Here comes another one.
Just like the other ones.
Too many too fast.
Wide, unblinking eyes taking in the room. Has it never seen these flat white walls before?
"Damn. Not tonight." Raymond slipped from the desk and into his lab coat. He plastered on the obligatory smile and stood at the counter. On the other side of the reinforced alumi-glass partition a woman with a tight grin and tighter black gown escorted a small boy into the room. But it wasn't really a boy. She parked the thing at the door to the lobby and it sat, obedient as those things always were. She came to the window then, feigning some casualness that was belied by the nervous hands on her purse strap and inability to look at him directly. He pressed on the release handle and the partition opened.
"How are you doing?" Raymond asked. "What can I do for ya?" He already knew. Damn.
"Oh." Tight grin said as if he'd taken her by surprise, "well, I was told that…" She started again, "Well, I know this is not the best timing, but my mother just passed away… and," they always stuttered and hemmed and hawed "… we'll be moving to New Utah since my husband is going to be starting a new job and … well we'd stay here but…"
"I understand," Raymond cut her off. He couldn't listen to the rambling anymore. It was always the same. "This was your mother's?" he nodded at the quiet little figure that watched expectantly from across the room.
The woman looked down without responding. Raymond waited a moment but a reply didn't seem forthcoming. Must be the typical guilt.
"Been givin' you a hard time eh?" he asked with a false understanding. Maybe the memory was too fresh. Not her fault really. The things often got out of hand when the imprinter passed.
She nodded her head and tried a laugh but the smile just got a little tighter. "We… ah… just want to make this as smooth as possible. He… ah… the Mecha has been a wonderful companion, but now… well."
"Did your mother imprint on it while you were a child or…" he didn't finish the question. Something wasn't quite right about this.
"Well, we were always close… and," she paused. Raymond smiled, listening. His eyes said, 'and…?'
"… and well, now it's time to move on you know."
It wasn't her mothers. Raymond suddenly realized this. Was it hers? Her husbands? He'd have had more respect for their decision if she had not tried to hide behind her parent's death. He was cool though. He wasn't here to judge. He had a job and that was that. He nodded, pressed his hands into his nondescript white lab jacket and let her see a sympathetic smile.
"I have just recently acquired a parenting license," she said as if it was the subject of some other conversation unrelated to her reason for being here. Raymond let his eyes widen for a second. A non-committal congratulation. She misunderstood it. "We… uh… my husband Charles and I… decided that the islands aren't for us. He's got a position with a submerged salvage company out there and…"
"I'm Raymond Aguilar," he interrupted. "What can I call you?"
"Oh, sorry.. I'm Sharon… Sharon Wykamp," she replied, not sure whether to offer her hand to shake. In the end she did not.
"And?" Raymond thrust his chin in the direction of the Mecha, which was sitting across the sterile room, its desperate little eyes curious upon them.
"Oh… well, we call him Phillip," Sharon whispered and glanced away.
Raymond grunted. His phony smile was getting hard to keep up. "Well, Ms. Wykamp, I assume Phillip's intention of expiration has been registered and his paperwork completed?"
She reached nervously into her purse and extracted the requested data. Raymond took the wrinkled forms and pretended to inspect them. He hummed as he did this.
"We reported his expiration this morning," Sharon added, anxious to get the whole thing over with.
Well, that's interesting, "But he hasn't been expired yet." Raymond pointed out the obvious, abandoning his non-judgmental smile. Sharon countered with a quick turn of her head. There was an uncomfortable silence, then she turned back and her face was red. Was it anger? Guilt?
"I can have my own child now!" she hissed. Across the room Phillip's eyes stared intently at their confrontation. Raymond knew the thing was processing what was going on. He knew that it recognized Sharon's discomfort and would wonder at the situation.
"Look, I am only suggesting that you could have compromised any claim you might have made by reporting an inaccurate…"
"I don't care about any claim!" she almost yelled. "I don't want any money and I don't need your goddamn attitude either. I can have my own child now!"
Raymond held up his palms in a signal of surrender. Now the Mecha knew for sure that things weren't right. Damn and damn again! "Let's relax, ok?" he offered. Across the room the little fake boy had stood and even from this far Raymond could see the tweaked eyebrows and its expression of painful confusion. Any moment it might start a whine.
"If you cared about him once, then let's not agitate his concerns now," Raymond whispered. "When you're gone I still have to keep him calm until the shut down." He knew that he should not refer to the Mecha in human terms. It was standard procedure to make it easier on the customers. But he had no sympathy for this woman now.
"That is your problem now," Sharon said with too much ease. "I have done my part and..."
"No, you haven't"
She glared at him impatiently. "What?!"
"I need you to call him over here. And I need you to act like you are going to be right back. Can you do that for me?"
