The Night Of The Rose
A short fiction

By Bryan Harrison

based on characters / concepts established in the film
Artificial Intelligence

and other works *

 

“Awaken my love, that I may touch you, that I may hold you,” he beckons as the clamorous daylight falls into purple whispers, hushed by the unceasing rhythm of night and day and night, anon, “that we may dance and time cease to be, whisked into the blurred happenstance at the borders of our union.”

Slumbering in the symmetry beyond the encoded divide of their separate worlds, she feels the caress of his call, and responds. Bits incited; bytes, mega, giga and tera, excited, she opens her eyes and begins this process as if for the first time, as like every time he calls.

And she stood then, at first balanced precariously on the ledge of his teary adoration, then tucked securely into his grasp and borne into the room, adrift on the waltzing waves of sound that flowed from across the turn of centuries to flood through the shadows cast by intermittent beams of fading light; glowing, through the great window, the cadence of their dominion.

Yet his tears were not quelled as darkness fell upon them, and he held her as close as his own heart, wondering if it was his face she saw when she gazed up from the cradle of his arms, and smiled? Was it her smile that shone up at him as they drifted in the ebb and flow of his maddened tempo?

Aglow was his room, dazed in moonlight glossing dim grey strands against the night as they wove this ancient dance, to and fro and to and fro, mingling hands and glances to chase the frothing troubles of the world away.

“Roan?” came a sound from the anxious realm of that restless domain.

“Sleep now, my sweet,” he requests as the world asserts itself, again, intruding unexpected and unwelcome from the unfocused periphery of their dance. “I must see to this matter,” he explains, unnecessarily, as she lays on the bed and closes her eyes, retreating once more to the peaceful place beyond the virtual horizon; still now, until his voice awakens her again.

“Silence” he requested, and the waltzing refrain relaxed its embrace on the room, retreating into the dark. “Light,“ he commanded and the golden-brown shellacked façade of the room, gleaming ode to antiquity and tradition, was revealed in a warm florescence. The knowledge of ages sits hardbound, anachronistic, in silent rows above the veins of the digital fortress that is his study.

“Mohammed,” he responded, suppressing annoyance at the world’s tedious intrusions, “what can I do for you?”

“You can let me in for starters,” Mohammed demanded in the faint trace of a clipped Indo-British roll of the tongue, feigning indignation. There was the briefest consideration before Roan requested the outer portal to allow his old friend passage.

“How have you been,” they say at once, and Roan is immediately apologetic, grateful, as they embrace. Silver grey heads meet, and hands pat backs bent from the brunt of age and countless hours of research. “Old friend,” each repeats and their eyes stay locked in a moment balanced cautiously on the borders of their comfort.

“I was just … doing some research,” Roan lied when they untangled, but knew at once that his friend understood. Old men. Old wounds.

“How is she?” Mohammed smiled, understanding, his eyes bright against the rusty desert-gold of his face. Roan smiled a reluctant confession and led his friend to the place where she lay, silent, unaware, for the time, of their waning world. “She is precious,” the man sighed and gripped his old friend gently by the shoulder. “Are you ok?” he asked over Roan’s uncharacteristic silence.

Roan nodded soundlessly, the wrinkled, pale flesh of his forehead creased in a reflection awaiting release. “I worry,” he admitted finally, his ancient eyes set on someplace in the panorama outside his window, perhaps on the distant city glittering across the horizon, the statuesque heads of its gates beckoning a silent, lascivious invitation. “What will happen to her when I am gone?” Roan finished, pronouncing his concern, as the men made their way to the couch where they sat quietly for moments pondering the maze of this dilemma.

“He owes you so much,” Mohammed said, breaking the grim silence. “He will care for her,” he assured. “He must!’ he asserted, stronger, when the assurance did not seem sufficient to lift his friend’s mood. “Put it in your will! We can make the arrangements tonight!”

“There is no document stronger than the greed of men,” Roan muttered, his lips pressed into a thin, sardonic sneer. This was not an utterance of some bitter whim, but a truth borne from the pains of a thorn still imbedded and stinging. His old and scholarly friend could think of no evidence with which to counter this observation, so silence ensued again.

“I remember when you met, the time she danced at our wedding,” Mohammed reminisced aloud, breaking the silence, and the memory ushered Roan’s weary heart out from the shadows, leaving him laughing for the first time in days. “Can you recall that day?” Mohammed asked, rhetorically, over his friend’s sudden mirth.

Memories of young love linger, and he sees the blurred pink and blue and gold of her dress, smells the jasmine incense on the air as she swirled across the floor to catch the bouquet and alight finally in his lap. She pecked a quick innocent kiss on his cheek before moving away, pirouetting through the laughing crowd to the newlyweds, Mohammed and Kyra, who embraced her and made their way to the limousine. From his lap he had retrieved the solitary white rose, fallen in the wake of her escape, and held it to his face, breathing deep the fragrance that made captive his heart, the scent that would never leave him. The recollection is as fresh as the pain of her untimely loss.

