TITLE: "Along a Knife's Blade" An "A.I." / "Blade Runner" crossover -- Chapter Five: Human
AUTHOR: "Matrix Refugee"
RATING: PG-13/mild R for unsettling images
ARCHIVE: Permission granted
FEEDBACK: Please? Please? Please?
SUMMARY: Diane finds and fits in the last pieces of the puzzle that is her life.
DISCLAIMER: I do not own "A.I., Artificial Intelligence", its characters, settings, concepts or other indicia, which are the property of the late, great Stanley Kubrick, of DreamWorks SKG, Steven Spielberg, Warner Brothers, Amblin Entertainment, et al. Nor do I own "Blade Runner", it's characters, concepts or other indicia, which are the property of the late Philip K. Dick, Ridley Scott, Warner Brothers, et al.
NOTES: Sorry this took me so long to finally update this and conclude it, almost one year from the last time I updated it. The ending may seem abrupt, but it was how the story wanted to end itself. Mild warning: implied slash scene, Merrot/Joe.
Chapter Five: Human
At daybreak, Diane awakened and slipped out of Merrot's bed carefully as she went in search of her clothes. She found they'd dried in the night. She hated to leave him so suddenly, but she had to report back to Bryant.
On her way out of the apartment, her foot knocked against something on the hallway floor. She stooped to find an origami folding of a deer, made of silver paper. Gaff must have followed her up here, but left quietly. But why would he do that? Why hadn't he barged in to find out what was going on?
"What the hell took you so long, Di?" Bryant demanded as Diane entered her supervisor's office.
"I had company last night," Diane said, with a coolly suggestive smile.
"I'll bet... but he better not have had been a suspicious French immigrant. What's the beef on him?"
"He checked out: he has a brain impairment that makes it hard for him to process emotional responses."
Bryant breathed a sigh of relief. "Good. Last thing I need right now is a lawsuit on our heads for shipping out a human mistaken for a Mecha. It'd be the police equivalent of that Flesh Fair killing a human they mistook for a Mech."
A month passed, a month loaded with cases: a lover-Mecha that had eloped with a customer; a child Mecha that had run away from an abusive, alcoholic mother; a serving man that had escaped to Canada. It hadn't been an easy month: she'd had trouble concentrating at times, and her thoughts roved to Merrot. This is what happens when you let yourself get personally involved with a suspect, she told herself. This is how Deckard in LA got himself in trouble.
In the last week of that month, she started suffering... not headaches, but an odd sensation in her head, as if a physical presence pressed itself against her thoughts. Or her processing paths. If what Merrot told her was true, he might know what was wrong: he claimed to be an expert in the field.
When Diane returned from Vancouver, she found a letter from Merrot in the paper-mail box in her cubicle. Gaff eyed it as she opened it, and leaned forward.
"You hit it off wit' the Frenchman, no?" he asked in a low voice.
"Either way, it's personal information," she said, reading the letter.
"To my huntress:
"I heard you were out of town, but I promise you I'll keep busy working on researching your family tree. Some things turned up that you need to know: Come to my rooms some evening after you return from the hunt.
She folded up the letter and stuck it into her pants pocket, ignoring Gaff's leering grin and the spark of suspicion in his dark eyes.
At ten that evening, she went to Merrot's apartment. Teresa let her enter, but gently warned her that Merrot had "more than a friend" visiting him. Diane guessed who it might be: a young man's coat lay draped over a table near the door, confirmed by a trail of clothes -- both of them from two males, one slightly shorter than the other -- leading down the hallway to the bedroom.
Diane paced through the empty rooms, into the kitchen. She'd focused so much on the hard facts in the dossier that she had ignored the tiny details, the minutiae that made the difference in the daily life of one substance, marking it off from the other.
She crossed the stone tiles, approaching the refrigerator, and cracked open the door. If it's well-stocked, he's human, she told herself.
She pulled the door open and looked straight at a row of distilled water bottles on the top shelf. Below it stood a wooden bottle rack with several open wine bottles carefully corked. She closed the door and reached up to one of the cabinets. Opening it, she found several air-tight canisters. Finding one unsealed, she opened it and looked in at the very same beige powdered substance she herself mixed with water or milk three times a day in place of regular meals, on account of the "digestive tract impairment" that supposedly set in as a side effect of the infected blastershot wound.
