Forewarned is forearmed; if you don’t like sentimental
stories, I suggest you stop reading here. But if, like me, you’ve ever loved and lost and longed for what you lost,
read on. Dedicated to Laurie E. Smith, who writes the best “A.I.” fictions on this site, and to “fom4life”,
who, despite the fact that he looks nothing like Jude Law, does the best impersonation of Joe.
I do not own “A.I. [Artificial Intelligence]”,
its characters, concepts, etc., which are the property of the late Stanley Kubrick, of Steven Spielberg, DreamWorks SKG, Warner
Brothers, et al.
Serin Masters stirred under the bed covers. Something
draped itself across her chest, gently pressing her back on her pillows.
She opened her eyes and gazed into a familiar pair of cool
mint green eyes that smiled into her brown ones.
“What time is it?” she asked, yawning delicately.
“Six-thirty by the clock, late sunrise by the sky,”
her husband replied.
She started to push him away, but he leaned over her and
kissed her on the eyelids, his signal that he wanted more. “Joe, not now, I have to get up; I have that meeting.”
“We’ve got some time, haven’t we? I’ll
cook breakfast for you afterward.” He cocked his dark-haired head and smiled at her that calmly smoldering smile that
always got around her.
“Wasn’t last night enough? You’re insatiable,”
she argued, half-faking.
“It’ll keep me from getting distracted later
on,” he said. The smile had spread to his eyes, setting them aglow in that way she found irresistible.
“All right, but if I’m late, you owe me,”
“A debt I’d pay gladly,” he said. She
flipped back the covers and let him in.
Her colleagues and peers called her impractical for marrying
a danseur from the Palladium Ballet, but when she had first met Joe Masters, Serin’s practicality had vanished, dissolved
by a glance from his impossibly green eyes. She knew she wasn’t his first: she’d met him at a spring ball for
the Companionates employees when he had arrived with another woman, his then paramour who’d later abandoned him to disappear
with an old boyfriend. The eyes of every woman in the ballroom had gone to him and he’d been fair game once he’d
been left forsaken. But he’d only made eye contact with Serin, and once their eyes had met, something started to flow
He’d escorted her home at the end of that night,
but it formed only the start of an interesting pairing: a Mecha designer and a male danseur? Impossible! her critics scoffed.
But after a two-year courtship, they’d married and had been married for almost three years now. Every day, she found
herself growing more and more in love with him.
“You love me too much,” he said, afterward,
still covering her, his eyes still locked on hers.
“Can you tell?” she asked.
“It’s too easy to get around you,” he
said, grinning wickedly. “I only have to look at you in just the right way.”
She held his narrow-jawed face in her hands, stroking his
cheekbones with her thumbs. “That’s why I married you.”
“Just for my eyes?” he asked, a humorous drawl.
“I didn’t want any other pair to be the first
ones I look into in the morning and the last I look into at night,” she replied.
“Here, I’m the one who’s supposed to
wax poetic; you form the brains of this marriage.”
“Your art is rubbing off on me.”
They weren’t late, not for her going to her meeting,
not for his going to rehearsal. She hated parting with him when she dropped him off at the theatre, but she got to watch him
walk to the door.
Genetic perfection, his admirers and the more charitable
critics called him. He looked perfect, to the point that some people mistook him for a Mecha, which amused him. He stood three
inches taller than her five-foot seven and weighed in at a lean one forty-five, with an elegantly narrow waist. Dance formed
such a part of his life that he danced even when he walked. As he walked to the stage door, he chenet-turned and leapt up
the concrete steps to the door, landing in a striking pose, one hand over his head, the other on his hip, turning his head
to grin at her. She laughed as he bounded through the open door, out of sight; only then did she drive away.
Later, at work, as she sat at her drawing desk, roughing
a design for a new lover-Mecha, she caught herself humming that old 20th Century tune Joe was always singing, “Are there
stars out tonight? / I don’t know if it’s cloudy or bright/ ‘Cause they all disappear from view/For I only
have eyes for you.”
The phone rang. She pressed the speaker switch as she picked
it up, and touched the “Save” button on the desk’s top.
“Mrs. Joseph Masters?”
