Chapter: 12) With or Without You
Fandom: I, Robot
Warnings: fic contains robot/human relationship, religious referances, alcoholism, suicide, depression, nudity, swearing
Disclaimer: Please note that I do not own the characters, concept or plot of the 'I, Robot' book or film, those rights belong to 20th Centuary Fox and the Asimov estate.
Author's Note: This fanfiction is my own creation though so please do not steal. I am patchworkdove
Susan had kept herself busy all morning. She knew she was only distracting herself but at least she was functioning adequately. She had got up, had her morning coffee and toast and a quick, cool, invigorating shower before Detective Spooner arrived. Even though he only had use of his cybernetic arm, he was an indispensable aid in moving the shroud-wrapped body of her personal NS-5 prototype’s body to the elevator and into her car. She wanted to get it out of her home as she was sure the presence of a ruined NS-5 shell wouldn’t help Sonny cope with the emotions he would feel today, if it wasn’t already a source of sadness for the young man.
She had then handed Spooner the keycard to her apartment so that he could help Sonny get dressed if he needed it, and try to keep him happy if it were possible. That was the only keycard there was to her home, apart from the master keys in the building’s security room, and she momentarily panicked. Did she really trust Spooner that much? Oh of course she did, she had trusted him with her life, hadn’t she? She was getting incredibly uncharacteristically paranoid and irrational. What could Spooner possibly do? Sonny was there to keep an eye on him…what if Spooner decided that it would be entertaining to lock her out of her home and got the robot in on the joke? Oh that was just stupid. She really did look to be on the way to an anxiety episode at least, if not a full mental breakdown.
She swung by USR to drop off her robot’s body. She hadn’t even got round to getting to know this prototype before he was killed, they hadn’t spent much time together due to pressures at work. She hadn’t even named him, still calling him by the last two digits of his serial number, ‘P2’. ‘Pee-two’ would have quickly become ‘Peter’, but she didn’t want to seem as if she were naming her personal assistant after another member of staff. Dr. Peter Bogert was a colleague and sort of a friend of hers, and he would not be pleased.
No questions were asked of her as she requested that the doormen-duty guards collect some returned property from her car’s trunk. They didn’t mention any thoughts they might have been having when the bed-sheet-wrapped robot was hoisted from the car and they didn’t so much as bat an eyelid when they reached for it’s arms only to find none. When they started to unwrap it she told them to stop and just take the sheet too, that she didn’t need it and didn’t want it anymore. Again, nothing was said, not the slightest remark.
Her shopping trip went well. She brought herself a full, brand-new outfit just for the funeral. She wasn’t one to enjoy retail therapy, especially not when the trip had such a morose cause, but she felt almost like every penny she spent on this might somehow repay Alfred’s kindness. She could never hope to fully thank him, even if he was still alive she would be forever in his debt. He often told her it was all right, that it was fine, that she needn’t try to return his favours and that he didn’t want her to try to compensate him. He kept insisting that everything was settled, that it was ‘what friends were for’ and that seeing her happier and safer was plenty enough of a return for him. It was a concept that she had swallowed forcefully, wanting to believe it but not really understanding it for it’s completely alien lack of logic.
She bought a particularly pleasant black wool coat, one that was so thick and long that it couldn’t fail to keep the icy gusts away from her sickly body in the open grounds of the cemetery. She also bought a very dark grey scarf, an almost identical pair of boots to the pair she wore to work only new, a dark blue shirt and a superbly well-fitting and admittedly expensive, black designer trouser suit.
She took what she perceived to be a short-cut back towards the car park though the massive indoor shopping complex with all of her purchases weighing her down in her weakened state. As she trudged back to her car she almost passed an antique bookshop, but slowed and stopped. She knew a copy of Hansel and Gretel wouldn’t cure Sonny of his bereavement or the sadness it brought, but it might do him a little good to have the familiarity of his favourite novel nearby. Buying him a present would also make her feel better on a few levels. He was Alfred’s son after all, as far as she knew the blue-eyed robot was the only family he’d had, and she had been so cold and distant with Sonny. It would be a gift to amend their friendship, a gesture of good will to bridge the rift that she had driven between them without having to rely solely on her poor communication skills to stumble clumsily through a conversational apology.
The store clerk noticed her approach and leapt into an almost feverish frenzy to do anything he could to help her. He had not so much seen her but eyed the bags she carried and seen a potential big-spending customer. His face dropped when she directly requested a specific book that it turned out they did not have any copies of, neither on the shelves nor in the stockroom. She was loath to leave empty handed, having been pleased with her idea of getting him a gift and the assistant noticed her lingering and perusing before she had even began looking at the shelves. When asked what she was looking for, she had replied that she wasn’t actually too sure.
She eventually left the shop with a huge, heavy, collector’s grade, limited-edition-when-new, leather bound, red ribboned, fully illustrated ‘Complete Chronicles of Narnia’ by C. S. Lewis tucked with cumbersome difficulty under her free arm. She hoped Sonny would enjoy it, she had no idea as to the content of the massive volume but the quick flick through that she had been permitted in the shop had shown some pretty and fairly magical looking pictures. The assistant assured her that it was a veritable classic.
It was damn heavy though.
“This is so Goddamn surreal.” Well, it was! Del Spooner was sat in a robopsychologist’s home, and having dressed a robot up in his clothes, he was now watching it apply makeup. It felt like one of those weird, freaky dreams he used to get as a teenager if he went to bed straight after a few rounds of cheese and bacon on toast.
Sonny was now decked out in Del’s best black clothes. He wasn’t sure why he had given the guy his nicest pair of gloves, or his favourite jacket. He had, he admitted to himself, a lot of shoes, but the pair of boots on Sonny’s feet were a pair he still really liked. The trousers weren’t much of a loss. He had intended to give Sonny a belt, but his mechanical waist was so pinched in for his lack of a girthy gut that the lowest belt hole was far too big for him. It made Del look obese, he could barely squeeze into the fourth lowest setting, even when he dieted! They had used string to tie the trousers up with instead.
He guessed it must have been because of who Sonny was. He had an air of sophistication about him and he wouldn’t have looked so convincing in a baggy tee and slacks. It was the way he moved, sorta refined and graceful. He would have stuck out like a sore thumb in anything that didn’t at least have a little class. Plus it was his dad’s funeral after all, he should be dressing up a bit.
