Artificial Intelligence
A Fan's Novel

Adapted from the film A.I. by Bryan Harrison

 

 

Chapter 3

The Flesh Fair

1.


Lord Johnson Johnson had survived “The Trenton Incident”, as he referred to it. He was a survivor. He had always been a survivor. From his early days in Dublin when the larger corporate farms had imported scores of Mecha from America as cheap labor, running his family out of business, to his unsuccessful struggle to get the smaller cooperatives to unite against them, he had fought the good fight. This fight had led him to this mission, this calling. He had been tried and punished for the early attacks against the owned robots. Not because the Mecha were living things, with rights, they weren’t, but because they had been licensed property. In the end though, there had been a way around that.

He had come to America, home of the Mecha. This was where the scourge had been born. The best of them were constructed here; the worst offenses against Orga-kind. Everywhere were Orga suffering and starving in the overgrown forest and the new islands of once desert mountains, while Mecha served as workers in fields that had been Orga domain for centuries. In those times the traitors had even put Mecha in the uniforms of police; the servants of mankind policing them! But Johnson’s influence had put an end to that. He had challenged the political might of the Mecha manufacturers. With persistence and a growing constituency of frustrated followers, he had united an angry throng against the artificials and their arrogant creators. Because of his powerful message resentments against the robots, that had been simmering just under the boiling point, overflowed, releasing a wave of violence and destruction that had only subsided when laws were passed restricting the use of Mecha as policemen and firemen and other civil servants. No longer could the large corporate farmers drive smaller operations out of business with armies of cheap, fake laborers. No longer would struggling Orga have to compete with vile simulators for the work they needed to survive.

The Flesh Fair was his podium; the place where he stood and pronounced his gospel above the din of society’s confusion; the place where he showed them, his followers, the way out of their pit of despair. It was their “Celebration of Life”, and the Mecha’s too; for in their destruction, did they not indeed pay homage to their creators? Did they not celebrate their master’s ‘reality’? Those who had given them life now took it away.

The Flesh Fair would survive Trenton too. It would prosper and spread throughout the world, because it was alive! Its audience was the last stronghold of humanity; those who had been left out of the schematic of the new society; those who built, maintained, and operated the machines necessary to run the remaining cities; those who toiled on what remained of the soil, to bring food to a corrupt and unappreciative upper class. They were the true Orga, his followers, his disciples. They would not sell out humanity or cower before an underclass of mindless slaves that the Mecha were.

His followers had forgiven him for Trenton. They understood the dangers involved in his mission. There were bound to be mistakes. It was unavoidable. He doubted they would ever forget the image of the blood that had splattered all over the stage, washing the band in a coat of thick red and bone chips after what they had thought was a robot had been shot from the cannon, through the hoop of fire, and into the spinning blades of the Mecha Chopper. They’d never forget the sickening sound, the wet thud the body had made as it was smashed and sliced in the blades. The stands had been slick with vomit after the crowd had hurriedly departed in horror and shock.

Needless to say, it had put an end to the show for that night. It might have put an end to the show forever. Lord Johnson Johnson had many enemies who were ever looking for a weakness to exploit. He’d retreated quickly with his lawyers, flailing them with a series of urgent concerns. What were the ramifications? Could he be charged? Who had this man been, that was thrown into the blades? How in the hell had he gotten into the pig pen with the Mecha, and why hadn’t he been scanned?!

Fortunately for the show, the man had been a drifter, a ‘transie’ from the outskirts. It was found that he had been scanned but with a faulty device and he’d shown cold. Drunk and despondent he’d offered no struggle when he’d been placed in the cannon. His malnourishment, pale, sickly skin, his brittle bones and wasted frame had made his weight light. He must have felt like a fiber-head to the guards who lifted him.

Months passed and in the end there had been no repercussions. Lord Johnson Johnson had made his speeches. They were his forte’. His ‘explanation’ (for he never apologized) had been run on all the local networks and two major national affiliates carried it as well. Amazingly enough, the awful mistake had garnered him a larger audience to bring into his fold. Those who had hoped this would be his ruin were frustrated once again by what seemed to be an invincible wall of fate that protected the man.

But did his followers really know him? The ‘Johnson’, as they called him, did not consider the fact that the man who had died in the spinning blades of one of his machines had been, in life, one of the forgotten people he pretended to care for. He did not think about the fact that the only reason there had been no repercussion was because of the man’s lowly status. He did not know that the lonely wanderer had been cast from his work, insulating satellite interiors, when a fleet of Mecha workers had been perfected for the job. The man had lost his wife when his lack of income made the Child Licensing Authority reject his application. Nor did the ‘Johnson’ care enough to find out about these things. Lord Johnson Johnson, self-proclaimed protector of the last vestiges of Orga, had become part of the plagues that consumed them.

But his followers did not know it. Nor did he. The arrogance and zeal with which he had built his temple had become the very corrupter of his message.

Tonight he would have to do something special! He did not know what at this point. Things were getting slow. The hunt had provided scant Mecha, but this had happened before. The band would have to put on a great show, play some extra numbers. Maybe he could have the hounds do a few displays on their cycles. They had enough Mecha for a good main course but the finale was going to be a bit light. He’d have Cynthie extend her monologue and he’d lengthen his own closing speech.

