Adapted from the film A.I. by Bryan Harrison
had discovered a new word in that time.
Monica had become a changed woman, and so Henry a
changed man because of it.
David was not the same as when he had first come into the house. Many of his Mecha mannerisms were not that much different. His eyes still never blinked and he still fixed things new to him with a fascinated stare until he sensed a pattern or found a suitable cross reference in his head. He still had a funny, purposeful way of walking and navigating corners that would give him away. These things would perhaps never change for those devices, which regulated his motion, did not operate with the same variations as Orga. But no more he did stand idly waiting for instructions, nor were his actions simply the limited functions of strictly regulated programming. He had a purpose now. And his smile, although fundamentally the same, was not vacant anymore. Now there was something behind those eyes.
He had remembered Mommys coffee routine and at the clockwork of every morning he would prepare her cup. Monica was baffled by how well David recreated her measurements and how his brews were consistently precise. As time passed he had also taken to helping her during the daily litany of chores and other responsibilities. The Swintons home was not overly expansive. Large, yes, and fitted with all the accouterments of their success, but not gaudy; modest even, in comparison with many of their friends homes. But there were plenty of things to dust and sweep, and Monica would never take a maid, Orga or Mecha. Not since Martins departure had she had anyone else in their home. So David watched her, mimicking the moves of making beds and folding clothing precisely, as well as mastering the dishes and kitchen work. Soon he was doing most of the work, looking over his shoulder at Mommy with his new improved smile as if for some sign of approval. She gave him this sign always. These chores that she had once needed to keep her sanity, she now engaged in because David seemed to be the most alive and real when he was doing this with or for her; and when he was the most alive it was easier for her to imagine that she had a real son to take to care for and fuss over. Occasionally his odd laughter would resound through the house and Monica could not help but join in. The distinctive sounds mingled strangely.
Those were wonderful days.
Henry did not feel as Monica did about David. He was happy that his wife was once again laughing and smiling, but in his eyes David would always be Mecha. He only addressed David as one would another person when Monica was within earshot, and he only did this because he would not offend her bond with David. But Henry worked in a place where Davids kind were planned and constructed. He saw their actions and reactions as programmed behaviors, nothing more. He would often be impressed with something that David said or did, but only in that it was a word or gesture that hed not expected and saw as a clever addition by some programmer.
Sometimes Davids unexpected behaviors did not amuse or impress Henry at all. The man had become agitated one morning when David would not get out of his way. Monica was in the toilet room and Henry wanted to go there too. David had remembered Mommys anger when, in the course of their hide-and-seek game, he had found her there. He did not want Henry to anger Mommy in the same way.
David, what in the hell are you doing? Henry had demanded in an angry tone as they jostled in the hallway. He had been in a hurry to get something, fumbling with his tie as he prepared to leave for work, Get out of my way... hed commanded.
But David was insistent. Mommy is in the toilet Henry, he had explained as he jockeyed back and forth trying to block the mans path.
David, Mommy... Monica is my wife! Now move! Henry had ordered and then pushed David aside with a little more force than he had intended. The Mecha lost his footing and fell to the wooden floor. Hed looked up at Henry with a surprised expression on his face.
Oh, David, Im sorry, Henry had whispered urgently, You ok?
David was not hurt for he was not so easily damaged as that, but he had a new experience to remember. Henry was not a violent man. He would never hurt a little boy, or even something that just looked like one, so he had apologized again to David and reached to help him stand. But David stood on his own. Hed smiled then, and moved aside, finally allowing Henry to pass.
Monica had heard the commotion from inside the toilet room. Henry! Be nice, shed called from behind the door. Hes just trying to protect me.
Protect you from what? Me? David had heard Henry ask Mommy as he went into the toilet room with her. But David did not hear her make any angry statements. She had not told Henry to get the hell out, as she had told him. Beyond the closed door David could hear their hushed voices. He did not have resentments, nor had He any anger at being knocked over by Henry. All he had was this new purpose; this new feeling that drove him every minute of the day to be by Mommys side. Now he wanted to know was what had he done wrong when he had tried to approach her in the toilet room as Henry had now done. Monica was Henrys wife. She was Davids Mommy. He stored these things for later, when he would understand them.
