Murl decided to travel to the Strand home via the back roads. Taking the blacktop two-lane highway was longer than the transway but much more scenic. Along the shoulder wildflowers were blooming, and in the fields, fruit trees were in blossom. Besides, what was the use of being a chauffeur if he could not do the driving? Controlling the open-top roadster gave him satisfaction.
Murl glanced at his passengers in the rear view mirror. Dawna, smiling and arms crossed, looked poised. But Micael seemed disgruntled. He was slouched in his seat, looking up through the roof at the early evening’s navy blue sky and the dark blurs that were tree branches streaking overhead.
“The invitation actually was addressed to me,” Micael said as he swayed with a turn in the road. “If I’d have opened it, I’d have thrown it out. Then we wouldn’t be going to this dumb anniversary party.”
“Don’t be silly, Micael.” Dawna looked at him through the black strands of her hair being blown across her face. “Hope called me several months ago and told me that she was going do this for her mom and dad’s thirtieth wedding anniversary. The card was just a formality. Besides the invitation wasn’t addressed to you; it said Mr. and Mrs. Micael Wyman.”
“Why celebrate a thirtieth anniversary? There’s nothing special about the number thirty.” He paused a moment, then his eyes lit up. “Forty eight—now there’s a number. Why doesn’t Hope wait until their forty-eighth anniversary to come all the way from Chicago to celebrate?”
“Why do I have to go through this with you whenever you have to encounter Roda?”
“I don’t know. It’s her attitude toward genues mostly, I guess.”
“You keep trying to convince her how great they are. That’s what makes her hostile.” There was impatience in her voice. “I know you’re not particularly fond of her but this is a special occasion. Hope and Roda went through a lot of trouble for this party. So be nice—and censor your humor. Spend time with Jake. I’m sure he’ll be glad you came.”
“Yeah, yeah.” He turned his shoulder to her.
Murl had heard this kind of exchange many times before. He came to regard it as something humans do. He took his eyes from the road for several seconds to look at his master, arms clutched tightly around himself. It reminded him of a child’s pouting behavior. Murl volunteered a suggestion. “If you are unhappy at the party, you can talk to your son.”
Micael sat up. “Adam’s going to be there? Well—okay!”
Dawna looked surprised at his delight. “Didn’t he tell you? You see each other practically every day. Yes, he’s going to be there. He’s still a little crazy about Hope, you know.”
Micael’s eyes lit up in revelation. “That’s why he wanted to use the company limo.”
As they pulled up in front of the Strands’ modest ranch home, the one they had lived in ever since they were married, Murl searched for a place to park the car.
“Look, there’s the limo,” Micael pointed out. “Adam must be already here.” He observed a green humanoid in the car. “And look, Konti is still in the driver’s seat. What’s he going to do, sit there until the party is over?”
Murl found a spot two houses down and parked. As the car doors slid open he rushed over to assist Dawna and uttered what was expected. “Have a nice time. Call me when you are ready to go home.” He watched Micael and Dawna walk arm in arm down the sidewalk. He waited for them to respond, but they did not. Murl did not feel neglected in an emotional sense—he was not capable of that. But he did perceive the lack of notice from them, and that was the sort of non-closure that left an imbalance in his amygdala circuit. He decided that it was not worth thinking about, got back in the car and went home to catch up on his work.
As Micael reached for the front door it flung open and Adam dashed out, Hope behind him. “Adam,” he called out.
“Hi, Dad. Hi, Mom,” the young man yelled over his shoulder without stopping. “We’re going for a ride. See you guys later.”
“But, but, Adam. You can’t leave. You can’t do this to me.” He watched the couple disappear into the long peach-tone limousine. Konti signaled hello with a hand through the front window and the car pulled away. Micael began a curse. “Awww, sh…” His voice was muffled by Dawna’s hand over his mouth.
Oblivion's Children — Chapter 6: Persuasion
“Now be nice, please, Micael.” She reached for the doorknob. “They haven’t seen each other for five or six years. Let them be. They have lots to talk about. We don’t have to stay too late. Maybe you can say you have a headache in a couple of hours; then we can leave.” She looked around and saw Jake standing in the doorway. “Awww, shit,” she said under her breath.
Jake pretended not to hear. “Hello, Dawna. Nice of you to come, Micael.”
