Chapter 10 - A Calm Before A Storm
“Welcome back, sir. I trust all went well. Or, perhaps ‘hope’ is the more appropriate verb,” Cran said to me as I walked back through the door of my residence.
He was waiting with a cup of coffee.
“What?” I answered. I was still in a trance.
“Are you feeling well, sir?” he asked me.
“Excuse me?” I answered back.
“Here is your coffee, sir. I believe you are in dire need of it.”
I nodded and grabbed the cup from his hand and took a long swig.
“I’m sorry, Cran. Rough morning,” I said. His eyes fixed on my neck.
“I can see that. Shall I patch that wound up for you, sir?” he offered.
“No need. That’s the least of my worries. Let’s get to work, shall we,” I said, and we made our way upstairs.
When I reached my desk a pair of beautiful eyes stared at me from a picture upon it that I could not stand to look at. I felt as I had betrayed those eyes. So, I placed the frame face down, and Cran noticed.
“Sir?” he said, as he looked from the downturned frame to me.
“What?” I answered back as if I did nothing strange. I know he wanted to say something about it but I hoped he didn’t, and he didn’t disappoint. After a moment or two, he said, “Are you ready? Mr. Axell has alerted us. That was rather quick, I must say.”
“Yes, it was. The place must be close. Let’s do it,” I replied, and he readied the feed.
We waited for visuals from Sally for 5 minutes, and before we knew it those 5 minutes quickly turned into 45 minutes. Cran decided he would do some housework. He disposed of all the trash in the house and cleaned the kitchen and the living room, all of which took 30 minutes. When he returned he found me still at my desk patiently waiting. I decided I would also take the time to get some things out of the way. I told Cran to alert me if anything happened, and decided to take a long, hot shower.
I tried to clear my head as best I could; I tried not to think of all the great times Sally and I had together, all the birthday parties we shared together; all the morning kisses we shared; everything good that reminded me of her. But the damage had been done. Salty tears mixed with hot water as the memories flooded my head. I tried to think of the bad times we also shared for balance, as if that would act as a barrier to stop the sadness. But, as hard as I tried, I realized that, besides the odd spat here and there, we shared nothing that could be considered a certifiable bad time.
The water eventually washed away the tears and memories and I exited the bathroom; when I finished another 30 minutes had passed.
I returned to my desk to find Cran patiently waiting. He greeted me with a shake of the head signifying no activity.
“I hope everything is okay,” I said, with worry in my voice as I took a seat beside him.
“I’m sure everything is. Perhaps Mr. Axell’s alert was premature,” Cran said to me, trying his best to be calming.
“I don’t think that’s the case.”
“Maybe the client is not aware of how to open her container.”
“Unlikely. It’s not that hard.”
“An accident, then.”
“Cran,” I snapped, “That’s hardly reassuring.”
“Apologies, sir. I was just trying to run down all of the possibilities.”
“Not needed. I was just thinking out loud, anyway,” I said. He looked away, defeated; the shame I programmed into him was glowing through his metal façade. I should have apologized, but at that point my thoughts were lost between anxiety and annoyance.
I tried to clear the awkwardness in the air by bringing out an old deck of cards and suggesting we play some games. He beat me handily at three games of poker, five games of gin and ten games of black jack. I suggested we play chess on an old board of my grandfather’s, and he beat me in three games before I realized playing him at any game was futile.
With Cran’s help, I decided I would go down to my workroom downstairs and tidy up a bit to get my mind off of things.
We reached the room and as I turned on the lights various pictures of Sally welcomed me: me and her on Vacation in Africa, her with the first incarnation of SL-34, Miriam from Mr. Castillo’s place, her and Cran playing with dogs in a dog park, and many others of just her. They weren’t static like the old ones I kept on my desk and in my bedroom; they were in constant movement, but that movement reminded me of times when she was alive and breathing.
Needless to say, I could not take it and the distress must have shown on my face because Cran, being astute, did me a favor.
“Pictures off,” he commanded into the air and they all shut off at once. I was grateful of his gesture.
“Thank you,” I said.
I took a seat at the very large table in the middle of the room, as Cran put away tools and cleared my benches of stray parts. It was my largest worktable and it was strewn with bodiless heads of various sizes and expressions and differently colored skins; there were severed hands and feet in multiple poses, and even a box full of eyeballs of numerous colors. If one did not know where one was that person would swear they were in the macabre butcher shop of a horrific cannibal. The ghastliness of the scene was undercut with visions of adorable metallic animals, and the lack of blood anywhere.
I looked at the robotic carnage in front of me and wondered what it was all for. I wondered if I was doing anything correctly. I wondered why I chose to go into robotic engineering. If I had just gone into something more innocuous as, say, bar chef, I wouldn’t be in any of this mess. But, at the same time I thought those thoughts, the reasons I went into this line of work pushed those out of the way. Robotics engineering was loads of fun. It was innovative. It was technologically awe-inspiring. The work my father, my grandfather, and his father before him, and countless others did have undoubtedly helped humanity in indelible ways: the domestic and culinary services, construction, convalescent work, and, to a much greater extent, healthcare, firefighting and law enforcement.
But here I was, making a glorified sex doll.
I put my head down over my crossed arms and closed my eyes and tried to rest my brain a bit, when Cran brought something to my attention.
“Sir, look at what I found in the corner,” he said as he brought a pail of something over to me, the contents of which brought an instant smile to my face. It was filled with hundreds of corn kernels.
“Wow. So that’s where they were. I haven’t seen these in a very long time.”
“This is hardly something to keep in a deep dark corner of a basement, sir. I wanted to check with you before disposing of it.”
“You’ll do no such thing,” I said.