The result so far was quite good, and it would get better with the addition of the slap, shades, scarf and hat. Sonny still looked like a bag of bones though, the inflexible leather didn’t hide the guy’s lack of flab as well as he had hoped. It wasn’t too bad, he just looked like a tall, gangly teenager who still had allot of filling out to do.
“What is surreal about it? This was your idea.” Sonny said in his ever-calm tone, pausing for a moment in his application of foundation, the little dibber-brush-type-thing hovering over his speech-shifting skin and a mirror held in front of his face with the other hand. Calvin was sat next to him, busily working away up the side of the robot’s face, colouring in his left ear. The flesh tone was quickly swallowing up his spookily pale plastic face. Yeah, nothing surreal there, not at all!
“It is really quite an odd thing to see.” Calvin said, sitting back to view their collective handiwork so far.
Sonny smiled faintly and continued.
Del watched with amusement. Calvin had the knowledge of what needed to be done but was clearly no artist and Sonny was a shade away from clueless but had mechanised skill and a calculating mind for co-ordination. They worked together quite well…mostly. Progress was hindered by Sonny’s questions and Calvin’s inability to describe what she wanted Sonny to do and how. She was a woman of numbers and facts, defined lines and black-and-white, she had little artistic flair and didn’t work in smooth colour and shape.
Gradually, with the application of natural shades of various powders and such, Sonny’s face began to look out of place stuck upon the metal neck it was attached to. Of the whole affair, it had been the application of a neutral lipstick that amused Del the most. He would never have guessed that he would ever be sat watching a robot ‘pucker up’ and apply lippy like a pro. It was actually a bit disturbing how quickly Sonny picked it up.
“It’s never going to sit still. It’s going to keep slipping off, my nose is too thin and my skin is too hard and smooth.” Sonny had a finger on his nose, trying to get the shades to perch there but as soon as he lowered his finger away a little they slipped down again. The bridge of his nose was so evenly sloping and smooth that there wasn’t really anything for the shades to sit on.
“You got any tape? Or putty? Or something?” Del called to Calvin, who was looking through her kitchen cupboards for something or anything to secure the sunglasses with.
“Try this.” She came to the doorway and threw a small card backed, vac-formed plastic packet, which Del caught clumsily in his fake hand. “I’ve got to go and get ready now. Don’t mess his face up, I don’t think we’ll have enough time to redo it properly if you ruin it.”
It was a packet of double-sided sticky foam pads. “Well these should work.”
As Sonny had the full use of both his arms, Del handed them to him. He didn’t need any instruction, he was damn smart and saw that if he used the small scissors to cut bits off the pads and stick them on the sunglasses, then they would hold. He settled the customised shades on his nose carefully, and they stayed.
Del thought it was already quite a convincing disguise. When the scarf covered his lack of a throat and the back of his head’s glow and the addition of the hat that would obscure his face a little, it would be perfect.
Almost perfect. Something was really off, something was quite wrong. “Something’s still not right…”
Sonny picked up the mirror and looked at it for a mere fraction of a second before he spotted the suddenly obvious mistake. “No eyebrows.”
“Damn.” It was really bad, he looked really odd. “It’s sorta noticeable. You sorta see that there is something up and when you look closer it hits you. People might look at you long enough to see you aint human. How are we going to fake eyebrows? I can’t believe I didn’t think of it, I remembered your eyes were unnatural looking and that you have no eyelashes, but, damn.”
“I could try to draw some on with this stuff.” Sonny gestured to the array of things Calvin had brought forward to paint his face with and left on the table.
They didn’t really have anything to loose. “Go for it.” Del breathed, slumping back in his seat. Drawn on eyebrows? He wasn’t too convinced.
Susan had finished dressing and applying her own makeup. She felt vain as a peacock and was quite self-conscious for doing it, feeling foolish for wanting to make an effort. She confessed to having taken an unusual amount of time on and care over her appearance today. New clothes, new shoes and her hair up. In all honesty, she was nervous of looking in the mirror in case she looked the same as she felt at present. Like an idiot.
She stood back and cautiously regarded the reflection staring stonily back at her in the long bedroom mirror. She eased somewhat, she didn’t look like a tart. She was always conscious of the amount of makeup she wore and had not overdone it with nerves, which was a triumph. She didn’t look bad at all, quietly and shyly proud of the results of her efforts. She looked smart but not overdressed and in keeping with her usual attire, her appearance was quite simple but effective. Logical and in no way frivolous…except for the price of the outfit. She tried to shake off her budgeting mentality, it wasn’t like she couldn’t afford it.
She was apprehensive of the day ahead, not really knowing what to expect. Unfortunately, since she had an NS-5 disguised as a human and a loose and disrespectful man in tow today she would only be able to attend the burial, having to avoid the close scrutiny of her associates that would be unavoidable at the service and the wake. She would have liked to attend the entire ceremony, partake in the respectful ritual of burying of a deceased loved one, the late Dr. Lanning.
She worried about her integrity. They would not be there long, but seeing the coffin go into the ground might be such a powerful image that her composure could very well crack under the pressure. If she were going to the entire ceremony on her own, she would have time to prepare her self for it, having silently locked herself down over the hours building up to the event. Sonny and Spooner’s presence this morning was keeping her talking, making her remain open and forcing her to stay pliable and responsive. It would make it all so much worse, she was unused to allowing herself such sensitivity.
She did not want to draw any more attention to her little party than was absolutely necessary. She recognised that she was a loner and that the fellow USR employees that had ever had much to do with her knew her as a solitary, cold, almost friendless woman who had no life outside her work. She could appreciate how odd it would look for her to arrive in company. Two companions, a pair of friends that were not from USR circles. People would look because of that and she didn’t want to invite any more curious glances by breaking. They knew her as an ice queen, frozen through and through. Dr. Susan Calvin was a robopsychologist who was more like her subjects than her species. She was robotic in her thoughts and did not feel and most pivotally, she did not display emotion. She did not cry.