“This is Shohola County Hospital. Your husband was
just admitted to our intensive care ward a half hour ago.”
Her blood turned to mercury. “What happened?”
Her eye darted to the framed photo of Joe on the edge of the drawing desk.
“He was injured in a freak accident during dress
rehearsal; scenery collapsed on him. He has a massive head trauma…”
Serin touched the “Close” button on her work.
Dry-mouthed and not hearing the rest of the nurse’s message, she replied, “I’ll be right there.”
She slammed the phone off and ran for the door.
Joe lay on a life support bed, wires and tubes taped into
his flesh. Monitors built into the bed rail tracked his vital signs. Bandages swathed his head. An oxygen mask covered his
nose and mouth. His eyelids lay open, the pupil of one eye dilated until it almost eclipsed the green of his iris, the other
constricted to a pinhole. She sat down beside him and touched his face.
A white-coated doctor approached. Serin did not look up.
“What are his chances of living?” she asked.
“He has a 60% chance of surviving, but his quality
of life will be perhaps 20 to 40%,” the doctor replied.
Serin leaned over her beloved and laid her cheek against
his, feeling the faint bristles there. Come back to me, Joe, she begged.
Companionates gave her a generous medical leave. She spent
most of that time in the hospital, at his side, leaving only for sleep or to take care of her own needs. At home, she slept
on the couch, not daring to sleep in their marriage bed. Too many memories.
She was a virgin when they married. He was not, but he
respected her. The fact that she was still a virgin made him marvel.
“You make a living designing lover-Mechas, and yet
you are a total virgin?” he had said as they sat together in the central park of the gated community where she lived,
she on a bench, he with his head on his arms folded next to her on the seat. “Haven’t you ever sampled any of
your own products?”
“We haven’t made too many male Mechas; they’re
much harder to design,” she had replied. “Besides, I want my first to be Orga,” she added, caressing his
As she caressed it now. The monitors showed less activity
than the day before; his brain waves had fallen to a low and his heart beat slow and shallow.
The doctor came in. “Mrs. Masters?”
She turned to him. “Yes?”
“Could you step out into the hallway?”
She rose obediently and followed him out into the hallway.
“Mrs. Masters, your husband is never going to recover,”
he informed her. “You’ve seen it yourself; each day he loses ground. He doesn’t respond to voices or movement,
his vital signs are less and less each day. It’s time you let him go.”
“I can’t,” she blurted out. She paused.
“No, tomorrow or the day after. There’s something I have to do first.”
That afternoon she went out and borrowed a scancamera and
a laptop from the lab at work. She spent much of that evening, well into the night scanning Joe’s inert body, taking
snapshots of his entire frame, recording the proper coordinates and proportions. She got everything in: the shape of his head,
the contour of his hairline, the angle of his face, the mold of his jaws, the length of his neck, width of his shoulders,
depth of his torso, waist, hips, the length and molding of his disciplined feet. She even took the proportions of his external
secrets. She had to recalculate them slightly to consider his injuries and the debilitation that had set in, but she got everything
down in memory.
When she finished, she kissed him one last time and went
home to rest. For once since the accident, she slept soundly.
Next day at noon, she signed the release papers. The doctors
took Joe off the life support. The monitor displays spiked once, then slowly curled into a flat line.
She did not attend the funeral. She had already said goodbye.
In another way, one she barely could discuss with anyone, she wouldn’t have to.
Some of her girlfriends who came to console her afterward—thinking
her absence meant she was inconsolable—suggested that she should have some of Joe’s tissue put in cryogenic storage
so she could clone it later on and at least be able to bear his child/genetic replica. But she waved these ideas aside: It
would be too close for comfort and she had wanted only to bear Joe’s child the old fashioned way. They had tried to
obtain a pregnancy license, but their request had been denied: they both carried a faulty gene sequence that, if expressed,
could prove fatal to the one child they would be permitted. Besides, she was too busy working on another kind of replica.
When she wasn’t working on her ordered projects,
she worked on the replica: “Joe 2.0”, she called it. Some coincidence transferred her to the project group trying
to resolve the problems with the male lover-Mechas.
