+J.M.J.+

Fathering the Fatherless

By "Matrix Refugee"

Author's Note:

This forms a sequel to "Admitting the Inadmissible", so I'd strongly suggest you read it first, otherwise, you may get slightly lost with this one. And in some ways, this is a parallel to "Zenon Eyes II: I'll be Seeing You". CAUTION: sentimental stuff ahead!

Disclaimer:

I do not "own" "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence", its characters, concepts, and other indicia, which are the property of DreamWorks SKG, Warner Brothers, the late Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, at al, based on characters and concepts from the three "Supertoys" short stories by Brian Aldiss.

David had vanished. That was all there was to it. The police scoured the woods in the area where Monica had left him, but they found no trace of him. A rainstorm broke later in the afternoon and had washed away his tracks, forcing them to stop the search. Besides, the flesh Fair was near Barn Creek that night and the neighboring towns needed all every police officer on duty maintaining order on the streets in case the rowdiness should spill over—as it had been known to happen. To top it off, there had been a report that a banker's wife had been found dead in a hotel room in the red-light district of Haddonfield, apparently murdered by the male sex-Mecha she was meeting with, a Belladerma J-05672.

It wasn't an easy night for any of us. Monica couldn't stop crying, so I called her cousin Natalie to come over and help us out.

After supper, when Monica had started to calm down a little, I made my hand pick up the phone and dial the number for Dr. Hobby's office in Manhattan.

The line rang several times before Sheila, the secretary, picked it up. It was common knowledge in the company that she was Mecha, but I always tended to forget, which made her polite, calmly friendly voice a little odd at first.

"Cybertronics of Manhattan, Dr. Alan Hobby's office."

"Yes, uh, this is Henry Swinton. I…I need to talk to Dr. Hobby, right now. It's…it's about David."

"He isn't at his desk, nor is he in the workroom, but I can page him for you."

"Yes, thanks." The line went on hold, with a recording of some sort of classical music played on synthesizers.

The line cut in. "Dr. Hobby speaking."

"Yes, this is Henry Swinton. I, uh, I don't know where to begin."

"I just heard from Nahmer that you had some trouble with David, that you had reasons to suspect David may have threatened your son's life."

"There's been a change. Monica tried to bring David back to Cybertronics today, but she couldn't do it. she abandoned him in the woods near the Cybertronics complex. The police searched the woods there, but no one found him yet. I'm sorry."

"Other than this, how has your experience with David been, so far?"

"I…uh, Monica could tell you more than I could. I…I didn't imprint him yet."

"May I speak to Monica?"

"Uh, well, let me ask her first." I covered the mouthpiece with my hand. "Monica, he wants to speak to you about David. It's all right; I don't think he'll scold you."

She blotted her eyes and took the phone. "Hello, Dr. Hobby? Yes, I'm Monica…"

I withdrew to respect the privacy of their conversation and to recollect my own thoughts.

I'd always done my best to be as good a father to Martin as I could, but I started to feel like I'd blown it completely with David. I'd only done half the job I should have and I'm usually much more thorough and efficient about my work…Wait, this was more than just work. This was really adding another member to the family. I had a certain obligation to David, not exactly the same kind of obligation I had to Monica and Martin, but similar. David might only be composed of silicon and titanium and fiber optics, but he was a being…with a mind…and a heart.

I made up my mind once and for all: I was going to imprint David.

I couldn't help overhearing snatches of Monica's voice, her telling Hobby about the "Blue Fairy". she'd mentioned this to me when she had told me what David had said to her in the woods. He only wanted to be loved, that most basic of human desires, and though he could love unconditionally, he had found that too often we humans can love only on certain conditions. He had decided he had to become a 'real' boy in order to win our love.

I heard Monica get off the phone and set it down. She came out into the hallway where I waited.

"He wants to talk to you," she said, her voice raspy with tears, and went upstairs.

I went back to the kitchen and picked up the phone. "Dr. Hobby, I'm sorry if Monica overreacted."

"There's no need to be sorry; she has been deeply affected by her choices. But there's still time to act."

"I'll do anything to help you," I said.

"Perhaps right now, you should spend some time with Monica and your son. We'll worry about the details of finding David," he said. "In which case, I'll let you go."

"I just wish this could have turned out differently."

"So do I. But we'll do everything we can to see that David's story has a better ending."

"That's what we all want to see."

"The Blue Fairy…If that's what he's looking for, perhaps we can use that as a means."

"I'm sorry, I'm not following…"

"Oh, just pardon an eccentric professor's habit of thinking out loud at not-wholly appropriate moments. I couldn't help thinking he's on to something, at least symbolic, if he's looking for a Blue Fairy to turn him into a real boy."

"I've heard about Iawsaki's experiments with bio-mechanics, but didn't those fail?"

"I seem to have lost you again. I wasn't speaking literally: I was speaking figuratively. We may not be able to make David an organic human, but we are working toward making him as human in behavior and capabilities as possible."

"So you're going to promise him a Blue Fairy?"

"Obviously we can't promise him a literal Blue Fairy, but we can give him a symbolic one as a means to lead him back to us. Don't try to figure it out, Swinton. I set this in motion, so in effect, it is ultimately my responsibility to decoy him back to us. Your responsibility right now is your family."

