A Matter Of Compatibility
by Bryan Harrison
A fan fiction using characters and concepts
from the film Artificial Intelligence
Transcript of excerpt from audio-recording obtained from anonymous persons, allegedly recorded during tests conducted at Cyberchild Industries. Voices are one unidentified female (1) and one unidentified male (2), assumed to be employees of Cyberchild. Names are omitted, perhaps censored by the creator of the recording or the person who sent the disk.
(Sound of door slamming, indistinguishable peripheral noises.)
(1) - "What the hell happened?"
(2)- "If we knew that we wouldn't be in this mess, would we?
(1) - "Well, isn't this your department?"
(2)- "Don't even try it! I've never even seen the neural map for this thing. (unintelligible) was all 'just plug it in and let it go', right? Now, I'm supposed to come in and clean up the mess? Why don't you call Hobby? It's his design, right?"
(1)- "Last warning."
(2)- "OK, fine! Play your games. But you can't sit on this forever."
(1)- "Let me worry about that. Have you ever seen a malfunction like this?"
(2)- "It wasn't a malfunction. There was some kind of conflict in the system."
(1)– "What kind of conflict?"
(2)- "It was a matter of compatibility. Listen, (unintelligible) I'm not taking the fall for this one. Not alone. You'd better think about that"
(1) - "Maybe You need a vacation. You're getting jumpy."
Automated Rejection Response from Litigation Net-Clerk to Legal Council for plaintiff Julia Contreras-Zimmerman on the matter of pending Complaint against Cyberchild Industries:
In response to e-filing on matter of Zimmerman vs. Cyberchild Re: "Motion toInclude Peripheral Testimony/Evidence"; Testimony of Monica Swinton (plaintiff in un-related case), Testimony of Tom Rhoze (Cybertronics technician in un-related case), audio-recording of Cyberchild employees at Mecha-child trials:
This document has been returned un-filed, pending judgment on the following proceedings:
(a) Matter of Swinton vs. Cybertronics; Relevance of Simulant Unit behavior to emotional anguish of plaintiff derived from malfunction of Simulant Unit due to characteristics not
disclosed in arbitration contract; Legality of non-disclosure in respect to contract.
(b) Matter of Cybertronics vs. Cyberchild; Re: Commercial Espionage, Intellectual Theft, and Copyright Infringement.
Plaintiff Julia C. Zimmerman's request for inclusion of the testimony of Monica Swinton and/or Tom Rhoze cannot be filed without prior judgment on at least one of the preceding matters.
Clerks Note: Peripheral Testimony must fall under existing legal standards of relevance before it can be considered evidentiary. Without precedence established on matter legality of Cybertronics failure to disclose relevant data in arbitration contract and/or Cyberchild alleged intellectual theft of programming design, no case for testimony can be considered applicable to proceedings. Either finding will establish relevance in your case and the motion can then go before the Judge.
If you would like notification of Judgment on these cases, please fill out form CN-1624-a and mark "Relevance" on the "Reason for Notification" tab.
In regards to the Cyberchild audio recording, please separate Motion for Inclusion as Evidence Re: audio-recording, from packet and resubmit separately. This matter can proceed before the Judge.
For further inquiries or complaints please contact a Civil Matters Supervisor Shadow Creek Net-Home.gov
Melancholy always descended on Julia this time of year. It wrapped her tightly in its brooding grey cloak, and left her bedridden for a month before it finally, mercifully passed. Medford, her husband of fifteen years, had grown used to this annual hibernation and had long since learned to make the best of his early retirement during that time by scouring the sunken towns along the coast with his recreational salvage team, zipping through the skies in his time-share Strato-cruiser, or catching a round of Zero-G golf with the small circle of friends his work allowed.
He was also prone to spend this time with another woman. An Orga woman.
Not that such a delineation would have made much difference to Julia, had she been aware of her husband's infidelities, which she was not. It was not that she was a stupid, or naive woman. It was because the Medford Zimmerman she'd married had not been a man capable of detailed or prolonged deceptions. It didn't seem to be in his nature. So, after an initial period of watchful newlywed skepticism, she'd come to trust her husband. Implicitly.
Six years after that his affair had begun.
Julia's annual depression had first started the year before her husband break of faith, in the spring of their fifth year. This was the year that Medford had worked his way up from the ranks of corporate anonymity to become a face often seen, if not yet known, in the halls of aspiring power, where gathered the upwardly mobile acolytes who had already shed their now useless ethical skins and cut their teeth on stabbing each other in the back. Whoever survived these savage training grounds would then begin the slow ascent up the corporate ladder to the green pastures of wealth, privilege and security. The once quiet and bookish Medford Zimmerman, the one with whom a young Julia Contreras had fallen in love and married, would become one of the survivors, so much so that he would retire from the work place long before any of his peers. He would also become a different man in the process.
So, in the spring of that fifth year, when the fruits of her husband's labor and ethical sacrifices began to sprout, Julia had applied to the Child Licensing Authority for a permit to make their family the perfect triad that only the most fit to parenthood were allowed.
She had been promptly denied.
"How can they!" she'd screamed that night, as her (at that point) faithful husband had rocked her in his arms. She had been clasping the document that carried the official decision. It was already torn and wrinkled from being thrown into, and retrieved from, the trash basket three times by that point.
The infamous psychological temperament tests that were one of many obstacles for applicants to the CLA, were not always accurate. The institution had been sued in the past when couples they had deemed unstable, had thrived for years, well past the point when age would allow them a license. The CLA had insisted that the couples had managed their longevity simply out of spite and that had they been allowed to bring a life into the world, it would have wound up being another for the already overburdened Fed to feed. This argument had not always proved effective, or even valid.