Dawna kissed him on the cheek, uttered an abashed, “Hi,” and rushed into the house to find Roda.
Jake smiled and shook Micael’s hand. “I know you’re very busy. Glad you came. What are you drinking?”
“Martini, very dry.” Micael followed his host inside. “I guess you have to make drinks yourself.”
“Yup,” replied Jake. “No artees or genue servants around here—although I noticed Abellina has one waiting for her in her car. Go ahead, mingle. I’ll bring you your drink.”
Jake disappeared into the kitchen leaving Micael standing in the doorway of the living room.
Hands in his pockets, Micael stepped past some people he did not know and scanned the room. It was decorated in older, traditional twentieth-century furniture, draperies and pictures. Through an archway, in the dining room, he saw a table with a bowl of punch surrounded by various dishes of cookies, raw vegetables, hors d’oeuvres and other morsels on toothpicks. He spied Dawna laughing with Roda and a woman wearing a hat by the picture window. He made his way to them.
“Hi, honey,” Dawna said.
Roda nodded and twitched her lips in lieu of a smile. “You know Abellina Fye, I believe.” With a tinge of angry delight she added, “She was founder of HARP.”
“Yes, I know Mrs. Fye.” Micael shook Abellina’s cold limp hand. “More importantly, she is one of the principal stockholders of Genusys—and has been from the beginning, isn’t that right, Mrs. Fye?”
Abellina smiled and nodded. “My husband, the late Holland Fye, God keep him, was one of the founders of Vomisa Corporation, with Markam Morris, of course. Those were exciting times, Dr. Wyman.”
“How’s President Morris doing now that he’s retired?” Micael asked. “I haven’t heard from him lately.”
“Ohhh, he’s fine, I guess. He’s living outside of Phoenix. He’s got a very comfortable villa.” She stroked her eyebrow. “He has some health problems, though. Confined to a wheelchair. But I think he’s quite content, by God’s mercy.”
Jake showed up holding two drinks. He handed Micael the martini and took a long sip from his bourbon and water. After everyone exchanged uncomfortable smiles, he said, “Micael, let me introduce you to some of the other guests.” A few steps from the group, he whispered into Micael’s ear. “Actually, I want to talk to you in private.”
Jake led Micael through the crowded living room, down a short hall and into a bedroom. He invited Micael to sit in the only chair in the room and he sat on the bed. “Let me tell you what I wanted to talk to you about. What I wanted is…” He stood up and paced along side the bed. “Well, you see, my career at the university is kind of… that is, there’s no more funding for astronomical research. There’s no longer any students. The university will eventually abolish my department entirely. And, you know… I’m not happy at home.” He stopped pacing. “She’s driving me crazy. I can’t take it. I gotta get away from here.” He waved his arms and splashed his drink.
“I understand.” Micael got up and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Now you know. This party is a farce. It’s supposed to be a celebration.” He sighed and took a gulp of his drink. “But it’s not. At least not for me. I’m going insane.” He looked away. “I’ll probably be moving out of here soon. Roda doesn’t know yet. She thinks everything is fine. I dread telling her. She can be very vindictive.”
“That’s really too bad.”
“I’m asking you for a job, Micael. A job out of state, out of the country if possible.” Jake looked pleadingly at him. “I do have some skills that might be useful to your company. I know photonics and laser networks. But I’ve got to get away from here. From her and the chimp. Can you help me?”
Micael paced along the side of the bed. “Well, I can’t promise you anything specific right now. We do have new facilities in Australia and some openings there. But why don’t you see me and Murl on Monday and we’ll see what’s available—if that’s okay with you?”
Jake nodded. They walked back out to the living room.
“Thanks. And please keep this confidential. I don’t want Roda to find out until the moment I leave. When she does, she will go ape, er… I mean…“
After Konti got the company limousine on the highway and released it to the autopilot, he returned to his book he had started earlier, The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. In the gray-blue passenger compartment Adam and Hope sat in separate reclining water seats.
Oblivion's Children — Chapter 6: Persuasion
“Pretty nice wheels, don’t you think?” Adam said. “We’ve got a wet bar, I-port, music composer and sceneramic projections.”
“How about something warm and far away.”