On her own time, she located a swatch of synthetic hair
the same onyx-black as Joe’s had been. She had no trouble finding a synthetic skin that matched his naturally tanned
complexion. But she had to special order the irises: the supply house didn’t carry the right shade of green; they cost
her more, but she didn’t give a dang about the cost. For the first time in weeks, she laughed to herself, remembering
the last conversation she had with him, the morning of the accident.
“The artistic director wants me to bleach my hair
blond for the next season,” he’d said.
“Oh, something about trying to break what she calls
my stereotype appearance.”
“Talk her out of it; with your complexion you’d
“Tell her that,” he said, smirking sourly.
“She seems to think I can change my hair color at will.”
Serin contemplated changing the hair color, but it didn’t
look right on the computer model.
She sweated for hours over minute details, the shape and
length of the nails for instance; next day it might be the shape of the ankles. She had to get the infrastructure underneath
perfect, or the resemblance would pale. It had to be just right. He—the first time she thought of this creation as a
he—had to be ideal, identical, a perfect simulacrum, right down to the mole between his shoulder blades and the subtle
blemish on his left cheek that didn’t mar his appearance.
She ran across some old soundfiles of an interview he’d
done for PRI and used these as a template for the voice synthesizer. She had to get it just right, not just his suave British
accent, but his sentence and voice patterns as well. Of course there would be hairline differences, but she had to get it
Just as she got the designs for her private project completed,
the project group finally devised the proper schematic and programming for the prototype externals. Her problem seemed solved.
Then one day, Kroller, the director, called her into his
office. She expected to hear it about how she’d been working on an underground project.
“You’ve been working like a dog since you lost
your husband,” he said, once she’d sat down.
“It’s how I get by; he used to accuse me of
working too much all the time anyway, and I’ll admit it’s gotten worse,” she replied, trying not to babble
as her mind braced itself for defense.
“I saw your little surprise design there: it’s
ideal for this project.”
She realized she must have left a copy of the master plan
on the office network. Inwardly she kicked herself, but she managed, “Well, thank you, Mr. Kroller, but I have to tell
“I know you’ve worked hard on it, and it’s
paid off. I say it’s your best design yet; I had Maddy look at the master conceptual, and you know what she said?”
She almost feared what the little mouse in accounting had
to say. “What did she think?”
“She said if she had the cash, she wouldn’t
mind shelling out 250 NB for his services.”
Serin let herself smile, though inwardly, her heart was
in a knot. “I’m glad she liked it that much, but you see—“
“We’ll compensate you for your time, perhaps
you might like to take the position opening in the Akron plant? Their senior designer is moving on to another company.”
“Uh, yeah, well, uh…”
“Excellent. I’ll tell the programming crew
it’s all set.”
He beamed on her. “I’m sure you want to put
the finishing touches on the schematics, so I’ll let you go.”
She rose to leave. “Thanks, but, uh…”
He shooed at her with his hands. “Go on with you.”
She went. Back in her office, she cursed herself for not
speaking up. Joe had always chided her for being slow to defend herself, and now it had cost her. She looked at the one photo
she kept of him; she had to turn it around, the eyes seemed to rebuke her.
She burned the design onto a set of CD-RWs and set them
aside to put in a safe deposit box. To the copy in her computer, she made a few slight changes to the design. She almost deleted
the play list for the music centers, which the replica could self-trigger by a toss of the head; she’d put Joe’s
favorites on there, including “I Only Have Eyes for You”. If she ever got up the courage to take action, she had
the means to prove her ownership.
She got transferred a week later. She kept any eye on the
inner workings of the company, watching and waiting to hear more about her lost brainchild.
For starters, Kroller’s team of philistines changed
the name of the prototype. “Joe 2.0” meant nothing to the consumers (!) so marketing had rechristened it—she
couldn’t think of it as a “he”—as “Gigolo Joe”, a moniker that made her gag. To herself
she called the prototype “The Thing”.
A year and a half later, The Thing was made operational.
Out of duty to the company, she watched the vids of Kroller and his cohorts loading the batteries into The Thing’s chest
and turning on the processors, but she closed her eyes just as the image came to life. She heard from other sources that Kroller
had personally had The Thing transported to Rouge City for its trials. It met with brilliant success; she caught herself wishing
she had been it’s first customer. After that, a procurer out of Haddonfield New Jersey had bought and licensed The Thing.
