The big leather chair in the study did not quite fit Murl’s rigid posture, but it would have to do. He put his elbows on Micael’s black-stone desk and stared at the several electronic documents floating in the I-port frame.
“Memo. From: Murl, Production Supervisor. To: Dr. Micael Wyman, Chairman of the Board. Topic: Replacement parts. Body: Since we have moved the headquarters of the Genusys Corporation, formerly Vosima Corporation, to Risen Falls, production has reached 202,000 genue units per annum at this site. This brings the world-wide plant capacity to 610,000. The new Russian plant being negotiated should add another 134,000. However, there will continue to be a shortage of replacement parts. We must address this problem as our genue repair centers must now support more than 7,235,000 individuals currently in service. I would like to point out…”
Another frame lit up on the I-port. “Micael, I must talk to you.”
“Good morning, Mr. Chenkov. Just a moment and I’ll connect you with Mr. Wyman.” Murl opened an intercom frame to the bathroom. “Micael, Yuri Chenkov is calling from Yeltsingrad.”
“I’ll take the audio in here,” Micael sang out from the steamy shower. Shampoo suds cascaded down his face. “Yuri! Sorry for taking audio only. I’m getting ready for Adam’s high school graduation ceremonies. What’s up? Having problems with finalizing the new plant?”
“Micael, I’ve been here only a week and a… Oh, that’s right. You’re off to an event. Please wish Adam congratulations for me. As I was saying, I’ve been here only a week and it’s just like when I left years ago, a lot of bureaucratic bungling… political mumbo jumbo.”
Micael caught a mouthful of water, then spouted it in a great arc. “How can help?”
“They’ve got a problem with some of the contractual language. That’s holding up everything else.”
“So take care of it, Yuri. That’s why you’re there.”
“Well, okay. But a…” A pause. “We’ll need your voice signature to approve any changes to the contract.”
A growl came out of the shower. “I don’t need this. Okay, what kind of contractual language problems?”
“The Russians won’t accept the language about genues being ‘highly intelligent, self-regulating’ entities in the contract. They say it’s flowery and unscientific. It seems they don’t want even a hint in the contract that genues are anything but useful machines.”
Micael turned off the water and reached for a towel. “If you ask me, I think the problem is that they don’t want genues in Russia to have any legal basis for acquiring rights.”
“Could be. I don’t know.”
“What do you think we should do?”
“I sure don’t think we ought to worry about genue rights—at least not in Russia. It’s a different culture there. I think we should alter the language to whatever they want on this. What’s important is getting the production facility on line.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right, Yuri.” He stood sideways, pulled in his stomach and posed in the mirror. “I have a high regard for your understanding of the Russian culture. Fix it the way you think best.”
“So okay. The new description of genues will read ‘highly skilled, educable, and self-repairing,’ in Russian, of course. There are other minor changes as well.”
Micael rubbed his head with a towel. “Relay an audio copy to me as soon as you can and I’ll voice-sign it.”
Micael went into the bedroom and dressed. He was buttoning his pleated dress shirt when he heard a knock on the door that was half closed. “Yes?”
Murl walked in. “I’ve sent you the memo you asked for regarding the genue replacement parts.” He watched Micael pull on a silver-blue, sleeveless sports jacket. “There was also a message for you about some problem in quality control at the plant. Details are not given. I can only conclude from the brief text that some genue units received non-standard experience training.”
“Received what?” He raised his fists. “Damn, I hate incompetence!”
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 5: Confrontation
Micael’s loud voice meant nothing to Murl. He was used to his anger now. He figured it was for emphasis and not any more significant than the furrows that marked his brow. That is what anger was, emphasis. “Me, too,” he responded.
Micael bared his teeth at the image in the long mirror. “Have they isolated the units?” He headed out the door to the living room.
Murl was right behind him. “I’m sorry, but the communication does not say. The message was filed late last night.”
“Okay, I’d like you to check into it. Get me a full report.” He stopped and turned. The genue almost ran into him. “By the way, Dawna, Adam and I will be going out for most of the morning and afternoon. Before you go to the plant, I’d like you to instruct Konti about the household chores that need to be taken care of today, including tonight’s dinner. I’m aware that training a new genue might intrude on your new responsibilities as full-time production supervisor at the plant, but I want Konti to learn the routine around the estate as well as your techniques.”
“I will do that, Micael,” answered Murl. “I am sure you will be pleased with Konti’s performance.”
Their conversation was interrupted by the entrance of a tall, muscular, teenage man. “Hi, guys. Hey, Dad.” Adam was dressed in his formal jeans, pleated white sweat shirt, gray vest jacket, and a red and pink ascot, all atop his new shiny, black balloon shoes.
Micael scanned his son from head to foot. “Looks like you dressed for a funeral.”
Adam pursed his mouth as he fiddled with the knot of his ascot, then pushed it to the back of his neck. “What? Is it the shoes?”
He put his arm around the boy’s shoulder. “Just kidding, son. You look great… I suppose.” He smiled with pride as he studied his wife’s features in the young man’s face. “So, you going to miss high school?”
Adam beamed. “Not me.”
“I’ll bet your teachers will. The graduation of your class marks the end of secondary education in this country. At least for a long, long time. All that’s left are the few remedial institutions.”
“It’s just like all the other years, Dad. Another grade closes, a bunch of teachers and some school employees are out of work.”
“Kind of like the toy manufacturers several years ago,” Micael said. “Little by little they just disappeared.”
“It won’t be so bad for some of the teachers. I know a few of them had planned to retire anyway. And several others are going to teach at the university. Maybe I’ll have some of them as instructors in college. I know Mr. Yantz will be an assistant instructor in biological circuits.” Adam thought for a second. “Which reminds me. Will I be able to work at Genusys full time while I go to college? I figure I can handle the load since most of my subjects will be in robotics engineering. Those classes will be a snap.”