The woman looked ready to bolt from the room, but she faltered and took a deep intake of air. After a moment she turned.
"Phillip come here," she said flatly. The Mecha obeyed immediately, dashing across the room with the childish enthusiasm that never failed to break Raymond's heart. When Phillip was at their side, he stared up at the woman with a satisfied look that made her glance away. So there was still something like emotions in there somewhere, eh?
"This is man is Raymond, Phillip and…"
"And I am going to take a look at you while your Mommy goes out for…"
"He doesn't call me that," Sharon interrupted quickly. Then she stepped back. "Just stay here with this man, Phillip. Do whatever he tells you and … " she glared at Raymond one last time, "… and, I'll be back shortly." With that last merciful lie Sharon Wykamp, newly licensed mother, strutted quickly out of the room, leaving her confused discarded Mecha alone with a stranger.
The robot watched the door she had disappeared through. It face was twisted in confusion and uncertainty.
Damn. Raymond was glad the thing was so calm. He was here alone tonight. Nobody had expected there to be any discards this time of year. Especially not this night. This night when most people would be cuddling with their children. Real or otherwise.
"Phillip?" Raymond beckoned after a moment. The robot ignored the summons at first. It stood unmoving, staring at the fogged glass door. Raymond tried again. "Phillip, she'll be back." The Mecha turned to face him then, and its pained expression said it knew Raymond lied.
"Phillip… you know about Santa Claus, don't you?"
The Mecha stared back unspeaking. Its black eyes burnt on Raymond, its black brows gathered against the light skin of its face. Moisture gathered in its simulated tear ducts and its lips were pressed tightly as if to keep something from escaping. A moan. A scream.
"Well, Santa Claus is a man who flies around the world in a magical sleigh, and brings gifts to all the children who have…" the Mecha had turned again to stare at the door. Raymond walked around and knelt between Phillip and the point of its desperate stare.
"Phillip, he goes to all the children who have been good and he brings them all a special gift." The Mecha tried to move around Raymond, but he took its shoulder. "A special gift that will last them a lifetime, Phillip. Isn't that a wonderful thing?" The robot child glanced perplexed at Raymond. He knew its mind was struggling to understand the relevance of this story. But it gave up and tried to peek around him again.
"Have you been a good boy this year?" Raymond asked smiling, blocking the Mecha's view of the door.
"I know of Santa Claus," it said tightly, "When is Sharon going to…"
"Answer my question, Phillip," Raymond cut it off, establishing control. "Have you been a good boy this year?"
Phillip pondered the question for a moment, then nodded slowly, its eyes still darting over Raymond's shoulder to the exit where its reason for being had just departed forever. Finally it fixed anguished black eyes on Raymond's. "This year I did the dishes everyday at twenty-one o'clock, except when Charles and Sharon went out and there were no dishes. Then I would wait in the living room until they came home and I would put their coats and clothes away when they went to bed. On Saturdays at seven o'clock I cleaned the cruisers and at 10 o'clock replaced all the tools and disposed of the waste materials that Charles had used during the week. On Mondays at fourteen o'clock I ran all the household security diagnostics and reset the perimeter codes. On Tuesdays at …" it went through a litany of petty chores that had been expected of it. It spoke quickly, precisely, its light voice anxious, eyes darting towards the exit occasionally.
"Wow! That's a lot of stuff!" Raymond feigned a jovial laugh, stopping the Mecha's recitation of its chores. Why hadn't they just got a damn butler?! "You have been very, very good, Phillip!" He stood up and put his arm around the fake boy's shoulders. "Santa is going to be really impressed! Why don't we go talk to him?" He took the Mecha's smooth little hand and began walking, praying the thing didn't go into alert mode. But Phillip only glanced over his shoulder a few times as he was led past the partition into the blank white room beyond.
Because fiber does not constitute that which makes you feel.
Once a Mecha is registered as expired it does not exist. But consistent with the contradictions of their virtual world, Phillip, a little imitation boy who legally did not exist anymore, sat staring as Raymond played with a complex array of neural connectors. The Mecha's eyes were sharp, missing nothing. Raymond talked casually about Santa Claus and the Elves and the Reindeer the fat man used to fly through the skies. The story managed to keep Phillip's logic processors occupied, which was its design.
Occasionally it would try to turn its head to peer into the hallway down which they had come. It knew. It knew she had left, but yet it did not go alert. That was a good sign. This one might be easier than usual.
"So tell me Phillip, what do you want for your special gift?"
Phillip's face showed some impatient skepticism. Its tear ducts filled but had not broke upon his face.
"Santa is going to want to know. How's else will he be able to get you what you want?"
"I want to go home," Phillip said. Raymond's heart broke a little more, but he smiled and winked at the boy as he prepared the dump procedure. It'll be over soon enough.
