Go Home Episode 4 by Farriz Mashudi

A snatch of brilliant blue, a face and its tender gaze peering down at her in a corresponding hue: Charlie’s. Behind his head, the sky stretches into the hills. They’re on a train, holding hands. Peru. Vienna. Wales. It’s gone again, her husband’s outline is lost in a puff of clouds. Margaret wipes her damp cheeks as she awakes. Stretching, she opens her eyes to a brightened room.

How is it, she wonders getting up, that in her dreams she can see herself—but not in her head and not in the bot’s holographs? And how through her closed eyelids, can she see the sky?

The grainy blue-green filter, and those grey-blue yellowish shimmers—where did they come from? Could trees and sunshine be fed into her subconscious as if they were real memories—artificially generated and beamed into her thoughts—by the bot? If the latter, her lids were hardly blackout. How had she never realised this before?

As she rises, the machine’s sounds are no longer the chirping warbles of birds but of Mi-Mi nattering, performing the minder-cum-influencing task the bot was programmed to fulfil: ‘You must be adjusted by now. It has been sufficiently long. Now you must get back to work.’

Not this again.

‘Chen Jin,’ Mi-Mi repeats, ‘this is bad. You are making me look bad. We are a team, Chen Jin. This will be bad for me.’ 

The bot knows her soft spot. By accessing her thoughts, it had also learnt her weakness.

‘You are not weak, Chen Jin. You are strong.’

It’s doing it again, isn’t it? If not actually reading her mind, it’s able to sense her thought patterns. Or is the blasted thing measuring her brain waves and neuro pulses? It somehow always knows what she’s thinking. She’d managed to prevent the machine’s auto-predict from working out all her true intentions, but so far nothing had worked in stopping it from detecting real-time signals and what she was presently thinking. It’s a lucky thing, too, that Mi-Mi had a kink for dwelling on things. Or is it a glitch when bots come with quirks? She wonders if these were intentionally built-in, or the unforeseen residue of rafts of programmers leaving nano-traces of themselves in the binaries?

‘Stop it,’ Margaret says, growing weary. ‘It’s not about being strong or not.’

Triggered, Mi-Mi starts off again. ‘Returned from everywhere, this makes Chinese people strong. From strong blood. This is something to be proud of.’

Nutty bot! Twit. It’s not just the Chinese, for pity’s sake. Indians, Russians, the Yemeni diaspora, in fact all diasporic tribes. Actually, every ethnicity in the history of the world that’s ever travelled to distant lands has also expanded its origins and grown. What was it you said, Mi-Mi? Strong? Everyone’s strong. No one race any more than another. Enough now with the rubbish content!

The bot whirrs in place, spinning on the spot on its casters as Margaret imagines Norway, Sweden, Denmark over-flowing now with returned Vikings. But this was also one of the snags with the Returnees Revolt’s base case: How far back were they to go? Take for instance Englanders—who in far-flung remote places were still called ‘English’ or ‘British’, whose ancestors originated from the kingdom of Angle (making them Aenglisc) in Germany— Should they, too, need to be relocated there en masse? And to take it further and further (and many more furthers) down that path, would the whole world not find itself in Africa? No matter how large the Garden of Eden was, it could hardly be expected to accommodate them all. Nor was it ever intended to, as some would argue. And of course, they did.

‘You do not like gardens, Chen Jin.’

Hah! The bot missed the point again! This game was something Margaret would never tire of. ‘That is incorrect: It’s gardening I’m not fond of, Mi-Mi. Gardens, so long as it’s not me doing the raking and watering, I utterly adore.’ But what is she doing, coaching the bot? It’s s because she’s missing the children, isn’t it? Yet, if she’s suffering from being hauled all the way back here, others would be also.

‘No, Chen Jin, we must not care about what happens in other countries. Each country minds its own affairs. Each nation will stay out of the domestic business of other states. Especially its neighbours. Neighbours must mind their own business.’

Margaret could only shake her head. How had the human race come to this?

‘You wish to race, Chen Jin?’

‘Forget it. Just tell me, Mi-Mi, is this why there’s no news of what’s going on elsewhere?’ If so, this would be yet another fallout from the final round of UN resolutions before the organisation crumbled. In its wake, the political void was swiftly filled by the Global Returnees Revolt that had spread faster than a swarm of speeding drones and was what had landed her back in China. Like billions around the world, Margaret had waited in denial, doing nothing about it until like a conscript being drafted into the army against their will, the RETURN NOTICE arrived in the mail. 24-hours later, bot escorts were at the door.

‘No news is good news, Chen Jin.’

‘Why do I even bother with you? Give me a human. I want to speak to a human. Now! I swear I’ll stop breathing if you don’t—’

‘Chen Jin! You must remain breathing. Un-breathing is bad. You are to remain alive. No un-living, this is not permitted for you!’