Micael grabbed Adam’s ascot and brought the knot to the front. “We’ll see.”
“But, Dad. I know genues inside out. And besides, I want to know everything I can about running the company.”
“Wait a second, son,” cut in Micael. “Just because your dad owns ten percent of the company doesn’t make you heir to the presidency of the corporation. Let’s take it a step at a time. I want you to study like other college students. You’ll work half-time to start with and then we’ll see. You can work more if it doesn’t interfere.”
“But when it comes to robotics engineering, you know I don’t need classes.” Adam turned his ascot knot so it was in back again. “Don’t forget I helped with genue olfactory sensation. I gave you the idea. And it was me who suggested the loop-back scheme that allowed us to make it an easy upgrade for the genues already produced.”
Micael brought his hands down on his son’s shoulders and held him with stiff arms. “Yes, I know, son. I’m sure Murl can thank you for his rudimentary sense of smell. But you have a lot more to learn at college than engineering and robotics. You need cyber-psych theory, signal dynamics, and information theory. And you need business, economics and management. And most of all, you need patience.” He yanked at the ascot. “And the knot goes in front.”
Dawna swirled into the room, her long, white, silken gown floating behind her. “I’m ready.” She put a hand on each of her men. “Come on. Let’s go. It’s a beautiful day for a graduation.”
“Wow, you’re a knock out,” said Micael as he and Adam each kissed her on opposite cheeks.
Dawna looked at each of them, her head moving side to side, up and down. They certainly looked like father and son. Although she was proud of both, she was glad that Adam’s personality was more like hers. He had his father’s sharp mind and curiosity, but like her he was more considerate, better humored, and somewhat of a dreamer—his father without the sharp edges. “Don’t we all look stunning.” She brushed at Adam’s shirt, then adjusted his ascot so the knot was in back.
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 5: Confrontation
Micael sighed. “Poly-music, balloon shoes, ascot’s in back. What’s this world coming to?”
The three humans and one genue made their way to the front door where they were met by Konti, the newest member of the family. The two genues stood next to each other, identical in almost every respect except for the names embossed on their chests and the slightly hollower cheeks of Konti.
“Best of luck, Adam,” Murl said. He had no idea what that meant even though the concept had spent many an hour in one of his ideator loops. He turned to the protégé servant. “Say good-bye to the Wymans.” Konti did, although he too did not know the reason for such communication.
Murl watched the Wymans walking toward their deluxe town car. “Aren’t they the picture of an ideal family?” The scene was reminiscent of the movie classic Life With Father—a healthy, happy human family strolling in the bright sunlight, going off to some auspicious event.
Konti had a different perspective. “I suppose so. However, they would look more natural without their clothes.” Although he had seen only wholesome movies during his development, he could not see the logic in draping and covering the human form with materials of varying texture and color. In the past days he had seen each of the Wymans in the nude and found their natural state attractive enough—not genue-perfect, of course, but certainly close to that ideal. It did not occur to him that not all people shared that quality.
Murl reflected upon Konti’s observation and tried to picture the three Wymans getting in the car naked. “Perhaps. However, I don’t think they would share your opinion.”
“Murl, why do humans wear clothes, anyway?”
“I’m not sure. They get embarrassed when they are nude in the presence of others—but only certain others. I once thought it might be because they didn’t like the way their bodies looked, and from what I can tell from their clothes-draped bodies, that would seem reasonable for many humans. Yet it is common practice for them to prance around in the nude in front of the people they care the most about; so apparently that’s not the reason. Then I used to think that they wanted to look different and fashionable every day. But when you observe the shabby garments of many people at leisure, it doesn’t confirm that theory. It can’t be that they instinctively don’t like to see naked people since that is contradicted by the constant depiction of nudes in art and in media. So I guess I really don’t know.”
“Do you think it is some primitive attempt to appear different from the other animals?” asked Konti.
“I don’t think so. They are different by their lack of body hair—most of them. Clothes do help them maintain a warm, viable temperature. But even on warm days you don’t see humans totally unclothed. Indoors they cool the rooms instead of remove clothing. I suppose it’s just another one of those enigmatic facets of humanity we genues will never appreciate.”
“I understand eating. That’s their source of energy, inelegant as it may be. But constantly changing clothes, and constantly washing them—of what, I’m not sure—that is an enigma.”
Murl closed the front door. “That’s one of the things I am going to show you—washing clothes. But Dawna likes to have the whitener, stain repellent and softener put in at a special time in the cycle. Come, follow me.”
As they walked toward the utility room Konti asked, “I would think they would have a machine that could do all that automatically.”
“They have, and you are that machine,” Murl said.
When the Wyman family arrived at the Risen Falls High School they made their way to the auditorium where several groups of seniors, mothers and fathers were gathering. The stage was gaily decorated with colored streamers and tiny blinking beacons. Stretching the full length across the back curtain hung a long sign, each letter in a different color, reading “Congratulations to Risen Falls Last Senior Class.” Beneath it, in front of more than a dozen folding chairs, stood a dozen teachers, the principal and the last Risen Falls High counselor in a ragged circle talking among themselves. The Wymans made their way down the sloped center aisle, each of them looking for another familiar face.
Dawna stopped midway to the stage. “Look, Micael. There’s the Strands.”
“Oh, no.” He sat down in the first seat he could get to. “These are good seats.”
“Come on. Let’s go say ‘hi’.” She pulled him up by the arm. “I haven’t talked with Roda in months.”
Adam started to bound away. “I’m going to go look for Hope.”
“No, wait, Son.” Micael said. “Come with us.”
