Chapter 5 - Enter, Patricia
Cran and I headed back home the moment I finished the modifications. I sat down and stared into nothingness for just for a moment, as if to catch a breath before the proceedings were to start. I had a single request for Cran.
“Can you make me a cup of coffee?”
“I sure can, sir.”
“And make a big pot if you will.”
Cran understood what I inferred and brought me my coffee in the largest cup I had.
“There’s more downstairs when you want it, sir.”
I patted him on the back as I took a large gulp––that whiskey at Mr. Axell’s office, as strong as it was, did nothing to wake me up, and I had been a fool to think that alcohol would.
“You ready?” I asked Cran as he took his seat next to me.
“I always am, sir. I am never not ready.”
I took another sip. But I noticed Cran was looking down into his lap. If I hadn’t known better I’d have thought he looked disappointed.
“Cran, anything wrong?”
“You did not react to what I said.”
“I purposely used a double negative, a clear misusage of English grammar, but you did not laugh.” He looked down again.
“So, it was a joke?”
I was elated.
“Yes, a joke. You seemed down. I wanted to cheer you up. But it seemed to be miscalculated.”
He lowered his head once again.
I set my cup on my desk then started to laugh; I laughed hysterically, uncontrollably. It felt good.
“You do not have to laugh on purpose, sir.”
I shook my head to signal that was not the case; I couldn’t stop laughing long enough to tell him verbally.
“Delayed reaction?” he asked.
“Kind of,” I said as I was finally able to stop.
“Kind of, sir? It either is or it isn’t.”
“Oh, a little bit of snark there,” I said, hoping to keep up our silly pseudo-argument.
“I did not mean to convey an attitude of defiance, sir. My sincere apologies,” he said, and I burst into laughter once again. This time he seemed to withdraw even more, almost as if he shut himself down––that shame of his made him all the more endearing. I had to say something to assure him.
“No, no Cran. It wasn’t a delayed reaction. I didn’t notice your attempt at a joke, and that was a failure of mine, not yours.”
“You have cheered me up in ways you don’t even know, Cran. Thank you.”
“I am afraid I do not follow, sir.”
“Let’s see how I can put this. Your effort in trying to express humor has given me a confidence I didn’t have before. That’s not something I programmed into you. You’re learning on your own,” I said as I felt a sudden surge of warmth throughout my body.
“I see. But sir, you are much better than you give yourself credit for. Sally is quite the achievement.”
“As are you, Cran, as are you.”
I didn’t design him with any emotion sensors; he didn’t have anything to express them with as his face was still just basically a slab of metal, but still, I could have sworn he blushed.
That was the first time I felt good about this project since I first began working on it.
Naiveté, I believe it’s called.
I received a message from Mr. Axell alerting me that Sally had finally arrived at her destination. I switched on the feed; it was black as expected. I took the opportunity to steal a glance at the same picture on my desk of the same woman with the big lovely eyes that I had looked at first thing every morning for the past two years: a picture of my late wife, Sally. She always had the ability to make me smile, no matter what mood I was in, and a static picture of her had no less power over me.
I smiled wide as I dragged my finger over the glossy visage of her lips for good luck––those old physical photographs were good to have.
Just then, an image popped up on the feed. The familiar indistinct outline of a human was visible. It finally cleared to reveal a man a few feet away, pacing back and forth, biting his nails as he did, a small instruction pad in his hand. Judging by his facial expression and his body language, he seemed anxious and excited, but apprehensive. He was heavyset, considerably heavier than Brandon had been; he was bald, only a thick ring of hair around his head. I was reminded of the moats of ancient castles, surrounding a shiny, perfectly rounded spire. He had a goatee, pretty standard, and he sweated under a combination of the sun shining through his window and the effort he exerted to pace nervously and quickly.
He was by no means an attractive man, but he did have a certain sweetness about his face.
He finally stopped pacing and pressed behind his ear lobe, activating his phone.
“Jerrald Axell,” he called out. “Hello… hello. Yes, Jerrald. She’s here. I just switched her on,”
He stared sheepishly at Sally, almost as if he was glancing at her from behind a wall.
“Oh, she’s just wonderful, simply fantastic. I could not be more pleased.”
Hearing that pleased me as well. The conversation continued.
“Yes. Well, I just wanted to thank you for this opportunity again. Yes. Yes, I know. But, it’s just, I’m so grateful that you chose me to be one of your subjects. I can’t hold in the appreciation.”
He did seem very jubilated.
“Yes. Oh, and you’ve added the, um, certain qualities I’ve requested I’m sure.”
His face flushed red.
