+J.M.J.+Conversations with a Mecha Named Joe
By "Matrix Refugee"
This forms a companion piece to "Runnin' Loose on the Streets of Rouge City". I had a bunch of ideas for various and sundry sketches of Joe and Cecie Martin—some predating "Runnin' Loose…"—which couldn't be developed into full-length stories, so I will be adding to this from time to time as I complete the chapters. This is very episodic and somewhat rhapsodic, and as always, a little sentimental. Dedicated to everyone who's read and reviewed my earlier "A.I." efforts, particularly Laurie E. Smith, whose "A.I." fictions helped me get started, and Lady Shadowcat, who emailed me an incredible review for "Runnin' Loose" when the review function was down: thanks, folks!; to fom4life, for getting on my back about some of my other efforts; to Dave Patten, for coming to my defense over one that was the PG-13 side of an R-rating; and to all Mecha-huggers out there.
I do not own "A.I.", its characters, settings, concepts, or other indicia, which are the property of the late Stanley Kubrick, of DreamWorks SKG, Steven Spielberg, Warner Brothers, et alChapter 1: First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
Rouge City, U.S.A.
Incorporated as urban enclave under separate jurisdiction: June 29, 2162
City Manager: Destiny Rorschach
2160 population: 600,000 (Orga) 1,800,000 (Mecha)
Land area: 43.5 sq. km
Altitude: 303 feet
Location: Western bank of Delaware Seaway, near Southeastern East Pennsylvania…
Except for the bit with the population figures and the separate jurisdiction, it sounds sanitary, doesn't it? I've a heard a lot of ugly stories, probably amplified by retelling, about this town, "Sin City, Eastern Seaboard, U.S.A.", a city built specific for just one stock in trade: sex Mechas and their capabilities.
I really should start by introducing myself. My name's Cecie Martin. I've always been what most folk charitably call a harmless eccentric, or at worst a weird character. I was the hairline cybergoth type in the small Catholic high school I attended in the Western Massachusetts village I grew up in; no piercings, no dyed hair, no LEDs glued to my skin, but I favored wearing black and grey and shades of dark purple and maroon, black trench coats and mirrorshades, to the annoyance of the lay staff that ran the school. A learning disability crippled my math abilities, so I knew I wasn't going to be the next Euclid; but my ability to catch patterns of symbolism in literature, theatre and cinema made me the John Forbes Nash, jr. of the written and spoken word. I got to college on my English scores.
I never made many "normal" friends (Normal is a swear word in my vocabulary); I always tended to gravitate to the people just as harmlessly strange as myself. Why my next-door neighbors Philomena and Bernadette Connelly put up with me escapes even my facile brain. It could have been a simple case of opposites attracting: the two good little Catholic girls in their shapeless, ankle-length, plaid jumpers consorting with the tall, angular misfit in black garments, antiquated pendant watch swinging from her neck like the pendulum of life. They spent their Friday nights at home studying the Bible and the writings of the Church Fathers with their father, while I read my original poetry and sketches at an open mike night at a local coffeehouse or roving the streets, eavesdropping on humanity and their foibles.
I lost my father when I was in my early teens, so I sort of adopted Phila's dad as a surrogate father. "Sort of" is not a lame phrase here; the better I got to know him, the more I realized he wasn't my ideal male role model. My rebellious nature kicked like a mule when I got older and I started asserting my odd identity. He didn't approve of my choice of clothing, especially my penchant for wearing pants. Once he refused to let me into their house because he was concerned that the sight of my legs encased in simulcotton black pants (and they were baggy on me!) might incite his son to lust (In my generation, couples were allowed two kids tops; Bernadette was a cousin they had adopted after her parents died).