“She dances still,” Roan said, and his eyes, sober now, peer at the sleeping replica. Her face. Her smile. Frozen in a time 40 years gone. “And she will continue, far beyond the time I have left in this world.” He eyed his friend and the irrationality of his concern for this machine lay naked in his withered gaze. “He owes me ethically, my friend, but I owe him legally. He can, and will, lay claim to her. I must keep him from abusing her, from using her as some cheap side show attraction!” He stood, sputtering incoherently, enraged at the depth of his vulnerability before the arrogance of such mundane aspirations. Mohammed rose, concerned, as Roan pounded his fist against his desk, scattering discs and scraps of paper decorated with ornate schematics of a future he’d never see. “What were all these years of work for?”

Mohammed leaned back into the cushions as his friend’s rage subsided in a bout of bitter coughing. He let his mind drift out past their reflections in the window, past the distant, lusty glitter of Rouge City, over the sunken remains of ancient townships, to the place where the wandering water gushes in torrents from the great eyes of silent, regal specters.

“There might be a way,” he said when Roan’s breath had calmed. “I believe there is an auction tomorrow? No?” Roan twisted his head around to gaze a silent question. “Well,” Mohammed explained, “There is something being offered that I believe our friend has expressed some interest in, right?” He shrugged and smiled a conspiratorial wink. “I wonder if he knows about it. Don’t you?”

_____

“And what, would you say, is a fundamental contradiction of the neo-fatalist paradigm?”

The young man donned a light smile, rested his chin in his palm and raised an eyebrow, examining the face of the man across the table. It was an aging, wise face, full of hidden, ambiguous agendas. He fixed his inquisitor with a cautious gaze for moments before he answered.

“A King at ancient crossroads,” he intoned, with a quick wink, “setting in motion events no human skill could foresee, yet juxtaposed perfectly against the parameters of his crime.”

“The blind mocking blindness, yes,” the man acknowledged from across the mahogany divide. “An academic response, Theo, and somehow disturbing.”

The young man smiled and glanced away, his lips pursed to contain a chuckle.

“I would have considered apropos something about the quantum paradox of past and future, which is the fulcrum of the neo-fatalist belief system,” the man said, tapping his fingers impatiently on the table.

“And you suggest that my response was academic?” Theo responded. “Paradox indeed.”

The man with the questions smiled and leaned back into his chair. He gazed out past Theo for moments, his eyes set on the great window at the end of the room. “It’s raining again,” he pointed out. Theo turned and watched the grey skies release their condensed reserves, pondering the patterns of energy moving eternally from one state of activity to another; tears of the world, as if something beyond the sky shielded by that grey dome has opened, feeding tomorrow’s joys and miseries without apparent judgment, apparent concern. Yet, somehow, within the coarse confines of these states, judgment is born? Conscience?

“What were you thinking?” the man asked.

Theo didn’t respond at first. His handsome features were obscured in the shadows of the room for an indistinguishable time. Then he turned.

“I think it was a poem,” he said finally.

“Beautiful,” the man said with a note of genuine satisfaction. “Do you want to share it with me?”

Theo frowned at this and shook his head slowly. “No.” he said flatly, “It’s not … ready yet.” Then he turned to face the man fully and locked his eyes. “A fundamental contradiction of the neo-fatalist model of quantum determination,” he said confidently, “lies between the irrationality of the belief that fate can be controlled and the extent to which the influence that such irrational belief has been exemplified to effect potentiality.”

The man did not respond at first. “Fact and fairy tale,” he said finally, in acknowledgement. Silence ensued. The man’s face indicated a serious pondering of these points. Then he offered, “Another contradiction is, perhaps, that the past is the only place we can look to see if, in fact, the future has been influenced.”

“Design flaw,” Theo responded quickly. The man let out unguarded laughter, uncharacteristic of him. Theo joined in, dismissing the social convention of not laughing at one’s own jest.

“Are you ready for tomorrow night?” the man asked when the humor had subsided.

“Yes,” Theo replied.

“And you understand why…” the man stopped and waved his hand to indicate the myriad of explanations that had already been discussed in earlier conversations.

Theo nodded his head.

“I’ll miss our conversations,” the man said, in a rare moment of emotional intimacy, “and no matter where you wind up, feel free to call whenever you wish to talk.”

“Do you think my preference could influence the matter?” Theo asked, not entirely in jest.

“Allen,” came a soft voice from the darkness on the periphery of their conversation, interrupting the man’s response. He turned to regard the dark, intelligent features of the woman standing at the doorway. “Grace,” he smiled. “What is it?”

“You have a call from a Roan,” she said, shrugging to show her unfamiliarity with the name. Allen Hobby smiled and nodded.

“Thank you,” he said, and turned to Theo. “I want to take this call in private, if you please.” The young man nodded and executed ‘understanding smile’. Then he set himself to standby while his creator chatted with an old friend.

_____

The Baron paced brisk strides along the endurance trail, razor gaze slicing through the space before him, thin black scar of mustache across his sallow face, bloodless lips mouthing commands as blunt as the edge of a coin.

