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Zenon Eyes III: "I'm Beginning to See the Light"

+J.M.J.+

Zenon Eyes III:

I’m Beginning to See the Light

By “Matrix Refugee”

Author’s Note:

This is more theological than “Zenon Eyes I: I Only Have Eyes for You”, which I intended to be psychological, and “Zenon Eyes II: I’ll Be Seeing You”, which was meant to be a domestic drama. But theological doesn’t just pertain to God, however we perceive Him. Even Mechas, given the right programming, might stumble upon the numinous. As always, and as I will with all my “A.I.” fictions, I dedicate this to Laurie E. Smith, thanks for the kind review and for the link to her fantastic “A.I.” fansite, and to fom4life, for doing his Gigolo Joe impersonation…in the middle of the café at the Peabody Barnes and Noble just after I’d been reading Brian Aldiss’s other two “Supertoys” stories…and to Cameron Bennett, artist. UPDATE June 17, 2002: At Callista Loveday’s suggestion (thanks! I knew there was something missing…), I’ve added more “lovey-dovey” details.

Disclaimer:

I do not own “A.I.”, its characters (definitely NOT Joe!), concepts or other indicia, which are the property of DreamWorks SKG, the late Stanley Kubrick, of Steven Spielberg, Warner Brothers, et al.

 

Serin blamed herself more than she blamed him: she’d always worked too many hours and she’d had a hard time breaking herself of the habit even after he came into her life. He wasn’t built originally for domesticity, so how could she reprimand him for his occasional disappearances from her apartment? She just felt the cold chills every time she came home in the evening and he did not come to meet her at the door. She kept tabs on any Flesh Fairs that passed through the area, more infrequent since “the Haddonfield debacle”. The last thing she wanted to hear was that he’d been tagged and sent to the slaughter. She had nightmares of sifting through broken, twisted Mecha limbs and components, lifting aside tangles of fibers and torn hunks of synthetic flesh to uncover his shattered faceplate, his eyes lightless.

She awoke crying and sweating from her horror.

And then the bedside light dimmed on and he turned back to her under the covers.

“Dearest, dearest…Serin, what is it?” he asked, slipping his arms about her and looking into her eyes.

“A nightmare, just a nightmare,” she said, trying to relax her voice.

“Come, tell me what you saw.”

She couldn’t. “I dreamt that I’d lost you.”

He smiled on her, into her eyes. “It remains what it is: a dream, a vision, for I am still here, as I always shall be.”

She couldn’t chide him for his disappearances, not after he’d looked at her like that.

 

Later, Serin lay with her eyes closed in that low level of functioning Orgas called “sleep”, her head nestled into his shoulder. Of course they needed to sustain their bodies, and this “sleep” formed part of it, but it had its downside, these malfunctions called “nightmares”.

He knew what they were from her explanation: jumbled bad memories and recalled pain reactions that somehow surfaced in an Orga brain as it “slept”. Why their brains worked this way he could never process; it was so impractical, such a waste of resources. But it only added to what drew him to her, to Orgas in general, particularly Orga women, and to her in particular.

She needn’t “worry” so: he would never leave her for always. Since she had brought him into her paradigm, he couldn’t perceive life outside it. Anything beyond…harsh images formed in his recall. He couldn’t have these “nightmares” any more than he could “sleep”, but he had been inside the one sort of nightmare a Mecha could know.

But for the little one, he wouldn’t be with her today. He knew, in theory, what would have befallen him otherwise. David’s little escape act had bought Serin some time in finding him. She seemed to know a great deal he did not know about himself.

He wasn’t certain what she was to him, but he knew what he was to her: escort, companion, consort, conversationalist, concubine…

 

Zipes and the reprogramming team had told her to wait a week or more before she imprinted Joe; his new circuitry had to “burn in” and there was no knowing how he would adjust to the changes in his processors. She waited only until he seemed adjusted to the new surroundings of her apartment; maybe that explained why he disappeared, because she hadn’t waited and something in him hadn’t been properly overridden. She had gently refused his advances those first three nights, though it certainly wasn’t easy; the dismay in his eyes was so convincing. In an odd way, it reminded her of the days before her marriage, when she had to keep reminding…her late husband that she wanted to wait till after the ceremony.

But the fourth night, she let him accompany her to her bedroom.

She told him to sit down on the foot of the bed. Smiling, he obliged her; she took the sealed envelope from the top drawer of her dresser, then turned back to him and sat down beside him. He eyed the envelope; she hoped he couldn’t read it or that he wouldn’t, but she guessed he had from the way his gaze scanned the outside and the way his brows gathered slightly.

With all the warning labels on the outside, she expected it to be sealed with a thumbprint reader, but instead, there was a simple flap with a perforation across the corner. She slid her thumb under it and broke it open. Inside was a sheet of translucent simulparchment with the instructions, the code, and a chart marking the activation sites in red on a silhouette. She scanned the instructions in silence.

She felt Joe’s cool gaze over the top of the page. He leaned in toward her, his hand on the mattress, close to her thigh.

“What sort of foolery is this?” he asked, head on one side, his usual flippant self.

“I’ll tell you in a moment,” she said.

“Don’t let too many moments pass us by,” he said.

She reached up to Joe’s forehead and pressed the first activation site, just below the widow’s peak in his high hairline. His eyes kept locked on hers. She reached behind his head and pressed the second, the trigger, which lay where the knot between the shoulder bones would be.

“I’m going to read a few words…you have to repeat them after me,” she said.

“As you like,” he replied.

“Venus…”

“Venus.”

“Ovid…”

“Ovid.”

“Nexus…”

“Nexus.”

“Tempo…”

“Tempo.”

“Carmine…”

“Carmine.”

“Saturnine…”

“Saturnine.”

“Narcissus…”

“Narcissus.”

“Serin…”

“Serin.”

“Joe…”

“Joe.”

“Serin…”

“Serin…”

She released the trigger and looked deeper into his eyes. Had she done it right? There seemed little change, but maybe she was expecting too much. She saw little noticeable change in his face, the gentle vacancy behind the default look of simmering sensuousness. She started to get up, but she felt his soft, firm hands take hold of her wrists and draw her back down close to him. His eyes locked on hers. Something looked out of them that had not been there before.

