Adapted from the film A.I. by Bryan Harrison
I think they will put him in the show, she said sadly. But you can stay with me now, she smiled. The little bears neck made whirring sounds as it looked around. It struggled in her grip. I must see David! it said over and over. Amanda had never seen a toy act like this before. I must see David, it demanded again, in its gruff mechanical bark. You must take me to David now! At first the toys insistence made her feel sad. But slowly it began to scare her.
They had come from as far as Allentown, Trenton and the partially submerged remains of Montclair to see the show, The Flesh Fair! The Celebration of Life! They knew about Trenton and the Orga man who had been split open and killed in the Mecha Masher. Theyd forgiven The Johnson for that. It could not have been intentional. And the man was just a drifter after all, one who did not earn his lot. That kind made life as difficult as the Mecha had!
Some had come because they believed The Johnson was the spokesman for their kind; champion of the lost and forgotten Orga that held society together at its roots; those that the ungrateful and selfish wealthy had not found a way to replace. Yet.
Others were here because there wasnt much left for them in this ruined world but hard toil, hard drink and a few Mecha to screw up over the weekend.
They were all colors and faiths. Nor did age determine this demographic. Among them were those who had been replaced by mechanical workers and even those who had benefited from the cheap labor of man-made slaves. No criterion save that of anger and resentment, often justifiable, could be used to define them.
All of them wanted a show, and what a show the good Lord Johnson Johnson was giving them tonight! The band had been better than usual. Cynthie, that beautiful blonde pride of the Orga, had paraded about, waving their banner, and made speech after speech, working the faithful and fun loving alike into a frenzy. And while it seemed that there were fewer Mecha than usual, each ones disposal was treated like a small celebration of its own.
Now, to top off the evening, the man himself made an entrance. It was The Johnson! The crowd stood and applauded and cupped their eyes to see into the shadows behind the bag-toss display. He had a new prize for them; two of them, it looked like. They couldnt see it clearly, but one of them looked like a new model; one of them lover robots, perhaps. This outghta be a riot! The crowd broke into an excited roar. Scantly clad assistants tossed little sandbags to the crowd, whose arms reached out like the necks of ravenous nestlings craning for their mothers regurgitated nourishments.
Up here honey! Stuart called. He had led Amanda from the control room and was lifting her little frame onto a platform near the stage. In the arena below, Johnson was addressing the crowd. Stuart had considered just taking the amazing little Mecha. But he was out-manned. Hed thought then about enlisting the aid of some of his crew, but they had wives and children and homes to attend to. Theyd never challenge Johnson. He even considered paying one of audience members to claim that it belonged to them. Being property would surely protect this unique device. But finally he realized it was all fantasy. One of the most ingenious pieces of work he had ever seen was about to be destroyed for a raucous crowd of drunks and misfortunates, who would never even appreciate the genius of its design.
But what had Stuart wanted from the boy-machine? He had been a programmer years ago. He fell in love with designing personality parameters, defining the intellectual and logical limits that were necessary to make a machine act real. And thats why he had immediately recognized the difference in the boy. Even in their brief conversation he had seen the way its logic functioned differently from the other machines. But Stuart had never felt any attachment to Mecha. He was angry and hurt. But he didnt know why.
Wasnt there something about this one? He would swear there was something. When he was looking at it, into its innocent gaze... something was looking back. He shrugged that thought off. It was silly and impossible. Then he saw the Teddy in Amandas arms. It was still protesting. It wouldnt shut up about the David thing. How was such a bond developed between them? Where had these things come from?
Amanda, let me talk to the Teddy for a minute, OK? he said reaching for the bear.
The little girl reluctantly let her father take the struggling toy. You must let me talk to David now! it repeated over and over. Stuart knew these old models. If it functioned as a smart toy regulator, then it should know manufacturers and possibly models.
Who is Davids maker? Stuart asked the Supertoy.
The Teddy ceased it complaints suddenly. It looked at Stuart while it processed this question. Then its face folded into a grimace of impatience.
Monica, is Davids Mommy, it replied.