She had a hacker friend of hers run a trapdoor off The
Thing’s tracking device housed in a pager on a chain around its neck, not that she followed The Thing’s every
move, but she kept tabs on it, making sure it was still in operation. The clientele in the area around Haddonfield kept The
Thing on its toes.
Six years passed like this. She buried herself in her work,
shunned male attentions, tried not to think much about her double loss. At one point, after reading Allen Hobby’s monograph
“How Can a Robot Become Human?” she contemplated having Joe 2.0 built to order and programmed for this “imprinting”
he had proposed. But one major problem stood in her way: Not money, she could easily afford the price for special ordering,
but the laws of copyright. The Thing was now patent: they’d made five of them, which were now scattered over the world,
and any attempt she made toward a “Joe 2.1” would cost her the job she loved and set off a backlash of lawsuits
she didn’t need.
And then, a month or two later, something gave way in the
chain mail of her troubles.
The Thing was implicated in the murder of a client, according
to news reports. It had then ended up in a Flesh Fair near Barn Creek, but it had escaped in the company of a child that apparently
had gotten caught in the rush, mistaken for a Mecha. She felt a whisper of relief, but she knew the inevitable was yet to
A day later, the police caught up with The Thing in Rouge
City, but it had escaped again in a stolen amphibicopter, accompanied by its child-friend. To top that off, the child was
allegedly Allen Hobby’s prototype child-Mecha whose imprinter had unceremoniously dumped in a forest.
The time to act had come. She took some of her unused vacation
time and packed her bags, taking the next hyperjet to Shohola. The disks with the original schematics were in her breast pocket.
She arrived in Shohola not a moment too soon. The police
had captured Gigolo Joe—she couldn’t call it…him…”The Thing” any more—and had shipped
him back to Haddonfield. His owner, somewhat unwilling to part so abruptly with his best Mecha, had decided for clemency and
was shipping him back to Shohola for interrogation. A crew there would determine the Mecha’s innocence or guilt before
any further action.
Kroller had been unceremoniously removed from his post
following an indiscretion involving a female prototype that hadn’t been tested yet. His second-in command, Trask Zipes,
had succeeded him; he heard out Serin’s story.
“It sounds exactly like something Mert Kroller would
do,” he said when she finished. The slightly sympathetic edge to his tone suggested more than a mere understanding of
“And for that matter, barring any malfunctions or
viruses, he couldn’t have killed that woman,” she said.
“How do you know that?”
“I designed him after…I mean, I based his design
on my late husband, right down to elements of personality. Joe wouldn’t have harmed anyone, not deliberately. He was
the gentlest man I ever met, and the sim would show that same gentleness.”
Zipes nodded. “As soon as the interrogation is over,
results pending of course, I’ll see what I can do to have him restored to you.”
That afternoon, they admitted her to the maintenance lab.
A group of technicians prepared an unpadded steel armchair with several metal straps and an array of electronic boxes mounted
into its sides and back.
“Have you ever witnessed an interrogation?”
Zipes asked Serin as he led her to her seat in the observation gallery, already starting to fill with interns, a few police
agents in plain clothes, and a couple discreet reporters.
“I’ve heard about them, but I’ve never
had the opportunity,” she admitted.
“They aren’t as harsh as they sound, barring
the outcomes,” he said, going down to the gallery floor.
Once the techs had everything prepared, a panel in the
floor beneath a large window slid back, revealing a shaft. A platform slowly rose up through the aperture, bearing two tall
men in security uniforms flanking a slightly shorter, slim figure in form-fitting clothes.
For a moment he stood silhouetted against the window, a
lean but shapely black form against the diffused white light.
At a nudge from one of the guards, the figure stepped forward.
As the window darkened at a command from Zipes, the stranger’s features became visible.
He had Joe’s boyish narrow face and figure. He moved
with Joe’s cocky grace and agility, even his swagger and poise, though this suffered slightly: his left leg limped,
but it hardly deterred him. The front of his iridescent silver shirt hung torn open to his chest, uncovering a huge gray scratch
on his upper left breast, close to his shoulder, a scratch so deep it almost showed his infrastructure.