“Is everything all right, dearest?” he asked. He released her hand and touched her cheek with one fingertip. He lifted it away and showed her the tear that clung to it like a small clear pearl.

“I’m fine now,” she said.

He looked into her eyes and held her face in both hands. He smiled suggestively yet with delicacy. “Come, if you are willing, shall we be certain of it?

She yielded to him then. She let him lean in and cover her face with kisses as he gently pushed her backward onto the mattress. The imprinting protocol papers slipped from her hand and cascaded to the floor, no longer needed.

 

With the dawn she awakened, wondering what was jostling her in bed, what held her in a tender yet firm circle? She started to move, but it enclosed her gently.

“Are you trying to get away or do you wish me to release you?” asked a gentle voice.

She looked and found herself still entwined in Joe’s embrace. He looked into her face from just inches away, his head resting on a corner of her pillow. She’d have to start making up the bed for two now.

“Well, I have to get up. It’s a weekday and I have my work.”

He gave her what could only be called a sad puppy look, the corner of his mouth drooping slightly. He released her and turned away. “Very well, if it matters more than to you than I do.”

“Here, don’t look like that. I do have some unused vacation time. I could call in and say I’m taking it.”

“Then do so if you so wish.”

She reached across him for the phone on the nightstand, and dialed her secretary, whom she shared with Zipes.

“Hello, Dawna? I’m afraid I can’t come in today.”

“Uh oh, you caught that bug that was going around the programming department? Make sure Joe doesn’t catch it.”

“No, nothing like that. I just need a couple days off.” She felt Joe approach her from behind, felt his breath caress the nape of her neck. “I just need some quiet time.”

“Does some tall, dark and green-eyed thing have something to do with this?”

Joe ran his lips over the nape of her neck. She almost let out a gasp of delight. “Yes, I, uh, just imprinted him last night and, uh, well…”

“You need some time for the honeymoon period. I get it. You plannin’ on sneaking down to Venezuela for a few days? My sister can get you a good price on a package deal.”

“Thanks—oof! —But I don’t—ooooh! —I don’t think we’ll need it. Joe, cut it out, I’m trying to talk.”

“I don’t think you’ll need it either. Sounds like you got paradise right next to you.”

“I do,” Serin replied, resisting the wail of delight beginning to gather in her throat. She excused herself and hung up as he started in on her spine.

 

In the days and weeks that followed, her old sorrow vanished. The wounds in her heart closed over for the first time since she had lost her one first love. In some ways, it was like having him back. His voice was virtually indistinguishable from its model and he moved with the same sensuous agility. But there were big differences. He had that odd knack of changing his hair color at will, which she found a little disconcerting at first, but she soon found amusing. She finally convinced him to leave it at his default onyx black, the color she had intended.

She let herself do things she hadn’t dared to since she lost her husband. She renewed a theatre subscription she had let expire long ago; going to the theatre alone, even with one of her girlfriends, wasn’t like going with one’s beloved, especially one who had a photographic memory. Days after they attended a performance of Romeo and Juliet, he used some of the speeches to warm her soul. She even unpacked the boxes of books and paintings that had filled the library and which she’d been keeping in a locked room in the apartment. Joe had an immediate fascination with this Orga skill called literature, and often when she came home, she found him curled up with a book. It kept him from roaming, although she found that her little elegant decadent naturally gravitated to the poetry of Baudelaire and Oscar Wilde. And he was expanding his horizons and his understanding of her kind.

“I envy you Orgas and your abilities,” he admitted one evening, though she detected a half dishonest note in his tone.

About a week after this, she did something she hadn’t done in years, not since the beginning of her widowhood. After supper, she dug out her old sketchbook and drawing pencils and started sketching a portrait of Joe as he sat at her feet in the library, patiently watching her face.

After some minutes, she realized he was watching her hands as she worked, his eyes intent.

“So this is what you do for your work: copying or creating images of things?” he asked.

“That’s pretty close to it, but I don’t get the luxury of using pencil and paper,” she said. “This is art, this is the real thing.”

He watched in silence, his attention wrapt. At length he put out his hand to her. “Please, let me have a go at it, may I?”

“Well…sure.” She flipped to a clean page and turned the sketchpad around and handed him the pencil. He took them, holding the pencil overhand like an artist, holding its point poised over the surface for several moments, his eyes scanning her face. Then he lowered his eyes to the page and started to trace something.

At first she could not make anything out, he traced it so lightly, but at length, as he went over the lines, she realized he was drawing her face. She watched it take shape from the formless, pale lines.

When he finished, he turned the pad around for her inspection. What she saw made her gasp in amazement for its precision and delicacy.

“Do you like what you see in it?” he asked.

“It’s beautiful. It’s…remarkable.”

“Remarkable because it is well executed, or remarkable because a mere machine has created it?”

“It’s remarkable because it’s art. But there’s just one thing you left out.”

His eyes flickered as if they might go cold. “What is that?”

“You need to sign it, add a date, inconspicuously of course.”

“That is easily remedied,” he replied. He turned the pad around and etched, under the image’s collar, his initials, the date, even the time. He handed the pad back to her, his chin lifted at a cocky angle as if to say, could an Orga do better?

“Down to the last second,” she chuckled, shaking her head. “Always exact.”

After that, she started coming home earlier, bringing home art books she had borrowed or purchased. When she came home in the evenings, she found him immersed in studying the great works of the past. He soon had his favorite artists as well: Rembrandt for the use of contrast, Michelangelo for the human form, M.C. Escher for precision (“He could have been Mecha if he obviously wasn’t,” Joe had remarked), and Gustav Klimt (Always the innocent decadence, she thought) for use of color, so he claimed. She started tutoring him in techniques, but he mastered them almost quicker than she could teach them.

 

Then something came to disturb Joe’s studies. A month after she had imprinted Joe, Zipes came into Serin’s office, his face wrinkled with something like concern.

“Serin, can I see you for a minute? It’s about Joe.”

She saved her work and turned in her chair. Had something…?

“It’s all right, it’s just a message from Monica Swinton, the woman who imprinted Hobby’s child-Mecha, the one Joe was spotted with. She wants to talk to Joe, see what he knows about what happened in Manhattan.”

“I suppose we could arrange something,” Serin replied.

“Hobby wants to talk to him also.”

