Artificial Intelligence
A Fan's Novel

Adapted from the film A.I. by Bryan Harrison

 

 

Chapter 6

Fairy Tales

1.


Monica had quickly put a stop to the secret new language Martin had been teaching David. She’d overheard her Mecha boy sharing some of the new colorful words with Teddy. She appreciated that Teddy had suggested David keep these words to himself, but a boy was a boy whether flesh or fiber and Monica had disciplined him soundly. She had known immediately where the language had come from and sought out Martin out. He hadn’t taken his scolding quite as humbly as David had, but then she had scolded him a bit more sternly. In the back of her mind she was glad that he was getting back to his prankish self. This was normal for little boys to do, wasn’t it? And after all David was pretty naive. Maybe Martin’s playful pranks and teasing would help sophisticate him a little.

David would have to get more into the swing of living with the newly reunited Swinton family. He was part of it. Who knows, she thought, maybe when Martin got better David would be able to go places with him and his friends, maybe to a movie or holocades or the zero-G chambers that were becoming so popular. In time maybe David could learn to be one of the guys. But the impracticality of this thought became immediately apparent as images of her little Mecha coming home painted up like a clown or maybe pant-less and dirty from some cruel boyhood initiation, flashed across her mind’s eye. Or what if they broke him? She drove that thought out of her head.

Monica had been driving a lot of thoughts out of her head recently, thoughts about David’s future, about the effect the robot’s continual attempts to please her might have on Martin. She’d been ignoring things too. Like, the fact that her boys did not really get along that well. She ignored the little ways Martin tried to get David into trouble. She didn’t see the way Martin scoffed at David’s programmed innocence and childish manners. She hadn’t recognized the impact it had on David when Martin laughed at him for calling her “Mommy” instead of “Mom”, insisting the former was for little kids. David had stubbornly refused to use the shorter phrase and Martin would not leave him alone about it until she’d finally intervened. She’d not noticed the flat face that David donned every time Martin was near. The pinched eyebrows that had once signified his curiosity now displayed something new in David; something troubled. The Mecha’s vocal register was always happy when she was around. She never really heard the flat way he responded to Martin when she wasn’t near. The way he increasingly challenged Martin’s implied authority over him.

David refused to be a toy. He was a boy.

But he was still expected to help Mommy take care of Martin and he did so dutifully even though the Orga boy was often stubborn. There were so many things to do. Martin had to eat and drink lot of different medicines. There were drinks of all different colors and little ‘pills’ and bigger ones that Martin had to take at different times of the day. He ate a lot too, a lot more than Mommy or Henry did. He was always chewing on something. Sometimes he talked to David when there was something in his mouth. David had a hard time understanding what Martin was saying when he did this. He wanted to walk away from Martin at those times, but he was sure that would displease Mommy, who said they should be friends; that they were actually brothers.

Then, one afternoon when Mommy was showing David some new medicine for Martin, he came into the room. He had had something hidden behind his back.

“Read to us?” he asked.

Monica realized how long it had been since she’d last read a story to her little boy. She’d love to. “What do you have there?” she asked, reaching for the book. Martin handed it to her and then smiled strangely at David.

David did not know what ‘read to us’ was, but Martin had made that face he always made when he did not want Mommy to know he was doing bad things. Monica missed Martin’s smile as she read the cover of the book. She smiled at first, realizing that it was one of her favorites too, then her expression changed suddenly. She looked at Martin cautiously, and then to David.

David read the cover too. It said:

Pinocchio

by Carlo Collodi

“David’s going to love it,” Martin said. Monica ignored the hint of sarcasm in his voice.

-2-

“As soon as the show was over, the showman went into the kitchen where the lamb, which he was preparing for supper, was slowly turning on a spit in the furnace,” Monica read to her two boys. They had come down to the pond and had taken out the boat and were now floating on the still waters as she read. The boys sat on either side of her, apparently absorbed in the tale.

“When he saw that there was not enough wood to finish roasting it, he called harlequin and the punchinello...”

