Chapter: 10) Food for the Soul
Fandom: I, Robot
Rating: PG-13, contains thoughts of a *mildly* sexual nature (rating is probably a little high but its better to be safe than sorry).
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 was exhausted and if it wasn’t for the chill she felt regardless of her car’s comfortable inner temperature and the dull aching deep in her bones she would have fallen asleep on the journey home from work. She felt uncommonly weary and delicate, cradling her arms around her bruised ribs not just for the sake of consoling herself but to also try to restore some warmth to her torso. She was huddled up in her blue coat and hunkered down as deep as she could manage in the firmly padded and taughtly upholstered driver’s seat in an attempt to minimise her exposure.
Her skin was marred with an unsightly and tender mottling of injuries that were but a few days old and even the undamaged stretches felt battered and as thin and dry as cheap photocopier paper. The cool drafts in the freeway network, which were always considerably warmer than the cold winds at street level, had gone straight through her and chilled her to the bone. She made a mental note to herself to pick up a decent black coat tomorrow morning or else freeze at the funeral. Her muscles were overworked and periodically cramped up for no apparent reason other than in retaliation for years of neglect and her skeletal structure was just as grateful, although less aggressively. Her bones felt hollow and brittle, like they were threatening to go on strike by breaking if she put them to any more strenuous tasks.
It was nothing short of a mutiny. Her body was reminding her scientifically cold and calculating brain that she was not the machine she had been striving to become, that however much she disliked the true facts, she was only flesh and blood. Her body would not sit obediently and wait for what it needed to be allowed and given by her iron mind anymore. Her organs were usurping her, refusing to suffer in patient silence as she calculated what was necessary or not and dispensing the minimum attention to quell her body’s needs. She had thought of her cold ways as a success, she thought she had reduced her body to a tool for her mind’s will and disengaged all that defined humanity within her. She thought she had gained complete and total control of her body, ruling herself with an unforgiving touch of steel. She had presumed the roboticism she had adopted a success, touting the change as an improvement for her own good, using her past as propaganda against her heart and humanity. For a time it was good and all appeared to be satisfactory.
But these were times full of change. Her body was beginning to ignore her mind’s logic, choosing to follow her stirring, foolish heart over her aware and intelligent head, disregarding logic for pure madness. She could feel parts of herself forgetting the emotional and physical pain of what had transpired before, the dust of many years of inactivity lying worryingly thick over those memories. Against her better reasoning, time was healing her wounds and no good could come of this, but nothing listened. Today, for example, her stomach had learned that it needn’t obey to get what it wanted. It had called out for food and Spooner had dished out positive reinforcement. Things could only go downhill from here. An insurrection was beginning, and her body had decided that anything was better than the life of logic and slavery her mind had prescribed.
Damn that bloody robot and his innocence. He had been on her mind all day and not in the way she had wished. She had spent her working hours trying to think of how she could secure his freedom without remembering his touch and it had been an exercise in futility to the utmost degree. From the seclusion in her lab she had sat at her desk on her computer, and rather than pour over the legalities regarding ownership of NS-5’s, USR leasing policies and human rights as she should have, she signed in to USR Instant Messenger. It was a simple program, allowing employees with offices or labs to contact one another quickly and conveniently. There were several different ways of using the service, from holographic projection, video and audio to plain text messaging. Susan preferred the latter, it was the more impersonal option and in this and its simplicity it served her requirements adequately. She had contacted Mr. Hine and requested clearance to view the security footage from that fateful night. He preferred to use video messaging, and he had seemed agitated in his expression and tone, hinting at his emotions. That was why she favoured text only, lest she forget herself or drop her guard for a single moment in the misleading physical solitude she found in her office and show any fellow employee any weakness in any way.
It was purely to satisfy her curiosity, she told herself, to appease her scientific mind with information and facts. It was only a few moments afterwards that she realised that the only files she had watched in full and with all of her attention were those concerning Sonny’s activities. She watched with more than just an analytical mind as her computer’s wafer-thin, flat screen pulled up the high definition images and she observed his actions. She found an explanation in Sonny’s wink for what transpired in Robertson’s office, but as for the rest, well, she just watched for her own pleasure, what other reason was there? She knew full well that Sonny would accomplish the task of retrieving the nanites even before she saw it on the screen, but she viewed the files anyway. The most rational explanation she could come up with was concern. Concern for his welfare and sheer curiosity.
As illogical as it was, she felt proud of his reaction to V.I.K.I.’s last-ditch attempt to dissuade him from his mission. She watched with a slight edge of something like awe when he demonstrated but a fraction of his strength by forcing his way through the extra thick, security locked-down doors to the diagnostics lab. She even felt fear when an NS-5 appeared in the doorway behind him whilst his attention was focused on his objective, a look of self-gratification on his slim face and apparently unaware of the lurking danger behind him. She watched with morbid fascination as he applied his creative mind to hand-to-hand combat with other NS-5’s. Sonny certainly could do more than just push people out of windows, he was a surprisingly adept fighter. She was not fond of physical violence but it had been mesmerising to watch. She absorbed all the events with a degree of involvement she found disturbing, they weren’t washing over her normally collected and controlled mind as they should have been. She was feeling. She was feeling for Sonny.
Curse that impudent robot, he was unwittingly destroying all that she had strived to make of herself. She had come to realise that she could pin no blame on him however. After all, what had he done? Nothing, or at least nothing with pernicious intent. He didn’t know what he was doing to her. She couldn’t blame him for her rebellious, nonsensical heart or her desperate, dissatisfied body and their collaborative warmongering against her head’s attempts to impart sensible judgement into the equation. She was weak, she was human…she was a total fool and more so than she could ever have imagined.
Her car quietly parked in her space and she reached onto the passenger seat to gather the brand new bottle about the middle with a wide, grasping palm. She had used her work computer to check out what shops were open and gone well out of her way to visit a large hypermarket solely for alcohol. She realised when pulling a bottle from the shelf that she was behaving like a hopelessly greedy alcoholic, so she pushed it away and took a smaller one. She was not an alcoholic, she just liked the taste of bourbons and whiskeys, amongst all of which she loved the familiarity of Southern Comfort’s warm, faint peachy flavour like nothing else.
