Adapted from the film A.I. by Bryan Harrison
They had raced to the hospital and listened anxiously as Frazier explained the process by which he found out about Martins recovery; the sudden rejuvenation of activity in the cells of the boys vital organs. When they had chanced defreeze, it had been confirmed. Their boys body was functioning correctly.
It would take some time for Martin to be up and acting like a normal boy again, Frazier had explained, but that was due more to the cryogenic freezing than anything else. It would be a few days or so before theyd hear his voice and a few more before he was fully cognizant. Whether hed be back to his normal self and getting into mischief like when he had been taken from them, Frazier would not say.
There are so many factors in his complete recovery as to make it impossible to predict, the Doctor had told them, but he is alive and well and he will start growing quickly the minute he gets out of defreeze and into a normal environment. He smiled at Monica then, and winked. Youd better dig up a variety of recipes, or that boy is going to get bored quick.
Monica had clung to Henry in tears as the medics wheeled their unconscious boy out of the hospital unit hed slept in for five years. Henry clung back and his face was flushed as he resisted the emotion welling inside.
Henry became serious as they followed the ambulance home. What about the robot? he asked.
David? Monica asked.
Well, how many robots do we have?
What about David?
Well. I was thinking... now that Martin is... he trailed off assuming the rest was obvious.
Yes? Monica asked.
Henry sighed. He thought that this would be easy. Well... now that Martin is OK, maybe we could return it ah him. He knew he had made a mistake when her face turned serious for the first time that day.
Henry, you brought David to me when I needed him. He is part of the family now. We just cant up and throw him away because we dont need ... she paused. Just because Martin is home, she corrected herself.
Well, what are you gonna tell him? Henry asked, his face reddening.
Monica considered for a moment. Well, Ill just tell him that, uh, Martin is our real son and
No! Henry said loudly and then softened his tone, no... What are you gonna tell Martin about the Mecha? What; that you got a robot to replace him? That you thought he was going to... He didnt finish. By the look on Monicas face he knew he didnt have to. Shed been so overjoyed at having her son back that she hadnt even thought about the ramifications of David presence when he awoke.
Monica was lost for words. She gazed out at the passing forest, the tangled vines that seemed to hold back the trees from pressing their way into the road. Henry was right. What would her little boy think if he knew Davids real purpose? What had been his real purpose? She wasnt replacing her son, she knew that, but maybe Martin wouldnt understand. She held her chin up. She knew what would hapoen if they returned David. She would never allow that. Ill tell him that ... David is a play friend for him. I mean, Henry, all of Martins friends are five years older than he. David would be a perfect playmate.
Henry saw right through the rationalizing. She was protecting David. He wanted to tell her Hes just a robot, Monica. Hes a machine, cant you see that? But he held his tongue. Today was a magical day and he was not about to ruin it over the Mecha. Cybertronics would probably charge him for the damned thing if they had to destroy it now anyway. Perhaps it was best they keep it.
David can be a friend to Martin, now, she repeated as they came to the clearing of the forest near their house. He wont be able to go out for some time, she said in a practical tone, but her face betrayed something else. Henry nodded and let her see him smile. That solved that.
David and Monica stood over the sleeping boy. The men had finally left after making sure that Monica and Henry knew all they needed to know about Martins safekeeping. Henry was downstairs talking with someone on the phone. His excited voice was happier than David had ever heard. The light outside had dimmed with the receding sun and Monica kept the room lights low so Martin would not be disturbed. She tucked him in and fussed over his sheets, and the machines surrounding him.
David watched all this with cautious attention. There was a new thing happening in his head. It was an uncomfortable thing. He had no word for this, but if he had that word would be jealousy. Cybertronics would have loved to know about this budding development. They had tried so hard to avoid this factor in their calculations. But David had been designed to feel real emotions, and if there were ever an emotion that drove human relationships, jealousy was its name. Perhaps if they had been aware of the advent of his conflict they might have made adjustments. Perhaps. But David would never be able to communicate this feeling, just as he was unable to communicate the pain being without Mommy brought him. Whenever she left him even for a small errand, or to be with Henry, his brain overworked itself trying to calculate ways to bring her back. Every time she was impatient with him or sent him to play with Teddy, there was a small panic underneath his smile. Now Martin was here. He had appeared suddenly and with no understanding of what relationship there would exist between them. What manner of obstacle to Mommy would he become?
Now David, Mommy said, as she poured something into a glass by Martins bed, Martin is going to need both of our help so he can get well, OK?