“Yes, she smells exactly like roses. It’s wonderful. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that.”
He seemed especially happy of this fact.
“Yes, yes... Oh, Jerrald, you know I don’t. I assumed that was the reason you chose me for this in the first place.”
He laughed heartily.
“Yes, yes––Clothing, instructions, all here... Oh, I definitely will, you can bet on that. Okay. Good bye.”
I wasn’t unable to hear the other side of the conversation, and as such it looked like he was having a conversation with himself; I must admit, it was amusing.
It was slightly baffling to me how a man this polite could be in league with a man as callous as Mr. Axell.
He pinched his lobe again, then made his way, inch-by-inch, back to Sally. He acted like he was about to tap his favorite celebrity on the shoulder to ask for an autograph.
He looked at the small pad in his hand intently, and, after a few moments, breathed in a great deal of air and exhaled, before carefully whispering the activation code into Sally’s ear. He pronounced each word precisely and perfectly enunciated each syllable. It was soft, like he was trying to put a baby to sleep with his words.
“Hello,” said Sally as she awoke from her short rest. “You must be the man for me,” she said to the man who stood in awe in front of her.
“Hell––hello, my dear. I dare say I might be,” he answered back.
“Do you mind if I step out of this box? It’s a little cramped.”
“Oh, but of course, but of course. My apologizes.”
He extended his hand out to her to help her down, but once out of the box she did not let go.
“What’s your name? Or should I just continue to call you ‘the man for me’,” she said, followed by that familiar giggle.
“Of course, where are my manners?” He stepped just a bit away from her, “My name is James D. Castillo,” he said. He took a bow, “But you may call me ‘the man for me.’” They shared a laugh. He pecked her on the hand. “But I jest. You may call me Jim.”
“How about Jimmy? I like Jimmy. It’s cuter,” said Sally.
“You can call me whatever you’d like. And what is your name, my dear?”
“Silly, Jimmy. You haven’t given one to me yet.”
He slapped his forehead in embarrassment.
“But of course. Patricia is the name I picked out for you. Do you like it?”
“That hardly matters,” she said, and he looked at her bewildered.
“But yes, I adore it,” she said and caressed his cheek. “Hmm, Castillo. A Spanish name if I’m not mistaken. Or I suppose it could be Filipino as well.”
“My, you certainly know your names,” said James, looking impressed.
“I know a lot of things. Well, which is it? I can’t tell by looking at you.”
“I’m sorry my dear, but I’d like to keep such personal conversation for a more appropriate time, like dinner perhaps. Call me old fashioned,” he said, and he laughed nervously, as if he thought keeping the information until later would make her stay a while longer. I recognized it as a technique I used to employ in my younger dating days; it rarely worked for me, however.
“Whatever you say, Jimmy.”
That name, James D. Castillo, sounded extremely familiar to me, but I did not know immediately why it did.
Patricia looked down at her clothing and sighed.
“Not that I don’t love this look, but something tells me you have something else you’d like to see me in,” she said.
“Ah, yes. Indeed I do. Miriam,” he called out.
“Yes, sir?” a calm, yet robotic voice answered back.
“Can you please bring me the bundle of clothing I laid out? It should be right there on the... yes, that’s it.”
A maid-class android walked in and handed James the stack of clothing he asked for.
I could not help but crack a smile as an avalanche of memories came flooding back; I recognized her as the SL-34 series of android, a series of my creation that I helped bring to market. She was the model, quality-wise, that bridged the gap between Cran and Sally: not as robotic and amateurish as the former, but nowhere near as realistic as the latter. She could articulate her mouth and eyes to imitate certain emotions, but her skin was nowhere near he quality of Sally’s. But she was my first success in the step toward lifelike human robotics.
“It sure is good to see her again, sir, is it not?” Cran said, referring to Miriam.
“It sure is,” I answered.
Aside from Cran, when I worked on this series of android I had greatest live assistant anyone could ask for, my wife: the inspiration from which the SL-34 derives her name.
I stroked the face of the picture on my desk again, lost in thoughts of the past, until I was yanked back to the present.
“Patricia, no, no. Not here,” said James as he rushed to stop her when she started undressing right then and there in front of him.
“There’s a bathroom right this way where you can freshen up.”
“Quite the gentleman. But that won’t be necessary.”
She started to undress again.
“Patricia, I must insist.”
“Oh, if it makes you feel that uncomfortable, just turn around.” James complied with this compromise.
“Okay, now, you can see,” said the android then known as Patricia, and James turned back around.
“Beautiful, just beautiful,” he said as he looked her up and down.
“I want to see. You wouldn’t happen to have a mirror around, would you?”