She walked sensitively to the elevator and propped herself up in the corner until she reached her floor, her mind tired and quiet throughout the journey. She reached her apartment, swiped her key card and at the automatic clunk of her front door unlocking she put her weight against it to push it open, almost stumbling into her home and walking in blinkered with exhaustion. She left the bottle in the recess by the door and went to walk into the TV room and stopped short, unsure of if the surreal images her eyes were feeding her were in fact true to reality or if they had begun to rebel against logic too.
“Hey Calvin.” Spooner had been lounging comfortably on the couch and at her arrival he eased himself up to make room for her to sit, not for a moment looking away from the number of playing cards fanned in his cybernetic hand. His brown jacket was thrown untidily over the back of her couch and one of her white dinner plates was on the floor beside him, covered with crumbs. Her glass-topped coffee table had been pulled up to the couch and more cards were heaped in piles upon it. The clumps of cards nearest Spooner were sprawled and only vaguely recognisable as separate groupings, whereas those nearest Sonny were in neat, orderly and precise stacks.
The robot in question looked up from the game, his sky-blue eyes shining with excitement and a smile played on his milky-white lips. “Good evening Susan, did you have a good day at work?”
She could only blink in bewilderment as a reply.
Sonny was sitting in one of her many chairs, taken from another room and placed opposite Spooner and the coffee-come-card table, but that was in no way odd compared to Sonny himself. Where his small, nimble, silver, shoe-like feet should have been she was seeing large, black leather boots. Long, smart, black trousers covered the moon-white plastic of his shins and his ebony thighs and a black, button-up shirt hung from his deep chest. On top of that, the longer of Spooner’s black leather jackets sat loosely on his broad, mechanical shoulders and followed his arms down to the wrist, where the cuffs greeted well-worn, soft, leather gloves. Through these gloves Sonny was holding his own hand of cards, and noticing Spooner’s seeking eyes Sonny smoothly swept them into a protective deck face down in the palm of a hand as a guard against the man’s prying, cheating eyes.
“Del has been teaching me to play card games, its great fun. Would you like to play too, in the next game?” Sonny hadn’t waited long for a reply from her in his upbeat mood.
“Go fish is a two player game.” Spooner said. “You got any nines?”
“Yes.” Sonny sorted through his cards and cheerfully handed over three nines. “Are there any three-participant games we could all play together?”
“Yeah.” Spooner took the nines and added his fourth and final like-numbered card to the group before sloppily dropping the lot on the table in front of him. Some cards slipped over the smooth surfaces of the others and spilled into another untidy pile. “Any fours?”
“Go fish!” Sonny chirruped, measuring and re-fanning his hand geometrically with almost obsessive compulsiveness and rocking forwards on his toes with glee.
Susan would have expected an explanation as to why Sonny was dressed up in Spooner’s clothes by now without the need to ask, but obviously an inquiry was necessary. She loosely pointed in Sonny’s direction. “Why is Sonny wearing your clothes?”
She had gained Spooner’s attention. He looked at her with a degree of uncertainty, as if he knew already that she wasn’t going to like what he was going to say. “I thought it would be a good idea for him to go tomorrow.”
He was right. She was not pleased in the slightest. She stared at him, disbelievingly, hoping he was joking.
“I thought you wouldn’t agree.”
“Too right I don’t agree!” She started angrily. “Where the hell have you been these past few days? The Moon? Robot’s aren’t welcome in public Spooner!” She was furious, this idea was nothing short of insanity. It was suicide! She was facing Spooner and sharply flicked out an arm to gesture towards Sonny with a tense, open hand, her fingers curled slightly into claws. “He’s already been shot, he was lucky to escape with his life!” She realised she was beginning to shout and stopped herself as she noticed Sonny cringing away from her aggressively outstretched arm. She was getting irrational, her normally steely cool composure and razor-edged argumentative precision was giving way to frantic, undirected and indiscriminate rage. Dr. Susan Calvin, the epitome of female frigidity, the pinnacle of mechanised mankind and the prime example of US Robotics’ transformative effects on humans, was loosing her cool. The Ice Queen’s blood was beginning to…boil.
“That’s why he’s wearing my clothes! I’m not stupid, I know he can’t go out without some kind of disguise.”
She narrowed her eyes cruelly and withdrew her hostile hand to clasp her other arm’s elbow behind her back, regaining some sort of self-control and assuming a less blatantly offensive pose. Her current stance was equally assertive but was more quietly commanding and domineering than the unnervingly hot, brash and indiscreet behaviour she’d just exhibited. “You’re telling me that you are hoping a few clothes will disguise Sonny as a human? In broad daylight?” She said flatly. Spooner was demonstrating that he was the idiot she had suspected him of being.
“I’ve got a hat, scarf and shades for him too. I was going to ask you if you could do something about the colour of his skin with your makeup. I wasn’t expecting what he’s wearing now to be enough. I’m not that thick. Anyway, he wants to go.”
She turned on Sonny but before she could say anything against the ludicrous concept, his frightened features hardened into a face of solid determination. “I do.” He frowned, his voice carrying an uncharacteristic load of conviction, his tone not timid and unsure but deep and heavy with a great degree of solidarity. “I want to go.”
She looked him coldly in the eye, staring him down and expecting him to cave at least a little under her well-practised glare but after only a few moments she realised that there was no way to sway him. He had made up his mind and she suspected that even if she did not approve of the plan he would go ahead with it anyway, his will was set. It showed in the incredible depth of his deep blue eyes and the way they almost burned with resolve. Sonny was his own person, he had the capacity to want just as any human did and he was not under anyone’s control. There was nothing she could do to stop him. She could not hope to succeed in restringing him with physical force and although the Second Law of Obedience was in him, so was the ability to disregard it. All she could do was plead with him not to go. She did not grovel to any man, or machine for that matter, she was above that. There was nothing she could do to stop him.