“Go on without me,” said Adam over his shoulder.
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 5: Confrontation
“Adam! Don’t do this to me.”
“Never mind,” Dawna consoled. “You’ll have to get used to the fact he has a mind of his own, too.”
Micael followed her through a row of chairs toward Jake and Roda Strand. “I really don’t want to talk to that woman. You know she’s still crazy.”
“You’re a bright guy. Use your genius to get through this with some dignity.” This was not the first time she had to pull him through a social situation. “Roda!“ she called out waving her hand high in the air.
A woman with stringy red hair in a wrinkled flowered dress turned to see the Wymans nearing her. At her side was a middle-aged man whose emerging half smile labored to brighten a face tormented by twelve anguishing years. Between them stood a four-foot chimp dressed in a white gown and archaic bonnet laced with ribbons. It too looked up at the approaching couple.
Dawna kissed Roda on the cheek and looked down at the chimp. “And little Faith. My how she’s grown.”
“Yes, she has,” Roda smiled. “Some day she’s going to be graduating just like Hope.”
Micael groaned to himself. Then he looked at Jake. The forlorn man appeared to be begging for understanding. Micael took him by the arm and led him a few steps away. “Well, Jake, how have things been going?”
Jake dropped his head. “They’re getting better. Even though Roda still can’t face the reality that Faith isn’t…” He paused and tightened his lips. “Thank goodness for Hope. She’s been a light in my life. And I think she has been for Roda, too. Hope has brought some normalcy into our family.”
“I know. That’s good. I’m glad.” Micael struggled to say the right things. “You still working at the observatory?”
Jake’s smile was weak. “Yeah, but times have brought a lot of changes. There just isn’t the interest in astronomy anymore. What with the closing of the moon base and all, we just seem to be going through the motions of maintaining any kind of astronomic science.”
Micael nodded. He glanced over to see how his wife was doing with Roda.
Dawna put her hand on Faith’s head. “She’s adorable.” The chimp stared at Dawna with big brown eyes and continued to nibble on her own thumb as if to make the statement true. “Say, why don’t you and Jake come on over to our place later. We have so much to catch up on.”
Roda’s face became blank. “No, I really can’t. I have a meeting to attend later today. Thanks a lot for asking.”
The loudspeakers blared out a march and the people began shuffling around and sitting down. The presenters on stage took their places while graduates clowned around in the first two rows of seats.
Adam side-stepped his way down one of the rows past his many friends, exchanging comic barbs as he worked his way toward Hope.
“Hi, Hope,” he said as he sat down in an empty chair next to her.
“Oh, hi, cream pie,” she bubbled back while pulling on a shoulder strap of her exotic white dress.
“Yeah. I’m chocolate cake, right? So you’re cream pie.”
Adam grinned in delight. Although they were not intimate, he took the special sobriquet as another sign he might have a chance with her. It never occurred to him that they were already more than just friends. “I saw your folks over there with your sister, Faith.”
Hope returned an indignant look. “Don’t call that damn chimp my sister. Just because my mama has a problem doesn’t mean I have it too.”
“Just kidding.” He melted a bit. “How is your mom?”
“Who knows. Okay, I guess. Daddy tells me when Faith was born, Mama was like dividing by zero. She would rock her and bathe her and talk to her just like she was in Pleasantville. But time has a way. Now, I guess, Mama is kind of normal in most ways. Daddy and I have no problem with her most of the time. But when it comes to Faith, we can’t reason with her. She’s never recovered from what Dr. Usimi did to her.”
He stared at her. “Yeah, I guess she really went through a horrible experience. It’s easy to see how she could lose touch with reality. The human brain seems so fragile. I mean so much can go wrong with neural connections, the memory traces, the associative matrices…”
“The mind,” cut in Hope. “You mean the mind, don’t you, funny bunny. It’s a word in the dictionary.”
“You sound just like a humanities major.”
“Yes. And you jabber like an robotics engineer—associative traces and wires and circuits.”
“So what’s wrong with that?”
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 5: Confrontation
“Nothing, I suppose, if you’re a genue lover.” She turned away.
“Why shouldn’t I be? They’re intelligent, reliable, and best of all, they’re mentally stable.” Oops.
“Listen, Adam Wyman.” There was fire in her eyes. “I love you like a pot of chili. But when it comes to robots, you’ll find my sentiments are like my mama’s, a bit touched though she may be. If your damn genues are so great, why don’t you sit by one? Why don’t you take one to the prom?”
He recoiled. Then he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “Genues aren’t cute and sexy… like you. You want to go for a walk in the park later?”
Hope stared up at the stage with her mouth clenched. Then she shifted her eyes at Adam and glared at him. “Maybe.”
A voice from the rostrum burst from the loud speakers. “Attention everyone. Let’s begin the commencement.”
In the middle of the auditorium Micael whispered to Dawna, “Is that like ending a conclusion?”
Just then a clicking sound came from his ring. He rotated its blue node around to his palm side and put his open hand to his ear. The ring issued a small voice. “Micael, this is Murl. Are you there?”
Micael brought his hand to his mouth and spoke softly. “Yes, Murl. What is it?” He put the hand back to his ear.
“I have more information on the incident of last night. It seems that one of our training setup specialists, a man by the name of Tar Tankard, replaced one of the standard experience tapes with an old twentieth century movie of considerable violence. The title was Rambo.”
“What!” said Micael with full voice. “I want him fired immediately.”
Dawna shooshed him.
Through clenched teeth he growled. “What happened to the genues?”
The voice from the ring continued. “The cubicle where the tape was substituted was used by six genues before it was discovered. Five of the six were located at delivery preparation. The sixth, named Dirf, I believe, apparently was taken by Tar from the premises. We have not been able to locate Tar or the sixth genue. However, we have given police the man’s picture and voice prints. They should be able to locate him. What would you like me to do with the five non-standard genues?”