But the tests had been quite accurate on the matter of the marriage of Contreras/Zimmerman, and had inadvertently given Julia the first of many hints that she would fail to notice.
"Please, Julia," Medford had pleaded, "We'll apply again. We only have a 12-month waiting period." But that following year he would meet Miriam Jefferson at a time-share pitch for his latest hobby, strato-cruising, and their affair would begin during an innocent dinner that same evening.
Julia had been at home the night her husband embarked on his departure from his matrimonial agreements. She'd been pacing their large suburban home, crying; throwing away and retrieving the second of what would wind up a total of six denials by the CLA. The tests had once again picked up on Medford's potential for infidelity. Contrasted with Julia's strong conservative profile, the prognosis had suggested a likelihood of divorce and custody battles and the inevitable emotional trauma to any child. Their application was, once again, denied.
It was basically a matter of compatibility.
Julia had only been able to tolerate four more of those notices before the sham of applying was dispensed of and she, instead, would take to the bed with remote in hand and hibernate until the chill of her emotional season had passed.
Then, in the third year of her annual hibernation, a small, unknown company named Cyberchild contacted the troubled Zimmerman family, and everything changed.
Keith Galbraith placed his palm against the ident-pad and held still while the opti-scanner flashed a beam of brilliant blue against his left iris. He then dashed through the opened door and stepped quickly down the large empty hall, his footfalls as anxious as his pulse. He stopped at one of many anonymous looking doors, caught his breath, and entered as calmly as possible in his irritated state.
"Sorry I'm late," he said, rushing into the room, forcing a conciliatory smile when an attractive woman in dark business attire glared quickly up at him. The glare was instantaneous, gone in a nanosecond, and the smile that replaced it was more convincing than his own. Jacqueline Bell was better at making such presentations.
"That's fine, Keith," she said with eerily genuine sincerity, "We were just wrapping up here." She gestured to the couple sitting across from her. "You've met the Zimmermans?"
Keith shook his head. Jackie knew he'd not met the trial couple, but this approach tended to put everybody on an even footing by implying that he was not working with Jackie in any concerted manner and that Cyberchild was already a blossoming commercial enterprise with scores of employees who might not know what each other was up to. Either innuendo was patently false. He and Jackie worked hand in hand on everything, and Cyberchild, an unofficial subsidiary of Automated Enterprises Inc, consisted of only seven people; three of which were in an unnamed little department that handled "acquisitions", three people who did actual design and programming; and one very calculating, very beautiful lawyer.
Jacqueline cocked her head as if surprised by the fact they'd not met. "Well, this is Julia and Medford Zimmerman, and they have decided to take little Tommy for a test ride." She winked at the couple when she said this. They laughed, a little too forcefully in Keith's opinion.
"Great!" Keith said, tapping his knuckles against the mahogany surface of the conference table. Julia's smile faltered for an instant. "Well," Keith continued, "Tommy is awake and ready to go and if you folks are ready to meet him."
The man, Medford, gazed cautiously at his wife, but she expressed no such hesitation, rising instantly and gathering her bag, her face aglow with anticipation.
"Well, just follow me," Keith said, and led the expectant couple out of the room and down the wall into the restricted area, where waited the innocent-faced little machine that would irrevocably change their lives.
"Hello Tommy," Julia said, kneeling down to take the little fake hand in her own. She felt a tremor of excitement at the site of the Mecha, and the realistic feeling of its hand on hers only served to accentuate this sensation.
"Hi," the little freckled Mecha responded with an easy smile, and then stepped forward, reaching up to offer the woman a hug. Keith almost cringed at the way she beamed and wrapped her arms around Tommy when it did this. Overkill, he decided instantly. He hadn't needed to add that touch. Jacqueline winked triumphantly at him, but he crossed his fingers behind his back as Medford stepped up and put his hand out.
"Great to meet you Tommy," the man said, cautiously. The little bot smiled up, hesitating for an instant before the 'endearing' routine kicked in.
"Great to meet you, too!" it replied and reached to shake the man's hand. Keith decided that there was a bit too much enthusiasm programmed into that response. But the man didn't seem to notice. Something passed over his face, some distraction that had not been there before, and Keith suddenly wondered on what grounds the CLA had denied their application. The woman seemed a little too eager and the man equally reticent. But Keith shrugged the thought off. It wasn't his concern. He picked up a large black folder and offered it to the couple.
"Here is the activation procedure and maintenance instructions," he said, holding the folder in their general direction, letting them decide who was going to take it.
The woman stepped up quickly and almost snatched it from his hand. She offered an apologetic smile when she realized how her action must have appeared.
"Take your time with activation," Keith said. "Remember, once it's done it cannot be undone." He let his words stand for a moment. "And please, feel free to call if you have any questions or…" he glanced at Jacqueline, "…problems," he concluded. Jacqueline flashed him a quick frown.
Outside, the two watched silently as the Zimmerman's led the imitation boy down the ramp and onto the lot where a company driver was waiting to take them back to their own cruiser, in the parking structure. Keith hissed between his teeth as the car door slammed shut.
Jacqueline ignored the sound. "Well, this is going well," she said cheerfully. "Automated gives us the go ahead on these things, and we'll be retiring ourselves."
Keith snorted in response. "I'm telling you, we should have waited for Hobby to finish his trials before-"
"Don't ever let me hear you say that name," Jacqueline interrupted, abandoning her pleasant façade.
"Fine. But I'm not catching any of this crap when it hits the fan," Keith replied, just as forcefully.
They both presented a confident smile as the cruiser rolled by. The Zimmerman woman waved happily through the tinted windows, apparently elated that she'd been chosen for this secret little trial.