Yes, Mommy. Davids voice did not betray the sadness he had been feeling since the day before when she had received the fateful phone call.
I am going to show you some things to do and some thing to keep an eye on for me when I am not here. This is important, David. Can Mommy depend on you?
David smiled for the first time since Martin had come home. OK! he said happily. As long as Mommy needed him things would be OK.
Monica put her finger to her lips and shushed her Mecha boy. Keep your voice down, honey, she said. She knew that she would be here every waking minute of the day till her son was up and on his own again, but she had also noticed the withdrawn expression on Davids face and knew that hed missed her. She felt that if she gave David some important task then he would feel like he had something he could do to make her happy. She had been right. He hung on her every word as she explained how the machines worked and when and why he should get her if something was wrong or if the meter was on the wrong number. She also knew he would not forget a thing she told him.
Her heart felt for the poor creature. Somewhere inside she thought maybe this was an awful thing, to create a thing with humans feelings, but that could never be human. No matter. She would never abandon him to the waste heap. He had come to her in a time of need and, now that her real little boy was alive and soon to be running about, she would not just throw her little robot savior away. That would be the ultimate treachery.
David learned everything that had to be monitored. Martins bed had a canopy and the wires that ran to Martins mask had to be kept from tangling. David would be expected to check this. He was also expected to let Mommy know when it was time to give Martin his medicine, which came in a little packet that was placed on his skin. Mommy had explained that the medicine would go into his skin and then the packet could be thrown away. David would throw the packets away too and make sure that Martins sleeping area was kept clean until he awoke and could do it for himself.
As she talked David looked around the room and something suddenly occurred to him. Monica noticed this distraction and the troubled expression David had donned. That was a new look. Whats wrong David? she asked.
The robot paused a moment before responding. Where will I he thought a moment more; he realized it was not exactly an appropriate question, sleep? Monica realized that she hadnt brought the subject up with him.
Well, David, sweetheart, she started hesitantly. Since you dont really sleep, I thought you might do Mommy a favor and keep an eye on Martin at night when Mommy has to sleep. Is that OK?
David knew this was logical since that he did not sleep. But that difference between him and the rest of his family had been growing in his mind for some time. The bad feeling inside his brain grew with it.
Can you still tuck me in?
Well I cant tuck you in, but I can give you a big hug instead. Will that be all right? She guessed it would be by the way the robots face lit up. But even in the dim light she saw something new in his eyes. It was just a fleeting glimpse, gone before she had time to register it. Maybe she hadnt seen it at all.
The days passed by quickly. Martin slept all day, but the machines said he was getting better. His antibody count was normal and his respiratory system was operating smoother all the time. Soon hed be awake. In spite of the encroachment on Mommy that Martin represented, David did his part dutifully, and Teddy was there by his side. Martin was real and his clothing had to be changed. He also had to be cleaned up behind and washed. Monica had done the real messy clean up herself and sometimes Henry would help. David was primarily responsible for monitoring the machines and keeping track of the medication times. But Mommy came in often to check on her son and when she did David would let her know what all the instruments said and precisely how many seconds had passed since Martins last medicine. Teddy had suggested to David that maybe Mommy didnt need all that information and that perhaps they should go out and play so she could be alone with Martin. David had not responded well to this idea at first but he was an obedient boy after all and left when Monica suggested that Teddy might be right.
Outside Teddy had tried to explain, in his limited vocabulary and understanding, about how Martin was different than he and David. But David wasnt really listening. He was looking back up at the window to the room where he knew she sat quietly next to Martins side. Every once in a while he would see a movement beyond the window and wonder if it was she. Then he would wait for another.
It wasnt long before that crucial day, that day when Martin first opened his eyes. David was at his side when it happened.
The sky had been fitful all day. It sprinkled a bit and then the sun would pop out. David had looked out on the cluster of trees that surrounded the pond and wondered when he and Mommy would go riding in the boat again, if ever.
Then one of the machines had spoken. David turned to see that the thin boy had raised his head and was gazing around the room with heavy, sleepy eyes. David knew he was supposed to call Mommy immediately but something made him hesitate. He waited, watching the other boys uncomprehending eyes scan the room until they alighted on him. The boys eyebrows quickly narrowed. He stared at David for a moment, his face unreadable behind his plastic mask. It was the first thing he had seen in the long years of his isolation. Then his eyes closed again and he made a soft noise that David could not understand.
David, go get Mommy! Teddy said in an urgent tone as he came into the room. He had been sitting in the hallway sewing a break in his old cloth when he heard the monitor beeping. David looked at the little bear oddly for a moment. Was it annoyance Teddy saw in Davids face? The Supertoy scolded again and David reluctantly obeyed.