I hung up after a few final pleasantries. I had figured this would be a fairly painless call, but I had guessed wrong again.

Martin had been weirdly quiet all evening. I went to tuck him in and read to him, but I found him sitting up in bed, scrubbing at the corners of his eyes with the backs of his hands.

"Hey, tiger, what's the matter?" I asked.

"Nothing," he lied.

"Come on, you can tell me about it."

"I'll be okay." He wiped his hand on his pajama top.

"If it's nothing, how come you wiped your hands?"

He pulled in his lower lip, clearly to keep from crying.

"Dad, it's all my fault," he said, bursting into tears.

I held him for a long while, letting him cry. I felt tears in my own eyes; I couldn't be a hypocrite and tell him not to cry, as I would have in the past. Now was not the time or the place for that. I caught myself wondering if David had cried when Monica had abandoned him.

"It's all right; we'll do what we can to find David," I said, not quite sure who I was reassuring, Martin or myself.

"It's all my fault, it's all my fault," Martin kept whimpering, over and over and over again.

I noticed the urgency in Martin's pleading. "Why, what do you mean?"

He pulled away from me. "Yesterday at the party. Jake and Philip and the other guys, they started poking at David. They were just horsin' around; they wanted to see if he had DAS. I shoulda told 'em to knock it off sooner. Then—then he wouldn't have gotten scared, and he wouldn't have knocked me into the pool—and…and…and none of this woulda happened and we wouldn't have to be looking for David."

"Martin, it's okay. It isn't your fault. We all wish we could have done things differently. That's all behind us now. We'll find a way to get David back first, then we'll worry about everything else later."

Monica had suggested Martin should imprint David. I wondered if I should broach the subject to him now, or if that would just throw oil on the fire.

"What was David anyway? Was he like some experiment you were doin' for your job?" he asked.

"Well, he was sort of an experiment. You see, the man who started the company I work for thought it would be interesting if they tried building a little Mecha that could love, like a kid, for people who want to have a kid but can't for some reason or other. So, in order for this to happen, the people who adopted this little Mecha would have to press certain little buttons on his head and the back of his neck, and read to him in exact order seven code words. This would make him 'imprint' on that person. Mommy already imprinted David. I was going to but…I waited too long. So, if we ever get David back, I'm gonna make sure I imprint David. You can too, but only if you want too."

"Sounds weird."

"Yeah, it is a little weird, but we're probably weird to someone like David, only in different ways."

"I'll think about it, I guess."

"Don't think too hard: it's time to get some sleep."

He slid down under the covers. I smoothed them down and turned out the fiber optic cables in his canopy, leaving just the glowing moon nightlight on.

I went to our room, where I found Natalie brushing Monica's hair, something which I used to do for her a lot when we were first married.

"Can I come in or is it girls only?" I asked, trying to joke.

"Nah, we shouldn't let 'm in," Natalie teased, capturing the same spirit.

"No, let him in," Monica said with a wavering smile.

"So, what's the verdict?" Natalie asked, running the brush over Monica's hair, even though it was already smoothed.

"Well, Dr. Hobby says he's going to pull something together to decoy David back to us, or at least back to Cybertronics first."

"Oh, give him a cookie on a stick—oops, sorry; can't have him lock himself up again," Natalie said. "Excuse my getting gross."

"Actually, he's thinking more of a Blue Fairy on a stick," I said.

"Now you're getting gross," Monica said.

Natalie set down the brush on the vanity. "I'm gonna leave you too alone and go babysit the phone and the local news-sites."

"Thanks for coming over, Nat," Monica said.

"Someone had to do the right thing," Natalie said. She hugged Monica and headed out. "Don't be too hard on the gal: she's been too hard on herself lately," she added to me, at the door.

"I won't," I said.

I knelt beside Monica and hugged her around the waist. I just wanted to hold her, to let her know I was there for her through all this. Helplessness started wailing in my soul. I kept trying to push it back, but I couldn't hold it back forever.

I hid my eyes in Monica's shoulder and let the tears flow. I'm not a man who cries easily, not in front of Monica, not even when I'm alone. She didn't try to shush me or push me away, she just held me and stroked my head like the motherly woman that she is.

That's why I chose her out of all the dozens of women I met in college and at work. I wanted a motherly woman for my kid's mom. I never expected anything like this to happen. I suppose that made her a good test subject for  the David project…no, a good imprinter for…no, a good mommy for David.

I pulled myself together and got up. "I don't know what got into me," I said.

"It's okay," she said, keeping her hand on my arm. "It's late and we're both exhausted." She let me go slowly and got up. "I'll be right in, I just want to check on Martin."

I knew she also wanted to check the news, see if anything had turned up. She came back a few minutes later, her face a mask of calm that couldn't hide the pain and fear in her eyes.

I don't think either of us slept much that night. I held Monica all through the night, but I didn't feel her go slack with sleep. The night passed so slowly it seemed to last the whole twenty-four hours.

But the light grew in the picture window. Birds chirped in the treetops. Cruisers whispered by on the road below the gated community where we live. Monica stirred and got up. I lay still, pretending to be asleep.

