The "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence" Fanfiction Online Anthology

"Supertoys When Winter Comes"
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Comedy Night at the Shangri-La Hotel
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Fictions of the Future
Links and Connections
Updates and Upgrades

 Supertoys When Winter Comes
by Brian Aldiss


In Mrs. Henry Swinton's garden, it was not always summer. Monica had ventured out into the crowded city with David and Teddy and boutght a VRD for "Eurowinter". Now the almond trees were barren of leaves. Their branches were loaded with snow. The snow would never melt as long as the disk kept playing.

So on the fake walls and windows of the Swinton simulation house the snow would remain lodged forever on the windowsills. The icicles hanging from the gutters would never melt as long as the disk kept playing.

The frosty blue winter sky would remain forever the same, as long as the disk kept playing.

David and Teddy were playing by the frozen ornamental pond. Their game was simple. They slid from opposite sides of the pond and narrowly missed each other as they passed. This always caused them to laugh.

"I nearly hit you that time, Teddy!" David cried.

Monica watched from the window of her living room. Bored by their repetitive actions, she switched thewindow off and turned away. The synthetic serving man hobbled forward from his alcove and enquired gravely if there was anything he could get her.

"No thank you, Jules."

"I'm sorry to see you appear to be still grieving, ma'am."

"It's quite all right, Jules. I shall get over it."

"Perhaps you would like me to ask your friend Dora-Belle over?"

"That is not necessary."

Henry Swinton had recently equipped the serving man with an update. It had affected his walking skills, which were now less certain. It made him appear quite realistically as an older man, and so had not been corrected. He now spoke in a more human way, and Monica liked him better.

She called Henry on the Ambient. His face came up smiling on the globe.

"Monica, hi! How's tricks? It looks as if the take-over is going to happen. I'm due to talk to Havergail Bronzwick in nine minutes, EST. If we clinch it, the deal will make Synthmania the biggest synthetics company on the planet, bigger than anything in Japan or the States."

Monica listened alertly, although she realized her husband was mouthing a rehearsed speech he was about to deliver to Bronzwick.

"When I think where we've come from, Monica...If this deal goes through, I'll--we'll--be three million mondos richer. I already have great plans for us. We'll move to a better place, sell off David and Teddy, get some of the new batch of synths, buy an island..."

"Will you be home soon?"

The question brought Henry's excited talk to a halt. He said cautiously, "You know I have to be away this week. I hope to get back Monday..."

She switched off.

Sitting in her swivel chair, hands clasped, she caught a movement from the corner of her eye. David and Teddy were still sliding on the pool, giving their small cries of merriment. Perhaps they would continue forever. She rose, pressing open the window, and called to them.

"Come in, children. Go upstairs and play."

"All right, Mummy!" David called. He climbed from the frozen pool, turning to help his clumsy friend over the plastoid lip.

"I'm getting so fat, David," said Teddy. He laughed.

"You were always fat, Teddy. That's what I like about you," said David. "It makes youn more cuddly."

They scampered through the front door, which squelched shut behind them. Upstairs they went, simulating jollity between them. "I will race you!" David called to Teddy. It was so childlike. Monica saw with a certain melencholy their heels disappear between the bannisters.

The clock on her Ambient chimed five and switched on. She turned to the machine and was soon networking. All round the planet, other people, mainly women, began to discuss religious issues. Some dispatched their electronic thoughts to arrive on paper. Others showed photomontages they had made.

"I need God because I am alone so frequently," said Monica to the multitude. "My baby died. But I don't know where God is. Maybe he doesn't visit cities."

Answers poured in.

"Are you mad enough to think God lives a country existence? If so, forget it. God's everywhere."

"God is only a prayer away, wherever you live. I will pray for you."

"Of course you are alone. God is just a concept, invented by an unhappy man. Get a life, darling. Check up on the neurosciences."

"It's because you think you are alone that God cannot get to you!"

She worked through the answers, recording them, for two hours. Then she switched off the Ambient and sat in silence. Silence previaled upstairs alos.

One day, she was determined, she would make an analysis of all the messages she had received. A synthesis would be valuable. She would composr an Ambproduction of the results . Her name would become known. She would dare to walk -- with a guard -- in the city streets. People would say, "Why, that's Monica Swinton!"

She shook herself from her daydream. Why was David so quiet?

David and teddy were sprawling on the floor of their room together, looking at a vidbook. They giggled at the antics of the performing animals. A chubby little elephant in tartan trousers kept falling over a drum which rolled down a street towards a river.

"He is going to go in that river, sooner or later!" said Teddy, between chortles.

