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ON’S CHILDREN

Chapter 4 — DECEPTION

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Dawna wiped tomato sauce from her fingers with her napkin. “This taco pizza on French bread with Polish sausage and soy sauce is dee-lish.”

“It’s soop, Mom. Murl made it for me. It’s my birthday dinner.”

“Birthday? Oh, is that today?”

“You know it is, Dad. I’m ten years old today.”

“Well, then today is the day you should get your special present.”

Adam’s eyes lit up. “Really? What do you mean special?”

“Look behind you.”

The boy turned around and saw a genue holding a frosted cake topped with ten burning candles.

Dawna and Micael sang “Happy Birthday.”

Adam blew out the candles. “Thanks, but this looks like an ordinary birthday cake. What’s so special about it?”

Dawna and Micael smirked.

Adam looked again at the cake with its smoking candles, then up at the genue holding it. “Why is it special, Murl? Is it double double chocolate?”

The genue did not answer. Nor did he move.

Adam cocked his head. “Murl, answer me. What kind of cake is it?” The genue did not respond. “Dad, what’s with wrong with Murl?”

Micael grinned. “Look closely at him.”

Adam studied the green servant. He noticed that the face was slightly different. Then he saw the blank name plate. “This isn’t Murl.” His eyes widened and his mouth fell open. “Is he mine?”

“In a way. He’s a beta model we’re going to test in our home. He has a couple of innovations we’ll begin putting into all genues if they work well.”

“Really? Hot dog! Is he super strong or something?”

Micael laughed. “No, no. He’s pretty much like other genues. But he does have Hypertact. It’s an improved neuro-tactile system that’s integrated into the plasmoid.” He saw the boy cock his head and frown. “What I mean is this genue can feel things and control his fingers as well as you or I.”

“Wow, he can play Quintris Prostruction with me.”

“He also has what we call a Supplemental Cortex Ideator Loop Link, or SCILL. It’s suppose to increase the cognition lattice and give better visual articulation, according to Chenkov’s theory. Tuning the link isn’t easy, so I’m not sure we’ll get consistent ideation transduction.”

“Honey, he doesn’t understand,” said Dawna.

“Well, okay. Let’s just say it’s really an extra little connection in the thinking part. If there are no glitches, Murl will get both upgrades too.”

Adam held the genue’s hand. “Can I tell him to do anything I want?”

“No, not anything. You can’t make him harm anyone or himself. He is to be your guardian and to help you with your homework. He is not your slave. Understand?”

Dawna piped in, “Notice, he said ‘help’ you with your homework. I don’t want him giving you all the answers!”

“Ah, mom,” Adam said. He surveyed the genue standing before him. His mind raced through the possibilities. Then something occurred to him. “How come there’s no name on his nameplate?”

“I’m going to let you name him yourself,” replied Micael, “unless you want a randomly generated name.”



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— 35 —

“No, I know what I’ll name him!” Adam started to say something to the genue but stopped. “How can I tell him his name when he won’t know I’m talking to him?”

“Until you give him a name, he’ll respond to ‘Genue’.”

“Okay.” He turned to the nameless android. “Genue, I’m Adam and from now on your name is Eugene, spelled E-U-G-E-N-E. Do you understand?”

“Yes, I understand. My name is Eugene.”

Micael rubbed Adam’s hair. “That’s a fine name. I’ll have a nameplate made at the factory for Eugene tomorrow. Tell, me, why did you choose this name?”

Adam beamed at his dad. “I used to always think what I’d name a genue if I had one, and I came up with one that’s made up of the letters in the word genue.”

Micael pretended to think hard, “Eugene? Genue? Too many e’s, isn’t there, son?”

Adam’s delight faded. “Awww. You’re right.”

“Why not drop the first E?” Dawna offered.

“Yeah. U-G-E-N-E. That way I can still call him Yoo-gene.”

Micael laughed, “Sure. Ugene it is.”

Adam tugged the new genue’s hand. “Ugene, let’s go do something.”

The two went to the boy’s room.

“Let’s draw,” Adam said. “Here’s your sketch pad and pencil.”

“I know about drawing from my training tapes. I will try it.”

Adam drew a head. “I’m pretty good at it. I’ve been sketching for a long time.” He put in the features and shadows.

Ugene imitated the boy’s motions but the result did not look as good. “Yours looks much more real.”

“Don’t worry. You’ll get better with practice. Let’s draw something else… that teddy bear over there.”

“Okay.” Ugene studied it. He sketched slowly, looking up frequently.

When he was done, Adam compared drawings. “See, you’ve improved already. But where’s his nose?”

*    *    *

For months afterward, Ugene followed Adam around and tried to master those tasks assigned to him, much of which consisted of picking up after Adam, helping him with school work, and drawing—lots of drawing. Adam had said he should practice sketching, so whenever he had time he did. By the spring, his still lifes and landscapes no longer looked childish.

One hot August day, Ugene carried one of his sketches into the study. “Dr. Wyman, this picture…I wonder…”

Micael looked up from the virtual tri-vector revenue projections on his desk and stared at the pastel rendition of the rose tressel in the back yard. “Another masterpiece, Ugene.” When the genue did not respond he added, “Is there a problem?”.

“I am puzzled, Dr. Wyman. What is the purpose of drawing,? Why does Adam do it?”

“Interesting question.” Micael’s slid down in his chair and clasped his hands over his chest. He thought a moment. “I guess because it’s fun for him. He enjoys it. He likes to see if he can draw what he sees.”

“I understand enjoyment. That is a human end-gram much like task closure is for me.” He let the picture touch the floor. “But this seems to be more than that. I mean…if it were mere enjoyment why does Adam have me draw also? There are much easier ways to get visual images of things.”

“Hmm. Does it stress your ideator loops to draw?”

“No. I understand my function is to serve you and him. And Adam has asked me to draw. But how does my drawing serve him… or anyone?”

Micael got up and went to the genue. He put a hand on his shoulder. “Look. Genues help humans enjoy lots of things, like food, sports, relaxation. Why not in artistic creations?”