When she came back, I knew she'd been to check on the news to see if anything had come up regarding David's whereabouts. She got back in bed: the way she lay apart from me told me she had turned up nothing. I knew better than to try pulling her toward me.

At seven-thirty, the alarm startled me out of my simulated sleep.

"Alarm, off," Monica said and got up. She went to the bathroom. I got up, put on my robe and went downstairs.

Natalie slept on the couch in the living room, wrapped up in a blanket, her laptop open on the coffee table. As she started to stir awake, I went to Martin's room, wondering if he'd slept at all.

I found him curled up in a tight ball under the covers. As I put my hand on him, he unrolled and poked his tousled head over the edge of the blanket.

"Mornin', Dad," he said, hollow-voiced.

"Morning, tiger," I said. "How'd you sleep?"

"I didn't: I was thinking about David."

"Well, I didn't either, and I don't think Mom did, either."

"Is Aunt Natalie here still?"

"Yes, she's downstairs."

He crept out from under the covers and hugged me: he's at that age when kids don't want to be caught dead hugging their parents, much less their dad, but this felt as if it were in earnest. I hugged him one-armed so I wouldn't embarrass him.

I went back to check on Monica while Martin got dressed. I found her in the bathroom, washing up, trying to keep going with the usual routine. That was all we could do at that point.

All through breakfast, we kept eyeing the newspad in the kitchen. Monica scanned the printed paper more intently than I'd ever seen her. There was an item about David's disappearance, but nothing yet about his being discovered. The police would call us the minute they found him.

I went to work as usual, but I kept checking my messages and the local news-sites at every chance I got.

"You ought to be home keeping watch or going out to search for your boy," Glover told me at lunch. "Want me to talk to Packard, get you the rest of the day off?"

"I'm just trying to keep doing what I'd be doing anyway," I said.

"You ought to be out there looking for your little guy," he said. He got up and headed for Packard's office.

I went home at 13.30. Natalie was still hanging about our house, helping Monica keep busy. They were baking one of Natalie's specialties, reverse chocolate chip cookies, when I came in.

"You want to go looking for ourselves?" I asked Monica, as I changed out of my suit into my hanging around stuff.

"I shouldn't," she said.

"Why not? He's most likely to come to us if we went looking for him."

"He probably wouldn't come to me now."

"How do you know? He just might come to you."

We drove to the forest near Cybertronics. Monica pointed out the side path she'd taken: we pulled down it.

She led me down the gully to the mossy declivity where she'd left him and Teddy.

"David?" she called. "David, it's Mommy!"

"David, it's all right," I called. "You don't have to hide."

We walked deeper into the woods, calling for him, calling for Teddy. Birds called in the distance and water dripped from the trees, but we heard nothing that sounded like David.

As we stepped into a shadowed little glade surrounded by tall conifers and gnarled oaks, something started under the trees and darted away deeper into the woods.

Monica gripped my arm. "What was that?"

"It might have been a deer," I lied. It was too tall and dark for a deer and it didn't have enough feet.

It started to darken under the trees as the day waned and the clouds moved in. We headed back, reaching the car just as the rain began to spatter.

We both kept very quiet as we drove home.

We kept the newspad going during supper. Natalie and Monica kept peering at it from time to time; even I stole a few glances at it. There was nothing new except a description of the lover-model that had possibly killed Samantha Bevins, the woman who had been found dead the night before. It had last been seen disappearing into the woods between Haddonfield and Barn Creek, near where Monica and I had been searching for David that afternoon. If I had known this, I wouldn't have let Monica go there, though I had been with her the whole time. I doubted that the rogue would have gone after us, but there have been cases of rogue Mechas doing horrible things to Orgas. And another of this very line, a Belladerma J-05762, had run amok in Nova Vegas a few years back.

I said none of this to Monica, of course; it would only have made the whole situation worse. She'd be afraid for David, and come to think of it, would a rogue Mecha be able to tell David from an Orga? I didn't want to think any more about that.

Natalie tried to keep us cheerful with her chatter, but even she couldn't dispel the cloud of gloom that had settled over us.

After dinner, and while the dishes were washing, Natalie found an ancient Jim Henson family movie on television for us. We watched it, but I couldn't keep my mind on it.

During a commercial break, I got up to get myself a bottle of flavored spring water from the fridge…and to take a peek at the newspad again.

"Riot at Flesh Fair, Barn Creek"

I scrolled down. Several live shots transmitted from the security cams played on the screen. It seemed the Flesh Fair Hounds had captured a child, an eleven-year-old boy, and he had ended up on stage. But when he cried for his mommy, the crowd had rushed the stage to release him.

One shot showed the stage, a small boy with light brown hair and blue eyes, chained to a metal disk surrounded by white lights, behind him stood what looked like a male lover-Mecha, with its arms about the boy's shoulders, as if protecting him.

I got a better look at the boy's face. I raised the resolution on the screen.

It looked like David.

"Monica!" I called. "Monica, come in here, now!"

Monica ran in. I turned the newspad around to her.

"What's this?" she asked.

"Live pictures from the Flesh Fair."