The pair of them looked up when Monica appeared. She stooped, picked up the book and snapped it shut.

"Haven't you tired of this toy yet?" she asked. "You have had it for three years. You must know exactly what's going to happen to that silly little elephant."

David hung his head, although he was used to his mother's disapproval.

"We just like what's going to happen, Mummy. I bet if we watch it again Elly will roll right into the river. It's so funny."

"But we won't watch it if you don't want us to," Teddy added.

She repented of her outburst; after all, she knew their limitations. Setting the vidbook down on the carpet, she said with a sigh, "You'll never grow up."

"I am trying to grow up, Mummy. This morning, I watched a natural history science program on DTV."

Monica said that that was good. She asked what David had learnt. He told her he had learnt about dolphins. "We are part of the natural world, aren't we, Mummy?"

When he lifted up his arms to her for a cuddle, she backed away, her mind choked with the thought of being imprisoned for ever in an eternal childhood, never developing, never escaping...

"I expect Mummy's ever so busy," said David to Teddy, when Monica had left.

They sat there, the two of them, looking at each other. Smiling.

* * * * *

Henry Swinton was dining with Petrushka Bronzwick. A couple of decorative blondes were accompanying them at the table. They were in a restaurant with an anachronistic live quartet playing nearby. Snthmania's friendly takeover of Havergail Bronswick PLC was proceeding satisfactorily: lawyers were due to complete all documents by the day after the morrow.

Scene: a restaurant only for the wealthy. Boast: a real window in the ceiling, letting in summer light sullied only slightly by pollution.

Petrushka and Henry, with their ladies, were tucking in to two small sucking pigs, turning on spits beside their table. The pigs sizzled and dripped goodness. The diners washed everything down with vintage champagne.

"Oh, this is so good!" exclaimed the blonde who called herself Bubbles. She belonged to Petrushka Bronswick. She mopped her chin with a lawn napkin. "I could go on eating forever, couldn't you?"

Leaning forward with knife and fork poised, Henry said, "We have to keep ahead of the competition, Pet. Every cubic centimeter of the cerebral cortex in the human brain contains fifty million nerve cells. That's what we're up against, you realise. The day of synthetic brains is over and done. Forget it. We're manufacturing real brains from yesterday on."

"Sure," agreed Petrushka. She leaned forward to cut herself another slice of belly, waving away the waiter who came forward. "Waiters are always so stingy in serving." Her silvery laugh was famous, and dreaded in some quarters. She was just into her twenties, already on Preservane, spectrally thin, with short multi-colored hair, blue eyes and a slight twitch in her multi-colored cheek. "And we're talking one hundred million nerve cells. But since we junked silicon we're on our way to win out. The question, Henry, reamins one of funding."

Pushing a succulent mouthful into his face before replying, Henry said, "Synthmania's Crosswell tape will take care of that little item. You've seen the figures. The GNP of Kurdistan is peanuts in comparison. Production is up again this year, fourteen per cetn. Crosswell was our first big-selling line, back when we were Synthank. It's conquered the Western world. The Pill has nothing on the Crosswell."

"Sure, I've got a Crosswell in me," said Angel Pink. She pointed downwards to her lap with a dainty finger. She was the one Henry fancied. For emphasis, she added -- sideways glance at Henry -- "it's in me all the time."

Leaning towards her, Henry granted her a twinkle and one of his favorite spiels. "Three-quarters of this over-populated world of ours are starving. We are lucky to have more than enough of everything, thanks to the capping of population-production. Obesity is our problem, not malnutrition."

"So so true!" sighed Bubbles. Red lips, white teeth, she champed on a golden strand of crackling.

"Is there anyone who doesn't have a Crosswell working for them in their small intestine?" Henry asked, shaking his ehad by way of an answer to his own question. "Jim Crosswell was a nanobiologist of genius. I was the one who found him, gave him a job. This safe parisitic worm enables anyone to eat up to one hundred percent more food and still keep his or her figure, right?"

"Sure, one of yesterday's great inventions," said Petrushka, looking spiteful. "Our Senoram is just about as profitable."

"Costs more for one thing," said Bubbles, but her remark was drowned out by Angel Pink clapping her pretty little hands. "We're going to make a killing!" She raised her glass. "Here's to you two clever people!"

In responding to the toast, Henry wondered where she got the 'we' from. She would pay for that error. He would see to it.

* * * * *

Monica was about to go skiing. The synthetic serving-man accompanied her to the cabin installed in the callerium. He proffered his arm in a courteous manner. She accepted it. She loved that touch of grace. It evoked for her a distant half-forgotten childhood where there had been ... She had forgotten what there had been. Perhaps a loving father?