“I don’t know, damn it,” replied Micael against the background drone of the principal’s monotone speech. “I’ll talk with you later. Stay on top of the situation, Murl. I’ll see you after this graduation.”
In spite of its assumed historical significance the ceremony proceeded in a most unremarkable way. When it was finished and all the best wishes were wished, Micael rushed off to the genue plant while Adam and Hope decided they wanted to be alone for a while. They made their way out of the high school and walked in friendship toward Arboretum Park. Within a few minutes their strides along several blocks of sunny sidewalks put them under a canopy of sycamore leaves.
As they walked, Hope gave Adam a timid side glance. “So tell me, what do genues do when they’re not doing something?”
Adam pretended to ponder the question. “I think, the answer to that has to be ‘nothing’.”
“Silly, willy. I mean when they’re not active.” Hope skipped over a crack in the sidewalk. “Do they sleep?”
“When they’re not busy they cogitate mostly. They replay memories. They do sleep, but they don’t dream like we do.”
“What’s the point of their sleeping?”
“Kind of like for people. It relieves some of the congestion in the intermediate memory. And it integrates and abstracts daily perceptions into long-term memory. Sort of clears their brain. They only need about an hour or so of sleep a day, though.”
He studied the random shapes of sunlight and shadow darting across Hope’s face. In thoughts that did not come to his lips he marveled at how her features tantalized him, how they gave substance to his affections—even though she did not share his interest in genues. “Do you really hate them?”
“Genues? No, I don’t really hate them. But why do you defend them so much?” She did not give him a chance to answer. “They’re not what’s important in life. Mama taught me that it’s people. And she’s right. People are the most important thing. Right now, it’s humankind struggling to insure its survival. To solve the Amber Day mystery. I think that’s more important than anything else.” She looked at him. “Besides, genues are doing fine. They’re generally treated well.”
“Hmmm, that’s like saying in the early 1800’s you could find blacks in the finest homes of Georgia.”
Hope stopped and grabbed his arm. “Oh, come on, Adam. You’re saying genues are treated like slaves?”
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 5: Confrontation
“They are, aren’t they? They’re servants for people. They don’t get considerations of any kind.”
“So, mega-deal. They’re only machines.” She really didn’t want this discussion. She took several large, quick steps.
Adam caught up. “Maybe I am too close to them. But I see a lot of unused potential there. I’ve seen how their mental capabilities have grown. Murl, for example, has taken on more and more responsibilities at the genue plant. I could foresee him running the place twenty or thirty years from now. He’s not just a machine or a pet. He’s a capable being.” He reached for her hand.
She stared straight ahead. “And he’s a friend of yours.”
“Yes.” He thought about it. “No. Not like you.”
She took his hand.
They strode in silence, in step. Soon they were on the new part of the sprawling campus, beyond the old quad and the classic stone buildings, where modern bookshelf-styled buildings, built twenty or thirty years ago, scarred the arboreal landscape.
As they walked the winding concrete path separating rolling lawns, Hope broke the silence. “So, this is your new school?”
“Yup.” He turned to her. “You still going to Northwestern University?”
She put on a big smile. “Sure am. And I’m soap bubbles about it.” Then she frowned and squeezed his hand. “But I will miss you, cream pie.”
They stopped and embraced. Then they rubbed noses and kissed. A glint caught Adam’s eye. It was from a double-circle pendant hanging on a gold chain around her neck. He put it between his fingers.
She took it and dangled it. “Mama gave it to me.”
“I remember when your lucky charm used to be a single circle. Has the double circle brought you any better luck?”
She dropped her head and looked up at him through the corners of her eyes. “Sure as sugar. Got all A’s on my final report—and got accepted to Northwestern.”
“You don’t think your intelligence had anything to do with that?” Adam asked.
“Lucky me, yes.”
They were standing in front of a three story, glass-facade building. Adam peeked over Hope’s shoulder and saw the sign staked out on the lawn in front. It read “Genetic Engineering.”
“You want to go in here to see the genetics exhibit?” he asked as he turned her around and pointed at the building.
“Chimpanzee fetuses whose chromosomes have been implanted with human genes, and stuff like that.”
Hope laughed out loud. “Some serious monkey business, huh?” She ran up to the door. “This ought to be cool.”
They entered the building and found the exhibit room. At its entrance was a somber sign on an easel that read, “Exhibit of Human Reproduction Experiments. In honor of humankind’s never ending search for its survival. May the lives that never spawned in these halls be a guiding light to that end.” Beyond the sign were two long galleries stretching left and right.
“A fork in the road,” Hope said.
“There’s some neat stuff this way.” He pulled her left into the gallery marked “Conjoint Genome Experiments.” Tall glass cases lined the wall, each tagged by a plaque. They walked past the enclosures of preserved baby chimera—part chimpanzee, part human. Test 94, a baby hairless chimp. Test 210, a embryo chimp with a head having human features. Test 486, a humanlike infant with long toes and fingers and a flat face.
“Oh, the trials of science,” said Adam. “Trying to recreate man from the genes of monkeys. Close, but no bananas.”
“You’re terrible,” rebuked Hope as they continued to amble past the macabre display. “You can’t blame them for trying.”
“You have to admit how amazing it is, with all the work that evolution put into our sex drive to guarantee the survival of our genes, it wasn’t enough. It worked for so long; then when we should be able to manage it ourselves by the great advances of science, we can’t. But it’s not a big deal.”
“Why not?” she asked.
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 5: Confrontation
“I mean, why bother? Why would anyone care about what happens in the long run? All I care is that my life will be long and healthy. And yours, too, of course. If nobody comes after me, us, so what? I won’t care.”