"Oh…NO!" she gasped, pressing her hand over he mouth. "David…!"

"It's all right: look."

A new stream of live feed played on the screen. David and his companion could be seen fleeing the melee, hand in hand, Teddy on David's arm. They toward the entrance, then out of camera range, out into the night.

"They're free," I said. I played back the feed and freeze-framed it. I pressed the print button on the console and handed the printout to Monica. She took it numbly, but she recovered and took the pages to the family room.

"What's up?" Natalie asked.

"David was spotted," I said as Monica handed the printouts to Natalie.

"What is it?" Martin asked, looking over Natalie's elbow.

"David was seen escaping from a Flesh Fair," I said.

"Is he all right?" Martin asked.

"Yes, it looks that way. We can only hope the police can find him."

We slept a little better that night, but I still kept waking up, expecting to hear the phone ring.

At breakfast next morning, we still expected the phone to ring, or the intercom of the front door to chime. Even Martin was eyeing the newspad now. Alfred Bevins, the husband of the murdered woman, had been arrested around dawn: his fingerprints were found on the murder weapon, which cleared the lover Mecha of the charges. Even still, the police in Rouge City had tried to arrest the J-05672, which had fled there. It had escaped when the police transport intended to carry it back to Haddonfield turned over, knocked down by an out-of-control amphibicopter piloted by the ten or twelve year old boy who had been seen in the lover-Mecha's company. I'm not a praying man, but I started praying that David would be safe.

Then the phone rang. We all jumped at it at once. but my reach was the longest. I picked it up.

"Swinton residence," I said, dry-mouthed.

"Henry Swinton? This is Dr. Hobby," said a familiar academic but fatherly voice.

"Have you heard anything about David?"

"We have. He came to us here in Manhattan, but he's disappeared again."

"What?"

"He came here to the Cybertronics building about half an hour ago. But he's vanished again."

"Then find him, for God's sake!" I snapped. I caught myself. "I'm sorry, sir."

"It's all right; we've all been under a lot of pressure. We just sent a search party out looking for him.

"How did he get there?"

"He came in a stolen police amphibicopter in the company of a lover-Mecha, a Belladerma J-05672."

"But how did they know to go to Manhattan?"

"He was looking for the Blue Fairy. We promised him one: we contacted Spanglers Holographics and uploaded the decoy into the Dr. Know server. He had only to ask how can the Blue Fairy turn him into a real boy, or something similar with the right keywords and he would get all the information he would need to know where to go, a message directing him to the lost city at the end of the world, where the lions weep. Thank heaven he had a fairly experience companion for his journey."

"Do everything you can to find him. And if that lover Mecha turns up as well, take care of it too."

"I intend to have him exonerated of any charges held against him, if need be. He may have saved the experiment."

"He saved David," I corrected.

I said goodbye and hung it up slightly dazed.

"Who was that?" Monica asked.

I looked up. "That was Hobby. They found David. He got to Manhattan with that lover-Mecha escaped from the Flesh Fair with."

"Then let's go and get him," Monica said.

"I wish we could: but he's disappeared," I said. "Hobby said he'd let us know when they find David."

"How could he disappear?" Monica asked, tears starting in her eyes. "Did he get this way because of me?"

"No, there are probably other reasons," I said, putting one arm around her. "It's gonna be okay."

Things got back to the usual routine. We didn't hear back from Hobby for a day or two, but I expected that. The Cybertronics building is a labyrinth of rooms, and there's no telling where David could have gone. They would find him soon enough.

I went back to work. Natalie checked in on us each day the following week. Martin continued to improve. To his utter indignation, we hired a tutor-Mecha to come in each day until Martin was strong enough to go back to school. He'd lost three years he'd have to catch up, but there are ways.

Another week went by. Then Hobby called me again, at work this time.

"We still haven't found David yet," he told me. "He went underwater in search of his Blue Fairy."

"Please, keep looking," I begged, fighting back tears.

"We are. We've sent diving teams and amphibidroids search the sea bottom."

"But how do you know where to look?"

"I was just getting to that: we found the lover Mecha that was with him when he came here. We scanned his cube. We've questioned him about David. He's been invaluable to us."

"Could I speak to him myself? He was the last being to see David, he might be able to tell me something about what happened."

"I could arrange that. Perhaps Monday at noon you could come up here, if that's at all possible for you."

"I'll clear my calendar that day," I said.

I could hardly wait to tell Monica when I got home, but then I realized it was probably best if I went alone. I told her as much.

"I'd really rather go with you," she said.

"I know," I said. "I want you to come with me: we're in this together. But remember, it's a lover-Mecha. I'm not worried about you, but I don't want it getting distracted."

"Maybe you could bring along your camera and film the conversation," she suggested.

"Great idea."

Monday morning, Glover and I set out for Manhattan by amphibicopter.

"Didn't we just do this?" Glover asked.

"It seems like yesterday we were going out to get the new lover model," I said, recalling Glover's jokes the day we first met David, and trying to make light of the situation.

"Well, you're going to meet up with another kind of lover model," Glover said. "Oh boy, what is Monica gonna think when she finds out what you're doing behind her back with that kind of lover Mecha?"