Phila and I went through two-year college together. She was active in all the Catholic groups: Regnum Christi, Nocturnal Adoration, two different Bible study groups. She was always trying to get me to join, but I had to turn her down. I'm all for Catholic action, but I'm a natural doer: I offer my every action as a prayer. I had my own extracurricular activities: drama group and a writer's guild. I was also working as a copywriter, which brought me a good income, plus I was writing fiction on the side; I had my deck stacked. She accused me of excluding God, especially in light of the eccentric crowd I hung with: one guy was a computer hacker, another was an actor who moonlighted as an escort (not many sex Mechas in New England), one gal leaned toward bisexuality (Phila really lit into me for that friendship), and one guy—the only one Phila even marginally approved of—would, by turns, talk about going into the seminary, or becoming a director of 2-Ds, and then he'd start flirting with some gal!
I came into a legacy after I finished college, so I decided to do a little traveling before I settled down. I hired an amphibicopter and explored the underwater ruins of Manhattan. I drove cross-country to see the ruins of Hollywood. On the way back, I made a stop in Rouge City, just to say I'd been there—but only to the folk who wouldn't judge me either way, certainly not to Phila, or her parents.
I stayed there only one night, which didn't give me much exposure, but it gave me the slightest taste of something else, a taste of the wild life without actually plunging into it feet first and maybe risking drowning in it. I kept to the lower deck, where most of the intransient Orga population lives, but once night fell, curiosity overrode my inhibitions and I decided to go up to the upper deck.
The lower deck is fairly rowdy in its own right, but it pales by contrast with the upper deck. Not to say you don't see many sex Mechas—mostly females—but they're mostly cheap older models, obviously artificial-looking, resembling the two-dollar hookers they were probably modeled after, the sort that wouldn't possibly fool Turing, but would fool the most sex-crazed hormonal teenage boys who sneak into the City.
But I gulped down my inhibitions and went aboveground.
What I saw as I stepped off the giant escalators into Main Plaza by turns made me cringe, made me laugh, and made me sigh.
What made me cringe? The sight of a fountain that crudely resembled a phallic Greek design from the late Hellenistic period; towers resembling women's legs upraised; domes shaped like breasts. I have an intense reverence for the human body (whether that body is made of carbon-based flesh and bone or silicon-based flesh and titanium), and I also took a class in aesthetic and symbolic art, so the sight of such crude use of the human form divine had me groaning slightly.
What made me laugh? The simple fact that just about every building was outlined or decked out in miles and miles and miles and miles of neon tubing (I later found out it's all heavy-duty fiber optic cabling, but there are a few places than use the old-fashioned neon stuff) so that it looks just like the "futuristic cities" you see in the old 2-D sci-fi flicks from the late 20th and early 21st century (Should this piece get caught in a time warp and someone from the year 1999 should read this, I regret to inform you that cities in 2162 America just don't look like what you see in Bladerunner or The Fifth Element; they look something like the Washington D.C. of a film called Minority Report, which you'll have to wait till 2002 to see.) Another trivia bit about the City I would later pick up was that the city designers, chiefly an eccentric multi-billionaire named Tyler Aldron, who had a pet hobby for doing architectural drawings to decorate his mansion, deliberately intended Rouge to look like these cinematic cities, something about appealing to the sense of fantasy.
And what made me sigh? It wasn't a sigh of longing. Certainly not yet. I'd have to call it a sigh of pity. I walked somewhat quickly past the glass-front clubs, their windows displaying the hordes of figures—Orga, Mecha—gyrating and grinding to the techno-jazz that poured from the doors as patrons went in; the sultry figures, many female ones in tight gowns and sequined bodysuits, posing and posturing in other windows, inviting the passerby inside to sample whatever "Suspicious Delicacies" awaited their appetite, or discover what heavenly or hellish delights these "Angels and Demons" could provide. I watched patrons going into these clubs, but I didn't see many come out, though I stood there for a half an hour.
Don't think I went "holier-than-thou" if I say I pitied these people—men, women, young college types, retirees, businesspeople in between. I didn't look at them thinking, "Well, I'm not sinning and wasting my time, energy, money and salvation on that commodity, therefore I'm better than they are." I'm of the camp that regards sexual intercourse with a Mecha as a grave sin, but that there are much worse sins than that. Much worse.