Mommy! he yelled, descending the stairs. Martin is not sleep anymore! I watched him wake up! I was standing next to the bed and he looked at me, he said, wanting to describe the way the boys eyes had opened and then closed again. Feeling the need to express the idea that he had somehow been a crucial part of this waking process. But Monica was already rushing up the stairs. David followed, but slowly. He did not feel like going fast. He knew what Mommy would be doing up there.
When David got back up to the room she was sitting, as hed expected, on the bedside whispering quietly to Martin. The boys eyes were open now and his head was lain against Mommys chest. David stood and watched them that way for some time before Teddy noticed his expressionless gaze and came to him.
We should go outside and play David, Teddy suggested. But David didnt want to play. His mind was working hard to try and find a solution to a problem he had yet to define. Watching Mommy and Martin together made him feel distant. She looked far away somehow. If Monica had looked at him that instant, she might have recognized what shed seen in his eyes so many nights ago.
David! Teddy said again.
David was afraid, simply afraid.
David, Mommy and Martin need to be alone.
Thus was his fear defined; Mommy didnt have to die for him to be alone after all.
Dr. Frazier had come to see him the day after he awoke and the adults had had a long talk with him. They told him that he been asleep for five years. Martin initially had had no reaction to this information. What was he supposed to make of it? Then Mom had explained that his friends had grown and some were already going to high school. Slowly the impact of what they were saying sunk in and Martin had been sullen all the rest of that day. But he was soon back to his normal prankish state of mind. Hed make new friends. The Doctor said he be growing faster than other kids now that he was revived. Hed be the biggest kid in his class, right?
Then hed found out about that blonde kid, the one hed thought he saw when hed first awakened. It was a Supertoy! This ought to be fun.
After Martin placed Teddy he came back and sat down at the desk that Mommy had taken out of the storage room when hed come home. It had drawing papers and crayons that wrote in many colors. David had been intrigued by the coloring tools and wondered why Mommy hadnt shown him this earlier. It bothered him a little.
David didnt understand. Was it a game? He pondered for a moment and then looked at Teddy. What had Martin said?
Come here Teddy. Come here, boy, David repeated the phrase in a monotone.
Come on over here Teddy! Come on, come on!. Martin joined in and gestured excitedly for the little bear to come to him. David remained on the floor speaking calmly; still wondering what exactly was the desired result of this game.
Teddy was perplexed by Martins contest. Who was he supposed to go to? His face displayed his confusion, the aging joints in his neck whirred as he looked from boy to boy. Martin always played such difficult games!
Then Mommy entered the room in the midst of her daily routine, and picked up some folded clothing from Martins canopy. Teddys old but experienced processor analyzed this situation with logic as basic as the chess playing programs that were obsolete before his time. Mommy, he called, rising quickly and running to Monica as she began walking from the room. Mommy! he said again and Monica turned as he jumped for her, landing on an old beanbag chair, another renewed relic from the storage closet.
Monica grasped the little bears mechanical paw and lifted it. Are they torturing you Teddy? she asked, casting a knowing glance at her sons. She left the room, carrying the Supertoy to safety.
Martin sighed disappointedly. He used to be a Supertoy. But now hes just old and stupid, he said dismissively. He thought for a moment, his gaze intent on David. You want him? he asked.
David did not understand this offer. Teddy was his friend. How did one own a friend? He pondered the offer for moments but felt that the time for responding was passing. Yes, please, was the only appropriate response he could wrest from his head. Martin made a satisfied grunt and looked content. It must have been the right thing to say.
David was perplexed at this question. Supertoy? How was he a toy? And what was he supposed to do? Martin gave David an impatient look when the Mecha didnt respond. Well, can you do power stuff? Like, ya know, walk on the ceiling or the walls? He raised his eyebrows expectantly. How about anti-gravity. Can ya float or fly?
David sat motionless. His brain tried to understand the questions but they seemed to make no sense whatsoever. He was just a boy. How was he supposed to do these things?
Can you? he replied.
Martin snorted humorously. No, because Im real. David was confused again at this response. Was he not real?
I can read, David offered. But he wasnt really excited about showing Martin any of the stuff he had done for Mommy, like being a phone or a clock or reciting long stuff after only reading it once. Martins presence made an empty feeling in Davids brain. He wanted to go away from him as soon as he could.