That day passed slowly. Monica had decided it was time for her to show her new son a bit of the world outside the walls of their home. She would take him out to the pond for a row in the boat. The pond was just beyond the perimeter of the house but well within the network of barriers that kept them secluded from the vagabonds that roamed the forests of the deteriorating world in which they fought to survive. The Swintons knew naught of this world.
This was the first time David had been outside for any extended period. Mommy had taken his shoes off and explained to him that this was how real... how other boys played sometimes. He was fascinated by the way the ground felt beneath his feet and amazed at the sounds and sights of the outside world; the cool breeze that caressed his face and the little animals that crawled and chirped in the trees about them. In the boat they floated aimlessly on the water. David had been amazed when, while thrusting his hand in and out of the water to process the different sensations, he had seen things moving beneath the surface. There were fish moving beneath them. David tried to get a glimpse of the fish but they moved so quickly that his eyes could not focus on one before it was gone. Mommy laughed at the way his head moved quickly back and forth as his eyes scanned the water in amazement.
They passed the afternoon that way. David leaned back against his Mommys side and tucked his head under her arm, taking joy in the way she ran her fingers through his hair and absent-mindedly stroked his cheek as she read from her book. But all too soon Mommy was tired and wanted to go back home. As they were walking up the path David saw one of the things that had been chirping in the tree earlier. It was lying on the ground, not moving.
Come away from that David, Mommy had told him. David looked at her with a question in his eyes. Its dead, honey, she explained. David still looked at her, uncomprehending. She knelt beside him then and some flickering shadow had grown over her eyes.
Were not like you, David. Living things die, she had said slowly. They cant last forever. They go away one day and ... and they dont come back. Mommy was silent then. Her face was sad and she made a tear. David did not feel good when Mommy was sad and especially when she cried. He embraced her and was rewarded by the feel of her arms returning his gesture.
Would you like some coffee? he asked.
That night as he laid feigning sleep, not making a peep, Davids brain was very active. What bothered him and what would have kept him awake even if he had, like other children, been able to sleep, was this idea that Mommy had told him about: that living things die. Shed said that they were not like him. Was Mommy a living thing? What was David then? The questions circulated inside him unanswered, unanswerable. He could not just store them for later, as he usually did with things he did not understand. This was the way hed been programmed, although he didnt know that. These troubling questions were blotches of darkness against the beautiful image of Mommys face that glowed eternally like a sun lighting a secret part of his brain; that aspect of his neurological processor that had been refined and activated in the imprinting process.
There were things starting to happen in Davids Mecha brain that the men and women of Cybertronics could not have anticipated. David could not have known that these thoughts he was having were not part of his prescribed activity; that the seeds of purely human leaps of logic were just beginning to take root inside him.
It had been a wonderful day, but that night at the dinner table Henry had become impatient with David again. It had actually started out as an apology but turned into something else. David had set the table and placed himself close to Monica as he had started doing since she had allowed him to handle that chore. Neither she nor Henry saw anything unusual in this, but the Director would have loved to have heard of this little development.
Im sorry about knocking you over this morning, David, Henry said as he ate.
Thats ok, Henry, David replied. He thought for a second and then added No problem. This seemed like an appropriate choice of words.
Knocked him over? Monica looked at Henry confused. You didnt tell me you knocked him over.
This morning, in the hall... I told you... Henry paused thinking, well I thought I did. No matter. Hes ok, arent you David? Henry asked smiling. But David didnt get a chance to reply.
Henry, you never said anything about knocking him over, Monica was irritated now. What if he gets damaged, huh? Do you think Cybertronics is going to trust us again? I mean, how much does David cost... She stopped at this point and smiled at her little Mecha boy, I mean how could we ever replace him?
Henry didnt respond at first. He was the one who had brought David into their life to bring his wife out of her oubliette of gloom. She was above ground now and he wasnt about to challenge the attachment she had to this thing if thats what was working. He fidgeted at his food for a moment.
Yeah. Well I apologized to him. Youre ok David, right? he asked.
David looked at Mommy. Did she have something to say? She had interrupted him the last time hed tried to respond to Henrys question. Maybe she didnt want him to talk to Henry. He looked at Mommy and waited for some signal.
David, I am talking to you, Henry said. He wasnt angry, but he didnt like the way the robot ignored him, the way it just stared at Monica with that annoying blank gaze. Its silence made him look guilty. There was no way that the robot could be intentionally doing this... was there? David can you hear me? he asked, his patience wearing thin.