"Well, let's see what Santa says to that," he replied assuring. Almost done. Just keep calm a minute more.
Because everything you really are is undefined, indefinable.
The connectors were in place but Phillip was becoming more agitated by the moment. The robot boy did not like being unable to see what Raymond was doing behind its head. It had not felt the cutting into the skin and placing of the interface connectors. Raymond rechecked his monitors to make sure that everything was prepared. He wanted this to be quick.
"Phillip," he said softly into the bot's ear, "I want you to remember some fun things about when you first came to live with Sharon and Charles. Can you tell me about that?" He was encouraged by the little smile that crept into the corners of the Mecha's troubled face.
"Charles took me to the ballgame," Phillip remembered. "The Orga men ran around the dome and threw the ball at one another. Charles was angry because the men he yelled for did not score well." The bot spoke more about the game, its voice growing excited as the recollection grew more detailed.
"And on another day we all went to see the big Mecha show in Rouge City. The robots there danced in the sky!" Phillip remembered excitedly. Raymond checked the monitor while Phillip spoke. Satisfied he pressed the keyboard, initiating a sequence of data transfer. "Tell me more," he said.
"Another time Sharon took me to a zero-grav park in Virginia. They had to sign some special papers because of me, but then we went inside and floated all day. Charles didn't want to go. He does not like being in the air."
"Did you have fun?" Raymond asked.
"Yes! Yes. It was a good day."
Raymond was glad the Mecha wasn't looking over its shoulder anymore. The flush was ready.
Because you are undeserving of the careless pain inflicted upon you.
"Phillip, I want you to meet someone," Raymond said, then he triggered the program. It accessed the digital recollections of the little boy's short neglected life.
Phillips jaw dropped and his eyes stared at the empty space before him. Raymond knew he was seeing something there. He shut down Phillip's sensory receptors.
"I'm Phillip," the Mecha said to the invisible man. "Yes… yes. Ok," Phillip responded to inaudible questions while Raymond removed the boy's shoes and socks. He placed them neatly in a box he'd tagged 'Phillip Wykamp'.
Phillip made a sound that might have been a giggle. "Well… I washed the cruisers and the dishes and I cleaned up for Sharon and Charles and put their clothes away and …" Phillip repeated his list of duties for the jolly fat man that only he could see. The laughing white bearded man in the big red suit. The Mecha was explaining what a good boy it had been, but Raymond knew that Phillip really didn't need to explain. They were all good children. Such perfect children.
Because every creature deserves happiness; deserves to love and to be loved.
He lifted the Mecha and placed him on a table, careful not to catch the wires attached to his head on anything and break the connection with its new world. Phillip was lost now in conversation with a man that existed in a world that would always be denied to Orga. A virtual world, which could not only mimic the 'real' world, but mercifully improve on it.
Raymond gently removed Phillip's clothes and folded them neatly. He placed them into the box and sealed the lid. On the table the boy-bot was telling Santa what he really wanted for his special gift.
When Phillip's clothing had been boxed, Raymond inspected its body for any unreported damage or signs of abuse just in case the Wykamps tried to make a claim after all. But the bot was clean. Well at least they weren't evil. Raymond tagged the robot's arm and looked at its face. Phillip was smiling now, its eyes full of wonder. Somewhere in that inaccessible world he was happy.
It was time.
Because love can be just one fleeting moment. An immortal moment; eternal.
Raymond triggered the flush.
Phillip's vital systems began to shut down. His sensory system and motion regulators went first. Then the complex web of processors that defined his personality and his interactions with the world. His simulated breathing stopped and so did the slight movements that in life had made him seem real. In his death he did not seem human though. His casing did not relax but stiffened in instant mechanical rigor mortis. His expression of childish wonder would be locked upon his face until the body was dismantled for parts.
Raymond filled out the paperwork and prepared the body for recycling.
Just before he disconnected the neural array though, he locked in place the sequence he'd initiated minutes ago. He sat at the console and carefully, almost tenderly looped the whole process. Then he saved the data into a little black box no bigger than the palm of his hand.
After it was saved Raymond removed the box from its sheath and walked it to a room near the back of the lab. It was a room that he and his fellow Cybertronics sub-contractors had fought to have officially established. After much useless legal manipulation, Cybertronics had finally relented. It wasn't going to cost them anything anyway.
"Here comes another one," Raymond said to no one. He set the box in its own little compartment. There were perhaps thousands of them here. In each, a moment of joy was being relived over and over. It would continue so as long as there was power to run this stasis.
It had been a long time since Raymond had felt a tear crawl into his eye at the site of this room, but his heart tugged for Phillip Wykamp who had walked with such gentle bravery into the unknown. He closed the door and left the little virtual boy in whatever moment of paradise the program had located in his brain.
Because love is all you ever wanted.
All you ever need.