I wasn't sure who to pity more, the Orgas partaking of the Mechas, or the Mechas themselves, programmed and built specific for just one task, never knowing much beyond that, and enslaved to that most insatiable appetite: human lust. Some of the gaudy and slinky dressed figures that sashayed past me were just as beautiful as some Orga women, some so well-built I almost took them for Orga until they got up close to me. This only made my realization more poignant.
I spotted several male figures as well, most of them wide-shouldered, deep-chested bodybuilder types. I averted my gaze and kept a low profile around these, not out of prudery, but to stick to my guns. I prefer my men slender-built and graceful, the sensitive danseur types. There's a certain amount of machismo to my nature, so I need someone who'll offset it. A few of the muscle-boys tried to approach me, but I walked away, trying not to betray too much unease.
I kept to the main drag of town, figuring this was the safest way to find my way back to Main Plaza and the giant escalators back to the lower level.
I found a tamer place, the Club Renoir, described in the guidebook as an arts bar. For my sanity's sake I hoped that didn't include pornography, but I knew enough to look the other way or duck out if it got really bad.
Fortunately, it didn't, at least not that night. When I arrived, they were between acts for an open mike poetry slam, standing room only. I hung around in the back, watching from among what I discovered were Mechas.
I noticed one slender fellow from behind, leaning his wrist gracefully against one of the carved pillars supporting the ceiling. Even from the back, he caught my attention: a black-haired fellow with naturally (?) tanned skin, wearing a silver shirt cut in the Victorian style over high-waisted black trousers tastefully molded tight to his hips, but looser over his thighs.
I hung around long enough to get a feel for the place and hear the next poet's work, then I went out.
I'd reached the Ridge Garden, the walled park that encloses to upper level of the city, when I came to the terminus of Main Boulevard. It was almost 2400, so I decided to head back to my hotel room.
On my walk back, I spotted, wedged in between two clubs, something I didn't at first expect to see, but which I welcomed. It was a small storefront chapel, Our Lady of the Immaculate Heart. I say I didn't expect it at first because I know from experience that the All Mighty loves to ask His most trusted servants to pitch their tents in the least likely places, sometimes in downright wild places where the respectable folk wouldn't dare to go. Christ Jesus Himself chose to be born as a shivering, wet little baby in a cave full of drooling cows and scruffy sheep; one of His most faithful followers was a former prostitute. I've met more than a few less than virginal people who were much more generous and concerned for their suffering fellow humans than any number of the most demure little spinster virgins you find warming a pew every day (For the record, I go to Mass every Sunday and almost every weekday. I just don't pat myself on the back about it.).
I went in. Compared to the Dionysian excess out there, the inside was almost antiseptic but refreshing: white walls, white pews, white stone altar, pale blue carpeting. The blue neon lighting over the door looked almost out of place by contrast. I thought of Christ referring to the Pharisees as "whitened sepulchers" full of corruption and bones, but this looked like the utter reverse of His metaphor.
I said a quick good night prayer; I would have stayed longer, but it was getting late and I had to get out early.
Back in the hotel, I went to the bar for a quick nightcap—a mimosa with seltzer, no champagne. This gave me a few minutes to watch humanity in action and collect a few ideas. I overheard two different conversations going on: one woman alongside of me was talking on her cellphone, saying she was only passing through Rouge City on her way back, but she kept eying the room as if she was looking for something to walk in. Two guys in their 30s sat at the other end of the bar, one of them telling the other about how his sister-in-law was always on his back about his going to Rouge for a few days every so often, but then she'd turn around and gossip to her friends that her brother-in-law had been to Rouge City again, oh, how awful! The other guy mentioned the word Pharisee in his reply, which made me think of Francois Mauriac's novel A Woman of the Pharisees.
And then it hit me in this all but God-forsaken place. A quote form Mauriac flashed through my mind: "A literature of edification falsifies life; to depict man in all his misery is to unmask the abyss opened, in the modern world, by the absence of God."
