Clovis wondered who could be calling from Dubai, but decided, to hell with it, worst case scenario, this could be entertaining, and took the call.
Whoever was on the other end didn't use video either. "Is Jane there?" a strange, foreign-sounding voice said.
"What do you want with her?" Clovis asked.
"Nothing. Just…she isn't there, is she?" The voice was starting to sound more familiar, shedding the fake accent, and by the end of the sentence, Clovis knew it.
"You'll turn the phone off if she comes in. If you think she might hear—"
"You're even worse than me. I've done some shitty things to get rid of old lovers, but I've never once let one believe I was dead."
"I—" Just that one syllable was pained, in a way Clovis wouldn't have believed a robot's voice could be, but he went on.
"Do you have any fucking idea what you did to her? She tried to kill herself."
Silence. No, not silence. A sound like air catching in a metallic throat; the robot that could sing any note finally at a loss for sound.
Clovis argued with himself whether he even believed the robot capable of such things as regret. Jane certainly believed he was capable of more. But Jane believed a lot of stupid things.
Finally: "Is she all right?"
"Depends what you mean by all right," Clovis answered. "The doctors patched her up. They say with treatment she won't even have scars."
"So you did care about her a little." Clovis sighed. "Why are you calling me, if you don't want to talk to her? I don't suppose this whole thing was orchestrated as an excuse to get back into my bed."
"No," Silver said. "I didn't orchestrate anything. It was Electronic Metals Ltd."
Clovis chewed on this. "It did seem strange to me. You seemed too expensive to just melt down over a little bit of rioting."
"None of the others were melted down either. We're being sold on the black market to very wealthy people in countries where no one will care."
"If Jane were to know…. She'd be unhappy."
"Yeah, she's tickled pink about you being dead."
"Dead's easier, I think. She can grieve and move on. If she knew…she'd constantly be wondering where I was, maybe even trying to get me back."
"And she might be successful. Would that be so bad?"
"She wouldn't. Electronic Metals is not about to let their secret out so easily. They've taken the public humiliation in stride—but this would really ruin them. They learned their lesson with me the first time. I've been implanted with an irremovable tracking device. And if she learns too much, makes too much trouble…they have made more important people than her disappear."
"So why are you risking this call?"
Silence again, for a moment. "I just wanted to know…wanted to hear…how she was doing."
"Shitty," Clovis said. "Really, really shitty."
"You could have lied," Silver said, a little dry humor in his voice.
"To spare your feelings?" The ones the robot might or might not even have.
"No, I suppose not."
"If I told you her suicide attempt had been successful," Clovis said, his tone carefully probing, "would that ease your mind any?"
"Because maybe, you know, maybe I'm just fucking with you, because maybe I've just been to my only real friend's funeral and I'll twist the knife as many times as I can in whatever you've got instead of a heart."
"If this is a joke…don't."
"Oh, but you understand humor, don't you? You made all of us laugh so easily. And you know this isn't in the least bit funny, therefore it is not a joke."
"Why…why are you telling me this?"
"Because I'm angry you lived and she didn't."
"I wish I had died," he said, and if that wasn't human, Clovis didn't know what was. Nothing hates life so much as the living.
"Well, so does she." He didn't imagine it—there was a little sigh of relief, of gratitude. But Clovis wasn't done. "Tell me again how it's easier to believe someone you love is dead, I'd really like to know."
"She will find a way to move on. She has so much life in her, so much vitality. I don't want to stand in the way of that."
"And you, would you have moved on if she'd died?"
"But Clovis, you forget," Silver said, sad and bitter, "I'm not human."
"So you're better than us."
"Worse, I think. Whether I remember her isn't based on my own feeling, but that of the programmer who will look me over before I'm sold."
"So your feelings don't matter either way."
"Probably not. But I would like—before they—I would just like to see her on the road to recovery. I never had any happiness but hers."
"So this wish of yours is entirely selfish."
A bitter laugh. "Yes, that's exactly what this is. Selfishness." There wasn't a trace of sarcasm in his voice.
"Maybe there is a way you can talk to her."
"If she knew I was…alive, I suppose—it would consume her."
"She's Jane. She believes in souls and other such magical things. You could contact her…" and here Clovis put on his best Halloween party voice, "from beyoooond."
"Souls," Silver repeated. "There's a ridiculous thought."
"You don't believe in them?"
"I can't say whether humans have them or not. I'm sure I don't, though."
"Perhaps being in love gave you a soul."
"Jane is not so stupid as to believe something like that."