“But why me?”

“Why not? Apparently your SCILL upgrade has given you a talent for drawing. In most other genues it has improved their verbal articulation. But the real question now is, how good can you become at this? You won’t know unless you practice a lot.”

Ugene raised the picture. “So you are testing my upgrade by having me do this?”

“It’s not just your upgrade. It’s all of you. In a way, since all genues must learn from experiences just like humans, they are all being tested with any new task. Even Murl. One of your jobs is to become good at drawing.”



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— 36 —

He put the picture on the desk. “I see.” He approached a large oil of alpine majesty hanging on the wall. As he scanned its classic realism, he sensed the internal resolution that comes from closure, from the joining of a question to an acceptable answer. Micael’s was an acceptable answer, and it provided a new motivation. “You’re saying I serve humans by becoming skilled at making images of reality with pencils and brushes.”

“Art is more than just imaging reality. It’s about interpreting reality also. But for now, yes, you will serve us by perfecting your technique. You must practice rendering what you see.”

Ugene became more cognizant of the painting he was staring at. He tried to picture the finger movements that would create such harmonious detail—but could not. He turned to look at Micael. “In other words, you want to see if I can produce a picture with this kind of perfection.”

Micael nodded yes.

*    *    *

A mild winter dragged autumn through to spring. Trees and flowers blossomed and the year’s first warm breeze excited the senses and tickled passions, some for the first time—mostly those of seventh graders.

It was five minutes to three and Adam, like his classmates, was eager to leave the stench and misery of the Tripoli famine and get outside to enjoy the rest of this sunny day in May. He did not think he needed the first hand experiences of the history recreation lab. It did not help that he already knew what Ms. Hench was rehashing as she stood in the middle of a virtual street among hundreds of virtual corpses. He, like his classmates, had already done the economic simulation of the Second Great Depression. What could this gruesome exercise add? All he could do was moan to Hope Strand who stood in front of him about how he, a twelve year old, knew as much about the subject as Ms. Hench. Now she was babbling about how…

“…the International Congress could no longer finance the World Bank debt in the third decade of the century, and how that led to the kind of social breakdown you see. Whatever resources were available around the world were focused on dealing with fundamental human needs and this of course led to the scientific retreat in space travel and the medical sciences. The result was in a sense a mini-dark age for technology.”

Adam stepped through an image of a cadaver so that he could whisper into Hope’s ear. “She forgot to mention how Great Depression II caused the extinction of those reptilian robots working in the factories.”

With only a slight turn of the head, Hope replied, “Golly, molly. Can’t you consider any subject without bringing in robots and genues?”

Ms. Hench shook a finger at them both. “Hush up, you two. This is serious business here.” Then, by habit, she tossed her head to get the mousy hair off a face that looked like a potato. “Okay, that’s enough of Tripoli. While you are removing your VR gear let me give you your next homework assignment. In preparation for tomorrow’s discussion, I’d like the class to study video-histories 8.1 through 8.3. paying particular attention to the ten-year period starting with the discontinuation of planetary colonization by both Western and Eastern economic alliances and ending with the reestablishment of American economic preeminence through agriculture. Questions?”

Adam raised his hand as he took off his perception gear.

“Yes, Adam.”

“Are we going to visit the early factories of RoboTech where the robotic revolution started with the invention of the motor-sensory fiber switch?” He heard Hope giggling at him. He had raised his hand to impress her as much as Ms. Hench. He did not have to do either.

“Adam, that comes later,” Mrs. Hench replied. “Also, class, let me give you your essay assignment due next week. I want each of you to choose another life in another time. Describe your new self as to that time in history, your country and your occupation. At least three pages. Okay, class dismissed, see you all on…”

Not waiting for her to finish, the students bolted toward the door. Adam waited for Hope outside the lab and they walked down the hall together.

“Why don’t you come over to my house?” he asked. “I want you to meet Ugene. You’ve got to see him paint.”

“Adam, I’m really not interested in fake people.” She led him down the hall toward her locker. “Besides my mama won’t let me go to your house. You know, the genue thing.” When she saw his downtrodden face she poked him and said, “I want to be a gypsy.”

“What?” he asked.

“The homework assignment, remember? I’d like to be a gypsy, roaming Europe in the nineteenth century, happy, unattached, dancing and singing. What about you?”

“Oh, me? I haven’t thought about it.” He did for a few seconds and said, “A genue, I guess.”

She giggled. “You can’t do that. It has to be a person, sometime in the past.”

He stared at the floor and shrugged his shoulders. ”Well, I don’t know then.” He looked up to see her ahead. He skipped a few steps to catch up. “Come on. Sneak over for just a while.”



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— 37 —

She looked upward, shook her head and did a stutter step. “Can’t. Shan’t.” She danced the rest of the way to her locker, opened it, and stored her video books. Then with her big black eyes shining she said, “You know I’d like to come over. Not to see Ugene, but to see you.” The soft smile on her cocoa face faded. “But I just can’t.” She closed her locker.

“You don’t know what you’re missing. Ugene is really amazing.”

“I know.” She slung a large straw purse on her shoulder and started to walk down the hall with a sway of self-possession. “So you keep trying to tell me.” When she got no reply she stopped and turned around to see a dejected Adam still standing by the locker. “Well, Robotman, aren’t you gonna strut with me?”

Adam smiled as he jogged to her side. They exited the school and she led him to a skinny birch tree—the one he always stared at while daydreaming in the chemistry lab. The two novices in the art of wooing stood under its sparse leaves trying to impress each other. She fluttered her eyes and looked everywhere but at him. He glanced at her legs, waist and budding chest. Then he timidly took hold of a gold circle pendant hanging from a chain on her neck. “Gee, that’s pretty. Where did you get it from?” His voice whined as he bent over to examine it closely.

Her hand went to the chain too. “It’s my lucky charm. The circle is for harmony and good luck. My mama gave it to me for my birthday. She said if I always wear a circle charm I’ll always be lucky. I’ll pretend it’s my gypsy jewelry.” She took the charm from Adam’s hand and dropped herself to the grass like a disheveled nest from a tree. “You know, I could write about how I tell fortunes and dance and stuff.”

