It had been twenty months since the presentation; almost two years since his idea, his vision, had ignited the fires of the great minds with which he had the honor to work; the greatest minds in their field. Now the time had come to put that work to the test.
He had watched over every aspect of his vision's creation. There had been times when he could not sleep from anticipation of the next day's tests. But the Director was a man of routines, of discipline. He had forced himself away from the lab at the close of everyday.
There had been moments when things did not go well. There were times when nerves became frayed and feelings were hurt. Still the project drew them on, past the point where emotions were ignited. They were engaged on a feat that had been deemed impossible by their contemporaries; deemed impossible by all precedent.
And now, finally, they were here deciding who would be the one to take this machine into their home and their heart and prove once and for all that dreams and vision conquer all obstacles. The Director was a man of dreams and vision. His heart swelled as he entered his office with the screening crew to sort through applicants.
"The screening process was extremely difficult," his lead man said. "It was almost tougher than building the prototype." This was not an excessive exaggeration. With the prototype they had at least had a working idea of what they were after. They'd had the components and the materials to bend to their design. But screening was another matter altogether. Out of over 2000 Cybertronics employees, a surprising few had met the requirements for the in-house test that was the next crucial step towards introducing their secret new product to the market.
The lead man leaned over the Director's console and ordered, "Initiate". The screen came to life. "Query. Prototype screening. Internal data" he said. The console obediently paged through images of the two dozen or so employees that had passed the rigid screening. "We screened for employment record, quality of lifestyle, loyalty to the firm, and in this individuals case," he gestured to one face among many, pressed the image and the man's face grew to fill the screen, "…a family tragedy that may qualify him above the rest."
The Director eyed the image of 'Swinton, Henry. New Jersey Division'. He wasn't far. Better if something should go wrong. 'Son afflicted with Sinclair Syndrome'. The boy was in stasis, but the chances of recovery were common knowledge. The Director analyzed the face on the screen. The pain hiding there was all too familiar.
"I'll see him," he said.
The afternoon sun burnt dimly though the haze that had begun to envelope the Swinton's large exurban home. Inside Monica stood impatiently in the living room, by the inner portal of the front door. She had been preparing a new music layout for her next visit to Martin when Henry had called. He had been excited about something. "Don't leave," he had told her. "Just don't leave the house till I get home!" he'd begged before hanging up quickly. She had no problem with his request. She actually couldn't remember the last time she went anywhere except to their small pond for a quiet boat ride. Still, at first, he had been disturbed at Henry's insistence. As time passed she became annoyed. What was it that would cause him to act so? When was it that she had last heard him so excited?
Then Henry finally arrived. He paged in from the driveway and told her to wait by the front door. She didn't tell him that she'd been standing there for the last twenty minutes. She was very anxious. This feeling of expectation was too much like the moments by the phone so many years ago as one or another procedure was tried to bring their son back to them. She fought to put the memory aside. Her husband was excited about something and she wanted to share this with him, whatever it was. But the feeling would not go. She was becoming irritated now. It was safer not to feel anything.
The door hissed open suddenly and Henry dashed in. His face was flush. He set his briefcase down by the door quickly, and placed his hands on her shoulders. He looked like the man she remembered bringing her little trinkets and gifts every time he saw her. What was up?
"Henry?!" she said, her face pinched in annoyance and concern. What game was this? Was it about Martin?
"Don't kill me," he said as he embraced her. What was he talking about?
"Henry what are you doing?" she demanded, but he just squeezed her tighter.
"I love you. Don't kill me," he whispered into her ear. He squeezed her once again and then stepped away. "Doors close," he ordered the front portal and Monica heard the outer doors slip shut. Henry then waved his hand across the identi-pad and the inner door slid open.
The boy had been instructed to wait till the front door had opened again and then walk into the foyer. The boy did not know 'foyer' and had cocked his head to the side, his eyebrows pinched when the man asked if he understood. Then the man had explained that he was to follow into the enclosed area beyond the sliding doors after the man had gone inside. The boy understood now and 'remembered' the term 'foyer' for later reference. When the doors had opened again the man was gone, but the boy followed instructions precisely and walked inside. Behind him the mechanical door slid closed and after a moment the one in front of him opened.
Someone was there. Monica squinted trying to make out the features of the silhouette in the doorway. It was a short person. A child? Her heart jumped when, for one impossible moment, she thought that her little boy had come home. But then she watched in uncomprehending silence as a different boy stepped into their home. A blonde boy dressed in a soft white jump suit that hung on him like robes. His entry was pronounced by the muted click of protective plastic sandals against the Swinton's foyer carpet. His gait was quick and precise. He walked forward and then stopped suddenly at the small steps that led into the living room. Monica stepped back involuntarily as the boy took one small step into the lower area and then stopped as if frightened by something. He tapped his foot against the wooden step and seemed to pay close attention as the sound reverberated throughout the room. He then stepped back and repeated this process on the carpeted area above the step.