David was entranced by the story. It made pictures in his head and his brain had to do new things to create the images the words described. But as Mommy read he saw Martin lean close to her and begin to stroke his fingers against her arm. David had watched this for a moment. The empty feeling was coming into his head again. He leaned closer to her and duplicated the gesture. He immediately felt better.

“... and said, ‘Bring me in Pinocchio! You will find him hanging on a nail...”

David followed the story again. Something in the words was moving him. His mind made some undefined sense of Pinocchio.

“’He is made of nice dry wood and I am sure he will make a nice fire for my roast.’”

How would Pinocchio get away? Why didn’t Pinocchio’s father come find him? Did he love him? David leaned closer against his Mommy’s side. Did she love him? Would she come look for him if he got lost? Taken away from her? Cybertronics would not have imagined the things a simple fairy tale was doing to their creation’s mind.

As the day dwindled on they left the pond and walked slowly back to the house. Martin’s legs were getting better and he didn’t need the braces anymore, but he moved slowly and had to rest sometimes. That night, as Martin lay in the canopy of his bed, Mommy pulled the book out and continued the story. David was entranced as he sat in his ‘sleeping’ place on the floor watching Mommy lay beside Martin with the book. They were bathed in the soft blue nite-light of the bed. He didn’t like the feeling of being so far away from her, especially when Martin was so close, but she had hugged and kissed him before she went to Martin’s side and that would last him the night.

“Pinocchio worked until midnight, and instead of making eight baskets, he made sixteen,“ she read.

Suddenly, David understood Pinocchio. He worked hard too! Worked hard because he wanted... love. If Pinocchio worked hard and was obedient his father would love him! This new connection locked into place and David’s mind gave him something like a thrill. It was the exhilaration of recognition. A missing puzzle piece had been set into place!

David pondered this connection. What was ‘Fairy Tale’? It was a story! He knew ‘story’! A story told what happened. And things that happened were… real! Because unreal things don’t happen! So a ‘Fairy Tale’ must speak of real things.

“Then he went to bed, and fell asleep. He dreamt he saw the fairy, lovely and smiling...”

What was ‘dreamt’?

“... who gave him a kiss saying ‘Brave Pinocchio, in return for your good heart I forgive all your past misdeeds. Be good in the future and you will be happy,’ then the dream ended...”

David was completely lost in the words. What was ‘the dream’? Was the Blue Fairy in a ‘dream’? David had never known anticipation. Indeed no Mecha had ever felt the thrill that this special creation was feeling at this moment.

“... and Pinocchio awoke full of amazement. You can imagine how astonished he was when he saw that he was no longer a puppet...”

Could this really be?

“... but a real boy just like other boys.”

Mommy read on but David heard no more of the story. If he’d had a heart it would have been racing as quickly as the streams of data that coursed through his unique processor. His brain was alive with this new thing, ‘imagination’. “A real boy”, it said “a real boy!” Imagination had claimed a part of his brain and there it would nurture itself and grow. ‘A real boy’ it repeated, over and over. Were he even flesh and blood, he would not have closed his eyes that long night.

-3-

Martin was annoyed by David’s new fascination with the story from the day before. He’d thought the Pinocchio tale would’ve taken the Mecha down a peg or two, but the thing was apparently too dumb to get the joke. All day long it had been asking Mom questions about fairy tales; where they came from, what they mean, what were dreams and on and on. Martin didn’t see how Mom could put up with all that, but at least the stupid thing would shut up once he came into the room.

The tension between the Orga and Mecha boys had been building all day. Martin had been sneering at David and thinking of ways to put the toy back in its place. Mom had said they were like brothers. HA! Martin would not have a fiber-head for his brother!