After he’d landed at the fair one of the hounds told him there was something he needed to see in the net. He assumed that the man was probably referring to the Orga-looking thing; the Lover Mecha they’d caught. Yeah, that would be good for the finale. But he’d have it scanned once more, just to be sure.

-2-

Cynthie passed behind the tall bleachers and stopped to enjoy a moment alone. She gazed out on the expectant, rowdy crowd. The stands were almost full and people were chanting, taunting the Mecha in the cage. ‘Followers my ass,’ she thought eyeing the multitude of faces. Drunks. Thugs. Teenagers clad in khaki; little neo-fascists, who had found a new target in robots that wouldn’t fight back, couldn’t fight back! They just came here for the carnage. She inhaled. Blew out the smoke. Relaxed a little. What the hell were they gonna do tonight? She looked across the killing field at the dirty pig-pen, the cage where Mecha were held until their time was up. It was almost half empty. The Mecha stood still, looking stupid and lost as usual. Over their heads, on the stage, the band, lean men clad in black and metal, roared through the industrial crunch of sound that had become associated with the event; the glorious Flesh Fair. Huge screens on the stage carried the image of the grunting singer’s skeletal mask and guitar. Soon the screen would carry the images of the Mecha being burnt and destroyed. Cynthie inhaled one last deep puff of her cigarette, another rare luxury nowadays. She didn’t care about the Mecha either way. It was a gig.

She’d have to give a longer setup than usual tonight. Best get ready. She tossed the smoking butt and tied her hair back, brushed the dust off her revealing vest, the striped American colors and lace dangling from the points of her breasts. She plastered on the winning smile that had made her the crowd’s favorite and got into character.

It was show time!

-3-

Joe did not pay attention to the little Orga boy that was dumped into the cage with the rest of the rejects from the forest. He gazed out between the bars at the cheering crowd in the bleachers. They were angry. They waved flags and signs that read ‘It’s Mecha Mashing Time!’ and “Orga Only”. They threw things at the cage where he stood. He did not understand this spectacle. Surely this was trouble, but of what sort? He did not see any police among the people. This must be the Flesh Fair that Williamson had spoken of. Above him, through the glass floor of the stage, he could see the musicians’ feet beating the stage as they crashed through their angry music. He wasn’t sure what was happening here, but it did not look good.

Very ‘disturbing’. Very ‘doom’.

In the cage with him were the lost Mecha; the unclaimed and unwanted; the unlicensed, as himself, and those whose batteries should have run down ages ago. Somehow they kept going. With robotic detachment they watched the preparation for the slaughter.

One of them had been here before. He lay on the ground now, propped up on his metallic arms so he could see. Months ago, at this same roaming circus, he’d lost his legs. But he had survived by a mistake of his captors. Not knowing that he was still operable they had inadvertently taken his upper torso to the pit in the forest and used it for bait to catch others of his kind. As the hounds had chased the Mecha who came for the parts, he had slipped away and hidden. He had managed to remain in the wilds with the other escapees for all that time. Now he was back, caught in the same manner by which he had escaped. He held no anger or resentment for the Orga that came to watch the destruction. He was programmed to survive. He did not judge his oppressors.

There was a chef Mecha here too. Burnt nearly in half, his metal skeleton was showing through the holes in his head. He’d been dumped in the forest so the owners of the restaurant could claim him stolen and avoid paying the damages his contractors had wanted for their loss. There was a deteriorating lover Mecha. She was older model. Her artificial features could no longer compete with the newer simulators, like Joe, which were so hard to distinguish from Orga. Her over-glossed face was lopsided from being attacked by Orga boys who had taken their pleasure with her and then attempted to smash her head with a large rock. She had escaped, easily outrunning them, but her pain receptors had fired constantly over the next few weeks. Inside her head, the ‘memory’ of that time was still fresh. She was a simple model. She did not understand the reasons behind the Orga’s hatred of them. She did not comprehend the Flesh Fair. But there were those among them who did.

They were old models. Built before the competitive commercial frenzy that had mass marketed Mecha throughout the world. They were built with longevity in mind. They were constructed with the vastest databases available. The information in some of their processors was still larger than most current Mecha who were designed in a more specific sense. It was cheaper to build them using standardized programs. Those with accents tended to have the same accents. They walked the same and used the same phrases. But the older models had been constructed at a time of idealism, of creative fervor. They had been developed to grow and learn and sophisticate; to cross-reference and modify their calculations. They were not like David, no, they could not feel, they had no ‘emotion’, but they knew what was occurring here. In their own way, they had come to resent their creators. They were the elders of the Mecha. And in their way, they had been teaching the younger machines; those who had not been programmed for learning; those whose designs were simpler and limited to the tasks at hand. The ‘elders’ had been explaining to the younger models, in coded language the Orga could not understand, the ways of the world.