Whose child was this? Monica studied the boy's too smooth face. He looked blankly back at her. He seemed to be Martin's age, maybe eleven, twelve or so. But the eyes were younger; somehow… vacant. Was he challenged? Had Henry brought home someone's rejected child? The boy acknowledged Monica with a glance, but his eyes turned quickly towards the sunlit area of the big windows that looked out on the pool. His head quickly followed the path of his eyes and then he turned and purposefully walked to the window. Monica noticed the measured steps, the halting way he scanned things as he passed. She knew those movements. Recognition clicked suddenly inside her head.
The boy stopped at the window and then turned again to face Monica. He smiled at her now, a peculiar vacant smile, and in his unblinking eyes Monica finally saw what had made her step back from this harmless looking child.
David's mind acknowledged the woman was looking at him. But she'd said nothing. He did 'smile'. Still she made no response. He knew faces. The woman's face was doing 'shock'. There was 'apprehension' there too. He would calm her.
"I like your floor," he said.
"I can't accept this!" Monica yelled for the third time. Her tears were streaming uncontrollably now. All the anger and anguish that she had left behind had returned suddenly, ravaging her. What in the hell had this man been thinking?! That she would abandon her only son for... that thing? "There is no substitute for your own child, Henry!! No substitute!!" she scolded him, shaking an accusing finger in rage.
"You don't have to accept him, Monica! It's not too late to take him back!" Henry countered. He'd left the prototype downstairs alone and followed her when she had fled in this sudden emotional outburst. Now he tried to console her in their bedroom. Across the hall their son's room was still full of the toys and things of his that served as a constant reminder of their denial. He'd known that she would not initially like the Mecha, but this rage was beyond his expectations. Dr. Frazier had been right. They had to begin to let go. They had to start somewhere.
"What were you thinking?" she roared at him, her voice full of pain and uncertainty. "Did you think that I could just... just..." but she didn't know how to finish.
"I'll do whatever you want me to do, Monica! Whatever you want," he pleaded. He didn't want to fight with her. He didn't want to see her in pain. This had not been what he had anticipated. "Whatever you want," he repeated as her sobs began to subside.
"I don't know," she said finally in surrender. "I don't know what to do." The powerful rage was gone from her voice. Henry was glad for the respite from her anger, but what he heard now hurt more. It was a whimper of submission. Was she finally accepting that their son was never coming home?
"I know,. I know," he tried to calm her. "I'll return it to Cybertronics. First thing in the morning, it's gone!" He hadn't wanted to push her so far. They could find someone else for the in-home test. There was still plenty of time, plenty of qualified applicants. The prototype hadn't been imprinted, so no damage was done.
Monica was quiet now. The outburst had run its course and she stood tear stricken at the window. "Ok. Take him back, ok," she said weakly. She was quiet for a moment, then her voice rose in sudden indecision, "I mean... Henry did you see his face? He's so real. So real..." she paused thinking, "but he's not. I mean... inside he's like all the rest, isn't he?"
"Yeah, a hundred miles of fiber," Henry laughed. Was something happening here? What was she doing?
Monica moved to the bed and sat down. She smoothed the sheets absent-mindedly and gazed out the window at the haze that had thickened into pregnant clouds. It had felt good to let the tears flow after so long repressing them. When was the last time she'd had a good cry? The last time she'd allowed this feeling of vulnerability to open in her? Her mind wandered as she calmed. It was a robot after all, right? A toy really. "But outside, he just looks... so real," she said almost to herself.
What had happened? It had only been a matter of minutes since this... boy, had been in their home. He had only said a few little words, meaningless words, and yet it had changed everything. Was the fabric of this safe little unchanging world she'd constructed so easily crumbled? Where had these feelings, unbidden for so long, been hiding? Just beneath the surface all this time? Who had she been kidding? Herself. She was silent for some time as Henry waited. He hoped.
Outside the raindrops fell quickly and then stopped as the sudden shower dispersed.
"I could use a child," she said after minutes.
"A Mecha child," Henry added. He meant a child that would never grow old, that would never need to be fed or punished, that would do exactly what he was told when he was told and would never interfere with the neat little life they had developed since Martin had ... left them. But most of all, he meant a child that could be easily returned if things did not work out as desired.
Monica heard him make this distinction, but it didn't mean anything to her. Something in her chest had moved every so slightly. "A child," she repeated softly.
From the quiet living room, David had heard the woman 'yelling' upstairs. He 'remembered' the sound and then decided to listen to the clicking of his shoes against the floor as he walked across the room. The floor texture changed and his feet made sharper sounds.
David decided to walk some more. He did so until he came to the window again. There he watched the grey clouds overhead move slowly against the darkening sky. He watched for some time although he wouldn't know how long. Soon the window became wet. Drops of water fell from above, struck and stuck to the outside surface of the window. David watched the water streak and run down the length of the glass until it gathered at the base of the pane and overflowed. In time the droplets stopped falling and David watched the clouds pass. He 'remembered' this and then walked across the floor again. He saw the couch and the chairs and 'remembered' them. In the center of the room was a table. There was another larger table at the far end of the room. The color of the furniture was dark. It was the color of dark polished wood. The floor was the color of dark wood and the carpet was green. He 'remembered' all these things. In time he would understand them.