“How can you say that? Don’t you care at all about the Amber Day mystery? Don’t you care that the population of the world is down to six billion people and still falling? Don’t you care if the human species survives?”
They passed an embalmed two-headed chimp with blue eyes and blonde hair. Adam gazed at it, then replied, “Some day when the sun explodes, or the universe collapses, every living thing will become extinct. So what does it matter if one more, or a billion more, ‘me’s come after this ‘me?’”
Hope stopped and glared at him. “Adam, it’s not just you or me that’s important. I admit one person’s death is no big doodoo in this world. In fact it’s happened billions of times already.”
“Yeah, I know. Some of the greatest people who have ever lived have died.”
“Smart tart,” she said with a poke. She started to walk again. “What I’m trying to say is, all those billions of minds in the world. Aren’t they kind of the same thing over and over? I mean, yes, maybe they’re different. Or they think they are. Like a kaleidoscope, all the different patterns, but it’s all the same glass just arranged differently. Each one of us like those patterns thinks it’s the most significant, the center of the universe. You know, ego. Just think of all the stupid things we say and do to defend it, inflate it, protect it, impose it. But really, it’s all so silly. Those minds, they just come and go, century after century.”
Micael looked puzzled. “So? What are you trying to say?”
“There is a larger being, or consciousness, that we’re all pushing along, each of us adding a billionth something to it. The culture, the history, the power of thought. That’s what lives on and on in all those me’s and them’s. That bigger combined thing, that’s what we don’t want to die.” She checked his response. He was just listening. “It’s not my idea. Look at where all the research bucks are going. Not to make you or me live longer, but to save the human race. That’s what this exhibit is all about. We all know we’re going to die as individuals, but we just can’t let that larger being die. We can accept our own mortality, but not Amber Day.”
Adam thought about it, maybe for the first time. They walked. He had no answer for her. Not even a smart remark. It kind of made sense. He would have to think about it some more. He could only give her a half smile.
Their promenade brought them back around to the entrance of the exhibit facing the second gallery. Its sign read “Unitary Differentiation Experiments.”
“Back to the fork in the road. Want to go right? ” he asked.
“Nah. Let’s take the third alternative and get out of here.”
Somewhere in Risen Falls, in an old warehouse, several dozen people gathered to share their separate frustrations with a common predicament. The meeting, initiated by one person, collected its members by word of mouth—yet it had no appointed leader, no agenda, just a collective gripe.
“I tell ya, I’m sick and tired of having to work next to a machine that thinks it’s smarter than I am,” volunteered a man with dark glasses. “I’ve been a stock checker at the builder’s depot for twenty-two years. Last year they bought a ginner to help me. Pretty soon the damn thing is telling me how to stock shelves… as if I started the day before. I tell you, I’ve had it with them ginners.”
The room rumbled with angry shouts and stomping feet.
“Me, too,” came a call from the other side of the room. “I’m a home delivery man for Fabulous Foods. Several months ago management brought in a ginner to take over Lois Pike’s area. That was okay since Lois was leaving anyway. But last week they canned Harvey Barg and replaced him with one of them machines. I gotta think I’m next.”
Boos and hisses played background to shouts of “down with ginners” and “nuff’s enough.”
Two rows up a big burly man stood up and looked around as he tried to wrestle his pants up over his large waist. “I’m Val. I know what you’re all going through. And I say let’s end this nightmare now. Let’s go tear up the damn ginner factory.”
Seated next to Val, a man of lesser proportions stroking a thick black beard, made a huffing sound as if he were mocking him. Val looked down at him. “What’s your problem? You don’t like my idea?”
The man just dropped his head and growled in discontent. The bones in his face showed through his pocked-marked cheeks and brow. His straight thin lips seemed to want to hide in the surrounding black growth as if guilt would make it betray secrets. His nose stood out in defiance of an introverted personality. The long lean body clothed in grubby black denims and black and white plaid shirt slunk down in the chair with arms clasped around the chest. He looked insignificant, yet something about him gave the impression that he was someone to deal with. The people in the room strained to see who was making the brash sounds.
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 5: Confrontation
“I’m talking to you,” said Val. “Stand up and tell us who you are and what you’re doing here. Are you some kind of undercover cop?”
The bearded man stood up, indignant at the suggestion. “No, I’m not no cop.” His voice was as rough as his face. “My name is Ta… er… Bil Sykes.” He put his hand to his throat and snuck a finger into the ugly beard and scratched an itch on his chin. “I used to work in the ginner plant ’til a ginner got bumped over me. So yesterday I quit. I’m against the ginners too, just like the rest a ya. But I’m not much into running crazy with a mob.”
“Mob, eh? Then whatcha here for?”
“Heard word of the meeting. Thought I’d check it out. So far, it looks like a mob.”
“Oh, yeah, and what would you suggest?”
Bil Sykes looked around at the rag tag crowd with a cold conceit. Then he stared at the heavy man who stood several centimeters taller. The intimidating difference in size caused him to cast his eyes down. “I got some ideas,” he muttered toward the floor.
“Fantastic, Mr. Sykes. Tell us your great ideas,” Val shouted to the corners of the room.
“Can’t say.” The bearded man sat back down.
A woman in a leather jacket seated behind them stood up and yelled, “Screw him. Let’s go raid the ginner factory!”
“Genue-cide!” someone yelled.
Val latched onto the enthusiasm. “How about it everybody?” he bellowed. “Let’s go smash up the ginner factory tonight!”
“Just a minute, young man,” came a tough voice. A white-haired woman rose slowly and leaned with both hands on her walking stick. “It was I who called this gathering. It was I who posted the time and place for this meeting.”
