The Promise: A Short Story
My recently ongoing drama, Robo-sensei, has been scrapped. I feel like as a fan, I shouldn't be breaking "the promise" and giving Robo an angsty, self-pitying personality. It's OOC. I feel that my depiction of most of the characters were OOC. Most depictions of Robo are action-packed, lighthearted, and a hint of serious, but never delves too deep in emotional whinge-fests. Sentimental moments are there, but used in moderation. It's meant to be pulpy, not sappy.
So I'll write this instead, which is short and sweet, and isn't melodramatic (I hope).
Empire State Building, March 1951
I stood, in the middle of an empty room. The walls, newly-painted in a pastel color, and the carpeted floor a mild shade of beige gave a professional air to what would normally be a featureless space. The set of windows in front of me exposed a grand view of Manhattan, from what would be close to the highest floor in the Empire State Building. From the windows shone the radiant morning sun, livening up the empty office space. I held my hands to my waist as I admired what was soon to be a dream come true.
"Mr. Robo, sir?" a young man came into the room, wearing a light-colored jumpsuit and a matching cap, carrying a clipboard. A patch with the name "Randy", was embroidered onto his chest in bright red.
"Yes?" I looked at him expectantly.
"Your furniture order just arrived at the lobby." Randy said, shakily flipping through the pages of his clipboard like a nervous wreck. "You ordered six large mahogany desk sets, three coffee tables, four leather sofas, a large conference table, some dozen... office chairs, and a half-dozen portrait-sized frames to add." by the time he was finished reading, his face was beet red, and he looked like he was going to pop.
"Yeah. So?" I raised an imaginary eyebrow at him. I do admit that I ordered quite a lot of office things from right out of my pocket, but a new company has to look good inside and outside, whether or not we only just started, the people, I'm sure, are waiting for someone like me for a very long time.
"It would take us a... very long time to haul these up some eighty floors up the stairs." Randy gulped, still red in the face. "Using the elevator is a no-go because of the weight limit."
"I hired ten men to handle this job. Can't you use them?"
"It took five of them to carry just one of the desks inside." Randy neck seemed to shrink inside his suit, the same way a turtle retracts inside its shell. "And, given the length of the stairs, we'd have to take a five-minute break every five floors to haul any of these things. And then people are gonna notice..."
"What's wrong about people noticing the furniture? That's supposed to happen." I shook my head. "Y'know what? If you meant to ask for my help, why didn't you just say so in the first place?"
"I-I was gonna get to that... sir."
"You didn't have to explain yourself and all that, but whatever..." I strode out as he stood there, still stammering. "Let's get this over with, Randy."
"Y-yes Mr. Robo, sir!"
The task took about three hours, mostly because I had to wait for the others to catch up. All the while, I've become the local attraction of office-dwellers for carrying two large desks in each hand. It was worth it in the end though... my furniture order was finally here where it was meant to be. After compensating the movers for their time (they'll be coming back for other deliveries, so I have to pay extra), I set out to move the furniture myself because I couldn't contain my excitement, and I couldn't wait for somebody else to move it around for me. I was capable enough anyway, so, I went to straight to work, ripping off paper wrappings and moving the desks to where they'd look great to be in.
One desk for me in my own room, one each for the gang in their separate room, and one for the future secretary. The big desk goes in the conference room with the office chairs, and the coffee table goes with the sofa near the big window in the far end of the space. The other coffee table and two sofas goes in my room, and the rest we'll have to figure out where to place when everyone's done their work for the day. I hoped all the while I hadn't made too much noise running about the office space like a restless child. Is it normal to be this excited?
Picking up the toolbox I brought in with me, I set to work on the portraits. I took a medium-sized one and tore the brown paper off as I headed at the wall adjacent to the window where the sofa was. Putting down the toolbox, my gaze was suddenly fixed at the person in the portrait that was looking back at me.
It was Mr. Tesla, printed in black-and-white. He donned his usual formal dark attire as he sat, his body facing my left, while he looked outward, a sly smile planted on his moustached face. His hair curled outward in a lively manner. This was when he was much younger. I've seen this picture often when I used to live in the lab back down in Houston and Lafayette. The old man hung it at the wall above the radio right next to an old picture of his parents.
I looked straight at Mr. Tesla's eyes. From the void of color, I imagined a time when he was still alive... those intensely gray-blue eyes, though overshadowed by the wrinkles of age, glimmered brightly with knowledge, inquisitiveness, and a certain other quality I couldn't really pin down. It was very unique. Something even I couldn't really possess... or maybe, I do possess it, but I never really found in me. The more I mulled over it, the more real the portrait seemed to become, and soon enough I caught myself speaking to the portrait.
"Mr. Tesla, am I doing the right thing?" I muttered almost unconsciously. Mournfully, even.