The yelling had stopped. He listened but heard nothing. So he walked to the table in the center of the room. On the table he saw photos. David knew 'photos' from ... 'before', and he decided to look at them. These photos were new to David. Once he 'remembered' something he never forgot that thing and he had not seen these photos before. In one of the photos he saw the man, Henry, and the woman whose name he had not learned yet. But there was a face in the photos that David had not seen before. It was of a person smaller than Henry and the woman. It was a boy. He 'remembered' this new face and looked at the other photos. They were all of Henry and the woman and the boy. They wore different clothing in each photo. They smiled and looked 'happy'.
The last photo on the table was bigger than the others. Only the boy was in this photo. But David saw another face in the glass. Quickly he realized that this other face was a 'reflection'. But it looked also as if the face was in the photo beside the boy. David saw… 'himself' in the reflection. He 'remembered' this. In time he would know what it meant.
He did not perceive them, but as David digested the family images, Monica and Henry were watching him from the spiraling stairwell. They had been watching him quietly for some time. He had not acknowledged the little sounds they had made as they came down the stairs when the sudden cloudburst had subsided. They had watched tquietly as he stared from the living room window at the receding storm, and then as he walked cautiously across the room, scanning each piece of furniture with his odd wide-eyed gaze.
'What was he thinking?' Monica wanted to know. Was he thinking at all? Finally he stopped before the family photos. The Mecha stayed there for a while and when he came to the photo of Martin he seemed to lean closer. The Mecha boy stared at that photo for longer than he had the others. Monica felt something warm inside of her when she noticed this. It was a good feeling; a welcome feeling.
"David, I have someone I want you to meet," the man, Henry said. He seemed 'excited'. Behind Henry the woman who had yelled and run away from him before, was standing with her hand over her mouth. Her face looked 'nervous'. David did 'smile' and said "Ok, Henry."
Henry put his arm around the woman's shoulders. "David," he said, "This is Monica."
The woman looked 'nervous', but not exactly 'nervous'. She looked 'nervous' but different. David did 'big smile' showing his teeth and said "Hello Monica. It is good to meet you." He extended his hand to do 'shake' but the woman drew her arms around herself and could not shake. Was she 'cold'? She smiled but her eyes were wet. It looked to David like tears. Was she 'sad' and 'cold'?
"Hello David. It's good to meet you too," the woman, Monica, said. David 'remembered' her voice as he had 'remembered' Henry's earlier. He kept his hand extended for her to 'shake' but she did not. Henry made a noise with his throat.
"David, Monica and I would like for you to stay here with us for a while. That way we can get to know each other a bit. Does that sound ok?"
"Ok, Henry," David replied. He did 'big smile' for Monica again and said, "That sounds great!" Quickly Monica reached out to grasp David's hand and did 'shake'. It was very fast. It was not like the 'shake' that Henry had done before. Monica's hand was 'warm' and 'soft'. After she had done 'shake', Monica's face 'relaxed' and she looked 'calm'. Henry looked at her and David saw that he looked 'happy' like he did in the photos.
Henry said, "David, I want you to wait here and we will come get you in a short time, ok?"
They had retreated back upstairs to the dressing room and left the prototype downstairs taking in the house. Henry knew this was an important part of the acclimation process. David had to sample or 'remember' everything in its environment. Although the thing had been programmed to simulate a child's behavior, he had no worries about the little Mecha breaking anything. He'd touch nothing unless specifically asked to do so and unlike a real child he could sit and wait for hours; days if need be.
All things considered, the meeting had gone well enough. David had met Monica and sampled her voice and expressions for later reference. More importantly, she had spoken to David and shook his hand even if it was a somewhat frantic gesture. The boy-bot was designed to bring out maternal instincts. From the wide baby-blue eyes and the light voice frequencies to the olfactory simulators in the boy-bot's hair and skin, David was more real than any Mecha before him. It was a little disconcerting at first meeting. Even Henry had been a little disturbed by this when he'd first picked up the machine at the Cybertronics lab. But that had passed. He hoped Monica's reaction would pass also.
The robot would have no memories of Cybertronics, or his creators. Henry had been there when the battery had been set in his chest and they'd powered him up. Then the cavity had been sealed. Although the thing had been pre-programmed, it had never spoken a word until the 'body' had been turned on and the brain inserted. Henry had heard those first words. He had been introduced to David and surprised how realistic it felt when he took the robot's small hand in his own. They'd exchanged greetings and the prototype had been told to go with him.
David was like no Mecha before him. Every effort had been made to make him as realistic as possible. In spite of the miles of fibers and light metal joints inside him, David weighed only 60lbs. Gone were the opening facial cavities and clunky metal frames that had typified the design of the old butlers and maids. His body had no false openings for technicians to access. If he were ever damaged, they would have to go inside just like they'd do with an Orga child, by surgery. Every aspect of the boy was completely duplicated from Orga, even those functions he would never need. He had a throat, although he'd never be able to eat. He'd never have to use the toilet, nor would he ever participate in that purely biological aspect of love, but the glands necessary for these functions were also part of his anatomy.