Susan was the one who caved. She dropped her long coat from her shoulders and let it fall to the floor. She slumped into the waiting space on her couch, slouching low so that her head was easily supported by the low back and sagging wearily into the padded comfort. She felt utterly spent, the past few days sapping at the strength of her mind and body to the extent that she was on the edge of just not caring anymore. No, that was a little extreme, she was just stressed. She needed a drink, but she was too tired to get up and fetch her bottle and a glass so she just undid her silver jacket and leant against the couch’s arm, propping her head up on her hand and trying to relax a little. “It won’t work, you know.” She said, almost a hopeless sigh. “The people going won’t be regular members of the public, this is a USR affair. There will be doctors there that designed the NS-5 model, doctors that worked tirelessly for years on the new Nestors. They will notice he’s not really human at a hundred meters.”
“You’re just being pessimistic. They won’t notice.”
“He’ll get shot or taken back to USR for dissection and decommissioning.”
“I’m willing to take that risk.” Sonny said adamantly, his will steady and unwavering even at the prospect of his own death.
Susan gave an exasperated shake of her head and a small shrug. “You know the dangers and the potential costs of you actions. I can’t stop you, it’s your choice and you’ll have to accept the consequences.”
Sonny nodded slowly and solemnly. He knew full well what could happen, he was an intelligent creature.
“Well it’s settled then. It’s your go Sonny.” Spooner said, lifting his cards back up into his line of sight.
Sonny fanned out his cards but he looked distinctly less cheerful now. “Have you any aces?” He sounded downcast too.
“I have but one.” Spooner smiled and handed the card over.
Sonny graciously accepted the card with one gloved hand despite his obviously unhappy mood. “Have you any fives?”
Spooner handed over two cards.
“Fish.” Spooner said triumphantly.
Sonny took a card from the deck and Susan saw a slight but unmissable smile flash across his pale lips momentarily when he added it to his hand. His attention was held now and any ill mood he had was forgotten with childish speed.
Spooner chuckled. “Would that happen to be the jack I’ve been asking for all this game?”
Sonny’s shoulders dropped and he glumly handed the new card over as the rules dictated, although he did it grudgingly.
Spooner continued to quietly chortle away to himself, pleased with his acquisition. He was winning. “He’s really bad at keeping a lid on his excitement.” Spooner turned to her, grinning as he put his jacks on the table. “We had to swap games cause he was getting peeved with poker, he was dismal. Couldn’t hide what he had in his hand.”
“I can’t help it, I just get a little over enthusiastic.” Sonny explained.
Susan smiled faintly. It stood to reason, he was too genuine and expressive for games like that. He was as easy to read as an open book, with large print. She did not hesitate to admit to herself that it was refreshing to have such a pure, honest acquaintance. No, friend. He was her friend. He was not a cheat, a fraud or a swindler, his words were not laced with lies and chicanery and in his naiveté he bore no heavy grudges or the resentment and spite that came with them. It wasn’t that he couldn’t deceive, he had proved that with his marvellous performance in Robertson’s office. Sonny just didn’t employ duplicity as a shield against the rest of the world or as a weapon to serve his own means, to establish authority over his peers. His soul was clean and uncoloured by the darkness of the world.
No, he was as yet untainted by the darkness of humanity. There was no fault with the world other than that humanity infested every crust of its surface possible. Humanity was a race of dark, selfish creatures full of not only the ability but also the will to deceive. Humans strived for superiority at all costs and truth was the first victim of any war, be it the struggle for power of masses on international scales, or within individual social circles. Humans were born thirsty for dominance and it caused evil, spiteful, malicious and thieving intent to breed in their hearts and minds until it overwhelmed their existence.
Homo sapiens was a species full of two-faced fakery and falseness, yet they called robots artificial? It was such an amusingly ironic thought that a smile could have graced Susan’s lips were it not for the concern she was feeling yet again for Sonny’s welfare. Sonny was sincere, he recognised the weight of his words and actions and did not throw them about indiscriminately. He may be crafted by the hand of man in his likeness from smelted metal ores and refined crude-oil plastics taken from the earth, but he was by no means a fake. Sonny was in fact less fake than any man she had met bar one, and he took after his father beautifully.
Dr. Alfred Lanning had been beyond a brilliant man. He was a true genius to the fullest extent of the word. He had founded US Robotics virtually single-handedly, helped by Laurence Robertson’s managerial skills and mind for business, money and profits and an elite handful of the best scientists the world had to offer. Alfred had invented positronic technology and culminated his initial research with the creation of the most advanced inorganic intelligence ever constructed, the tremendous positronic brain that was V.I.K.I. What a pity it was that his most famed creation was the cause of his own destruction. What a pity it was that a genocidal mind was now being painted as an innocent victim. She could remember the day V.I.K.I. was born. She had not been at USR long on that day, still fairly fresh from Columbia University but already the worlds foremost and possibly only Robopsychiatrist.
She cautiously approached the large, striated sphere. It was dark now, its inner depths black and unmoving and the grey, convoluted pathways were stationary and silent. Soon though it would become a hive of activity as it received power for the first time, electricity sparking the first chemical reactions and setting up the initial potentials that begun the workings of positronic cores. She couldn’t wait for the master switch to be thrown, this was the most complex artificial intelligence ever created and it was honour enough to be present at the beginning of it’s active period, let alone be charged with monitoring it’s psychological development.
“Exciting, isn’t it?”
She was momentarily startled, she had presumed the laboratory to be empty.
“Isn’t it?” Dr. Lanning repeated, smiling through his closely cropped beard and stepping out from behind the dark shell. He had begun to go grey many years before but there were still a fair number of coloured strands mixed in with the silver of his head and facial hair. His hair had been thicker, a veritable pale mane atop his incredible cranium and he had stood taller then too, but not by much. Not even age brought him down a peg, let alone two.
“Sorry Sir, what is exciting?” She said edgily.
“Creation.” Dr. Lanning indicated towards the massive, inactive positronic core that dominated the plain laboratory.
“Oh, yes of course.” She shook her head a little as an excuse, an open admission of poor attention and stupidity. “Very exciting.”
He stood beside her and continued his obsessive overview from a distance. “It is a pity that it took Milton so long to sort out the incompatibility problems in those new inducer coils of his. It would have cut down on her weight a fair bit.”