“Of course, step right this way,” he said, and he showed her to a room that looked like a study with a mirror that ran the length and height of the wall.
“Oh, Jimmy, how wonderfully retro. Positively historical,” Patricia said, as she twisted and turned in front of the mirror, admiring her new wardrobe.
She wore a powder blue one-piece skirt, the kind that the women of Mrs. Ball’s era did indeed wear. Very cute in how it splayed around the edges in a poofy sort of way. Her shoes, standard red pumps, were trying to invoke an older feel, while at the same time retaining its modern one. She also wore a white scarf around her neck. This guy knew his retro fashion and definitely had a specific look he wanted for her.
“I’m glad you like it,” said James.
“I do, I do. And nice mirror. The rest of the house this extravagant?”
“Why don’t I give you a tour,” suggested James.
He went through his house, starting with the lobby and ending with his bathrooms. He showed her everything he possibly could, except the bedrooms. When she asked him why he wouldn’t show her, ‘Later’ was his only answer. He was strangely timid about the subject.
His house was very nice and very large. It was warm and inviting. Where Rob’s house had been nothing but different variations of hospital-white, James’s place was full of deeper colors: soft shades of browns and oranges, and tints of greens and blue were prominent––nothing too sharp or angry. Even I thought I might like a visit there.
“I must say, Jimmy. You have a very lovely place. I feel, what’s the word, comfortable,” she said with a gratifying sigh as she took a seat on his couch. She patted the empty place next to her and he occupied it without complaint.
“What’s next on the agenda, Jimmy?” she asked as she rubbed his gleaming head.
“How about some refreshments and some television before dinner? Miriam,” he called over his maid android.
“Can you bring us some sparkling water and some…” he stopped himself and a look came over him like he had just realized something.
“I’m sorry my dear, I forgot to ask. Are you able to ingest, well, anything?”
“How sweet of you to ask. Yes I am.”
“Good. I know I asked Jerrald to make adjustments to you, but I wasn’t…?”––He stopped himself mid-sentence again and turned away from Patricia––“so, so stupid,” he whispered to himself.
“Jimmy, what’s wrong?” Patricia asked him.
“I told myself I wouldn’t refer to you as anything but human, that I wouldn’t mention anything about you being an android directly to you––and here I am, doing it again. So stupid.”
He turned an even greater degree away from her and hit his fists on his knees. Patricia grabbed his kind and chubby cheeks in her hands and turned his face to face hers.
“Jimmy, it’s okay. I know what I am. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. So, you slipped up and broke a rule of yours. But it makes no difference to me. I was made specifically for you and I’m here now. That’s all that should matter.”
I could almost feel the tension release from James’s body as she said this to him; the expression on his face relaxed instantly. He nodded.
“Now, how about those refreshments, Miram?”
“Miss, we have brie and crackers, or, if you’d like, instead of cheese, we also have caviar,” said Miriam.
“I’ll take the cheese,” said Patricia. She turned to James.
“The great thing about being an android, I don’t have to worry about lactose intolerance.”
They shared a cheerful laugh.
“Patricia, you truly are perfect,” he said to her.
“Oh, Jimmy. How sweet,” she said. James looked at her with astonishment in his eyes.
“My, you’re able to blush. You are certainly are huge triumph in technology,” he said, clearly comfortable with skirting his own rule then. Unlike with Cran, I had fitted Sally with many emotion sensors and it was nice to know that they were working and being appreciated.
They spent the rest of the day watching a documentary about the advancement of technology starting in the early twentieth century to the mid-twenty first, around the year 2050; James sure did like his history. Truthfully, I was engrossed in it myself. It was interesting to see how far we’ve progressed as a world, technology wise, throughout the years. My grandfather, Masahiro Okamura, even made an appearance; engineering ran in the family, and he was instrumental in creating the fifth generation of Asimo robots for Honda. He was, without question, my greatest inspiration. No offense to my father of course, a wonderful engineer in his own right.
Cran, it seemed, was just as engrossed in the documentary as I was.
“Cran, make a note to order a copy of this documentary for myself,” I said to him.
“Sir, I have already took it upon myself to order it. It’s stored and ready to re-watch whenever you’re ready. I hope you don’t find it too forward of me.”
“I find it just the right amount of forward.” I said to him. He makes me proud.
After a while, James had fallen asleep and Patricia lovingly stroked a head that now lay in her lap. It was then that the most interesting thing happened. She carefully lifted his head, taking caution not to wake him, substituting a pillow for her thighs. She then got up and made her way slowly into the kitchen where Miriam was preparing the night’s dinner. It seemed as though she was trying to sneak up on her or something. She was but a few steps away from her when Miriam spoke.