-4-

David had stood in the embrace of the Nanny for some time while he watched the crowds cheering and throwing the rocks and little beanbags at the cage. He could not forget the pain that was going on inside his head, but the spectacle was dazzling. Above him the noise that the men made was powerful, thunderous. He watched them pound the glass floor of the stage and beat their instruments in a frenzy. As he watched these Orga, his curiosity grew. He slipped from the Nanny’s comforting embrace and walked to the front of the cage. The Nanny let him go. He wanted to see what there was to see. She would wait here and watch him from a distance, grateful for a little one to concern about.

The Mecha noticed David now. The older machines pondered this strange thing. Was this the Orga child from the forest? No. This was no Orga. It was one of them, a young one. Or perhaps just designed to be young. This must be a new Mecha for none had seen one like this before. Its garments were clean. It had no dents and its flesh was not torn or marked. What was it doing here in the cage?

As David watched, a woman ran out into the arena. She waved a flag that David recognized and the Orga began to scream louder. She ran the length of the field quickly, flailing the banner at the cheering crowd, and then took to the stage above them. The men above ceased the great noise they had been making and the woman took a metal tube from the man in the mask.

“Let’s us pay our respects!” she yelled into the tube that blasted her angry voice around the stadium, and the crowd all stood. They were quiet now and they placed their hands across their chests. What were they doing?

“Hands on your hearts you fiber heads!” one of the big men behind the cage yelled. David turned to see who had spoken and noticed that all the Mecha had put their hands across their chests like the Orga were doing. He followed suit. He was an obedient boy after all. Above them the men with the loud instruments began playing a new song. David had heard this one before. As they played, some Orga began to sing along. In all the noise David could not discern their words, but as the song drew to a close, he caught the last of them...

“O’er the land of the free,
And the home of the brave!”

…they sang. What did these words signify? He remembered them. In time he would understand.

Then the song was over and the Mecha were startled by an explosion on the field. Fire erupted from a large metal barrel among the strange assortment of devices out there. There was a cannon, a large fan, giant metal ovals with flashing lights on the edges and buckets suspended above. The crowd screamed and chanted as another explosion roared with heat and fury.

The Show had begun.

-5-

Tempers were rising in the line of people still waiting to get into the arena. The anthem had been played and the music had started again! Then there were the explosions! Damn! The show was beginning! The anxious crowd ignored the thing that rushed below their line of vision, making its way towards the gates. But the woman at the gate was used to people trying to slip in. Her eyes were sharper. The crowd at the Flesh Fair wasn’t always ‘in the money’ so to speak. She took tickets and watched carefully. She had men to help her if anybody got out of hand. But she wasn’t prepared for the little thing that waddled up to the gates beneath her, in between the legs of those standing impatiently in line.

“Hello?!” she said in a clipped accent. She grabbed the fluffy thing up. What was this? Someone’s lost toy? Hmmm… it was a nice one, a Smart toy. Probably looking for some little boy or girl. She held it up. “Anybody loose this?” she yelled into the crowd. But the people in the crowd were more concerned with getting to the stadium, getting their refreshments and taking their seats. Some children with arms full of popcorn and drinks passed by close to her.

“Is this yours?” she asked. She didn’t really care if it was; she just hoped the kids would take it off her hands. The children looked at the furry thing. It was an old Teddy. They’d had one of those before. Those were for little kids. “No!” they replied in unison and walked away, sipping from large cups. Humph! Kids nowadays, eh? When she was a girl they’d have killed for one of these things.

The toy suddenly grumbled them in her hand. “Well wadda ya make of that?” she laughed. It was growling at her. She growled back. “Some toy you are, “she said to the thing furry thing, “even the little kids don’t want ya!”.

“I am not a toy!” the thing proclaimed and the woman laughed. She yelled at a thick man in tight black clothing. “Take this over to lost and found for me, ok?” And then she tossed the Teddy across the crowd.

Teddy was airborne again. This time though he was caught by a big man in black. The last time he had been caught and lowered to the ground rudely but not fatally, by the branches of the large trees below the Moon Balloon. As he had watched the balloon flee with his friend he processed this flash of something that he’d seen in David’s face. Something in him had stirred, something new. He could not calculate this new thing. He had to get to David. After his crash-landing, he had jumped to his feet and followed the balloon; grateful that many of his pain receptors were not functioning to their full capacity. Fortunately his legs and ears were. He had chased the balloon for as long as he could see it and when it finally was out of his sightr, the music and noise of explosions had led him on. In the darkness he had dashed through the crowds of excited Orga without so much as a second glance from them. But then the woman had caught him.

He was thrown again to another man. ”Take him to the lost pile!” the first man yelled and then Teddy was being carried by one leg, watching the crowds and lights pass by upside-down.

“Do you know where David is?” he asked. The man walked over bleachers and by groups of yelling people. An explosion went off. “I must find David. Are you taking me to David?” he asked again.

“How do you turn this thing off?” the man asked no one. He began feeling around Teddy’s body. Teddy could not afford to be turned off now. He had to find David. He closed his legs and the man’s probing hand passed over the knob that would have quieted him, without noticing it. They passed by the helmeted men who had ridden the noisy machines in the forest. The men stood aside the machines now, laughing and talking with a large rugged man in a black hat. Maybe they would know where David was. “I must find David” he called to them. But they appeared not to hear his request.