“We could postpone the activation a week, it would not take long to fit new coils. Dr Ashe has assured me he…”
“No.” Dr. Lanning inserted and although he said it in a mild tone with little force behind it to the point that he sounded a little distracted, it was enough to stop the younger doctor’s sentence fully. “I don’t want to have to set this back again. I’ve spent too much of the last three days getting all the paperwork for this done, I don’t want to have to repeat it all in under a week.” He turned to look at her over the rim of his thin, pale-gold framed glasses. “Plus Lawrence would have a fit, he’s been on my back about this project for weeks. He’s convinced I’m dragging my feet and dithering around like an old fart.”
Susan gave a rare, warm smile. Lawrence was the only member of the corporation who would have the nerve to call Alfred a ‘dithering’ old fart, at least in front of anyone. No one dare speak it even if it were on their minds as they would surely loose face with the rest of the staff, no matter how light-heartedly it was said or jovially meant. Despite the presence of many other hard-working doctors, it always felt like Alfred was practically running the organisation and all the major projects. He was the driving force behind US Robotics and Mechanical Men Incorporated. Not to say he was a glory hog, far from it as he had the tendency to shy away from praise. Credit was given where credit was due. Dr. Lanning did not steal other scientists’ thunder, he didn’t need to. He was incredibly intelligent and ingenious.
“I would have expected you to be a little more…excitable. A young doctor such as yourself granted with a project of such weight and magnitude? You are the forerunner of your field and V.I.K.I. could become a glowing benchmark in your career.” He paused and continued in a lower, well-humoured note. “I would barely be able to contain myself, were I you.”
“I have a little self-control. Would you rather my behaviour matched Dr. Bogert’s when he cracked the problems of String Theorem interaction with Equation 16 using Greenberg’s Dimensional Shift concept?”
“No, no, that is quite all right.” He added hastily. Dr. Bogert’s exhibition of his exhilaration at solving that problem had been a little disturbing for all involved.
“To be honest I’m surprised you are as sedate as you are, Sir. You have been working up to this for some time, and you are as much a forerunner in your field as I am in mine. However, if it is any consolation, I am greatly anticipating this project. I am fully looking forwards to understanding the effects of such a vastly increased calculative capacity on the perception of your Laws.” She narrowed her eyes thoughtfully, a little of her intrigue and emotion beginning to show in the tightening of the fine lines about them. “I’m expecting there to be curious effects upon the positronic interplay within its core, who knows what revelations this will bring. This is the most powerful, sophisticated positron sphere ever constructed by a gigantic measure and I am quite honoured to be able to work with it. This will probably be the greatest step in artificial intelligence of the decade.”
“There is nothing artificial about positronic intelligence, Susan. V.I.K.I. may be made of different stuff but she is quite real.” He stepped up and patted the titanium casing of the monumental core with such gentility it had even seemed to her logical mind like an act of affection. “From conception to creation I have looked forwards to this day, but now that it is here I’m not sure how I feel. In a few hours we will be giving the spark of life to an exceptionally intelligent being, but after that, we can’t be sure what will happen. We can approximate and calculate all we like but V.I.K.I. is not a simple creature, her brain is phenomenally complex and she will draw her own conclusions. Once she wakes, she will not sleep. She does not have the ability to rest and she will only know constant growth, expansion of her files and an exponential spiral of ever deepening complexities in her positronic pathways.”
Susan smiled. “Much of a nervous father?”
He chuckled almost silently in agreement before turning to her, his face growing long and his voice grave, as if he were filled with regret. “I have had thoughts lately which have troubled me, that the ramifications of my curiosity may be far more extreme than I ever imagined. Once she is certified as ‘safe’ she will be hooked up to the integration network and if there are any dire problems after that, well, you know how difficult it would be to shut down the central operations core in such a busy building. Lawrence is a good man but he has a mind only for numbers in green, upward pointing arrows on the stock markets and climbing graphs, he is monetarily orientated and time is money. This is what is troubling my mind. Time is not important, only life is.”
“You are just having some last minute doubts.” She reassured him the best her poorly developed social skills could allow. “She is not a tool of destruction, she has your Three Laws. It will all be fine.”
He paused, weighing up thoughts. “Maybe you are right.” He perked up. “Let’s go into the other lab, shall we? Or did you think you could avoid the, and to quote Lawrence, ‘informal conference’, by hiding in here?”
“You know me too well.” She said with a smile before Alfred began ushering her back towards the automatic doors.
She had dismissed that moment as a shadow of the self-reflection in a genius mind, a glimmer of eccentricity or just plain nerves. Now she understood what he had meant. He had always worried about the consequences of his actions and at times he had appeared terrified at the prospect of his creations causing harm, becoming machines of war. He dreaded becoming a one-man Manhattan Project. He had been offered insane sums of money to apply positronic technology to weapons, but he refused, incorporating his Three Laws into the core workings of his brains so that they couldn’t possibly operate without them. He wanted humanity to achieve great things, reach new heights with the robotic race at his side. It was Alfred who pushed for the Nestor series to gradually become Earth market orientated, designed for life in the home. At first the Nestors had been slaves, but Alfred persevered. The NS-3 was a slave. The NS-4 was a servant. The NS-5 was going to have been more than that. It was going to have been a member of the family, a companion and friend to gently ease away the Frankenstein complex on Earth. The Nestors were the ambassadors of robot kind, building fine relations with human society in the home. Now his life’s work was ruined almost beyond repair.
It was those Three Laws that killed him in the end. It was his own determination not to cause harm that had set about the chain reaction that ended his life. The road to misfortune was paved with good intentions and it was his love for peace and his goodwill towards mankind that had snuffed out his brilliance like a bright candle in the dark. He realised his error with the application of the Three Laws and in his last months he created an elaborate example of how robotics should be in the form of his son, the aptly named Sonny. Alfred had poured all of his values and morals into Sonny, sculpting his thoughts and moulding his mind gradually with fatherly care, attention and most certainly love with time and patience. No wonder Sonny wanted to go, and he deserved her help in any way she could give it. Lanning had been a virtuous man and tomorrow was going to be hard to bear for all who had known him, especially his own son. It would take every gram of her strength to prevent herself showing her true colours at his funeral after everything he had been and done for her. God knows how Sonny would cope with his young, fragile and open psyche. He had not developed time and experience hardened layers to shield himself with.