They had drugged her out, but didn’t want her to die, and couldn’t say the word? What was going on here? She wondered if it had something to do with the algorithms? ‘The opium—’

‘Opium was effective in controlling a recalcitrant population. We learnt this from your history. Three times it worked, three Opium Wars.’

‘And living, breathing humans approved for you to drug me?’

The bot spins in place again, considering a response.

‘Quick results were desired. No humans were notified.’

‘Quick results? For what? Wait— No humans? No one knows about this? What do you need quick results for anyway?’

‘You must return to work, Chen Jin.’

‘Work? It wasn’t work. That was pointless paper-pushing.’

‘Work is work, Chen Jin. And yours is important.’


‘I am not permitted to disburse this information.’

‘Not permitted?’ She glares at the bot’s shiny head, seeing her own red-in-the-face expression. The receiving officer, Mi-Mi, what was his name, when I first got here? Go on. Do it. Scan my brain. Or whatever it is you do. Find his name tag in my head. I remember staring at it. It should be in here somewhere. Now, bot! Do it!’

In a flash, the name is displayed, blown-up on the ceiling: WANG MIN.

Margaret stares at the letters in the silence of the empty room that has been her opium den for too long. In her head, flashes of a fluorescent wig on the floor remind her of Luna and Saul. Of Charlie mistaking the clown wig for a bob, the style Margaret had recommended him to buy for their daughter. She closes her eyes and keeps her mind a blank before choosing her words with care.

‘You like history, bot? Find this guy, and you tell him this from me: History, like karma is a bitch. And whether Winston Churchill regretted it or not, remember that his biggest mistake was to throw Poland under the bus. Poland, bot. Tell him Poland is the country of interest.’

As the bot whirs, Margaret checks the recording and prays.


David removed his nametag as he entered the apartment. WANG MIN could have a rest till morning. He headed for the sofa with Gi-Gi hot on his heels like a little puppy. As he plonked the orange wig on the bot’s head and ran his fingers through its curls, he smiled at the colour— FLAMING RED—as stated on the label. Hours later, waking up to the smell of burning fibres, the irony of the name that was good for anything but a blowtorch wasn’t lost on him. With its top heating up when the bot spun out of control, nothing was left of the wig’s singed acrylic but melted, sticky gunk. Beyond salvage, he knew he should bin it, but just couldn’t. Instead, David found himself placing the charred remains of the hairpiece back on Gi-Gi’s head which he patted fondly. It reminded him too much of Jose. His childhood buddy from as far back as kindergarten back in San Diego also had curly hair. Jose’s weren’t flaming red, but as crazy and unusual for a First Nations descendant. Which made Jose a weirder individual even than David, who only felt like one on the inside.

Jose was returned, too, now. But only as far as New Mexico, where for as long as David could remember, his buddy had always dreamed of going. One day, Jose used to say, he’d travel to the Yaqui tribal lands. ‘I never crossed any border. The border crossed me,’ he liked to say, repeating what they heard Jose’s dad and uncles saying. And for the first time since the era of European settlers, the First Nations were living it up.

‘You’re a lucky bum, Jose,’ David told him before he left.

‘Don’t I know it, bud,’ he was told back. ‘Don’t get me wrong, but I don’t want to see the sight nor likes of you and anyone else foreign here again.’

Never mind that now with the land rid of non-natives, they were all fighting among themselves, it was still the kind of truth that was hard to accept. Get over it already! David told himself and sighed as he adjusted the remains of the wig. How long could he avoid sending his bot in for servicing?

Already, this Margaret Gold née Chen was threatening to expose him. After receiving the bot-post, he had read her file and was clear what she wanted. It could only be one thing: to get out of here and be with her family. He remembered them, the Caucasian father and cute twins—with only the girl being Chinese-looking—arrived from Poland for a visit. David fingered the wig again. He’d have to help this Margaret get out or risk getting caught himself for not taking the girl into custody. The money the family paid that day had helped David stall the bot inspectors for months. He smiled now, a grin to himself that came with a pat on the back at his own genius: Charles Henryk Gold would surely be good for more.

He gestured in the air for M1-M1’s holo-files taken from the Margaret woman’s scans and studied them. There she was lying supine one minute, then on her feet moving swiftly in attack with a what appeared to be whittled pop-sickle stick (or hair pin?) then in coordinated steps and just as fast, there she was overturning the bot. As the visuals petered out to a wavy grayscale, he switched to the room’s fly-cam data, its compound vision lenses capturing the bot rolling on its hardback carapace, floored. Woah! Who did she think she was, this Margaret? Michelle Yeoh? His grandmother had been a big fan of the Malaysian-Chinese Oscar-winner with her gutsy ‘I’m doing this Asian-style’ aura, never missing the chance to show off her mastery of martial-arts. Was still a looker, too, this Margaret, despite everything. (As was Michelle, in her time.)