The man took him into a lighted area where many Orga were sitting at wooden tables, drinking from large foaming cups and laughing. The man tossed him again and Teddy found himself in a large box with other things; dead and discarded toys, wallets and glasses. The man who had brought him here walked away quickly, muttering something angry under his breath.

-7-

The entertainer had been a regular at the Newark Museum of Performing Arts for years. He was a replica of a famous comedian from the 20th century and had made crowds laugh with his antics and humor, which was amazingly still fresh. Then newer models had been bought; simulators whose flesh was smoother, more realistic; whose eyes and movements were less of a give away. Their timing was better and they’d been given better material to work with. The owners hadn’t had the heart to destroy him. He’d been given to a hospital for the poor and then discarded when he was no longer amusing.

The large men in the black tight suits came for him first. The other Mecha stood aside, helplessly watching as their friend was hoisted on the men’s shoulders. They could not fight back even if they had had the will. They were programmed to never strike Orga. Orga were always right. They could run for their lives, but once captured, the Orga were in control. It was too late for any mercy to be expected or given.

David watched them wrestle the doomed robot into the arena. He had not seen men like this before. Their arms were big and lined with muscle. Their faces were grim and determined. The Orga in the stands started yelling and cheering as the men carried the Mecha onto the field.

“Could you kind’a shoot me over that propeller thingie?” the Mecha requested in its character-voice, as the men struggled to push him into the cannon. He understood what was happening here, but he was programmed for laughter. “I don’t really need to go through it. I was considering that earlier, but I changed my mind,” he added. The men ignored the robot. They didn’t find it funny. This was work. They had a job to do.

Cynthie strutted back onto the field. She grasped her red, white and blue baton and waved it in large arcs before the propeller. The Mecha Masher. “Gentlemen! Staaaarrt your engines!” she yelled and the giant propeller fanned into motion.

David watched curiously. He saw, but did not understand, what was occurring. He pressed against the bars to get a better look. The crowd was chanting again, yelling numbers. David knew ’numbers’. He followed the count-down with the Orga. “Five! Four! Three!” Was it a game? “Two! One!” And suddenly the cannon erupted, spitting fire from its mouth! The pressure from the explosion blew dust and heated air over David’s face and his eyes blinked in a rare moment of protection, opening just in time to see the Mecha fly through the hoop of fire where it burst into flame. Then it flew into the propellers and exploded into sparking metal shards.

The destroyed Mecha’s faceplate was ripped from its head whole and it flew right at David, smacking the bars before him, an eternal smile etched on the melting simulated flesh that clung to the cage. The face-plate slid down the bars and sizzled on the ground as the crowd bellowed for more. David stepped back, his eyes wide at the spectacle of death. So this was destroying? Were they going to do that to him? He had no Mommy and no Teddy! He needed a protector. He was just a little boy! He reached out and took the nearest hand to him. It was a firm strong hand. David clasped it tightly.

Joe looked down at the little Orga boy who had grasped his hand. What was all this about?

-8-

What about us?!” a woman’s voice was raised above the din of the crowd.

Teddy had heard the explosion and the sound of grinding metal and the crowd’s excited response.

We are alive!” the woman yelled over the roar.

Teddy could not wait here anymore. He had to find David. This was a bad place. It was noisy and dirty. It was not a good place for a little boy, or even something that just looked like one. David was not safe here.

We are alive and this is a celebration of life!” the woman continued as the crowd chanted for more.

Teddy began to rock back and forth in the box, feeling his flimsy cell start to move with each of his thrusts. David could be in trouble! This was a place where they destroyed Mecha. Teddy understood what that meant. Mommy had expected him to take care of David, it was his job, his program. And what of this new thing; the fleeting thing he had felt as he fell through the night?

This is a commitment to a truly human future!

Teddy struggled harder against the walls of the box, and the world quaked, spinning as the box fell from the table. He was free again!

The Orga sitting on the benches did not seem to notice the falling box or the fuzzy Supertoy that crawled from it. Teddy slipped under the tables and ran into the confusion of the crowd. He had to move quickly! He must find David. David needed him.

-9-

In a furious cloud of smoke and debris another of their kind met its fate. The crowd roared its approval. In the cage, the doomed Mecha watched quietly.

“Would you be so kind as to turn my pain receptors off?” the old Mecha with the oval humped back and funny face said. The burnt chef moved behind the old machine and reached inside its back panel. The small light array on his back went off as his sensory interface was shut down. That was better. It would all be over quickly now. “Thank you so much,” he said politely.

David let go of the man’s hand and faced the old Mecha. “Why is this happening?” he asked. One of the elders saw the little Mecha. He understood its ignorance. He had not understood when he was first made either. He had been programmed to help Orga, to police the bad ones. But they no longer wanted Mecha to police them so, like all the others, he was obsolete, a cast away.

“History repeats itself, “ he explained in a aged mechanical voice. “It’s the rite of blood and electricity!” Above them the yelling woman was yelling about of a truly human future.

Another elder Mecha joined in the conversation. Its neck was a large looping thing, like a beckoning finger. Its face was an image projected against a screen in the neck. It was an angry face, full of old wisdom and bitterness, its voice cranky and mechanical. “You see, when the opportunity avails itself, they pick away at us. They cut down our numbers so they can maintain numerical superiority!” He didn’t expect the little one to understand; the newer ones were programmed differently. It would take repeated explanations before they could see clearly.