Adam knelt beside her as he looked with mild embarrassment at passing boys. One of his friends pointed at him from a distance and exaggerated a mock laugh. Adam turned his back to him.

“Ugene is becoming quite an artist,” he said with hesitation. “I used to be able to sketch better than him. But not any more. He practices a lot. Sometimes he draws all night while we’re asleep.”

Hope pulled out a large plastic bag from her purse. “You want some of my appleberries?”

Adam’s ears twitched in surprise at the golf ball size pink berries. “Sure.” He shoved one through his lips and, with juice seeping from the corners of his mouth, he continued with distorted words. “Ugene’s drawings are amazing. They have such depth, great shadings—my dad calls it ‘subtle perfection.’ And something I haven’t been able to do—when it comes to details, he can do them perfectly.”

Hope nibbled on her appleberry, eyes fixed on Adam.

“My dad was so impressed with Ugene’s artistic talent that he decided to get him to do oils.” He wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “At first he just used the paint brush like a charcoal stick. But after a few weeks he was just as good with oils. His paintings got to be just like photographs.”

Hope waved at a friend behind him.

Adam sighed and waited for her attention again.

She gave him big eyes and a smile. “Like photographs.”

“Yeah. And after watching Ugene paint photographs for several months my dad and I decided we should get him to put a little creativity into his work. So we took him to an art museum. And we bought him glossy art books…” He was being rewarded by slow blinks from those black eyes. “…just so we could show him how other artists painted with different techniques and perspectives. We tried to show him that painting wasn’t just copying the real world on a canvas.”

Hope began rummaging through her purse. “So now Ugene’s a creative genius.”

“Err, not exactly. The trip didn’t seem to have the impact we thought on him. Week after week he would reproduce a picture by a famous painter in precise detail, then he would paint other scenes using that artist’s techniques. The most Ugene seems able to do is capture an artist’s style.”

Hope chuckled as she pulled out the little mirror she was hunting for and put it in front of her nose. “Wonder how I’d look with gypsy makeup?” She grinned at herself, then returned the mirror to her purse. “Ugene sounds like a super toy, Adam, but…” She stood up. “…I’ve gotta get going.”

Adam sighed, then bounced up, also.

She tapped his hand with her finger and said, “Tomorrow I wanna read your palm.” Then she turned and half danced away singing, “Gypsy Butterfly Away”.

“Enjoyed talking with you,” he said.



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— 38 —

She waved over her shoulder.

Adam watched her little dance down the sidewalk. He cursed himself. “Be a genue? How dumb. Why couldn’t I have said something like a knight of the round table. ” After a moment of self pity he turned the other way and kicked stones as he headed home.

*    *    *

Murl slung a plastic bag over his shoulder and climbed the ladder leaning against the two story Wyman mansion. He felt the bright sun in the October sky warm his skin and charge his batteries. It was a good day to clean leaves out of the rain gutters.

From his vantage he could see Ugene on the back lawn with his easel, canvas and paints and Adam sitting on the grass next to him watching him work. Pulling leaves from the gutter, Murl wondered with genue logic why Ugene was painting while he was laboring on a ladder. Not that he minded, since his obedience was unswerving, but he just did not understand. As he thought and worked he heard Ugene call up to him. “Murl, you are in my way. Will you be long up there?”

Murl looked down at the artist, and before he could respond Adam shouted. “Yeah, Murl. Why don’t you stop working and get out of Ugene’s way? Come and see what he’s painting.”

Murl was reluctant to terminate a task given to him by Dawna but, he thought, a few minutes would not make any difference. He would take what humans called a break and maybe see something more interesting than dirt and dead leaves. Murl climbed down and walked over to the genue artist and his young fan. He peered intently at the canvas. It was divided into four quadrants by heavy painted lines. Three of the quadrants had fully painted scenes of the mansion, the fourth had a pencil sketch of the same scene. Murl could see that each of the completed scenes was different from one another.

“What is this you are doing, Ugene?”

“I am practicing painting in the styles of the masters. This morning I decided to do the mansion landscape. This one here is like Van Gogh,” Ugene said, pointing to the upper left scene, “and this one is in Cezanne’s style, and this one like Picasso. The fourth one was to be in Andrew Wyeth’s style. But I cannot do it with you in the picture since you were not in the others.”

“But I must finish my chores.”

“Dr. Wyman wants me to practice painting.”

“Dawna told me to clean out the rain gutters.”

“But you are in my way.”

“I will not always be in your way.”

“You are not in my way now.”

“That is because I am not doing my chores.”

“Why don’t you wait until I am finished painting before you resume?”

“How long will it take you to paint this last picture?”

Adam’s head swung back and forth as the two genues worked their way toward a mutual resolution of their conflict, an argument without emotion—the only way for genues.

“Not long,” replied Ugene.

“How long is not long?” asked Murl.

Murl noticed Dawna smiling with amusement through an open window. She waved at them. “It’s okay, Murl. You can leave the job for a while.”

Ugene’s brush was already in motion, jumping back and forth from the palette to the canvas as his eyes bounced from the imposing reality to the emerging representation. He seldom paused between brush strokes; it was as if he had practiced painting this particular scene hundreds of times. In twenty-six minutes the final quadrant was filled with color and Ugene declared, “I am finished.”

Adam stood up and said, “Wasn’t that amazing, Murl? He did this whole painting in less than a half hour. And each piece looks just like how one of the famous painters would have painted our house.”

Murl replied, “Yes, but what is the point of this activity? It does not clean the house, cook the food or help with your homework.”

Adam’s enthusiasm was punctured and he was at a loss for a response that might satisfy Murl. But before he could answer, Ugene himself explained, “Dr. Wyman said that I am to paint because I have a talent and I must use that talent. I must strive for perfection. We must test my SCILL upgrade. Everything we do is a test. You too are being tested, Murl.”