He stepped into the circle of light around the technicians.
He lifted his head.
For a moment, looking into them, Serin nearly mistook the
simulacrum for the man: the same too perfect sparkle, the same hue. Their mild impassibility gave him away as what he was:
He turned his face in her direction; she caught herself
smiling on him. Something flickered in his face and he looked her in the eye. Was he sizing her up as a conquest?
“Hey Joe, whaddya know?” Zipes said, breaking
A smile played over the Mecha’s lower face, but did
not reach the eyes. “More than I care to, Mr. Zipes,” he replied, his voice a near perfect match of a dead voice
she almost didn’t recognize. “More than anyone would care to, Orga or Mecha, man or woman.” His refined
cadences, his soft bari-tenor, even his mild English accent…
“I’m sure you have some idea why we’ve
brought you here.”
“If it has to do with the tragic demise of Ms. Bevins,
I can assure you that I played no part in it.”
“You probably didn’t, but this procedure is
just to prove your innocence. If you’ll just undress—just your jacket and shirt will do.”
The female interns and techs giggled, half nervously,
half with raucous appreciation. The Mecha removed his coat, which a tech took from him, then he undid the rest of his shirt
front. Someone in the back of the room whooped and started applauding, which turned contagious among the women (and some of
the men), but the simulacrum paid them little heed. His gaze stayed fixed to Serin’s face the whole time, as if he asked,
Well now, what do you think?
Then he glanced up at the interns. “I am afraid you
ladies will have to wait; I already have a date: with destiny.”
The techs helped him onto the chair. They closed the clamps
on his shoulder and hip joints, then over his wrists and ankles. He stared at the clamps, expressionless; Serin knew she imagined
the resignation she saw in his face.
Zipes stepped before him. “Joe, open please?”
The Mecha opened his mouth as wide as it would go, tilting his head back slightly. Zipes pressed on the inside of his jaw
and his upper back.
A small “snick” rippled the silence and the
Mecha’s faceplate lifted away from the face in one piece, uncovering the gunmetal colored understructure. Serin caught
herself shuddering at the sight. Another tech opened the flesh over the Mecha’s chest and clamped it open, uncovering
the lower memory banks and other electronic viscera: heartbeat simulator, artificial breath regulator, pheromone simulator,
tubing, fiber optics…
A small black box lifted out of the forehead, while another
emerged in the torso. The techs attached to them the cables that ran from the arms of the chair. As the room went dark, Zipes
stepped over and turned on a holojector attached under the chair seat.
“March 29, 20 p.m.” he requested as a beam
of light emerged from the projector lens. The light dimmed then resolved itself into a cube-shaped viewing area about a foot
on a side. In it, they saw the image of an anonymous hotel room, close up on a blonde woman lying on her back, her clothes
open. The view swung away from her. Light chatter, the voices of the buyer and the bought, post-act, forgettable. She got
up, moved out of range; their angle changed again, looking at her as she dressed. The image slid up and down; he must have
been making himself presentable as well.
They parted. Their view moved out onto the street: passersby,
music, neon lights. Their line of vision kept panning and swiveling and swinging back and forth and bobbing up and down; he
must have been dancing as he walked.
Into another hotel, chat with the desk clerk, up the stairs,
pause before room 102. The palm of his hand moved into view, a mirror coming visible on its surface. Retouching his appearance,
changing his hair color—Serin chuckled: to her he looked as bad as the computer model had predicted. Knock on the door.
No answer, enter.
A dark-haired woman lay sprawled on the bed, face down,
motionless. Move in close over her. No sound of breathing. His hand went to her cheek, picking up a tear…no, wrong color.
The angle changed, taking in the room. A heavyset man stepped
out of the shadows. The depth perception wasn’t good, but Serin thought she saw blood on the man’s shirtsleeve
as he moved toward the bed. The man leaned over the dead woman, then went out.
A moment passed, then the view shifted, going out, going
down, leaving by a rear entrance, down the street into an alleyway.
At a gesture from Zipes, the holojector switched off; the
lights came up and the techs removed the plugs and resealed the Mecha’s chest. Zipes closed the faceplate. Once restored
and once the techs freed him from the clamps, Joe stood up, his face going briefly from his default look of gentle seduction
to something like relief.