Putting back the canister, she then went into Merrot's studio. Several bowls of exotic fruits had stood on the steps of a brocade-draped step ladder the last time she had peered into this room. Now a lone barstool stood under the banks of lights, a maroon silk shirt draped over the seat. On a worktable nearby lay several dozen prints and contact sheets, the images all of Merrot. One set featured him in various poses in several stages of undress, normal photos, albeit that he probably would admit he looked too thin for this type of photography to do him justice.
But underneath those lay another set, a series of images resembling Frida Kahlo's literally bleeding-heart self-portraits crossed with H.R. Giger's biomechanoid visions: Merrot lacking several sections of his dermis, clearly he'd removed them himself with an expert's care. With his hands tented before his lower face, the metallic phalanges of his fingers exposed, his metal talons touching each other. Peering at the viewer over his shoulder, the dermis of his back unsealed and hanging down like a shirt slipped off his shoulders, exposing the metal fluting of his rib cage, the articulated stack of titanium segments composing his spine. A pair that at first glance seemed to be the same shot: Merrot with the dermis and facial mask removed from his entire head, exposing the metal skull beneath his skin, the metal sphere housing his neural net, the camera lenses of his optical receptors, the slit for his artificial breathing, the small grate over his verbal synthesizer; but in one of the prints he had somehow superimposed his green eyes over the camera lenses. Then one especially unsettling yet wierdly touching image: Merrot sitting completely naked on the stool, one thigh raised to give him some semblence of modesty, the dermis over his chest unsealed, exposing the ribcage and organ simulators of his upper torso, including his heart, which he held cupped in his hands; by the pleading yet ardent look in his eyes, he seemed to be offering her the heart out of his bosom...
She almost walked away on seeing these images. But if he had suggested the truth to her, she must very well look the same way beneath her own smooth face.
She limped to the bathroom to wash her face and her hands, but she paused before the sink, gazing at her face. Were her eyes some jelly-like substance masking the camera lenses underneath? Did her voice come from a synthesizer behind the cavity of her mouth? She almost tore at the back of her hand, looking for the metal bones underneath, but she put that thought on lock-down. Or did that response come from some version of the Three Laws prompts written into her programming?
The sounds in the bedroom grew more noticeable. Or perhaps her ears sought out something to divert her attention from the thoughts in her head. Merrot's strange sword-dragged-on-rocks hiss of release cut through the sounds of bedsprings creaking; closely following it came a young man's higher-pitched cry of ecstasy. So human, she thought as she turned and headed back to the living room.
She sat down on the couch, waiting for the amorous sounds to fade away and for someone to emerge from the rear of the apartment.
At length, a dark-haired young man wearing the same emerald dressing gown Merrot had loaned her the night she'd last been here, emerged and approached, picking up a cast-off jersey that lay on the floor. As he got closer, she realized he was an older-style Mecha, clearly a lover-model from the preternatural beauty in his lightly tanned face and his slim, dancer's form. He paused in mid-step and straightened up, his movements graceful and elegant, yet precise in a machine-like way. She saw his eyes turn to her face a moment before he turned to look at her -- a behavioral dead give-away though only she would notice something as minute as that. He cocked his head, mildly puzzled. "Excuse me, Madame, but I don't think we have met before."
"I'm a friend of M. Merrot's," Diane said.
The lover-Mecha smiled. "Ah, you must be the Rogue Retrieval agent who allowed my companion and lover to slip through the meshes of the net which the humans have cast for our kind." He bowed to her. "Allow me to introduce myself: I am Joe de Reynarde, M. Merrot's longtime lover, from before his transhumanization. I only recently joined him here after some... contacts of mine informed me that he had taken residence here, in a place I had provided for him."
"I figured you were involved with him on an intimate level," Diane said, her eye on the trail of scattered garments.
Joe smiled at her, his green eyes flashed impishly. "You are as observant as Harlen said that you were. I trust that has served you well in your line of work."
"Well, enough that I found out what he was," she said.
Merrot entered the front room, clad in his dressing gown, cinched at his waist and open over his chest, his hair still tousled and his face relaxed in post-coital contentment. "Ahh, I see that you youngsters have found each other?"
"Youngster? You know that my form is far older than yours, ma cher," Joe said, which a mischievous smile.
"The shell may be younger than yours, but the essence is older than yours," Merrot retorted, returning the smile with an indulgent one.