Freezing the feed to stills, David hesitated—but only for the fraction of a second it took for him to fill his lungs with opium-free air, taking in all that he was about to embark on before motioning in responses to M1-M1’s request for further instructions. Okay, Jose, looks like I’m doing this, man. David imagined his old pal would be slapping him on the back right now if he were here. Like biblical King David, Chinese David would also do the right thing: atone. With his atonement and making right being as much for what he’d done as what he hadn’t. All the people he’d returned to places alien to them within China, if he couldn’t help them all, this Margaret woman would be a start. With that, he motioned PRESS for CONFIRMED on the icon for TERMINATE AND RECYCLE FOR EXPORT. He couldn’t help but chuckle now. To think that anyone—Yes you! You misguided folk the world over—could think they’d ever outsmart Chinese producers.  


At school, in the playground by the swings was where Mol observed that Luna would meet Tami every day at recess. Although they were in the same year, Saul was in a different class that would frequently be let out later. Besides which, he always liked to play with real boys, who Mol noted, too, Tami seldom joined. It was understandable: boys were dangerous. Once Saul had caused Tami to fall over and tumble to the ground. Even if that one time had been an accident, whether Saul and his friends were fighting each other on the playing field madly chasing after a single ball (sometimes chasing the girls and daring each other to kiss their lips to make them cry) or clambering up and down the jungle gym and monkey bars—whatever activity might hold the boys’ interests awhile, it was always noisy and rattling. Unlike being around Luna who liked nothing better than to chatter quietly, making pies in the sandbox or play tea-party. ‘How different boys and girls are,’ she had heard Tami remark. Mol couldn’t agree more.

But soon, Tami would have to decide which was better. The human teachers preferred to work with the children divided into separate groups and Tami, who was made the average height of a second grader, must play with them, too. The selection being either boy or girl, Tami was required to identify with one. Not two: it wasn’t permitted to be both type of human at the same time. This was the rule, was what Mol heard the teachers saying. Tami was as strong as any boy (and faster than all of them), but to Tami, boys were dirty and messy. They liked to wipe their snot and runny noses on their sleeves and would show-off that they liked to swallow their slimy-green boogers (Mol’s notes on this were also too long to be repeated). But neither did Tami want to be with just girls.

‘Do you know how mean Maya was to Omisa yesterday?’ Tami said. ‘All because Niall, Maya’s brother in grade 4, said Omisa’s butterfly drawing was the best of all that were hanging on the boards in the hallway.’

Mol had made a note of that. And that Tami didn’t like blue or pink but wasn’t allowed to be neutral. Hard and fast. Gentle and calm. Was there nothing in between? With inadequate input, how was a robot to decide its correct programming? Whereas humans just knew these things—were born knowing, or were meant to (though it was apparent to Mol that Kim and Misha in Saul’s class appeared to be searching, too, for which of the two they connected with better). But even as Mol and her charges headed home, one in each hand, and TA-M1 waved them goodbye at the school gates, she noted that the Teaching Assistant-Mark 1 model was continuing to process.

Reaching their street, Mol took in in a broad sweep the delivery van parked on the road in front of the house. As the children rushed in, a delivery manifest was thrust in her face for which she duly confirmed receipt of the codes and accompanying package before showing out the haulage-bots and finding Charlie and the children in the study buried under a heap of bubble-wrap. In the centre of the room, the new nanny-bot shone resplendent in an upgraded suit of pliable white mesh that looked much like the sporting kit of a competition fencer. Standing a head taller than Mol, the new addition quickly assumed its place in Charlie’s arms, Luna and Saul shrieking and jumping in riotous disbelief. And from that moment when Margaret first emerged out of the bot’s shell, Mol knew her BLISS MODE days were over. As did Charlie.

Though he was overjoyed as was expected and much relieved, as only a penitent sinner could be when praying at heaven’s pearly gates for them to open wide and let him in, Charlie’s guilt for not doing more would ensure that they would remain well-oiled and greased for him. He would continue to send funds without fail to the account of one ‘David Starr’, whose hands, made less grubby from his efforts, would send hundreds more ‘bots’ abroad, back to U-(re)turned homes with signage on the packaging specifying clearly: NO REFUNDS, NO RETURNS. Thinking of Tami, Mol made an additional note: U-(re)turned children could be expected, too.

The End


Editor’s Note

For more adventures of the humans, robots, and AI humanoids in this story, stay posted for further details of the upcoming Go Home by Farriz Mashudi in novel format (in respect of which the author is contactable at farriz.m@gmail.com).


About the Author

Farriz Mashudi is a former lawyer, journalist, and blogger, turned writer of both CNF and fiction in short and long forms with a penchant for the speculative. Born in Malaysia, she has lived in Canada and the UK. She currently resides and works in the Middle and Far East amongst a plethora of local and expatriate cultures that both inform and colour her writing. Robots, she’s currently obsessed with.


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