That sealed it. “Just give me till tomorrow; I’ll have to clear it with Joe.”

“He’d only be gone for just one day most likely. I’ll arrange everything.”

“It’s just that…Joe’s never said much about what happened.”

“Have you ever asked him about it?”

“No, I just have this feeling he wouldn’t say much unless I coaxed him.”

When she got home that night, she almost didn’t tell Joe about Zipes’s message.

Not until later, much later, when they lay entwined in the blissful aftermath of an embrace, she remembered the message.

“There’s something important I have to tell you,” she said, pulling herself higher on her pillows.

His arms relaxed about her. “About us?” he asked.

“No, about my work, sort of. Zipes told me that Monica Swinton, the woman who imprinted David, wants to talk to you about what happened in Manhattan.”

He looked away, his eyes going to the ceiling as he turned over on his back. “Now why would she want to know about him when she threw him away and left him for destruction?” he said, his voice an icy drawl.

“She’s probably feeling guilty; she’s blaming herself for what happened. Maybe you could console her; maybe what you could tell her would bring her some closure. Besides, Dr. Hobby also wants to know about what happened to David. You owe it to David.”

He bent his head, his eyes going distant, even vacant as he retreated into his processors. They brightened a touch and he looked at her.

“Then tell your boss I am at his fair disposal,” he said.

 

A few days later, a driver and a guard from Companionates escorted Joe to the hyperjet terminal for the first leg of the trip to New Jersey. Serin considered taking time off and accompanying him, but he gently forbade it.

“There are some journeys you must make on your own,” he said when she proposed it. “It would please me if you came, but I know I must go alone.”

She understood. She knew from the news reports what had happened in the Haddonfield debacle, but she couldn’t know what sort of trauma he had endured.

After he had departed, after she had consoled herself with work, she found herself hoping this interview with Monica Swinton could bring Joe some closure as well. Maybe he could understand why this poor woman had acted as she had. She knew the implications of imprinting, though she didn’t let them worry her just yet. He was lucky: barring viruses or malfunctions, he would never know psychological anguish.

He would only be gone for part of a day, she reassured herself. He would be in good hands: Monica Swinton’s husband was a sub-director for Cybertronics’ New Jersey division and, by all accounts, Mrs. Swinton had taken excellent care of David before she had rejected him.

But when Serin went home early that day, anticipating Joe’s early return, she found he hadn’t got back yet. She ate her supper alone; the dining room felt empty and sterile without his cadenced chatter and the almost imperceptible white noise emanating from his internal mechanisms, a sound that had become her life’s soundtrack.

But at length, she heard a cruiser pull into the drive. Doors opened and closed. She heard the front door open and his step in the hallway.

“Serin? Dearest, where are you?” he called.

“I’m here in the library.”

He stepped into the room and approached her. Something in his cocky swagger seemed affected, even forced. He smiled as he leaned over her chair to kiss her, but his eyes betrayed pain? Disillusionment?

“How did it go?” she asked.

He sank onto the armchair opposite her. “You spoke the truth: Mrs. Swinton is inconsolable,” he said. “I fear my words did more to harm than to help her in her sorrow.”

“Sometimes your sorrows get worse before they get better,” Serin said. “Look at you: right when you expected to be destroyed, I found you.”

His smile returned. “I only hope Monica Swinton can share the same fate.”

But later that night, he didn’t go into seduction mode. He let her cuddle with him before she fell asleep, but he seemed distant, lost in thought. Perhaps he still had some rough water to cross, too.

 

Touching Serin somehow seemed at odds with part of his programming. He couldn’t process why this happened he looked at Serin and for a moment he recalled Mrs. Swinton’s face, the tears and sweat caking in the dust that clung to it.

He had only tried to console Monica as he knew how. He was built specific for comforting inconsolable women by offering them the kind of consolations a man’s touch afforded. She had not resisted at first, and it seemed she had welcomed it. But then she had resisted. He had not pursued further attempts, partly because of overrides in his programming, partly because he knew it would land him in bad trouble (he’d had enough of that)…and partly for something else he couldn’t name.

Part of his processors told him he should elaborate to Serin about what had transpired between him and Mrs. Swinton. Perhaps she could explain what had gone wrong. Right when he thought he understood Orga women, one would do something unprecedented that had his processors scrabbling to compute the data. Sometimes he never came up with a satisfactory outcome, but that was part of the thrill of the chase.

But another part of his processor locked down on the data, forbidding him to let Serin access it. It would only trouble her and she had had enough sorrow in her life.

Something like this would never have troubled him so before. He suddenly couldn’t process what was going on in his own his own processors. Consoling Mrs. Swinton as he had would never have bothered him so, not before…before…

Something stood like a wall between the time he was made new and the present, something that had happened after his recapture and when Serin had found him, something his processors couldn’t have precedented, but he couldn’t recall what it was. An override blocked access to that moment.

 

She bought him a sketchpad at some slight cost and a set of drawing pencils. He filled the pad in a week or two, with deft representations of figures and forms, some abstract yet fascinating to the eye, most concrete: the view of the garden from the windows of the library, a portrait of her brushing her hair, a slightly unseemly yet tasteful rendering of the two of them embraced, somewhat like a Gustav Klimt drawing…a little boy clasping a battered teddy bear, something too bright about the child’s eyes. She was about to ask who the boy was, but she realized.

“Is this…David?”

He smiled, but she thought she saw the corner of his mouth twitch. “Yes, that is what he looked like.”

That someone so far from innocence, so comfortable with sensuousness could capture on paper with graphite an image so innocent stopped the breath in her lungs for a moment.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. She had seen the blurry news photos of David, but they could not capture the boyish charm, the sweetness that radiated form this portrait. “Shall I find a frame for it?”

“Yes, please.”

She went to her closet where she had stowed all the old photographs from before. She took out the largest frame she had and removed the photo, a professional portrait of her late husband. She dropped the photo, without thinking, on top of the dresser on her way back to the library.

The frame fit perfectly around the portrait of David. She had wanted to hang it in the dining room, but he chose to place it in the library.

She never pressed him to tell her much about David; this was the most he had ventured to reveal. Six months had passed since his great escape and her salvaging him and the memories would still be fresh…Come to think of it, to his processors, it would always be as if it had just happened. Not wanting to trouble his internal workings, she avoided the subject.