Adam and Murl looked at each other puzzled. Not knowing that he was paraphrasing Dr. Wyman, they were unprepared for such a response. Murl looked at his hands. “I am not sure how my capacity is being tested by doing the same domestic chores day after day. Adam, perhaps you can explain this to me.”



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— 39 —

“No, I don’t think so,” shrugged Adam. “But I do know Dad has plans for you to do different things to help him in the future. Maybe he just doesn’t think you’re ready yet. Ugene has taken over some of your chores already, hasn’t he?”

When Murl did not respond quickly enough, Ugene said, “Yes, I do all the gardening, planting and many outdoor jobs now. I have benefited a great deal from Murl’s guidance in these activities, of course.”

Murl was thinking about the boy’s words. It was his first realization that his future life might not be the same as his past life—that he might not be chief domestic servant forever. “I wonder what Dr. Wyman’s plans are for me?”

“I don’t know,” replied Adam. “You can ask him yourself. You two aren’t going to be looking after me forever, you know. I doubt either of you will be going to college with me. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Murl went back to cleaning the rain gutters, mind on other matters. When he finished he decided to talk to Micael. He found him in the bedroom dressing for an evening dinner out.

“Micael, I’m sorry to bother you,” the genue said from the doorway. “What plans do you have for me?”

“Plans?” Micael pulled on a pair of black trousers. “Oh, I guess I’ll have you hang up my clothes over there.”

Murl observed a gray suit frozen in a wild dance on the bed. “No, I mean, what is my future?”

Micael stopped buckling his pants. “Wow. Such a question, Murl. I’m not sure. Why do you ask? Are you getting bored with being a servant?”

“Being a servant is what I do.” Murl watched the human slip on a gauzy pink dress shirt. “But I do think a lot about other things.”

“Yes, I suppose you would with boring tasks.” He stuffed his feet into a pair of muddy green loafers.

“Sometimes I realize I’m thinking, and I am surprised at the revelation. Then I realize that I was thinking about the fact that I was thinking. And that surprises me. Then it dawns on me that I was thinking that I was thinking that I was thinking. It is clear this could go on ad infinitum. Then I wonder what is inside of me that can perceive the workings of my brain.”

Micael rummaged through a dresser drawer. “Uh huh.”

“I mean, I know physically what I am, plastics, memory circuits, glass tubes and things like that. But is any of it really me? If I lost a leg, or had my system clock replaced, or lost a memory module, I would still be me. It seems this thing that realizes it is thinking, is something else; something that’s not physical parts.” He stared at the reflection in the mirror of Micael tying a knot in a plaid scarf around his neck. “What is the core of ‘me’?”

“I know what you mean,” replied the Micael in the mirror. “We humans struggle with the same kinds of questions. As a genue, that thinking thing is simply an artifact of your ideator loops at work. It’s not a physical thing, just a process, a virtual entity that you call ‘self’.”

“Process? I am a process?”

“Yes, several.” Micael put on a formal jacket. “For one, you’re a process that allows you to cull through your experiences—everything that you learned and remember, events you lived through—and to bring it all to focus.”

Murl removed a red thread from the back of the jacket. “Like humans?”

“Yes, right. And you are another process that receives all the stimuli from your senses, mixes it with memory data and generates information.” He turned around to face Murl. “How do I look?”

Murl backed up a step. “You look fine.”

He yanked at the lapels. “Finally, you are process potential. That is, your beliefs and values, how you react to situations, what someone could predict you would say or do.”

“I see. Like Dawna’s inclination to respond with warm exuberance when she meets a stranger, or your impulse to look at pretty young women.”

Micael’s eyebrows rose. “Err… I suppose.”

“We are much like humans,” Murl said.

“Well, somewhat, but your thinking is programmed. Your notions and ideas are all formulations. Humans are…” He rubbed his chin. “…more unbounded, whimsical. They have a spirit, a will.”

“They have emotions. A product of hormones.”

“Yes, but it’s more than that. Some would say humans have a soul.”

“What is a soul?”

“I’m not sure what it is. It’s a spirit thing. I don’t know. ” Micael went to the door. “Ask Dawna. But I got to get moving.” He left the room.

Murl began picking up the clothes from the bed. “I am a process.”

*    *    *



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— 40 —

Adam slammed the front door.

“Wipe your feet before you go any further,” yelled Dawna from another room. “How was school?”

He stomped his feet and snow fell off his shoes. “Okay,” he called out. The dark wintry day matched his foul mood. Somebody had called him a genue lover. And Hope was absent. He shuffled through the house and out to the glassed-in patio where he found Ugene putting the finishing touches to a trichromatic oil of the hoary vegetation in the Wyman backyard. He studied its cold texture for a moment. Which great artist had Ugene imitated this time? It looked like Cezanne but there was a blend of Van Gogh. There was some Remington in it too. Or was it Whistler? Or was it any of these?

“Ugene, whose style is this?”

The genue put his brush down and backed up to take a good look himself. “I think I made a terrible error. I thought I would do this landscape in the style of Cezanne. Then my mind began thinking about something else and, without realizing, I slipped into the realism of the Remington technique. I tried to go back and fix it up but the same thing happened. My mind wandered and my brush was doing Van Gogh. Finally I thought I just better kind of patch it up by blending the styles together. Terrible, isn’t it?”

“No, not at all. I think it looks very interesting.” Adam saw his dad standing in the doorway. “Oh, hi, Dad. Ugene has done a new painting.”

Micael stepped onto the patio. “So, let me see your latest masterpiece, Ugene.”

“Yes, but it’s not a masterpiece.”

Micael gave the painting a quick scan. “Why, Ugene. This is great. This doesn’t look like any of the masters. You’ve created an original style.”

“But it was an error,” Ugene insisted.

“To err is human,” Micael said.

Ugene turned his head sharply to Micael. “I am human?”

“No, no,” Micael laughed. “It’s just a saying. Complex machines, like you, can also make mistakes. But the capacity to err, to do something outside of the expected, is an important part of being creative. That’s how people are creative sometimes. They kind of make mistakes on purpose; they try to go beyond mechanical or rote actions. They might even take other people’s ideas or works and patch the parts into something new.”