"If you weren't half my size and if you weren't flying this 'copter, I'd sock you, Jake Glover."

"I am not half your size! I'm five-eighths your size."

"I've put on a little weight," I said.

Glover looked at me. "Not that much."

Dickering like this helped me get my mind off my nerves.

Before we knew it, we were flying between the weeping lion fountains which flank the entrance to the landing shelter.

I got out, carrying my camera case. Hobby came out to meet me on the landing pad.

"Swinton, good to see you again," he said, shaking my hand.

"I just want to apologize for all this trouble," I said. "I hope this hasn't upset the experiment."

"It's all right: every great endeavor has its ups and downs," he said. "We're counting this as part of it." He glanced behind me. "I thought you were bringing Monica along?"

"We thought it would be better if she stayed home. It is a lover model after all, and we didn't want to trigger an inappropriate response from it. I hope you don't mind: I brought along my camera to tape the interview, for her sake."

"By all means, bring it in," he said, leading me inside.

We went upstairs and along a great stretch of corridor.

"We've been keeping him under observation; the police had contacted me trying to claim his processors, but then they got the news that Alfred Bevins had been arrested and admitted his guilt. Even still, I had his cube scanned: he did not murder Samantha Bevins."

"I was about to ask how safe he is," I admitted.

Hobby smiled. "He's perfectly safe, unless you're a woman, then there is that little element of amorously adventurous danger."

We came to the door of what appeared to be a disused office space. A hasp had been attached to the door, secured with an old-fashioned padlock. Hobby unlocked the padlock, opened the hasp, then opened the smart lock and lifted the latch.

"Seems like a lot of security," I noted.

"We had a regular lock, but he kept picking it and he found a way to override the smart lock from the inside, so we have to change the combination every other day," Hobby explained. "We kept finding him trying to sneak out. He got evasive, but we pumped him a little: he said he was searching for David.

"That's really odd."

"I know. Belladerma J-05672's have been known to be somewhat idiosyncratic, but he's been even moreso. They were built for comfort, but not to comfort a frightened child."

Hobby pushed open the door. He entered first, I followed him, carrying my camera case. We stepped into a room with white walls, sparsely furnished except for an antique divan covered with worn rose brocade, a couple chairs and an artist's drawing board with a swivel chair. What looked like a dark-haired young man occupied the chair, bent gracefully over the drawing board.

"Joe?" Hobby said. The young man shifted his weight so that the chair pivoted slowly toward us. He sat with his long, graceful legs folded under his body, an artist's pencil held between the graceful fingers of one hand.

He wore the plain, sleeveless black jumpsuit of a lover-model in transit, the top clinging slightly to his lightly muscled chest. Think of a classical Greek statue of a youth come to life like the statue in the myth and you'd come very close to what he looked like, but at the same time think of the tall, dark, handsome, mysterious, slightly dangerous male thing women dream of, boyishly good-looking in a gently androgynous way, his face manly yet with the delicacy and sensitivity of a woman's features

"You called for me by name?" it asked in a light baritenor, looking up at us.

"Yes, there's someone I want you to meet," Hobby said. He put a hand on my shoulder. "This is Henry Swinton, David's father. He wants to ask you a few questions about the time you spent with David."

"I will do my best to oblige his curiosity," Joe said.

As Hobby left us alone together, I opened my camera case and took out the tripod. "I hope you don't mind, I'd like to film our conversation."

Without turning away, it set the pencil on the drawing table. "Mind? Of course I don't mind. I have been told that I should have been in pictures."

I detected a bit of humor at its own expense. It had the sultry good looks of an early 20th century 2-D movie idol. Monica would have said he looked like somebody or other whose name I didn't recognize. I set up the tripod and set the camera on it. I switched on the camera and sat down, with the camera slightly behind me. Joe leaned back in the chair and arranged his limbs gracefully, one leg slung over the arm of the chair, his arm draped along it, the other leg lowered to the floor, his elbow resting on the other arm of the chair.

"So, tell me how it happened. How did you meet David?" I asked.

"In order to answer your question, I must start at the very beginning," it said.

"I first saw David in the woods near the village of Barn Creek, where I had fled seeking both refuge from the police and also where I sought the wisdom of the elders of my kind, who are often to be found hiding in the depths of the wooded places, and who could tell me where I should go to seek sanctuary.

"Just as the moon began to rise that second evening, I saw David near one of the foraging pits where several derelict elders were seeking new parts to repair themselves. I thought he was a child from the shantytown, but he had with him a Teddy Supertoy, something unknown to the children of the shanties.

"But then one of the abandoned looked up toward me and let out a loud cry; the others fled like frightened birds into the depths of the wood. Not knowing where else to go, and trying to evade the growing light flooding over the ridge where I stood, I ran after them as fast as I could. But whatever brought the light came too fast. I felt something grab me from behind and drag me into a metal cage which hung beneath the false moon.

"I did not see David again until later, when I was taken, along with a large netful of derelict Mechas to an iron cage in the midst of an arena. I saw the child again amongst the shattered.

"I had heard tell of Flesh Fairs before, but I have never seen one before, and there is without a doubt nothing more repulsive than this so-called 'Celebration of Life'.