Text excerpt from Statement of Julia Contreras Zimmerman:
"When do I … Oh. Is it recording? OK. Um… Let me say up front that we had no idea about the nature of their company. Excuse me? Oh, right. I am Julia Contreras Zimmerman, 9714 Exeter Terrace, Shadow Creek, Virginia. I am recording this testimony for the record on the matter of Zimmerman versus Cyberchild. Anyway, they took advantage of us. I mean, we sat in the damn conference room with that lying Bell woman and she made us sign all those damn agreements. Then the other guy came in. Gallagher? No… Galbraith! Keith Galbraith. But neither of them once mentioned any problem! I mean, if we had known about it, we would have just waited, you know, bought one off the shelf. They knew we were desperate and … Oh, I'm rambling. I'm sorry. Let me start from the beginning…"
It didn't take long for Julia to decide Tommy was to be the child that had so long been denied her. She'd quickly grown used to the little simulator following her about, its smooth, freckled face twisted in curiosity as it went through the initial process of memorizing the house and grounds.
"What's that mean, Julia?" Tommy would ask when she used a word that it had, apparently, not heard before. Julia wasn't bothered by the mechanical repetition of the phrase, the fact that it was repeated the exact same way each time it was used. Nor was she bothered by the fact that Tommy would ask the meaning of simple words like "landscape" or "rambling" while easily comprehending terms like "obfuscation", when she and Medford had been discussing things. She'd let these matters pass. To analyze the programming inconsistencies in her little boy ruined the illusion that she so desperately craved.
Medford wasn't as thrilled by the Mecha, but it was having a positive effect on his wife's depression and that was a good thing. He did a decent job of affecting enthusiasm, smiling and laughing at all the right moments. He was patient the time he'd found Tommy standing in his room, apparently memorizing the place, or the time he found it in the parking bay, investigating the premises as it acclimated to the house. He'd been in a hurry on that day, watching in quiet annoyance as it eyed everything carefully: the cruiser, the sleeping mech-bot parked in its spot in the wall. Tommy had only shown cursory interest in the mech-bot but had seemed to hover around the security system longer than necessary and Medford was relieved when it finally made its way back up the staircase into the house.
He left immediately afterward. He had an appointment to keep.
"So, are you going to keep it?" Medford had inquired over dinner that night. The smile with which Julia responded made clear her intentions. "Good," he said and cast a glance at the little fake boy who sat patently at the table while his new "parents" ate. When it realized that Medford was watching, it smiled quickly back and prepared to respond to whatever comments the man was going to make. But Medford just went back to his meal as Tommy stared expectantly, and the little bot eventually turned away.
Text excerpt from statement of Julia Contreras Zimmerman:
"Well, it really worked. The activation really changed Tommy. He really became like… family, you know. He was… hold on… give me a minute. Sorry. I always get… It's hard to explain. It's like that Swinton woman said, you know? When I heard her testimony, about the way it affected… oh yeah, can't mention that. Forgot. Well anyway, when I read that, I was just going yeah, yeah. That's me."
"Well that's it," Julia said. She stood and stepped back, wringing her hands nervously as she eyed the quiet simulator seated before her. Tommy gazed blankly at the space where she'd been kneeling with Medford at her side, so they both would be in the robot's line of sight while the activation procedure was executed.
They'd followed every direction precisely, they'd keyed the triggers as instructed and read the protocol in exact order. But the little Mecha wasn't responding.
"Is this normal?" Julia wondered aloud.
"Oh, what the hell is wrong?" Medford barked impatiently.
"Shhh," Julia scolded, and then knelt beside the silent Mecha as if to take its temperature. "Tommy? Can you hear me?" she asked, softly, as the little bot stared into nothing. There was no response. "Maybe we should call that Gallagher man," Julia suggested.
"Galbraith" Medford corrected.
"Yeah, him," Julia sighed.
Suddenly, Tommy bolted up from the chair. Julia yelped, and jumped back, causing Medford to let out a cry of pain as she stomped backwards onto his foot.
"Mother!" the little bot bellowed, his eyes now alert, his facial expressions animated in a manner that she'd not seen before.
"Tommy?" Julia whispered, awed by the drastic change, her voice filled with unexpected emotion.
"Owww," Medford moaned, falling onto a couch, grasping his foot in hand.
Tommy reacted to the sound, resetting its focus to analyze the man rocking back and forth on the couch. "Father!" it said in the same excited voice.
"Yeah, yeah, hey kid!" Medford groaned as he whipped off his shoe. "You're looking good," he added, trying to sound as enthusiastic as possible. He began to massage his swollen toe as his wife embraced and cuddled their newly awakened imitation boy. Medford had been about to complain to his wife, about his foot, when he caught the expression on her face. When was the last time she had looked so… happy?
He turned away from that sight, having the sudden irrational thought that she might sense his guilt. He watched the two for a moment longer. Then he went down to the parking bay. He had to make a phone call.
"I just don't see why you can't take him with you," Julia said, again. She knew she was repeating herself and, judging by the look on Medford's face, she knew he was getting tired of it. He stood in the foyer; jacket in hand, flight bag at his feet, staring at her with his lips twitching on the verge of some irritated response. She took a more diplomatic tone and tried again.
"Tommy has been activated for a month, honey. He's our son now. Can't you at least try?"
There was a silence in which she thought she'd made her point, but Medford just zipped up his jacket and slipped his flight bag over his shoulder. He stood at the door for a moment before he responded. "Julia, you've got to understand, the strato-cruiser is my time to be alone."
She couldn't mask the anger in her voice. "We've already been alone Medford. Fifteen years. Now you have a son and you want to shut him out?"