I decided then and there what I had to do with my fiction writing. I was to stay here write about life and love and lust and death of the soul and rebirth and sin and redeath and madness and re-rebirth…and Mechas, all those things the self-complacent, self-proclaimed saints dare not deign to look upon lest it ruffle their hair, but which the real saints, the ones who don't yet know they are saints, face all the time because they know it has become part of the human condition and who look upon these things with eyes of compassion. Yes, even Mechas, for they are more to be pitied than frowned upon because they know not what they do.
With these thoughts, I called for my bill and went upstairs to finish packing.
My mother wasn't keen on my moving to Rouge City even after I told her about the realization I came to in the bar, but she couldn't tell me what to do. I was twenty-two with a good paying job that allowed me to live anywhere.
I found a hotel in Rouge City that had residency apartments, the Hotel Graceley, on the Upper Deck, not far from the chapel, so I reserved a room. Then I loaded my worldly possessions into my cruiser and drove to my new home city. Either the plan would work, or it would fail. I could always pull out if it came to that.
Room 503 sat perched above most of the lower structures with a view of the street below and a casino across the way. Could be worse. I'd found from the City Chamber of Commerce that living on the Upper Deck was cheaper than living on the Lower Deck as far as services and taxes were concerned, for the simple reason that most of the Upper Deck population was Mecha.
Because I had a bunch of copy to write up and send out, I didn't get much time to poke around the City for the first few weeks after I settled there. A few of my more raucous friend sent me teasing, gently R-rated emails, which had me shaking my head over.
But I soon had a daily routine: up at 645, go to Mass, go for a walk, observe people, maybe mingle a little as I got a cup of herb tea at a kiosk, go home, have breakfast, get to work till 1300, have lunch, more writing (fiction work) until 1800, then take the evening off and do some serious eavesdropping on the streets. I made a few friends: a lame-legged fellow named Vautrin, who kept the records for an agency; a girl who tended the servers for the e-post; a young guy who worked as a mechanic on the Lower Deck, mostly fixing cruisers, but occasionally doing weld-jobs on Mechas; an older guy named Clive who was a plainclothes security guard. He thought my idea was crazy, but he didn't abuse it.
"It's yer idea with what to do with yer life, and what you do is none of my business unless you cross the line. Then it becomes my business," he said one morning.
"You won't have to worry about that," I said.
"Just to be sure, could you stand up straight and hold your arms out?" he asked in an official-sounding voice. I did as he told me. He ran a hand-held low-level x-ray over me.
"What's this for?" I asked, trying to sound amused.
"Just makin' sure you don't have any spy recorders on you, recording people's conversations," he replied. He switched off the wand and pocketed it.
"I don't do that, I just unobtrusively eavesdrop; most of the stuff people say is hopelessly worthless as fiction, but I pick up useful snippets here and there. Sometimes it's more the way a person says something that packs more wallop than the words themselves."
"Yer sorta like them that way." He pointed to a female Mecha passing by, a leggy thing in a turquoise babydoll.
"What do you mean?"
"Some of 'em are so smart they can hear what you mean when you say something else, y'know, like saying 'no' but your tone means 'yes'."
I chuckled. "I've had my talents compared to lots of other people, but that's the first time anyone has ever compared me to a Mecha."
He glanced at another Mecha sashaying past us, a slim creature in a leopard-print catsuit, then he eyed me. "Think if they built one of 'em smart enough, it could write as good as you?"
"I doubt it."
The fourth week of my new life, something happened that nearly gave me a reason to sigh in different way than the sigh of compassion I had heaved earlier.
It was late in the evening; I'd been to the public library on the lower deck, and I had stopped at the chapel to say goodnight to the All Mighty. When I emerged and stepped out onto the street, I sensed a presence off to my left, just a ripple on my awareness at first.