"One Mecha, a comedian, which had been captured before me, was shot from a cannon through a flaming hoop into a spinning propeller. His flaming faceplate struck the bars of the cage where we stood and slid off.

"Then I felt a small hand reach out and grab mine. I looked down to see what it could be when—hallo!—I discovered it was the boy I had seen near the foraging pit.

"Two men came into the cage; they seemed interested in the boy. They argued whether or not he really was a boy. At first this did not seem necessary: could they not see with their own eyes that he was one of your kind? But I somehow sensed he was not the same. He insisted to the men that he was a boy. One, the far more gentle of the two seemed ready to let the boy go, to the annoyance of the other."

"How did you know that he was a boy?" I asked, interrupting.

He put his head on one side slightly. "I cannot say how I knew this. Suddenly the information was there."

"Sorry for the interruption," I said. "You can go on."

"It is of little consequence," he said. After a pause, he resumed the tale.

"The larger of the two men grabbed the boy by the hand and ordered me to let go of the boy. I told him I could not: the little one's hand had too great a grip. Then the big man told the other, more gentlemanly man of the two, that he was putting the boy-Mecha where he belonged, in show business. For the moment I thought I had hit upon good fortune in meeting the little boy, for I had heard such glowing stories of the successes of Mechas in show business." An ironic smirk twisted his face. "Little did I know what they had in store for us."

"The big man's assistants chained the little boy-Mecha and I to a great disk of stamped metal surrounded by blinking white lights. The big man spoke aloud to the crowd gathered round, watching, waiting to witness our destruction. Above our heads other men filled a large pail with some liquid which dripped down and burned the sleeve of my jacket.

"Then the little one I clasped to me, shielding him, started to cry out, 'I'm David! I have a mommy! Don't burn me, I'm not Pinocchio!'

"A woman in the crowd—true to the maternal instincts of the fair sex!—stood up and cried out, 'Mecha don't plead for their lives!' Then the crowd began to throw things—little red bags, cups, anything they could lay hands on—at the big man.

"The gentleman who had pleaded with the big man for David's sake unchained us and let us go. We ran as only we Mecha can run, towards the front gates, out through the turnstiles, toward the woods where they could not find us."

"You said you were shielding David when you are chained to the bag toss. Do you know why you were shielding him?"

It took this interruption with a little wrinkle of disdain at the bridge of its nose. "He needed protection from the fury of the crowd.

"We ran as into the depths of the woods, then David slowed down. I asked him where he was going; he told me that he was seeking the Blue Fairy, who—so he said—would turn him into a real boy so that his Mommy would love him as she loved Martin."

"Our son," I said.

"Yes, your 'real' son…David clearly needed a guide on his journey, for he knew not where to seek the Blue Fairy. But I knew of one place where we might find her: Rouge City, where the women outnumber the stars. If she would not heed his little plea, perhaps in exchange she would take me, but only on the condition that she would then grant the little one his wish. Through the service I could render to her, she would be transformed from blue to the rose-pink of a blushing woman, then once made into a real woman, she could then turn David into a real boy, and all would be right in the world."

His jadeite colored eyes shone with an inner light all its own and a smile lit his whole face with the kind of 300 watt glow a woman couldn't miss.

"We hitched a ride with three youths only too willing to aid our endeavor after I told them of the delights that awaited them in Rouge City.

"We had not a copper on us to pay the fees to out where to go, from Dr. Know, and I could hardly have left David alone whilst I delighted a lonely woman; but we found a likely nightspot where we dazzled the crowd with a show of terpsichorean and lyric skill—he sang while I danced.

"Then we took our departure and went in search of answers to David's questions.

"His first attempts led us to useless answers: David knew not how far Dr. Know can test our mettle. He received four answers that did not satisfy his request.

"But then he received the words he needed to know: that he would find his Blue Fairy in the Lost City at the end of the world, where the lions weep.

"He set out after his Blue Fairy, though I warned him that his search might be in vain, that his Blue Fairy might be a mere trick of the mind, or even an electronic threat. He insisted that the Blue Fairy must transform him. But I knew it could not be. He went on his way, but I followed him out.

"The police had pursued me to the city. They captured me and bundled me most unceremoniously into a transport, but something knocked the transport over, throwing me—undamaged—to the ground. I looked up to see a police amphibicopter swooping about the plaza as if an intoxicated Orga flew it. But I soon saw that David had climbed into the cockpit in an attempt to escape.

"I relieved him of his task—one of my previous owners had trained me to fly her small amphibicopter.

"We flew all through that night, to Manhattan. Of his own he told me more about his family, about his mommy whom he only wanted to return his love, of Martin, whom he wanted so much to be like—except in temperament, of you as well.

"As the dawn broke, we reached the city. Teddy heard the roar of waters and we followed the sound to this place." He looked around him. "We found on the front door the same words Dr. Know had told us:

'Come away, O human child,

To the water and the wild,

With a faerie hand in hand

For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.'"

It looked at me. "They are the words of your William Butler Yeats, did you know?"

"I know Dr. Hobby has a fondness for Yeat's poems," I said, as a way to veil my ignorance.