Henry. Dont get angry at him, Monica scolded. She tickled Davids chin. Did you get hurt this morning when Henry knocked you over, honey? she cooed as she fixed Henry with a cold look. But there was a twinkle in her eye. Henry was not amused, however.
No, Mommy, Im fine! David smiled and his face lit up. Mommy was talking to him instead of Henry. This made the secret space inside his brain bright and colorful. He did not understand it, but the feeling was a magnet to him.
Henry found himself suddenly annoyed at the robots fixation with Monica. He knew this was what was supposed to happen after she read the protocol, but maybe this imprinting thing was a bit drastic after all. David, why did you ignore me? he asked. He tried to keep his voice light and conversational but there was impatience in it and Monica heard it.
Cmon Henry! she said, incredulously. You cant really think that he...
He can talk for himself, cant you David, Henry responded too quickly.
David didnt understand Henrys sudden irritation. These things were new to him. He searched for a reply quickly. Im sorry Henry. I wont do it again, he said in a sincere little boy voice. Instantly Henry felt like a jerk. How could he get angry at a robot? It was just a program with legs, not a real boy. He shook his head, lost for words and stared at his food. Monica suppressed the desire to tease his embarrassment.
They were quiet for a while. The dynamics of their relationship had reared up in front of them and they were not yet ready to deal with that, so they took refuge in eating, except David who only feigned this, eating from an empty plate and gazing at his Mommy in between imaginary spoonfuls.
Finally Henry looked up smiling again. Cybertronics is throwing a seasons end ball next week, he said and winked at Monica. Ready to get out of this house, honey?
Really? Monica said hesitantly. A ball. It had been so long since she had been in society. But she knew she couldnt stay cooped up here forever. David had helped her get over her depression. Maybe she did need to get out, go someplace and get lost in the crowd. What about...? she nodded her head at David. Henry dismissed the concern with a wave of his hand.
Hes a big boy now, arent you David? You dont mind if Mommy goes out, do you?
David thought for a moment. Will you come back? he asked with eerily genuine look of concern on his face. Henry chuckled at the question but Monica wasnt amused.
Of course! David. Of course, she said, not understanding the feeling of ill ease his question had struck in her.
Monica hummed and preened and posed before the mirror, dabbing drops of perfume on her face and neck. She hadnt worn this dress in years, in too long. She hadnt felt this good in that long either. A few weeks ago she would have never gone to such a social event, it would have been impossible for her to carry on a normal conversation. But David had really helped with that. The week since the small contention at the table had passed without a repeat of even the slightest conflict. David, it seemed, was a wonderful addition to their home.
As she prepared, Henry snuck up behind her and wrapped her tightly in his arms. She relaxed easily against him, feeling more lovely and wanted than she had since their dating years.
You smell lovely, he said kissing her shoulder, pressing his face into the nape of her neck. I love it when you wear this stuff.
Will you still love me when its all gone? she teased.
No, he replied flatly. Monica laughed and scolded him with a playful slap.
That way we can get married again and begin with a fragrance that is not in such short supply, he added. Cmon, we gotta go now, he said slipping his arms from her waist. Were late. As he walked into the hallway he was greeted by Davids smiling face. What now?
Hello, David, he said politely.
Hello, Henry, David returned the politeness.
Monica rushed out of the bedroom laughing and happy. Walk us to the door, ok, sweetheart, she said reaching out to David, but Henry was leading her away quickly. David followed them to the steps. But then he stopped and looked back down the hallway to the bedroom. He had an idea.
Henry, your tie! Monica scolded as they reached the foot of the stairs.
Ok, Ok, Im helpless, he laughed and waited while she tied it for him. Did you see the way he arranged the closet? he asked, a bit of his annoyance showing through. Things had been going smoothly between them, but the Mechas insistent attempts to gain Monicas attention were growing tedious.
I know, I know, Monica said, placating her husbands annoyance. He is always trying to please me. He has a way with my coffee, you know.
Its creepy Monica, Henry said, un-mollified. You can never hear him coming, but hes always there.
Oh, How can you? she said more seriously, He is only a child.
Monica. Hes a toy. Henrys voice was a little matter-of-fact for her.