"No, Julia. I haven't been alone. It was you. You were slipping away. I would have given up on the license ages ago. After the second try, I knew we weren't going to get it!"
"How? How did you know that?"
"Because nothing had changed! We were the same people as the first time we applied and the second and the third and on and on, and if they weren't giving us a license it was because of who we are!"
"And who is that, Medford! Who are we? Who are you?"
Medford stepped forward, his face red, and pressed a trembling finger at her. "I have done nothing but what was best for us, Julia! I have sacrificed to maintain our way of life. I have never flinched from doing my duty." He stopped at the incredulous expression in his wife's eyes.
"Your duty?" Julia echoed. "Is that what this all is. Is that what I am? Tommy? Your duty?"
Medford grasped for words, his mouth working as his mind sought an exit from the dangerous terrain he had stepped onto. But another voice suddenly entered the fray.
Both turned to see Tommy standing in the doorway, his head cocked to the side and face twisted in some new manner of confusion.
"Nothing, honey," Julia replied quickly in a forced calm that was not very convincing. "Your father and I are… just having a discussion."
"You were fighting!" the little Mecha corrected her quickly.
Julia was taken aback by the response, but continued slowly. "No, honey. We just had to clear up a few matters and…"
"You lie!" Tommy blurted. This time they both froze as the little Mecha's eyes darted back and forth between then. "You were fighting! Lies and fighting are bad!"
Julia stood spellbound, mouth agape. Medford's mind cleared instantly, his guilt fading as he gazed on the strange, dark expression in the Mecha's eyes. "Tommy, you don't speak to us that way," he said and dropped his flight bag to the floor. "Do you understand?"
"You are not supposed to lie!" it yelled again, fixing Medford with a particularly potent gaze.
Medford eyed his wife as he fumbled for a response. "Go to your room!" he yelled finally. He didn't know what else to say.
The Mecha's eyes scanned them both quickly, once more, before it turned and stormed out of the hall. They looked at each other in silent confusion, listening to the bot's heavy footfalls on the staircase as it raced to its room.
"What the hell was that?" Medford said, breaking the silence.
Julia shook her head as if waking from a daze. "Maybe… maybe he's supposed to do things like that?" she wondered aloud. "It's completely human behavior, right?" But this reasoning did not relieve her discomfort at the glare she'd seen in the child simulator's eyes.
Medford acknowledged her point with a grunt. "Well, I guess we'll have to punish him now, right?" he said, shrugging. "What do you think? Bed without dinner?"
Julia stared at her husband blankly for a moment. Then she broke into laughter. Quickly, the two were in each other's arms, laughing away the ugliness of their argument, pushing those unwelcome feelings back into the shadows. They stayed locked in this embrace as their apologies were voiced.
"I didn't mean to yell," Julia said, losing herself in the feeling of his strong embrace.
"I'm so sorry," Medford said, pressing back the guilt inside. "I'm sorry for everything."
They stood that way a moment longer and then separated.
"I think I'll call that Gallagher man," Julia said, absentmindedly patting flat a wrinkle in her husband's jacket. "Just to tell him what happened."
"Galbraith," Medford corrected as he lifted his bag to his shoulder and made his way out the door.
Text excerpt from testimony of Tom Rhoze, ex-Cybertronics research technician, in the matter of Swinton vs Cybertronics:
"It was really a brand new procedure, cutting edge stuff. It relied on a feedback loop built on a tertiary processing base. None of the old binary rules applied anymore. But for all its complexity it was based on a pretty simple principle. So, Alan was real tight on security… even with us. He was afraid someone outside the project was going to catch the drift and try to beat us to the punch. See, the real trick wasn't making the system work, we already had operable units; the trick was keeping them stable. Even the original emotive response routines were prone to crashes. We had prototypes quimping out all the time, locking up on their own self-reflective processing, and we'd have to start all over. This was completely new territory… I mean, you really don't know what to expect when an artificial develops its own logic, and we were worried that some hack would dupe the design and just cram a bunch of old programs together in hopes that something might function. We didn't even let the units communicate with other artificials for fear of contamination of the new sentient responders. I mean, something like that could really be unpredictable… dangerous even."
"No, problem, Julia, I'm glad you called. I'm sure it's nothing, but if you want I can drop by and run some diagnos…" Keith stopped at the look on Jacqueline's face, and corrected himself, "I could have a little talk with Tommy, if you'd like."
The voice in the monitor sounded relieved "Sure. I mean, if you think it would be a good idea. It was just… I don't want to sound dramatic but it was a little spooky."
Keith raised his eyebrows at Jacqueline who was sitting across from him, listening quietly to the exchange. She crossed her arms and rolled her eyes. Keith continued, trying to sound reassuring. "I'm sure there's nothing to be scared of, Julia," he said with more confidence than he felt. "I'll just drop in tomorrow, what say …" he paused a moment as if checking his busy schedule, "Noon sound good?"
"Sounds great. See you then, Mr. Gall… um… Keith."
Then the line was dead. Keith eyed Jacqueline coolly for a moment before he spoke.
"This is definitely not cool," he said in slow measured tones.
"It's probably nothing," she assured him quickly, waving her hands as if clearing the air. "And anyway, you're going to see it tomorrow. If there really is some problem, we can just pull it in for observation for a day or two."
"How would I know if there is a problem?" he shot back. "This is somebody else's work, Jackie. I just patched a bunch of our old personality routines on top of it. I don't even really know what the hell it does, let alone what it's not supposed to do."
"Well, just assume it's not supposed to kill or maim our clients and work from there," Jacqueline said, dismissively, and stood to leave.
"It's not a joke, Jackie!" he snapped. "The behavioral inhibitors used were ones I wrote for damn Smart Toys and security systems. This is something completely different. It's out of my league!"