He touched a chrome panel and the windows changed from transparent to reflective black, then disappeared behind projected scenes of palm trees, beach and distant rocks awash in whitecap waters. “Instant Tahiti.”
“Well, fancy feathers.” She pushed a lazy strap back on her bare shoulder.
He was distracted by her gown which hung low and loose. When she sat erect, it left little to the imagination, and when she bent over, nothing. When she caught him looking at her chest he said, “I like your necklace.”
She fingered the three gold rings hanging on a chain. “Thanks.” She held up her arm and tinkled a gold bracelet on her wrist. She pointed at the I-port. “What about that thing?”
“You’re right. We don’t need my dad calling.” Then he addressed the I-port. “Ready lock out.”
“Or my mama.”
He opened the refrigerator, took out a bottle of champagne, and cradled it like a mother showing off her baby. With Hope’s approving smile, he opened it and half-filled two glasses. He dropped a red grape in each glass.
“Thank you, Cream Pie.”
“You’re welcome, Chocolate Cake.”
She took a dainty sip. “What’s with this South Seas island on wheels?”
“Oh, the company uses it to pick up dignitaries and rich customers, impress stockholders, rescue exhausted executives.”
“And impress company VP’s dates?”
“Hope, for me this is a special evening. We’re going to a very special place. I don’t do this with just any date.” He tried to give her a strong confident stare.
“I see.” She sipped her champagne. “And what is this special place?”
“Genusys Pines. It’s a company resort on Green Lake, used mainly for conferences and corporate outings.”
She gave him a devilish smile. “Cotton candy. It must be fun working for a rich daddy, driving around in limos, having parties at a secluded haven.”
“Hey, that’s not fair. I work hard all day… Well, most days. I’m involved in both research and management. I also head up a lot of special projects for my dad, like when we implemented jaw movements for the genue.” He took a sip from his glass. “How about you? What have you been doing for the world since college?”
“I’m a re-locater. I work for this agency in Chicago that helps outlying towns and subdivisions to relocate people inside the city. The prunes in these dying towns—that’s what we call the older people, prunes—can’t get police or fire protection. Stores can’t stay in business. So we move them to where there are more people—plums as well as prunes. Fortunately, there’s a growing number of empty dwellings and apartments in Chicago that landlords are dying to get filled.” She put her hand up to her mouth. “Oops, when I say dying, I ain’t lying. You know what I mean. Anyway, the real problem is that you can’t just move a few prunes at a time; that just makes it worse for those left behind. My job is to get the town’s people moved pretty much all at one time.” She put her finger in her drink and pushed the grape around.
He did the same. “Apparently you like it. You get to travel around and meet a lot of fruit.”
She giggled. “Yup. Exactly. Still a gypsy at heart, I guess.”
“What happens to a town after the prunes leave it?”
“I guess they just turn into ghost towns.” She reached over and knocked a few strands of Adam’s hair onto his forehead. “I also help relocate people from around the world who have lost their jobs. Most of these I relocate to Chicago’s science institutions where they work on the Amber Day mystery. Hopefully they can make a contribution before it’s too late.” She sighed.
“If it’s not already too late.”
She looked at him, suspicious. “What do you mean?”
“It’s been nearly three decades now. The population is under five billion. All the scientists around the world with their quantum computers and planck microscopes and super atom movers, probing everything from monkeys to molecules, and still zip.”
She shook her head. “Okay, but we just can’t stop trying. As far as I’m concerned human culture is the only soul in the universe. We can’t let it die. It’s too important.”
Oblivion's Children — Chapter 6: Persuasion
“Still, it doesn’t look good.”
“What else can we do?”
He gave her a sheepish smile. “Well, we could take advantage of a new kind of brain power to solve the problem.”
“Let me guess. Genues.”
“You think genues can solve the riddle of reproduction?” She shook her head. “Tell me my mama’s a meerkat, I’ll believe that first. From all I’ve seen and heard, genues aren’t that bright. They’re just servants who depend on us to tell them what to do. They’re machines with brains not as good as a quantum computer. Not even as good as ours.”
Adam sat up in his water seat. “They’re not dumb.”
“Okay, so they have some built in capabilities, like a math processor and what else? That doesn’t make them geniuses.”