I don't normally fancy myself as a sentimental type, but ever since the war ended, I haven't had time alone to pay my respects to the man who built and raised me. The military had me wrapped around their finger, and because of it I am forced to have to do their dirty work: something I am sick and tired of. It just seems silly that now, I'm talking to an inanimate object, but in actuality, it's stemming from my desire to speak to Mr. Tesla one last time.
I miss him dearly.
Immediately collecting myself, I began setting up where the portraits should go, and hammered nails for them to hang on. Carefully, I placed them one by one. One of them was a picture of me and Tesla, from an old newspaper clipping. Another was just a decorative depiction of a Tesla coil. Another was a scene of Wardenclyffe Tower, and others are just scenery art to add to the office ambience. The last one was Tesla's portrait, which I ended up hanging close to the door to my office, still adjacent to the wall where the big window was. Putting away the hammer and toolbox, I decided I'd wait for the gang to come back by holing myself up in my future office, sitting down on the chair next to my brand-new desk.
I thought about the promise I made to Mr. Tesla, that one fateful night.
Houston Street Laboratory, August 1941
Carrying a suitcase of belongings, I set out for the door of my room. I turned around, taking in one last look. It was a room, like any other, for a college-age guy like me. Columbia blue flags and banners were pinned onto the walls. A clipping from a pulp was right next to a bed I rarely ever use in the far corner, and a calendar of eye-catching pin-up girls was right next to a desk just at the foot of the bed. The desk was piled high with textbooks I never bothered touching since I graduated (unless Mr. Tesla forced me to read up on some things for an experiment). It was a small little cove of a room, but I was going to miss wasting my time here.
Strolling through the walkway past Mr. Tesla's room, I decided I'd peek at the door opening, but I didn't want to disturb him, given what had happened last night. It was the third fight in a row ever since I decided I'd join the army. Given Mr. Tesla's view on the effects of the ongoing war, and his over-protectiveness of me, I suppose it was only inevitable that he'd try to talk me out of it. He was already reluctant to let me do whatever I wanted outside the lab, but leaving for another country to spill blood was another matter altogether. I argued some good reasons for my going, such as my duty to protect my country and exercise my newfound human rights, but everything I've said so far have only gone straight through his thick skull. There was nothing I could do to convince him that I was doing the right thing.
Climbing down the stairs, past the living room where two recliners and a coffee table stood by the window, I turned and took one last look at that as well. The drapes flew inward, bringing in autumn air at an otherwise uptight-looking living space. Both of the recliners faced the radio on the opposite side of my room to my right, where pictures of me, him, and his family sat, ever observant of the many interesting events that had happened here since my inception. Those were unforgettable times.
As I turned to leave, I heard jolts of thunder nearby. It seemed like Mr. Tesla was doing another one of his experiments, and judging from how strong the sounds were, it was a pretty complex one. Putting down my suitcase, I decided that maybe I should say my last goodbyes rather than leave outright.
Walking into the lab, Mr. Tesla stood at the control panel, stone-faced with goggles on as blue lightning crackled and snapped between two large coils, separating into strings and converging into a large beam in a continuous loop. He had his hand on the lever that was controlling the resistors within. I gulped, trying to find the right words to say.
"Mr. Tesla..." I began. "It's time for me to go."
Silence. The lightning continued to hiss as he said nothing amidst his experiment.
"I just... I just wanted to thank you for everything that you've done for me." I continued to speak, hoping that I might trigger a response. "I can never thank you enough... for the things that you've provided that made me the 'bot that I am today. But..."
More silence. The lightning continued to flash its bright light at the walls, even reflecting against the surface of his goggles.
"I believe I can be a better 'bot out there, where I'm helping with the war effort. I can apply everything I've learned here up to now, and use it to the Allies' benefit. I believe this is a big step in the right direction."
The lightning started to fade, as Mr. Tesla started to pull down on the lever, but he's still not talking.
"Do you still remember the promise I made to you, the day I came back?" I started to grow a little more desperate, knowing that I'll soon be running out of things to say. "I haven't forgotten about that. Not one bit. One day, I will start my own lab and everything. It'll be there for the benefit of everyone in the world. What I'm doing right now is only Step One of the whole procedure. I need to get my name out there and prove what I need to prove in order to gain people's trust. The bloodshed will not be in vain, sir!"
The experiment stopped. Only my voice echoed through the empty space. Mr. Tesla let go of the lever, and his hand went limp on his side, as he stood there, still silent, but his head hung in what seemed to be a mixture of fear and sadness, the fear being the fear of losing me indefinitely.
A beep suddenly broke the silence. My taxi finally arrived. I had to go.
"I've said my piece now." I turned my back, crestfallen that my old man didn't have a heart to say anything more. "I have to go now. Farewell."
"Robo." a single word came out of Mr. Tesla's mouth. My feet stopped in its tracks, but I still had my back on him. There was a short moment of silence.
"I still disagree with your arguments. But..." his voice trailed off. I never meant to give that speech to convince him. I already tried that a thousand times before and it didn't work. "...You speak with such strong convictions. Truly, you believe that by fighting in this war, you are one step closer to your goal?"