David had started to ask a question to the old Mecha when he saw something rushing from the crowd. It moved quickly under the path of Orga who were leaning against the back of the stands drinking and watching the show. David knew this shape. It was small and fluffy. He rushed to the edge of the cage as it approached. Could it be? There was another feeling in him now. It overshadowed the fear and pain in his head. It was excitement.

-10-

Amanda waited behind the bleachers while the old robots were blown up. She didn’t like all the noise and yelling. She had a little money that Daddy had given her, so she’d had some popcorn and a soda and talked to the man at the counter for a while. He was nice. Then she’d heard a noise and sought its source. She couldn’t believe her eyes when the lost and found box suddenly fell right off of the table. She thought she saw something dash out of the box, race beneath the benches and make its way to the stands. Was it a puppy? Yes… let it be a puppy! She made quick pursuit.

But it wasn’t a puppy at all! It was a Teddy! She’d had a Teddy, but Daddy had made her get rid of it after he started working for the fair. She had a new doll, but it didn’t talk or walk, like the others. ‘Just use your imagination honey,’ Daddy had told her. But that was boring.

She chased the Teddy as it ran towards the jail place where they kept all the Mecha for the show. The thing was racing for the cage and she had to stop it. It didn’t want to go in there! That’s where the toy people were smashed up. She raced after the thing, her frail little legs moveing her quickly. The Teddy fell suddenly and she grabbed it up, holding it close.

“What’s your name?” she asked. She knew some Teddy’s had different names. Like her friend Cindy had one called Droopy, and Azalea called hers...

”Hello Teddy” someone said from the cage. Amanda looked up. There was a boy in the cage! A boy in the cage? He looked at the toy bear and smiled.

“Hello David,” the Teddy said. Amanda looked at the boy curiously. What was he doing in there?

-11-

“There’s a boy in the cage,” she explained again. Daddy still didn’t seem to understand. She was in the control room now where her Daddy worked. It was a busy tent, full of the people who ran the lights and explosions. He didn’t like her to come in there because the men would curse sometimes and they smoked a lot too. Daddy looked at her strangely. She knew that look. He didn’t believe her. “It’s a real boy and he’s stuck in the cage!” she explained trying to convince him of what she’d seen.

“In the pen?” Daddy asked.

“In the jail place” she said.

Stuart thought of Trenton immediately. He hadn’t been working for Johnson when that happened but he’d heard plenty about it. He leaned backed away from his console. Above him an improvised array of monitors showed camera angles from various points of the Fair. “Hey, Russell, we got a remote near the pig pen?” he asked. The man called Russell nodded and brought an image onto one of the screens. Stuart looked at the little figure huddled against the back wall of the pen. Was that a boy? It sure looked like a boy! Damn! He turned to his daughter.

“How’d you learn about this honey?”

Amanda smiled and held up her new toy. “The bear told me!”

“I told her,” the thing she had been cuddling said.

Stuart shook his head and rolled his eyes. Great! That’s all he needed now, Johnson finding a Supertoy in the control room.

“Amanda! Where’d you find...”

“Hey Stuart,” the man called Russell said urgently, “They’re taking the boy.” Stuart looked up at the monitor. A few of the pit-bulls had grabbed an old laborer model and another was moving for the boy. Jesus... couldn’t those idiots tell the difference?

“Sonofabitch!” he yelled forgetting his daughter’s presence. “Get ‘those assholes on the horn, Russell! Now!”

-12-

David watched terrified as the big men walked into the cage; grim faced giants in executioner’s black. They took the old funny face Mecha, hiking him up in their strong arms.

“My time is up already?” the Mecha asked. He had thought maybe he could go later. He had been such a service to the Orga for so long. He should have just a bit longer. But maybe this was better. He understood the rigorous time schedules Orga were always under. There was work to be done. “Goodbye everyone,” he said to the Mecha that had hid with him in the forest. It was time to go now.

David was watching the old Mecha being carried away when massive hands wrapped around his waist and lifted him.

The pit-bull was amazed at the realistic feel of the little Mecha. Damn it felt like a kid! But they said it had scanned cold. It was a ‘sim’ alright. He started for the gate.

David went into alarm. “Keepmesafekeepmesafekeepmesafe…” he recited urgently, struggling and kicking. But the man was too strong. David did not want to be destroyed! “Keepmesafekeepme..” he was not a robot. He was a little boy! He was David! He had a Mommy! “Keepmesafekeepmesafe…” He had a home! But the man walked towards the cage door and David knew what waited out there.

Another black clad man ran to the cage suddenly. He had a talking device attached to his head. “Not that one!” the man yelled excitedly. The pit-bull was actually relieved. There was something creepy in handling the boy-like thing. It was too real. The man tossed David back into the cage roughly. David was safe for the time being, but his alerted chant was not over. He ran back to the Mecha man and grabbed his arm. “Keepmesafekeepmesafe...” he repeated lower now as his urgency slowly faded.

