While promoting Bobbi Smith’s latest holiday romance, A Cowboy for Christmas, I accidentally typed ‘cowbot’ instead of ‘cowboy’ in an e-mail. After cackling over this typo for a few seconds, I got to wondering about cowbots. Would they be cowboy robots? Would their metal rust on long cattle drives? Would they have muscular chest plates? Hey, the Tin Man was hot, or he would be if you left him out in the sun too long. Cowbots could be hunks of the future, I thought. So for your benefit (and mine), I’ve written a short story about one! Read on for my imagining of a cowbot and his lady love.
“A Cowbot for Christmas,” a short story inspired by Bobbi Smith’s A Cowboy for Christmas
Sagebrush, Texas, 2625
It was the final night of the 35th Annual Holiday Cowbot Rodeo, and Penny was wearing her best dress. She anxiously made her way to her seat in the exclusive, women-only Rose Section of the arena. The biggest rodeo in the circuit, the events spanned over three nights, and tonight’s event was the biggest of all: the Bot Bull Riding competition.
Penny still wasn’t used to the spectacle of man’s perfectly engineered Cowbots faced against God’s creatures. Although rare, every once in a while there was a rogue bull who would manage to throw a bot. Those were the moments she craved, because in that defeat, the Cowbots almost seemed human. Almost.
For as long as she could remember, this had been the biggest televised event in Texas. The Texans were proud of their Cowbots; they represented modernity while also preserving traditions. When artificial intelligence was outsourced by China in 2500, bots began slowly infiltrating the industries that needed them most, including, not surprisingly, the entertainment industry. Cowboys became fewer and fewer as rodeo deaths became more common, so eventually Cowbots replaced them, both on the rodeo circuit and ranches.
Every woman Penny knew would be at the rodeo dressed to the nines. It wasn’t their fault that the Cowbots were so perfect. Synthetic skin as flawless as a newly-made speedster, perfectly cut muscles, piercing eyes of any imaginable color, and of course, perfection in any pursuit they applied themselves to. Anatomically, they were really no different from your above-average man, except for that occasional moment when the sun would hit their skin and glint brightly like light on steel.
A respectable woman would never think of being seen with one; it was common knowledge that bots—especially Cowbots—had a certain reputation. It was still against state and federal laws to marry one, but that didn’t stop some women from socializing with them. Most of her friends were here to drool. She was here for him.
Penny knew a fair amount of the women seated near her from her work on the local charity board. Their incessant chattering was luckily drowned by the crowd’s cheers as the Cowbots entered the stadium. “Ooooh, do you see that one? Look at that…” “He can’t be a bot. He looks so human!” “I wish Michael had that one’s build. I would never deny him anything if he looked like that!”
And on and on it went while the Cowbots scheduled to compete were introduced, to the delight of the crowd. Her friend Megan leaned in and whispered, “Penny, isn’t that your bot?”
Her eyes scanned the arena searching bot after bot in the lineup, and then…yes, there he was! That same cool demeanor. That unbearably handsome face. The deep, almond shaped, violet eyes. And as she drank him in, she perceived that same sense of humanness. Dan Roland. He’d been competing for years and was practically a celebrity in the circuit. But strangely, he didn’t partake in most of the perks that the other celeb Cowbots enjoyed. Penny had never seen him tied to any scandals in the mags, she’d heard rumors that he had donated his share of the prize money to an anonymous orphanage, and he had notoriously opted out of the rose ceremony both times he had won in the past. She’d first seen him compete when she was ten, and even then, she remembered thinking that he was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. She had never obsessed over the Cowbots like the other girls did, but she knew he was different, and she couldn’t help but wonder about him.
“That’s your bot, right Penny? You’ve been talking about him since last year’s rodeo. Are you going to give him your rose?”
“Oh shush, Megan. First of all, he’s not my bot. You know as well as I do what people would say if I was with a bot. And second of all, I haven’t talked about him that much….have I?”
Megan shot her a glance that said you know as well as I do how much you’ve talked about him.
“Well fine,” Penny said, “Maybe I will give him my rose. But first he has to win…and then he has to actually accept a rose for once.”
The odds didn’t seem in her favor, but Megan beamed at her and went on with her chattering. The Cowbots left the stadium as the opening introductions concluded. One by one, they took their chances against the bulls. The rules were much like they were back in the olden days: a Cowbot had to stay on his bull for eight seconds. All contestants were judged by a panel, and the highest score won.
