It was Friday late-afternoon and Plainclothesman Elijah Baley and his work-partner, the entirely human-looking Spacer humaniform Daneel Olivaw, were relaxing back at the office after a particularly long tricky assignment, lying back in their chairs against the partition wall with feet up on their desks, and smoking (Elijah his customary pipe and Daneel a fragrant Auroran cigarillo ("No, not a spliff, Lije. All legal substances. Plus it's giving me that human touch," which Elijah had to admit made sense – and at least his trusty pipe knocked out most of its aroma of assorted off-world herbal extracts.)). Elijah was enjoying not having to talk much as one would with a human until Daneel casually said, "I'm going along to Sunset Boulvard this evening. Fancy coming?"
Characteristically, Elijah responded with a mock-sardonic, "'You wha't?'" before wondering if Daneel would pick up on such idiomatic human phraseology. Well, whatever, Daneel looked wryly across at him for all of one second before giving a small sigh and saying,
"Lijey friend, I am going off to have a good time – and, yes, robots such as I are perfectly capeable of going off and having a good time – so, if you were suitably curious as to how this might be done then, well, why not come along?"
Elijah puffed on his pipe for a bit as if thinking. "Isn't that a Spacer dive…this Sunset place?" and then, "'Sunset Boulvard'. Bit of a fancy name isn't it. Hmph, can you really see me going along to a place calling itself 'Sunset Boulvard'…"
"Not really", Daneel said deadpan. He looked up at the ceiling. "But it might be interesting to see you try".
"Mightn't it", Elijah grunted, eyes half-closed, giving nothing away. Something else occurred to him. "If it's a Spacer hang-out or whatever, wouldn't I, as an Earthperson, be most unwelcome. A smelly germy Earthperson amongst all you rose-smelling cleaner-than-thou Spacers".
"Hey, we aren't all supremacist snobs", Daneel dryly said. "And actually quite a few Earthpeople go along too. You aren't all grubs in your stainless steel-caves, either."
"You mean", Elijah turned to face his work-partner again, "that Earthers and Spacers are – are freely mixing, in this Sunshine place?" This was, as yet, beyond Elijah. And then, "That is, human Spacers…?".
"Sure I mean." Daneel said. "And yes, human Spacers as well."
"…As we robots. Metallo and 'maniform. All mix and mix alike."
"Josaphat! That must be – an unprecedented event!"
"Well – it was. Until it started happening."
"Har har, typical-Daneel-response! So when did all this wonderful stuff start taking place?"
"Well, when the new accessway – with its UV and disinfection barrier – got built …and before you ask, yes Daneel too would need to be thoroughly decontaminated before going in, so it's not just Earthers as such. 'Anyone incoming from the City' is the official terminology."
"In other words smelly germy Earthers really."
Daneel gave a saucy most unrobotlike grin. "Mostly. If you want it that way."
Afterwards Elijah was to realize he didn't. But this was now. "So have you been in on all this right from the beginning?"
"Guess so. Giving my few-credits-worth."
"Posing as human? Or robot?"
Daneel drew on his cigarillo. "Depends which outlook you align with. Me, I'm with the ones who are the least-against robots – because, in that faction there's a bunch who claim to be not-at-all against robots. Some of whom are actually all-for robots joining in – as equals".
"Factions within factions within factions. So what do you call yourselves then? The Human-Robot Coalition Society? The Robot Liberation Front?"
"Har har. Nothing actually. That'd be too obvious." Daneel gave his fluent laugh. "Those of us in the know simply refer to ourselves as equalists – suggestion courtesy of mugbot sitting next to you here. Not very original maybe, but what can you expect of a mere robot."
Elijah turned his head some more to look at the remarkable being (hardly a mug!) sitting next to him here, whose humanlike penchant for self-parody made him several orders of magnitude above your common-or-garden robot.
"Why", Daneel said, "don't you come along and be fascinated, Lije. It won't do you any harm – trust me I'm a robot! - and you might even not dislike it".
