Chapter 4 - Going Forward
Mrs. Smith bid both Cran and I a good morning as we passed her desk. I nodded absentmindedly to her.
“You two are early. Is your project is going well?” she asked.
I looked at Cran. I wished he would have answered for me, but he did not.
A tepid “Yes” was the only word I could spit out in response. I also mustered a smile. I did not want to seem rude.
“It’s open,” she said.
But I did not immediately go in. Instead, I stood in front of Mr. Axell’s office door thinking about what I would say. I don’t know why I did that. It was not my conversation to be had. I wouldn’t say anything if I had my way. I just wanted to go in, express my displeasure with the previous night’s proceedings, if asked, and then walk out, hopefully, with Sally in tow.
“Are you okay?” Mrs. Smith asked me. The situation mimicked our first meeting.
“Yes, I just…” I started to say, but I didn’t finish the sentence. I hadn’t had time for my morning coffee so my mind wasn’t quite right. His drivers had been there so early in the morning to drive me over that Cran didn’t have time to make any for me. I shook it off and made my way inside. So much for not wanting to appear rude.
As I walked in, I saw Sally off to the side next to her casing as if she were patiently waiting for something, anything to happen, a vacant expression on her face. I was relieved to see her in one piece, dressed in the shawl I originally provided her. Mr. Axell was by his desk having a conversation with one of his bodyguards. It was the one who had helped Sally into the backseat, the one who wanted to have his way with her. Mr. Axell sent him away as he saw me walk in.
“Ah, Mr. Okamura. Please. Come,” he called out to me as he waved me over. I was lucky his bodyguard didn’t notice the look of disgust on my face I gave him as we passed each other. I’m sure he would have smacked me for it. But he didn’t care about me. He looked as if he had other matters on his mind.
As I finally reached Mr. Axell’s desk he got right down to business.
“I’m sure you are aware of what took place last night,” he asked me. I nodded.
“Well, when we got her she was drenched from head to toe but other than that not a scratch. We’re lucky there was no damage to her,” he said as he motioned toward Sally. “But there was definitely potential for it. I still can’t believe what that little piece of shit did. I knew I shouldn’t have chosen him for the first trial. But I owed his father one.”
He paused the conversation to pour himself another morning drink. Once again he offered one to me with a look on his face suggesting that he was expecting me to decline, but to his surprise I took him up on the offer––after missing my morning coffee and after the events of the night before I needed something to take the edge off. He poured a drink and passed off the glass to me. To his surprise I downed it in one gulp; what didn’t surprise him was the look on my face as I winced through the horrible pain of liquid fire sliding down my throat. It was strangely satisfying in an adult way. Kind of like how a child is able to suck down a straw full of pure sugar and enjoy it without irony. It was whisky all right, but like none I had ever had before. He laughed.
“Crazy, right? That’s the good shit––straight from Australia. I also have some from Canada, Scotland. Hey, I even have some from Japan if that’ll make you feel more at home,” he said as he held up a bottle to me.
I’d been to Japan only twice for robotics engineering conventions. If I have family there I don’t know about them, but I was born in Vermont. I didn’t have the desire or the interest to correct him. I just put up a hand.
“You sure? I heard they gather the finest geishas in the land, right. Gather them up, have them take off their undies, they distill the whisky with their used underwear, then, get this, the geishas swish it around in their mouths then spit it into a large basin before they funnel them into bottles, and that is said is what gives it its distinct flavor. Did you know that? What am I saying, of course you do. ”
He paused to see my reaction. I wanted to smash that bottle over his head, truth be told, but I opted not to do that. Instead, I gave him a half-smile. He commented on my lack of a strong reaction.
“Come on, I’m messing with ya. Lighten up. Do they still have geishas?” he asked, sincerely.
“I don’t know,” I said.
He downed the rest of his drink with far less difficulty then I and continued.
“What do you think of what happened? How do you think we should proceed?” he asked me.
“Right. Cran, if you will.”––I motioned him to attend to Sally––“It was extremely unfortunate. Perhaps we could consider repurposing her––convalescent work, something like that. But I would not recommend dismantlement.”
“Dismantlement? Who said anything about dismantlement? I was talking about water-proof skin or something. And what the hell is he doing?” he said, referring to Cran as he was helping Sally into the box I brought her in.
I didn’t know how to answer so I just stared at him awkwardly.
“Don’t tell me you think this is over, that you think we should abandon this project because of one single mishap.”
“Sir, in my opinion, the nature of last night’s mishap has convinced me that the right course of action would be to halt the experiment, at least temporarily.”
I could tell he was restraining himself from yelling at me, or maybe from worse. He put a hand over his mouth as he thought of what he should say to me.