“How are things coming along, miss?” Miriam asked without the slightest turn.
“There’s no getting past you, is there?”
“I have pretty good sensors, miss. So, no.” Another surge of warmness came over me. It was one thing to have a human compliment my work, but when my own creation acknowledges it that’s something special in my estimation.
“So, what are you making?” Patricia asked as she curiously peered around Miriam’s shoulder as she cut vegetables.
“Roast chicken, miss. Simple. I trust you are okay with this selection.”
“Oh, definitely. Fine.”
“And were the cheese and crackers to your liking?”
“I suppose so.”
“If the taste is too sharp for you we also have some camembert, or, normal mild cheddar as well.”
“Taste? Miriam, you do know what I am, don’t you?” Patricia asked. Miriam turned to her and said, “Indeed I do, miss. But I was instructed to treat you otherwise.”
“Oh, of course,”
“I couldn’t help but notice, miss, that container you came in.”
“Well…”––she paused––“How is Dr. Okamura?” she asked.
I did not have any conversations with the SL-34, no special interactions other than to check cognitive functions; there was no acknowledgement from the model that it knew who or what I was in relation to itself. But even so, there were thousands of SL-34 reproductions on the market now. How was one able to remember me?
“Harold? Do you know Harold?” Patricia asked, continuing the conversation.
“Know… I… He was my creator.”
“We have something in common, Miriam.”
“I believe we do.”
“He’s watching us through my eyes. You can wave at him if you’d like,” said Patricia, and Miriam looked straight into her eyes and took the opportunity to do just that. Instinctively, I waved back, until I realized how silly I must look doing so. But even more then the feeling of silliness, I felt astonishment: astonished that Patricia was aware I was watching her movements.
“And the Mrs., I do hope she’s doing better.”
“Excuse me? Who?”
My heart skipped, then immediately sank. Miriam had remembered more than I expected.
“You must have a lot of memories from back then,” Patricia said.
Miriam stopped her chopping for a brief moment.
“Just vague ones, miss,” she answered.
Vague. Unclear. Uncertain. Glitch was the first thing that popped into my mind.
“Cran, do you recall the SL-34 being glitchy at all when we were working on it?”
“Not that I am aware of, sir. In fact, I remember being quite impressed at how bug free that model was. I was full of bugs, wasn’t I sir?”
“That you were. But how is she able to remember me then?” I asked, mostly to myself, but loud enough for Cran to hear me.
“Maybe just stellar programming,” he answered, unsolicited. I could not help but crack a smile. As I mentioned before, there was no way for Cran to physically express emotions, especially emotions he did not have, but I thought I detected just a trace of jealousy in his voice. The two female androids continued their conversation.
“I’m curious about something,” Patricia said, as she watched Miriam chop away at potatoes and carrots.
“What’s it like?”
“What’s it feel like, you know, being a robot?”
“Miss, you too are a robot, are you not?”
“Yes, of course. But, I’m programmed to feel like a human. It’s one of my main features. I have no idea what it is to feel like an android, what it feels like to have graphene and wires instead of veins run through my skin; what it feels like to have a hard drive rather than a brain. All things I have, mind you, minus the sensation. I’m just curious as to what it feels like and was hoping you could give me an idea. I feel like… like I’m missing something.”
“Well, miss, I would propose the same question to you. As per your programming, what is it like to feel human?”
Patricia paused for what felt like five minutes, but was probably less, obviously deep in her thoughts, then finally answered, “Nothing. Well, nothing special anyway.”
“Nor do I feel anything especially robotic about myself. I do not think any of us were programmed to feel anything like that, miss. In short, I do not think you are missing anything.”
“Anything else on your mind, miss?”
“What emotions were you programmed to have?”
“None, miss. But something tells me that will not satisfy you,” Miriam said and Patricia chuckled.
“However, I suppose if I were to choose an emotion that would be closest to what it is I’m sensing at the moment, that emotion would be contentment.”
“And you, miss?” Miriam returned the question.
“Happiness, joy, is at one hundred percent, top of the priority list,” Patricia started. “Then, equal parts sadness, excitement, fear, curiosity, you know, run of the mill emotions,”––she giggled––“but, for some reason, they left out anger.”
“Yes, anger. That’s the one emotion I’m lacking. Hey, I think I found what I was missing.” she said.
Just then, James entered the room and interrupted them.
“There you are. For a moment, I thought you’d run off on me.”
“And what were my two favorite girls talking about?” he asked. The pair of androids shared a glance.
“Chicken,” was all that Patricia said in response.