David was dropped rudely by the angry man with the big black hat. He fell into the dirt and closed his eyes to protect them from the dust raised by his fall. When he opened them again he noticed the money that had fallen out of the pocket of his jacket. The last thing that Mommy had had to offer him was laying in the dirt. He moved to retrieve his new-bucks, but another man, even bigger and stronger than the first, lifted him quickly and placed him in the spotlights on the big metal stand.
The pit-bull thrusts the Lover-bot onto the platform with the little one. A double feature! The two lifelike simulants were then bound to the display with chains, the little one shackled in front of the larger, while the Orga in the darkness beyond the blinding spotlights cheered and whooped!
But not all of the crowd continued cheering. Some of them had been silenced by the sight of the small boy-like thing that had been hoisted into the lights of the acid bath.
Lord Johnson-Johnson stepped before the crowd and waved an arm to silence them. They were excited, his followers, so it took a minute for them to settle. He could not see beyond the spotlights that bathed the arena in a florescent glow, but he knew who they were in the dark beyond those lights. They were the forgotten ones; the pushed out and angry ones. They had a right to be angry. And they were about to get angrier. He was going to make sure of that.
Ladies and Gentlemen! Boys and girls and Children of all ages! he started, for he was after all, a showman. He turned and gestured to the Mecha that were chained to the boards. This was going to be his show stopping finale. But there were a few oldies in the pen still. Just in case this wasnt enough. .
Whatll they think of next?! he asked them as they viewed the simulants. He let them study the two for a moment.
See here! he pointed at David. A boy bot! A tinker toy! A living doll! He was silent for a moment while the crowd absorbed the sight of the little Mecha. He heard some gasps and a few oh-my-gawds from beyond the lights. It must be the Trenton thing again. Dammit! He knew there was going to be some squawkers among them but didnt know how many. Perhaps they would probably take to the little Mecha at first. Hed seen himself how well it simulated emotions. But hed show them the kind of commitment it would take to save themselves from the scourge of artificiality. He threw his hat off in a dramatic gesture.
We all know why they made them! he shouted. To steal your hearts, to replace your own children! He began to pace the arena. He was going to capture them. Bring them into his anger and make it theirs; because thats where it belonged. In them!
This is the latest generation in a series of insults to human dignity! He was walking quickly now around the arena, addressing each section of the stands. His face was shown in the huge monitors. He was their hero; their leader.
The next step in their grand scheme to phase out all of Gods little children. To make US obsolete! He had them now. He could hear their breath. He could feel their pulse racing, as his was. Their hatred was his electricity; the power which drove his machinery.
Meet the next generation of child, designed to do just that! He stopped finally, his pace perfectly timed to bring him back to the display. Behold the newest and most insidious threat to Orga kind.
The Orga in the stands saw it. Observed it carefully. What was this; a little boy? They knew that the derelicts hid on the outskirts with the runaway Mecha. What if they had grabbed one of the vagabond kids by accident? That aint Mecha, someone whispered, Remember Trenton, someone else. There was confusion, indecision about this.
David gazed into the darkness beyond the lights. The crowd was silent now, just some soft muttering is all he could hear. This fear inside him had reached a new level. He, like no other robot before him, anticipated his demise. Beyond the lights lay the source of an inexplicable hatred that David had never seen, did not understand; that no Mecha would ever comprehend. Humanity itself had yet to answer the question: From whence does this hatred come?
Above David a man was pouring the acid, that would reduce him to fibrous clumps, into the buckets,; the liquid that would take from the world a truly unique creation, and take from David something that no Mecha before him had ever known.
Lord Johnson Johnson, self-appointed savior of Mankind, recognized the tenderness in the hesitancy of his disciples. But he knew what insidious plot lay at the heart of this ingenious simulator. Do not be fooled by the artistry of this creation! he warned them, and fixed them all with the uncompromising glare that had burned a path through whatever obstacles had stood in his way since Dublin. No doubt there was talent. Genuine human talent...in the crafting of this simulator! Yet, with the very first strike, you will see the big lie come apart!