Hes a gift, she corrected. From you. Henry started to reply but instead, looked over her shoulder and raised his eyebrows. Monica followed his gaze. David stood there, at the top of the staircase, his face radiant with an childish joy. He walked quickly down the stairs to show his Mommy something.
David, Monica said, when we leave, all the doors and windows will go smart, so you cant leave your room, honey. But if youd like... she stopped mid-sentence. She sniffed. Had she put too much perfume on? The scent was suddenly cloying.
Do I smell lovely? David asked with childish enthusiasm. Monica didnt understand at first but when it dawned on her what had happened she sighed. Henry rolled his eyes and pressed his hands into his pockets as Monica rushed up the stairs to their bedroom, with David on her heels.
It was gone. Every drop. The bottle lay on the bureau where shed left it, turned on its side; and the room was thick with the scent. Oh David, she sighed. A hint of anger worked its way into her head, but she pushed it away quickly. He was just a little boy, he just wanted to please her so. She sat at the bureau and played with the empty bottle as she considered this. Hed meant no harm, but this perfume had meant so much to her, to Henry. Hed gone to so much to find this rare and expensive scent.
Mommy, will you die?
Monica was taken completely by surprise. Where was this coming from? She turned and looked at David. His face was drawn and serious, his eyebrows pinched in concern, the same look shed seen on his face the week before when hed asked if she would return from the ball.
Well... one day David, she admitted carefully, Yes I will.
So there it was; the awful confirmation; the thing that had been working its way to the surface of his brain ever since Mommy had told him about the dying. Ill be alone, he said. Mommy did not reply. She was doing something with the empty bottle. He walked to her and knelt at her knee. The fabric of her dress was soft against his face.
Monica had hoped that would have been the end of this particular conversation but when David placed his head on her knee and looked up at her with his innocent Mecha eyes she knew it had really just begun. How long will you live? he asked her. Monica didnt understand this. What was he after?
For ages, Honey... she stumbled for words, for fifty more years, she replied, feigning a light smile that didnt reach her eyes.
David appeared to be considering this for a moment. Monica pondered his pensive expression and realized with a start that he was getting more sophisticated right before her eyes. Had this been happening all along? Had something been happening that shed not noticed until this moment? How she been so blind to this development? Was she that self-possessed? Perhaps her little imitation boy needed more real attention and concern than shed presumed.
I hope you never die, Mommy, he proclaimed as he pressed his face against the soft fabric of her dress. Never! he repeated, his face too real and innocent, too demanding on her heart. She ran her hand over his face and neck; so real, but he was not. He was Mecha, and he would never die. She had opened his heart for herself, but what would happen when she was gone? She realized this conundrum a tinge of guilt. She caught a glimpse of herself in the vanity mirror and looked away. She wasnt alone in this relationship was she?
Yes, I... she started but there were no words with which to continue. She would eventually leave him alone. There was no way out of that.
Downstairs Henrys called to her. They were late, unreasonably late.
The old golden box hadnt been touched since Martin had gone away. Monica pulled it from its hibernation in the boys closet. She had always anticipated seeing its contents again but had imagined doing so under somewhat different circumstances. She placed the box on the dressing table and untied the ribbons that bound it. David watched her with casual curiosity. For him it was enough that she had not left yet.
This belonged to my son, Monica said as she opened the box. She wasnt aware that shed used the past tense. She was thinking of something else. She was thinking of David.
David watched Mommy open the box. He wasnt sure what he saw then. It looked like a little fluffy head. Monica pulled the little furry brown creature from the box and held it upside down. She placed her hand against its underside and turned something. Suddenly the thing moved as if rudely awakened from a comfortable slumber. It made a sound like taking a desperate breath after being submerged for too long.
David was interested now in the thing. He knew this shape. It was a bear shape. David knew bear, but he didnt know that bears lived in boxes. Mommy placed the small bear on the floor and David came beside her to watch it. The revived creature moved its arms and legs around for a moment and tried stand up. It did not seem to do this very well. David sat down beside it and studied its motion. It looked like a living thing, but somehow different. It whirred and clicked as it tried to move onto its feet, and there was something familiar in those movements.
His name is Teddy, Mommy said. Teddy, this is David.
Hello Teddy, David smiled.