"Yes, sir." I answered without hesitation.
"And that by proving yourself through diplomacy and bloodshed, you may gain the people's trust and benefit the world with science as I have taught you?"
"Then, by all means... prove me wrong." he said. At the same time, we both turned to face each other. Mr. Tesla's wrinkled face gazed back at me, smiling as his eyes brimmed with tears.
"Robo, never in my days with you have I ever taught you to kill." he said, his voice cracking somewhat. I felt guilty, making him feel this way.
"I know, sir."
"We must always do things for the benefit of all mankind. I have always taught you that, one way or another." he sniffled, on the verge of being unable to contain himself. "What you must know, Robo, is that I've always loved you like you were one of my own. If you ever need me, I will always be right here, waiting for your return."
"Don't worry about me." Mr. Tesla smiled reassuringly, wiping away the tears with his shirt sleeve. "I'm prepared to take care of myself in case you ever want to set off for the world. I've learned that the first time you left."
I was left speechless. To think that my old man knew this was coming all along...
There was another beep outside. The driver must be getting impatient.
"You must take your leave now, Robo." Mr. Tesla walked over and put his hand on my shoulder. It was wrinkled with age and years of hard work. "I look forward to the day your dreams will come true. Promise me that."
I embraced him, without warning. I think I might've startled him. I wanted him to know that everything will be alright.
"I will, Mr. Tesla." I said. "I will."
It was mid-afternoon by the time the gang came by the new office. Taking full credit of the work that I did during the morning, I wondered if it had been a good idea, hiring these clowns to help me out with this company. I haven't really seen anything work out so far in terms of contracts and deals with our technology, but at this point I'm just trying to remain positive about our prospects in the future.
"Something wrong, Robo?"
"Huh?" I was startled by Mac's voice, as I looked out the window and into the large view, as if in a trance. I looked around, and saw Slim and Ira staring at me with funny looks. Mac looked vaguely concerned. "The hell are you lookin 'at me like that for?
"Oh, nothin', nothin'. Could've sworn you got spirited away or something, because you couldn't stop looking out that window." Slim said as he puffed on his cigarette, the ashes falling onto the new carpet. I glared at him.
"Yeah, what are you lookin' at out there anyway?" Ira piped in. "It's just a bunch of buildings." he brightened up all of a sudden. "Oh, I know. He probably caught a looker with those fancy binocular eyes of his!"
"I don't have binocular-"
"Yeah! I bet you could see all the way to Chicago from here with those eyes." Slim peered into my eyes. It was uncomfortable and annoying.
"Ok, you know what, you guys can hit the road with that kinda act." I lightly pushed Slim away as I backed off.
"Geez, Robo, no need to snap." Slim pouted. "We just wanted to lighten up the mood. You seemed kinda out of it recently."
"Ya can't really blame us for the lack of success this company's having. We just got started, after all." Mac shrugged.
"Yeah... maybe you're right." I sighed.
"Whoa... you're not thinking of giving up now, are you?" Ira gave me a little glare, given how heavy the sigh was.
"Of course not! Don't be ridiculous." I retorted. "I think we should put more effort in this if we want people to take us seriously. Let's give it a hundred-ten percent."
"That's the spirit." Ira smiled, holding his pipe. "I'm sure as hell not gonna give up, myself. Whaddya say, guys?" he looked at Slim and Mac. Slim seemed unsure, but Mac seemed alright with our current circumstance.
"Well, we answered Robo's call for help. Can't back out now that we're in." Mac added. "We've got your back, Robo. Isn't that right, Slim?" he glared at Slim.
"Y-yeah! What makes you guys think I'm gonna turn tail and run?" he had his hands on his waist. "I want my name in one'a those big gold plaques that say we're the founders of this joint."
"Really...? That's all you wanted?" I sighed again.
"Ohh, don't get me wrong. I wanna help you too, y'know." Slim nodded. "I just want people to know we were there with you."
"Doesn't sound like a bad idea..." I mulled it over and decided on a plan. "Alright! Starting tomorrow, we start cold-calling every airport in America. I don't care how much it'll cost us, but if we get a deal, then we're set!"
"Got it!" the gang spouted in unison.
As we left the office for the day, I was glad to have picked the right people for the job. Having the gang isn't so bad when they're not throwing dirty jokes at each other from time to time. I hadn't realized how committed they were as I was. Perhaps... things aren't as bad as I thought.
Today is the day that my dream came true. Tesladyne is moving up in the world. I just gotta keep on doing things like I usually do them, learn a thing or two from my mistakes, and keep working at it. This is how far I've gone.
If only my old man was still alive to see it.
But as much as I miss him, I'm sure he knew, from the beginning, that I could do it. I could prove him wrong and I could fulfill my dreams. He said I had strong convictions. I didn't even need to ask him that question, because it was right there where I saw it.
I was doing the right thing.