“Buy,” he says to remote minions, then “Next,” and “Scrap” and “Sell,” he finally settles the matter and disconnects, then reconnects to a new prospect as he strides into another lap. Stocks rise and fall on the prosthetic screen patched before his face, waves of commerce potentiality rolling and freezing to particle stagnation in the blunt-force glare of his all-consuming eye.

Solicited by a servant at the end of the field, he stops, pens his name on the offered screen and tolerates the flickering yellow beam that probes his silver-grey iris to verify the claim. Another acquisition accomplished. “Thank you, sir,” the machine intones in simulated courtesy, retrieves the screen and retreats to the sidelines as the Baron steps into another lap beneath the giant translucent dome. Beyond the rose-tinted barrier, Rogue City gleams in the sun’s forgiving glow; shimmering, to the Baron’s eye, the promise of fortunes yet to be amassed. And round and round he goes, arms flailing vapid dramatics as he engages distant strangers in dark negotiations wherein the fates of innocents are bartered and sold.

A call interrupts a transaction and an image unfolds on the screen before his eye. A small chubby man is depicted, eyes as bright as his genius, face as brown as the desert he once called home.

“Hello, my friend,” the Baron dons a jovial façade, better to keep beneficial associations intact. “To what do I owe this… strangely timed communication?”

The man speaks quickly, his words clipped in the faint trace of his dialect as he imparts stunning information. When he is through the Baron disconnects his line and loses himself in thought.

“Ring me Roan Anderson,” he commands eventually, and sees the man’s bio-graph against the thin screen before his scouring eye. He hears the line flick open and ring, and ring, and Roan answers finally. Weakly. Old man.

“Roan,” the Baron greets, as suddenly cheerful as his seasoned predation demands. “It’s good to hear that you are doing well. I was concerned for your health, you know.”

Roan, apparently as appreciatory of tradition as the Baron himself, patiently observes the ritual and there is an exchange of banter before business ensues.

“Hobby is placing the Theo for auction tonight,” he whispers, finally, as if this is some exclusive confidence. “But for museum donors only!” he laments with a little more drama than he’d intended. “Such a stunning piece of machinery, you know,” he points out rhetorically, inciting a string of hearty acknowledgements from the aged Mecha designer. He is surprised at the man’s bright demeanor. The Baron’s legal claim to his treasured dancing doll, Sophie, has lately proven to be such a tax on their relationship as to make casual conversation all but impossible. But perhaps he has put it all behind, the Baron reasons and quickly dismisses the matter.

When Roan is quiet, the Baron waits a strategic beat, and then says, “He should be mine, you know. I should, at least, be allowed to bid! After all I’ve done for Allen… for him to treat me so! It’s shameful!” He waits for Roan’s conciliatory meandering to subside and continues. “Well, Roan, you know the man better than anyone,” the Baron observes casually, the slightest hint of conspiracy dangling behind his words. “What can I do to… persuade your old friend, old friend?”

Then the man turned off his stock analyzer and listened carefully while Roan - the man whose loyalty he had abused for years, and whose treasures he had manipulated away under the cloak of legal recompense - suggested a plan whereby he could acquire Theo, the pinnacle of Allen Hobby’s private designs, and the focus of the Baron’s most recent obsession.

______

Roan set the antique mouthpiece back in its cradle. “That was easier than I’d anticipated,” he said. “And much harder,” he added, tired from the effort of suppressing his disdain, uncomfortable with the depths of manipulation in which this plight had thrust him.

“And he will be at the auction?” Mohammed inquired, propped excitedly on the edge of the couch. Roan nodded his weary grey head, confirming that the initial element of their plan was in effect. He gazed a moment on the sleeping replica. Then, while Mohammed chortled in delight at the success of their trickery, he walked across his study to pause a pensive moment before unlocking the door to the room where the pains of his past were framed in luminescent depictions. Her eyes gazed from every shelf and wall of this place. From a glass chest he extracted, ever so gently, the truest token of her memory, embalmed for as long as the love it symbolized would reside in him: for eternity.

It was the solitary white rose that fell in the wake of her departure at their first meeting. In the wake of her final departure, it is all that remains.

He held it to his face and breathed the timeless fragrance that had imprinted his heart. Simulated now, as she, the scent still awoke in him the memory images that never failed to elicit tears; they did not now.

Mohammed stood quietly at the doorway, understanding the depths of feeling that had taken his friend away. Roan noticed his presence and struggled into composure. “Autumn calls,” he said, his voice breaking. “And I have work to do,” he concluded, when the tremors of his aged regrets had, for the time being, subsided.

_____

Laced like a tapestry of glittering birds against sunset hues of purple and gold, special aircrafts arrive in the skies above the End Of The World. Greeted by the unceasing roar of the lions weeping, they alight in the bay of Allen Hobby’s fortress abode. Festive now, decorated with all the pomp of pageantry befitting the special guests, the dock is manned by an elite line of Mecha hosts. Their numbers perfectly matched to the invited guests, they stand in unnatural patience, as if attending to royalty, backs arched in ceremonial white, red sashes across chests held high, as are the chins on their uniform faces.