The little bear rolled with some difficulty into a shaky standing position and looked up at David. Hello David, it replied in a gruff mechanical voice. Then, with a surprised grunt the little bear fell clumsily on its rear. Teddy decided he would try again later, but for now he just stared at the little boy he had been introduced to. He quickly understood the situation.
Monica watched the two robots regard each other. She wondered if they knew what they had in common. It didnt matter really. David would not be alone when she was not there. She felt better. David, Teddy is a Supertoy, and I know you two will take good care of each other.
Teddy glared at Monica, his robotic face twisted into a realistic simulation of disgust. I am NOT a toy! he stated firmly.
And he really wasnt. He was more than a toy. He was a Teddy. A childs best friend and a Mommys best helper was how he had been marketed. The Teddy line had been one of the best on the market. He was programmed to be a fluffy little friend and a trusty loyal watchdog; o entertain and to protect. He served to remind Mommy when it was time for babys nap or medicine. He kept a watch on the child in case his or her play became dangerous and an adult should be notified. He managed other smart toys that might be programmed to bide for the childs time lest they become competitive in the pursuit. Now he would serve as a friend for Monicas new little boy.
Monica stood, put a finger to her lips and kissed it. She pressed the finger against Davids forehead. David did not understand the gesture, but Mommy had touched him again and that was enough for him. Then she was gone and David heard her shoes clicking down the stairs and Henrys impatient voice trailing off as they left.
David and Teddy stared at each other in silence. David knew there was something they had in common but could not address it. Teddy knew immediately about David. He did not say anything for there was nothing to be said. He was programmed as a friend and guardian and that was his job whatever manner of creature was put into his concern.
Together they listened to the sounds of the house locking itself up and the sound of the cruiser beyond the doors, fleeing into the night. David knew the cruiser had Mommy inside. She was going away, but only for a while. After a moment he rose and walked to the door of the room. Teddy rolled onto his feet again and felt steadier this time. He followed David to the door and they stood quietly. Outside the door the hallway was dark. There was no more sound. David was thinking about something.
Is fifty more years a long time? he asked as he gazed into the darkness.
Teddy processed this question. He consulted the clock in his head. He had been locked in a box in a closet for next to five years and it hadnt seemed like any time at all.
I dont think so, he replied.
It had been just one week since Monica had taken Teddy from his hibernation. David had immediately taken to the toy and the two Mecha had become inseparable. Monica was grateful for the occasional respite it gave her from David, who had been demanding increasing amounts of her time while he tried to impress her with this or that. He had been trying so hard to keep her attention that Henry had become noticeably jealous. Hed never admit to it, but Monica saw it in his eyes when David would interrupt Henry with some informative piece of news for her or suddenly appear, moving along whisper-quiet behind them as they shared their time walking in the garden or by the pond.
But with Teddy revived, David had managed to keep his interruptions to a minimum. She knew it was not probable, but Teddy somehow seemed to know when David was becoming an annoyance. At times, when her Mecha boy was on the verge of becoming a nuisance, Teddy would suddenly intervene by distracting David or pointing something out to him. Monica did not think Teddy was doing this on purpose. Was it? Could the little toy be that sophisticated?
Like the time David had tried to impress Monica by reading the paper to her. He had prepared her morning coffee and suddenly took the news feed in hand. I can read! he had exclaimed with boyish excitement and then started whizzing through the columns of text in a rapid monotone recitation. It was amusing only inasmuch as his little boy voice made it so. But the morning paper was a ritual that Monica would rather have left intact and she sighed, not wanting to interrupt David since he seemed to get so much joy out of these little displays. Teddy seemed to be watching her and he turned to David.
You are reading too fast, David. Mommy cannot understand you, the little bear said in its practical robot tone.
Teddys right honey. I can do it myself... ok? Why dont you and Teddy go play? she said, quickly taking the paper and kissing the Mechas head. David smiled and obeyed. Monica glanced at Teddy but he was already walking for the door to the pool. Just how aware was that thing?
But Teddy was not there to intervene this time. David had been standing in the living room while Mommy made the food for eating with Henry that night. She was not too happy because Henry was late coming home and David had been thinking of a way to make her smile. He had unconsciously put most of his functions on standby while he devoted his available energy to calculating what would be best to do for her.
Then the phone rang, and everything in the world changed.
Ill get it! Mommy had yelled from the cooking room. But David had already slipped the mouthpiece off the simulated antique phone. There was something wonderful he could do that he realized shed not seen yet. Mommy had run into the living room.