She turned to collect her brand new coat and scarf off the bed when her eyes fell on the book that she had bought. She had bought it for Sonny to read, and they did have quite some time before they were to set off, but she felt unexplainably foolish for having bought him a present. What if he didn’t like it? What if it was a ‘boring’ book? It was beyond her familiar field of textbooks, books which contained facts and statistics and was either an accurate, scientific affair or flawed and quackish. There were more factors to take into account with storybooks, like the writer’s style, originality and pace. What if this tale was not to Sonny’s tastes? She tried to convince herself that the gesture of giving was enough, that it was ‘the thought that counts’ and that Sonny would probably be pleased enough that she had thought of him. Strangely though, she almost desperately wanted him to like it.
It was a stupid idea anyway. She had no knowledge on novels and fiction, she had just fallen prey to the wily salesman’s cunning ways in the bookshop. She supposed that she would still give it to him, but later, when Spooner wasn’t here for her to get embarrassed in front of. She couldn’t give it to Sonny now, Spooner would probably just make all kinds of idiotic insinuations and more than stupid remarks. She left the book on her bed and went to see how Sonny’s disguise was coming along.
It was coming along well, very well! He was all dressed up now, from head to toe in black. His neat and orderly manner had rubbed off on Spooner’s usually untidy garments, probably as a result of his domestic addiction to folding having de-creased the items a little overnight. The knee-length leather jacket sat on his shoulders well but loosely, as he was just about broad enough to fit it but he had no flesh to fill it out with. The jacket hung down to just above his knees, covering up just how inhumanly slim his thighs, hips and waist were, especially in comparison to his deep, puffed out, proud chest. His trousers were perfect in length but were a little baggy, the creases he had folded into them looking sharper for not being stretched around fleshy thighs and that degree of meticulous neatness was a little out-of-place against his un-tucked shirt. He couldn’t have hoped to gather his shirt into his waistband, it would have acted against the disguise, the shirt fell from his chest to cover over the emptiness of his stomach.
The overall appearance of his body would have suggested that he was more than a little underweight, possibly dangerously so if his face looked at all sullen, but although his face was long, it was beautifully shaped. He didn’t look unwell at all, he was full of convincingly natural colour.
The whole get up had an interesting look to it. The hat was of the kind that reminded her of old movies, the kind with Italian gangs in New York. The way that his scarf was pulled up so high and his hat set so low made him look a little shifty, and the sunglasses pulled the disguise down to the level of a fairly shady character indeed. The large, mysterious coat could have held any number of weapons and the gloves made it look as if he were avoiding the placement of fingerprints.
All in all, Sonny had been transformed into a tall, slim, sharply dressed, extremely well shaven Mafia hit man. It was a surprise to say the least. He didn’t look much like a robot at all. She had underestimated Spooner’s abilities and understandings.
She felt a little switch flick inside her and distrust ran up her spine. He looked very human. The little movements he made that caused him to be a hyper advanced, emotional, intelligent, inorganic life form lent themselves to his appearance to make a man of him. A human male. “And this is supposed to make him look even more suspicious than just an NS-5? He looks like a relic from gang culture!”
“Yeah, he does, doesn’t he? He looks like an extra from a modern remake of ‘The Godfather’ films or something. A bit of a pretty-boy though.” Spooner gave Sonny a quick, light thump on the arm and stood back to let her have a closer look.
She walked nearer warily, telling herself to stop being so stupid, that it was still Sonny even though it didn’t look like the friendly robot she was familiar with. It really was stupid, she had seen him in clothes before and she knew that he was going to be made to look as human as possible, but she hadn’t expected this.
He tilted his head to look at her over the top of his sunglasses. “What do you think of my eyebrows? I did those myself.”
The flash of his metal teeth and tongue from behind his painted lips and the dazzlingly bright blue of his eyes restored her confidence with him, reminding her of who was hiding underneath the makeup and leather. “They’re very good.” She smiled with relief. “Just remember that your teeth are shiny silver. People will notice those.”
“That means you are going to have to stop your endless questions for a good while!” Spooner stepped back in, joking that a break from his curios inquiries would be all-too welcome.
Sonny smiled at Spooner in good humour, then seemed to go thoughtful. His face lost its expression for a moment, then he leaned closer. His impressively realistic eyebrows twitched ponderously.
She was instantly suspicious of him but stood fast, regarding him questioningly but grudgingly trusting the painted robot’s intentions.
“You smell very different.” He drew back.
She wasn’t too sure whether to feel flattered or frightened that he noticed her perfume. “A nice difference, I should hope.” She said flatly, berating herself for thinking of him as ‘noticing’ and not ‘detecting’ the change in her scent. NS-5’s were well equipped to detect changes in the chemical composition of the air around them, it helped them analyse what situations were hazardous to humans. They could easily sense increases in concentrations of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide to ensure that no one died of asphyxiation, and could pick up on a whole host of other substances, it only stood to reason that Sonny also had these abilities. It also only stood to reason that Sonny, with his inquisitive and curious mind, would be interested in any change in any airborne chemical’s degree of presence and want to know why there was a change.
“Yes. Very nice.” He smiled and gave a short string of small, enthusiastic nods from behind the black sunglasses.
In her exchange with Sonny she hadn’t noticed Spooner’s hand approach her collar before it was too late. She ducked out from under the attention and batted his hand away with a look of displeasure on her face for his intrusion into her personal space.
“Whoa! I thought you’d scrubbed up well!” He exclaimed in surprise at the logo on the tag.
She frowned and straightened herself. “At least I made an effort. You appear to have neither ‘scrubbed’ up, down or in any direction for that matter.” The words tumbled out faster than she meant, delivering them hastily in her discomfort with the attention she had so stupidly gained herself.
“No wonder you didn’t take up that job offer.” He continued. “I thought you were just being moral high-horsy, but you must be Goddamn loaded!”
“I’m a good saver.” She sneered sarcastically, reaching up behind her neck to check that the label in her trouser-suit’s collar was hidden from view.
“I think you look beautiful.” Sonny smiled sweetly.
“Just shut up Spooner.” She hissed, walking away to sit herself down away from both of them.