Joe did not push the little one away. He did not understand the alarm that it displayed, but it was of no concern to him. Its grip was not damaging his arm, so he turned and watched the spectacle again. So this is what they did with the old rejects?

What, he wondered, did they want with him?

-13-

They had to stretch tonight because of the limit on Mecha. Cynthie was doing her bit onstage in between each explosion, reveling up the crowd, pitching Johnson’s spiel over and over. The band played a few extra cuts, winding the crowd up into a metal frenzy. Even the older more conservative members of the audience seemed to bop along with the cacophonic grooves. Because of their efforts to make up for the lack of Mecha, this might well prove to be one of the best shows yet.

A small procession made their way quickly though the cheering crowd. Amanda led her father and his friend, a woman from the control room, to the place she had see the boy. Russell had gotten on the horn and stopped the pit bulls just in time. They’d almost taken the boy out to the arena. Damn idiots! Stuart thought, no wonder Trenton had happened the way it did! Even the most primitive robots were smarter than those goons. If the boy was Orga, then no damage had yet been done. If it was Mecha… well, then he’d want to see this one for himself.

They came to the pit. The woman was on the hand comm, checking for any reports of lost children. She found none.

Amanda pointed into the cage. ”See! See!” she said. “I told you so.” Daddy knelt beside her. He could see the ‘boy’ standing inside with his back to them.

“Hey boy!” Stuart called. The little one didn’t turn. He was clasping the hand of a taller late model Mecha. “You! Boy!” he called again. This time the boy turned and faced them. Wow! This had to be a kid. “Hey kid, don’t be afraid. I ain’t gonna bite ya,” he said smiling, showing his open hands. Maybe the kid was some illegal who’d been caught in the net by the hounds. Those guys had their idiotic moments too. “C’mere... let me get a look at ya,” Stuart said in a friendly voice.

David didn’t really like the way the man looked. The little girl who had taken Teddy away was with him too. What did they want now? But David was an obedient boy after all. He walked slowly to the bars of the pen.

If this was Mecha, it was one hell of a job, Stuart thought. He pulled an X-scanner from his belt. These were much more dependable than the infra-scanner the hounds carried. He couldn’t believe that Johnson let anyone still use those things after Trenton. He pointed the gun shaped analyzer at the boy and the kid jumped at the sight of the thing.

David knew ‘gun’. Gun was for destroying! He started to go into alert mode but the man quickly put the gun down and smiled, holding his hands up in a posture of surrender.

“It wont hurt you. It won’t hurt you!” Stuart assured the kid. He started to point the scanner again but the boy jumped back again, poised to run. Stuart could hear the kid chanting something low under his breath. He turned to his daughter. “Watch,” he said to the frightened boy. He pointed the scanner at the little girl and pulled the trigger.

David saw the outline on the little girl’s face. The man passed the gun-thing over the girl’s body and David saw more lines and designs under her clothes. David didn’t know what he was seeing, he didn’t know about bone structure or skeletons, but he saw that the girl wasn’t injured so he calmed and allowed the man to point the gun thing at him. It lit up for a moment, glaring into his eyes, and David could not see the man behind the bright light. Then the light was gone. The thin dark haired man was staring at him. The man’s face was doing ‘shock’.

“You’re a machine!” he said in awe.

But David had a Mommy. Machines don’t have Mommies. “I’m a boy” he replied.

Amanda was excited. “Is he a toy boy?” she asked. Maybe they could have a toy boy. That would be fun. Then she could have a brother!

Stuart was perplexed and impressed. It didn’t know it was a machine? Or was that just a programmed response? What manner of artwork was this? And what the hell was it doing in the pen? “This is impossible,” Stuart said. They couldn’t destroy this thing. It was incredible.

“My name is David,” the Mecha said softly. What was that in his face? Stuart looked closer. What expression! What subtlety! And there was something else, something in the way it acted, its halting measured steps as it came to him. Was that genuine fear? Stuart had a feeling he was looking at something nobody here had ever seen before. He couldn’t let them destroy it.

“David, my name is Stuart,” he said. “You just wait here. Don’t be afraid. I’ll be right back.”

-14-

He had explained to them that he could still work. It was just that his lamp was broken. He had broken it on a girder at work and they had taken him to the forest and left him there. He was still functional, couldn’t they understand that?. But still the men had placed him on the wheel. They had secured his legs and arms and then left him. The wheel was lifted into the air so the crowd could see him. It was hoisted up by hydraulic pumps, the same kind he had once worked on. He knew what this wheel was for.

Below him another elder was being led into the arena by an Orga woman and two men in black. The other Mecha was covered by a blanket so he could not see where he was going. As the robot on the quartering wheel watched, one of the cyclists from the forest roared into the arena and sped towards the group. The Orga stepped away, yanking the blanket off just as the man on the cycle triggered his chainsaw into action.

In the moment before the old Mecha was sliced in two, in an explosion of electric fire, he looked up and saw his old friend from the forest. The two gazed at each other only for a split second. But time was different for them. Something passed between them in that instant. Something Orga did not know existed in Mecha. Was it understanding? Empathy?