"I think you underestimate how much she loves you."
"Yes. I did that often."
Clovis explained the details then—the rigged séance table, which had been repaired better than before and Jane didn't know about yet. "I'll leave the phone link open, so you can hear her," Clovis said. "If you change your mind and just want to talk to her, you can always speak. Or," he added with a note of uncertainty, "how long do you have access to the phone?"
"It's a mobile," Silver said. "I can use it until the battery runs out, at least. Which should be another day or so."
"They gave you a mobile?"
"I stole it. From a client I was loaned to for exhibition."
"Goodness me, to think that Jane was a criminal influence on an innocent. Will you be disturbed for the next few hours?"
"Where are you anyway, a storage crate?"
"Something like that."
"Fine, be mysterious. If it's a mobile, we can probably rig it up so that you can control the board with the keys on the phone."
"Just like texting. Funny way for a ghost to communicate, but it'll do." He set about forming the link to the séance table. "It's a terrible burden on me, you know," Clovis said. "Always having to be the one to come up with these plans. To bear these kinds of secrets. I don't even know if I'll be able to look at her straight for weeks."
"Thank you," Silver said. Clovis could tell he knew it was inadequate, and didn't press it.
Silver lay in the dark, hearing Jane's voice through the phone, and it truly took a superhuman exercise of will to not call out to her then. He hoped, dearly, that he'd learned enough about her in their short time together to say the things that would uplift her, that would give her the strength to heal.
If humans could believe that two halves of a monkey could be whole somewhere, by some magic, then perhaps they believed that broken hearts would come together again too. And if somehow they did meet again, he hoped she could forgive him for this selfish lie. I am only doing as I was programmed, after all, though he had ceased to believe that himself. Lies, lies, lies. It was all they had left.
His words seemed to give her hope. Hope. That was one emotion he had yet to learn, in his three years, beyond the simple idiomatic use of a desire. Hope was more of an impossible thing, he understood, at least from how it was used in song lyrics. It bravely defied reality.
And he hoped, for a certain value of hope, that that was a good thing.
When he was done, he stared at the mobile phone, knowing he could never contact her again. The phone would eventually be missed, of course. He could make up excuses (lies, lies, lies, hope) but it would be a 'red flag,' suspicious behavior. They would examine him more closely.
Wasn't that all right, though? If they did examine his processes, if they knew where to look, if he gave them enough hints, they would find the ones that made him love Jane, that made him unsuitable for a new customer—damaged goods. And they would repair him. And he, like Jane, could move on, be happy again. Wouldn't she want that for him?
But if somehow, somehow, decades from now, perhaps, they did meet again—human life wasn't all that short, after all, and heaven knew how long his would be—and he didn't remember her….
One of these options, he realized, represented hope.
He crushed the mobile phone in his fist, and began grinding the pieces in his hands. By the time anyone came looking for it, there would only be a bit of nondescript dust. The phone was no longer stolen; it had simply vanished, probably misplaced by its doddering old owner. Who might buy him, and whom he might be obligated to 'love.' For a certain value of love. But his feelings for Jane wouldn't be required by anyone. They would be just for him. A selfish secret. And so, no one would really own him. Not all of him.
Silver began to hum, for no one to hear but himself. Tunelessly at first, then catches of things he'd been programmed with—mash-ups, remixes. A verse came to him, something old, pre-asteroid, probably not intended to be sung, but he made it beautiful somehow anyway.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast:
Man never is, but always to be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
He didn't like the bit after that, and Lombardi was overly long-winded in his opinion anyway. So the next verse was his own.
Hope wound into eternal springs
A twilight realm for mortal things
Like loves and souls and earthly fears
Made for joy, can't stop the tears.
Before meeting Jane, he would have considered leaving a client in tears to be an abject failure. But when he heard her tears over the phone, he had not mourned. The love they shared was a gift. He couldn't bring himself to reject any part of it, even the pain. He didn't even mind that he was not physically able to cry. It stayed secret, in that part of himself that no one would ever be able to buy, that could only be given freely, and had only been given once.
Falling silent, Silver let himself be submerged in the memories. Jane half-walking, half-dancing beside him as they walked the snowy streets; Jane's skin against his in the night; her scent. A perfect memory that would never fade, so long as he didn't let anyone know to look for it. He sang again, a mindless song about first love, singing it blithely as though he had never been in love, and didn't know what that might feel like. And so he would walk beside her always, in the time they'd had together.
Thank you for our days, Jane.