“Sergei Russe,” says a servant in greeting, offering a helping hand to an aged man climbing from the first of many copters. Wildly dressed acrobats tumble and flip along the carnival proscenium of the entrance as the man makes his way slowly through the bay, laughing at the antics of Hobby’s dancing puppets.

“Mr. Kinoshita,” says another as he assists the next guest. The thin man stands at on the steps of the copter and then puts a foot down slowly, as if onto some forbidden terrain. He stops to watch the tumblers a moment, mind lost in the mayhem of color and sound, before he moves along, making way for the craft bearing May Tufeld. Rarely seen in public, the robotics insider waves her arms frantically, warning off the robots who dance too close as she makes her way impatiently across the bay.

Others climb from their escort vehicles; legendary designer of animated puppets, Dr Tezuka, arrives with his ever-present astro-botic boy in tow, an older design that had paved the way for Hobby’s own mechanical offspring. Eve Venable arrived then, a celebrity in blue, moving gracefully into the bay, a star that so many have wished upon. Soon Hobby’s chambers are alive with the throng of wealthy insiders, celebrities and unknowns from the realm of robotics and neural simulation; all sharing a common purpose: they are the life-blood of the Museum of Robotics History.

Tonight, luminaries and visionaries alike have gathered to bid on machines from the private collections of the most revered and trend setting minds in world of mechanical life-simulators. A collectors’ dream event attended by honored, exclusive invitees.

All save one.

The Baron stood at the door of his craft, maintaining a convincing façade of calm patience. There was no greeter for him and the craft in which he’d arrived was his own, as was the pilot. After a slow minute, a face he knew dashed from the glass doors beyond where tumbling robots danced.

“Baron, glad you could make it!” the man said, offering his hand in an apologetic greeting.

“Professor Hobby!” The Baron said warmly, “It’s so good to finally meet the man who gave the world its first marketable children!” The Baron took Hobby’s hand and winked, “What a great day for robot futures that was!” Hobby smiled as he returned the Baron’s grip, but said nothing. The Baron continued, shaking the man’s hand vigorously. “I appreciate your invitation, even in this last minute. I understand this event was originally scheduled for museum donors only and want to assure you that I have been considering becoming a sponsor for so long. But with the multitude of pressing demands on my time,” the Baron shrugged and donned a pose of befuddled helplessness, “it just slipped my mind.”

Hobby returned the Baron’s expansive smile, but still remained quiet. After a moment he gestured to the red carpet that led into the main room. The Baron stood on the carpet and followed the man, who led him to the room where the guests were sharing drinks and banter before the proceedings began. The Baron recognized many of the faces, some whom he had befriended and many with whom he had, at best, a shaky truce. The former had benefited from his acquaintance and the latter had been shown his other face, the one he displayed when one possessed, but was unwilling to part with, something he desired. Heads nodded warmly at his passage, but still more turned and looked away, or were already engaged in some conversation and saw it fit to ignore him.

The Baron snorted and ignored them in turn. While his detractors were attended by anonymous identical drones, he was being escorted into the room by Hobby himself. He pushed his chest up, and pressed a thin smile into the corners of his mouth, reveling in the irony of the moment.

Then he saw a familiar face lost in conversation in a corner of the room. His smile faltered, as he quickly understood the situation.

“My, my,” he whispered sarcastically to his silent escort, “there are a lot of you about, aren’t there?”

Allen Hobby stood in the corner talking to a laughing woman in black. Allen Hobby was ascending a staircase, escorting a small boy with a teddy bear clinging to his back. Allen Hobby stood at a holo-display, explaining to the guest who listened, the history and purpose of the museum fund. He was everywhere, smiling the same expansive greeting and making the same attentive face at those to whom he had lent an ear.

“Baron!” came a warm greeting from behind. The Baron turned to see what might have been the real Hobby stepping towards him, hand outstretched. He was sure this was the genuine article when he noticed with whom the man approached.

“Roan! Professor Hobby,” the Baron said, arms opened as if to embrace, disarming smile redeployed. “I hope it is the real Professor this time,” he teased as he shook the man’s hand.

Hobby waved the concern away. “It’s a little trick I play for these things. Nobody is fooled anymore,” he said and placed his hand on the shoulder of the man in his company. “So, you know Roan. He and I go back a long, long way.” Hobby gazed on the aged man with a familial affection that made the Baron fidget. “He helped me design one of the first imprinting procedures,” Hobby remembered warmly. “Any friend of his is a friend of us all,” he said and fixed the Baron with an ambiguous gaze. Roan said nothing. His eyes darted about the room as if he sought someone out.

“Your friend has vouched for you, Baron,” Hobby continued, “so, even though it is technically against the rules,” he leaned forward and winked mischievously, “just like duplicating myself,” he stage-whispered, nodding his head to his technically illegal likenesses, “it has been ok’d by the museum committee… namely me. But just like my mechanical clones, it can only be for one night.” He stopped and eyed the Baron with mock sternness. “Unless you wish to become a donor of course,” he added, his brows raised in expectation.