Things came to a head at the dinner table that night when Martin noticed that the thing had been doing that fake eating again. He’d watched the robot pull this stupid routine every night since he had been well enough to sit at the table and he was finally getting tired of it. Mom and Dad had been talking grown up talk about some lady at Dad’s job and the robot was pretending to eat with them. Why couldn’t it be like Teddy? At least Teddy knew it was a toy and didn’t try to act real! Martin watched David scornfully as it put the spoon to its mouth, pretended to chew, picked up a glass, pretended to drink. It even faked swallowing. What was it gonna do next? Pretend to pee? When the Mecha realized he was watching it stopped and fixed Martin with a cold stare.

David had been listening to Mommy and Henry talk while he ‘ate’. Another part of his brain was processing what Mommy had told him about dreams. Then he’d seen the look on Martin’s face. He didn’t like it when Martin looked at him that way. He stopped ‘eating’ and stared back. When Martin made the ‘mean’ smile David knew something was about to happen. He’d was getting better at reading the boy’s ‘bad’ faces.

Martin suddenly knew how to get across the point he had been trying to make with Pinocchio! He took a spoonful of spinach into his mouth while the dumb Mecha stared. Then he opened his mouth so that the machine could see the food on his tongie. It was working. The Mecha watched his every move. Martin chewed dramatically then, and swallowed loudly. Then he opened his mouth so the dumb thing could see that the food was gone. ‘There! That’s what eating is!’ his eyes said, ‘Not just sitting there putting an empty spoon to your mouth. Try that Mecha!’ He sneered and went back to his meal.

From his seat between them, Teddy had been watching the quiet confrontation brewing between his two charges. Mommy and Daddy were too busy talking to be interrupted and he didn’t have words in his head for these things. He’d been programmed to recognize certain human interactions, especially childish ones, so he knew something was happening but could not define it. He was not like David. He operated on a practical level only. He would do his best to not let things get out of control.

David stared at the spinach bowl, then back to his empty plate. Was that what made you ‘real’? Was that all it was? What made Martin so special? What was so special about eating? He looked at Martin and a cold place opened in his brain.

Then, in a gesture that unofficially marked a new epoch for Mecha, an almost unnoticed movement, David reached for the spinach bowl. Teddy saw this and finally understood what was going on. The bear intercepted David’s arm pinning it against the table surface. He was programmed to regulate toys, and for all his complex programming, isn’t that what David was? “You will break!” he warned. But David yanked the bowl away, and shoveled a spoonful of spinach into his mouth. Then he mimicked Martin’s tease and opened his mouth, displaying un-masticated food. He chewed madly and shoveled more of the food into his mouth. David couldn’t swallow, he had no need to. But the spinach he forced into his mouth was being crammed down his useless throat as he shoveled more in, and his chewing was causing it to stream into the tiny pressure release openings in his inner chest where sensitive equipment regulated his vital functions.

Martin had joined in on the fun, filling his own mouth full of the food he usually tried to ignore. Maybe the stupid thing would break!

Henry stopped in mid-sentence. Monica saw his expression and followed his gaze. To her shock, David’s mouth was over-flowing with spinach and the Mecha-boy was stuffing in more.

“Does he eat?” Henry asked her urgently, knowing the answer.

“I don’t think ... no, he’s not supposed to.”

“Should I get the book?“ Henry asked. What the hell kind of malfunction was this?

“David? What are you doing?” Monica called to him. But, for the first time she could remember, the boy ignored her. “David, stop it!” she commanded. When he actually ignored a direct command, she knew something was wrong. According to the manual, David should always obey a direct order, especially one from the imprinter. None of them knew how useless the manual had become.

David was going to show Martin that he could do ‘real’ stuff too. That he wasn’t a ‘scardie-puss’ or a ‘wimp’ like Martin had called him so many times. Each overflowing mouthful pronounced his defiance. Each simulated swallow was a battle cry.

“Stop it now David!” Henry commanded. What would happen if he broke? Cybertronics would not be happy! “DAVID!” he yelled. Monica started in on Martin. He was instigating. He should put the fork down now! But it was quite common for ‘real’ boys to disobey and Martin was having more fun than he’d had in a long time.