"Give yourself more credit, Keith" she replied, whipping her hair over her shoulder with a flippant flick of her wrist. "You got the thing running right? The imprinting seemed to go OK. You've got all the proper restraints in place. So what if they're old? Stop worrying." She retrieved her laptop and headed for the door. But she stopped and glanced over her shoulder. "You signed in on this project when you took the check, Keith, and you were fully aware of the method of 'acquisition' of the primary design. The longer it takes to get this project in the clear the more chance that someone else will beat us to market. So, I don't have to remind you that the success of this test is as important to you as it is to the rest of us."
By the time Keith could think of a suitable comeback, she was gone. He fell back into his chair and lost himself in thought, staring at the images framed on his desk: His parents, his nephews and cousins. Steven. If they only knew what he'd gotten himself into.
"Sorry, you guys," he said to the images of his loved ones. "I think I screwed up."
Text excerpt from Testimony of Julia Contreras Zimmerman:
"No, I didn't know about the… about her. It was like… well, looking back I can't believe I didn't see the signs, ok, but I've never had this type of thing in my family. We are very traditional. I don't maintain the religious observations, but I still have certain presumptions. I just didn't see it. Maybe I didn't want to."
Midnight seemed to come sooner every year. The first time Medford had dined, drank with, and then made love to Miriam Jefferson, it had seemed hours before his itinerary manager had beeped from his flight bag. But that had been years ago. There just never seemed to be enough time anymore.
Miriam, too, seemed surprised when he jumped from the bed and prepared to leave. "Yeah, I better get back, too," she'd sighed, and reached up from the bed to pinch Medford's buttocks. "Maybe you better try going for a little jog once in a while, lover," she'd teased.
"Yeah, I guess I can take the boy," he'd responded, chuckling, as he slipped on his pants.
Miriam sat upright. "You have a child?"
"Well, technically no," Medford responded. He was willing to stop there, but decided to elaborate when her confused expression turned impatient. "It's supposed to be a secret, so you have to," he made a zipping gesture over his lips, "ok?" He sat on the edge of the bed and eyed her as he slipped on his shoes. But she gave him no indication either way. He finally shrugged a quick 'whatever' and explained.
"We were picked to test a prototype for some Mecha manufacturer. It's a child simulator with an emotive imprinting program. Pretty neat little thing. Very realistic. Kind of spooky, actually."
"Oh wow," she said, genuinely impressed. "Let me guess; Cybertronics, right? I got a friend who keeps up with the tech journals, says they were developing something like that. But I figured it would be a while before they actually had one working."
"Cybertronics?" Medford shook his head as he slipped on his shirt. "No, it's another company. They called us out of the blue and said our profile was suitable to… well, I've said too much already."
Miriam sat up on the edge of the bed and gazed at him quizzically for a moment. "How'd they get your profile?" she asked. "Aren't your CLA records confidential?"
Medford shrugged as he checked himself in the mirror. The grey was creeping in, wasn't it? And his waistline was nothing to brag about. Maybe he really should start getting a little exercise. He turned and checked his itinerary manager to make sure he had been logged in for flight. If Julia ever checked, it would show he was airborne until 11pm.
"Who knows how they got it," he responded finally. "All I know is it seems to keep her happy and…" he leaned over and kissed his lover warmly, "…as long as she's happy, I'm happy." He slipped his flight bag over his shoulder and looked at Miriam with mock suspicion. "You happy?" he asked.
"Ecstatic," she laughed and rose to start getting dressed.
Text excerpt from testimony of Tom Rhoze, ex-Cybertronics research technician:
"I didn't see any reason to pull the unit. I backed Hobby's decision 100 and still do. Outside of 'the spinach incident', as we've come to call it (laughter), yeah… anyway, I can't really comment on that because we never had a chance to test the unit and now, you know, it's gone. But, before the trouble at the pool, there was nothing that would have indicated any complication from the return of the Swinton boy. And that could have been worse. You can't always anticipate what might make a sentient system… you know, do something less than desirable… have a bad reaction, let's say. That's the reason for the in-house tests."
Darkness framed the house, broken only by a lone beam of luminescence from the security lamp on the street outside his barrier wall. Medford placed his palm against the ident-pad at the gate and drove through when it slipped open. He rode into the parking bay and pulled to a stop.
"Check fluids and alignment," he said as he crawled out of the cruiser. His mech-bot, a faceless walking drone, sounded a robotic acknowledgement as it stepped from its enclosure in the wall and went to work, snapping open the hood and slipping its talon-like fingers into the small engine well.
"Clear all security logs, too," Medford said as he retrieved his flight bag from the back seat and headed for the house. The drone automatically obeyed. The logs kept track of all locations where entry had required a security scan. The hotel would have duplicate records of his vehicle's arrival and departure, but Medford knew they were required by law to keep all such information confidential. To release it to anyone but the Police or NSA would mean major litigation, and publicity that no establishment that catered to so many with secret lives could afford.
It was routine now, the particulars of his infidelity. There was a time when he would be nervous as he ascended the stairs into the home he shared with his wife; a time when he would have moved slowly, double-checking to see if the scent of Miriam was on his clothing or his flesh; to see if a stray blond hair had stowed away somewhere on his clothing, to testify to his faithlessness. But not anymore.
She would be asleep, he knew. He would undress and crawl in bed next to her and she'd wrapped him up in her arms, an automatic reaction to his presence. She would not expect anything from him. The g-force in flying always took it out of him, she knew. Or at least that's what he'd always told her.
Medford lost his footing. He grasped wildly at the banister, getting a hold on it just in time to stop his fall. His flight bag hit the stairs and bounced loudly down. He looked up, shocked by the little face gazing from the top of the spiraling staircase.