As per usual Elijah wasn't going to be easily pleased. Vaguely he'd heard of this place, an enlightened-Spacer-built Leisure venue on the west of the City under its own separate dome, originally intended for the Spacer community but increasingly used now by the more way-out Earthers who certainly found it surpassed anything that could be found in the City. Inevitably it had been rumoured by more conservative Earthers to be a free-for-all funpark and headshop (which just as inevitably made it all the more attractive to these way-out Earthers). Now it could be reached by a recently-built ascending passageway (enlightened-Earth-funded this time – on Spacer stipulation that it included this UV and 'dry disinfection' entrance "for anyone incoming from the City". Earth agreed, on the proviso that it would not be scented, and diplomatically the Spacers had graciously given way to this). The Spacers (Elijah had read) naturally had their own township safely outside the City, purportedly sheltered only by a near-invisible glassteel canopy (Open to Outside…!) and accessed the Leisure dome by a (mere) glassed-in canopied path. (Elijah had tried not to look too hard at the small discreet holopic included in the article). "So," Elijah continued, "is this haven on Earth full of dopeheads, ravers, and Spacers, all doing-their-thing and hanging-out-man?".
"Yeah, whad'ya think", Daneel drawled, before executing a perfect smoke-ring. "We-all lie around doin' dope n' free-lurve…". Elijah looked across at him quizzically as if deciding whether to take him seriously or not. "Yay, bring out the bongs, man and le'ss have a fest…".
"Oh boy." Elijah gave a small snort of laughter. "That's all we need. Stoned robots – well wha' do I know".
"Exactly, old friend. You don't. 'Cause you never go anywhere".
Elijah said, a bit tartly, "Yes I do. I go bloody miles every day in the course of my work – in case you hadn't noticed".
"Lije, that's bloody work". Daneel could be quite unrobotically sharp-mouthed at times and Elijah – secretly - liked that. Mealy-mouths and earnest yes-people bored him, and, self-aware enough to know that he needed something that gave as good as it got, the idea of working with a robot had been abhorrent at first. Daneel, however, was turning out better company than most humans.
Elijah was silent. Daneel let him be – hectoring never got one anywhere. And specially not with one such as Elijah.
Despite his panicked reaction, Elijah was actually feeling a stir of intrigue. Maybe he had become dull; he'd rarely been anywhere much these days, well, apart from places to do with work. And Daneel had said that this Sunshine – no, what was it? – Sunset - place wasn't actually Outside. And then, Sunset…now why was it called that? Did that mean – could that mean – that sunshine – actual sunshine could shine in. Which meant: well sunshine came from outside. Outside. Wouldn't that mean a – josaphat forbid! – surely not a – a – sky? A huge open sky which would play havoc with his agorophobia: a condition that had become innate in most City-bound Earthpeople who preferred their climate-regulated shopping-malls, trim little 'parks' and snug steel cave dwellings to any horrid unpredictable weather-hazardous Outside. And yet…
Pondering, Elijah looked across at his work-partner. Would he be sympathetic? He should be; well at least, being a robot, he wouldn't scoff either. Their First Law was designed to not allow harm to come to a human. And harm would include injury which could be either physical or mental injury. The latter could then cover a range of emotional 'injuries' from trauma to humiliation to simply being misunderstood. A simpler robot would go and lump all these harms together as one thing. Daneel, a highly sophisticated robot and very experienced with humans, had more than enough reasoning power to be able to differentiate between such states (and to not fall prey - as would most Earthish robots - to 'roblock' or mental burn-out). But, would he be enough so to pick up and understand innate human self-doubts and anguish? Phobias?
"Um – there's another thing, Daneel…"
Daneel looked back at him attentively. Elijah, unusually hesitant for him, went on, "…it's that - I'm not very used to seeing Outside you see. Not close up. Silly really but, well…".
"Of course", Daneel said, gently, understandingly. "I know. But, as they say on the Moon, one small step at a time". His lustrous bronzy-brown eyes briefly met Elijah's sombre dark ones, and Elijah, oddly moved, also found himself very much aware of each remarkable and separate dark eyelash fringing those comprehending eyes. Even in the dingy office setting the humaniform's golden skin and coppery-bronze hair seemed to glow – like a sunset. Yet, incredibly, he appeared unaware of those blockbuster-holostar good looks of his. (Or hadn't been 'programmed' to be aware of these?).
Within Elijah a frisson grew, flowed and rippled.
"Maybe," he said, "just maybe, I should go along".