“And who the hell are you?” Val demanded.
The old lady wheezed. “I am Abellina Fye. I too used to be affiliated with the Genusys Corporation. Actually it was the Vomisa Corporation then. And I, like young Mr. Sykes, became disenchanted with the organization. I sensed among the godless people there a total lack of concern for the current plight of mankind. Instead they flaunt a reverence for the ginnies, or whatever they’re called.” She ran her handkerchief across her nose. “Arties, that’s what we used to call them. Anyway, it has also come to my attention that this growing fascination with the new arties, this insipid and faddish attempt to duplicate God’s greatest creation, is taking humanity into oblivion. I believe the signs are there for all to read. God is not happy. I am so convinced of this truth that I have terminated my position and loyalties with that company, even though…” While she cleared her throat, she decided not to mention that she still had a sizable investment in its stock. Then the steel returned to her eyes. “…and I have begun to search out others who felt as I did. It was, and is, my hope that we can raise the consciousness of God fearing people around the world. That we make them aware of the insidious and evil relationship that is evolving at the expense, I think, of true human salvation. To this end, I would like to call this organization Heighten Awareness of Real People or HARP, a musical instrument symbolizing heavenly harmony. And I don’t think we should cause any physical damage to the plant. Maybe just rough up genues already purchased.”
The old woman looked for an approving response from someone in the group. Her oration was met only by several dozen stares, a hand full of coughs and one sneeze.
Finally one male voice piped up. “You’re full of crap, lady.”
“I like the name HARP,” someone else said, “but I think we ought to call the group Humans Against Robotic People. And I think we ought to do like Val says. Let’s go bust up the damn factory.”
The crowd replied with a discordant chatter that went on for several minutes. Somebody’s yell rose above the noise. “What about the police?” The other voices fell hush. “We can’t destroy the place without having the police coming in. I’m not risking going to jail.”
A handsome older woman put her hand on his shoulder. “I am the police, mister. I’m the night dispatcher. I don’t think anyone is going to interfere.” A rally of voices agreed.
Bil Sykes slinked out of the room amid the revelry.
Someone shouted. “Wreck anything you want. But please, no harm to people. Let’s not alienate other citizens from our cause.”
Abellina raised her hand up for attention, but nobody would recognize her. So she yelled out, “Ladies and gentlemen! I implore you, please don’t cause too much property damage. It could affect earnings.”
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 5: Confrontation
Val held up both arms. “Tonight at eleven p.m., we make our march on the robot factory.” The crowd cheered.
Lost in the waving fists, backed against the wall, veiled in shadows, was a poker-faced redhead with a large chimp on her hip.
“Murl, is everything back to normal at the plant?” Micael asked from the solitude of his study. He put his feet up on his oak and black stone desk.
The scene on the I-port screen showed Murl in front of a control panel in the production coordination room of the Genusys plant. It was where Murl spent most of his time now as production supervisor. “Micael, operations are running smoothly again. I have had the five faulty genues taken to refitting and had all their memory circuits removed. In the meantime I have scheduled delivery replacements for those units.”
“You what?” Micael dropped his feet to the floor and slid to the edge of his chair. “I told you not to do anything. You disobey me? I can’t believe you did that.”
“I thought it out thoroughly, Micael, and it was the best thing to do. It was apparent that those five units had received non-standard experience involving reprisal through violence. We can easily replace their memory components with fresh ones. I cannot understand why you would be upset. As I recall, you did tell me to carry on here. I did.”
“I did not mean for you to carry on with this particular incident. I wanted you to conduct business as usual. We have no evidence to demonstrate that one episode of violent viewing would have any effect on genue behavior. Don’t you realize that most human children view much more violence than that and we don’t go pulling out their brains.”
“But humans do display violent tendencies in response to unanticipated or threatening experiences. From my readings of human development it was apparent that this was an undesirable attribute. Much that influences adult behavior occurs in childhood. In fact, if I might quote from Jean Piaget’s book, The Origins of Intelligence in Children…”
Micael interrupted. “Didn’t you also read that human violence is a biological mechanism, built in by the unavoidable consequences of evolution?”
“Then why was violence so purposefully avoided in the experience training of the genue?”
Micael leaned in closer to the I-port for emphasis. “Because human beings and other living things also have other biological mechanisms that ameliorate violent tendencies. We have a whole set of hormones that produce violence and others that contain it. Genues don’t have any response regulators except logic and memory. We did not want any trace of violence in the residuals of genue memory so that, given unanticipated situations, violence would not be recalled as an adequate response.”
“But we genues have seen violent behavior by humans since our initial training.”
“Enough. I don’t have time to talk philosophy with you. I want you…”
A siren screamed over the I-port.
“Micael… The security alarm has sounded. I believe we have an intruder.”
Adam and Hope entered the study in high spirits. “Hey, Dad. I talked Hope into taking a tour of the Genusys plant, okay?”
“Ah, yeah. No. Wait a second,” Micael responded. The I-port signaled another incoming call. He held up an index finger at the young couple, then turned back to the genue on the I-port. “Murl, I’ve got another call. Please stand by. Ready hold. Ready link.” The instrument came alive with a new scene—a three dimensional image of Dr. Den Forrester standing in front of an uncluttered desk in a dimly lit study.
The old doctor looked haggard. He licked his lips. “Dawna, it’s been a while since we spoke, three weeks ago, wasn’t it?”
“Quick, get your mother,” Micael ordered his son with a wave of the hand. Then back to the virtual image. “Just a second, Dr. Forrester.”
The man on the I-port screen continued anyway. “Last time you saw me you tried to cheer me up. I really appreciated that.”
Dawna came into the room. “What is it, Micael?”
“It’s your dad. It must be a recording. He doesn’t respond to me.”