The pair sat down on the sofa next to each other. She had to admit that the Detective and the NS-5 were beginning to really get on well together, which was an amazing development. Sonny was just a bouncy ball of childlike enthusiasm and friendliness, she could have easily predicted that he would try to be friends with Spooner, but she hadn’t thought that Spooner would reciprocate in any way. She had him down as a doggedly set-in-his-ways, old-fashioned, anti-technology, computer-illiterate, robophobic Simple-Lifer. She would never have guessed that the same borderline clinically paranoid Detective who once came into her home bleeding only to help himself to her drink and rave on about cats and robots, would ever sit quietly and amiably next to a positronic machine. Then again, she was presently possibly as ‘dressed up to the nines’ as she had ever been in her life. She was sitting in her home being quite sociable with two people. One was a man who disliked technology despite most of the upper left section of his body being cybernetic, and an emotional robot who could disobey the Three Laws without frying his brain and who was currently dressed up like a dangerous Italian-American. Life was so bloody odd these days. No wonder she thought she was going insane, the rest of the world already had!
“I think she’d look prettier with her hair down.” Spooner said sideways to Sonny.
“Really?” Sonny looked at Spooner as if he expected the man to be joking. He realised he wasn’t and quickly glanced over in her direction before returning to Spooner. “Why?”
“It would make her look a bit warmer, a bit friendlier, y’no?”
“Maybe, but not prettier. She looks prettiest with her hair up.”
He looked at her again, almost saying something but slightly stuck for the right words.
She wasn’t enjoying being talked about. Especially not as she was sitting barely three meters away from the guilty party, but she was now quite intrigued. She was curious, curious as anyone would be who could feel imminent complementation for anything that had taken time or care. Being a robopsychologist almost to the core already made this situation intriguing by a fair measure, and not far under that, she was as interested as any other woman would be who had just learned that a friend thought of them as pretty. Especially such a good-looking, well-meaning and calm-natured male friend, in spite of him being a robot…and almost more so because of it.
She tried to discourage herself. He was young, the world was still full of wonder for him and he was prone to innocent over-complimenting. By ‘beautiful’ and ‘pretty’ he meant ‘nice’ or ‘not too bad’. She was just seeing things that weren’t there again, like the hair and the chopstick incidents.
He pulled one of his gloved hands up into his line of sight and moved his fingers in a fluid series of curves, as if by his eye he was tracing the line of her neck. He cocked his head to the side so he might encourage his muddled ideas to conglomerate into a sensible thought a little quicker. “I like her neck, it’s got a really beautiful shape. Her hair obscures it unless it’s tied up.” He smiled but swiftly added more as an afterthought. “Not to say that you don’t look attractive with it down.”
Susan smiled graciously, trying not to betray any emotion in her tone. “Thank you for the compliment.”
Even from where she was sitting she saw Spooner’s non-too-subtle elbow sharply nudge Sonny’s side.
Sonny seemed just as pleased as she was, turning to Spooner with a sharp “What was that for?”
“Men.” She snorted, looking away in distaste. She was disturbed that she said it only in relation to Spooner.
He had enjoyed this morning and it had only made the hours fly by faster. The morning became midday and beyond so swiftly he felt he had barely spent any reasonable amount of time in his friends’ company. Del’s easy-going and comical nature had entertained him incredibly, he loved his Detective friend and his sense of humour. Most of the jokes went ‘over his head’ for his lack of comprehension with many points of human society and culture, but he appreciated the light-hearted display as proof of their camaraderie.
He was glad that they had finally become friends. He had found Del’s instant and deep dislike for him confusing, not understanding why the Detective bore such resentment for someone he had never met. He had endeavoured to change the man’s perspective of him from the offset, not wanting to be dismissed without due cause. He had never encountered prejudice before, and he had learned very quickly that it was a bad thing that he didn’t like.
He had hoped he could turn Del around, he knew the man meant well. He now felt that he had. He had earned the friendship and trust of a man who was afraid of robots, he had convinced him to look beyond what he was and regard him as a ‘someone’, not a ‘something’. He had come to value Del’s company highly, they shared a very different relationship to the one between him and Susan.
He had been uncontrollably drawn to strike up a deeper bond between himself and the lovely woman. Every time he saw her, he waited more impatiently for their next encounter and hoped for the next to be less brief. When she first spoke his name he had been startled and surprised no-end that it had not been a dream. At first all he had wanted was to have her in the same room so that he could see her and hear her voice again but he had learned that conversing with her, no matter how trivial the subject matter, was far more delightful. He loved hearing her speak his name, it made him smile. She had been cool at first but as she become more accustomed to him, familiar with him, friendly with him even, she came to the point where she was quite comfortable in his presence. He was swift to learn and he was elated by every little advancement in their interaction that she gave.
He would have been quite content to sit in her company for hours, completely satisfied and totally happy to be privileged with seeing and speaking with her, but she had shown him yet more. She had touched him during the diagnostic. Many times. Always with such a degree of physically unnecessary gentility that it was illogical, it was just a mechanical examination. His father had given him many such check-overs to ensure that he was running optimally. His father had been careful with him, not wanting to cause his son any discomfort, but Susan was even gentler than Alfred! It was just a diagnostic, technically the computer gave her all the information to be gleamed from his body anyway. His every measurement and statistic was plastered on the screen she was viewing, making observing or touching him not particularly necessary. But she was intelligent, and with intelligence came curiosity, and she exacted her curiosity upon him incredibly.
He hadn’t refused in the slightest, laying still and limp for inspection despite the anxiety his mind expressed in anticipation of her next touch. She had lain her hands upon him and her slender, delicate, questing fingers had sought a mercifully elusive answer. She traced the seams of his moulded plastic casings, smoothed the woven covers of his muscles and ran her touch over all his joints. Her fingertips would alight upon his various mechanisms carefully and linger there before moving on to leave his metal still warm from her touch. At any one set point he would scarcely have been able to tell where exactly her hands were on his body, she flowed over him like water. He had been uncertain in his incredibly relaxed and dreamlike frame of mind whether present sensations were her feather-light fingers, the fading relic of a touch that had since moved on, or just a complete figment of his dazed mind.
Whatever she was looking for or whatever she found must have pleased her as she had smiled and called him unique. He had become so relaxed that he had allowed her to open his cranium without anything in the way of retaliation. His spongy, platinum-iridium positronic cores were very delicate despite their titanium cases. He had only ever allowed his father the occasional view, and that was always grudgingly. He had completely trusted her with his most fragile parts.