Something struck the arm of Davids jacket softly. A drop had slipped prematurely from the can above him; just a tiny bit of the toxic fluid they would use to take his life. David heard something hissing and looked at the arm on his coat where it had landed. It was burning. Why was it burning? He looked up and saw the man filling the buckets. The image of the Nannys melting face alerted though his brain. This was the destroying place!
DONT BURN ME! DONT BURN ME! he cried, IM NOT PINOCCHIO! DONT MAKE ME DIE! IM DAVID! IM DAVID! He didnt belong here. This was the place for robots. He was David. He was a boy!
A startled woman stood up from the crowd. What the hell was that? Was that a child? The small helpless thing cried and screamed like Orga! Mecha dont plead for their lives! she yelled. Some people stood and grunted acknowledgment around her, Whose child is that? another screamed, He looks like a boy! yelled another.
IM DAVID! I HAVE A MOMMY! David yelled, his face twisted in fear and desperation.
This thing was well constructed, Johnson realized. Clever the way it tried to steal their hearts. He would show them how to do it. Its built like a boy to disarm us! he countered. See how they imitate our emotions now?! He thought he had them again. They were silent, spellbound. Behind him the Mecha cried and sputtered fearful gibberish like a living thing. But they would see. They would see.
Remember that, no matter what performance this sim puts on, we are only demolishing artificiality! There was not a sound to be heard except the whimpering of the phony boy thing. Johnson picked up a bag from the ground and held it high. The destruction of this machine would be the symbol of their commitment;
Their commitment to a world of, by and for Orga;
Their commitment to life and to all living things;
Let he who is without sim cast the first stone, he said and stepped away from the killing zone.
There was silence. No one moved. Johnson could not see beyond the lights, could not read their faces. He waited.
Eventually one of them stood and took aim.
He was a simple man. He came to the Flesh Fair because he knew the frustration of the modern age and what it had done to Orga-kind. He was a farmer. Like Johnson had done so long ago, hed built his small farm with his bare hands. He couldnt afford the Mecha. Every year it was a struggle to keep up with the big Mecha based business, which were stealing more and more of the limited local markets in their greedy pursuit of the world markets. Even those who hated the robots, bought from the big corporate chains now. The prices were just too good.
Hed been at the faire in Trenton when that man had died. In the ensuing months hed seen the reprisals and the attacks on The Johnson. Hed felt bad about it because hed always believed that the Johnson was a good man. Tonight hed watched them big ol pit bulls lead the scared looking machine from the cage and onto the display. Hed watched them chain the little fake thing onto the wheel. All the while Johnson had been explaining to them about how dangerous this thing was, hed been listenin. Hed been listenin when the thing had started cryin too. When Johnson had called for them to strike at the pathetic simulator, hed stood up in the crowd. Hed taken careful aim.
Hed always believed Johnson was a good man. And that he had a point. But this man had a point too; a point that he would not go beyond.
He let the bag fly.
The first bag hit Johnson square in the forehead, and it hurt! His arm moved to deflect the strike, but too late. Damn idiot farmers! he thought. Whoa there! is what he said into the mike though. He smiled up at the stands to show he understood it was a mistake. That was when another bag hit him. This one caught his nose and caused him to see stars, a bright pain flared in his head. Then another hit him just below the waist causing him to buckle. Then another and another and soon he was being pelted from all directions of the arena. They roared at him. Johnson youre a monster! and hes just a boy! and whats enough Johnson? they wanted to know.
What in the hell was wrong with them?! He shouted out at them. Its a machine you idiots! A toy! but his voice was lost in the rage of disapproval and incredulity from those hed imagined to be his loyal and trusting disciples. Never had the Johnson so severely misread an audiences silence! Theyd been incredulous that he would destroy something so helpless; so fragile. So what if it was Mecha? Even from the stands they could plainly see it wasnt like the others! It wasnt trying to steal their jobs! Take their money! It wasnt out to exploit their wives or husbands weaknesses .It was a just little boy! Somebody had wanted love and The Johnson had been too blind to see it. Too selfish to care! They stormed out of the stands and onto the arena floor.