She was roused from her melancholy musings by Spooner’s victory. He had beaten Sonny and then proceeded to punctuate his triumph with what could arguably be termed a dance. The couch groaned in retaliation at being bounced upon, an activity it was not at all used to. Sonny looked none the worse for wear from loosing the game and seemed to be enjoying Spooner’s erratic behaviour, his mouth open in a jubilant smile that let his metallic teeth and tongue be just visible, shimmering from behind his white lips. He used the full flexibility of his soft polymer face, exercising it to its limits in a way that NS-5’s never did. His eyes were open wide and shone with youthful excitement at the mental stimulation of play. He looked positively thrilled, jubilant with the presentation of a situation he could learn new joy from. Of course, he was still young, and although Susan was a robopsychiatrist by profession she knew enough of conventional psychology to recognise that most intelligent organic minds learned through play. It was fortunate of Spooner to have taken this initiative, she was not a person who played often, and when she did it was not like this. She decided to join in, as it would help Sonny’s mental development.
“Spooner hasn’t taught you to play snap has he? You’d beat him effortlessly at that. As for poker, I’d wipe the floor with the both of you.” She smiled slyly.
“That sounds like fighting talk!” Spooner said, giving all his cards to Sonny to stack and shuffle.
“Spooner.” She said, shaking her head in a condescending manner. “I told you, I’ll win hands down.”
“Care to put your money where your mouth is?”
“I would not want to see you out of pocket.”
“Well why don’t we play just for pride then?”
“Spooner, I will win. I’m so confident of it that if I wanted to see any more of you than I already can I would challenge you to a game of strip poker, knowing full-well that the very most you’ll get off me would be my jacket and shoes before you ended up completely naked. Come, we’ll all play a few games of snap.”
“Okay.” Spooner reluctantly agreed. “Oh, and I went through your kitchen earlier and I feel so sorry for you that I’m going to treat you to a takeout. On me. What do you fancy?”
“What do you mean you feel sorry for me?”
“Del doesn’t think your food is real. He prefers to eat the corpses of complex vertebrates over plant matter or bacterially derived food sources.” Sonny stated as he shuffled.
She quelled a faint wave of nausea at the suggestion of eating ‘corpses’. She bought the food she selected out of preference, balking at the concept of consuming the more traditional human dietary components. She liked the taste but she couldn’t tolerate the texture of most ‘real’ foods. It was the variation that did it. A good example would be steak. There was a radical difference between each individual steak cut of beef, in shape and size and texture, and then there was the revolting variance within each one. The better bits were chewy and fibrous, the threads of muscle that were so easily tangible on her tongue plain evidence that what she was consuming had one mooed and walked around green fields. Then there were the nasty bits. Gristly, crunchy, stringy, fatty, squashy, squelchy hunks of mammalian tissues. Just thinking about it was sickening. She preferred her smoother, reassuringly and predictably identical-every-time ‘syntho-steak’ any day.
Her silence and grim expression prompted Spooner. “You can’t live on that stuff.”
“I have been for the past…fifteen odd years. What’s wrong with it?” She said defensively.
“No wonder you’re so heartless! You can’t live on chemicals no matter what you say, sure it keeps you alive but you need food for your soul! I’m not getting into an argument with you like I did with Sonny earlier, I am going to buy you some real food and you are going to eat it! Now, what do you fancy?”
She didn’t have the faintest clue how to reply to this question. What did she fancy? She didn’t even fully know what her options were. “I’ve never had a ‘takeout’ in my entire life.”
In a typical, over-exaggerated Spooner reaction she could have predicted to a tee his jaw dropped and he looked at her in horrified disbelief. “You’re a takeout virgin?”
She hoped her flat stare would serve as an adequate response to that question.
“Well okay, you can’t go wrong with a good Chinese.” Spooner took his earphone from his pocket. “Call the Millennium Wok.”
Spooner greeted the receptionist with a degree of casual, amiable familiarity that hinted at him being a very regular customer. After he had placed his order Susan raised her concerns, asking him if he realised that Sonny didn’t eat seems as he had just ordered a meal for three deal. He replied insisting that when ordering takeout food you always add on an additional person for good luck. Further questioning yielded a proper explanation in that apparently the portions were so small you had to order an extra persons’ worth to get a decent amount of food.
Whilst they waited for the Chinese takeout to arrive, and after Sonny had finished shuffling the cards to a point he felt that they were properly randomised, they played snap. Sonny did prove to excel at the game, his lightning-quick reactions and inhumanly fast arms guiding his de-gloved hand to the cards expertly. Even when they all dived at the appearance of a double card, his hand somehow managed to be at the bottom of the pile almost every time. He enjoyed calling out “Snap!” and liked winning, getting very involved in the game and grinning at his success. Spooner’s cybernetic arm ensured that whenever Sonny was distracted slightly to the point of missing a snap, it was the Detective who got the cards, not Susan. She lost each game abysmally, completely outgunned by a robotic speed until in a moment of carelessly excessive enthusiasm one of Sonny’s unfamiliar metal fingers scraped harshly on the coffee table’s top, leaving a rough scratch on the glass. Sonny was utterly disheartened, appalled at having damaged yet another item of her property and it took several minutes of insisting that she never liked the table anyway to comfort him enough to continue play. After that he put the gloves back on and was nervously hesitant to dive in for a snap, which slowed the games pace to a level Susan could just about compete with.
When there was a knock at the door she sent Spooner to get it seems as he was paying for this meal and when he returned she could not believe how much food had arrived. It was easily enough for five! Spooner argued that it wasn’t enough to feed five rats, let alone five people and begun taking cartons and small trays from the large cardboard box and setting them on the table.
“Don’t I need to get plates?”
“No, takeouts come with all you need. You eat straight from the carton.” He said very matter-of-factly.