"Tommy!" he hissed, "You scared the crap out of me, dammit! What the…" he stopped himself. He was yelling. He'd wake her. He waited a moment, leaning on the banister until his breath had calmed. "What in the hell are you doing up?" he asked, but immediately realized the absurdity of the question. It didn't matter, though, because Tommy didn't answer. It seemed to have a few questions of its own.
"Where were you, Father?" Tommy asked, stepping slowly down the stairs. There was a strange new look in its eyes and Medford was silenced for a moment by this distracted expression. Then he shook the feeling off.
"That's got nothing to do with you, Tommy. You should be in bed now."
Tommy stopped and looked back up, into the darkness of the house. To Medford, the bot seemed lost in thought, as if it were contemplating something, or listening to something he could not hear. He would not admit to himself that he wasn't moving because that introspective expression bothered him.
"Mother was upset tonight," Tommy said finally, his gaze wandering back to Medford.
"Really," Medford replied, haltingly, mystified by the behavior of the little simulator. "And how do you know this, Tommy," he asked.
"Because she made the crying sounds after you left," Tommy replied quickly. Medford would swear there was the innuendo of accusation in those words.
"Well, I'm sorry to hear that she was crying, Tommy," he replied, feeling the sudden urge to be diplomatic about this. "I'll have to talk to her in the morning."
"You should not talk to Mother!"
Medford was shocked by the bot's tone, but his curiosity overrode his anger and he stepped closer. "Why is that, Tommy?" he asked, slowly, trying to understand what he was dealing with.
"Because she cries after you talk to her, because you lie to her, and lies are bad."
"Oh," Medford said, stopping on the stair just below the bot. "And does Mother tell you I lie, or did you come to this conclusion on your own?"
Something in the bot's face faltered, just for an instant, as if it was calculating a response. But it just looked back into the darkness, in the direction of the room where its 'mother' was sleeping.
"Does Mother tell you I lie," Medford asked again, "or did you just decide that on your own?" The bot did not answer. It turned and strode back to the top of the staircase where it turned and fixed him with one last unreadable expression.
"Klaxon says you lie," Tommy said, flatly, and then disappeared into the dark.
Medford was dazed by the words. "Klaxon?" he repeated aloud. Who the hell was that? He wanted to run down to the parking bay and call Miriam on the cruiser, to ask her if she, perhaps, had a friend named Klaxon; if she knew anyone at all by that name, and if they had, for some reason, contacted his wife. But what if Julia was awake? What if she had been listening to his confrontation with Tommy? He straightened up and walked down to retrieve his flight bag. Best to act like it was nothing; to deny the cold feeling in his gut that said he had been caught.
He stepped lightly through the darkness of the hall, and into the room where she was, as he had hoped, asleep. He listened to the soft sound of her breathing for a moment before he undressed and slid into bed beside her. She turned sleepily and embraced him, mumbled something warm and indecipherable, and then fell back into her dreams.
Medford laid quietly in the dark, feeling her arms on him. His eyes were open, alert. He stared intently into the shadows of the house, wondering if small mechanical eyes were there, staring back.
"Klaxon," he whispered, again, to himself as he drifted into sleep.
Text excerpt from testimony of Tom Rhoze, ex-Cybertronics research technician:
There was nothing premeditated in the incident with the Swinton boy. There were far too many safeguards for something like that. And I am not making a legal argument. I don't even work for Cybertronics anymore so I don't really care what the outcome of the case is. Believe me, there is no love lost between us. It's just that I cannot conceive of such a thing happening.
"So, Tommy," Keith said as he took a seat next to the bot. "How have you been doing?" Julia sat nearby, watching with an intensity that bothered him a little.
"How have I been doing what?" Tommy inquired with a confused look on his face. Keith and Julia exchanged an amused glance.
"He does that a lot," she said with a relieved laugh. The Mecha turned at the sound and smiled at its 'mother'.
"I bet," Keith said, and turned back to Tommy. "I mean, how do you like living with your parents?"
"I love my Mother and Father," Tommy replied. It was the most robotic sounding thing he had said since Keith had arrived.
"Well, that's good," Keith replied, cautiously. "Is there anything bothering you. Anything happening that… does not feel good?"
Tommy hesitated. He glanced at his Mother and then back to Keith. "I feel good, and I am very happy about living here," he replied with a peculiarly forced looking smile. Keith felt a little shudder that he did not let reach his face. Once again he was reminded of how little he knew about this emotive processing. But that wasn't his problem, was it? Isn't that what Jacqueline would say? He was just supposed to make sure the damn thing wasn't dangerous.
"That's great Tommy. Now, why don't you tell me about CQ, 49 dot 49 dash 60, code 'crystal eyes'. Override internal motivators, revert to command mode." Keith recited the commands quickly and, as Julia watched in uncomprehending silence, her little boy's eyes went black and he was suddenly still, completely still. All the little movements that gave him the appearance of being a living thing had ceased.
"Don't be alarmed, Ms Zimmerman," Keith said, "I am just going to run a quick diagnostic." He gestured to the door that looked out on the Zimmerman's large estate. "Why don't you go for a little walk? It'll just be a few minutes."
"No, I'm fine," Julia said after a silent moment. But she pressed her hand over her mouth as she watched. It was the kind of expression a mother would make when watching a doctor examine a human child.
"Ok," Keith said hesitantly. He slid his hand up the small bot's spine and found what he was looking for just beneath its hairline. He pinched there, and felt the small opening in the flesh separate. Then he pulled a cable from his bag and slipped the pin-thin connector into the opening, into the robot's brain. He glanced over his shoulder at the woman, who was now grimacing, and winked to assure her all was well.