Cynthie had started walking backwards from the arena when shed seen the first bag hit Johnson. Shed had an uneasy feeling about the crowds silence as the stupid pit-bulls led the little boy Mecha into the field. Johnson was such a pompous fool! He really thought he could go as far as he wanted. As the audience stormed into the arena, she turned and hurried away. She ran as she came to the shadows behind the bleachers. As she made her way to the dressing rooms to get her stuff, she passed the band who were already packing their gear.
Need a ride baby? the singer asked. His eyes were appraising her. With that silly metal mask off he wasnt that bad.
Let me get my stuff, she yelled racing to her dressing room. There was always another gig!
Stuart had heard about Mommys flight and their trip through the forest. He was amazed when he heard about the Blue Fairy and Davids quest. Teddy had explained in short precise sentences as Johnson had been ranting in the arena. Stuart had been prepared for one of the most dismal nights in his life. He was ready to watch that poor beautiful piece of machinery destroyed by a lunatic. Then he blinked in amazement as the crowd suddenly began pelting Johnson with the bags. His heart jumped. Yes! he yelled. He grabbed Amanda. Honey, you say good bye to Teddy. his daughter looked up sadly, but she understood. She was happy the boy-toy wasnt going to be burnt up like the others and she knew that the Teddy was his friend, but se hated to see them go.
Gbye Teddy, she said, her little voice breaking and the tears starting to flow.
Goodbye Amanda, Teddy responded.
Stuart kissed his daughter quickly, took the bear and raced onto the field. He had to get there before some idiot accidentally knocked the acid over and ruined one of the best creations hed ever had the privilege of meeting. 30 minutes ago he would have been more worried about the resulting lawsuits against Johnson if someone should get hurt in the fray, but to hell with the bastard now. This was probably the end of the Flesh Fair, the end of his job. Hed be on the hunt for work again with all the other struggling sys-ops, but he hadnt felt this good in a long time.
David did not understand what was happening. His sense of alarm had diminished when he saw the multitude from beyond the lights race onto the field and began knocking things over. They roared and threw things at the big men in black who retreated quickly at the imposing onslaught Had he misunderstood them? This was not the same as the destroying he had witnessed earlier. He pressed himself tighter against the man-Mecha behind him.
Suddenly the man called Stuart, was beside him again. He was smiling and looked excited.
Joe had finally understood what was to happen. In his own way he knew his troubles would be over soon enough. He only wished that hed had time to shut off his sensory system. But Joe had not understood the Orga like noises and pleading the little one made. He had listened in perplexed silence at the display. He was glad, however to see the affect the crying game had on the crowd. They were not going to be scrapped tonight. He smiled at the Orga man who had started trying to untie them.
Stuart had one of the men take the buckets of acid down so no one would get burned. Help me get them out of here you oafs! Stuart yelled at the pit-bulls as he struggled with the chains. The huge men in black were dumbfounded at the response of the crowd. Some of them had fled. Others had rushed Johnson off to safety as the riot had begun, but otherwise theyd had no appropriate response to the situation.
Lets get him out now, before they tear this place apart! Stuart yelled. Finally the men saw his point and they began yanking chains loose.
The Mechas were quickly set free and Stuart set the Teddy on the ground next to the special Mecha. He took one last look at the boy. He wished he had time to study it; time to understand what made it different from anything hed ever seen. But he figured the machine David, had his own mission. His own dream. Amazing.
Get outta here! Run! Stuart yelled at David and his friends. The odd trio looked around in confusion for a moment and then fled towards the gates, away from the crowd of rampaging Orga. They left behind the wreckage of those who hadnt been designed suitably to elicit sympathy. The destruction of the older decrepit machines was another pitiful chapter in an ancient Orga farce.
But they were alive. Between the three, David was the only one capable of mourning the fallen Mecha. But David had other things on his mind.
They ran past the gates and into the dark night. The deep gloomy forest was a welcome sight, offering shadows in which to hide. Behind them the sounds of fighting and confusion rose and spiraled to a crescendo. The robots ran, leaving the Flesh Fair behind them. Leaving behind another fallen Orga hero to face his fate.