On the chuntering ever-moving Expressway in its great steel-cavernous trough of close warm familiar air he and Daneel laughed and joshed and it all began to seem like a whole lot of fun. At Daneel's instigation they'd even daringly done a bit of 'strip running', a favourite youngster's game that started off with trying to run straight across the moving strips without tumbling over. It was quite funny to see people's taken-aback faces as the – to all appearances adult - pair, in yet another version of the game, now stepped from strip to strip, surreptitiously trying to overtake each other. It was as they finally got to sitting down that Elijah wondered when he'd last had such fun. Too long ago, he ruefully thought. Now he was having it with a robot. A robot – and one clearly built with a whole lot of integrated 'fun' circuits and 'humour'subroutines and whatever it took to make a dour old sod like himself laugh – and forget his little fear-demons (for a while at least)!
Ten minutes later they disembarked at the indicator for the escalator up to the passageway that would lead to Sunset Boulevard, this Spacer haven on Earth. Heart just a little quivering with anxiety now Elijah tried to imagine some place softly lit with reflected golden light. He couldn't quite dare himself to picture Outside: the view, in all its naked glory, and that sky… no, no it'd be like one of the City parks, surely. All cosily enclosed with buildings and a nice sheltering filtered-glass roof overhead, where none of the hugeness of the sky or the glare of the sun was ever too evident. The pair, along with quite a few others, now stepped onto the ascending escalator. Surreptitiously Elijah found himself turning to look back from where they'd come; he also realized he was inching closer and closer to Daneel, and fancied he could now feel frisky little draughts of cool outside air. He wished he'd put on something more enveloping than an old worn western-style jacket over his shirt; Daneel, as ever, looking as if he thoroughly belonged, was most fetchingly and fashionably dressed in a richly-patterned long fitted shirt with short tagged roll-sleeves, over a sleek dark longsleeved top, and thigh-hugging dark-grey jeans with huge-tongued trekker boots.
"OK, Lije?" Daneel asked softly.
"Um…I dunno. Bit cold isn't it". Still Elijah looked resolutely back down towards the dear familiar old Expressway, receding as they glid higher and higher. He was physically and comfortingly aware of Daneel's firm warm presence. When they came to stepping off the moving strip Daneel had to touch him on the elbow, alerting him to his lack of attention. Elijah wanted Daneel to go on touching him and not just because of the stomach-clenching prospect of finding himself indecently exposed to too much outside air, a sky and a view. But then they had to pass, arms stretched out like dancers, through the mandatory Spacer hi-tech UV and – mercifully scent-free - 'dryclean' disinfection barrier. Of course everyone, Elijah and Daneel included, fooled about a bit and made jokes about armpits and douches and zapped fried lice as they passed through the weird 'dry fluid' omnidirectional curtain and UV which wasn't as awful as it sounded as by the time one'd stepped out the other side one was - thanks to pleasing wafts of warm dry air - completely dry again. "Checkpoint Charlie Spacer-style", Elijah managed to joke. "Decent of you guys to leave out the perfume however!".
Daneel had forborne telling Elijah that the 'cold' was in fact just normal outside – fresh – air. (Air unsullied by the sticky molecules of human excretions, to put it honestly and crudely). Instead, diplomatically and adroitly, he white-lied to Elijah, "Don't worry man, it's still all filtered." Well had Daneel been educated on Earth Citizens' aversion to rude unfiltered air coming into their cosy steel caves. Air that would be full of outside dust and insects and nature.
Beautiful golden light was indeed shining into the great glassteel atrium, and one only had to round one corner, along another wide covered passageway then through a wide archway and leaving solid walls behind, for it to—.
For, through a row of City park-type flowering ornamental trees that lined the broad esplanade, Earth's sun that evening was putting on a splendid show and wanting everyone to see it. And not only that, there was also, bathed in this glorious western light, a view. A panorama of rolling miles and miles of forest and field, dale and hill, a checkerboard of varying shades of green, tumbling on and on to a horizon. Bands of dark mauve cloud, lit from below in vermilion, striped the blue-green sky. Outside in all its native glory. But – but - also this terrible vertiginous drop!….down which one would fall….and fall… and fall….off the edge into that huge exposed and bottomless sky…. Already his stomach was rushing away ahead of him…
It was far far worse than any viewing on a mere holotelly screen. It was nearly all around! Elijah, with a stifled gasping cry, screwed his eyes shut and, right then, uncaring of who or where he was, hurled himself into Daneel, bumping him back against the one remaining solid wall under the port-couchere.
