+J.M.J.+

Mechas, Marzipan, and Mouse Kings

By "Matrix Refugee"

Author's Note:

I have to admit that I'm sort of an arts geek. I studied ballet for five years and I once wanted to try out for a student production of The Nutcracker, but I was too tall. But…I got to thinking that the story of the ballet would blend well with the characters of "A.I.", or at least the concepts. The first act features two life-size dancing dolls, after all…

Disclaimer:

I do not "own" the characters, concepts, or other indicia of "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence", which are the property of the late Stanley Kubrick, the great Steven Spielberg, DreamWorks SKG, Warner Brothers, et al. I don't own The Nutcracker ballet either, which was based on "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" by E.T.A. Hoffman, with music by Peter Illych Tchaikovsky. (I will have the link to some online MIDIs of the music, in the next chapter)

Prologue: Christmas Eve

(Musical Reference: The Nutcracker: Overture)

 Clair Hobby peered down the spiral stairs of her parents' house, toward the open door to the parlor, the doors that opened only on special occasions, and the evening of that day promised to be a very special occasion. Her parents, Tessia and Corwin Hobby, were holding their Christmas party. Tessia, or Mom to Clair's half-brother Fritz, was decorating the tree with help from James, their serving man, and Tony, the houseboy. All night long she'd heard the servants moving about, cleaning and polishing the simulwoodwork until it shone.

She wasn't allowed into the room until that night. Tessia always decorated the room with a different theme each year, and she kept her plans very secret, although Clair had found some of the boxes of ornaments in the basement and peeked at them.

"I wonder what Uncle Alan's gonna give us this year," she heard Fritz say behind her.

"Oh, shut up, Fritz!" she hissed. "You're always looking for what you can get for yourself out of something."

Fritz shoved himself under Clair's arm. He was only ten, but he'd been born knowing how to be a major pain in the neck. "Lemme see down," he said.

"Stop pushing," she whispered. "Tessia's gonna hear you."

Tony passed by below them, carrying a large box, but he walked by so quickly and purposefully that neither of them could see what it could be.

"What did he have?" Fritz hissed.

"I don't know; you were in my way," Clair snipped.

"I bet it's stuff to put under the tree."

"It was probably stuff to put on the tree, you goose!"

"Have it your way," Fritz growled. "I bet it's the Operation Mutant Strikeforce set I asked for."

"There you go again! Do you always have to think like that, about what you're getting?"

"Isn't that what Christmas parties are all about? Getting stuff?"

"That's only a little part of it. It's about seeing your family and friends all together."

"Well, I bet you're wondering what Uncle Alan's gonna bring you…Ain't you a little old for that?"

"Oh, stop! I'm fourteen—"

"You'll be fourteen in May."

"I'm a little over thirteen and a half," she said, stiffly. "Besides, I heard Uncle Alan might not come this time: he had a hard year, this year, first the David prototype disappeared, then the ARM tried to kill him."

"They only gouged out his right eye: he lived, didn't he? He's supposed to get a transplant."

"Fritz, don't be so graphic…He still might not show up."

"You're just saying that to put me off."

"No, I heard it from Gussie, who heard it from Dad."

"Well, you didn't hear it straight from Dad, so that doesn't count."

"It counts as something."

"You're just talking."

A tall figure with iron gray hair and black brows over a square but aristocratic face approached the foot of the stairs and ascended.

"Now you've done it!" Fritz hissed. "Here comes James."

"I've done it?! You were the one making the most noise," Clair shot back.

The figure in the black vest over a white shirt and black dress slacks paused a few steps below them.

"Master Fritz, Miss Clair: your mother has heard your chatter even downstairs," James said in the calm, cadenced voice of his class. "You know she wants no peeking until tonight."

"Can we peek then?" Fritz twitted.

The question bypassed the serving man's logic. "Miss Clair, if you like, you may assist Gussie in the kitchen." He turned his dark eyes toward Fritz. "And Master Fritz, aren't you supposed to practice your piece for the party?"

"Oh, all right," Fritz groused, heading upstairs to his room. "Next year, I'll ask Uncle Alan to get us a piano-playing Mecha!"

"Oh be quiet," Clair snapped, heading down. James bowed to her and preceded her down. She was at an age when her parents' house Mechas had begun to treat her like an adult, but when the Orga adults still treated her like a kid. She hadn't asked for anything for Christmas. She was too old really for Supertoys, and it would be four, well, three and a half years, before she could have a companion Mecha of her own, and she wasn't sure if she really wanted one.

But she was still young enough to enjoy all the bustle of the holidays without having the adult stress to contend with. And she was old enough that she could really start helping.

She found Gussie in the kitchen, mixing a bowl of sugared almond paste for the marzipan. The comfortable-looking female figure looked up from the bowl, the slight smile on her face widening.

"Hello, Miss Clair. You must have received the message James was bringing you," she said, with a slight German accent.

"He couldn't have come at a better time: Fritz was getting awful," Clair said, rolling up her sleeves.

"Oh? Why, what did he do that was so awful?"

"Oh, shoving me…when I was, uh, peeking over the banister, looking to see what Tessia was doing."

"You still enjoy watching your mother decorate the parlor for Christmas," Gussie said. "That is a good thing: it means you have not grown up too fast."

She rolled her eyes a little, but she realized that the Mecha-woman was right.

Gussie set aside the bowl of sugared almond paste. "But you have not outgrown helping in the kitchen," she said with a smile.

"That's something I've barely started to grow into," Clair said, scrubbing her hands under the faucet. She set to work molding the marzipan into Christmas shapes: stars, ornaments, Santas, angels, trees, bells. While she worked, Gussie took trays of Christmas cookies from the oven and set them to cool.

Clair painted the candies with vegetable dyes gussie had prepared, then set them to cool in the fridge. By the time she had finished this, James came to tell her it was already fifteen o'clock, which left her only two and a half hours to wash, take a rest and get dressed for the party. Clair ran upstairs.

To be continued…