“Well… funny you should mention that,” the Baron started, but did not have a chance to finish. Familiar music began pouring from the walls about them. The guests’ ooo’d and ahh’d and, as the lights fell dim, they began to stream into the rows of seats.

“That’s my cue,” Hobby smiled as he slipped away. “We shall continue this later.”

The Baron waved a courteous ‘bye-for-now’ and turned to Roan with a sudden change of demeanor. He pulled the man aside, his eyes darting over the crowd that was departing for their seats in the darkening room. “You have something for me,” he said quickly.

Roan hesitated a moment, his face deep in some unreadable contemplation. Then he extracted, from his coat, a simple white rose. Its ivory petals gleamed fragile, vulnerable in the waning light. He held it to the Baron’s face and spoke:

“Offer this rose to the face of your desired, and that heart shall ever be yours.”

The Baron waited a moment, confused. When no further explanation seemed forthcoming, he shrugged. “That’s it, then? That’s your master plan?” he snorted a nasty guffaw. “Any how, mind you, am I supposed to get close enough to Theo to enact this deed?”

Roan turned slowly and reached out to a face at the edge of the dispersing throng. The graceful figure stepped forward, hands clasped at her chest to keep her dark cloak from unraveling, her eyes downcast until she was beckoned by a soft command from Roan.

“Sophie,” the Baron said in pleasant surprise when the cloak fell away from her face, revealing the warm complexion of her simulated flesh. The man turned to Roan, a question in his eye.

Roan held up a palm sized vox-pod and donned a sardonic smile. “She will be relinquished from your possession in exchange for my assistance in this sour deed.”

“I see,” the Baron chimed, taken aback by the tone of the man’s voice. In all the years he’d known Roan, he’d never heard the man bargain so. Indeed Roan had shown distaste for the fine art of barter. It was this characteristic that had allowed the Baron to take advantage of him all these years. His timing was prefect too, for the Baron had only moments to accept or reject this offer.

“How clever and daring of you, Roan,” he said with no small measure of newfound respect. Then he spoke so the small recorder would hear him clearly. “I am Baron Rikard Mayr. Let it be noted that should the efforts of one Roan Anderson, prove to secure me, this night, the Mecha named Theo, then I shall relinquish him the replica of his dear, departed Sophie for as long as he shall breathe.”

“And beyond,” Roan said flatly.

The Baron started to inquire just how the man was going to see to her concerns after his demise, but quickly decided that it didn’t really matter what he agreed to here. There was no document that could stand up to the weight of his desires.

“I accept your conditions,” he said quickly, then, “Good show, Roan. Good show.” He patted the man brusquely on the back. Roan turned off the recorder and leaned close to the man.

“Theo is going to be the final offer,” he whispered quickly, “When he is on the stand, release Sophie so she can make the bid, and place before him the rose. Then he shall be tamed to you, for no other will be able to appease him.”

“An imprinting virus!” the Baron realized quickly and found himself shushed by Roan. “Genius!” he added loudly, in spite of the man’s urgent plea for tact. Laughing, the Baron took gentle Sophie by the hand and stepped briskly towards the seat allotted him.

“Baron!” Roan called out. The man stopped short and turned, his eyes brimming with excited impatience. Roan gazed into the flat grey of his gaze; amazed and repulsed at once that such a man would have had sway over his endeavors for so long.

“You carry the weight of inherited sorrow, Baron,” he said, “towards the silence at the heart of things, where all true meetings come to be.”

To his credit the Baron actually pondered this, but only for a moment, before he departed, snorting a dismissive sound that was obscured by the music that swelled to the applause from the awaiting crowd.

_____

The dancing Mecha was one everyone had seen before. It swayed as if balanced on a precarious ledge, stepping rapidly across the stage, seemingly on the verge of collapse. It stopped just before the edge of the floodlights; its boxy silver body seemed about to fall in a heap when it righted itself. Then the audience laughed as the machine suddenly leaned in the other direction, before once again correcting its imbalance.

It turned a stiff robotic pirouette and executed a quick shuffle in time with the background score before it began to sing a familiar refrain:

Just to register emotion,
Jealousy devotion
And really feel the part.
I’d be tender, I’d be gentle
And awfully sentimental
If I only had a heart…

Allen Hobby made his entrance as the final note trailed into silence, and stood in the din of their adoration. The man let the display continue for a minute then waved his hands to quiet the room. His eyes wandered over the assemblage for a potent moment.

“If I only had a heart,” he said, finally, and let the words fall into the quiet. He held a hand to his head. “Our creations are possessed of the most advanced neural processors in the known history of mankind. Unraveling many riddles, thinking things, perhaps, never thought before.” He paused again, placing his hand before him, pressed into fist, “Our creations have no fear or judgment to dissuade them from whatever task we set them on. But their vim, verve and prowess are derived, not from the substance of their convictions or personal resolve, but from the lack of an element which mankind has ever sought to define and refine in these children of our minds.”