Time passed and stood still. Gradualy Elijah, heart slowing, realized he wasn't falling after all. Instead, was secured in a blissful cocoon, face nested in a warm hollow, with strong arms encircling his shoulders and back. More heavenly enveloping warmth and a feeling of being totally supported; almost he felt he could just turn over and go back to sleep again and nothing would ever matter ever again—.
He jerked to. Josaphat on a bike, what a nelly he must look! He realized his own arms, like a frightened child's, were clinging tight round Daneel's upper body. He moved as if to struggle free.
Daneel loosened his embrace but did not entirely let go. "S'OK, friend," he murmured just above Elijah's right ear. "No rush, man".
"Josaphat, I'm sorry Daneel". Elijah lifted his head, and glimpsed Daneel's gorgeously sunlit face; now so close he could see the texture of the humaniform's bronzed skin and his wonderfully chiselled cheekbones now bathed in rosy fire. If Daneel could look like a sunset in the office, now he looked like some mythical god of fire. Glints seemed to dance up and down strands of his hair, turning it to newly-minted copper. Golden light reflected off the wall behind Daneel's head, and filtered through strands of his hair that was also tickling Elijah's face.
"Sorry for what?" Daneel was deliberately blunt.
"We-ell…", Elijah vaguely gestured. He tried to drop his arms and step back a little. "Sorry", he said again. "G-guess I panicked a bit". He was careful however to not look around and to blinker his field of vision to the shadowy area between Daneel's collar-bone and ear. Gradually public sounds now filtered into his consciousness: muted voices, a laugh, the shuffle of feet as people passed by, then some music that sounded like good vintage twentieth-century pop. Gradualy Elijah relaxed a little. "That's better", Daneel said, and then, in a low voice, "We look so boringly normal that nobody wants to look at us. In short, many people are behaving just like us. More so, in fact"
Elijah risked a quick glance, down the passageway from where they'd come. At least, thank goodness, they still had – literally – a 'roof' immediately over their heads. Half-relieved and half-embarrassed he now saw that two other couples (was one of these two blokes…?) uninhibitedly embracing against the wall, seemingly quite unselfconscious of any others' proximity.
"See", Daneel said softly. "Complete and utter conformity." A slight warm breath tickled Elijah's cheek as the humaniform spoke which somehow enhanced the burgeoning intimacy between them. Elijah relaxed some more – and realized that he still had not let go of Daneel. Daneel's hands now rested on Elijah's hips in an ambivalent sort of way. Waiting, yet endlessly and wonderfully patient. 24/7. No need has a robot to say that it 'hadn't got all night or all week' for of course it has.
Elijah hadn't. Life's shorter (quite a bit so!) for a human. He thought, well I've jumped out of my cave, now I've got to make something of it. Meaning: I must try and – look. ('Come along and be fascinated, Lije', 'You aren't all bugs in your stainless steel caves'). Time to start learning how to be fascinated and how not to be a bug any longer.
Of course all very easy to say this, leaning comfortably against Daneel, feeling the warmth of his body and the slight pressure of his hands, just sufficient to be a light embrace. One which Elijah couldn't be bothered to come out of because – well, it didn't really matter. (Look around, Lije, see how it really doesn't matter. Listen to the lyrics of that music coming out of the nearby cafés…. (All You Need Is Love, Wild Thing, I Can See For Miles and Miles and Miles….)) Such strangely wise and poignant music – classic music played with real instruments, with melody and lyrics that got your thoughts moving. Period pop and epochal rock, nothing like it today. All he needed was love, he would become a wild thing, he would see for miles and miles and miles…
Elijah shifted so that, when he wanted to, he could turn his head to look in the opposite direction (outwards) – yet still be near the security of Daneel's shoulder (to jump back into the cave!). Squinting, he allowed his eyes to gradualy stray along the floor, outwards, to where golden mellow sunlight washed across the sand-coloured flagstones. Dramatic shadows cast by the ornamental trees striped the entire esplanade. Intense…but incredible somehow.
And all this time Daneel just was, leaning back against the wall, unbored, unrestive, his every attention wonderfully and solely on Elijah's welfare and welbeing. So confidence-inspiring was this that Elijah's slitted eye jerked forwards (one small step at a time), across a strip of bright green parkland to where the – near-invisible - glassteel dome perimeter wall marked the boundary between here and – Outside.