Teddy did not understand David’s actions. Did he not know that food was for the people? The Supertoy consulted his inner log of toy malfunctions but could find no reference to this. He watched curiously. Helplessly.

Enough! Henry couldn’t afford to be responsible for a malfunctioning robot’s behavior. He reached out angrily and grabbed the Mecha’s wrist, surprised at the strength of its resistance. It managed to shovel another mouthful in spite of Henry’s grasp.

Then suddenly, it just stopped.

Monica had leaned over the table to help Henry take the spoon away, when David just stopped moving. “David?” Monica asked, concerned. The robot boy looked back at her with troubled eyes. His face went slack, became expressionless. The air was suddenly filled with the scent of burnt garlic and there was a soft metallic whining sound that came from him, from inside of him. Quickly, his face began to change. The family gasped as one.

David could not move. Something was wrong. He had no apparatus with which to taste, but he could feel the food against the sensory receptors in the ‘flesh’ of his mouth. Inside he felt ‘hot’. He was broken! Broken! Why hadn’t he listened to Teddy’s warning?! What had he been doing?! He had no word for the compulsion that had driven his actions. Mecha were never compelled before this moment. He looked at Mommy for assistance. He wanted to run to her. She must be able to make it better somehow! But he could not move. As he watched her face, the colors became wrong and blurry. ‘Help!’’ his mind screamed in silence from a paralyzed body. ‘Mommy! I’m Broken!’

The family watched helplessly as their new Mecha’s face seemed to melt like wax on one side. His cheek drooped down and the sagging eye socket displayed a glint of the silvery-gray light metals that comprised his mechanical infrastructure. Even Martin, who had secretly hoped to cause the robot some pain, had not expected a result of this severity. Henry was certain the Director would demote him.

Monica watched with fascinated horror as David’s face grotesquely malfunctioned. ‘Oh my little robot boy!’ she thought, ‘what have you done to yourself? What have you done?’

-4-

“Smell that garlic!” one of the techs said as he pried loose a motion regulator clip from David’s chest. The transparent clip was almost weightless in his hand. The spinach that coated it weighed more. The state of the art device contained more data than had once been contained in an entire mainframe. He carefully cleaned the spinach off of the clip with a small sucking device and then placed the irreplaceable piece of David’s anatomy in a cleaning solution until he was ready to replace it.

Monica was standing above David, who was lain on a table while the technicians operated. She held his upraised hand and watched the proceeding with nervous anticipation. The men had arrived in record time after Henry had called. They had laid the frozen Mecha on a hastily constructed work area. Then they quickly sliced into the small robot’s chest cavity and clamped him open. He had been stiff as a rock when they arrived. Every piece of equipment that controlled his physical interactions with the world around him had been locked up in an automatic attempt to defend itself against the moisture from the spinach. But the errant little robot was moving now. It was talking softly to the woman on which it had been imprinted. The tech was glad she was here. He had been told these experimental models could get strange if the imprinter wasn’t around. He smiled up at the woman to make sure she was ok. She looked stunned by the process. He guessed these things were pretty good simulators to make people feel so strongly about them. He knew how to fix the things, but not entirely what they did or how. David was still, after all, a unofficial project, a secret.

The other Tech winced at the sight of the green goop that lined the Mecha boy’s insides. There was some expensive equipment in there, more than he made in a year anyway. What the hell had the thing been trying to do? Oh well, he shouldn’t be surprised. He had been around long enough to know that when these things went, they tended to really go overboard. He’d seen some weird stuff in his time, stuff that the research guys upstairs wouldn’t believe; Mecha who had suddenly begun to speak everything backward when their sequence parameters got messed up, others who had begun crawling around on all fours or laughing maniacally when some dormant toy software, or maybe a virus, suddenly sprang to life inside their head. Many Mecha came with generic software that was used in different models. Sometimes those programs had unnoticed attachments. There were plenty of safeguards and redundant overrides that were supposed to keep this kind of stuff from happening, but there was no sure fire way to avoid a screw up. One time, long before he’d been hired by Cybertronics, he had been sent to retrieve a butler-Mecha that had begun jumping up and down frantically flailing its arms, until it broke its leg joints and fell to the ground. Even on the ground it had rolled around uncontrollably. The owners had been too scared of its unpredictable behavior to try and stop it and the damage it had done to itself was extensive and expensive! After a long examination, he’d found the culprit; a dormant program had been activated in its processor, a bird simulator that had never actually been made to work correctly. How had it got there? How did these type of things always happen; Too few people, too poorly trained, trying to do too much with too little time and resources. He’d had to put the thing down and replace it.