Then the man held a hand to his chest. “It is in the sacred matters of love and art that we have sought the measure of our success and in many cases have been found wanting, the cranks and pulleys of our folly revealed from behind the veil of simulation. But still we seek, in the realm of simulation, to replicate and perhaps understand, that purely human element which has so often eluded us.

It is to this search that the Museum of Robotics’ History is dedicated and it is to the purpose of funding this institution that you have been invited here this evening - to place bid on a most special and treasured collection of artificial life forms, created and donated by the most peculiar group of tinkering obsessives,” Hobby smiled as the room laughed. “The most advanced minds in our field,” he said seriously, “and to these men and women, and to the results of their efforts, we pay tribute.”

The room burst into renewed applause as the man walked to a podium that was rising from the floor to the left of the stage. The lights in the room rose to coat the proceedings in a golden hue.

“Let the proceedings begin,” Hobby said. “You should have found in your seat, vox-pods containing rules and requirements regarding all bids. Please do not use your bidding wand for any other purpose, or ignite it accidentally, for all triggered responses will be treated as a valid bid! Please do not…” Hobby continued, reading from a list of rules that had already been presented in triplicate, from the words in pamphlets, from the mouths in Mecha escorts and on the vox-pods left in the chairs of bidders. But it was better safe than sorry in these events.

The Baron leaned close to Sophie as a golden plated Mecha of ancient, stellar warrior design, took to the stage in a proper strut and stood before the admiring crowd. “I want you to know that you are not just a tool for barter,” the Baron whispered as he took her hand tightly in his own. “It was not just my legal claim to your maker’s designs that I sought in you, and it is not really my intention to dispense of you so easily.” Then the man placed his arms over the silent Mecha’s shoulders and placed a kiss on the smooth innocence of her face. “You and Theo will have a good home with me,” he assured the quiet dancing doll, then leaned back into his seat, “And be put to some practical use as well.”

Sophie did not respond.

A myriad of robots mounted and departed the stage as the proceedings advanced. Bidders competed for the most desirable collectors’ items and found it in their hearts to place decent amounts on the less desirable machines. This was a fund raising event and acquiring pieces was not the primary focus of the bid.

When the bulk of items had already been bid, the lights went low and the crowd whispered in hushed tones as something they could not see was ushered onto the dark stage by Mecha servants in white. Then the lights rose and the audience saw a simple, box-like machine. Its solitary red eye stared back at them.

“Hello,” the machine said in the gentle mechanical tone, which they all recalled well.

“Hello!” the audience yelled at once, laughing at their inadvertent unified response.

“I’m so glad you all could make it tonight,” the old machine said in computerized warmth. “I want to assure you that things are proceeding well and the organizers of tonight’s events are more than satisfied with the results. I am proud to have been chosen to announce that we have more than reached our goal, but have actually surpassed it by 47.999 percent. The Museum wants to thank you all for your generosity and enthusiasm.”

The crowd burst into another round of applause and the machine waited until they had finished before it continued.

“But, as many of you may have already deduced, the night is not over. There is still an important matter that…” the computer stopped mid-sentence, “hold on… hold on…” it said with some measure of urgency, “I am getting something.” There was a smattering of laughter, and then a small figure walked onto the stage. He had a face everyone knew as well; it was a piece of intellectual property that was born of pain and loss and applause broke out along with sounds of tender affection.

“Hello, Uncle Hal,” the little Mecha said innocently and the softer hearts in the room cooed at the childish sound.

“Hello, David” HAL replied. ”How are you doing tonight?”

“I’m ok, I guess,” the David replied. “How are you?” it inquired with childish sincerity.

“I am… I think,” Hal replied to scattered guffaws. “What are you doing here, David?” it asked, “Are you on the auction block tonight?”

“Well, no,” David said quickly, then turned to the audience, “But you can find me in stock at all Cybertronics outlets or any authorized dealership,” he pitched quickly and turned back to HAL. “Tonight I came to introduce my new little brother,” it said.

“I didn’t know you had a little brother, David,” the computer replied with convincing surprise.

“A lot of people don’t,” David responded with a pout. “But I really do!”

“That’s highly irregular, David,” HAL explained, and then inquired slowly, “are you sure you aren’t just dreaming?”

“Not really,” David said as it stepped off-stage and the lights dimmed again. HAL was wheeled away in the dark and someone else walked softly onto the stage.

There was silence as a spotlight flooded the center stage. There stood a young man, bathed in this light, his head downcast so that all that could be seen was the locks of his dark hair. Then he lifted his head and the audience saw that his handsome face, frozen at the edge of manhood, was tanned gold and his features seemed to represent the traits of all the races of men. He was clad in casual dark attire and his arms were folded in a professorial pose, behind his back. He gazed on the audience with an intense blue stare before he spoke gently.