A slightly superior smirk twisted the corner of its mouth. "Remarkable work it is." It continued, "David went inside. I knew there was little place for me now. I had helped him fulfill his task—which I had made my own. But I had to see that his wish came true.

"I watched from the open doors as he went in. the room seemed deserted, but he soon discovered another boy who looked just like him, doubtlessly another of his model, also named David. Our David grew frightened, then he grew angry. He took up a table lamp and struck out at the other David, smashing his face."

Joe paused, eyes widened slightly, looking away from me. Then it turned its eyes toward me again. "The other David was a robot. His wounds wept silver, not red, and underneath his skin, he was like me, all of wires and metal.

"I could not stay. What if he were malfunctioning and he turned his weapon on me?"

It stopped; I swore it trembled. Mechas "fear" only proximate pain, but perhaps its experience in the Flesh Fair had colored its reaction.

"I fled back to the amphibicopter, hoping to take it north to Canada, where I have heard there is refuge for my kind, where Mechas are treated no different from Orgas. But I had come away with Teddy, who urged me to go back to find David.

"We flew back here, to the Cybertronics building. Teddy spotted David sitting on a ledge. But before we could descend to his level, he dropped into the water."

"He fell?"

"No, he did not fall. It was as if he had jumped. I have heard of Orgas trying to do this, but never a Mecha.

"I dove the amphibicopter after him, into the water, seeking him. Teddy and I both spotted him sitting on the bottom, looking up as if he sought the light. With the grappling hook, I caught him up and drew him to the surface.

"In the shelter of the upper floor of one of the broken buildings, I freed him from the claws of the hook and sat him upon the seat of the amphibicopter. He told me he had seen where the Blue Fairy lived, down there beneath the surface of the waters. He begged me to bring him down there."

It paused again. "But then I felt something tug the medallion pager about my neck. The force grew stronger, almost as powerful as the force which draws women to me. I looked up to see a helicopter over us, with a tractor magnet on its underside aimed at me. David sat under the canopy of the amphibicopter, out of its reach.

"I had enough time to say goodbye to David and tell him, should he ever become a real boy, to remember me to the ladies when he grew up.

"I set the dive sequence on the amphibicopter, lest our pursuers capture him as well.

"I had guessed that the police had caught up with me again, but I guessed wrongly: the 'copter came from here, from Cybertronics. Dr. Hobby had sent them to find David, but they got me instead.

"They spared my brain for they say that I am useful to them. I was the last being to see David alive.

"After the waters closed over the amphibicopter, after the magnet dragged me into its clutch and Dr. Hobby's search crew brought me here, I did not see David again."

It fell thoughtfully silent, its eyes gone misty though it still smiled softly to itself.

"You took good care of David," I said. "I can't help but thank you."

"It had to be done. He needed my experience." Joe looked up at me again. "Have they found David?" It asked. Its eyes lifted and it peered over my shoulder toward the door. "Is this what brought you here?"

"No. I'm sorry, Joe," I said. Its eyes seemed to lose some of their luster. Its lips parted, the lower one dropping slightly. "Don't take it badly: we're still looking for him. We're all hoping to find him soon."

"You too?" it asked, incredulity gathering his smooth brow.

"Yes, he belonged to us, to Monica and I."

"What was he to you?" it asked point blank.

I wasn't sure how to answer that; the question caught me completely off guard. It was the kind of question I expected from Monica, not a Mecha.

"He was my son," I said, but my tone didn't convince me.

It didn't convince Joe either; it lowered its eyelids and its mouth gathered in smug smirk. "Is that so? Your words disagree with how you say them. Was he your son?"

"He was, in a manner of speaking."

"'In a manner of speaking'. Does anything support your words? Or is that all that they are: words?"

I fumbled for a reply, open-mouthed. How had it found that out? How could a lover-Mecha, a mere machine, have figured that out? Granted, these things can pick up subtle changes in a client's mood, but how could it have figured out what I had been turning over in my head?

"I tried to do my best with David," I admitted. "I hope I can have a second chance with him once the search parties find him."

"But what did he truly mean to you? What was he in your mind? A mere machine? An experiment? A toy for your wife? You said he was your son, but is that a mere filler of words?"

"All right, I brought David home partly to help out with the David project, partly to help Monica. She was worried sick over Martin our…real son. He was sick, there was little that the doctors could do to cure him. When the David experiment came up, I accepted the offer to help out. I thought it could help Monica get her mind off her grief, or help her get through it."

"And what then? What would become of him should your Martin, 'real son' be restored to you?" I could hear the quotes around "real".

"I…I don't know."

It looked me straight in the eye. "You are withholding that. You wanted to return him to the laboratory."

"Monica insisted on keeping David. I couldn't see that it would cause that much trouble for us all. He nicked Monica in the eyebrow with a pair of sewing scissors. Then he nearly drowned Martin. I didn't know what to do then. I didn't know until recently that these were both accidents."

"And again a Mecha is wrongfully accused of harming an Orga," he said in almost a tired voice.

"What?"

"You accused David of deliberately bringing harm to your wife and to your 'real' son, just as I was wrongfully accused of killing Samantha Bevins."