“Harry, can I call you Harry? Sally calls you Harry. I’d like to refer to you as something more casual. In fact, call me Jerrald as well.”
“Yes,” I answered.
“Harry, you’re not a poor scientist. You were able to create Sally. I know you’re not a poor scientist. Do you consider yourself a poor scientist?” he asked me, in his usual condescending tone. Technically, my title was engineer; I think he was thinking more of the scientific process, but I understood what he was getting at. I shook my head.
“No, I didn’t think so. Now, do good scientists give up on their experiments after one failed experiment?”
“No, they do not. But in cases like this––” I started, but he held up a finger.
“What do they do when an experiment fails after the first trial?” He knew the answer but wanted me to provide it anyway, treating me like a five-year-old child. If I hesitated it would have only prolonged the torture so I answered as quickly as I could.
“They continue their experiment until they get it right, or, at least until they reach a fairly conclusive outcome,” I answered, rather pedantically.
“Yes. And there’s no way to reach a fairly conclusive outcome after just one trial, is there?”
The thing about that was he was right. I hated that he was right. I couldn’t argue with him. Reluctantly, I nodded my head.
“Good. I had to know that you understood that and you didn’t disappoint me.”
He patted me on the shoulder and spoke the next words directly into my ear.
“Now get her the fuck out of that box.”
I motioned to Cran to bring her over.
“Let’s get to work, shall we, Harry?”
I nodded again. My neck was beginning to hurt. Mr. Axell walked back behind his desk and brought up a new message.
“Our new client is not some dumbfuck kid. He’s an old acquaintance. I’ve already let him know that he’ll be receiving Sally a week early. Needless to say he’s quite excited. Are you ready for the specs?”
I readied the wires from Cran, one into my device, one into Sally’s ear canal. I gave him the signal to proceed.
The client’s list of features were extremely, well, thorough. Her features were to be ones consistent with that of a “redheaded white woman.” Her height was to be a standard five-foot-seven so I didn’t have to change that at all; the waist and bust were also standard. He wanted her eyes green and large, abnormally so; he wanted them to be around the size of an ostriches or a deer’s, unusual for a human being. As for her mouth, he wanted the opening to be no bigger than the diameter of a small cherry, with the lips “just as plump as one,” as he put it. To finish off her face, he wanted her nose to be the size of a button. It was a very child-like description. It was as if he wanted a living cartoon character, and she was shaping up to look like one.
“I gotta say, Amber was more my type,” Mr. Axell declared. “Still, pretty cute in an unsettling sort of way. What do you think of her?” he asked me.
“A little unnatural. Not features I would have chosen,” I said truthfully.
“Me neither. But, whatever floats his boat. I don’t have to fuck her.”
For all his personality shortcomings, it was refreshing to learn that Mr. Axell was, at the very least, non-judgmental.
The client wanted her hair colored red, of course, but he wanted it a specific style. He provided a picture of a girl with a hairstyle known as a ‘bob.’
“It doesn’t look anything like the girl in the picture. It’s just shorter,” Mr. Axell complained, after I made the change.
“For something simple like, say, generally curly, that’s easy, as I have the necessary DNA codes,” I explained. “But for something exact as that she still needs to have it styled.”
“Such a pain in the ass––Okay, I’ll have Mrs. Smith take her out later.” Personality wise, the client provided the names of celebrities for reference.
“He wants her to be a mixture of Prance McClure, Moxie Branson, and just a pinch of someone called Lucille Ball. I know the other two, but who the fuck is Lucille Ball?”
“She was a television personality from quite a while ago.”
“Do you know what she was like?”
“I haven’t seen many of her shows but I have seen the odd clip here and there. I have an idea,” I said; I’m somewhat of an ancient entertainment buff.
“Well, as long as you know that’s all that matters. Go ahead.”
I entered the specific personality traits into her manually, but before I could properly activate her, he stopped me.
“Wait, before you turn her on, there’s another one.”
“He wants her to smell strongly of roses.”
“Well, I’m not sure I have that particular fragrance in her. It might require the use of your chemistry depart—”
“Yes, yes. Fine. Use whatever you need,” he said, cutting me off. “And don’t forget the strong. Well, what are you waiting for? Do your thing and switch her on.”
I did as he commanded and activated her. She opened her eyes slowly and looked around. She reacted far more reserved than she had when she was Amber.
“Oh, hello there Harry. So very nice to see you,” she said as she laid eyes on me. “I hope you’ve been well since the last time I saw you. Although, it’s been, what, only about forty-eight hours,” she said, and then sweetly giggled. She turned her gaze to my assistant.
“Cran, sturdy as ever.”
“Miss,” answered Cran.
She then turned her attention to Mr. Axell.