She stepped around the desk to peer at the less-than-life-size image of her dad. She saw an old face—a face with a history written in wrinkles like the script of an ancient language she could not read. She did not remember seeing those lines before. It struck her for the first time that he had aged. She had always thought of him as a young-hearted man. Even now the sparkle in his eyes seemed to be crying out that there was a young man trapped inside. Was he that old? Sixty. He was only sixty. That’s not old, she thought; not as old as it used to be. And what was he saying? The sound of her father’s voice broke into her thoughts.
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 5: Confrontation
“As you know, I did not choose to retire. Amber Day made that decision for me. But that was okay. I didn’t need the money; I thought I needed the freedom it brought. I thought there were so many other things in life I wanted to do. Retirement was a time to see the world, to write, read and relax. But there is only so much retirement a working man can take. After sixteen years I’ve had enough. I can’t go back to work. I’m a baby doctor in a world without babies. My health isn’t all that great. I have no wife, no lover, no friend.” Den cast his eyes down. “I don’t mind telling you I’m depressed. Sure, I have you and Adam… but not really.” He paused to wipe his mouth with a handkerchief and then sneaked it up to the corner of his eye. “What’s left of the human world is yours. I choose to end my life instead of waiting any longer for its natural, perhaps ghastly, end. Why wait in depression for the ills and pain of old age? I love you, Dawna. And Adam, and Micael. Enjoy the rest of your lives. Goodbye.”
“Oh, no, Daddy!” Dawna cried out as she lunged at the fading image. She turned to Micael. “I’ve got to go to him. It might not be too late.”
“Okay, I’ll take you.” Micael stood up and wrapped his arms around his wife. “Adam, go to the plant, see what the problem is. Help Murl out. Hope, I don’t think you should go. There may be trouble.”
Micael rushed Dawna to her father’s home while Adam took Hope to her house and then headed for the Genusys plant.
The strange sounds brought Murl out of the communications room onto the balcony overlooking the genue production facility. The pounding reverberated through the steel delivery doors that towered over a concrete apron. The echoes returned from the far ends of the high-ceiling factory.
Except for the new noise, everything seemed normal. In the distance, Murl could see plastic pieces were being fitted together with precision by automatons. Nearer, ashen genues were being tailored with the matte green energy conversion jackets. To the left, bodies entered the DuroDerm tunnel to be laminated with plastic skin. To the right, he saw the maze of training carrels each with its genue neophyte receiving primary memory loading. In front of him, queues of naive genues waited their turn for experience training. Against the wall, dozens of completed genues stood ready to be shipped. The music of this production was being drowned by the thuds on the steel doors. Murl listened and analyzed.
Keltop from scheduling came to his side. “Murl, I come to assist you. How can I help?”
“I’m not sure,” Murl replied. “An intrusion through the delivery doors seems imminent. This experience is new to me.”
The delivery doors gave way to one critical blow and flung open, exposing the plant to the night air and a menagerie of people shocked into silence by their success. They stood on center stage like a cast of characters before a balcony crowd of two. Human eyes met genue photo-receptors in magnetic stares. The drone of production became a virtual silence—it was as if a time bomb had just stopped ticking.
A muscular man at the head of the invaders raised a steel bar high in the air and shouted, “Amber Day to the genues!” The mob fractured like a pane of glass, radiating out onto the factory, swinging pipes and clubs, kicking and stomping, throwing anything they could lift. Murl and Keltop watched from their perfect vantage.
“Is this an example of violence?” asked Keltop.
“Yes,” answered Murl. “I’ve seen it before, usually one human being violent to another, sometimes two humans exchanging violence. Once a human was violent against me.”
“What is its cause? What is its purpose?”
Murl thought for a moment, watching a tall man bash in the chest of one genue. A burly woman decapitated another with a splintering of plastic pieces. “Its cause has something to do with the human’s internal fluids, some complex chemical exchange system they share with other biological life. My scant readings on the subject lead me to believe that it may also arise from memory residuals of their formative years. Its purpose is said to be a means to achieve an end without thought. To promote survival. It is a response that often gives satisfaction to a human. And still it is not clear to me how this can be so.”
A mechanical hand flew into the air. A synthetic torso exuding a jumble of glass strands skidded across the concrete floor. A green head disintegrated against a steel pillar.
“Does it have meaning for us?” asked Keltop. “Are we to respond?”
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 5: Confrontation
The question puzzled Murl. His comprehension of the destruction taking place below was not complete. He had nothing in his instructions that could deal with it. Yet somehow he knew the situation needed to be addressed. Was there something they could do—should do? It seemed to him that this dilemma could be resolved if Micael or Adam were here. He would know how to deal with these intruders. It occurred to Murl that this notion satisfied the definition of a wish, and so he spoke it. “I wish Adam were here.” Although Murl understood the word wish, he was not ready to comprehend the word coincidence, for just as he spoke, he cast his eyes at the breached doorway and saw Adam standing there against the black night illuminated by overhead beacons like some fictional human hero.
“What the hell is going on?” shouted Adam. “Why are you people doing this?” He walked up behind a man bludgeoning a genue with a sledge hammer.
Val stopped in the middle of a swing. He turned to confront the lad a meter away. They exchanged stares. When it was clear who had the upper hand, he shoved Adam to the ground with a lunge and a thrust of his fist, then raised the sledge hammer over his shoulder to deliver a mindless blow to the fallen teenager. But the hammer would not move. Val turned to see that it was held in check by small but determined hands—hands of a red-haired, middle-aged woman with wrinkles around her eyes. Her face showed no emotion.
“You came to destroy genues,” Roda growled. “He is not a genue.”