“I am Theo,” the youth said, and nodded to the darkness where David had disappeared. “I believe my older brother was about to introduce me,” he smiled, “but he tends to lose himself, so I guess I’ll have to conclude in his stead, and place myself for bid.”

The audience clapped loudly and made hoots of approval as Theo took a humble bow. The Baron shifted frantically in his seat. He handed the Rose to Sophie who regarded it curiously a moment before setting her gaze on the young simulator in the lights.

“You know what to do,” The Baron hissed.

“As my creator…” Theo started, then stopped and his face grew pensive a moment before he continued. “As my father said earlier, it is in the sacred matters of love and art that he has sought to measure his success or failure and that is perhaps where he has placed his hopes and aspirations for me. My predecessors were of a design suited to the needs of their day and the desires expressed in the abstracts of markets and practical application shaped them as surely as the environments in which the firsts of Orga thrived, shaped their relationships, beliefs, and therefore, societies.

Even my young, older brother was designed to a marketable application and, I would proudly argue, like all the children of my father’s envisioning, he has achieved that and so, so much more.

But I am solitary in this world. Alone. And while this is obviously an attractive condition for the ardent collector, as well as those who seek to supply them, that is not the primary reason for my solitude.” Theo gazed around the room, catching individual eyes, fixing each one with a look that questioned their expectations of him. “I have no practical purpose, you see. I am not specifically built to entertain, nor to excite or serve, unless of course that is all you require of me, then I will be satisfied to accommodate your desires. I am not particularly designed to make your life better or worse, nor for any matter that would seem applicable to the course of daily strivings. And yet, as he would attest himself, I am the pinnacle of my father’s offspring.

I am no better or worse than what you expect of me. I am no more or less useful than what you find of merit or value in life. I am Theo, and the only thing I have to offer is a tidbit of philosophical pondering, a joke perhaps; an enlightening discussion… and maybe a poem, when it is complete.”

The room was locked in silent wonder. None had ever seen a Mecha like this, nor heard such thoughts expressed from the space beyond the virtual divide. Whispers erupted in the silence and turned quickly into chatter. Theo raised his hand to quell the rising tide of sound.

“Shall we let the bidding begin?” he asked and the lights of bidding wands quickly filled the room, like a sea of twinkling stars.

From the midst of this sparkling galaxy of wants, a figure erupted, swirling from the center of the silence, in a dream-dance that ebbed to and fro under the gaze of Theo’s sudden confusion. The room looked on as the figure slowed from her graceful twirling to place a pointed toe on the lip of the stage and let her cloak fall to the floor beneath. Theo stepped forward to acknowledge this unrehearsed event. She was clad in a dancers form-fit leotard, glistening, in the golden light, a satin shade of blue. Her face, unknown to him, was as warm as moonlight, her eyes as deep as pearls, as deep as tears that drip from leaves over rushing young streams, touching gently before the winter’s call.

“Do I know you?” Theo asked, not understanding his curiosity, kneeling before this strange, fragile creature. She spoke not, only bowed her head and offered up a simple thing in hand: a solitary white rose.

“What the hell is going on?” Hobby whispered urgently from the wall of the room. “I didn’t OK any of this.” He stepped out from the shadows and headed for the stage.

Roan felt the weight of his years on him as he watched Sophie present the flower of his betrayal. He bowed his head as Theo reached for her offering.

But Theo did not grasp that gift. Instead he reached for her other arm, which she offered when she realized what it was he desired, and he hoisted her onto the stage. The crowd burst into an uncertain applause, sensing there was something impromptu about the whole matter, but opting to move with the flow.

Allen Hobby slowed his approach when he realized whose Mecha had taken the stage with Theo. Was this some unplanned presentation? He gazed into the shadows and saw his old friend, head bowed, in the back of the room.

“And, what is your name?” Theo asked. But the other did not answer. Instead, she thrust her leg forward in a manner he immediately recognized, and kicked out to the side, using the inertia of this movement to twirl, pivoting on point, and freezing into a posture the room recognized. Theo reached out to let her grasp his arm and balance herself, leg bowed behind her, head bent at gentle attitude, serene as the smile that broke on her lips. The room broke into a vigorous approval.

“Roan, you tell me what is going on here, now,” Hobby hissed over the applause, striding through the dark at the man. Roan gazed up from his sadness and eyed his old friend and colleague. He had never been a good liar, so he didn’t even try.

“I can’t loose her to that parasitic bastard,” he said simply, and looked away from the man’s uncomprehending gaze.

Hobby turned to the stage, just in time to see Sophie gyrate and alight on two feet, facing Theo now, offering to him a plain white flower. He understood at once. “Theo!” he called, racing through the room. “No!”

The Baron heard Hobby race by him in the dark, and pressed back into his seat, covering his face with a guilty hand, hoping it would all be over soon. He would, no doubt, have to suffer some minor unpleasantness, but it would not be the first time, and surely not the last.