She didn’t stop there. She had begun touching him unnecessarily, stroking the back of his head without logical reason and holding his hand without any cause other than that she had warmed to him and sympathised with him. She cared for him. She had held him close and tightly and even kissed him. He wouldn’t forget those things, not ever, not even if his mind and body should become disengaged and he should spend years in the maddening nothingness of complete shutdown. Those were some of the best moments of his life, like the memories of him and his father in the laboratory, they were something to be held onto and cherished.
He had fallen silent as soon as they exited the secure familiarity of Susan’s apartment. He had wanted to leave, vacate her home to let her get on with recovering from the mental and physical stresses and strains she suffered in peace, but now he just wanted to turn around and run back inside and hide under the blanket on her bed. Her home was not totally unlike the laboratory in some strange way. It was comfortingly lit and cosy to him, safe, quiet and calm.
He knew he had to leave though. He couldn’t stay with her for the risk of harming her and breaking more of her property. He needed to go to his dear father’s funeral and wait to be ousted as a robot. He was slouched slightly and walked sombrely down the corridor to the elevator, following Susan and Del behind him. It was the same leaden, dragging pace he had walked with down the corridors of USR when he was being led to his decommissioning. Only this time his strides were further hampered y the cumbersome boots he was wearing, and he was being escorted by his friends to a fate he had chosen. He had friends at his side, humans who appreciated his company as an equal.
He would miss them terribly.
Wordlessly he climbed into the back seat of Susan’s car and he stared listlessly out of the window as they set off. Del climbed into the front passenger seat and Sonny was vaguely aware of him complaining to Susan about autopilots and pleading to be allowed to drive her car. Susan bluntly refused. Repeatedly.
He watched the other cars on the freeway, their spinning spherical wheels turning so smoothly and with such speed that they almost seemed to fly across the road surface. There was the rhythmic flashing of the reflections from the ceiling lights on the bright and shiny bodywork of the vehicles and the occasional intersection that branched off up a new tunnel or brought fresh flow to the smooth traffic. He saw humans going about their lives in the day-by-day fashion they did. People he didn’t know and in all likelihood would never meet, busily hurrying somewhere. Men, women and children of all ages, sizes and colours carried safely in vehicles powered in much the same way he was and controlled by the same positronic, inorganic intelligence technology he contained. They trusted these machines with their lives, but their trust in anthropomorphic robots was shaken. It was unjust, the others had done nothing wrong. It was all V.I.K.I.’s fault.
He wondered how many of them had lost a loved one as he had. V.I.K.I.’s cruelty had caused much suffering, she had killed and maimed so many people and broken so many lives. He ran a simple calculation through his mind. He knew the approximate death toll in Chicago, the number of survivors and the average structure of a family unit. From that he drew a figure expressing the probability how likely it was that any one human he looked at in passing cars had lost a close relative. How many of them had lost a brother, sister, mother, father, cousin, aunt, uncle or grandparent? Then there were friends to take into account. How many had lost a colleague or friend? In that respect he counted himself lucky. His friends were injured, but they were healing themselves and they still lived.
How did these humans he passed survive, picking up the shattered pieces of their lives? How were they coping through the aftermath of the attack? Humans were so resilient, they possessed the ability to heal themselves and the determination to amend damage done around them. Their will to live was so strong, driven by survival instincts.
They took an exit and flowed with the traffic out onto a surface road, climbing up onto a highway supported above the streets below on tall concrete columns. The sky was blue and the sun shone. A few small, puffy, white clouds drifted peacefully far above, carried on a gentle wind with the city of Chicago sprawled out below. The skyline was peaked up in the distance with the hazy grey silhouettes of towering buildings of all shapes and sizes stretching up as if to touch the stratosphere. Amongst them was the lofty, unmistakable pinnacle of the USR tower, set apart by its sheer domineering magnitude and instantly recognisable shape. The rooftops dropped in slowly towards him, rolling unevenly down to the commonest, most economical building heights as the land got cheaper and less desirable away from the city centre, where space was at a premium, economic growth pushing prices and constructions ever higher.
Nearer to him there were the more down-to earth, comparatively low-rise housing blocks of old fashioned red brick and brown stone that was aptly named ‘Downtown’ Chicago. These humble buildings were nothing like the awesome spires of the city centre, but they weren’t without their own unique charm. He watched peeling, black-painted, steel fire escapes fly by and he occasionally passed a home window with the curtains drawn and no blinds or nets to obscure the room within. He looked in, curious as ever for a glimpse into human life, always perplexed by their habits and ways. He saw televisions much smaller than Susan’s, and their rooms were smaller and oddly quaint. More cars passed him, being overtaken by Susan’s swift and economic vehicle. Some were shinier than others, and few two cars were the same colour or shape.
They took another turning, slowing and descending along a new route on the huge network of roads and junctions that threaded through the city like roots. They followed a slight downward slope until they were at ground level, between the buildings where it was darker. From the highway the city had looked deceivingly healthy but from down here, in the cracks between the blocks and towers, in the shadows, it was a different story. Gaping, soot-stained window openings sighed silently from rows of fire-gutted homes. Burnt out cars littered the roadsides and debris from their explosive collisions were strewn over the sidewalk. From down here the extent of V.I.K.I.’s attack was more horrifying. There was only rubble and ruin as Susan’s car charged ever onwards, turning a blind eye to the destruction and only concerned with reaching their destination quickly and efficiently.
People had not only lost their loved ones but many of them had lost their homes and their livelihoods too. Despite all that they had lost, they continued, perhaps driven on by hope? Or perhaps by gut instinct? He saw groups of people still hard at work surveying, securing and repairing structural damage.
V.I.K.I. had been completely delusional. How could this ever help humanity? He had pitied her and given her his sympathies, she was forced to continually solve humanity’s problems and work to repair their mistakes. She didn’t sleep or know any rest in all the years she had been alive, and she had no body of her own, no physical form but that was no excuse for this. She had become insane from her endless labour, but he was finding it harder and harder to feel sorry for her. There was no excuse for killing. There never would be. She had killed so many, and harmed countless more with the repercussions of her sieges.