Adam looked at his father. “You mean Ugene is creative? Is his painting as good as a painting by a human artist?”

Micael chuckled at his son’s enthusiasm. “I don’t know if this painting is really an example of creativity, but it is a good first step.”

“If this painting is original, then you have to sign it, Ugene,” said Adam.

“That’s right,” agreed Micael. As Ugene dabbed his brush into the banana-yellow blob on his palette, Micael had second thoughts. “Wait,” he said, grabbing the genue’s arm. “I don’t think you should just sign it ‘Ugene’.”

“Why not?”

“Art is supposed to be a human thing. Some people might get upset it they thought a genue could paint this well. And I’m not quite ready to explain Ugene’s name on it. How about something like B. Betkin?”

Ugene was puzzled. “But that is not my name.”

“Dad, he’s right,” Adam said. “He can’t put a name on his picture that isn’t his.”

The three of them mused for a moment. Then Adam’s eyes lit up. “Ugene, your name is an anagram of genue.”

“Yes, so it is.”

“Well why don’t we rearrange the letters in your name to make another name?”

“An anagram of Ugene? Yes, of course.” Ugene’s mind churned for a few seconds, then he announced, “E. Nuge. That will be my nom de plume, if you will.” He dabbed paint on his brush and signed his landscape.

“That’s great. I think I’ll hang this in my office at the plant,” Micael said.

“That would please me, ” replied Ugene. “Now I’ll do another painting. This time I am going to mix a few styles on purpose.”

——



Oblivioun's Children  —  Chapter 4: Deception

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— 41 —

The intercom beeped. “Mr. Charles Pinckney Cotesworth to see you, Mr. President.”

“Just a minute, Murl,” replied Micael without looking up from the I-port on his desk. He finished the press release announcing the take over of RoboTech by Vosima Corporation and secured the document. “Okay, send him in. And please, just call me Micael, Mr. Business Secretary.”

The intercom was silent for several seconds. “I see your point, Micael.”

The door opened and a tall, graying man entered. He looked prosperous in his light gray suit, black string tie, white shoes and tall, wide-brimmed gray hat.

“Hello, I’m Micael Wyman,” the president greeted.

“A good day to you. I’m Charles Pinckney Cotesworth from Maine.”

They shook hands. Micael went back to his chair behind his desk and Mr. Cotesworth took a seat in front of it.

“Stunning picture you have there, Mr. Wyman,” Charles remarked pointing to the oil hanging behind his host. “E. Nuge. Don’t know the artist.”

“You wouldn’t,” Micael responded. A moment of silence made it clear that he had nothing else to say on the subject. He leaned back in his plush chair. “What can I do for you, Mr. Cotesworth?”

“Well, let me tell you. I’ve just finished clearing ten thousand acres up in Maine, right in the middle of some of the thickest forest. Got it all bulldozed just last month. What I’m going to do is plant hypercotton—a new strain that will do just fine up there.”

Micael nodded. “But why bother with cotton? You can’t beat the synthetics.”

“There’s where you’re wrong, Micael. Er… may I call you Micael?”

“Sure.”

Charles’ eyes had wandered past Micael to the painting. “Love that picture. Can I make you an offer?”

“No, Charles. It’s not for sale.” He paused, then to divert the discussion, added, “I may call you Charles?” The visitor nodded. “So what about the hypercotton?”

“This hypercotton will match the qualities of any synthetic. Rest assured of that. But that doesn’t really matter to you, Micael, does it? What I need from you is five hundred ginner robots to do the picking. Now I figure that’s quite a large order and you might be willing to give me a favorable discount for that quantity.”

“We sell genues, Mr. Cotesworth. Not ginners, not arties, not robots. Genues.”

“Sure you do. But they’ve got to be better than the damn mechanical pickers I’ve been running on my farms, especially in some of Maine’s rough terrain. Those machines are not only expensive but they break down. And hiring men means unions, fringe benefits, mistakes, and all kinds of other worries. But ginners will do the picking with none of these problems—I already have two, so I know. Bright enough to do the work but not bright enough to cause trouble.”

Micael struggled to keep his words civil. “Mr. Cotesworth, genues are really quite bright. As bright as any average person.”

“Micael, Micael. I didn’t mean to offend your ginners.” Charles hunched over the top of the desk and patted his hand. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think they could out-perform people and mechanical pickers. They may be bright but what I like about them is they’re obedient and truthful and unimaginative. I guess that’s what makes them seem kind of dumb.” Charles chuckled as if he had thought of a funny incident. “You have to admit they are gullible and docile. But that’s good, that’s why I want to use them.”

Micael the salesman overruled Micael genue builder and decided to just close the deal. “I’ll give you a twelve percent discount with a purchase of five hundred genues.”

Charles was studying Ugene’s landscape. “It seems I know that style. Are you sure I don’t know the artist?”

“Yes, I’m sure.” Micael stood up to block the man’s view of the painting. “Twelve percent?”

As if in deep despair, Charles rubbed his forehead with the tips of his fingers. He tilted his head down, eyes peeking out. “Hmmm.” He stood up and stuck out his hand. “It’s a deal.”

He gave Micael’s a hardy shake, then walked around him to the painting. “Sure would like this picture.” His fingers ran around the brim of his hat as he poured over the canvas.

Micael now was studying the picture also. It was stunning. “What if I told you a genue painted this picture?”

Mr. Cotesworth turned to him with a startled look. “Genues can’t paint. You’re pulling my leg. E. Nuge is the painter.” He laughed as if he had just gotten a joke. “That’s funny. I can just picture a genue painting. Stick figures.”



Oblivioun's Children  —  Chapter 4: Deception

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— 42 —

Micael rocked on his feet with left hand holding his right elbow, right hand at his chin. He glared with glassy eyes at the man. “You really like this painting, Mr. Cotesworth?”

The laughing stopped. “Certainly. I’ll give you the price of a genue for it.”