“They learn. That’s important. Murl is my age, twenty-seven, and he has developed and changed over the years as much as I have. He practically runs Genusys. And do you remember Ugene? He learned to paint. That showed creativity.”
“So they are cheap replicas of us. Is that what you’re saying?”
“No, no…” He set down his glass and rubbed his forehead and eyes with both palms. “No. What I mean is, they’re smart, but their brains work differently than ours. Who knows how genues would tackle the Amber Day problem?”
Hope waved a hand at him. “I think you’re doodle dreaming. Genues are just machines… super intelligent microwave ovens.” A grin came across her face. “I can see the headlines now. ‘Microwave Ovens Solve Amber Day Mystery.’” She burst into laughter.
He glared at her. “Okay, okay. Look at it this way. Humanity has put all of its eggs in one basket—all our scientists working to restart human reproduction. Why not try another possibility, like training genue scientists? With their keen sense of logic, they may look at the problem in new and different ways. Think about that. Genue scientists might be the saviors of the human race.”
“You think about it, cream pie. I’m tired of thinking.” The lazy strap slipped from her shoulder again. This time she helped it with a wiggle of her arm and the left side of her dress fell, exposing a breast.
Adam’s eyes bulged. “Your mama is no meerkat.”
The car came to a stop and Konti’s voice came across the intercom, “We have arrived at Genusys Pines. Would you like me to open a cottage by the lake, Adam?”
“No, Konti. We’ll just relax here awhile. I’ll call you when we’re ready to leave.”
With Adam’s command the roof retracted and the soft light of the Tahitian interior burst onto the bottom of outstretched pine limbs. The tangled odors of forest and lake wafted in with the cool air. Hope took a deep breath and melted into a position of invitation.
Adam slid over to her and drew her toward him until their lips touched. With his hand edging toward her breast, he whispered in her ear, “How come you never let me do this in high school?”
“It wasn’t personal, Cream Pie. I didn’t let anybody do this in high school. But maybe if you hadn’t given up so easily you might have discovered the moments I was eager to share myself with someone.”
“Now you tell me.”
Micael was getting restless. He stood alone in a corner with his empty martini glass wishing they could leave. He noticed Jake talking to somebody across the room and Dawna still with Roda. He began a casual walk around and through couples until he was on the fringe of a small group. He found a space nobody was using, sliced his shoulder in and did some catch-up listening.
“…and the funny thing is there is no pattern, no clear motive, no predictability. Just genues disappearing. Sometimes it’ll be four weeks since the last one, sometimes five.”
“I know what you mean. It’s been going on for years now and nobody seems to be able to catch whoever—or whatever—is behind it.”
“Yeah, my neighbor had a genue stolen from him. No ransom note or anything.”
“You don’t think they’re just walking off, do you? Maybe organizing somewhere?”
“Don’t be silly. They’re not smart enough to do that.”
That remark was Micael’s cue to jump into the free-for-all discussion. “Actually they…”
“I think the HARP people have something to do with it.”
“Who cares? The insurance takes care of it. You just get another one. I mean, I’d be more worried about my car…”
Micael sighed, pulled his shoulder out and wandered toward the pretzels on the coffee table. His fingers sorted through broken pieces until he found a whole pretzel. As he nibbled at it he noticed Roda leading Faith by the hand into the room. Oh, no. That damn chimp. He scanned the room looking for Dawna. This would be a great time to leave.
Oblivion's Children — Chapter 6: Persuasion
The chimp tugged at her pink, frilly frock. She looked at the crowd and tried to retreat but Roda yanked her back. She pulled up her frock to cover her head, exposing her short, bowed legs.
Jake approached Roda and whispered in a gruff voice, “You promised Hope you’d keep her out of here. You’re going to embarrass us again.”
Roda gave him a cold stare. From the corner of her mouth she said, “Well, Hope’s not here now, is she? She ran off with Adam. So just don’t start anything.” Then she announced to her guests, “This is Faith, our lovely daughter. Isn’t she adorable? She’s wanted to join the party for a little while. That’s okay, isn’t it, everybody?”
A few guests responded with, “Sure,” or “Fine,” while some said nothing—until they turned their back. Most whispered comments to their neighbors, but one remark was loud enough for all to hear. “She’s a chimp off the old block.”