But this was something new. Cybertronics was a good company to work for. Good money, great hours, and definitely great projects. The ‘David’ was supposed to be top of the line. Most of its functions were still secret, even to him. But the prototype had just shoveled itself full of spinach and that decision was apparently not due to some processing malfunction. What the hell was going on? Even a dumb toy knew that eating was for Orga only. But then, the thing had been made to simulate a kid, after all. Maybe it was supposed to do stupid unpredictable stuff.

But dangerous stuff?

“Hey, kid,“ the tech said getting David’s attention. David looked away from Mommy, down over his opened chest cavity at the man who held up a part of his insides. “You made a real mess of yourself!” the man said and held up a spinach-coated clip for David to see. “Spinach is for rabbits, people and Popeye. Not robo-boys!”

Martin watched from across the room. Mom had really laid into him while they had waited for the technicians to arrive. Dad had tried to come to his rescue but she was having none of it. She was pretty pissed off. But Martin didn’t see how it was his fault. The robot was the one who started eating, he was just trying to show it the difference between them. He had explained all this, thrusting his chin up in a manner that he inherited from her, but Mom had scolded him for not obeying her commands to stop. Now it was his fault because he had been supposedly ‘instigating’ David. Damn Mecha!

Henry had sighed relief when the project support team had arrived. They’d taken a look at the robot and told him not to worry. Apparently this wasn’t a major issue. He would have rather had the guys take the cursed thing with them, but Monica wouldn’t hear of it and of course it would have to be destroyed. He’d assured the Director that he’d take good care of it so, as long as the thing wasn’t totaled, it was theirs. Henry had wanted to avoid any questions from the main office and asked if it would be possible to keep the incident out of the log. The lead man replied that his job was more important than Henry’s embarrassment, but agreed to write it in as a mechanical malfunction. He really didn’t know what else to call it anyway.

Monica looked away from what was happening on the table. She wasn’t comfortable watching the men operate. David wasn’t flesh and blood, she knew that, but he was still her little boy and seeing his insides, even though they were antiseptic optic clips and fibrous metal alloy, still wasn’t easy. She hadn’t wanted to watch at all, but one of the techs requested her presence. He wanted her to hold David’s hand. If the imprinter wasn’t there when David became ‘unlocked’, he said, the Mecha might behave unpredictably. So she was the imprinter? Was that her title? She had reluctantly held David’s frozen hand and indeed when the malfunction that had locked him up was corrected David had sprung into motion, his arms desperately pawing the air and his legs kicking as if he was running from something. He had been repeating an urgent plea over and over: ‘help me, broke, help me, broke,” and Monica had reassured him, squeezing his too-real hand to calm him. The Mecha had looked up and focused on her. Then he smiled and relaxed. She had too.

David had been horrified during the time when he couldn’t move. He couldn’t see anything except muddy blurs. But that was over now and Mommy was here with him. He looked down and saw himself cut open. He felt strange sensations him as the men pulled machinery from his body and clicked them back into place. Things seemed to be going on and off inside his legs and arms. He looked up and saw Mommy’s face, creased in concern and worry. This made him feel good somehow. She was ‘worried’. That meant she loved him, didn’t it? He would calm her.

“It’s OK Mommy,” he said to her, “it doesn’t hurt.”