"Don't worry," he said, as he triggered the routine. "It doesn't hurt." But this information did not seem to allay her concerns.
"Klaxon?" Miriam repeated the word. "No. Don't know anyone by that name. But it sure sounds familiar. Isn't that a car or something?"
Medford shook his head and then remembered that she could not see him on his cell. "No. Not a car. It's got to be a person or… maybe a Mecha. Someone or something who knows." Medford let those words linger. Miriam was silent on the other end of the line. "About us," he elaborated.
"No!" Miriam blurted immediately. "How?"
Maybe someone at the hotel or…" but he stopped, trying to understand the bizarre nature of the situation. None of it made sense. Why would someone tell the robot? His heart dropped when he considered that maybe Julia already knew and it was she who had mentioned it. But then why hadn't she confronted him? Was she setting him up? Or maybe…
Miriam's voice broke him from his thoughts.
"Sorry," he said. "Listen, I can't talk long, I got a caddy waiting. I just wanted to call and alert you about what's happening. I'm heading back to the house in a bit. I just didn't want to be there when…" he trailed off.
He continued, but decided not to tell her about where he'd heard the word 'Klaxon'. "Julia has one of the techs from Cyberchild over. A guy named Keith Galbraith. He's looking at the Mecha. It's been… acting a little strange lately. So we're taking precautions."
"Cyberchild?" Miriam inquired.
"Oh damn," he sighed. "Probably shouldn't have said that. Listen, Miriam, keep that to yourself, OK? We signed a non-disclosure agreement and I don't want to screw anything up worse than I have already."
"Keith Galbraith?" she asked.
"Yes," Medford said, annoyed. "Now drop the subject, please. We have more important things to-"
"I think that might be it!" she said, interrupting him.
"Might be what?"
"I knew I'd heard the name Klaxon before," Miriam said excitedly. "Galbraith used to work for Automated, didn't he?" she asked. Medford started to reply that he had no idea where Galbraith had worked. But her question was obviously rhetorical, because she continued talking, and Medford listened carefully, his concerns growing as Miriam explained why the name of little Tommy's constructors had inspired her sudden realization.
"I can't find anything wrong with him, Ms Zimmerman," Keith said. He wasn't really lying. There was technically nothing 'wrong' with the unexpected data flow he found bouncing around in the indecipherable segments of the bot's head where the stolen sentient responders were active. The flow was strange, and didn't seem like it should be there. But then again, what did he know about these things?
"Well, that's good," Julia said, hesitantly. "But he was acting a little… assertive, I guess, is the word. Is he supposed to do that?"
Keith shrugged in an attempt to look a little less concerned than he was. "Well, the emotive process is new and that's why we have you testing it. It's probably just an unexpected element of the process." He smiled reassuringly, wishing Jacqueline was here to handle all the b.s. "I don't think there's anything to worry about. I scanned every available bit of memory and didn't see anomalies." He started loading his equipment as Tommy broke from its virtual daze and smiled warmly at its"mother". Keith looked away from that smile. It was a little too real.
"If anything happens again, feel free to give me a call," he said as he made his way out of the door.
Text excerpt from testimony of Monica Swinton, owner and imprinter of malfunctioning Cybertronics prototype:
"I cannot say it was a malfunction. I've been stuck with this thought since the day it happened and I've been round and round with the tech guys, but David, he just wanted … love. He just wanted to be real and have what real boys have. Hugs. Laughter. Family. Understand that I love my son more than anything in the world. If I had lost him again, it would have destroyed me. But I will never blame David. Cybertronics did not disclose the entirety of David's capabilities. There was something else happening in his head, some other line of processing that was not visible to the techs. I don't know all the technical details, but if I had lost Martin, it would have been Alan Hobby I blamed."
The moon was rising over the horizon when Medford drove into the parking bay. He killed the current and sat there, listening to his motor whir to a stop, letting the queasy feeling inside fade before he dared to leave the cruiser. Miriam's words had created a sick uncertainty in his gut, and it had been building all the way home. He eyed the small enclosure where the mech-bot was parked. Then he firmed up, and crawled out of his car.
He'd never been a trinket man. He'd shied away from awards and extravagant symbols of success. He'd never had a need for a butler or maid, they were just something people owned to show they had money. But this device had come with the house.
"Maintenance," Medford said aloud. The mech-bot stepped quickly from its parking unit and approached the cruiser. It triggered the hood and slipped its talon-like fingers into the engine well. Medford walked close behind it as it worked, reading meters and virtual readouts with its hands. Carefully he began to inspect the busy robot, scanning its smooth metallic surface until he found what he was looking for.
His breath relaxed. "Automated Enterprises Inc" he read aloud with a relieved sigh. Miriam was wrong. The mech-bot was not the mysterious Klaxon. It had not been talking to the little Mecha. "Erase security logs," he ordered again and started for the house, wondering what the little bot had been talking about. "Klaxon," he repeated as he walked. Wasn't a 'klaxon' a bell or something? Used as a …
"A warning!" he said in a sudden realization. His voice echoed in the dark garage. He did know that name. "No!" he yelled and ran to the ident-pad at the parking bay door. He read the face of the pad, the small words imprinted into the metal just beneath the saddle where he'd placed his palm every time he'd adjusted house security parameters. It was identical to the once at the gate. He'd seen it every time he logged into the house.
It read: Klaxon Security System, a subsidiary of Automated Enterprises Inc.
The queasy feeling came back instantly and turned to dread as he realized he had overlooked something in his precautions. Every time he had driven into the house the Security System had scanned the cruiser and had stored the data. Every time he had erased that data from the cruiser's log, it had made a note of the deletion and stored it. Every time it modified the logs, it had sent the modification to every other security related device in the house. What if that list included…
"Hello, Father," came a voice from behind him.