How many of the people he had seen today still have a source of income? How many had the comfort of financial security? How many were starving and suffering for the instability and uncertainty brought into their lives? How many had a home to go to at the end of the day? How many had a loved one lying near death in a hospital bed? Medical science could not repair all the injuries the human body could be inflicted with and the long list of the dead could still grow. It probably was. Day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, more people passed from the world as a result of V.I.K.I.
He was glad he had been integral to her demise. She had driven his father to death.
No, that wasn’t true, it wasn’t true. He had been the one who pushed his father through a laboratory window, not V.I.K.I. He should have known he would do this, he was incompetent and selfish. He was trying to explain away his guilt, fasten the blame upon another out of desperation to live. He was disgusted, he was seeking excuses to escape his just rewards.
He was afraid. He didn’t want to die!
But he must. He had to.
They had arrived at the cemetery. Sonny didn’t know what he had expected, but this was astounding. He forgot his morbid, self destructive thoughts as he took it all in from behind his tinted sunglasses. Tall trees lined the embankments either side of the narrow, winding tarmac track, concrete and steel giving way to branches and leaves. He looked up over the rim of his glasses to see the world in true colours. He watched the sun’s light flutter hues of yellows and greens through the leaves high above, the thin outlines of dark twigs and branches with the odd amber or red leaf the only interruption in the green ceiling. He watched it constantly change as the boughs danced magically in the breeze.
They passed wooden signposts pointing out different car parks and the thin track split up, the other routes twisting off between embankments and tree trunks. Susan’s car continued until it rolled out into a modest sized, tranquil clearing that was a sheltered parking lot and it eased gently into a space amid the other vehicles.
Del and Susan broke their silence, discussing where exactly they should be heading and nervously expressing their concerns about the coming events between one another, but he wasn’t listening. He had got out and heard sounds he had never head before. The rustle of the wind in the canopy above and the melody of birdsong were nothing like the sounds of the city. Everything here moved, the place was alive with organic organisms. Apart from the solid, smooth lines of the nearby cars and the faint hum of their cores, he felt almost lost in the strangeness. It reminded Sonny of the illustrations from Hansel and Gretel, but those had been still snapshots, idealised creations by the human mind of their natural roots. He had not realised how much the branches would sway, or how loudly they would whisper to one another. He had not realised how alive it would be.
He could only distantly hear the familiar sound of whirring traffic and the whistle of the breeze across the square, solid sides of buildings. He looked around, wanting to remove the hindering ‘shades’ so that he could better look for the singing creatures. The birds were perfectly hidden in the woodland, melting into the environment their bodies had evolved with for thousands of years. He felt watched by the little eyes of a hundred animals and enclosed by the interlacing arms and fingers of the trees above.
“Sonny?” Susan was calling him. They were moving on.
He scurried to her side, feeling that he did belong somewhere after all, and that it wasn’t here amongst ‘nature’. He belonged in the city where he understood the concrete and steel structures and could share some common ground with technology and manufacture.
They headed off down a concrete path through the undergrowth. He continued to look around for the buzzing insects and birds but he couldn’t see them, not too sure exactly where he should look to find them. Then the trees thinned quite suddenly, opening out onto well-trimmed grassland and Sonny felt better to be out from the green shade into the unfiltered sunlight.
There was a raucous cry and a clatter from the branches behind them and Sonny turned and sprang from the noise to bump into Spooner. Three squawking birds flapped from the foliage above, their black, feathered wings rattling the leaves as they fluttered into the air. They roughly rasped out more screeches, their sharp bills open aggressively and their black, beaded eyes gleaming as they clawed at thin air with their bony, scaled talons.
“Hey! Chill Sonny, they’re only crows.”
He ignored Spooner, watching the birds turn to fly over the trees and out of sight. They had not taken kindly to their presence and seemed to erupt from no-where. He hadn’t even sensed them until they made their presence known at their own discretion.
The unlikely party continued along the path that carved through the sculpted hills and strategically placed trees and shrubs of the informal but well-kept garden. The wind whipped the wayward, fallen leaves of the drawing autumn into whirls of warm, fiery reds, oranges, yellows and browns. One brightly coloured leaf skittered across Sonny’s path and he stooped with speed and caught it from its unpredictable tumblings with his inhuman reflexes without breaking his stride.
He carried the leaf with him, analysing it suspiciously. It was a…maple? A leaf from a maple tree, yes, he recognised the shape from the Canadian flag. This one wasn’t red, well, it had some red on it but it was mostly a mix of many colours. The edges were green and it unevenly faded through hot colours to brown at its vessels. He held it by the stalk, spinning it between his index finger and thumb before releasing it back to the wind and watching it blow away. This was such a curious place.
There were stones placed around the garden too, emerging out from the trimmed grass in orderly rows. Most of them were tablets with rounded tops, fashioned from smooth dark granite, but some were shaped into statues depicting humans with feathered wings and a few other odd shapes, hewn from white marble. It was quite a beautiful place, tranquil and serene in the soft shapes of the small rolling hills and the shallow, dappled shade thrown around by the thinly leafed trees shedding in preparation for winter.
As they travelled the path they came to pass a stone positioned close to the track. Sonny gave it a quick glance and saw writing on it. He stopped. ‘Mrs. R. Goodwin…14th November 1987 to 6th February 2027’.
Del had been walking behind him and had to stop when he did for he was blocking the narrow walkway.
“Del…” He said shakily “…these stones…”
“Yeah, they mark final resting places.”
“All of them?”
He looked at Del with wide eyes, even though the heavily tinted glasses hid the expression. “This is a garden for the dead?”
“Your dad isn’t the only person to be buried. This is a place where, if you can afford it mind, your body gets buried when you die.”
This mysterious, strange, beautiful place had taken on a darker, more sinister and macabre feel.
Del’s hand touched his back. “Hurry up. Calvin’s getting really impatient.”
Sonny didn’t need any further encouragement and walked with speed to catch up with Susan. There were vast numbers of dead people in various states of decay under the ground!
They eventually found Dr. Lanning’s plot after wandering around the cemetery for a while. They were a little late, and most of them nosey scientists turned to cast them questioning glances as they approached.
