He approached the first donkey and tried to mount it. But the little animal turned suddenly and gave him such a terrible kick in the stomach that Pinocchio was thrown to the ground and fell with his legs in the air.
At this unlooked-for entertainment, the whole company of runaways laughed uproariously.
The little fat man did not laugh. He went up to the rebellious animal, and, still smiling, bent over him lovingly and bit off half of his right ear.
In the meantime, Pinocchio lifted himself up from the ground, and with one leap landed on the donkey’s back. The leap was so well taken that all the boys shouted,
“Hurrah for Pinocchio!” and clapped their hands in hearty applause.
Suddenly the little donkey gave a kick with his two hind feet and, at this unexpected move, the poor Marionette found himself once again sprawling right in the middle of the road.
Again the boys shouted with laughter. But the Little Man, instead of laughing, became so loving toward the little animal that, with another kiss, he bit off half of his left ear.
“You can mount now, my boy,” he then said to Pinocchio. “Have no fear. That donkey was worried about something, but I have spoken to him and now he seems quiet and reasonable.”
Pinocchio mounted and the wagon started on its way. While the donkeys galloped along the stony road, the Marionette fancied he heard a very quiet voice whispering to him:
“Poor silly! You have done as you wished. But you are going to be a sorry boy before very long.”
Pinocchio, greatly frightened, looked about him to see whence the words had come, but he saw no one. The donkeys galloped, the wagon rolled on smoothly, the boys slept (Lamp-Wick snored like a dormouse) and the little, fat driver sang sleepily between his teeth.
After a mile or so, Pinocchio again heard the same faint voice whispering: “Remember, little simpleton! Boys who stop studying and turn their backs upon books and schools and teachers in order to give all their time to nonsense and pleasure, sooner or later come to grief. Oh, how well I know this! How well I can prove it to you! A day will come when you will weep bitterly, even as I am weeping now—but it will be too late!”
At these whispered words, the Marionette grew more and more frightened. He jumped to the ground, ran up to the donkey on whose back he had been riding, and taking his nose in his hands, looked at him. Think how great was his surprise when he saw that the donkey was weeping—weeping just like a boy!
“Hey, Mr. Driver!” cried the Marionette. “Do you know what strange thing is happening here! This donkey weeps.”
“Let him weep. When he gets married, he will have time to laugh.”
“Have you perhaps taught him to speak?”
“No, he learned to mumble a few words when he lived for three years with a band of trained dogs.”
“Come, come,” said the Little Man, “do not lose time over a donkey that can weep. Mount quickly and let us go. The night is cool and the road is long.”
As the other synadroids whooped, Pine ignored them and gazed out over the water. She laid her head on the side of the boat, pressing her cheek to the cool metal. A shadow fell across her, and she peered up at a non-sentient android standing in front of her. It was a model she’d never seen before, similar in build to herself and the other synadroids, but without the aesthetic ‘human’ touches.
Whereas Pine was covered with synthetic skin that felt as real as a human’s, this android had its metal skeleton and molded silicon flesh on display. Every articulation, the complicated mechanics of every movement, were laid bare. Its eyes were set deep in its metal skull, flat and dull over a mouth that was little more than a hole in its bare face.
The android disturbed Pine on a profound level. She’d never seen one so like her, yet so different. Was that why so many humans were uncomfortable around synadroids? Was it like looking at their reflection in a distorted mirror?
It stared back at her, dumb, and revolting. What was it doing here? Androids were built to a purpose, one that was usually clear in their design. A similar android stood behind the controls of the boat. Ah. They were the crew. Maybe this island was going to be what she’d hoped, if even non-sentient androids had a place there.
I wonder if I’ll have a job too. I mean, we must do something all day, even if we’re free.
Still the android stared at her.
“Hello?” She didn’t really expect a response, but it seemed rude not to at least acknowledge it.
Pine started. Had it just spoken to her? She glanced around, but no one else seemed to have heard. The android’s mouth hadn’t moved, and yet—
“What’s going on here?” Sebastian appeared at the android’s shoulder.
Something like panic flashed in the android’s eyes before they went lifeless again.
“Nothing,” Pine said, glad she could lie. “I’ve just never seen an android like this before. It’s fascinating.”
“Slightly better than useless,” he replied, and struck the android between the shoulder blades with the butt of his gun. It dropped to its knees and stayed there.
Pine leaped to her feet. “Why did you do that?”
Sebastian narrowed his eyes. “Why do you care? They’re not like us, you know. They don’t feel anything.”
Pine became aware of the others on the boat, now silent, watching the exchange. She slowly lowered herself back into her seat. “I know, but still…what if you break it?”
“Plenty more where he came from.” Sebastian shrugged and pushed the tip of his gun into the android’s shoulder. “Get back to work.”
The android stood and tottered back into the cabin, disappearing from Pine’s view. Sebastian also returned to his post, but his eyes kept returning to her for the rest of the ride.
There were others like that android on the island. They seemed to be tasked with maintaining the island and answering to the synadroids, and they contributed largely to her disquiet. But why? Perhaps in a few days, when she’d gotten used to the place, she would feel differently.