"I was trying to handle this rationally. I didn't want to get emotionally attached to David too soon, the way Monica did."

"Dr. Hobby has told me much about David. Was this not a significant part of David's gift, that of forming an emotional bond with his parents?"

"That's true. But I wanted to be absolutely sure I wanted to get into that before I imprinted David. I wasn't sure."

"And so you never imprinted him?"

"I had to be sure."

"And so you failed him when he needed someone to help him live in this world. Is that not the role of a father?"

The word struck me like a knife in the gut. I couldn't reply. I couldn't put into words the realization that crashed over me. I could only stare at the Mecha.

"I could be that though I was not built for this task, I was more of a father to David than you were to him."

I couldn't argue that. It was absolutely true. What was the world coming to when a machine in male form designed only to seduce a woman had learned an innocent task which a human male had failed to perform? I don't doubt that a lover-Mecha might be qualitatively better in bed than I am, in a physical way, but a better father?

"The possibilities stagger the mind, do they not?" Joe asked.

I reached up and with a shaking hand switched off the camera.

"That'll be all," I managed. "Thanks, thank you, Joe."

"It was a pleasure," it said. I looked at it, wondered what else was going on under that glossy scalp.

The door opened and Dr. Hobby entered. "How did it go?" he asked.

"I got what I needed to hear," I said, starting to pack up my camera. And what I didn't, I thought. "He did a remarkable job for David."

Hobby put his hand on Joe's shoulder, kneading the "flesh" at the angle of the Mecha's neck. In so doing, the tips of his fingers slid under the neck of Joe's shirt.

"He's a remarkable Mecha, more remarkable than he may ever know for himself."

Joe eyed Hobby's hand oddly, out of the corners of its eyes, its lids lowered over its green irises.

"He is," I agreed.

"I'll be back in a little while, Joe," Hobby said, giving the Mecha's shoulder another squeeze.

Once we were back in the hallway with the door closed and locked, Hobby turned to me.

"There's more going on with Joe than meets the eyes, that's why we're keeping him under observation."

"There certainly is: did you hear him accusing me of not being a good father to David?"

"He has a certain amount of tender cynicism programmed into his nature. But he intuited this thought. Mechas cannot do that, except for David."

"So you're saying this Mecha learned to intuit from David?"

"Yes. We're still trying to find out just how this happened, whether it's just Joe, or whether other Mechas can grasp this ability. It would appear that these skills—dreams, emotion, intuition—can be passed from one Mecha to another."

"Like a virus?"

"I prefer to think of it as a memetic sequence, if that is what it is. The only way for us to find out for sure is to let him come into contact with other Mechas and see if they pick up the same abilities.

"If that's so…this could change Mechas as a species."

"So could the other Davids."

"I thought those were going to be remaindered."

"No, the experiment has to go through," he said as we walked back to the landing dock. "This may be the greatest event to impact the science since the discovery of machine intelligence itself. It may change how we perceive ourselves. And it may finally and decisively bridge the gap between Orga and Mecha."

"And one little Mecha started it all."

"Our universe began as a singularity from which the Creator set the whole mechanism in motion."

I went home doubly chastened.

That evening, I showed the tape to Monica. She watched it in rapt attention, hanging on every word, her lightly clasped hand against her lower lip.

When the tape stopped, she sat still. Then very slowly, she turned to me.

"I can see why it was good I didn't come along," she said, smiling thinly. "He's beautiful."

"He's an excellent piece of work," I said.

She put a hand on my arm. "He hit a nerve, didn't he?"

I bent my head. "Yeah," I admitted.

"Are they all like that, lover-Mechas? Do they figure things out like that?"

"No, this one's different." I told her about Hobby's theory about what was going on in Joe's processor.

"So our little David might have done that?" she asked.

"I don't doubt it. He changed everyone he came into contact with. Think of those people at the Flesh Fair who let him go."

She looked away at the blank, blue screen, then looked at me again.

"Did they find David?"

"No, but they're still searching."

We went to bed a little while later. Monica fell asleep first, her shoulder blades against my chest as I held her. I dozed off, but I woke up just a few minutes later utterly unable to get back to sleep.

I got up carefully, trying not to wake Monica and went to the bathroom for a glass of water. I drank it slowly, then headed back to our room.

I passed by Martin's room, where our son lay curled up asleep in his bed, under the glowing blue moon inside the canopy.

I passed by the open door to Monica's sewing room, with the little white divan over which Monica had hung Martin's old silver mobile with the dancing figures of a woman, a child, and a bear. She'd had David stay here at nights after Martin came home and started to improve.

I gazed out the round picture window, at the moon rising over the pond. I sat down on the divan and gazed up at the night sky.

I prayed that Hobby's searchers could find our David soon and bring him home to us. I hoped Hobby knew what he was doing when he brought that lover-Mecha in contact with other Mechas.

But above all, I prayed that I could be a real father to David. If I had only been a better father to him in the first place! I'd thought too much and felt too little around him. My brain was more of a machine brain than David's little processor, certainly more than Joe's simple logic processor.

I bent my head and wept a real father's tears for my lost Mecha son.

Literary Easter Eggs:

"every great endeavor…"—This almost a direct quote of a sign in Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.