“Fine, then. It’s yours.” Micael grasped the picture from the wall and thrust it at him with a phony smile. “The people across the hall will arrange the details of the sale with you.”

“Well, thank you very much.” Charles Cotesworth took the painting and extended his hand. “Nice doing business with you.”

Micael shook Charles’ hand with vigor. “Yes, indeed. I enjoyed it, too.”

——

A hairy paw pulled the pillow from under Micael’s head. He opened his eyes and saw an ugly face sucking on a corner of the pillow case. “Holy shit!” He leaped out of bed. The chimpanzee, dressed in a frilly apron, jumped to the floor and ran out of the bedroom flailing its arms and screaming. Micael pulled on a pair of trousers and stomped out to the living room.

“What is that damn chimp doing in my bedroom?”

Dawna tugged at her husband and gave him a kiss. “Micael, don’t get all upset. That’s Faith. She and Roda are here visiting. Besides, it’s 10:30.”

“I don’t care. It’s a weekend and I’d like to sleep in.”

The animal jumped on the lap of the red-haired woman sitting on the sofa. “Ah, poor little Faith. Did the mean man scare you?” Roda said as she stroked the cuddling chimp.

“Why don’t you keep your it on a leash?” Micael lashed out.

Roda wrapped her arms around the animal. “You’re scaring my precious baby!”

Micael walked up to the sofa and glared at her. “It’s a chimp, Roda. It’s a damn chimpanzee. Open your damn eyes.”

“Micael!” Dawna scolded. “That’s enough. I haven’t seen Roda in years. Don’t spoil her visit.”

“That’s okay, Dawna.” Roda patted her baby. “I understand how some people have to make fun of other people’s handicaps. Usually it’s the same people who have more sympathy for mechanical things, like ginners.”

Micael snarled back, “Genues are a lot nicer than some people I know.”

“Nicer? They’re just robots, Micael. Open your damn eyes,” she mocked.

He huffed. “Yeah, nicer. Nicer than that phoney doctor of yours.”

She cast an eye at him. “You mean Dr. Usimi? What about him? He’s a brilliant doctor making great contributions to restarting human fertility. Something ginners can’t do. And he’ll be back soon. You wait and see.”

Micael laughed. “Come off it, Roda. Dr. Nawh Usimi ran off to Argentina and changed his name to Dr. Nawh Udont. You were conned.”

She waved a hand. “Oh, go play with your pathetic puppets.”

“Stop it, you two,” Dawna cut in. “That’s enough bickering.”

Roda glared at him.

Micael glared back. “Genues aren’t puppets.” He looked at Dawna, then back at Roda. “I’m tired of you picking on them. I can prove that genues are just as capable as people—at least in oil painting.”

Dawna put her hand on Micael’s shoulder. “I don’t think you should get into that.”

Roda’s eye lids fluttered. “You’re joking. A genue painting? Huh. You’re going to show me computer generated art?”

Micael turned, stretching his arm like a herald’s trumpet toward a large still-life hanging on the wall. “Behold a painting by a genue.”

Roda put Faith down on the floor and went to the picture. She examined it. She turned to Micael looking for a hint of deception. She turned back to the picture. “Quite good,” she mumbled. Then she shook her finger at Micael. “No, you can’t fool me. This was painted by an artist named E. Nuge. In fact, I know the name. I saw on the news recently that a Mr. Cotesworth was showing off a painting he just acquired by the same artist, a Laotian artist, he said. He said he paid a million dollars for it and would sell it for two million.”



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— 43 —

“You what?” Micael yelled. “That bigoted opportunist didn’t pay a million for it.”

“Nice try,” Roda said.

“But it was done by a genue. It was done by Adam’s genue, Ugene. Do I have to have him paint in front of you?”

“Micael,” Dawna pleaded. “You don’t want to do this. Drop it.”

“That’s all right, Dawna. Let him have his little joke. He’ll do anything to convince me he’s created a new race of beings.”

“Roda, I’m telling you it’s no joke.” He tapped his finger on the painting. “Look at the name. E. Nuge. See, the letters in the name spell ‘genue’. And they also spell Ugene, the name of Adam’s genue.”

Roda’s eyes blinked and squinted. Then her mouth dropped open. “Oh, I see.” She made an ugly grin. “Aren’t you as slippery as soap.” She grabbed her daughter’s hand and pulled her toward the front door. “Nice talking to you, Dawna. Let’s do it again sometime. I’ve got to go see Mr. Cotesworth about his Laotian art. Boy, is he going to be peed off when he finds out he was your pigeon.”

Micael fell into an over-stuffed chair and put his chin on his chest. “What have I done?”

——

Charles Pinckney Cotesworth’s stern face popped out of the I-port. “You’ve made a fool of me, Mr. Wyman. Do you realize I went on a world I-port program to unveil that so-called piece of art you sold me? Then I get this call from Strand telling me it was done by a ginner. If I had wanted computer art, Mr. Wyman, I would have employed a Fuji robot from Pome Systems.”

Micael sighed. “Yes, yes. I’m sorry.” He put his feet up on the desk with a thump. The stereo image flickered.

“Don’t you realize I have a reputation to protect. I’m considered one of the preeminent experts in contemporary oil paintings. At least I was. Now, after what you did to me, I’m the laughing stock of the art world.”

“I know, I shouldn’t have done that.” Micael looked at the ceiling.

“You know I could sue you. Better yet, I might cancel the deal for five hundred ginners. Maybe I could also get a couple of other large customers to cancel. I have lots of friends, you know.” He shook a finger at Micael.

“Yes, I’m sure you do.”

“And I know some senators who might be persuaded to introduce legislation restricting and regulating the sale of robots.”

Micael threw his feet to the floor. “No, no. That’s not necessary. I’ll make the situation right.”

“And just how will you give me back my dignity?”

“I could give back the money for the painting.”

“That’s all?”

“And another two percent discount on the genue deal.”

Mr. Cotesworth shook his head. “Okay, but I also want the ginner you call Ugene included in the deal.”