“Innocent as he claimed,” Zipes pronounced
to the room as a tech handed Joe his shirt and jacket. As the interns and others dispersed, he dressed himself, his eye returning
to Serin. The escort led him back to the shaft, but before they descended she let herself look him in the eye. Something that
had lain dormant for too long stirred itself. She smiled at him. She thought she saw him wink.
Back in Zipes’s office, she weighed the possibilities.
“He’s so much like Joe, my late husband,”
“That was what you hoped to achieve when you designed
him,” Zipes replied.
“What are you going to do with him now?”
Zips shrugged his hands. “With the stigma associated
with him, he’s no longer serviceable or licensable, at least in this region. If you want him, we’ll let you have
him. He is yours, after all. We’ll even refurbish him for you, he’s a little worse for wear from his adventures.”
“I was thinking of applying to Cybertronics for help
“Reprogramming him how?”
“I read Allen Hobby’s monograph on imprinting,
and I was considering…having Joe reprogrammed to imprint.
Zipes’s black eyes regarded her in silence. “Are
you sure you want this? You’ve probably heard about the difficulties the Swinton family had with the David prototype.
You have to consider the burden of responsibility imprinting entails. Joe 2.0 will outlast you.”
“I’ve been alone for almost ten years. I made
him to fill the void in my life. I know what I need.”
Zipes unclasped his hands and dropped his gaze to them.
“Very well, I’ll apply to Cybertronics for the chips and the circuits.
Joe needed a few repairs. The scratch in his skin where
he’d removed his license had to be sealed over, and they repaired a servo in his knee that had suffered at the hands
of the police.
Hobby granted Zipes permission to use the imprint chips,
but first Companionates had to sign a ream of legal documents saying they would not attempt to copy the imprint chips or programming
or use the chips for any Mecha other the proposed “Joe 2.1”.
Joe himself surprised Zipes by requesting that his memory
be left untouched: “Let my brain be spared so that I cannot ever forget the little one who saved it.”
Serin Masters stirred under her bedcovers. Something draped
itself over her chest, pressing her back on her pillows.
She opened her eyes and gazed up into a pair of cool, jade
green eyes that gazed unblinking into her brown Orga eyes.
“What time is it?” she asked.
“Six hours, thirty minutes and sixteen seconds by
the clock, just sunrise by the skies,” Joe replied.
She started to push him off, but he leaned over her and
kissed her eyelids. “Joe, I have to get up; I have that presentation.”
“We’ve time, haven’t we? I’ve been
watching you all night long.” He jerked his head to his left. Music began to play. “You want me to keep looking
at you, yes?”
“All right, but if I’m late, you owe me.”
“I owe you almost everything anyway,” he said,
his eyes warming. She pulled back the covers and let him in, ignoring the muffled whir of servos in his limbs.
This story forms the first of a triptych (not a trilogy
in a true sense, since the story is not necessarily continuous and linear), so watch for parts II and III.
Literary Easter Eggs (For some reason, I like inserting
these odd personal/literary references, somewhat like James Joyce’s convoluted puns, only much more obscure):
“Genetic perfection”—When I first wrote
this, I didn’t realize how close this one was to being a cinematic cross-reference: in the 1996 film Gattaca,
Jude Law plays a member of the genetic elite caste of the future. (Someone tell him to get his DNA copyrighted, he IS genetic
Zipes’s last name—A few days after I saw
“A.I.” (And promptly developed a deliciously bad crush on Jude Law/Gigolo Joe!), I went to a used book sale at
a local library where I picked up a copy of Signet Classics’ one volume edition of the Arabian Nights, the unexpurgated
version, edited by fairy tale compiler/editor Jack Zipes. I was trying to come up with an unusual last name for this character
as I was writing this a day later, and my eye happened to fall on the book, which lay on my table near my pad.
The damaged servo in Joe’s left knee—I based
this on something that happened to me: the day after I saw “A.I.” for the first time, I was crossing a street
when I got clipped above my left knee by an SUV I couldn’t see coming. I walked away from the accident with just a couple
bruises and a bad fright.