Monica looked at the Mecha. What had it done to her to make her worry so? His face was so innocent. Vulnerable. He didn’t know what he was doing to her heart. How could she deal with this? She didn’t want any more loss! She let go of David’s hand and fled to the back of the room. One of the techs looked up as she rushed away. “We lost our imprinter,” he sighed to the other. He looked down at David’s face. “Now you just lay still and behave yourself,” he ordered.

Henry followed Monica to the dark corner of her retreat. She seemed to be dealing with some emotion. He knew what an impact that the Mecha had had on her, but she shouldn’t let this thing control her life now. They had their real son back. “Monica, “ he started, hesitantly. “Maybe it would be better if…” … ‘we let them take it’, was how he was going to finish, but she silenced him with an impatient wave of her hand.

She couldn’t bear more loss. Her heart had had enough. But David was so vulnerable! Why hadn’t they made him more like other boys? More resilient, not so sensitive, so needy! She felt immediately guilty at this thought. David loved her purely, without reservation. Every small gesture of appreciation she gave him was his joy; every negligent slight, his devastation. Was his love real? Or was it really just the result of a mass of high-speed fiber and neural processors? Something told her, something deep inside beyond logic’s restraints, that David’s emotion was more than that; that David himself was somehow more than that.

She walked around Henry and strode dutifully back to the table where the men worked on the little robot that had stolen her heart. She had made a commitment to David just as he was committed to her. She would not abandon him. Once at the table she took David’s hand back into her own and smiled down at him. “I’m here, honey,” she whispered.

From where he stood Martin could not hear his mother whisper these tender words to the Mecha. But he’d seen the way she grasped its hand. He’d seen the look on her face. What was going on here? Why all this special attention for a damn toy? What was all this talk about ‘imprinting’? His face grew grim and his mind began to work. Why had that robot really been brought here? The possibilities were dark paths down which he feared to tread. But there was only one thing that was important for now. This was his Mom. And he was her son.

The only one!

-5-

“If you do something really, really special for me, “ Martin whispered conspiratorially in the dark bedroom, “..let’s call it... a special mission, then I’ll go tell Mommy that I love you, and then she’ll love you too!” He’d gotten an idea from the movie they’d watched after the men who had fixed David left. Martin had been further infuriated by the way the Mecha had snuggled up to Mom on the couch as they had watched. He’d seen this behavior before but had thought nothing of it at the time. He’d thought it only a program. Even Teddy used to do that occasionally. But now, after the scene in the kitchen, those memories had a new, darker meaning.

David looked up from the game that he had been playing. His face was working normally now and he could see everything just like before. He was happy about the way Martin was acting now, even though he was hesitant to trust the boy completely. But Martin had let him play with his copter simulator game; something he’d never done before. He’d even put his arm around David’s shoulder as they walked upstairs when Mommy had said it was time to sleep. After the men from Cybertronics left, Mommy had scolded them both for acting badly and made a speech to them about being good to each other. She had said that David was now Martin’s little brother and Martin should look out for him, and he for Martin. Now Martin was suggesting something that might help him win Mommy’s love. He came down from his bed and sat on the floor across from his big brother. “What shall I do,” he asked cautiously.

“You’ll have to promise. And then I’ll tell you,” Martin said.

David processed this. His brain analyzed the proposal. A ‘promise’ was a serious issue. Not to be taken lightly. David offered a different proposal. “You have to tell me, and then I’ll promise.”

Teddy was in the corner of the room, quietly sewing closed another small tear in the fabric of his old body. After Mommy’s speech the boys had seemed to get along and Martin had been very quiet while they watched the television. But Teddy listened carefully as he worked on himself.

The Mecha wasn’t too good at this, Martin realized. “I want a lock of Mommy’s hair,” he said. “I’ll share it with you. If you had it, and wore it, she might love you even more, like the princess in the movie. When she had the prince’s hair in her necklace thing, he loved her. Remember?”

Of course David remembered. He never forgot anything. But this was not right. This was like ‘sneaking’. Sneaking was wrong. How come Martin always insisted on doing wrong things?

“We can ask her,” he suggested.

