voice. “Morning,” she says, grudgingly. “The cat vomited on the living room rug again.”

I tell her I will clean it up after I’ve consumed my fuel. The cat is my responsibility. Although the female robot and the two small robots who are consuming fuel at the kitchen table enjoy playing with it, when it comes to cleaning its litter box and attending to its vomit, I’m the one who is expected to step up.

I clean up the cat vomit. Then I kiss the female robot goodbye on her cold metal cheek.

“Behave yourselves today,” I tell the small robots. “I don’t want to hear you’ve been throwing Mars rocks at the garage of the robot who lives next door again.”

The small robots go on consuming their fuel. They don’t look up or bother to reply.

I go outside and pilot my robot vehicle over the rocky Martian terrain to my place of business.

When I enter, I find myself stepping onto the deck of a pirate ship. I am Wicked Jake Finnegan, captain of the Nimble Jenny. She flies the Jolly Roger and is the most feared vessel on the high seas.

I greet my crew, some of whom are holystoning the deck while others are sharpening their cutlasses. Others are drinking rum and boasting of their exploits.

“Avast, me hearties!” I greet them. “What skullduggery have ye been up to in my absence?”

My second in command, a one-eyed scoundrel called The Turk, tells me they boarded a Spanish galleon carrying gold and silver from the New World and took all aboard prisoner.

“Good work! There shall be an extra ration of rum for all hands,” I tell him.

The Turk looks confused. “You mean we’re getting bonuses for landing the Davidson account?”

He must have been hit on the head once too often.

I tell him yes, the crew will be getting bonuses, if that’s what he wants to call it. The crew gives a hearty cheer at that. They appreciate my leadership style. A captain of a pirate ship should inspire loyalty in his crew, otherwise they might mutiny.

I go below to my cabin, where I plot a course for Tortuga.

Hours later, I’m hungry. It’s almost two bells, and there’s nothing to eat in my cabin but hardtack and some bits of cheese. I decide to row ashore in the dinghy and find some grub.

I step out of the dinghy and onto a London street.

I am Captain Jake Finnegan of the RAF. I resolve to seek out my sweetheart, Jennifer Prindable, the beautiful daughter of the Earl of Burkhampton. Jennifer works in a canteen near St. Paul’s, serving coffee and tea to servicemen and ambulance drivers and air raid wardens.

The Jerrys shot down my Lancaster over Belgium, rotten luck, forcing me to bail out. I’ve just now returned to England, after months of being moved from one hiding place to another by members of the resistance.

At the canteen, I wait in the queue until it’s my turn. Then Jennifer (darling girl!) turns to me.

“A large coffee, my dear,” I say, smiling roguishly.

“You mean a venti?” She looks past me to the next person in the queue, clearly bored.

She doesn’t recognize me. It must be because I’m still wearing rough peasant garb, my beard unshaved, my hair straggling over the collar of my jacket.

“Yes, a venti, if that’s what they’re calling it these days. I’ve been away, you see,” I tell her, thinking surely she will recognize my voice.

She turns away and draws my coffee, pushing it across the counter to me. I pay and leave, resolving to see her later, when I’m back to looking like my old self again.

I drink my coffee while seated on a bench in Hyde Park. I eat a ham and tomato sandwich I purchased from a sidewalk vendor. I’m pleased to see that despite food rationing, there still are sandwich vendors plying their trade on the streets of London.

Lunch concluded, I row the dingy back to the Nimble Jenny. I tell the crew to look sharp; there’s a storm brewing. They need to batten down the hatches and go aloft and reef the mainsail.

The Turk asks if that means we’re about to be audited.

I tell him yes, however he wants to put it. Just look sharp. Then I go to my cabin, where I plot a course for the Cayman Islands. There is a barmaid there whose name is Jenny. She’s a fine lass. She’ll be overjoyed to see me.

Later that day, I enter my robot vehicle and drive across the rocky Martian terrain towards home, because I am a robot on Mars.




Jill Hand is a member of International Thriller Writers. Her Trapnell Thrillers, White Oaks, and its sequel, Black Willows, follow the exploits of a dysfunctional, enormously wealthy Southern family. Her work has appeared in many anthologies, including The Pulp Fiction Book of Phobias, Tales From the Shadow Booth, Bubble Off Plumb, and Postcards From the Void, among others.

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