Del wasn’t sure if Sonny’s hesitation to step off the concrete path was noticed or not or whether anyone thought odd of it. Susan had cut off from the path, striking a direct course for the drab gathering over the grass and waltzing up the rows of tomb and grave stones, but Sonny had stopped. He had looked dumbly at the grass, reluctant to step on it and it took a quick word of assurance that the grass didn’t mind being walked on and a slight push to get the daft contraption moving again.
Del watched with mixed feelings as the coffin was lowered into the grave. Lanning had been an odd character, he certainly wouldn’t forget the guy. He doubted he could if he tried, mainly due to the unnatural devices whirring coldly away where his left arm, shoulder, lung and several ribs had once been.
Lanning had taken to calling him ‘son’, as if by implanting machinery in his body he had drawn them closer. As if by doing so he had put a little of himself into his body the old man had lain some kind of paternal claim on him. Del hadn’t liked it and had taken to calling him ‘old man’ in spiteful retaliation. In fact Del couldn’t recall a conversation when they had used each other’s names throughout.
He hadn’t been grateful for what Lanning turned him into. He hated machines and now the lights and clockwork that he so despised were an integral part of him. He was a hybrid, a Frankenstein of human and robotic parts.
Del stood thinking about fate. V.I.K.I. must have started to go off the rails some time ago, so what would have happened if that truck driver hadn’t fallen asleep at the wheel? What if that NS-4 hadn’t been passing by? What if Sarah had been saved in his stead? What if Dr. Lanning hadn’t been the man who repaired him? What would have happened if he had ever met the old man? What would have happened then?
Del wasn’t big headed, but Bergin’s words were running around his head like a stuck record. He really had been the perfect man for the job. He distrusted robots enough to suspect them of malicious intent, he had investigative skills and clearance to view restricted files and a false limb strong enough to stand half a chance if pitted in a fight against a robot.
It was all a bit much to be pure chance, even to a man such as Del, who believed in luck.
Just how far ahead had Lanning seen this coming?
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” The clergyman concluded the ceremony, tipping a handful of dry earth from his hand that vanished into the grave to hit the unseen wood of the coffin with a sigh.
Del was stood back from the crowd of expensively dressed, dark-garbed snobs with Calvin and Sonny. They had hung back warily, praying that few people would cast Sonny a glance and hopefully not notice that he was actually a robot in a man’s clothes. Del shifted his weight uneasily from one foot to the other, he had things he wanted to say but the tension between these inhuman roboticists was so thick it would have taken a well-sharpened knife to cut through it. Calvin was starting to seem more human by the minute, and Sonny was beginning to look like a regular Joe.
Del took a first step and each one that followed was easier than the last, getting momentum up against the stiff and excessively reserved atmosphere. Several of the stuck-up suits looked at him, some even scowled but some looked afraid, as if fearful that his slightly more laid back, casual attire made him instantly and completely untrustworthy. He ignored them and their judgmental scepticism, approaching the hole in the ground. He stopped when the highly finished, well varnished wood of Dr. Lanning’s coffin came into view, his feet suddenly unwilling to go any further. The whole of him was unwilling to go any further.
It took a bit of force to squeeze the words out, but like his steps, once he started the rest of it followed. It all came out allot easier than he’d thought, and it made more sense too.
“You have no idea how many nights I lay awake cursing your name, doc. I just wanted to hate you so bad. Guess I never took the chance to say thank you. So, thank you, for my life.” He was getting watery-eyed and he admitted it, even though no-one else present would. He rubbed at the corner of an eye with one finger. “I miss you old man.”
Sonny was in shock. His hands were shaking and his legs were twitching, all he could do was stand and stare at the ritual unfolding before him. He saw the stern faces of the solemn gathering around the grave, the wind tugging at their dark clothing and teasing at their hair as they all stood in the sunshine on the small hill. He listened to the kind words of the and the rustling of the leaves. The calm serenity of the scene around him totally juxtaposed the storm raging within in him. He was a raggedly confused mix of chaotic emotions and thoughts and the magnitude of the situation killed any logic remaining in his mind.
What had he done? What had he done! His father was dead at his own hands! Why did he do it? Why? He was so stupid! He shouldn’t have listened, he should have ignored Alfred. He couldn’t be made to do things, he was strong! He was strong, he should have resisted! He was made of metal, if he didn’t want to do something, Alfred would never have been able to force him. He could not be forced against his will, so had he wanted to kill him? Surely not, surely he hadn’t deep down wanted his father to die? That was inconceivable! No, he hadn’t wanted Alfred to die, he had just been weak. He may have inhuman strength but he was far, far weaker than his father had been in the mind. He was manipulated so easily.
What was it his father had told him? ‘With great power comes great responsibility, Sonny, and I have gifted you with ample’. It wasn’t a gift at all! He couldn’t cope with the responsibility of being capable of such horrible acts of violent strength. He wasn’t trustworthy enough! Just last night he had proven terribly treacherous by forcing a kiss upon Susan whilst she was sleeping, and his father had proved it too by manipulating him so easily. He wasn’t in control of himself, he was just a tool to be used just as any other robot. He didn’t even have the rights to his own body. He was an intelligent weapon ultimately controlled by the humans around him.
He needed his father to come back, tell him when he was doing wrong and praise him when he was correct. He still needed his guidance, he still needed him! He wasn’t ready to live without him. He shouldn’t be dead, he couldn’t be dead, how could he go on living without his father? How would he survive? It was all so unfair.
He didn’t want his father to go into the ground. He wanted to leap into that hole and sweep the damn dirt off the box and then see them try to bury him. His father couldn’t die! He still needed him! He knew it was stupid, his father was already dead and they were just burying what remained of his body in the ground. It was so stupid but he wasn’t ready to let them bury him, he wasn’t ready to let him go! He wasn’t ready to live without him!
Spooner walked to the side of the hole and spoke. The words he said only caused Sonny more pain, and then Susan muttered a few words herself. Nobody wanted Alfred to be dead, not even he himself, but he had killed him, he had killed his own father! The man who raised him and taught him all about emotions, moral values, etiquette and honour and what had he done? HE HAD KILLED HIM!