A shadow separated itself from the darkness between the buildings. I put my hand into my pocket and grasped the small stunner I keep there.
"You seem new to Rouge City or else I have not seen you before," said a gentle man's—or, rather, a gentleman's—voice, a soft, dulcet baritenor with a genteel British accent, not the stilted voice of a Jeevesian butler, but the lyrical voice of a Shakespearean actor.
The shadow approached me and resolved itself into a tall, slender young man perhaps in his late twenties.
"Did you speak to me?" I asked.
"Yes, I did," he replied.
"Who are you?"
"They call me Joe, and who, may I ask, have I the honor of meeting?"
"I'm Cecie Martin." I put out my hand, expecting the usual half-mechanical handshake. But he took my hand, turned it over and raised it to his lips to kiss it. That took me completely off guard: I've seen that done only in 2-D films, but you find all types of people in cities.
"So, have you need of assistance finding your way about the City?"
"Not really, but I'd appreciate the company."
"In which case, where, may I ask, are you going?"
"I'm staying at the Hotel Graceley."
"Ah yes! I know where that is." With a smooth movement, he proffered me his arm. I smiled as I took it: nobody's been that gracious to me before.
We swung off down the boulevard; I generally walk fast, but his strides matched mine exactly. He seemed much taller than he was, but that was a trick of the eye resulting from his sensuous leanness and his cocky, long-stepping swagger.
"So how long have you been in Rouge City?" he asked.
"I've been here only three weeks."
"So long? Are you, as they say, making a habit of this place?" He asked this with gently teasing lilt, strangely free from innuendo.
"You might put it that way," I replied. "You see, I'm a writer; I copy write for a living, but I have the time and the resources to write fiction on the side."
"You write fiction. Have you published any books? Perhaps I could locate one of them."
"I've mostly written short stories, but I should probably anthologize some of them, put them together in a collection. I've published most of them in online magazines."
"And which of these online magazines have been affable enough to present to the public your doubtlessly well-crafted work?"
He was certainly adept at laying on the flattery, but it didn't bother me. "Let's see, 'Lucent Literature' was one of them, so was 'Wordviews' and 'Verbal Portraits'."
"I don't wish to sound as one trying to pry, but how then does your writing relate to your coming to Rouge City?"
"That's a good question. I specialize in moral writing, and I found, when I came here for just a night last month, that I could find a lot of ideas for future stories: characters, problems, happenings that I could use for plot elements, what not."
He was suddenly quiet for a long moment, though we kept walking. Then at length he spoke: "You will surely find many of these ideas here. More humans come in and out of this city than there are drops of water flowing in the Delaware. And so many things happen that you would find enough plots to fill a library with your work."
I was blushing. "You're too kind."
We turned the corner onto Avenue J and passed a pawnshop and a bar before we reached the Hotel Graceley, a classic Aret Deco building in simulchromed steel and concrete.
I paused before the building and released his arm. He turned and faced me.
"I hope I didn't take too much of your time," I ventured.
He cocked his head. "My time is at your complete disposal."
In the clear titanium-white lighting from the marquee, I looked into his face and realized what he meant.
The light glinted too brilliantly off his skin, not the gleam of skin oil or sweat, though it was a warm spring night, but a synthetic sheen. His jet-black hair lay slicked well back from his patricianly high brow so that it looked all of a piece, like black simuleather. But his eyes fully gave away what he was. At first glance, I read a vague, gently sad or lonely look into them, then their green hue and their sparkle made me think of wine bottle glass or green gemstones—jade, beryl or smoked emeralds—but then I realized the brilliance was the brilliance of plastic and the vague look was an impassible look.
His posture, his swagger, the way he cocked his trimly narrow hips forward in genteel enticement all suggested one thing: at best an escort, at worst a man-whore, midway between the two a gigolo.
I stepped back from him, more from surprise than from fear. "You're Mecha," I managed to say, trying not to blurt it.
"Does that disturb you? Your face looks disturbed."