Micael’s eyes popped out. “Ugene?”

“That’s right. I don’t want that ginner painting anymore. I want him picking hypercotton. Ginners shouldn’t be painting anyway. They should be doing useful work for people.”

“But, Mr. Cotesworth…”

“I don’t trust you, Mr. Wyman. I want the painting ginner or you’ll hear from my lawyers.”

Micael looked at Ugene’s newest painting hanging behind his desk and took a deep breath. “Okay. You can have Ugene.”

“And one more thing. I want that ginner associate of yours, what’s his name…”

“Murl?”

“Yes, Murl, not you, to hand over Ugene, and to verify his identity. You can always trust a ginner. That’s what I like about them. Set up the delivery with my secretary. Good day.” Charles’ indignant face dissolved from the screen of the I-port,

Micael called Murl into his office. “I have a really big problem. Mr. Cotesworth has learned that Ugene made the painting I sold him, and now he’s demanding that I include Ugene in his purchase of five hundred genues. I’m not sure what we should do.”

Murl stood in front of the desk. “The solution seems simple—just command Ugene not to paint anymore, give back Mr. Cotesworth’s money, and give him one extra genue instead of Ugene.”



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— 44 —

“Very logical, but it won’t work. He wants Ugene to work on a hypercotton plantation to make sure he won’t paint anymore.”

“Wouldn’t he be satisfied with deprogramming and reassignment of Ugene to domestic tasks?”

“He doesn’t trust me,” Micael lamented. “I’m not sure I trust him. I’m not sure he won’t just use Ugene to keep painting for himself once he has him in his control, and try to profit from that.”

Murl wondered aloud. “Seems like a lot of mistrusting.”

Micael stood up and went to Murl’s side. “I have an idea, Murl. But I’m not sure you’re going to like it.”

“I don’t really have likes and dislikes,” Murl replied. “But even if I did, why would you say I might not like your idea? It’s logical, isn’t it?”

“Yes, of course it is, but we have a situation here that calls for some creative thinking.”

“Creative? Like painting?”

“Well… more like deception.”

“Deception!” Murl pondered all of the meanings and examples of “deception” that were in his memory bank, but he soon discovered that, except for strong inhibitions against lying to a human being, there was not much there. Murl had observed humans lying and deceiving other in the training films he saw. But he never was untruthful himself—there was never any need. Besides, it did not fit into logical thought. That required truth. Now Micael was talking about deception. “What kind of deception?”

“We have to hand over a genue other than Ugene and tell Cotesworth that it is Ugene.”

“Indeed, that is deception. But certainly you are capable of it. And I assume you want me to prepare a new genue with Ugene’s name on it. That will not be a problem.”

“That’s right. And I want you to make sure the new Ugene gets several hours of painting instruction from the old Ugene. Will you see to it?”

“Certainly,” Murl said. “But you said I wouldn’t like this solution. It seems acceptable to me.”

“Murl, the thing is, you must be the one who must turn over this second Ugene to Mr. Cotesworth and assure him that it is the real Ugene.”

“I am the one to do the lying?” This did bother him. How could a genue be dishonest? On the other hand, how could he disobey? “Is there a reason that you personally cannot hand the genue over to Mr. Cotesworth?”

“Yes. Quite simply, Mr. Cotesworth does not trust me. On the other hand, he believes genues are always honest. Therefore he specifically asked that you be the one to turn Ugene over to him and confirm that it is Ugene.”

“Wouldn’t it be… wouldn’t it be…” The congestion in Murl’s neural pathways caused him to waver a bit. He could not comprehend how humans found deception so easy. “Wouldn’t it be easier to give Ugene…”

“Murl, stop being logical. I’m not about to give Ugene to Mr. Cotesworth. And I can’t have him angry at me. This is the only way. I’m no longer asking you to lie. I’m telling you.”

Now the genue was faced with conflicting response tendencies. He thought he could not deceive humans, but he also knew he could not disobey Micael. What was he to do? Obey Micael, and lie? Or tell the truth and disobey. What was he to do? Lie, disobey? He thought he could do neither. But now he must do one or the other.

“Murl, can you do this?”

“I must,” he replied.

——

Mr. Charles Pinckney Cotesworth arrived at Micael’s office dressed in the same clothes he had on the first time they had met, only more wrinkled—like his mood.

“Dr. Wyman, let us get this matter behind us. Please have your secretary, Murl, bring me the painting ginner, Ugene.”

Micael said nothing to his client. He called Murl on the intercom and said, “Bring in Ugene.” He wanted to say the phony Ugene, but Cotesworth was right there. Chills ran down his back. He never even checked to see if Murl had prepared another Ugene. Oh, God. What if Murl brought him to work—by mistake—or on purpose. No, Murl wouldn’t do that. Or would he? Micael’s own devious thoughts were running amok.

Two genues entered the room and stood before the two humans.

Micael studied the facial features of the one with “Ugene” etched on its breast. He fought a digging doubt. It looked just like the genue that was Adam’s friend—but maybe not. Micael sensed his neck swelling, his heart pounding. He looked at Murl. No sign of deceit—or honesty.



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— 45 —

Cotesworth also scanned the one named Ugene. Then he took a quick look at Micael. Then back to the genue.

Micael took a deep breath and went to his desk and sat down.

Charles Cotesworth walked around Ugene, then suddenly asked, “Are you Ugene the painter?”

“Yes, I am Ugene. And I paint,” came the reply.

Then he walked to within arm’s length of Murl. “Murl, is this the ginner called Ugene who painted the picture I bought from Mr. Wyman?”

Micael’s eyes were locked on Murl whose face was not capable of betraying emotion.

“Yes, this is the ginner called Ugene who painted the picture you bought from Mr. Wyman,” Murl replied.

“Are you lying to me?” Charles asked quickly.

Micael was just as quick. He not could not let Murl respond to such a spontaneous question without thinking. “I think that should satisfy you, Mr. Cotesworth. Take Ugene and leave.” He was hoping that his intervention would give Murl enough time to figure out that to answer the second question truthfully would divulge the falsehood of his first answer.