Suddenly the wheel on which he had been suspended jerked into motion, pulling itself apart. It took his limbs apart with it. There was no pain, his receptors had been turned off in the cage, but there was something. Just before the world fizzed away in a sudden flash of chaotic signals and alarms, there was a flash of something bright.

-15-

The man called Stuart had told him not to be afraid, that he wouldn’t let the big men destroy him. But David was still afraid because Stuart had left him alone. And they had taken Teddy with them. One by one Mecha were being led out of the cage. They had gone peacefully, without complaint or argument. David had watched them be ripped apart; shot through flaming hoops of fire and smashed in the propellers of giant fans. It was too much for his mind to handle. The pain was a constant presence now. Behind it was a maze of complex data that needed to be sorted out later. But would there be a later?

Then Stuart had come back, and he’d brought another, a thick man in a black hat. He had a rugged face, a big round stomach and thin slits for eyes. Even though the man smiled, his face looked angry somehow.

Lord Johnson Johnson eyed the thing that the new man had brought him to see. Damn if it didn’t look like a real child! Why hadn’t he been told about this before? He sat on the ground next to the thing. It cringed away from him. What was this, fear; some new device to garner mercy? Not tonight, boyo… not tonight.

“This is the one I was talking about,” Stuart said, gesturing to David as if he was presenting an award. Johnson just grunted, staring at the ‘boy’ simulator. Stuart wondered if the look of fear in the robot’s face was having any effect on the Johnson. He’d never seen a Mecha do that before.

There was a quick scuffling behind them and both men turned to see a withered and broken looking robot trying to make its way toward them. All that remained of its head was its faceplate and its arms and torso were chipped tubes of metal covered by a deteriorating piece of cloth. A pit- bull was pulling it towards the door. Stuart noticed the boy-Mecha smiling at the old robot in some form of recognition.

“Let her go,” Stuart said. Johnson started to object, but his curiosity overcame him.

The Nanny came to them and knelt next to David. She had been constructed for very specific reasons and her brain functioned within well-defined parameters. But in her own fashion she realized now that he was not Orga, but was like her. She had also, finally understood what the proceedings tonight were about. She wished she could stay and protect him, but it was her time.

“Goodbye, David,” she said smiling gently. She’d never known how to frown. David watched as the pit-bulls led her away. They were going to destroy her. Why? What was the pattern? The two Orga men did not see what was behind the exchange between the Mecha. Orga, in their presumptive arrogance, rarely noticed such things.

After the old robot was gone, Stuart cupped David’s chin in his hand. “No one builds children.. no one I know of anyway,” he said, feeling the precise rendering of jaw line and musculature beneath David’s skin. “What would be the point?” he wondered aloud. David pulled away from the man’s investigation. He watched the pit-bulls leading the Nanny into the arena. Stuart thought perhaps it was programmed to attach to symbols of security. Maybe some manner of familiarity routines that made it connect with the maternally programmed Nanny? Perhaps.

Johnson harrumphed, eyeing the Mecha. He pushed his wide black hat back on his head. “Could be a custom job. Maybe some rich and lonely scardie-pusses pretend child.”

“I’m a custom job!” a gruff mechanical voice boomed. The men turned. It was an old Mecha whose face was displayed in a vid-port secured in its extended neck. “Seventy five years ago I was Time Magazine’s Mecha of the Year!” it claimed. Johnson sneered and turned his back on the old thing.

“No… this is pretty specialized,” Stuart said. He pulled on its chin, trying to make the Mecha look at him. But its eyes followed the Nanny model, as it was lead to the bag toss. “Maybe its some kind of prototype? It’s first rate work. A lotta love went into him.”

David watched the strong men lead the Nanny to the large slab of metal. Blinking lights danced around its circular edge. It looked like a ‘fun’ place. Other robots had been taken to these things but they had been out of his line of site. He did not see what happened to them there. The men had moved this display to the center of the arena and David could see as they had chained her to it. The people in the bleachers cheered when she was strapped against the thing.

“David,” Stuart said. The Mecha finally looked at him. “You are one of a kind, do you know that?” Did it know? There seemed to be intelligence behind the frightened gaze. Something in there was reasoning above and beyond the call of its immediate function. “Who made you?” he asked.

David’s mind got stuck in the same place as when Martin had questioned him in what seemed like another life. Who was he; this, which was made? Like Martin’s probing, the problem with the man’s question was in understanding who he was. He was David, a boy. Right? Who made boys?

“My Mommy made me,” he replied.

“Ahh, her, womb was your factory eh?” Lord Johnson-Johnson winked at Stuart. “One of those built to aspire to the human condition,” he sneered. He had heard this before, or at least he convinced himself that this was no different from the claims of Orga-ness that he heard from other Mecha. But he was wrong. No other machine had decided its nature based on self-defining logic. But, as ever, Johnson was not swayed by his lack of insight. “What is the name of your maker? Serve US? Easy living?” he probed. The robot did not respond. “Robby Ville? Simulate City? Cybertronics? Sidekicks?”

“Monica is my Mommy!” David said finally.

Johnson pondered this a moment. He nodded at Stuart and the men left the Mecha sitting by the bars, still watching the Nanny.

