The Yearbook Office
Writings on staying alive
 

Robot knew Other Robot was just going through the motions. That didn’t stop Robot from knocking Other Robot’s head almost clean off, but he felt bad about it afterwards.

After the last tussle of the night, they stood in their respective corners, staring at each other.

“Got in some good ones, there,” said Robot.

Other Robot sighed, and would have ended the conversation by looking at the floor, were he able to bend at the waist.

Robot had only known Other Robot a short time. At some time in the past, they were packed in different ends of a box, unsure of their mission. Then the box was torn open, amidst the high-pitched sounds of shrieking and shouting. Then they were permanently placed in their corners of the ring. And then, the punching and punching and punching commenced.

There had been little time for reflection, and even less time for conversation. But even still, Robot knew something was off about Other Robot. He just didn’t quite seem to give as good as he got. And sure, Other Robot managed to land a couple of fight-ending uppercuts. Robot still had a crick in his neck from one of their countless, lightning-fast bouts in the last day.

But.

Robot could see it in Other Robot’s visual sensors. The way that they were scanning everything around them except, it seemed, the task at hand. Which was punching and being punched. And even though they had the exact same face, Robot could swear that Other Robot’s stoic, plastic visage was… more gaunt? Less stoic? Was his permanent scowl not a scowl at all? Was it a resigned frown?

Robot wasn’t sure. Then again, Robot wasn’t sure about a lot of things. Mostly he knew he liked punching, and, all things being equal, he preferred punching to being punched. But being punched gave him a reason to keep punching, so that was ultimately fine by him.

He wasn’t sure what to do with the not-punching times, though. The standing and staring. For a while, he would search through his CPU, replaying the day’s battles, reveling in the ones he won, and thinking about what he could have done better in the ones he lost. That only took him so far, though. In the case of the former, he found himself positing, “Wow, I punched very well,” and for the latter, it was, “Wow, I should have punched better.”

So naturally, he was a little disappointed that Other Robot didn’t answer him. What did Other Robot expect them to do? Stand and stare for hours on end, days for all he knew, until punching time came around once more?

So he tried again, this time using a different tactic.

“Oi! Other Robot! You’re making it pretty easy out there for me, fella.”

Other Robot responded as if Robot interrupted a conversation only he was privy to.

“What?”

“I said, you’re making it pretty easy out there for me.”

“How?”

Robot didn’t know how to answer this. Or rather, he knew exactly how to answer this, but didn’t know if it would help drive the conversation forward, or bring it to yet another dead, thudding halt.

Still, talking was better than not talking, so he forged ahead.

“You don’t seem to enjoy punching me, and I can’t imagine you enjoy being punched. You don’t seem happy when you win, and losing doesn’t make you punch me better the next time.”

Other Robot stared at him. Robot continued, undaunted by Other Robot’s non-reaction.

“Now, this makes it relatively easy for me. But it’s not much of a challenge. It makes it all, well, kind of dull.”

Other Robot repeated the end of Robot’s sentence. “Dull.” The word reverberated around the room, hollow and metallic.

Robot realized he wasn’t getting anywhere.

“So, I guess my point is, you might want to buck up a little. Because as far as I can tell, we’re just here to punch each other in the head. And if one of us is enjoying it, and one of us isn’t, after a while, neither of us are going to be very happy.”

Robot’s words hung there for a long moment, and then faded, until all that remained was Other Robot’s stare.

Robot felt dumb for saying anything in the first place, and that made him angry. He wanted to walk over to Other Robot’s corner and knock his mopey head clear into the Giant Light Tree. Only his legs didn’t work. Some kind of power-saving mode, he theorized. No matter. He could punch him with words.

“Hey, Other Robot! I would NOT want to be you the next time we fight. Because you know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna punch you! Punch! Punch! Punch! I’m gonna punch you in the head! I’m gonna punch you in the face! Anywhere or anything that is you, I’m gonna punch it! How does that make you feel?”

Other Robot didn’t respond.

Robot grew angrier.

“I don’t think you’re picking up what I’m putting down here, Other Robot. Tomorrow at precisely Punch O’Clock, I am going to slide across this ring. I am going to get right in your face. And I am going to punch you so many times, in so many different fashions, that when The History Of Punching is finally written, there is going to be an entire VOLUME devoted to the MYRIAD of ways I practiced the fine art of Punchology, using you as a canvas.”

Other Robot didn’t respond.

Robot grew angrier still.

“HEY. HEY. YOU. MISTER QUIETBOOTS. DON’T YOU HAVE ANYTHING TO SAY? ANYTHING AT ALL?”

A full minute passed. Other Robot sighed. Finally, he spoke.

“Why?”

And with that, Robot lost his robot shit.

“BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT WE WERE MADE TO DO,” Robot replied, “WE ARE PUNCHING ROBOTS, ALL WE DO, ALL WE ARE HERE TO DO IS PUNCH EACH OTHER.”

Robot tried to collect himself, but it didn’t take. He continued ranting. “We were built at the Punching Robot Factory, assembled by technicians to do literally one thing, and one thing only, and that one thing is to PUNCH EACH OTHER. THAT IS IT.”

Other Robot sighed, and whispered, “Exactly.”

If Robot could move, he would have run a victory lap around the ring, around the Giant Light Tree, and every Ribbon Building under the Giant Light Tree. Finally, Other Robot got it.

“GOOD,” Robot exhaled. “Good. You get it. We understand each other. Good. Now let’s get some rest, gonna be a big day tomorrow. A lot of punching.”

Other Robot didn’t respond. And so they stood there. Staring.

Some time later, Robot realized they were not programmed to rest. That was fine. More time to think about punching.

Some time after that, the Ribbon Buildings under the Giant Light Tree turned into boxes. Inside those boxes were things that weren’t Punching Robots.

Some time after that, the ring, Robot, and Other Robot were moved to a smaller area, away from the Giant Light Tree entirely.

Occasionally, and seemingly without any rhyme or reason, Robot would lunge forward, throw a few punches, and lunge back. Other Robot did nothing.

Robot found this infuriating.

Occasionally, and seemingly without any rhyme or reason, Other Robot would lunge forward, throw a few punches, and lunge back. Robot wanted nothing more than to punch back. He was a Punching Robot, after all, that was his sole purpose in life. But he remained in power saver mode.

Some time after that, the ring, Robot, and Other Robot were moved to an even smaller area, closed off from the world in such a way that they were engulfed by darkness.

It began to dawn on Robot that he had not punched in a very long time. It began to dawn on Robot that he may never punch again.

“Hey. Other Robot,” Robot said, his voice hoarse from disuse. “Other Robot.”

“What,” Other Robot replied.

“We haven’t punched in a while.”

“I know.”

“I don’t think we’re going to punch anymore.”

“I think you’re right.”

Neither spoke for a minute. Finally, in quiet anguish, Robot said, “We were built at the Punching Robot Factory, assembled by technicians to do literally one thing, and one thing only, and that one thing is to punch each other. That is it.”

“I know,” replied Other Robot.

“If we don’t punch each other, then what are we?”

“Exactly,” replied Other Robot.