Not only was his design unique, an almost perfect simulation of Orga structure, undetectable by those not familiar with Mecha subtleties, but he had another very special quality. The Director had explained that David was a very special and secret project because they believed they had manufactured a robot that could feel love. Real love. Henry had not known how to take that when he'd heard it. He didn't work with the technical departments of Cybertronics. Much of their work was kept secret until it was publicly released. But he knew that this might be the thing that Monica needed. And if she needed it, then he needed it. He had signed numerous documents agreeing to secrecy, limitations of company liability and to arbitration if something should go wrong. There were technical documents that he had to understand before he could leave with the Mecha. It had taken him all morning but finally he been flown back to New Jersey with a new gift for his wife.
Henry was overjoyed that Monica was now willing to give the Mecha a chance. He waited until she was seated and drew a dramatic breath. In his hand he held a red folder that he had been given by the Director. This was an extraordinary gesture and Henry had to impress on Monica the importance of this test.
"The show of faith my company has placed on me... on us! …is extraordinary. There are a few simple but crucial procedures we need to follow if and when you decide to keep David." He handed her the red folder. Monica read the warning label.
This process is irreversible and permanent!
Do not initiate imprinting if you have any doubts about your feelings!
If Henry was trying to make her uncomfortable he was succeeding.
Henry continued, reading from a form he held, "In the Red folder is an imprinting protocol consisting of a code string of seven particular words that need to be spoken to David in the predefined order that is printed inside." He stopped reading and looked her in the eyes. "Monica. For our own protection, this imprinting cannot be reversed! The robot child's "love" would be sealed. In a sense; hardwired. And we'd be part of him. Forever. Because of this, after imprinting on a parent, no Mecha child can be resold."
Monica looked at him, uncomprehending.
"Honey, if you imprint and then we should decide not to keep David, he must be returned to Cybertronics. For destruction."
She nodded slowly, understanding now.
"I had to sign these letters of agreement before they'd even let you see David." He handed her a handful of forms. "You have to sign them too. Read them carefully, Monica."
She scanned the papers. It seemed overwhelming, all this data, all this responsibility. Was she really ready for this?
Henry saw her indecision and leaned close to her, letting her know he understood. "Honey. This can be a good thing for us. I know it can. And I know you sense that too. But don't imprint unless you're absolutely sure."
Monica sighed and shook her head. "Silly man. Of course I'm not sure."
They'd given the robot the pajamas that Cybertronics had supplied. They'd also supplied a couple of changes of clothing. There really wasn't anything else they'd need. Martin's room had been prepared for their little guest. His night-lit sleeping canopy hadn't been used in five years and Monica felt another tug of reluctance at letting the Mecha sleep there. But she wasn't going to put the poor thing on the couch, and she definitely wouldn't let it sleep with them. The Mecha stood before the bed now, holding the plaid pajamas in front of him. Its posture was slightly robotic and it was staring at the ornaments hanging over the bed. The Mecha stayed in that position for some time. Monica wondered what was going on inside its head.
The light flickering against the shiny thing that dangled over the 'bed' made David stare. He watched it until he perceived the pattern of its movement and understood it. It was a 'decoration'. It was in the shape of a woman and, in its center, was a 'heart' shape. In it he saw reflections like he had in the photo. He saw himself. Then, as the thing rotated on the string, he saw the woman, Monica, in the reflection. He turned to look at her. Her eyes were no longer wet. She was calm now. They had given him the clothing for 'sleeping' and he held them up to her.
"Would you like me to sleep now," he asked.
Monica didn't know what to say. She looked at Henry for guidance. "Ahhh… sounds good," Henry offered. "Sound like a good idea to you, Monica?"
Monica shrugged. "Well, it is late you know. I mean it's after nine…" she stumbled trying to use motherly logic. "How late do they let you stay up?"
David did not understand 'they'. He processed her question though and a response came to him suddenly. "I can never go to sleep, but I can lay quietly and not make a peep."
Henry recognized the phrase as one of the hundreds of lines his department had sifted through for use in promotional materials. He hadn't known they'd be used in programming. He winked at Monica who did not seem amused by the rhyme.
"Well, " she said heading towards the door, "you've got everything you need and I guess we'll be in to check on you in the..." She stopped when David suddenly approached her, the pajama's held out as if an offering.
"Dress me?" David suggested as he approached Monica. She stepped back as if frightened by the robot's advance. Henry knew that this was supposed to have evoked a matronly response, but his wife wasn't ready for it.
Monica almost ran from the room. "I'm gonna say good night now... you boys be boys!" she said and quickly closed the door behind her. David followed her and stood there, pajamas pressed against the frosted glass surface of the door after it was closed.