“Oh, Jerrald, so very nice to see you, too. I also hope you’ve been well,” she said as she stared at him, her eyes fixated on him.
“I have Sally,” he said before he turned to me and whispered something into my ear.
“Interesting. She remembers me. But does she remember, um…?”
He didn’t need to finish that sentence; I knew exactly what he was referring to.
“She remembers only what she needs to,” I answered.
“Good,” he looked to Sally, then back to me again, “I feel a little uncomfortable when she looks at me, uneasy. Tell her to blink or something.”
“I can hear you, silly,” said Sally. “Does this make you feel more at ease?”
She started batting her eyes quickly and playfully at him, giggling once again.
“She giggles a lot. Did Lucille Ball giggle?” he asked me.
“No, but Moxie Branson does,” Sally answered for me. “Remember, a little of her was downloaded into me as well.”
“That’s a little too much self-awareness for my liking, Harry. Do something about that,” Mr. Axell told me.
“No need. I can adjust my behavior according to the wishes of whomever I’m with,” she answered in my stead once more.
“She’s also a little insubordinate. You think that’s a result of water damage or something?”
“No, that might be Lucille Ball.”
He walked around his desk and poured himself another drink, once again offering me one. This time I declined.
“How about her?” he asked.
“Can she consume liquids or solids?” he asked as he stared intently at the holomessage.
“Why, yes, I…” Sally started to say until Mr. Axell shot her a disapproving look. “All right, all right. I’ll just stand here like a good little girl and look at you two talk about me.”
“I did design her with consumption capabilities just in case,”––I answered––“Why do you ask?”
“It brings me to the final traits. There were two I forgot.”
“I’ll just say they’re… special,” he said, turning the holomail message around to face me the right way. “I know the guy pretty well, but I didn’t peg him as this type. It’s a little surprising I must say.”
As I read the message, I understood why Mr. Axell was so unwilling to read it aloud––the next requests were a tad peculiar. Special indeed.
“Can it be done easily?”
“Well, this one,”––I pointed to a single item on the message––“ I can do right now. But this one,”––I pointed to the other––“would, again, require the use of your facilities, but yes, it wouldn’t take more than half an hour.”
“Just do them when you do the other mod. Let’s get to it then. Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Smith.”
He called her name into the air and for a second I thought he had gone mad or something before the accompanying sound reminded me that he was speaking to his intercom. Not a second later Mrs. Smith entered.
“Can you come here please,” he ordered her. She jogged across the expansive room, almost out of breath when she reached our position.
“Can you escort Mr. Okamura and Sally here to the robotics facilities? And when he’s done can you take her to get her hair done. Here’s a reference.”
He brought up the picture of the girl with a bob.
“That? That’s easy. I can do that in the bathroom if you’d like,” said Mrs. Smith.
“Great, whatever saves us money. Sally?”
“Oh, can I speak now?” she said with a devious smile. I couldn’t help but smirk arrogantly myself. I was pleased with my own programming.
Mr. Axell sighed as he rolled his eyes.
“Remember to be less self aware around the client; make him feel comfortable, make him think you’re a real person. You say you’re good at adjusting so adjust accordingly.”
“I got it. Geez, you’d think I weren’t my own person or something,” she said with another tiny giggle.
“Okay. Mrs. Smith, escort Sally and whatever-his-name-is, to the waiting room. Mr. Okamura,” he beckoned me to hang back.
“I recognize that sarcasm from McClure,” he said to me.
“It’s also probably a little of Ball.”
“Was she like that? I gotta say, I definitely preferred her when she was Amber. Anyway,” he gestured to me to move a little closer and he placed a hand on each of my shoulders.
“You good, you calm?” he asked me with concern in his voice.
“That’s good. Remember our conversation from the other day, okay?”
He spoke to me like the five-year-old he thought I was.
“I’m not following you,” I said.
“It’s just, your reaction when you came in today. You seem frightened,”––he stroked my shoulders as he spoke, as if trying to calm me down––“Sometimes you use words that worry me. ‘Deactivation.’ ‘Override.’ Not good words. I’d like not to hear words like that again, okay?”
If he was trying to relax me, this certainly wasn’t getting the job done.
I just nodded.
“Good. Now, go get our work done. I want to send her off as soon as you’re finished. The client doesn’t live too far from me.”
I walked towards the door and as I reached it Mr. Axell called out to me.
I turned my head to him.
“It’ll be a success. I feel it,” he rose his glass to me, “No worries, okay?”
Again, I just nodded.
I opened the door; Mrs. Smith, Sally and Cran were waiting patiently for me. I started to rub my neck incessantly.
“Are you okay, sir? Does something hurt?” Cran asked me.
“I’m okay. Just a pain in my neck.”