She smiled at him from where she stood bound within the metal circle, and for a moment David was taken away from the inexplicable destroying he had seen. He thought of the sounds she had made at him earlier, the ‘song’ she had sung to him softly. It had reminded him of Mommy’s gentle voice. David smiled back at the Nanny. Above her, men were pouring something into the buckets balanced atop the large oval display.

“So what’s your point?” Johnson asked when they were away from the Mecha.

Stuart was nonplused by Johnson’s obvious lack of understanding of what they’d just witnessed. The Mecha’s insistence that it was born of Orga had caught his attention but Johnson didn’t seem to get it. Something was strange here. Did it know it was Mecha?

“Don’t you see...” he started. “I mean, the thing thinks it’s Orga.”

Johnson waved his hand to dismiss the point. “Easy enough to program. I fail to see the importance of that particular gimmick.”

“I think it’s more than that,” Stuart said quickly. “And did you see the work on the body design. I can’t see a seam on him. And the infrastructure, the skin texture. It’s amazing! Aren’t you at least curious about it?”

“The lover model looks seamless enough. You don’t seem concerned about that one.” Johnson humphed.

Stuart shook his head. “I know that series. Seen them before. This is different. I have never seen anything like this. I mean the facial expressions alone; don’t they tell you that this is a piece of art?”

David watched as the Orga in the stands started throwing little hard things at the small circular extensions of metal from the sides of the oval to which the Nanny was strapped. Was it a game? What was in the buckets? What were they trying to accomplish? What would happen if...

An audience member finally struck the bulls-eye and the acidic metal solvent fell down upon the Nanny. David watched horrified as the acid ate her alive. She still smiled at him. She smiled until her face had melted into a running mass of metallic clumps. As her mind fizzled into the black void, she smiled to the little Mecha, that he should be brave and not afraid of what was their lot. She had not been programmed for any thought like this.

David watched her frame dissolve until it was shoots of metal ‘bone’ burnt down to the waist. Smoke and sparks were rising from what was left of her. He was afraid again.

“You thinking of not putting him in the show?” Johnson asked. That’s when Stuart realized that his boss was an irrational zealot.

“Something as original as this you don’t toss out with the rest of the garbage!” he said in an angrier tone than he’d intended. But Johnson didn’t seemed upset by this insubordination. He made his usual sneer, and reached into his coat pocket.

“Well, I say originality without purpose is a white elephant, but if money is your purpose,” he folded a wad of new-bucks into Stuart’s hand, “Here’s your refund. My compliments!” Stuart watched unbelieving as Lord Johnson-Johnson grabbed David’s perfect little arm and began to drag him from the cage towards the arena. ‘What beautiful work,’ he thought. What a waste. What an idiot!

David felt the big man take his wrist and pull him towards the exit of the cage. What was he doing? Where were they going? Then he knew; to the destroying place. But he was like them wasn’t he; The Mecha? He had to find help, but Nanny was gone... who would protect him now? Who would... then he saw the man Mecha standing by the edge of the cage, the elegant one in the black suit. He reached out desperately and took the machines’s hand. “keepmesafekeepmesafe” he began.

Joe had been watching the destruction of the rejects. He had no reaction to this. They had obviously outlived their purpose. The Orga were probably going to scrap them for new parts. That’s what they did. Then suddenly someone grabbed his hand again. He looked down and saw that it was the same little boy that had grabbed him before. He quickly realized that this wasn’t a boy at all. That was interesting. What now?

Johnson ignored the fake boy when it had started mumbling something under its breath. Then he felt its resistance. Johnson paused and looked back. The boy had grabbed a hold of the Lover-Mecha’s hand and was trying to pull itself back into the cage. Johnson ignored how real the heated little palm felt against his own. “Let go of it!” he ordered the lover thing.

Joe tried to comply with the Orga’s command, but the little Mecha had a vice-like grip on his hand. It was muttering something rapidly. Was that the ‘fear’ look? Very ‘convincing’! Very ‘Orga’! But the grip was pure Mecha. “I cannot,” Joe said.

Let go now!” Johnson yelled. He didn’t tolerate uppity robots.

“I’m trying, sir. He won’t let go,” Joe said.

“Well suit yourself,” Johnson said and yanked so hard that Joe was pulled along with David.

Stuart followed the struggling trio out of the cage. “What are you going to do with him?” he yelled.

“I’m gonna put him where he belongs,” Johnson sneered, “In show business!”

Joe heard the man refer to show business. He knew ‘show business’! He’d seen plenty of that in the City! So that was why they had him here! “Well it was certainly my good fortune running into you!” Joe said as he let himself be dragged along with the little Orga-looking thing.

Keepmesafekeepmesafe” David’s plea rose in intensity. His eyes made a futile plea to Joe who did not seem to realize what was happening. They passed some men who were dragging something ruined and broken through the dirt. David recognized the dark cloth that had once wrapped her old frame. He let out a cry and fell to the ground trying to resist the big man’s pull. “Keepmesafekeepmesafe” But it made no difference. He was only 60 pounds. The massive Johnson dragged him along in the dirt and Joe followed willingly, oblivious to the doom that awaited them both at the hands of the hungry mob.


 

 

 

 

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