Henry sighed and put his hand on David's shoulder to turn the Mecha around. "Arms up," he said and the boy-bot obeyed. Henry slipped the robot out of the jump suit and into the pajamas. She'd be ok. This was maybe a little much, so quickly.
Monica stood in the darkness of the hallway and caught her breath. This was happening so fast, too fast. She breathed deeply to calm herself. It was a robot. She had to remember that. Just a robot, not a real little boy, not like her Martin. It could never replace her son.
From the shadows of the hallway Monica peeked around the corner and watched through the door pane the blurred images of Henry and the Mecha. She listened as Henry talked to the thing while he dressed it for the night, and then swore she saw it peering out the blurred glass in her direction. She moved away from the door back into the darkness.
Had it been looking for her?
Monica was sitting on the floor of the hallway. She was in turmoil. Perhaps she had overreacted. She looked around the corner behind her. Not a sound. Not a movement. She started feeling guilty.
It had all begun that morning. She had woken to find Henry dressed and heading out the door. "Have fun," he had said with a peculiar smile. Monica had screwed her face up in confusion and then she saw David standing at the foot of the staircase, looking all too real with his disheveled hair and bed-wrinkled pajamas. She'd nodded at Henry and he'd kissed her. " If you have any problems call me," he said, then he whispered to her, "David was made to simulate a little boy, honey. Don't be afraid of him. I love you," and he was gone. The inner doors slid closed behind him, leaving her alone with the Mecha.
"Good morning Monica" David said smiling flatly at her.
"Hi David," she replied. She smiled back and gazed awkwardly at the robot for a minute. She cleared her throat but could think of nothing to say. It was time for coffee. As she made her way into the kitchen she noticed the way the little Mecha's eyes followed her, then its head. She looked away as it turned its body towards her. Then she heard the pit-pat of its feet on the kitchen floor behind her as she prepared for breakfast.
Once a casual treat, real coffee was now a luxury. Fortunately their income provided Monica access to these simple pleasures and she'd become a collector of interesting blends. She began the ritualistic process of measuring the grounds and pouring the water. She didn't use any prescribed measurements. She did it all based on the results of repeated trials and errors at different combinations.
David was crouching beside her, his eyes peeking over the counter's edge as Monica spooned her special mixture of grounds into the filter. His silly smile was gone. He watched her every move with childish fascination as she measured and poured and stirred. At first Monica was amused by this. At least she didn't feel like running away from it again. But the humor shortly wore thin. She was just making coffee. What was so amazing about that?
When he brew was finished, she sat at the table to sort through the headlines of the daily news feed. When the Mecha didn't follow her she turned and saw him still staring at the coffee maker. Made to simulate a boy, eh; a not too bright boy perhaps? Monica went back to her paper.
Then suddenly David was at her side again. Shocked, she pulled back at but quickly realized the Mecha was gazing at her steaming coffee cup with his too-wide, too-blue eyes. That again? She huffed and read some more. But when she went to sip her brew, David's eyes followed the cup up from the table, to her mouth, and then back down to the table. Monica watched this for a moment and then decided that she'd had enough. She turned her back on David but could imagine the little unblinking eyes on the back of her head. This was not going to work.
Maybe it was time to do some chores.
Her routine had been her mainstay, her grip on the world, for many months now. She had always been an orderly person but with ... situations the way they were, it was crucial to have a regular schedule of activity. Just outside of that pattern the awful press of desperation loomed. Only a clear sense of purpose kept it at bay.
David was now interrupting with that course of activity. Maybe it was just the way he was suddenly there beside her as she made the bed or folded linen. Maybe it was the way he had scared her when she rounded the corner with an armful of sheets. Or the way he followed her every move with that never ending stare and his flat curious expressions that seemed to only alternate between a silly closed-mouthed smile or utter amazement. Henry assured her that was just the acclimating process. That David was brand new and even with all his programming he still had to get used to new things and places. Monica thought perhaps they'd over done the childish wonder bit. Not everything deserved the astonished scrutiny David seemed to give it.
Things had come to a head when he... it, had stepped in her way as she brought some things up from the pool. She'd been headed for the washroom when in the hallway David had suddenly stopped in her path, his face displaying a new expression: the annoying simile of a boy's mischievous grin. She had stepped aside but the robot had moved with her. She stepped back to go around but David in her path again. Monica had had it!
"C'mere, David," she whispered through clenched teeth. She led the obedient Mecha to the nearest closet and placed him inside. He'd smiled up at her as she closed the door. Finally she could get some work done without distraction!
That had been an hour ago and the Mecha had not made a sound since. It should have been an easy hour, compared to the distractions of the morning. Well, the robot was finally out of her way, wasn't it? That was what she had wanted, hadn't she? How long would it stay in the closet? Would it really just stand there until she came and got it? What if she left it there all day? All week? She shuddered as a wave of self-recrimination arose. It was just a robot right?
"Awww, what am I doing?" She said aloud.
David saw the 'silhouette' against the frosted glass door of the little dark room where Monica had put him. He did not know how long he had stayed there. He did not understand duration. Finally the door opened and he saw it was Monica again. This process seemed familiar to David He had remembered something like this from... before.