Joe looked from Diane to Merrot. "Shall I leave you to speak tête-à-tête?"
"I'd rather you did, I have something very personal to discuss with M. Merrot," Diane said.
"In that case, I'll attend to the dull business of settling in," Joe said, with an impish look in his eyes that suggested he wouldn't mind eavesdropping on their conversation, if only to hear the voice of his lover. Even still, he turned away, collecting the rest of his garments and fetching a suitcase from the entryway.
When he had gone into the inner room of the apartment, Merrot turned to her, his face gathered gravely. "You got my letter; I never took you for the sort to make a mere social call on a former suspect or a one-night paramour."
"I came because I wanted to know what you found out about me," she said.
"I found a lot of things," he said. "A lot that I suspected and a lot that I already knew in theory." He rose and went into the study, returning with a disk he slotted into a hot-desk against the wall. She approached as he unrolled the monitor screen and punched several keys on the desktop, opening several documents.
Windows covered the screen: birth lottery records, birth certificate, enrollment records, employment records, diplomas, expired driver's licenses -- nothing she didn't know about.
"Then I found this," he punched another button.
A death certificate. A report from the Pan-American Coroner's Web. Her eyes scanned the lines of text:
Cause of death: Electrobeam trauma to the abdomen and lower extremities, resulting in third degree burns and shock.
"Why don't I remember that?" she asked.
"You remember the idea, but not the event, partly because your recall was transferred before your death, partly because your pain memories were repressed so that the experiment would not fail, and you would survive the transhumanization process. Several test subjects before your birth... Well, I'll put it another way: they could not bear to recall their death and they had to be euthanized."
She looked down at her hands, then up at Merrot's face. "So it's true. I'm no different than you or your boyfriend."
He wagged his head. "You and I are different from he is from us: he had to learn to live as a human. We were born that way and reborn into a different form."
"I think something happened to me since I met you... since that night we slept together," she said. "I've been off my mark, not that I've failed to take any rogues... My response times have been slower, and it's as if there were something else in here." She tapped her forehead.
"Something else in there?" he asked, cocking his head. She hoped she only imagined that glint of anticipation in his eyes.
"If my brain is really silicon and my thoughts and identity are code, I think there's a virus or a worm in there," she said.
Merrot smiled and reached out to her, taking her hands in his and carressing them with his fingertips. "No, not a worm or a virus... but a new life."
She stared at him, pulling her hands away from his. "What do you mean?" she said.
"I mean this: Your brain carries the code of my offspring.
She nearly jolted back from him. "What? That's impossible."
He shook his head. "Not impossible: It is, rather, the result of a program I have experimented with. What is the one thing that humans are able to do that mechanoids are unable to do? Reproduce offspring."
She started to open her mouth to object, but he continued. "Oh, I know what you're going to say: robots have been designed to build and assemble other robots, but have two robots ever possessed the ability to unite and create a new entity in their image?"
She shook her head. "This isn't happening," she said. "You... got me pregnant?"
"In a sense, yes, and unfortunately our child will need to be downloaded into a separate body, once it has matured enough to exist independent of your essence," he said.
"Merrot, that's a high-risk thing to do," she said. "This planet can barely sustain the humans that live on it. What about these offspring you propose to create? How can it sustain them as well?"
"It is far easier for our reproduction to be regulated than it is for human reproduction. I keep the protocols which governs this process behind a very secure firewall. Only I am able to raise or lower this code come through."
"And that, I take it, is what you did to me," she said.
He dropped his gaze with a hint of guilt. "Yes, that is precisely what happened. But have no fear: I shall take sole responsibility for the child's well-being. I am even crafting a shell to house this little one."
"No. That's a nice offer, but it doesn't take me or my well-being into consideration," Diane said. She turned away, heading for the door.
"Diane, please, don't leave us: we can take care of you," Merrot called to her.
Without looking back, she paused and replied, "I'd rather handle this on my own, on my own terms; I suggest you try again with a much more compliant subject."
She heard him step toward her, his robe rustling slightly. "If you seek help removing that code, your true substance will become known. You could be in danger."
She turned toward him, but did not look directly at him. "Two guys in Rogue Retrieval already know what I am. One of them is ready to look away from it, the other wouldn't make a move against me unless he had to, or he was ordered to. I don't think he'd even do that."
She turned to the door, lifted the latch and stepped out to go on with her life. Existence.