 

Later that night, as every night, they embraced; at length she lay in ‘sleep’, nestled against him. He lay still listening to her breathing, watching her in the night. But in the dark, his eyes roamed to the dresser. Earlier, he had seen something lying on the top, something on the peripheral of his field of vision that registered in his awareness but which he could not place without more data.

He released Serin with care so as not to disturb her and slid out from between the bedcovers. He walked to the dresser and felt in the dark for the object he sought. Its edge grazed his fingertips and he closed his fingers on it. Knowing light disturbed Serin as she ‘slept’, he took his find to the library and put on the light there.

He scanned the object, a flat piece of thick glossy paper bearing an image, a ‘photograph’ of a dark-haired young man with green eyes and a slightly cleft chin.

He looked up at the midnight-blackened window, at his own reflection, which so resembled this image.

He scanned his gaze between the two images several times, noting the shape of the brows, the molding of the jaws.

They shared the same appearance.

Something rose in his recall: David in Professor Hobby’s office, staring at the other David. Now he faced his own replica. Or rather…

That he was the replica.

The young man in the photograph was clearly Orga: the imperfections and blemishes on the skin, the small broken blood vessel on the white of one eye.

His processors worked over this data. A result arose and he knew why David had destroyed the other Mecha.

With a twitch of his fingers, he tore the picture in half, then in fourths, then in eighths, finally to fragments. Serin didn’t need this when she had something better. He opened the window and opening his fingers, held the fragments to the night wind that rose.

Task completed, he closed the window and returned to Serin’s side.

 

For whatever reason, the act of tearing the photograph hovered at the surface of his recall. Next morning she mentioned something about something on the dresser. He carefully overrode any impulse to tell her what he had done and told her he knew nothing of it.

His processors kept reminding him he had withheld information from Serin and misinformed her, but he decided she didn’t need to know. While she was out, he set to work on a self-portrait to compensate her and to quiet his processors, but this had its limitations. He could replicate his default hair color with a 6B pencil, but he could not replicate the color of his eyes.

She returned early; he met her at the door and showed her his latest work.

“It’s beautiful; it’s so life-like,” she said. She looked him in the facer and laughed. Wrong choice of term, but he let it go and joined in her laugh.

“It was the best I could undertake,” he admitted. “Having no colors, I could do my eyes no justice.”

She patted his shoulder. “For that, I’ll see if I can scare up some oil paint and canvas for you.”

She fulfilled her promise a couple weeks later. As a precaution, she got him a pair of simuleather gloves: no telling what damage the paint thinner might do to his silicon-based skin.

After a few hours of experimenting, he found he preferred oils to pencil. He started rendering his first self-portrait on canvas.

He finished it just as Serin came in from work late. He almost didn’t hear her come in until she stepped into the library.

She found her life’s companion leaning back in his chair from his easel, setting aside his palette on an end table at his side.

“It’s not dry yet, but I think you will like it,” he said, rising and taking off his gloves. The canvas that had been blank before she left now bore his mirror image. He’d even mixed the right shade for his eyes.

“That’s excellent,” she said. “It’s so…”

“Lifelike,” they said as one. She laughed and hugged him. When she couldn’t see, he felt the corners of his mouth curl up slightly. He couldn’t understand why at first.

In the following weeks, as winter set in, he worked steadily, filling canvas after canvas with images: a portrait of Serin a view of the community green under the snow, a street scene from Rouge City full of garish colors, the violence of the Flesh Fair…an oil version of his portrait of David…a dark haired woman, her face streaked with grimy tears, Joe hovering over her like some protecting angel; Serin wondered if this was supposed to be a former client, but she didn’t press the issue…another rendering of David, reaching up toward a woman in blue.

But most were less personal: a rose in a vase, a bowl of fruit, a bottle with a glass next to it, both with their clear surfaces bearing reflections worthy of M.C. Escher; a flowering tree, a sunrise.

His paintings and drawings were so remarkable, she prevailed upon Joe to let her bring some of them to work to show to Zipes.

“Did he paint these all himself?” Zipes asked, studying the self-portrait.

“Every one of them,” she said.

He shook his head. “This is beyond remarkable. Do you know what this means?”

“He’s doing things many Orgas haven’t the talent for,” she replied.

“More than that: he’s creating. Have you ever talked to him about it?”

“Not to any depth; it’s hard to say how much self-awareness he has.”

“I’d like to talk to him about it.”

 

A couple nights later, Zipes went to Serin’s apartment. They found Joe cleaning brushes in the library, which he had converted into a studio. The floor was mosaicked with completed canvases except for a narrow path to the door.

“Hello, Joe,” Zipes said, eyeing the floor with quiet astonishment.

“Hello, Dr. Zipes,” Joe replied. “Excuse me while I first clean these brushes.”

“No problem. I see you’ve kept busy. Serin told me all about your work.”

Joe took off his gloves and came to the door. “I wouldn’t call it work, for it brings such beauty into this world.”

“I guess when you enjoy doing something, it doesn’t feel like work. You…enjoy it?”

“It enhances my sense of purpose,” Joe replied.

“Do you have any idea why you do this?”

Joe shrugged gracefully. “I don’t know, it’s just what I’m drawn to do.” He chuckled at his own pun; Zipes laughed as well.

“So how many paintings have you finished?” Zipes asked, recovering.

“Twelve canvases and twenty-five pencil drawings to date.”

“That many? And how long have you been at this?”

“Four months, two weeks, five days, nine hours and forty four minutes to be precise.”

“You’ve used the time well. I was wondering, and so has Serin and a few people I’ve spoken to, if you’d consider putting your work on public display?”

Joe eyed him with interest. “You mean in a gallery?”

“Exactly.”

The Mecha’s face beamed. “Nothing could please me more than to share my work with the public. They might begin to think otherwise about my kind.”

 

Companionates and a few of its investors agreed to sponsor the exhibit; they even helped pay to have Joe’s works properly mounted and framed. One of the advertising writers offered to write the blurbs for the exhibit guide and the press releases; Serin brought home the final draft for Joe’s perusal.

He read it over in silence while she cooked supper, but she soon realized something else was simmering.

At length he let out a ragged sigh of annoyance and tossed the typescript onto the table. “She writes horribly,” he announced.