Roda, used to such comments, heard what she wanted to. She led her to the table of goodies in the dining room. “Does Faith want some yumyum?”
Abellina whispered to Dawna, “Roda has a sharp and resourceful mind. She’s usually so logical. But when it comes to Faith, she is utterly illogical.”
“Yes, I know,” Dawna said.
“Actually, I think it’s God’s way of showing He is not happy with her atheistic humanism.”
Dawn, squinting one eye, forced a crooked smile. “Riiiight.”
Roda handed the chimpanzee the last paté on rye. “Oh, oh. We better get some more paté, right, sweetie? Stay here, Faith. I’m going to the kitchen and I’ll be right back. Okay?”
The chimp pounded her chest as Roda backed into the kitchen shaking a finger at her.
Faith jumped up on the table and slurped from the edge of the punch bowl. Jake rushed to the table. “Faith, get down from there.” He reached for her but she loped to the opposite side.
The chimp grabbed a large cookie, screamed, jumped off the table and scampered out of the room. Jake swung at air as Faith disappeared behind the living room couch. The guests on the couch craned over the top, then jumped up out of Jake’s way.
He stopped to think. He took a deep breath and peeked into her hideout. “Come on, Faith. Come to Daddy. Time for a nice banana.” She did not respond. He felt eyes on his back. He clenched his teeth. “Come on, Faith, you little turd. Come and a get a banana so I can get my hands around your neck.”
Faith let out shrill bleat and leaped to the back of the couch. Jake pointed at her. “Stay put, you little ape.” Faith covered her eyes, then her ears, then her mouth—a trick Jake had taught her when Roda was not around. Jake dove at her but she jumped toward the window and caught hold of the drapes. Hanging by one arm, she waved defiantly with the other and screamed.
Micael looked on with amusement.
“Damn it, Faith. Get your ass down from there,” yelled Jake.
The loud voice startled Faith. She bounded up the drapes to the long oak rod spanning the window. Feet on the rod, head up against the ceiling, she yelped. Jake took off one of his shoes and reared back to fling it at the disobedient chimp.
“Jake,” Roda yelled from the doorway. “Don’t you dare.”
Faith scurried along the drapery rod to the far end. She grasped a drapery pin and screamed. She licked the injured hand and whimpered.
Roda ran to the window. “Now see what you’ve done, Jake. She’s hurt. We’ve got to get her down. Faith, come on! Get down!”
“No use trying to talk to her,” he groaned. “Let me get a chair, and I’ll try to get her down.”
Roda sweet talked Faith, who continued to whimper above her.
Oblivion's Children — Chapter 6: Persuasion
Micael’s amusement turned to concern. When Jake brought the chair to the window, he said, “Let me hold it for you.”
Roda yanked her husband backwards. “No, Jake. You’ve done enough. You’ll only scare her more.”
Jake slammed the chair down on Micael’s foot. “Good. Do it yourself. I’m sick and tired of this garbage.” He stomped out of the room while Micael did a rain dance on one foot.
Micael gave a half-hearted smile to the staring guests. For some reason he now felt involved. He saw Dawna motioning with her head. “Help her,” her lips said. Although it seemed the expedient thing to do, it was that old unconscious need to be a hero that won out. “I’ll get her, Roda.”
Roda consented with an astonished half nod.
Micael planted one foot on the chair and climbed up. He cooed Faith’s name and reached out. The chair wobbled as Micael leaned forward over the tall fig tree in front of the window. Leaves tickled his chin. He reached further, tried to smile and said, “Come to Uncle Micael.” Did I actually say Uncle Micael?
Faith relented to his quiet beckoning. She reached out her hand and at the same time her legs pushed off the rod. As her feet slipped sideways along the rod, the screaming chimp tumbled into Micael hitting him across his face. They both went down, he hitting his head on the coffee table behind them, she crashing into an end table and lamp.
Roda rushed to Faith, Dawna to her husband. Both victims seemed to be unconscious. Both were still breathing. Blood streamed from a long gash on Faith’s forehead.
Jake was already paging emergency on the I-port. He waved at the guests, “Please, the party is over. Please go home. Thank you for coming. Please, everybody go.”
The guests headed for the front door chattering and looking over their shoulders.
An ambulance arrived and Jake was at the entrance to greet the two genue paramedics. They wheeled a stretcher into the living room.