Martin shook his head at Davids suggestion. What the hell kind of trick was reading?! What fun was that gonna be? Had his parents bought a stupid robot for him? He sighed and got up. His Cyber-braces whirred and the monitor lights flashed as he walked to the canopy where he slept, and picked up one of his toys. It was a replica of a police amphibicopter. Martin held it out to David.
Can you break this? he asked, his face stern and expectant.
Id better not, David replied quickly. Some lesson older than he could remember told him that breaking things was wrong. Didnt Martin know that?
Believe me, these thing look a lot better in pieces, Martin countered.
I cant, David said. Actually he didnt know if he could, but he knew it was wrong.
Martins heart sank further. Not only was this toy stupid, but it was a wimp too! Martin had thought hed enjoy watching the Mecha try and explain to Mom why hed broken the copter, but not now. He put the copter on the floor and stood over the robot. He looked down at him and David craned his neck to look back.
Stand up! Martin commanded, placing his hands on his hips to express his authority. Was David supposed to obey Martin? Mommy hadnt said either way. So David reluctantly rose.
Martin inspected this frustrating new toy. Those dummies made you bigger than me! he said after noticing that David stood above him.
Who did? David asked.
Martin couldnt believe how stupid this thing was. Didnt it even know that it was a robot? Well, they did, he said, as if telling a younger child something obvious, the doll makers. They made you taller. He ran a finger across David face, from the forehead, across his nose and over his lips. It felt like a real kid. Weird. His skin was warm and his lips even seemed moist. Why dont you look like one? he asked.
David was getting used to being perplexed by Martins questions. Like one? he repeated.
Martin continued his inspection, poking at the side of Davids face, poking at his ears and flicking his finger against Davids front teeth to see how they felt. David stood still for this inspection. Perhaps this was what Mommy meant by getting to know one another.
Youre not cute like a doll, Martin said finally. You just look like some ordinary kid. He had grown tired of playing with the robots face. Maybe it wasnt really stupid. Maybe it was just new. Maybe it was one of those things that got more smart as it got older. So whens your birthday, he asked.
David knew what a birthday was. He didnt know why he knew. I never had a birthday, he said. Martins questions were beginning to make him feel strange. He was being forced into looking at places in his mind where he had been programmed not to go.
OK. Soooo, when was youre build day? When were you first built?
There was something blocking Davids mind. Why was this conversation so hard? What did Martin want? I cant remember, he said after a frustrated attempt at recollection.
Davids eyes began to roam as he accessed places in his brain, just the same way any boys eyes would. Inside him there were vast levels of activity behind every thought and gesture, numerous restraints that had been put in place to keep him from overreaching his boy-ness. The question of his reality had never been in doubt. It was a programmed presumption that hed never question even when confronted with the simple and obvious facts about his difference from the rest of his family. Or rather, he wasnt supposed to question the presumption. All that was left of the memories of his construction were faint images, sounds, coded instructions whose origins were muted by dead-ended neural pathways. But there was one thing he could still see in the denied recesses of his recollections.
Martin was intrigued. He would have expected memories of quiet men in white lab coats, of repeated instructions and probing. What sort of bird, he asked.
Davids brain fought his inquiries. Why should he have such a hard time remembering this? Other things came to him instantly. But as he persisted, the images from his past became clearer.
A bird with big wings, is what he saw in the coded recesses of his brain. He put his arms up to his side and pulled his hands back so his palms were out to exemplify the image, and feathers sticking up from the bottom. And with the memory came a new feeling. He didnt know this sensation. If hed had a heart it would have felt like the warm longing for safer, more secure times.
Martin looked at him oddly. Can you draw this bird?
David had not needed to draw or write since he had come to live with Mommy. He didnt even know if he could draw. Martin led him to the desk, sat him down, gave him a crayon and laid a sheet of paper in front of him. David hesitated a moment and then placed the marker on the face of the blank page. He quickly began to draw. It was automatic. His rendering of the image was precise. A month ago he would have thought nothing of this. He still didnt understand why it came so easy. He just drew.
Martin looked over the Mechas shoulder as the image rapidly developed. David drew what looked like a man at first standing arms outstretched, then the robot added feathers at the bottom of the image so it resembled a bird Martin had seen in a display at school. Hed been told that they were extinct except for a few that lived in the zoo; that the floods had killed most of them.
Davids head shot up. This was familiar. He recalled someone asking him to repeat words over and over again while they... they... Peacock, he said flatly. The word came out of him as if on its own.
Can you say P?
P, David responded quickly again, feeling locked in some mode of automatic repetition.
Martin smiled. At last! Maybe there might be some fun in this after all.
Now say that two times fast, he commanded.