“What makes you say that?” she ventured.

“She’s condescending.” He flipped through the pages. “’In an unprecedented turn of circumstances, a creation is able to create works of art of the same caliber as those of a human artist.’ As if I were an imbecile or a dumb creature of the lower species!”

She looked at him. “It is unusual; no one else has told of another Mecha who can paint, not like you.” She hoped to appeal to his vanity.

“I am no different from an Orga artist: I was made to perceive beauty and drama, and I have learned how to capture its reflection before it passes. That is why my paintings come out so perfect, because my perception is unclouded by the limitations of nature and the flesh.”

She couldn’t argue with him on this point. “Well, I’ll talk to Terez and see if she can revise it.”

 

“He didn’t like what you wrote,” Serin admitted to Terez, the advertising writer, next morning.

“Why, what’s wrong with it?”

“He said you made too much of the fact that he’s Mecha; I guess he just wants to be accepted as an artist.”

“A Mecha that wants to be treated like an Orga, that’s great,” Terez said. “Sounds to me like something got programmed to think awful big of itself.”

“Joe can get uppity once in a while, but so don’t we all. It’s part of who he is. Besides, artists get like that.”

“It’s something else entirely different when a Mecha gets like that. Maybe HE should write the catalog,” Terez snipped.

 

“I shall do so,” Joe announced when Serin told him about her confrontation with Terez. “If she cannot or, so it seems, will not write with justice, perhaps I can.”

“You know your work better than she does. In some ways I’m sorry she wrote that way. She probably meant well, but she did make you sound like a freak of robotics.”

“It is not so bad a turn of matters: rather, it gives me another chance to prove myself to the skeptics.”

Serin smiled: there was the cocky, self-assured Joe she knew.

 

Two months later the exhibit was set to open in a gallery in a small museum owned by one of Companionates’ principal investors. The media had picked up on this event; reporters from Time magazine and CNN came to interview Joe. Something that had kept him from those disappearing acts was paying off in ways Serin hadn’t anticipated.

Even Professor Allen Hobby had emerged from his self-imposed total reclusion with a promise to attend. “I have kept an eye on this Mecha and his activity. Since David was lost to us, Joe has provided me a cause of both wonder and hope for the future of artificial intelligence,” he announced in a rare interview.

Serin decided the time had come to show the world, in her own way, what Joe was to her. She had heard about talk behind her back regarding her and Joe: to the critics, she was just another woman with a lover-Mecha for a domestic partner, and worse still a widow with one of those made in the image and likeness of her dead husband. But they had to see he was more than that.

She went through a box of things that had belonged to her late husband and found the wedding bands tied together with a length of black ribbon; she had them recast and the inside engraved with Joe’s imprint date, the nearest thing she could call a wedding day.

She kept putting off what she had to do until the last minute. The evening of the exhibit opening, she sat at her dressing table putting in her earrings, her eye going from her reflection to the velvet-covered box on the tabletop, her ears listening for him.

At length, she heard Joe’s step behind her. His reflection moved across the mirror. She smiled up at it; he smiled back and knelt behind her.

“How do I look?” she asked.

“You look so beautiful, my eyes are aching,” he said. He eyed the back of her gown. “But you have not yet fastened your dress.”

“Oh, could you help me with it, please? I always have trouble reaching back there.”

“Gladly I shall.” When he had fastened the last hook and eye, he put his hands on her waist and ran his lips over her bare shoulders and the top of her spine. She giggled.

“Oh, stop that! We can’t start now.” He obliged; she distracted him by putting on her pearl choker, which he helped her fasten without being asked.

She turned around to face him. “Now, I have something for you.” She opened the velvet ring box and took out the heavier of the two rings. “Give me your left hand, palm down.” He put out his hand. She spread his fingers slightly and slid the ring onto his ring finger. She released his hand; he eyed the ring, his brows gathered slightly for a moment as they had the night she had imprinted him.

She took the other ring and held it out to him. “Now you put this ring on my left hand, same finger.”

“As you wish,” he said. He took her left hand in his and taking the ring, slipped it onto her ring finger. He paused afterward and looked into her eyes. A puzzled look had settled there, as if his processors were forming something that in Orga terms translated ‘what love games these creatures play?’

“You may kiss me,” she said. His face relaxed. This was something he understood. He obliged her.

The doorbell rang at that moment. She released him. “That’s probably Zipes now,” she said.

“So soon?” he asked.

She got up and, with Joe at her heels, went to the entryway to collect her wrap and let Zipes in.

Zipes had hired a limousine cruiser, but several police officers on motorcycles surrounded it. Joe shrank back into the entryway, his eyes wary. Once burned, twice shy.

“It’s all right, Joe: the police are here for your protection,” Zipes explained.

“What’s with the police escort?” Serin asked.

“Protestors showed up at the gallery an hour ago. No telling what could happen. We even sent a decoy by our original route, just in case someone got wise,” Zipes explained, leading them down to the car.

At the curb before the Atwood Museum, a flock of photographers and cameramen had gathered along with the crowd of invited guests. But beyond that had gathered a swarm carrying big signs and chanting cruel slogans. Serin felt Joe’s hand press hers in the darkness of the rear seat.

“If only they knew what they’re missing out on,” she said.

“Could they produce any work better than mine?” he asked rhetorically, his voice self-assured, even a little sarcastic.

Zipes got out first. Then the driver opened the rear door for Joe and Serin.

Once Joe had got out to help Serin out, four bulky men all a head and shoulders taller than he and clad and ground sweeping black leather capes surrounded him and Zipes. “Extra security,” Zipes explained.

Camera flashes lit up the crowd as their entourage moved to the doors. Cheers and applause broke out even as the protestors got louder. Joe smiled at looked at Serin; if his dark face could have flushed with pride, it would have glowed. From one spotlight to another, she thought.

Even as the well-wishers moved in behind them, the protestors tried to close in. The police moved in, linking arms to form a chain, and held back the rabble-rousers.

At length the entourage mounted the museum steps and passed through the front doors. They entered the gallery proper where they were met by the museum curator and several investors as well as the State Robotics Commissioner. Two of the black-cloaked guards moved away, one striding to the back of the hall, the other remaining near the entryway; the other two remained behind.