“No, no. It has to be a secret mission,” Martin countered quickly and then whispered the details of David’s mission. “You must sneak into Mommy’s bedroom in the middle of the night, and chop it off.”

Teddy looked up as he heard this. What was Martin up to now? Was he was playing bad games again?

Alarms went off in David’s head. This was more than wrong! This was very bad! It went against everything that had ever been put into his brain. He was simply not supposed to sneak around taking things without permission. Especially Mommy’s hair! “I am not allowed, Martin,” he said.

“You promised,” the other boy said, smiling that particular smile. “You said ‘tell me, and then I’ll promise’…” he reminded David as he leaned close, his eyes sharpening, “…didn’t you?”

David was trapped. Was this a game? Had he made a ‘promise’? He analyzed all the statements between him and Martin. The alarms still went off but his logic processors could find no way out. He’d made a promise, a bad one.

-6-

Mommy’s room was dark. David had never been here this deep into the night. He walked slowly, navigating the dark room carefully, the scissors that Martin had given him were held in hand. He was not uncomfortable with this stealth. Slow, cautious movements had never been a problem for him. Martin had told him what side of the bed Mommy usually slept on, although David didn’t really need that information. His vision was heightened in the dark. It was a survival feature that was pretty standard with all Mecha. He made his way slowly to the bedside, alarms still ringing in his brain.

He found her and stood quietly by the bed. He could hear Henry rumbling breath on the other side. Mommy was sleeping. She was so still. What was this sleeping? Why did (real) people have to do it? David knelt beside the bed. David’s head was full of contradictory feelings. In the secret place in his mind, where her face was a continual source of light and warmth, something in him cried out. This was wrong, and he knew it. He’d been tricked into making a promise, but inside he knew that he didn’t have to obey Martin. He was here because he wanted Mommy’s lock of hair, because he wanted her to love him; to love him more than she did Martin, o Henry; because he did not want to share her with anyone else.

Teddy had warned him. Teddy had told him that it was against the rules and that their job was to obey rules. But what did Teddy know? He was just a toy! A little dumb toy from a box in the closet!

David leaned over the bed. His calm face and movements were typical of his Mecha nature, but inside his thoughts were chaos. Mommy was facing him so he had to lean across her to get to her hair, which was spilled across the pillow behind her head. He placed his knee the bed and reached for the prize.

David pulled back quickly as Mommy made a sudden movement in her sleep. Almost! He had almost woken her! If he’d had a heart it would have been pounding in his chest. If he had breath it would have been caught in his throat. For that one moment his brain functioned clearly and he saw how stupid and dangerous this secret mission was. But she was still again and with great excitement David saw that she had turned her head so that her hair was dangling over the edge of the bed. The rational part of his brain, the one Cybertronics had built, was forced into the back seat as this new part of his mind took control once more; this part of him that had been growing slowly ever since Mommy had brought him to life.

David moved cautiously, placing the scissors over the dangling strands of Mommy’s hair. It was smooth and glistened in the night. If what Martin said was real then all he had to do was keep her hair by his heart… and she would love him. All he had to do was grab a lock of hair and…

In her fleeting dream David had been yelling her name, calling out to her from across some great invisible expanse. But Martin had been at her side, looking at her accusingly. He’d spoken no words but his face had made plain his thoughts. ’You tried to replace me!’ That was what his face said. ‘Replace me with a toy! Didn’t you? Didn’t you?’ The dream had woken her with a sudden jolt and she’d turned and felt something against the bed. She opened her eyes to see something thin and shiny reflected in the faint light from the windows of their room. It pressed against her eye. She cried out!

...close the scissors!

Henry opened his eyes when he heard his wife yell. He saw the Mecha leaning over the bed, silhouetted against the white walls behind him. Was that a knife? Then he heard the metallic snick and realized what had happened.

“David!! What are you doing?” he roared, jumping up over his wife and grabbing the thing by the shoulders. “What the hell were you doing David?!” he repeated shaking the thing violently. “Why David? Why did you do that!? Godammit! Answer me!”