“I don’t see any forks.”
“Let me introduce you to chopsticks.”
He held out two long plastic sticks and she took them, one in each hand. “You’re expecting me to eat with these?”
“Yeah, you hold them both in one hand and use them like this…” Spooner demonstrated, moving to seat himself on the floor and holding his own chopsticks with his cybernetic hand. He made it look easy, taking hold of a small clump of greasy takeout food between the tips of the sticks and lifting and twisting it to his mouth to eating it. “…see?”
“I’ve seen it done before.” She snapped at his patronising manner. “I’ve just never done it myself.” She was intelligent enough to realise that although Spooner made the use of these utensils look like childsplay, he probably had been practising from a young age. She hypothesised that seems as she had never done this before and it looked to be an acquired skill that she would struggle to use these implements. She concluded that she had been correct in her assumptions virtually as soon as she put the chopsticks together in one hand…only for her to drop them. Both.
Spooner was eloquently stuffing his face with food in well practised sweeps of his arm and learned motions of his fingers with minimal effort, having turned the TV on and devoting most of his attention to ‘Chicago’s Craziest Police Chases’. It was obvious he was able to use only very little of his mental capacity on the chopsticks as he was watching and listening to the show, shouting at the narrator when a comment struck him as being slanderous against or unfair to Chicago police personnel.
Sonny had taken a pair of chopsticks himself and was constructing a small tower from precision-placed prawns. He was using his finely calibrated, calculative, robotic attributes to wield the thin sticks like he had been born and raised in Chinatown, entertaining himself with the food as he couldn’t eat it.
She struggled in her total lack of prior experience to even hold the chopsticks in her hand correctly, and even when she got that to look right as soon as she attempted to manipulate them around a tastily unobtainable morsel they tended to slip out of her control. Her curious mind compelled her to learn new skills but at the same time she was growing furious with her own inadequacy and inability. She tried repeatedly, showing only very little improvement with each new attempt but she was loath to admit defeat, to admit that this trivial task was beyond her skill. She strived to prove she could do it, to complete this irrelevantly unimportant task in front of Spooner and Sonny as a mark of her capable mind as now that she had applied herself to this problem she was not going to suffer the wound to her pride of backing down. She did not want to confess to having overestimated her proficiency and it was rapidly becoming an obsessive need. She needed to do this. She needed to punctuate her mind’s superior strength, enforce the fact that her mind controlled her body, not vice versa. She needed to force her hand to comply with her brain’s instructions and nip her body’s mutiny in the bud. She needed to do this.
With renewed conviction she stabbed the small spears into the carton before her, trapping a slice of carrot between them and almost skewering it. Actually piercing it would be cheating and it would prove nothing to no part of her, she needed to do this properly. She pincered the chopsticks together, snaring the orange morsel in an unforgiving grip. It slipped a little under the pressure, but stayed. She felt a wave of satisfaction course her mind and send a little shiver of constraint down her spine, enforcing her mental dominance over her flesh. She had tamed her disobedient body, her hand co-operating satisfactorily. She re-focused on the task, determined not to drop this carrot and fully aware that she had yet to consume food brought to her lips with chopsticks despite this first victory.
With a seemingly confident if not a little clumsy movement of her arm and a twist of her wrist she brought the carrot towards her mouth. With great pleasure she opened her mouth, an egotistical energy swelling in her head at the prospect of completing this insignificant task and with the proximity to her self appointed objective. Her theoretical, mental superiority was a hair’s breadth from being branded into the physical world with actions as proof of her mind-over-matter intellectual sovereignty above her fleshy vessel. As her body was no longer responding to reason, she would need to prove her undeniable reign with more than just science and fact, it would take open demonstrations of her power and ability. It had come to that, it was War!
Whether in that short moment of blind tyrannous complacency she twitched her fingers in smug satisfaction or whether her body threw out a spasmodic, final, last-ditch action of retaliation and resistance, she was not sure. She was sure however that in the space between her morsel disappearing from her field of view and entering the clutch of her jaws all was lost. With a slight slap the carrot slice fell back in the carton she was leaning over at the table, landing back on top of several other almost identical sections of the orange vegetable coated in some kind of gravy like sauce with a wet smack. Her teeth closed around nothing. She could have sworn and cussed like an asteroid miner and her lower left eyelid twitched with blistering fury.
That Goddamn impertinent carrot! That brazen, hellfire coloured root vegetable! That one, on top of the pile, that single slice that resembled all the others so closely and yet was so symbolically set apart. It represented her inability to control herself and was now an emblem of her body’s resistance and a mascot of the uprising mutiny that boiled in her blood. That orange bastard, that lowly tuberous swollen root-stem of plant! It was such a base organism, simple and so wholly below her in the evolutionary scale and yet it dare defy her so? It had been torn from the ground, severed from its green parts and its leaves dismembered. Its skin had been peeled and flayed to leave its fibrous flesh exposed. It had then been cut and chopped and scalded in a wok of boiling hot oil and yet still it fought her? It possessed no vertebral column, no nervous system, no brain! Her eyes thinned vehemently at her foe, her desire for affirmation of her mind’s worth now grafted from her unfaltering flesh to the cut and cooked vegetable laying small, limp and defenceless before her. How she would relish its demise, if she could only catch the little bugger.
She was still sat there, staring the hellish fire of a thousand suns upon that insolent shred of a vegetable, so close to her and yet so unobtainable for her ineptitude with chopsticks when a black gloved robotic hand moved with inorganic precision to close the gap. The two pale, slim, deftly exercised chopsticks selected the corrupting carrot and the leather-wrapped alloy fingers closed them tightly and firmly around the slippery slither with mechanised ease. The orange menace was offered up in a movement so fine and fluid in its motions that it melted into insignificance when held in such close context with her enemy. It was so unassuming, so hospitable in its grace and elegance that she thought nothing of leaning forwards and taking the offering, closing her mouth round the devilish morsel and having the chopsticks slide smoothly out over her lips with no effort on her part.