When she opened the door David was standing exactly where she had left him. He smiled up at her.
"Is it a game?" he asked.
"Uh... Yes it's a game," Monica replied feeling a little guilty. How could she place this little innocent thing (it's a robot) in the closet? "It's… hide and seek," she explained and tapped David playfully on the shoulder. It felt so real; "found you," she said and led him out of the closet. She guided the Mecha to Martin's room and pointed inside. "This is your room now, just go play."
David knew 'play'. He walked into the room and found 'toys' on the bed and floor. He took the small things in his hands and began to 'play'. He had no real understanding of the toys and their meaning. He was not in the process of learning or dealing with emotional stresses, as human children would be. It was an automated series of gestures he enacted now, picking up the toy copter and zooming it through the air. There was no fantasy of flight attached to the motion. He looked and saw that Monica watched him and he smiled. She smiled back and then left. Was she still playing?
Finally she had some time to herself. The boy was in the bedroom and he'd stay there playing until she told him to stop. That was at least one advantage of Mecha. She was absorbed in a book in her favorite reading room when she heard the door snick open. David stood smiling at her. His unblinking eyes hinted at some glee. He'd leanred a new game.
"Found you," he said
Monica yelped and dropped her book. She lifted her sweatpants from around her ankles to cover herself. You would have assumed they'd program this thing to know what a toilet was! "Get out of here!" Monica yelled! The Mecha obeyed, walking away quickly. "And close the goddamn door!" she added.
David dutifully walked back and closed the door. Monica had done 'anger'. This somehow did not seem an appropriate response to the game. As he walked back to his 'room' his mind made the necessary associations between 'toilet' and 'anger'.
She heard his footsteps against the floor as he walked away. What had she been so upset about? He was just a robot. Right? Just a robot.
There was no chatter at the table that evening, but this was not unusual; there hadn't been for some time. Henry had thought that David might change that. He'd have to be patient he guessed. It couldn't happen overnight. He wondered what had happened while he was at work. Monica really hadn't said anything about her first day alone with the Mecha. She seemed annoyed about something and Henry didn't press the issue. Even if it hadn't been imprinted yet, he really didn't want to return the thing without giving it a fair chance.
Monica ate quietly. She knew Henry was anxious about the robot. He'd be wondering if she liked it and if she were going to keep it. The truth was she didn't really know. There was really nothing to talk about. David was cute enough. It did look real and in spite of its annoying little habits of appearing from around corners and blocking her path, not to mention walking in on her in the toilet (she'd have to break him of that one) it wasn't that bad. She looked over at David. She had set a place at the table for it, thinking that maybe it would help it get through this acclimation process. Now she saw that David was copying their movements.
David watched Monica and Henry. They were putting things into their 'mouth'. This was 'eating'. David didn't understand eating but knew he wasn't supposed to. He didn't know why he knew this. He observed and remembered the way they moved their arms as they used the tools to eat with. He would learn this too.
Henry glanced over and saw David begin to mimic him. Had he been doing that all day? No wonder Monica seemed so annoyed. He had explained to her that David would have to acclimate to the house, but maybe she wasn't acclimating to it. As Henry drank David picked up the empty glass and put it to his mouth. The glass was so big against his face that the Mecha had to cross his eyes to continue watching Henry's movements. Henry looked back at his wife and saw her watching the robot.
Monica shook her head at David's new game. She paid attention to her meal again. She rolled her some spaghetti on her fork and was lifting iut to her mouth when she noticed that David mimicking her She stopped eating. David stopped moving as well and fixed her with an expectant gaze. Monica knew that it would stay in this position as long as she, so she put the food in her mouth and ignored it. As she chewed strands of spaghetti hung from her mouth and dangled over her chin.
David knew 'eating'. He also knew that Monica was eating 'wrong'. Something was hanging from her mouth. He watched Monica eat incorrectly. Was this a 'funny' thing? David knew 'funny'.
Henry and Monica both jumped at the sudden staccato sound that erupted from David. He was pointing at Monica, his face drawn long in his laughter. It was a sound that they'd not heard in a long, long time. A child's laughter! It was odd sounding, like a cartoon, as if David were actually saying the words ha-ha-ha quickly, but it was a welcome variation on the theme, and soon Monica and Henry were laughing with him. She pulled the little piece of spaghetti from the side of her mouth and dangled it. Was that what he found so funny?
David did 'laugh' and watched as Monica and Henry did laugh too. This was something new. It had come on him involuntarily as he had recognized the 'funny' thing.
The boy-bot's face was actually turning red in this fit, just like a real boy's face, and Henry laughed again at this. David heard Henry and turned to face him, going into another bout of the strange, hocketing sounds.
The couple gazed at each other. Months... maybe years of tension had left them, ushered away by the unpredictable action of this little robot. Monica tried to ewxplain through her fit how much David had shocked her, but she couldn't get the words out of her mouth.