Roda called out, “Come help my daughter, please! She’s hurt.”
“Over here,” shouted Dawna. “My husband, he hit his head. Please help him.”
One genue, named Ralinor, went to the mother and her chimpanzee and stooped down to examine the animal.
The other, Tovix, bent over Micael and put an instrument next to his head. He studied the letters and numbers flashing across its miniature display, then intoned, “He has suffered at least a concussion. We will take him to the hospital immediately.”
Ralinor stood up and, pointing at the chimp, said, “This is not a human. We are authorized to provide medical assistance only to people, not animals.” He went to join Tovix and the two genues moved Micael onto the stretcher.
“Please,” Roda pleaded. “She needs help too. Look at the blood. She’s hurt badly. She’s my daughter.”
Unfazed by this declaration, Ralinor looked over at the hairy body in frilly dress lying on the floor and stated, “Madam, you are mistaken. This is obviously a chimpanzee. I suggest you call the veterinary clinic, Hoof and Paw Care, on West Main St. They are only minutes away and I’m sure they can help you.”
“Wait,” Roda called out. She jumped to her feet and grabbed Tovix’s arm as he and Ralinor began wheeling Micael out of the room. She scowled and withdrew her hand as she realized she had touched a genue. “I order you to take Faith to the hospital.”
Neither paramedic replied. They wheeled Micael out of the house and into the ambulance while Dawna held her husband’s hand.
Abellina, the only guest to remain, went to Roda’s side and put a consoling arm around her. “That was so cruel, Roda. I think they could have taken Faith as well as Micael. That wasn’t fair. But maybe, with God’s help, there’s something we can do about that. Let’s you and me take Faith to the hospital and we can talk on the way.”
At the Wyman residence, Murl’s time sense distracted him from his work—he was reassigning production schedules based on customer delivery preferences. His internal clock told him it was past eleven and he wondered why Dawna and Micael had not called him yet to be picked up. He recalled that Micael had told him, rather pointedly, that he did not expect to be at the party very long. Just then he heard a soft but anxious voice. He glanced down at the I-port to the right of his chair and saw that it was Dawna. His new jaw moved only slightly as he vocalized “Ready, link.”
Oblivion's Children — Chapter 6: Persuasion
“Murl, there was an accident at the Strand’s and Micael was hurt. We’re here now, at the hospital. He has a head injury. I tried to reach Adam in the limousine but he doesn’t answer. Do you have any idea where he is?”
“Yes, I think so. He always has Konti or me take him and his female friend to the Genusys Pines. He’s probably still in the auto. He usually disconnects the I-port.”
“Good. Please go to him and tell him his father is seriously injured and to come immediately to the hospital. Bye.” Dawna disappeared.
Murl used Adam’s sports car instead of the roadster. He took the highway to Genusys Pines as he had upon many occasions before in the limousine with Adam and a female companion in the back seat. Under the bright moonlight he spotted the secluded turnoff, disengaged the autopilot, and took the dusty road to the conference cottage near the lake. As he approached the new, yet rustic building, Murl found the limousine tucked away under several tall evergreens. He parked and climbed out.
As he made his way across the short, moon lit distance, he watched the pied shadows cast by the tall pines on the limo flourish with the gentle breeze. A blue aura rose from the open roof of the long auto as did whispers and giggles. Murl strode across the gravel with soft steps. When he stood next to the limo he peered through the open top and beheld two nude, caressing humans on a virtual beach. He uttered, “Just like in From Here to Eternity.”
Hope, on her back, heard the voice, then caught sight of the sober green face gazing down at them. Her mouth opened and an eerie scream broke loose as she clutched her gown to her chest. “Get away! Get out!”
Adam glanced up, and after a mere second of uncertainty, burst into laughter. Murl cocked his head with analytic interest at the sights and sounds.
“Get him away. Tell him to get out,” Hope yelled.
Adam looked at Hope, then up at Murl, then erupted into laughter again.
She pounded him with her fist. “It’s not funny. Tell him to go away.”
Adam spoke with tears in his eyes. “Hope, just pretend we were caught in the act by an intelligent microwave oven.” Then he went into another spasm of laughter.
“It’s not funny.”