She triumphantly chewed the heat-softened slice of vegetable to a pulp, enjoying her ability to completely deprive it of its loosely held together but definite shape and swallow it to bubble away into liquid in the acid of her stomach. Strangely she found she enjoyed it on other levels too. It was true that Spooner had a point, some qualities of food were indeed lost in translation between the original food item and the synthesised hydroponic product it inspired. It was not a matter of exact copying, it imitated the taste and to an extent the texture too but didn’t quite hit the nail on the head.
Before she could think upon much else, a second carrot was waiting. Not really seeing much at all other than the doped up and drunk driver being apprehended on the TV screen, let alone any problem with the current situation she took it. Several times new titbits were tenderly offered up and she distractedly accepted those too, oddly fascinated and captivated by the unusual choice of program plastered on her huge screen. Her attention was hooked by the flashy, showy graphics and tacked on sound effects, the Marvin Gerhard-esque narrative voice booming with fake enthusiasm and delivering terribly vague one-liners was strangely easy to stare listlessly at. She was in the process of distractedly taking her…she hadn’t been counting but it couldn’t have been many morsels…when Spooner’s harsh tone clove through her dreamy state and snapped her exhausted, tired and almost sleep-addled lack of awareness like a brittle silicone wafer.
She realised that her mouth was closed around food carried there by a still-present pair of chopsticks that were being wielded by another party. Something in her flinched as the positronically guided sticks retreated from their far too intimately situated position, dragging over her now taught lips far too slowly and lingering there for more than just a few nanoseconds too long for her comfort. Too long for her psychological comfort that was. Her lips appreciated and savoured the gentility of the action greatly, making their swift withdrawal seem longer-lasting and more sensuous than it already was, a factor that was serving only to make the situation all the more difficult to take in. Her vision cleared as if the blinding cataracts of drowsiness had been promptly cured and now, rather than being transfixed by the crap on the TV she was trapped by a pair of phenomenally bright blue eyes, locked to them in a too-clear focus.
Sonny looked completely unfazed by the situation. No, if he were unfazed she would feel nothing of her present embarrassment and uncertainty, for if he were unfazed he would have been no different from any of the other robots she had shared her home with over the years. It was the friendliness in his face that gripped her with a strange horror. He held her frozen, dark-eyed gaze gently with his warm azure eyes, presently shimmering with the colours of a shallow tropical lagoon. The lines of his face were handsome and noble yet soft like wind sculpted dunes of pale silver sand, the shapes of his metallic structure were visible through the translucency of his smooth, white skin but did nothing to sharpen his features. They would be fleetingly visible before he moved a little and the play of light on his incredible skin shifted, his heroic and sweet beauty gently accentuated by an ever-changing ghostly dance of gentle white mist and sweeping silver lines. A slither of equally moonlight-white polymer shone all the brighter from the gap between his jacket’s sleeve and the glove’s mouth for the contrast between his complexion and the night-black of the leather. The two garments were separated due to his pose, having drifted apart over the impossibly sheer, milky forearm that remained extended warmly towards her. The chopsticks were still held harmoniously balanced in his pliable-leather clad, limber fingers as if poised to continue passing her food, as if it were the most natural thing in the world for him to be doing. He had fed her so incredibly carefully. So incredibly gently. So incredibly lovingly…she had scarcely been able to register it and realise what she was doing.
She was still staring and still frozen when Sonny calmly turned his head to Spooner’s demanding voice, the slim, black muscle cords flexed and tightened or loosened and slackened in accordance with his movements. The well-oiled mechanical sections of his neck slid smoothly into the new position, a healthy acceleration in the faint whirring of his gyroscopic components the only sound emitted in his otherwise silent refinement.
“What are you doing?”
It was like the flipping of a switch. The transition between her fuzzy, misty daydream and the oddly relaxed and easygoing mood that came with it back into the world of sense and logic commonly called ‘reality’ was both startlingly sudden and alarmingly swift. What was she doing? She was being hand fed and loving it, forgetting herself, forgetting who she was, her memories, Spooner’s presence and forgetting just who and what exactly this robot was. She shattered her reluctance to move, shooting Spooner a look which she meant to be challenging and confident but she knew it paled pathetically into nothing but shock and terror at her confused embarrassment. She could feel her conviction and strength ebbing from her so quickly it was as if the molten, liquid fire of her volcanically vicious, aggressively defensive spite had dropped through a suddenly bottomless bucket. She felt icy claws of fear hooking into her unprotected back, threatening to tear her dignity away and in the terror that prospect summoned she could not speak. Her teeth clamped shut and her tongue stiffened, unable to wrap eloquently around coherent sounds to form a word, let alone a sentence. She could not reply to Spooner’s question. She was unable to defend herself with shock. God knows what he was thinking with his presumptuous mind. She had no other shield to protect herself with from the judgmental poking and stabbing of people or the harshness of the world other than her distant demeanour, indomitably and forcibly confidant front and the intellectually based logical constraints woven in her mind like an infinitely complex spider’s web. Without them she was hideously exposed, just as she was now. Her normally regimented thought paths that emulated the life of reason she yearned for and produced the Calvin everyone knew were scrambled hopelessly.
“That’s cheating! He’s not your personal slave you know. You’ve had him clean your house already today, don’t make the poor guy feed you too. Give him a break.”
She had been too open with Sonny, mistakenly treating him as a unique robot rather than the unusually innocent man he was. He did things out of want, not out of programming or through the Laws governing his responses to his external environment. That had been one of the pivotal points of her deep trust for robots. They did not want for anything. They did not yearn or hunger or want or lust for anything and the needed very little to function. She had become so completely trusting with robots that she regularly neglected to close the bathroom door when she showered, knowing full well that her personal domestic assistant did not leer lustily after her body. They simply did not have the capacity to. Sonny was different, he did things purely because he wanted to. He wanted for things, and she felt a flare of nothing but fear and distrust for him and his motives well up in her. What was he trying to do?!
“Susan did not ask me to clean her home, nor did she ask me to feed her. I saw her struggling with these particular dining utensils and I wanted to help her. It would have been cruel not to, she looked hungry and she seems unwell this evening. Do not worry about me Del, I am not her personal slave, I do what I do of my own accord.”