David observed Monica and Henry laugh. The 'funny' was over now. Laugh was no longer necessary. So he stopped as suddenly as he'd begun.
Henry and Monica's fits subsided as they saw David looking at them curiously. He glanced to and fro between them, his unblinking eyes turning first and then his head following in one of the few gestures that gave away his Mecha nature. Monica had figured that it was all a controlled process, that David was somehow programmed to laugh at things that seemed out of place, but that didn't matter. The sound had been real enough, and consuming. It was a wonderful sound.
Henry was encouraged to have seen Monica laughing freely and fully for the first time in years! It was a good sight, a beautiful sight. He went back to his meal feeling better then he had in a long time. David remained silent throughout the rest of dinner but in the toy's presence was something new and warm, and Henry caught Monica watching it once or twice as they ate. What had that been in her eyes? Affection? Was something happening here?
She couldn't put off dealing with David forever. Henry had told her she had to make a decision sooner or later and she couldn't make a decision if she didn't try to get to know the Mecha. She had laughed at the idea at first; getting to know a robot? But after the dinner experience, so similar to the way things had been so long ago, Monica decided that she was going to try.
She decided to dress David alone that night. A couple of times, as she lifted his arms to change his shirt and as he balanced on one leg as she slipped him out of his pants, the Mecha had reached out as if to hug her. She had pulled away from those awkward embraces. She realized it was only a program, but she wasn't ready for that, if she ever would be. Somewhere she still had ... another obligation. She slipped the plaid pajama top over the little boy's head. Martin would have needed a bath but David was as clean and fresh as when he first walked into their home. Monica winced at how terribly real he seemed from even this close. His skin was eerily life like. They'd even given him the smell of a freshly bathed child. Maybe, as he got more accustomed to life here, he would play outside like other boys and get dirty. She imagined scolding him someday, fussing over the mess he'd made of himself, like Martin had made her do so many times. But that was stupid wasn't it? David wasn't like other boys, was he? He was Mecha. A robot. An imitation. She'd never scold him nor feel pride at his good grades. She'd never sit up at night worried about where he was or whom he was with. Nor would she be able to meet that someone special he brought home before he said goodbye.
Monica looked up at David's eyes. She gazed into his eternal stare. Was there something there? Could she really learn to love something that wasn't really there?
"Time for bed," she whispered as if talking to a real child. "Okay Monica," David replied with flat enthusiasm. She led him to the bed canopy and turned off the room lights. The canopy sensed the change and the night-lights came on, bathing the room in a wash of blue. David crawled up into the bed and sat.
How many times had she read to Martin in this bed? How many times had her little boy, her dear little lost boy, waited expectantly for her to lay beside him with the storybooks he loved so? She suppressed a tear and crawl up beside David. He stared into the darkness of the room with his vacant smile and unceasing gaze. Couldn't they have programmed him to blink or something? At least he should close his eyes while he feigned sleep.
Monica buttoned the boy's shirt and held the covers up. He looked into the open blankets and then slipped under them, his movements precise and mechanical. Monica wondered if that would that change after she imprinted? Would his movements become real? Could he really become the same as... She stopped herself there. What was she thinking about? She didn't even know if she was going to imprint. She hadn't had enough time to make a decision like that.
She tucked the boy under the covers and he laid back staring up into the blue lights of the canopy. He seemed to be watching the little metal mobile that hung at the mouth of the bed, but was he watching anything at all? Could he really see these things? Could he understand what was really happening around him, or was it all just a flood of numbered data streaming into his mechanical brain?
Was he alive in there?
Suddenly, unbidden and unwelcome, Martins frozen image came into her minds eye. The question came to her again; 'Was he alive in there?' She could not stop the tears this time. Would she ever see her real little boy again, hear his laughter and feel his small arms around her?
"My baby," she said, her voice thick with tears.
David could not do 'sleep', so he laid still and 'ignored' data. He would stay that way until someone addressed him directly or some unexpected stimuli caused a necessary reaction. Monica was leaning over him. Her face was 'strained' like she was in pain. She made a crying sound. "My baby" is what she said. David did not know this phrase. Was she addressing him? He did not think so. He did not react.
Please remember that this
program, once activated
is permanent, indelible
The words forbade any further passage. And yet Monica opened the envelope. The seal broke easier than one would have surmised based on the words it bore. What now was this that she had planned? Monica wasn't quite sure she was really doing this. Henry had said that she had more time, that there was no rush. But how much long would she need to make such a decision? Days? Weeks? How could she ever really decide to replace....
She stopped that thought. Was that was she was doing?
She put those questions aside, pulled the slip of instructions from the folder and focused on the words before her. They were simple instructions. Was it really that easy to enact this permanent and indelible program?
Quick Start up instructions;
Dear God, she thought, 'quick start'? What was this, a short cut to love? A portrait of the Mecha's head was featured and circular marks outlined specific places on his forehead and the back of his neck. These were activation zones. She was to touch these in sequence. Monica read on.
Step 1: Repeat the following words slowly and clearly in precise order.