Ok honey, hand me the phone now, shed requested. But David pressed the answer button and then, clasping the phone in both hands, put one index finger on the receiver and the other on the earpiece. Look what I can do! he said excitedly.
The sound that came from the phone had been restructured into an audible signal from the digital encoding in which it traveled across space. Davids fingertips felt that signal and he translated it back into numbers, for that was the way that Davids brain understood everything. He then reinterpreted the words and let them come from his own mouth. Mommy would be surprised.
Monica watched David with impatient curiosity. She was wondering where Henry was and this was probably him calling, but she was intrigued by Davids expression, which had become withdrawn. The boys eyes crossed and he turned his head to the side in an odd fashion. A voice came from his mouth then, but it was not his.
Hello? the voice said in a distant mechanical pitch. It was a woman. Monica was indeed impressed at this newly found ability.
Yes? she replied hesitantly amused. Could they hear her? David heard Mommys words and turned them into numbers, then he sent the numbers into the phone. This was done in nanoseconds with no conscious effort on his part.
Could you hold a moment? the voice requested, I have an important message from your husband. Monicas heart jumped. Was something wrong?
Yes, Ill hold she replied. David I need to talk to the phone now, honey, she said reaching out, but another voice was already coming from the Mechas boys mouth.
Monica?! it said. It was distant, mechanical but definitely Henry. He sounded excited. He was in a hurry. Can you hear me Monica?
Let the phone talk now David... she told him.
Pick up the phone Monica! Henry yelled from Davids mouth.
Run along... David! Play with Teddy! Oh, where was that bear?
MONICA the man on the other end yelled through Davids mouth, ANSWER THE PHONE!
David had not been listening to the words spoken. Hed just been letting them pass through him. But now he understood that it was Henrys voice and the man sounded angry. He quickly let go of the phone and handed it to Mommy. He did this with a big smile and waited while Mommy talked to Henry. Was she happy? Did she like his new thing he had shown her? He did not think so because she walked away and her face looked troubled and concerned. She said What? and When? and her voice was loud and scared. But David could not hear the words that Henry spoke.
Then she turned away from David and leaned against the wall as if she could not hold up her own weight. She made a sound that he had not heard from her in a long time. It was the sound of tears.
David watched the procession of strange looking men. They wore white clothing that hung on them like long robes. He had seen that clothing before, but could not remember where. They had cases like the kind that Henry carried to work every morning, but they were bigger. There was a woman too. She was dressed in white but her hair and her skin were dark and she looked very serious. The people came into the house and began moving things into the living room, boxes of things that clattered when they were set on the floor, and big machines covered in dark cloaks. Mommy was with them. David was glad she was back. She had left with Henry that morning. All night they had been talking and Mommy had been crying ever since Henry had called on the phone. She had no time for him now, shed said, she was busy and they could play later. Teddy had told David to leave Mommy alone for a while and he had reluctantly obeyed. He was a good boy after all. Even Henry hadnt talked to him when he came home. He usually said at least a polite Hello. But now he stood among the men in the white clothing looking very serious. He would occasionally cast an impatient glance in Davids direction.
What was happening?
One of the men in the white coats was talking to Mommy. David watched her concerned face anxiously. The man pointed to some machines and boxes and said Where? Monica pointed upstairs. Its the boys room, you cant miss it she said. Then noticed David. She came to him and put her arms on his shoulders. He was glad to be touched by her. He had wanted to talk to her earlier but Teddy had said that Mommy was busy and he should wait.
He looked at her face. Are you sad? he asked, You have tears. But Mommy only laughed. It was a good sound and David smiled back at her.
No, David, she said. These are happy tears. The most wonderful thing in the whole world has happened. She stood up just as the men were rolling something into the room. It was a big chair with wheels on it. A person was sitting in the chair. It was a boy like him. The boy had dark hair like Mommy and white robes hung loosely around him. But he was sleeping and his face was covered by a shiny mask. David could see through the mask though, and looking closer he realized that hed seen the boy before. It was the boy in the happy photos with Mommy and Henry. The boy even looked like Mommy!
David felt a strange new sensation. It seemed to come from outside and inside of him at the same time. It was a not a good feeling.
This is Martin, Mommy said smiling. This is my son.