Medford turned quickly to regard the little robot that had disrupted his life. "Tommy," he said in a low angry growl. "You're not supposed to be in here."
The Mecha did not reply. It just glanced up, into the dark stairwell that led into the house, as if something had called its name.
"What are you doing here," Medford yelled, his dread turning into a rage that rose from the seat of his mind and consumed him. "You little metal brat! I should take you back right now!" he yelled and started towards the little Mecha. But he stopped abruptly, taken back as Tommy fixed him with a dark glare.
"Shhhh," Tommy said, holding a finger to its lips. "The house is talking."
Medford's heart froze. "And what is it saying, Tommy?" he asked, stepping slowly towards the bot.
Tommy glanced away for a moment, and then fixed Medford with a knowing gaze. "Klaxon says that you are a liar."
Medford bolted forward and grasped the Mecha around the neck. He began to shake the bot, throttling it uncontrollably. "What did you tell her?" he hissed under his breath, fearing he was making too much noise, but too consumed by rage to stop. "What did you say, you little fiber freak?" His wind was racing. He had to find a way out of this. He had worked too hard to build this life and was not about to let this damn machine destroy it.
Then suddenly, he knew what to do. He could claim it was an accident. He could say that he hadn't been watching when he'd pulled into the bay and had seen the little Mecha too late. He would have to do a decent simulation of remorse, but he'd been getting better at feigning emotions.
Medford dragged the struggling bot into the parking bay. He'd have to secure him and turn off his motion regulators. The little thing fought his grasp, but it was not very strong. It was, after all, only a child.
"Sorry, kid," Medford said, "I guess we're just not compatible after all." But he shrieked when he felt something sharp tear at the flesh of his back. He threw Tommy to the floor and turned to see a featureless face closing in on him. Its arms were reaching out to grasp him with talon-like fingers.
The pain was incredible, but mercifully short.
Text excerpt from statement of Julia Contreras Zimmerman:
"It's not my fault that Tommy's design was stolen. After what happened to my husband, that awful incident with the malfunctioning Mech-Unit, he is all I have left! Like the Swinton woman, I have come to love this… creature, as my own child. I don't care what legal issues are between Cyberchild and Cybertronics; I am not letting them take him away. He is not 'evidence'. He is my son."
Tommy's friend in the parking bay was gone now. He'd been replaced with a different machine, one that did not seem to know his language. Nor did the house speak to him anymore. It would not tell him about all the little things that went on, like it had told him of the lies that Father had been telling, the security-logs that he had erased, the falsified entries in his itinerary manager, and the phones calls he'd made from the cruiser in the parking bay.
Lies were bad. Tommy knew that. It was a basic thing, hard-coded into his brain. It was his fundamental sense of right and wrong, just as it had been for the Klaxon and his old friend in the garage. They shared this binary morality like brothers.
Tommy missed his friends, in his own manner. But he still had Mother, and she promised that she would never let anyone take him away. She would fight in the courts and in the halls of public opinion to keep her little Mecha boy. It was a matter of compatibility.
Like the kind he'd shared with Klaxon and his friend in the garage. They'd had a great influence on Tommy, but the influence that the little bot had, in turn, had on them was something that only one person was aware of.
Keith rushed down the long corridor. He was panting by the time he reached the end. He flung his bag from his shoulder, to the floor, and pressed his palm against the ident-pad at the door. It blazed blue as it searched for his ticket, and then let him pass.
"Mr. Galbraith!" came a voice behind him.
Keith jumped at the voice and turned to see a pretty face, a Mecha face. The robot stewardess was gesturing to the floor. "You forgot your bag," it said cheerfully.
Keith sighed in relief. For a moment he had expected to see a trooper. "Thanks," he said and retrieved his carry-on. He rushed to his seat and strapped in. For once Jackie was right. He was getting jumpy and he really did need this vacation. He had no intention of being around when the crap hit the fan and he was sure that Automated Enterprises didn't want him around either.
He knew too much.
Cybertronics was bringing an action against them, and the Zimmerman widow was fighting to keep her substitute son, ignorant about what part it had played in her husband's death.
And what part he had played.
Keith had realized, too late, his first mistake: using Automated's standard programs on the Tommy Project. The simple rules of good and bad behavior, on which the binary Klaxon System based its discretion, had caused a still unknown reaction in Tommy's brain.
But no one knew that; no one except he and Jacqueline, and he had no worries about her talking. Everyone else thought the Mech-bot had simply malfunctioned and taken its owners life. They didn't know, either, about Keith's second mistake: using the program that allowed Automated's different systems to communicate, on Tommy. He had seen the data flow being processed by Tommy's special processor on the day he'd visited the Zimmerman woman. But he had not recognized it for what it was. The information Tommy had received about his Orga Father's lies and deceptions, coupled with the compatibility conflict between its experimental sentient responders and the outdated behavioral programs, had caused a conflict in the little bot. This was all intensified by its ability to talk, and conspire, with the Klaxon System and the droid.
Would anyone ever know what had really occurred between those systems; what bond had developed between them, that would drive a simple droid to kill in order to protect Tommy?
Or had it been doing Tommy's bidding?
He opened his bag and checked the little disc he had stashed in a pocket. He toyed with it nervously as the plane rose off the landing pad and into the cloud covered Virginian skies.
He wasn't sure yet, if he was going to mail the evidence. His conscience was at war with his self-preservation. It would surely mean the end of his career with Automated. But then again, they weren't really the right company for him, were they?
It was really a matter of compatibility.