“But sir, I can surely purchase corn that is a tad more fresher. I know how much you like it. It really is no trouble at all,” he said. I laughed.
“Sit,” I said as I stood and offered my seat to Cran.
I picked up the pail and poured its contents out on the table in front of him.
“One of these kernels is a automated creation. Without touching them, do you think you can tell which one it is?” I asked him. He stared intently at the corn for several seconds.
“I’ve no idea, sir.”
He pointed to the most obviously large kernel.
“There are no discernable markings on any of these, sir. I’m afraid I cannot tell which one it is,” he said.
“That’s because it was a trick question,” I said, and I grabbed the biggest kernel, the one Cran had pointed to, and pushed it as if a button. Tiny legs sprang from each of the kernels and formed a mass of what looked like minuscule yellow spiders.
“It’s all of them. Remarkable,” Cran said.
“Attack,” I commanded, and I pointed the remote kernel at Cran, and they quickly swarmed his head and formed a cocoon around it, leaving only his eyes exposed; the sight of which was quite amusing, causing me to chuckle.
“If I could feel, I would expect this would feel quite unnerving,” Cran said.
“You bet it would,” I said. I called them back to the table and they returned to the bucket and assumed their original forms.
“This is basically how I won Sally over,” I said.
“Sir, I do not follow.”
“It was on our first date. I was lucky; she often described herself as sapiosexual. I doubt I could have convinced her otherwise,” I said. Cran did something that resembled a metallic cough, or maybe more like a metallic wheeze; but I believe it was an attempt to mimic a laugh, no doubt purposely. He must have recognized the joking nature of the statement. It made me smile.
“We stopped by on our way to the restaurant. She had to go to the bathroom really badly and couldn’t wait. I always talked about things I was working on so she asked me if she could see some of it. I led her down here and showed her my workspace. It was much cleaner then. Anyway, I sat her down, same as I had you do, and I brought out the pail. When she saw it she looked at me like I was crazy; she probably thought this was what I had in mind in terms of dinner plans for the evening.” Cran laughed a little longer and a little harder.
“So, I did my shtick, asked her which one she thought was the robot. She, too, pointed at the remote. When I revealed to her that it was all of them, her face lit up with such delight,” I said.
“I hope you didn’t have them swarm her, sir.”
“Are you crazy? Of course I didn’t. That would have been the end of it,” I said. “But, I did have them swarm my head. She got a real kick out of that.”
“I expect she would have, sir.”
I let my thoughts wander to that first date and a smile etched across my face before sorrow followed it. I had to shake myself out of that state and focus on the present.
“Anyway, I also won my first high school engineering contest with this. This earned me a very large scholarship to college where, of course, I met Sally. The rest is history.”
“That was a very interesting and amusing anecdote, sir. This is the first I’ve heard of it. Thank you for sharing.”
“And thank you for listening. Do me a favor and put your cousins back in the corner for me, please.”
He let loose another metallic laugh as he performed that task for me.
“Come, let’s go outside. It’s a nice day,” I suggested to him. I had an ulterior motive for wanting to do so.
The sun was shining bright that day; the clouds were sparse, but full when they were visible in the blue sky. There was a nice breeze that blew the smell of the trees past my nose and I took a whiff as I pointed my gaze skyward. It was calming, and I was in severe need of some calm.
Cran suddenly turned to me and said, “I’ve read many a description of what types of fragrances the trees and the flowers produce. I’d like very much to experience that some day, as it sounds very lovely.”
“Trust me, it is.”
“Sir, do you think that would be possible?”
“Do I think what would be possible?” I asked.
“Do you think it would be possible for me to smell, to feel?”
“As you’ve seen, it’s quite possible to create a sense of feeling, in essence, to make you think you’re feeling something, to make you react as if you were feeling something,” I answered in the best way I could at the time.
“An appropriate reaction is not what I meant. No matter how reasonable it is, a facsimile is a facsimile,” he said, with an attitude that seemed laced with frustration, a first for him.
“I would like to actually feel something, not just think I am.”
“Cran,” I said as I felt myself becoming somber, “I’m not sure if that’s possible,” I said.
“I do not make many requests of you, sir, but do you think you could work to make this a possibility for me, a project to include in your future endeavors?”
“You don’t ask anything of me. I would be happy to at least give it a try.”
“Good. Advancements are made everyday, are they not?”
“Yes they are,” I said, and we both looked upward. As we did a bird suddenly streaked past our line of sight, and Cran followed it with his eyes.
“A bird is a living creature, a creature that possesses the ability to feel, to smell, yet it isn’t aware it possesses these senses,” he said thoughtfully.
“I feel as though you’re trying to get at something.”
“I am saying that I suppose I would appreciate it if I were at least able to think I felt something instead of not realizing I am feeling something when I am,” he said, and I finally understood what he meant.
“You deserve an upgrade,” I said, and I put my arm around him, and we continued to take in the natural scenery.
“Cran, while you’re looking up there, do you mind scanning the skies for me?”
“What am I looking for?”
“You’ll know it if you see it,” I said.
“There are thunder clouds forming eleven point six miles from here and should reach our position by nightfall. Is that what you were looking for?” he said.
I shook my head. “Keep scanning.”
He scanned for a good five minutes before turning to me again and saying, “I think I have found it is what you’re looking for, sir.”
“How many?” I inquired.
“One, sir,” he told me. “Directly above us.”
“Good to know. Thanks. Let’s head back inside,” I said. I squinted up at the sky one last time in an attempt to see what Cran did, but, as expected, I was not able to.
But my suspicions were confirmed.
It turned out that Mr. Axell wasn’t above wasting his resources keeping tabs on me after all.