Once in the cabin, she hooked up and dialled the "Mountain Snow" picture. Immediately, down came the snow, blizzard force. Visibility was bad. She laboured uphill. It was scary. She was utterly alone. A rare tree was shrouded in white.

Once she gained the shelter, she went in and rested, panting, before strapping on her skis. The challenge was to cold, the remorseless elements. She had met it, beaten it. The snow storm was tapering off. Before plunging downhill, she set the ski mask on her face. In that great exhilerating rush, her body braced itself before the mad, the roaring, the furious, the insupportable air. Behind the mask, her mouth opened in a shriek of purest joy. This was freedom -- this embrace of gravity!

It was over. She stood alone, naked, in the enclosing cubicle.

When she was dressed, she emerged. Time perhaps for a sip of vodka. She preferred the United Dairies Vodka, which came with the milk ready mixed.

David and Teddy were standing there uneasily. "We were only playing, Mummy," said David.

"We didn't make a noise," said Teddy. "It was Jules made a noise, falling over."

Turning, Monica saw Jules lying on the floor. His left leg was slowly kicking. In his fall, he had reached for support and brought down Monica's reproduction Kussinski of which she was proud -- of which she always spoke whenever her friend Dora-Belle called. It lay shattered beside the serving man's cranium. The cranium had split open, revealing the auditory and speech matrix.

As Monica fell to her knees beside the body, David said, "It doesn't matter, Mummy. We were only playing when he tripped. He's only an android."

"Yes, he's just another android, Mummy," said Teddy. "You can soon buy another."

Oh God! It's Jules. Poor Jules! He was a friend to me." She pressed a hand to her face. She shed no tear.

"You can soon buy us another, Mummu," said David. He timidly touched her shoulder.

She turned on him. "And what do you think you are! You're only a little android yourself."

As soon as the words were out, she regretted them. But David was emitting a scream, among which words were entangled. "Not...not an android...I'm real...real like you, Mummy...only you don't love program...never loved me..." he ran in small circles and, when the words had given out, ran for the stairs, still emitting his kind of scream.

Teddy followed him. They disappeared from sight. Monica rose to her feet and stood trembling over the body of the serving-man. She covered her eyes with her hands. Her despair was not so easily shut out.

A series of crashes came from the rooms above. Monica went warily to investigate.

Teddy lay sprawled on the carpet, arms outstretched. David knelt over him. He had opened Teddy's tummy, and was investigating the complex mechanism of its interior.

Teddy saw Monica's look of horror. "It's all right, Mummy. I let David do it. We're trying to find out if we're real or just -- urrrp--"

David had removed a plug from high in the bear's chest, near the stabliser, where the heart's left ventricle would have been in a human.

"Poor Teddy! He's dead! He really was a machine. So that means--"

As he spoke, he was waving his arms uncontrollably. He fell back, striking his face. It cracked revealing plastic working beneath.

"David! David! Don't grieve! We can repair--"

"Stop speak!" He shouted the words forcibly as, jumping up, he rushed past her, flead from the room and leaped down the stairs. She stood over the inert teddy bear, listening to David crashing about below. Of course, she thought, his eyes can no longer focus on the same object. His poor little face has come apart.

Fearful, she approached the stairs. She must call Henry for help. Henry must return home.

A brilliant crackling sounded. The intense splutter of freed electricity. Dazzling light. Darkenss.

"David!" But she was falling.

David had strukc the house's control centre, wrenching it from the wall in a fury of pain and despair. Everything stopped playing.

The house disappeared, and the garden with it. David stood in the midst of a skeletal structure of wired scaffolding, bedded here and there in breeze blocks. Rubble lay underfoot. Acrid smoke drifted at ground level.

After a long stretch of immobility, he made his way forward, treading where the house had been, treading where the snowy garden had been, where he had played so often with his friend  Teddy.

He stood in an alleyway, in an unknown world. Old pavement was slimy underfoot. Weeds grew between slabs. The detrius of an earlier epoch lay before him. He kicked a crushed can labelled 'oka-col'.

A drowsy light played over all; the summer's day was coming to a close. He could not see clearly but, with his right eye, caught sight of a sickly rose browing by a crumbling brick wall.

Crossing to the plant, he plucked a bud. Its beauty and softness reminded him once more of Mummy.

Over her body he said, "I am human, Mummy. I love you and I feel sad just like real people, so I must be human...Mustn't I?"

 --Transcribed from "Supertoys Last All Summer Long" and Other Tales of Future Time" by Brian Aldiss, Copyright 2001, published by St. Martin's Press