David recoiled in fear and dropped the scissors. Henry shook him violently and yelled the some bad words that Martin had tried to teach him. With his night vision he could see clearly the anger in Henry’s face, and there was a lot of it. Henry was very angry.

Monica rose and grabbed her husband’s arm. “Henry you’re hurting him!” she yelled. Henry was shaking the boy violently; his little Mecha head was rolling back and forth on his neck. How could he expect him to answer?! “Henry! You’re hurting him!” she cried again. But Henry didn’t hear her.

“Dammit David! Don’t pull that silent routine on me again! Why? Why?” Henry shook the robot harder, angered by its refusal to answer. He had had enough of this damn machine! First the stupid spinach trick and now this! “Why?” he yelled.

Monica grabbed her husbands arm, frightened by his escalating violence “YOU’LL BREAK HIM!” she yelled.

Henry stopped shaking the Mecha. She was right. He couldn’t afford to replace it, could he? He released it, and it collapsed to the floor, shielding itself from him in simulated fright. Before, Henry been chastened by the Mecha’s innocent pose, but now, as the pathetic thing cowered before him, he felt a touch of satisfaction.

David’s eyes were wide with fright and surprise. His mouth was open with an utterance that never came. Henry’s violence had been unprecedented in his life. He had nowhere in his brain to flee from such a thing. He cowered as the man glared at him in the dark. He hadn’t been disobeying Henry’s commands to answer; he’d simply not known the answer. Why had he broken the most basic rule to any of his kind and endangered an Orga? There was only one reason.

“Henry…” David said weakly, frazzled by the manhandling. “I wanted Mommy to love me ... more.” Henry’s eyes were angry and there was something else there, something David had not seen before, not even in Martin’s ambiguous smiles.

Monica moaned. “Oh my god,” she said cupping her face. Henry turned to her; he’d deal with the robot later. “What’s wrong honey?” he asked urgently.

“My eye, I think it’s bleeding! Henry!” she cried. They rose from the bed and rushed into the bathroom where David heard them knocking things around in a frantic search of the cabinets. Henry was cursing some more. Mommy’s frantic cries pounded against his brain.

What had he done?

He had been wrong. He had done a very bad thing. Mommy would never love him now. He had hurt her! In his fear and self-recrimination he did not see the lock of hair that fell to the floor from the edge of the bed where it had been cut from Mommy’s mane. It slipped over the folds of the blanket and wafted to the floor, descending slowly, alighting silently on the carpet, perhaps to be forgotten and discarded. Forever.

Teddy watched the hair fall. He’d been standing quietly in the hallway while David was on his ‘mission’. He had come into the room after the commotion broke out to see David sitting silently, staring into the darkness while Mommy and Daddy talked excitedly in the bathroom. He regarded the fallen hair. Symbols were far beyond Teddy’s level of processing, but he knew something had changed, something important, and the hair seemed to encapsulate the meaning of this change. He stood over the curled strands, in his own way, pondering their significance.

What now?

-7-

Sitting in the darkness of his room, Martin had heard Mom scream and then Dad cursing at David. At first he had laughed. “Got ‘cha you stupid fiber head!” he’d whispered to himself. The taste of revenge had been sweet, but short lived. He’d heard David’s pathetic whine about wanting Mommy to love him and that should have made him feel even better; it should have made his night, he should have reveled in his triumph. But it hadn’t. And he didn’t. He’d heard Mom’s agonized moan and Dad’s urgent questions. Their footfalls were heavy as they raced to the bathroom.

That damn robot better not say anything; that had been his immediate thought. Then he realized that he had a part in this; the he might have caused Mom to get hurt. Some new feeling tugged at his conscience. It was the first struggling efforts of a growing boy to break away from the selfishness of childhood. But he didn’t know that. He just knew that he felt bad. If something bad happened to his Mom he’d never forgive himself.

Why had he sent David in there to do this thing? What had he done?


 

 

 

 

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