His words, though not directed at her brought her at least a little relief. She had been far too open and his curious, inquisitive mind was unequipped with all the important social tools that would have prevented her emotional catastrophe. He hadn’t learned about boundaries yet, he didn’t understand that the darker corners of human souls were best left undisturbed for the sickening sensations, primal urges and ancient animal instincts they hid. She was naive in not hawkishly tracking his every action and he was naïve and foolish in his misguided, wandering quest for new information and experience. Unsupervised he had inadvertently torn through her walls, tripped through her wires, disturbed the cobwebs of her mind and stirred her soul with none of the calculable dextrous agility he exhibited in the physical, real world. Figuratively, he had the subtlety and grace of a ten-wheel truck! Thanks to their collective idiocy she was now totally robbed of her guard.
Whatever it had been inside her that flinched before now snapped shut, clamping tightly into a hard ball she could feel like a lead weight between her lungs and lying so heavily on her diaphragm it was near pain. She felt a last wave of sickly nausea before she stopped feeling. What exactly WAS she doing? She was going insane. She was loosing her mind. What did she think she was doing? What was she hoping to accomplish? Playing cards? Learning to use chopsticks? Eating from another’s hand!? She could feel her blood cooling to its regular harsh chill and steeling up, getting back to some semblance of normality at that thought. Now her mind was taking leave of her senses, her entire being stupidly straying from the protective safe ground of logic and rational thinking, walking into the hazardous minefield of the route that followed her heart. She had almost lost control then and that was a powerful example of her loss of lucidity. She was only vaguely aware of what else was happening around her, her brain running fast to re-calibrate her thoughts, to recover proper, reasonable thought and insert it into the equation that would give the correct and logical answer to the question. What was she doing?
She was heading towards a nervous breakdown. As ridiculously idiotic and shamefully weak as it seemed to her, it was the most logical answer. Her enfeebled body and impaired mind had taken too many blows in too short a time period, her life having been at the ground-zero of recent events. Her adrenal glands had been subjected to prolonged hyperactivity at the threat of severe and extreme danger so that like the rest of her, they were overworked to the point of exhaustion. Her previously regimented life was disjointed and she was robbed of the security that safe, reliable, inevitable predictability brought. She was sleep deprived, her daily routine had been as precise as clockwork but it was now shattered and her patterns of work, rest, food and sleep were disordered. She was running on empty, her body crying out in need for replenishment of the glucose spent by adrenaline.
She was stressed and unable to efficiently make a smooth transition into this hopefully temporary lifestyle. She was a methodical creature and she was succumbing to general maladaption syndrome, needing to re-establish some form of regularity into her lifestyle. This meal provided her with the opportunity of eating her fill so that her bodily reserves could be restocked, not to prat about with idiotically inefficient tools and play with her food. Logically, it would be a far better idea to fetch an instrument she was familiar and proficient with and get on with the task of refuelling.
“Fine, as you were.” Spooner said to Sonny, his palms offered in a mocking gesture of peace as a response to Sonny’s comment and her own defensive glare. He continued with his current carton, two others already lying empty in front of him on the table.
She tried to watch Sonny with the scientifically cold distance she would have exercised only days ago, to analyse the initiated response with indifferent curiosity and intrigue at what the 5’s reaction to the presented stimulus would be, but it was no use. She was broken through and through. Her intent interest and strength waned as he dipped the chopsticks back into the carton before her, her mind treacherously balanced on the thin thread of sanity still suspended over her darkly swirling, fearful lower psyche. She was balanced on a tightrope over an uncertain fall. She did not want Sonny to even offer, not trusting herself at all anymore and frightened by his completely innocuous yet wanton advances. “No.” She let out firmly, the edges of her letters only minimally etched by her acidically bubbling panic but it brought a sharper urgency to her assertion that succeeded in halting the robot’s actions. “I’ll get myself a fork.” She almost spat the words to force them from between her teeth and she sprang to her feet, hurrying to the kitchen to get her desired utensil. If only she had gone along with this thought earlier, all of this could have been avoided!
“That’s cheating!” Spooner called out after her.
She did not look back and she scurried into her comfortingly harsh and stark kitchen, throwing insanely nonsensical and deranged thoughts away just as she had earlier that day after Sonny touched her. This time her horror was stronger, she was unable to deny one disturbing thought, because there was no faltering logic to be found in it. She could not deny that in the space of only one day, in just less than twelve hours, Sonny had slipped beyond her defences not one but twice. Twice he had slipped beyond her armour, getting under her steel shell, crawling under her skin. The first time could be blamed upon the sinful nature of human flesh, yearning to be touched and caressed regardless of what was right or proper, she could cope with that. She hated all that was human in her already, it would only strengthen her contemptuous disdain for her species. It was the second time that horrified her, those moments less than two minutes old had little to do with reckless lust or instinctual desires. She had enjoyed it emotionally, she had found him comforting, she had looked upon him and seen nothing but kindness and beauty. She had regarded him with awe and admiration as being even more than a complex collection of positronic components. She stretched her arms out rigidly before her and planted her hands on the lip of the work surface above the cutlery drawer to steady herself. She was shaking.
Even her mind was beginning to take leave of logic. Why was she forgetting the pain of her past? Surely she was not so wounded by recent upheavals for her injuries to cut down as deeply as to have broken her carefully constructed walls? Surely she was not so desperate for comfort that she would lap up anything Sonny so sweetly showed her? Was she sure he was as innocent in his intentions as he looked? He was the most human robot in history and existence, but just how human was he? He had her eating almost literally out of the palm of his hand, taking the bait and swallowing it hook, line and sinker. She was sure he was genuine, she was sure of it, it was just her, only her who was twisting things like this. He was innocent, it was she who was guilty of making things more than they were. All he had done was gather her hair from under her collar for her comfort and feed her in her incapability and hunger. It was no ones fault but her own that so much was stirring thickly and menacingly deep within her, that her heart, soul and arousal were clamouring to be let loose like a pack of savage, untame hounds. She hated it all but she could only turn her hand to point the finger of blame on herself.
She was so terrifyingly and horrifically human.