Several reporters and other curious people approached Joe, asking questions and offering compliments. This gave Serin a chance to take Zipes aside.

“What’s with the men in the big cloaks?” she asked. The remaining guards hovered near Joe, one at his back, the other at a slight distance, moving about near the crowd.

“The cloaks are lined with lead, in case someone should try to go for him with an EMP,” Zipes said in a low voice. “Just a precaution.”

An electromagnetic pulse gun. She hadn’t thought of that. The guns were illegal, but the unscrupulous would stoop to anything.

 

The Orgas had set up a small champagne bar, so many of the men and women who walked up to him had drinks in their hands. His processors suddenly decided his hands looked odd, empty, as if he did not fit in. He scanned the gallery looking for some small object to occupy them.

A flower arrangement in green, white and lavender on a white pedestal came into his line of vision. He approached it when no one was watching and selected a green carnation, snapping off the stem so it was no longer than his hand. There, that would look better.

 

The director of Cybertronics’ New Jersey division had invited Henry and Monica Swinton to accompany him and his wife to the exhibition in Shohola. That a Mecha had created art was unprecedented and worthy of note, especially since the Mecha in question had been upgraded with Cybertronics components. Besides, it might help Monica shake off the intermittent hysteria she had been suffering for the past few months.

The first section of the gallery consisted of abstract designs, Euclidean spirals and shapes and three-dimensional geometric objects floating in space. But the second and larger section displayed concrete depictions of small landscapes and objects, figures and still lifes.

There was one drawing of a boy holding a teddy bear; for a moment, Monica wondered if it could be David. Then fear that she might be disappointed to find out it wasn’t kept her from looking at the title in the gallery catalog. She hurried on.

The pencil drawings gave way to oils on canvas: cityscapes and figures, landscapes and self-portraits. She hesitated before one, “Self-Portrait with Blonde Hair”; something about the eyes was too familiar, but she dismissed it.

She came to a shocked standstill before two canvases hung on a wall between two darkened windows.

One showed a blonde boy kneeling before and reaching up to a woman in a blue dress surrounded by a soft light, entitled “The Quest Fulfilled”. Next to it hung a panel depicting a woman with tousled dark hair and a grimy tear-stained face; another face, a male visage, the same as the self-portrait (only with black hair) hovered over hers. “Consolation Rebuffed” read the title.

The eyes of the male figure seemed to gaze at hers.

She started to turn away, when she heard a light step approach her from behind. Someone’s gaze fell on her.

“You are taken with these paintings, Mrs. Swinton?” asked a man’s mild voice, a gentle baritenor with a British accent.

She looked behind her.

He stood beside her, close to her. He stood beside her, too close even though he stood a pace away. She stepped away even though she knew he probably would not approach her in this place as he had the first time she had encountered him.

“Yes, they’re…they’re very real,” she faltered, not looking at him.

“You are not speaking the truth. I think you dislike them.”

“It’s not that, it’s just…”she looked away.

He stepped across her line of vision. “You do dislike them. There is fear in your voice. What are you afraid of?”

In a rusty whisper, she said, “You.” Her eye went back to “Consolation Rebuffed”. “Why did you have to paint that?!”

“I painted it because it presented a paradox of beauty and fear, because no other artist has probably painted anything quite like it.”

“You painted it to shock us.”

He said nothing, his jade-green eyes mild with…thought? She hoped he couldn’t process an answer to her; she didn’t want to hear it. She started to turn away, but Henry and Dr. Hobby approached.

“Good evening, Joe,” Hobby said, offering his hand to Joe

The Mecha hesitated, then took Hobby’s hand. “Good evening, Dr. Hobby.” He said this without even looking at him.

“Your work is marvelous; it’s amazing what you’ve accomplished.”

“Thank you.” His eyes betrayed a calm coldness, even distaste.

“I was admiring your portrait of David; you captured some of his essence, his innocence in that work. I was wondering.” Hobby reached into his breast pocket and took out a credit book. “If you would let me buy it.”

“There is no price you could pay for it. But if it brings you happiness and it reminds you of what could have been, you may have it at no cost.”

“That’s very generous of you, Joe. Thanks.” Hobby replaced the credit book in his pocket.

 

Joe’s gaze scanned between Mrs. Swinton’s hand and his own. She wore a gold ring on the fourth digit of her left hand, just as he did now. He knew these were ‘marriage bands’, and he had seen them on the hands of some of his former customers. Supposedly they signified fidelity to ones mate, but that fidelity hadn’t mattered much to the women who had made use of his services. But what did Serin mean?

 

Serin walked through the gallery looking for Joe. She spotted him in a small knot of people gathered before “Consolation Rebuffed.” He was looking away from them, looking toward the thick of the crowd.

She spotted Dr. Hobby in the group and one of the sub-directors of Cybertronics’ New Jersey division, whom Serin dimly remembered meeting once at a trade convention. What was his name? Stanford? Stanton? Swinton? Slightly to one side stood a dark-haired woman about her age. The woman turned in her direction.

At once, Serin saw a resemblance between her and the woman of  “Consolation Rebuffed.”

“I’m not an expert on art, but you’d have to be blind as a post to not see the expertise in his work,” Hobby was saying.

“It’s amazing what they can accomplish given the proper programming,” the sub-director replied.

“And you, Monica, what do you think?” Hobby asked, looking toward the dark woman.

“It’s all right,” Monica muttered, turning back to “Consolation Rebuffed”. The sub-director looked toward the painting.

Hobby looked Serin’s way and beckoned to her. “And here’s the woman who helped start it all. Mrs. Masters?” He quickly introduced her to the Swintons.

“Oh, I just showed him the basics; Joe basically taught himself,” Serin replied.

Hobby glanced at Joe. “Is she being modest, or is this true?”

Joe beamed but did not look at Hobby. “No, it is quite true. What is art but the capturing of moments of incredible beauty or drama?”

At this point, Swinton had turned away from the group and stood transfixed, staring at the painting his wife stood frozen before. He looked at Monica.

“Are you all right…?” his voice trailed away. Monica took a handkerchief from her purse and tried to dab away the tears on her cheeks. Swinton stared at his wife’s face, then at the painting.

He glanced at Joe, who stood calmly observing the scene, as if awaiting a reaction.