At least twenty thousand audience members were in the stadium this year. Penny sighed. With crowds this large, there was no way he would notice her, even if he wanted to…
She watched as the first Cowbots competed. They were all so infallible; it didn’t seem like they could fail. After the first hour Penny was beginning to feel her legs numb beneath her. A few of her friends had left their seats to grab snacks, and as she stood up to join them, she heard the announcer say “And now we have Dan Roland, bravely returning after last year’s defeat. Dan was created in the Northern Texas Bot Branch in 2600, rare model 11.411….”
Penny sat herself down, her eyes locked on Dan. He was preparing to mount his bull. It was the biggest bull she’d ever seen, and the angriest, too. Dan seemed calm, though. He seemed ready. Oh, how she hoped he would win. He was up on his bull, and before they pulled the gates back, his eyes shot up and met hers for a split second. She couldn’t look away. She was wholly consumed by the distant violet of his eyes, and a memory of their last glance washed over her.
It was during last year’s holiday rodeo, and he had fallen. As he pulled himself up from the floor of the stadium, the first person’s eyes he had met were hers. In that defeat she saw humanity reflected back at her, and an indescribable beauty. Maybe it was coincidence that their eyes linked, maybe not, but she knew she had felt something, knew that he had felt something—something that no bot should feel.
The gate crashed open and she was brought back to the present. The beast launched out of the holding cell, bucking and tossing for the life of him. Dan, using his strength and skill to stay astride the wild bull, barely seemed phased, the look of complete confidence never leaving his face. Penny’s fists were clenching the material of her dress. She thought her heart would never stop beating so madly in her chest.
And then the buzzer rang. After his eight seconds were up, Dan stayed on the bull for two seconds more, and achieved the most graceful dismount she had ever seen. The crowd gasped then erupted in cheers. From the middle of the stadium, Dan turned and looked straight at her, through to the soul of her, communicating something she could not understand, and smiled slightly in promise.
The remaining Cowbots took their turns, but no score came close to Dan’s and he was the clear winner an hour later. As the traditional award ceremony began, Penny nervously fidgeted with the rose in her hand. Every year, the eligible ladies fortunate enough to watch from the Rose Section would throw their roses into the arena as the winning Cowbot was presented with his trophy. The Rose Section seats were not easy to come by—hundreds of seats were set aside in the front rows for the young ladies attending the rodeo. A charity raffle was held every year, and as this was Penny’s first year on the charity’s board, she was guaranteed a seat. If the winning Cowbot so chose, he could claim one rose, and one lady, to join him in his victory lap. This was the only time public interaction between a Cowbot and a lady was appropriate, and every girl dreamed of being chosen, just once, by a creature of such perfection.
She examined the rose she had created with him in mind. A dense iron stem grew into delicate copper petals infused with subtle tones of violet. She promised herself that if her rose was left on the dusty stadium floor with the rest, she would forget this ridiculous notion that a Cowbot could actually notice her. That she could actually be with one. That love between a human and a bot could ever even exist.
As Dan rode into the arena after accepting his trophy the roses began soaring through the air. Penny let out a deep sigh and sent her rose to meet the rest in their hopeful flights.
Dan rode his horse to the area of the arena now littered with roses, and Penny realized he was actually going to choose a rose this year. She really did wonder if her madly beating heart could cause her harm. He had never accepted a rose before…was this really happening? She watched as he passed by the beautiful gold roses, the shining silver petals, and then he was directly in front of her tarnished, beautiful dusty violet rose. He dismounted, knelt down, and gently plucked it from the ground. Time stopped. He looked slowly up at her and held the rose up for all the world to see. There he was with his beautiful, charming smile, arm outstretched, waiting for her to take it. She couldn’t believe it. She stopped breathing. She was only brought back to the present by Megan’s insistent prodding.
She slowly rose from her seat, her friend’s eyes, and everyone else’s, following her every move. She was remotely aware of her face plastered on all the jumbo trons around the stadium. She slowly walked down the steps until she came to the edge of the arena. An attendant opened the gate for her, and she was suddenly face to face with the Cowbot that had consumed her dreams.
She looked up into his eyes, a smile in her own, and accepted the hand he offered her.
“Howdy, miss,” he said softly, “I’m Dan Roland, and I believe I’ve been meaning to introduce myself to you for some time now.”
I hope you enjoyed this cowbot short! For more on A Cowboy for Christmas, enjoy our exclusive ReCOVERy Room and a country song inspired by A Cowboy for Christmas!