"No, it's just I've never been that close to something like you, I mean, I've been around Mechas before, but never a…not a…"
"Not a lover-Mecha," he completed the sentence for me."
"Uh, no." There had been a few clunky old service droids that lumbered about my hometown of Westhillston, the metal-bodied variety that barely looked human except that some designer had, almost like an afterthought, stuck a mask of a human face on the top, trying to make it look more human and only making the thing look more alien.
He took a step closer. "You have nothing to fear from me," he said, his voice softer, more seductive than before. "You need only fear your own fears."
"I'm not afraid. I'm just a little tired, that's all. I've had a long day, so if you'll excuse me, I'd better go inside."
"As you wish," he replied in his normal voice. He reached into the breast pocket of his simuleather coat and drew out a card case. "And if ever you should desire my presence or my services, here then is the number for my pager." He held out the card to me between two fingers. I took it just to be polite; that's when I noticed the pager on a sturdy silver chain about his neck, hanging to his slender waist; the pager itself was a thick metal disk a little larger around than my pendant watch, with a black display.
I was trying to think of a quick, gracious exit when the problem resolved itself. A high-pitched, electronic trill twittered form his pager. White script scrolled across the display. He glanced down and took it in hand like a 19th century gentleman consulting his pocket watch in a 2-D period flick. He looked up at me with an ironic smile.
"If only you had changed your mind a little more timely. I'm
afraid duty calls me elsewhere. Thus the cost of hesitation."
The little narcissist, I thought. "Well, uh, thanks. Thank you for walking with me." I had to reward him for his effort, even if he was a machine. I held out my hand to him palm down.
He took it graciously. "You are welcome, Cecie." He leaned over my hand and kissed, lingering just a little.
I disengaged myself, stuttered some sort of goodbye and went inside. I walked through the lobby a little too quickly and went up to my room.
Once there, I scolded myself for my own ineptness. He was just too real. Imagine a combination of the graceful, elegant Fred Astaire with the likable, swarthily good-looking Gene Kelly from the 1940s 2-Ds and add to that the smoldering sultriness of Rudolf Valentino from the silent 2-Ds of the 1920s.
But I couldn't deny the thoughts that crossed my mind: I wonder when I'll see this Joe again and I hope I wasn't too brusque to him. I'd wanted to put him off on one level, but not on a level of mere affability.
One quick note before I decode the more obscure references: this is set about maybe eight, ten years pre-film. Joe is still fairly new to the scene, so if he seems a little off character, it's because some of his circuits haven't finished "burning in". I intended this series to show some of his development as an individual: he's a little clueless about some of the finer quirks of human behavior (so aren't we all!). Besides my hopeless infatuation with the character, there is another reason why I love writing Joe fictions: his dialogue lines are a wonderful challenge to write because his speech patterns are so different than everyone else's. As time allows, there will be much more to come.
Literary Easter Eggs:
"Should this piece get caught in a time warp…"—This is a stacked-up reference/metafiction (a fiction about fiction), coupled with a very gentle parody. I chose the year 1999 to slyly dig the sci-fi writers and directors who put precise dates on their creations and ended up with their story self-obsolescing: i.e. Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke and "2001: a Space Odyssey". At least Steve had the good sense NOT to put a date on "A.I.", but his writers muffed by putting the date 2054 on Minority Report.
Tyler Aldron—Something of a cinematic crossover from Bladerunner. The name is a transposed phonetic replica of the name of Eldon Tyrell, the trillionnaire founder/CEO of the Tyrell Corporation, which designs and builds replicants, semi-biological androids, the distant cousins of the Mechas.
"A shivering, wet little baby…"—I shamelessly swiped this from Peter Kreeft, one of my favorite spiritual writers (favorite because his books are so engaging…and because he frequently references science fiction stories!).
"a mimosa with seltzer"—I make these all the time: you mix equal amounts of orange juice and seltzer; I personally recommend Clear Choice lime-flavored seltzer, since it adds an extra citrus kick to the mix.