“Monica, what does this mean?” Swinton asked, his voice stripped of emotion.

“I only asked him up to the house because Dr. Hobby told me he knew what had happened to David,” Monica said, her voice creaking with tears.

Swinton turned to Joe and looked him full in the face, jaws clenching.

“So you violated my household?”

Joe took a cautious step back. “I meant only to comfort your wife in her misery as I saw fit. I did noth—“

Swinton cut him off with a jabbing finger. “You stay away from my wife, you and all you kind. If you weren’t so brilliant…” he stopped before he finished. He took his wife by the arm and started to lead her away. “Come on, Monica, it’s late.” She went without protest.

“You’re not the only one to get hurt by a Mecha, Swinton!” someone in the crowd shouted.

“GUN!!” one of Joe’s bodyguards roared. The one at his back lunged close to him, fanning out the skirts of the black cape.

A middle-aged man in a rumpled suit rushed through the gallery brandishing something that looked like a nail gun with a narrower muzzle. He lunged at Joe, who stared back with mild eyes just beginning to grow fearful. The second guard took aim with his revolver. The intruder grinned like a skull and aimed at Joe; the guard blocking the line of aim threw himself down, pushing Joe to the floor, the lead cloak spread over them.

The EMP screeched, a lightning bolt of energy shot from the muzzle. The second guard fired a shot at the same moment. The muzzle of the EMP jerked up, deflecting the bolt that struck a Mecha in the crowd. The Mecha crashed to the floor, eyes lightless.

Other guards and police surrounded the man with the EMP, who cursed, blood dripping from his arm wound, as they dragged him from the hall.

Serin stood transfixed, not knowing what to feel. The guard who had covered Joe got up and helped the stunned Mecha off the floor.

“You all right, Joe? Anything malfunctioning?” Zipes asked.

“No, nothing. My pain receptors are reacting,” Joe replied. “Much, much worse has threatened my existence.”

He turned to Serin, arms open. “Yet another close brush with dissolution,” he said. She turned away, eyes averted from that self-assured smile.

“It’s time we went home,” she said, flat-voiced.

“The hall’s closing for investigation anyway,” Zipes said.

 

They rode home without further incident, but Serin sat at an icy distance from Joe. He tried to draw close to her and put his arm about her, but she pushed him away.

“I don’t like the looks of this,” Zipes observed.

“Neither do I,” Joe replied.

 

Serin stalked up the steps to the outer door of the block in the complex, fast enough to match Joe’s strides as he followed her, but not fast enough to put distance between them.

“Serin,” he said, pleading. “Please try to understand.”

She reached the landing one step before him. She punched in the block passcode and pressed her thumb to the reader. He stepped up behind her as the door unlocked. He opened it; she shoved past him into the entryway.

She stepped up to their apartment door and fumbled in her purse for her keycard. She heard the creak of his leather coat close behind her. She pulled out the card as she felt his hand touch her jaw. She shrugged him off and thrust the card into the reader.

“Dearest, I meant you no harm. Had I known what this meant to you, I would have done otherwise.”

“It’s a little late for that!” she snarled through clenched teeth. She pressed her PIN on the keypad on the door and lifted the latch. She swung the door open just wide enough for her to slide through and snapped it shut behind her before he could get his foot in the door.

“Serin, dearest, please let me in,” he begged, trying not to grovel; groveling was so unattractive. No answer. His processors formed the phrase “I didn’t know what came over me,” but another region told him it meant nothing.

Something in his equilibrium motivator seemed to give way. His legs buckled under him and he sank to the floor, coming to rest on his haunches, his shoulder against the door. If he had tear reservoirs, he would have wept in silence. Instead he sat alone, his face a mask of confusion giving way to resignation.

His processors buzzed with thought. He realized his actions toward Mrs. Swinton had been at cross-purposes to what Serin expected of him, with what this newness in him would order him to do, but which his old programming could not compute. He had admitted something to the equation that caused it to compute to something at odds with the factors. Something in him had changed, but it would have to change further.

His processors narrowed his choices down to two courses of action: he could surrender himself to Serin’s expectations of him, though they didn’t jibe with what he had originally known.

Or he could return to the old way, to the thrill of the chase, the lure of conquest, a path he somehow knew he could never follow as he had. He was licensed to Serin, but he bore no license tag embedded in his flesh. If he left now, who knew what dangers awaited him. Flesh Fairs still operated, less frequently now in the wake of the Haddonfield debacle, but they were no less deadly to the hapless and abandoned of his species. Should he be caught, he would doubtlessly be recognized and set aside for special torture. Serin’s nightmare, that she had lost him, would come true. His awareness formed an image: of Serin sifting through a pile of shattered Mechas and smashed components, searching and finding the ruined remnant of his faceplate.

His processors screamed silently at this image. For a moment, he wondered if David had felt the same impulses flow through his components when Monica had abandoned him.

But his processors tried to avoid computing the real question: If he left once and for all, would Serin care?

Perhaps he should test this. Either she would come looking for him, or she would be freed from him. There was only one way to find out. And if he came to grief, well, she could move on. She could rebuild him and maybe program the replacement so it wouldn’t fail her.

But he would add an unprecedented variable to the equation. He reached into his breast pocket and took out his sketchbook and a pencil. He flipped it open to a blank page and started to draw.

When he had finished, he took the knife from the repair kit in his left wrist and cut out the page. He slid the drawing under the door and rose to go out to his destiny.

 

Serin hardly slept all night. When she finally fell asleep, the dream came back full force. She yanked herself awake. She couldn’t feel Joe’s arms around her or his eyes gazing at her from the dark beside her. She got up. She was being ridiculous the way she was acting. As if the imprinting could completely reprogram what he was, what he had been. Perhaps somewhere the programmers had failed to erase some files from his memory, perhaps that was why he had been indiscreet with the Swinton woman. And maybe those reports of his dalliances hadn’t been so fabricated. She’d never told him what she had expected of him, but she resolved to do this at once.

Dawn was already brightening the sky as she went to unlock the front door.

She looked down. Something white on the floor caught her eye.

A scrap of paper lay there. She stopped and looked at it. The dream…

This was as close to a suicide note as she could expect from Joe. She ran to her room and threw on some clothes; she grabbed her keys and ran out to her cruiser.