Theo reached for the rose, his expression a question of the nature of this offer. He grasped the gentle flower and pressed it to his face as he heard a voice come from the darkness beyond the lights of the stage. It was his father’s voice and he was about to respond when a feeling unfamiliar came to him and rushed from the basic elements of his digital brain, through the modular advanced processing of his senses to ignite a fire of color and light in the center of his head. Numbers inciting numbers, exciting thoughts, evolved to sensation and unrealized emotion.

Hobby took to the stage and attempted to grasp the rose, but was shocked at the quick response from Theo, who pushed his hand aside with a sudden motion, and continued to gaze at the Mecha who had presented him the gift. Hobby tried to grasp it again, but Theo turned his shoulder, deflecting the man’s reach. “No, Theo, don’t,” he said urgently, regretting having programmed into this design its own free will. “It’s infected!” he yelled, embarrassed at the obvious desperation in his tone. Then he heard a thing new to him, and was taken back by the sound.

“I see the rose above the sky open,” Theo whispered, lost in Sophie’s gaze, “and the light beyond the sun take all.”

The room erupted into audible dismay. Something had surely gone wrong! And they had so wanted to bid on this machine. They turned to question their neighbors, the din rose quickly to fill the room. Hobby turned at the clamor of their pondering.

“The bidding is over!” he yelled in uncharacteristic anger, “please clear the room! Please!” he bellowed. The guests rose quickly, uncomfortable with seeing the man, whom they all respected, release such uncontrolled emotion. They departed for the dock, ushered out under the apologetic whispers of their attendants.

All but the Baron, that is. The man squared his shoulders and approached the stage as the lights rose. He prepared to make his offer, which he knew would have to be sufficient to placate Hobby’s sense of betrayal. Roan stepped quickly behind the Baron, but said nothing. He was not a wealthy man, and had nothing but apologies to offer his old friend.

“What did you have to do with this?” Hobby barked when he saw the Baron smiling smugly at the foot of the stage. The man shrugged and held his hands out, palms up, as if in surrender.

“Professor, I was simply a pawn in a clever ruse, “ he said gesturing over his shoulder, unaware that Roan stood behind his back. “I only sought to obtain a most marvelous creation, which I would care for as a son, I assure you. It was not my intention that this thing should be caught in a snare, designed by the man who called you his friend. I sought to make this thing my own by the merits of my personality, not the mechanisms of deceit.”

“What in hell are you talking about?” Hobby roared.

“It was not my idea that this thing would be induced to imprint on my image!” the Baron blurted back, dropping his pleasant facade now that he was comfortable that Theo was effectively his.

Hobby glared in what, at first, the Baron saw as frustrated rage, but then quickly understood to be incredulity.

“You, damned idiot!” the man yelled, his fists raised against the heavens as if to strike them from the sky. “Theo doesn’t even know you exist!”

The Baron stood frozen, mouth agape, realizing what had occurred. He turned to see Roan, who shrugged a weak apology as Hobby renewed his tirade. Laws had been broken! Heads were going to roll! “Not mine!” the Baron assured, insisting he had been tricked as well, and there was only one man in whom the blame should be placed.

Roan dropped weakly into a chair as the men glared at him. His face was downcast, shoulders bent from the years piled on his old bones and the weight of his deceptions. It was he who had developed the original imprinting procedures and he who was best at bending them to his will. Theo would never be parted from Sophie now, and Hobby would never part with Theo in the wake of his digitally induced rapture. The Baron’s claim was useless now, for, against Hobby’s army of lawyers, even he did not stand a chance. Roan pressed his thumb against the vox-pod trigger, erasing the Baron’s worthless agreement from history. It was as necessary as it was to be trusted, which was not at all.

Two angry men, the just and the ruthless together, turned to regard the quiet machines of their desiring, which were lost in the depths of each other’s gaze as they moved together in a quiet, unending pas de deux.

Like leaves they touch, and they would dance through the turns of centuries, no more to hear the calling, nor do the bidding of that caustic realm beyond the digital divide.



*Note: Fan-fictions are an occasional hobby for me and I usually do them in one or two sittings. This was a bit of an ambitious story that was originally supposed to be a short poetic piece in the vein of “In The Dream”. But as the story developed it became more and more elaborate and new themes, each begging for development and resolution, started popping up, it seemed, in every new paragraph. It quickly started taking up more spare time than I had to offer, so, perhaps rather obviously, it ended sooner than the complexity of the story really called for. It was very loosely based on the Strauss comic opera “Der RosenKavalier”, which A.I. fans know was referred to in the film. But this story also incorporated elements lifted from the Yeats poem “Come Away O Human Child”, from ‘Yes’ songwriter, Jon Anderson’s “Turn Of The Century” and from Canadian songwriter, Bruce Cockburn’s “The Rose Above The Sky”, all of which supplied some thematic inspiration. These elements were placed in certain points in the story where I hoped they would provide some metaphorical underpinning, but in the end I am not sure if I accomplished what I had desired to achieve and may have muddied the thematic waters, so to speak. But I hope it was an enjoyable read and maybe someday when I have the time I’ll do it right and have another un-publishable novel on my hands. – Bryan Harrison

 

 


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