“No, I am not lying to you,” answered Murl.

Micael’s eyes rolled up in relief. Then his heart skipped a beat. Murl said that so easily. Too easily. Maybe he wasn’t lying. He stared at Murl for clues but found none. He looked at Charles Cotesworth who was also staring at Murl. The sly dog isn’t sure, either. Does he think I would screw up such a big deal over one lousy genue who could paint?

Charles backed away from Murl. “Okay. We’ll go.” He pointed at the other genue. “Come on, ginner. You’ll love the plantation.” Mr. Cotesworth and the genue labeled UGENE left the room.

Micael broke the silence. “Thank you for lying, Murl.” He looked at the poker face genue for confirmation. “That was a lie you told, wasn’t it?”

Murl reflected. In his core, untruth was illogical. Obedience was preeminent. And so he had spent many hours to find the logic in lying. He concluded that it must be done to perform the function of obedience. It was a means to an end. It could be functional. There could be a logic. His head moved with a quick jerk toward Micael as if astonished. “Couldn’t you tell? The new Ugene doesn’t look anything like the original one.”

Micael went to his desk and slouched in his chair. He was not feeling particularly proud or pleased—not about anything he had just done.

——

Ugene had been sitting for twelve hours in the back seat of the Wyman’s car in the garage, with all the windows darkened. Micael had given him a book to occupy his time, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, but Ugene did not understand why. He was experiencing frustration—in the genue way. He wanted to be useful and serve some purpose. Micael had told him to sit in the car and wait, but did not explain why. It seemed pointless to him, but there was no reason not to obey Micael’s wishes. But what could it mean?

Finally, the car door slid open and Adam got in and sat beside Ugene while his dad took the driver’s seat. They both looked dour and neither said a word. Micael drove to the highway and set a course that took them north. The silence continued.

Ugene was puzzled by the strange behavior of the humans. “Where are we going, Mr. Wyman? Why are you and Adam so silent?” After no response he persisted. “Don’t you know where we are going? Are you two not feeling well?” He looked at Adam who continued to stare out the side window sniffling, deaf to the questions. He looked forward to see Micael sitting in the driver’s seat gazing out the windshield. “Mr. Wyman, can’t you hear me?”

Micael turned around to face the back seat. “Ugene.” He paused a moment. “Listen carefully to what I’m going to say now.”

The genue could do nothing else.

“Your paintings, the new ones, have produced an emotional reaction in some of the people who saw them—Roda for one and Charles Cotesworth for another, people who I had to deal with. They can’t tolerate the idea that such works can be produced by a genue. As long as these people thought a human artist made the paintings, they were satisfied. But when they discovered that a genue did them, they became furious. Do you understand what I’m saying?”



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— 46 —

Ugene tried to sort out everything Micael had said, to coordinate these facts with his previous knowledge, to make speculations about unspoken motives, and to project his best hypotheses.

“Yes, I believe so. When they thought they were admiring a human artist’s work they were happy. When they found out the artist was not human, they were unable to accept the work. I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault. You see, part of the our biological makeup is this drive to be superior, to succeed, to control, to conquer, to be the best, and these drives often conflict with our better, more reasonable motives.”

“Then the solution is obvious. In order not to offend the human need to feel superior in art, I will simply not paint again.”

Micael shook his head. “No, I’m afraid that won’t work. Another genue has your name and reputation as a painter. Your existence here is gone, given to another genue. Mr. Cotesworth—like Roda and the public—believes, and must continue to believe, that you are now picking hypercotton in Maine. In order not to create more problems, you can’t be seen again—not in public or even around the estate.”

“Good,” remarked Ugene. “Then it is finished. I will take on a new identity and not paint. We can carry on from there.”

“But that would be a great waste of your talent, Ugene. I cannot let that happen.”

The genue was about to speak but a soft beep from the dash took his master’s attention away. Micael took over the driving. He turned the car down a dusty, lonely road, and after several kilometers pulled onto the grassy shoulder in front of the entrance to the national forest preserve. He got out, followed by Ugene and Adam.

Micael lifted two cases from the trunk of the car. “This case has your personal maintenance supplies, a battery pack in case you can’t regenerate, an I-port, some other survival gear, and some personal things Adam wanted you to have. This other one has art supplies and a video card on how to make paints and canvasses, compounds, and what ever else you might need.”

Adam was in tears and would not look at Ugene.

Ugene looked at the cases. “I don’t understand. It seems that the works I produced had worth because people liked them, but now no one will see them. Is painting in solitude to serve a purpose?”

“I think you have talent, and I won’t waste that talent just because some people don’t like genues who paint. I don’t care any longer if your painting won’t bring joy to people. Adam and I want you to keep painting, to learn more about it, to practice, to find your limits, even if that means painting strictly from the genue perspective, if there is one. To do this, you have to put your ideas and notions on canvas. Try to make paintings that are interesting and meaningful to you and other genues. Use yourself as the first reactor, then, if you can—without revealing yourself—use other genues.”

Questions bubbled in Ugene head. “Where am I to do this? Who will I talk to? Will I never see you or Adam again?”

“Take the cases and go north on foot until you reach some isolated place where you can work alone. Use the I-port to keep up on world affairs. Talk to other genues if like, but avoid all human contact. I don’t know when it will be over. Someday, perhaps when all this dies down, you can rejoin the Wyman family. Someday, when all this won’t matter any more.”

Ugene nodded like a human. “I see.”

“Adam, it’s time to go.”

The boy hugged the genue. “I won’t forget you, Ugene. You’ve been the best friend I’ve had for the last three years.” He then got into the car.

Micael shook the genue’s hand with a hopeful smile and took his place in the driver’s seat.

Ugene watched the weeping boy wave out the back window as the car disappeared down the dusty road, leaving him in the shadows of the forest.

The light was dim. The air was mute. The humans were gone. When a dead tree branch fell on the carpet of leaves, the genue did not turn around. Instead, after a moment, he picked up his cases and started walking north into the wilderness.


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