She almost got picked up for speeding as she rushed to Zipes’ apartment. Once there, she ran to his door and banged on it.

At length, Zipes opened the door and looked out, his hair on end, a terry bathrobe wrapping his bare chest.

“Serin, what’s wrong?” he asked.

“Joe’s disappeared,” she said, pushing past him into the apartment. “He’d stopped doing that once he got involved with his art.”

He closed the door. “How long has he been gone?”

“Maybe six hours. I found this stuck under my door.” She handed him the note.

“Good god!” he muttered, handing it back to her after scanning it for a moment. “He really means it.”

“Do you have any idea where he’d go?”

“Probably just followed his nose,” Zipes said. “Check with the police, they might have a report that someone’s spotted him.”

“I should have put a tracer on him.”

“We’ll take care of that when we find him.”

“If we find him.”

She went to the police station. Zipes put out a missing Mecha report on the local ‘Net. The police had no reports on any roaming Mecha.

“What does it look like?” asked the woman at the desk, taking out a datascriber.

He’s about five foot ten, medium build, dark skin, green eyes.”

“What about hair color?”

“He can change it.”

The woman looked annoyed. “Well, what is it usually?”

“Black.”

That done, Serin went to the all-night ‘Net café downtown. She got online and checked for any Flesh Fairs in the area. Fortunately, the nearest one was in Ohio, so unless Joe had hitched a ride west, he would be safe. But there were the hecklers at the gallery the night before. Who knew what other allies they had lurking?

She went home to get ready for work. No sense hanging about and fretting with worry.

When she first got there, the secretaries and the project designers were chattering about the success of the exhibit opening, but they quickly fell silent when she walked through on the way to her office. At least they had the decency to respect her pain; Zipes had probably forewarned them.

Zipes sent a message to her about 10 a.m. No word yet on Joe’s whereabouts, but the police had ID’ed the man with the EMP: he was no less than Herman Bevins, the same man who’d framed Joe in Haddonfield. Bevins would be arraigned that day on charges of disorderly conduct, property damage, illegal possession of an EMP, and attempted damage to property worth 30,000 NB. She wished at that moment the laws could be adjusted to call the last charge “attempted Mecha-slaughter.”

About noon, as she was about to take her lunch break, a police officer came into her office.

“Mrs. Masters? We’ve found your missing Mecha.”

She tried to read his face. Was Joe in one piece? “Is he…?” She couldn’t bring herself to ask one way or the other.

“He’s upright and he seems functional. We caught some ruffians near Lichgate that had cornered it. They tried to badger it into fighting them, but it wouldn’t give in.”

“Where is HE?”

“He’s in Dr. Zipes’s office.” She followed the officer out into the hallway.

Zipes met them at the door to his office. “Serin, I’d better warn you: he’s cut up, but he seems to be all right.”

“I can bear it,” she said as he opened the door.

Joe sat propped on the couch within. His face was blank when she entered, but as she moved into his line of sight, his eyes flickered for a moment. His clothes were half torn off his frame and there were gashes on his flesh. One on his jaw showed the gray infrastructure underneath. His left arm was in a sling and she didn’t like the odd angle at which it hung from the shoulder.

“Joe?” she asked, kneeling on the floor beside the couch.

He lifted his face slightly. She touched his face, covering the gash.

“What do you want of me?” he asked, dead voiced.

“I want you. I want you back.”

His lashes flicked, the closest he came to blinking. “I have wronged you.”

“I know. I should have explained what I wanted of you. I just want you back.”

“Why? Because I belong to you?”

“No, because you are you, because you’re unique. I can’t imagine life without you. I forgive you; I should have told you better what I wanted of you. Can you forgive me for treating you the way I did last night?”

“I suppose I can forgive. There was more to extenuate your feelings than there is to excuse my guilt. If you cast me off forever, if you shut me down, I deserved it for the way I handled your love. I should have thought of it.”

She looked deep into his eyes and saw contrition. She saw it so rarely on Orga faces she barely recognized it on a Mecha visage. She put her arms around him, taking him back. He slipped his free arm around her waist. His cheek brushed hers gently.

And a light went on in her head. If he had admitted his guilt, if he had assumed responsibility for it, then there was more to his actions than mere following his programming. He had evolved…he had developed that moral gyroscope in the human psyche that so many ignored or tried to silence.

"There is some thing I need to say to you if I have never said it before," he said.

"What? What is it?"

He paused, his eyes lowered. He looked her in the eye. “I love you, Serin.”

She sat up suddenly. “What did you say?”

“I said I love you.”

She held his face, covering the gash with her hand though her hand brushed the cold metal underneath. She deserved to feel it, she realized.

“I love you too.” She leaned down to hold him close again, but his arm blocked her.

“Are you saying this because you feel sorry for me or yourself?”

“I’m saying it because it’s the truth.”

“That is all I needed to know.” His arm relaxed and he drew her to himself.

Zipes and a few technicians came in at this point. Zipes motioned them to stay at the door.

“Serin, Joe, are you ready?” he asked.

Serin released her hold on Joe, but his free hand took her hand.

“I am,” she said.

“We are,” Joe added.

“It’s best if you came along, Serin,” Zipes said.

“I could bear it with you,” Joe said, looking at her. She said nothing as the techs bore him into a workroom. She could barely believe the light she saw kindling in his eyes, even as the men worked on him. In this light she saw something old consumed and something new take its place.

 

 

Afterword:

This forms the third and last part of the “Zenon Eyes” triptych; I know, “WAAAAaaaaHHhhh!”…But there’s a lot more where this came from. A LOT more “A.I.” fan fictions are on the way from my computer to yours, so watch this site.

Literary Easter Eggs:

“I’m Beginning to See the Light”—This is almost a cinematic cross-reference: the Duke Ellington song of this title was used in the soundtrack to my other all time favorite film, The Matrix [Wait, Joe, don’t look at me like that! I only attack disembodied AIs that use Orgas for batteries!].

Joe’s emerging artistic talent—This might be a tangential inspiration/swipe from Isaac Asimov’s classic novella, “The Bicentennial Man”, in which a household robot learns woodworking.

The canvases spread out on the floor—This is a sort of teasing personal reference: the floor of my room, where I write, is often covered with the manuscripts (on loose-leaf notebook paper!) of works in progress.