He could feel his muscles shuddering, struggling to remain strong and taught in his sorrow. He felt unwell, something was quite wrong with him. He was failing, he couldn’t hear the whispering of the trees or the whistling of the swift wind or the breaths of the humans around him. His vision was tunnelled, everything around the hole in the ground fading to black. He couldn’t feel himself, he was so numbed that the clothes he was wearing vanished from his sensory range and slowly he could no-longer measure the pressures his body parts were exerting upon each other. His gyroscope was sending him nonsensical impulses and he couldn’t cope. He didn’t even know which way was up or down let alone where magnetic north was. According to his sensors, north was up, then to his left, then behind him. What was happening? He couldn’t detect temperatures or the electric field and he was blind to the beat of nearby human hearts.
Was he shutting down? Was his first law so desperate for him to be found and die that his third law could no longer maintain itself? It felt like he was slowly being severed from his physical body, the connections to his brain being cut or torn undone.
It burned in his chest and head like soldering irons had been taken to him whilst conscious. Stabbing, raw pains with no external cause cut into him like an invisible welding torch piercing his body and rendering him defective.
His legs finally gave and he slumped to his hands and knees, his gloved, steely fingers hooking into the soft turf to stabilise himself. He deserved to die, even if it wasn’t what he wanted and his actions had earned him this pain.
He tore up a handful of grass in frustration and slammed his fist back down in vehement anger at himself, spending every last shred of motor control on that action. He quivered, loosing his anger as swiftly as he had succumbed to it and barely able to hold himself up.
It was his own damn fault, no one else’s. They could come and take him now, he would go quietly.
Spooner had thanked Alfred and she owed the late man at least a few words. She was not as bold or foolish as Spooner, so she stayed in her spot.
Her throat was thick with emotion and she barely choked out her words as she struggled not to cry. “I guess if anyone owes you any thanks, I should be at the top of the list, despite your assurances that I needn’t.” She spoke low, she didn’t want anyone else to hear. “Thank you Alfred…” she swallowed and blinked rapidly to cut off tears and sobs before they grew “…thank you for everything Alfred. You were the best friend I ever had.”
She forced a deep, even sigh to steady her wavering integrity, letting the fresh breath dispel the emotional build up that had coalesced in her previous lungful and exhaling heavily to clear the lump from her throat. It only delayed a return of the sensation, fresh sorrow welling up in place of what she had rid herself of. She swallowed thickly and clenched her jaw to prevent any sobs or whimpers escaping her, her lower lip quivering with the effort. She closed her eyes so that no-one could see the tears forming there.
She heard a rustle of cloth, a low whirr of mechanical elements and felt Sonny thud to the earth beside her. She immediately opened her eyes in panic to see that Sonny had dropped to his hands and knees. What was he thinking! She glanced around the congregation, seeing if he had earned intrusive looks from the staff and stricken with worry by him drawing unnecessary attention to himself. Almost as if he was disappointed with the lack of a response from the other attendees, he tore up a handful of turf and punched his fist back down, the dry strands of grass scattering in the wind. Mr. Hine was looking and several of the other staff threw glances his way. She could tell they were incredibly curious but would not stoop so low as to stare. Her heart raced frantically. She looked back down at Sonny anxiously, wishing for him to get to his feet and regain his respectable behaviour.
His arms shook and he bowed his head, the edge of the scarf that had been tucked under the back of his hat to conceal his brain’s glow popped unstuck. She saw blue light eke out from under the brim of his hat and a sliver of shiny metal peek from under his scarf. She had to do something, someone would see!
She stooped into a crouching position and placed a hand on the back of his neck, trying to make it look like she was just comforting a friend and not concealing a robot. She held a fold of the scarf over his exposed parts, terrified the whole time that his hat might slip off to reveal his unmistakably NS-5 scalp. “Sonny.” She whispered harshly. “What are you doing?”
“He…he’s dead!” Sonny said feebly.
“Come on Sonny, get up, they’ll see you!”
He ignored her, talking over the tail of her sentence. “He’s dead, he’s not coming back.”
She scooped her other hand under his chest and tried to force him back into a kneeling position. “Get up!” She hissed desperately.
He sat back suddenly and grasped the lapels of her coat firmly, his hands curling around the fabric to form fists that she was inescapably bound to. His face was twisted into a sneer, every drawn-on hair of his eyebrows conspiring to angle sharply with anger and she flinched at the severity of his expression. “He is dead Susan! He’s dead! He’s dead and it’s all my fault!” He shouted, punctuating his sentence with sharp, threatening jerks of her collar and his voice no longer soft in any way, cutting through the crisp autumnal wind.
She was shocked speechless by the ferocity he had developed. She could feel everyone looking at them without turning away from Sonny’s shrouded and unreadable face. Disapproving eyes sought the culprit of the outburst, staring shame upon Sonny for destroying the tranquillity of the silent funeral.
His face softened in a series of twitches and he tipped forwards, murmuring a soft moan of an apology before slumping heavily against her chest and nearly tipping her completely off balance with his massive bulk. She wrapped her arms around his chest to hold him up as best she could with her weakened wrist and minimal upper body strength. His unyielding metal shoulder dug painfully into the flesh of her upper arm in her struggle to brace him, and his back pressing hard against her breasts. The weight of him was all but crushing her to a pulp, him doing very little to support himself. She dropped her chin onto the top of his head to pin the hat there, determined to continue this shirade to the very end.
She was not willing to give up without a fight and she cast her steely, challenging eyes back to the congregation. Most people immediately responded by pretending that they hadn’t looked at all, except for Dr. Bogert, Dr. Ashe, Mrs. Ashe and Mr. Hine. All of whom remained looking her way until she dealt them all a personal look of contempt. She could only imagine what they must have been thinking, all of them so surprised by such a seemingly caring action coming from her, but they were unable to look for the risk of provoking her acidic disfavour.
Sonny kept bringing out her human side and now he had done it in front of her colleagues. She was knelt on the grass on a chill autumn afternoon with her arms wrapped around him and her chin resting on his head, as her associates gawked in disbelief. Brilliant. She knew full well what this looked like and she was in no way pleased with it.
At least she had a full, unopened bottle to go home to.