(Oh the bliss of succumbing to total no-guilt self-centredness. Kick away the guilt, you're with a robot who doesn't – wouldn't know how to – give a flying damn about how much time is passing while you take forever to creep your sights across a few yards of ground because you're scared of a bit of Outside).
Another jerk of the eye and it now jumped through the glassteel, coming to rest on grass that grew beyond – outside - the perimeter wall. Rough tussocky unmanicured grass that moved in a breeze, as did the leaves of the biggest tree he'd ever seen (no polite little Parktype thing) with sky all round it—.
Elijah gulped, screwed his eyes shut and burrowed back into the safety of Daneel's neck. (Back into your cave, Lije!).
No. Almost as Daneel's arms went back round him Elijah lifted his head just enough to look again – at the grass, the real Outside grass, tussocky with long red shadows as the sunlight began descending the colour spectrum into vermilion. A soothing embalming light that took on a velvet quality, almost subterranean. Well, more like what Elijah and other Earth-City dwellers were used to and saw as quite normal. If it wasn't for that view, really it would all seem just as things should be. Should be…? (Hey that's cave talk Lije! Some Wild Thing you'd make).
Like it or not, even with eyes half slitted, (and, yes, fist pressed to his mouth in an involuntarily childlike gesture (how's that for breaking out of your boring married-hetero programming, fella!)) Elijah could hardly fail to be conscious of that naked orb of the sun challenging him to damn well jump. Heck, he had the love, he would be a wild thing and – and now he would see for miles and miles… over nearby fields…towards the line of the darkening horizon…into which the fiery remnant of the great luminary was slowly sinking. Despite his shallow breathing and the tautness in his stomach, Elijah did not this time flinch away.
"There," Daneel finally spoke, his contralto voice soft, reverent even. "Your planet. At the best time of the day."
Elijah, still holding onto Daneel, took a deep breath, gave a quaky little laugh and said, "I guess - yeah." And then looked a bit longer, felt another twitch of free-fall panic, flinched, and gulped. "Uh - maybe this is going to take time, Daneel…"
And Daneel, that forever compassionate and innately patient being, simply said, "Lijey friend, of course it is. But you've made that first step, okay."
(All you need is love). And then, a little while later, Elijah said, "And now, where's this 'good time' which you were telling me about?", and Daneel said, "We're doing it right now, man…or can do. If you feel up to it, we could get along to that nearby café that's all the colours of the sunset where you can pretend that you are looking at the real thing, but you don't have to really, and where we can stuff some food and drink into our faces, for if I were human I would be feeling bloody ravenous by now".
"Do you know", Elijah said, suddenly realizing it, "I am starving!" and his stomach gave a huge and timely rumble. Man and robot looked at each other and started to laugh. "So - now I'd better brave getting along out there, from under this cosy shelter, and – and starting to live a little – else my stomach will never forgive me".
And sliding his arm back round Elijah's shoulders Daneel – placing himself on the 'outside' - towed them both out onto the Esplanade proper, whose lights, strung between the trees like necklaces, were slowly coming on as the sky began to darken outside. Elijah, his own arm tight round Daneel, felt only a tiny tremor as they walked along just inside the row of ornamental trees (that gave just enough hint of a comforting overhead shelter), Elijah looking towards the line of cafés and restaurants that were coming into the swing of it and rapidly filling up with the evening crowd. It was really a very attractive place and not sordid at all, and many of the people were surprisingly attractive also. Earthers and Spacers mingling together, colourfully dressed in the latest fashions which seemed to be an amalgamation of what Elijah knew (from Daneel) to be 'universal-nomad' from glam-grunge to boho-chic to plain old fashioned funkadelic. There were a lot of couples (of all orientations) and Elijah was surprised to find that their naturalistic behaviour was not repugnant after all. In fact, in this arcadian setting, it somehow seemed - well, right And, josaphat and flying galaxies! surely that was a bunch of metallo robots just sauntering along amongst all the humans as if they had every right to be there. And then Elijah wondered, just how many of those humans are in fact human….?
Daneel, ever the riposter (all those wonderful integrated 'fun' circuits), said. "Spot the 'maniforms, man – this one excepted."
And as Elijah, growing bolder, started to look around the thronging crowds, his gaze took in the darkening indigo sky outside with its roseate glow in the west. The horizon could still just be made out and the huge nearby tree made a lacy black silhouette.