Val’s face betrayed guilt. He yanked the hammer free of Roda’s grasp and pointed it at Adam. “You stay put.” He then stepped away and once again began to wield his weapon against plastic flesh.
From his position on the floor Adam gazed up at Roda, grateful but puzzled. Her eyes, like her lips, said nothing. She stepped back, then turned and disappeared outside into the night.
From the balcony, Murl gazed upon young Adam lying helpless on the ground while the destruction continued around him.
I must respond, he thought. His mind raced through an analysis. Genues were being made nonfunctional. That was contrary to the company’s purpose. The people should not do this. They must stop. Or is it, they must be stopped? How does one stop violence? Counter-violence was not acceptable. Murl’s memory integrator struggled to assemble a response. Observing Adam on the concrete floor below tickled an associative memory link established many years ago. The energy that was his thoughts found its way into the rare-earth residuals of his brain. A faint experience trace burst out of its solid-state hold and twisted its way to an ideator loop where it drew an image from the past and gave expression to enlightenment.
Murl’s analysis was complete. He stepped to the end of the balcony, through a door, around a corner and into a room labeled CAUTERIZING REPAIR. The genue scanned the bench strewn with intricate components and spotted a laser cauterizer. “Laser” was the key word. He picked up the cauterizer by the nozzle and gave it a curt examination. It was an instrument for sealing plastic parts of genues. This would do, he thought. He retraced his steps to the balcony at the side of Keltop.
Pointing the cauterizer over the balcony rail as if it were a child’s toy weapon, Murl put his voice in loud mode and spoke down at the rampaging humans. “Stop what you’re doing or I’ll blast you with this laser gun.”
Keltop cocked his head toward Murl with expressionless bewilderment.
The haphazard mob froze in haphazard time. From the growing silence, they looked up from their destruction and glared at the genue aiming what seemed a dangerous device down at them. None had seen such a weapon before. Heads turned in search of a bold leader, but no one spoke up.
Murl moved his arms down and the cauterizer touched the rail with a soft click that echoed in the stillness. One man dropped his cudgel and ran out into the night. Two more followed him. Murl tapped the rail again and wholesale retreat succeeded among the rest.
Keltop, who had watched without doing anything, asked, “Why did they run?”
“Although I have seen threats enacted many times in my movies training, I’m still not sure how it worked either.”
Adam stood among the tangled glass veins and plastic bones. His winding walk toward the balcony staircase took his eyes and brain on a tour of the massacre. Nausea worked at his stomach. He shook his head and climbed up the stairs.
“Murl, you know that cauterizer would have fried anybody you had aimed and fired at.”
“I’m sorry. I meant no harm,” Murl replied. “I was counting on them reacting as that old lady in the bar did many years ago when you did the same thing. Do you remember?”
“Yes. That was a toy gun aimed at a drunk. What I recall mostly is not being able to finish my root beer.”
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 5: Confrontation
A beeping sound came from Adam’s ring. He put it to his ear and listened. “Yes, Dad. How is grandpa?” Then with hand cupped over his ear, face cast to the floor, he slumped down until he was on his knees. Keltop and Murl followed his descent with their heads. Adam nodded to the unheard voice coming from his ring. The two genues lowered themselves down to the young man’s eye level watching him intently. After several moments Adam put the ring to his lips and said in a low voice, “Okay, Dad.” Then chin on his chest, he dropped his hand to his side.
“What is the problem, Adam?” asked Murl.
“My grandfather…” His voice trembled. “…killed himself tonight.”
“Why would he do that?” Keltop inquired.
“It’s called suicide,” instructed Murl. “Sometimes people do that. I’m afraid I cannot tell you why.”
“But as I understand humans, they are almost fanatical about avoiding death,” the young genue responded.
Adam looked at Keltop, then turned and stared out at the carnage strewn below. “Yes, when hope doesn’t give way to despair.”
Tar Tankard bent over the table and rubbed the smudges from the mirror. He peered into the reflection and traded grins with the black-bearded image known now as Bil Sykes.
Two months had passed since his creation. Now Bil Sykes no longer needed to share his body with Tar Tankard, that unlucky man who thought he should be production supervisor instead of a genue named Murl. He no longer needed the face or name of that lonesome soul who thought he could find fellowship in a group that shared his rancor but who, in the end, could not. It was time to dispatch that clean-shaven man who had played his little trick on the genue makers.
Bil Sykes removed the false beard, exposing a harsh face that looked older than the thirty-one years it was. Starting today he would confine himself to this old house while his own black beard grew to cover the face that police were searching for. He would leave his past on the other side of town with Tar Tankard who would strangely disappear.
The bare face stared into the mirror gladdened that no one would ever see it again—no one except the thing standing quietly by the door. He looked past himself in the mirror and winked at the genue who did not seem to share his shallow pleasure. That gave him even more delight.
He found an unmarked vial among the clutter on the table. The potion was guaranteed to numb his throat. He opened it and drank its contents. He inserted a narrow plastic tube down his throat and let two beads of hydrochloric acid flow down to drip upon his larynx. Fire poked through the numbness. He coughed, spit blood, then drowned the misery in his throat with a gulp of water. The acid had done its damage. In a few weeks all the soft-toned words of Tar Tankard would be spoken in the harsh, strained voice of Bil Sykes. No one would trace him by voice print.
The new man walked over to his captured genue, ran his finger across its breast plate. He made a small slit in the DuroDerm, pealed it back, etched a mark on a single capital letter of the registered name DIRF, and resealed the skin with precision.
The dingy room betrayed the pleasure of this shabby soul stroking his green companion. Even the light rays that sneaked in through grimy windows, then rode dust particles to the ugly floor, would not color his face. Only shifting shadows would reveal his smirk—and the frozen features of the new genue named DIRE.
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 5: Confrontation
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