Monica read the words she was to repeat, wondering how they'd come up with these things?
Step 2: State your name and then state the name of your Mecha.
Was she really going to do this?
Step 3: Restate your name clearly and release pressure from activation zone.
That was all? What then? What was David going to do then? Didn't they have enough foresight to...
And that was when she realized that she was actually going through with it. She looked over at David who had been sitting by the bay windows awaiting instructions. The bright sunlight that burned through the window was diffused by cloud cover and the room was awash in a golden light. It was surreal. David sat in this light and Monica felt a twinge at the sight. He was beautiful wasn't he? In his own way, he was a beautiful thing. Her heart raced a little. Here we go, she thought.
Monica knelt before David and studied the instructions again. The Mecha's eyes registered no expectations, no fear or apprehensions about what she was going to do, just that vacant smile and unceasing gaze. She reread the words and studied the activation zones.
"Is it a game?" David asked as she read. But Monica didn't register the question. She may not have had an answer anyway.
"Now David, I want you to hold still for me, ok?" as if it was necessary to ask.
"Yes, Monica" he replied. Such an eternally obedient child, she thought. Would that change? Who would he be after this? She pressed the palm of her hand against the first activation zone in the center of his forehead.
"Can you feel that?"
She let 10 seconds or more pass and removed her hand. She checked the sheet again.
"Now, I'm gonna read some words and they won't make any sense, but I want you to listen to them anyway… and look at me all the time. Can you do that, David?"
"Yes, Monica," his face was expressionless.
She waited for a moment. The first activation zone was not a trigger. The initial sequence it activated would override in 45 seconds if she did not continue. But the second zone...
She put her hand behind the Mecha's neck and felt the incredible simulation of a spinal chord. She pressed her fingers it, and felt the 'bones' give a little. No turning back now.
"Can you feel my hand on the back of your neck?" she asked.
"Does, uh... any of this hurt?"
"Okay," she said nervously, "Look at me..." she caught David's eyes and the boy stared blankly back at her. "Ready?"
David had seen something new when Monica had touched him on the head. It was something he had not seen before. The light in the room had seemed to take on a new sheen. David had no words for these things and they were unimportant to him anyway. All that mattered now was what Monica was instructing him to do. She wanted him to pay attention to what she was going to read to him. She reached up and put her hand behind his head. The light in the room had changed again. It was more than just colors. Something more that he could not understand. This again was unimportant though, because now he must respond to Monica's question.
He did not understand 'hurt'. He knew what 'hurt' looked like and the responses that were necessary, but her question was beyond him. He told her "No".
"Look at me.... Ready?" Then she began to read.
The word meant nothing to David. The sound though seemed to make him want to respond. But he did not have an appropriate response, so he did 'smile' and watched Monica's face as instructed.
Another new word, no meaning, some ...suggestion? Something new, like the water that had fallen on the window. Slowly at first...
...and then bigger drops, quickly building in numbers and size until they had obscured the vision to the world... .
...and everything became unfocused, filtered through the wet surface of the glass...
... and there was only the water shifting against the grey
... andhis reflection in the glass ...
... but another face was there now ...
… and the light around her was wrong; so much light...
... too bright, too many colors, and ...
David's face remained unchanged as she read. Had she seen some movement behind those unblinking eyes? As she finished the protocol and removed her hand from the activation zone his face changed. His mouth dropped from the vacant smile into a slack-jawed stare. His eyes became ponderous. He looked puzzled. What was he seeing?
"David?" she said tenuously. David did not respond. He continued to stare at her as if he never seen her before. Had she made a mistake? She reviewed the words quickly. No. She had read them in the right order. So what was wrong? Oh, why hadn't they put any information on what to expect? It would have been easy enough to just...
"What were those words for, Mommy?"
Monica looked up David. What had he just said? In his face was something new; and what was that in his eyes? Above his eyes, his brows were drawn in question. Some lonely place in her heart opened and a darkness too long kept there was dismissed in that instant. A feeling that she'd not known for years welled up beneath her doubt and anxiety and threatened to burst her heart.
"What did you call me?" she asked through a thick throat.
"Mommy," he whispered the word in tender reverence, and the smile on his lips was new and spoke of impossible emotions. She had to hear it again. How long had it been?
"Oh David! Who am I?" she asked, knowing the response, needing the wonderfully alive feeling that word would bring to her, desperate for the healing the sound that simple word would catalyze.
David was suddenly moving upon her, engulfing her in his little boy embrace. Shocked, she dropped the instructions and moved as to retreat, but his small form was already folded against her, his small arms clinging to her. Those are impossible feelings to escape, those drives of motherhood. She had fought feeling this way about David since she'd met him. But yet here she was, caught finally in his simple childish trap. She could not curse the creators of this being for their genius, though. Her heart was filled with an ancient joy. She embraced David and rocked him gently in her lap, ran her fingers through his soft hair, feeling his tender face against her shoulder.
"You are my Mommy," he said.
For some time, holding each other as the golden glow waned outside, duration made no sense to either of them.