When he gained control of himself again, he pointed at Murl and said, “Be with you in a moment. Let me get some pants on.”
Konti, the chauffeur, was now standing beside Murl and the two of them walked several paces away from the limousine.
“What was all that about?” inquired Konti.
“I think I interrupted them in the reproductive act.”
Konti nodded, then added, “I do not understand why they do that when they know it doesn’t work.”
Adam fell out of the car with unfastened trousers. He hobbled bare footed across the gravel road and confronted the two genues. “All right,” he said with a broad smile, “Why the interruption?”
Murl was puzzled by his continued amusement. “There has been an accident. Your father has been taken to the hospital with a head injury.”
The smile flipped upside down. “Oh, no!”
“Would you like to return with me?” Murl asked.
Adam was already running back to the limo. He spoke briefly to Hope, then called back, “No, Murl. Konti! Quickly, drive us back to town.” He jumped in and slammed the car door.
As Konti went back to his driving post, he turned to Murl. “I am curious about what happened here.”
“I will explain it to you later.”
* * *
A party, a chimp, chatter, distress—those jagged memories were the last moments of reality. Micael stared up at the lighted ceiling, then down at the pale green sheets on his body. Tiny, distant sounds pricked the quiet. He wondered how this instant and the prior instant could be so different and disjointed, as if a slab of time had slipped out of existence.
He turned his head to see Dawna by his side.
She smiled at his awakening. “Micael, you’re in the hospital. Can you hear me?”
“Huh? Yeah,” he managed. “What happened?”
“You had an accident at Roda’s party. You got a knock on the head.” Dawna squeezed his hand. “It didn’t require surgery but the doctors are a little concerned. You have a concussion. They said you probably will experience partial paralysis on the left side of your body for a time. Also you might have some dizziness, blurred vision and nausea. But it should all pass.”
Oblivion's Children — Chapter 6: Persuasion
“You’ve been here three days. The doctors say you’ll be here a couple of weeks at least. They think you might need physical therapy but it’s a little too soon to tell.”
“Three days? I remember going to the party, talking to Jake, and being bored. Then some kind of argument. But nothing after that.”
She filled in the missing pieces, and ended with, “Faith died before they got her to the vet’s. Adam and Murl are handling business matters for you and will see you later today, if you’re up to it.”
“Of course I’m up to it.” He struggled to sit higher against his two pillows.
She stroked his arm. “I’ve been thinking. When you’re better, why don’t you let Adam and Murl run more of the company. You don’t need to do it all anymore—at least not running things every day, seven days a week, with no vacation. You could keep your hand in the things you love, like designing, creating, engineering.”
“Actually, I had already decided to do that. I’ve lined up the board votes to make Adam President and Chief Operating Officer. I plan on staying as Chairman of the Board. Then you and I will be able to move to our island in the Caribbean. How does that sound?”
“Micael, that sounds great.” She kissed him. “Oh, I almost forgot.” She handed him a slip of paper. “You got this note from Roda. Let me read it to you.”
“Dear Micael, I hope you are feeling better. I never thought I would be sending you a note thanking you for anything, but now I must. I’ll never forget your attempt to help Faith. In my sorrow at the loss of my daughter, I realized that you went out of your way when you didn’t have to. I am willing to forget the many run-ins and misunderstandings we have had. We still have our disagreements about genues, but perhaps soon that won’t matter any more. Sincerely, Roda.”
“That’s a very nice note,” Micael remarked, “but I wonder what she means by the last sentence? Soon that won’t matter any more? Why not? What does she think is going to happen?”
“Oh, honey, it’s probably nothing. You know how Roda is.”
“I’m afraid I can’t suppress my suspicions when it comes to Roda. I’ll ask Jake if he knows anything. He’s going to owe me a favor anyway.”
She looked puzzled. “Owe you a favor?”
“Whoops. I wasn’t supposed to say anything,” he said with a look of guilt. “Okay, okay. He wanted me to get him a job with Genusys. He asked me at the party, I remember that. But don’t you say anything to Roda. He doesn’t want her to know.”
Dawna smiled. “I understand. It’s okay. He’s lost his job at the university because of the shutdown of the observatory, and he’s asked you for a job, and he’s embarrassed and doesn’t want Roda to know. Right?”
Micael frowned. “Actually, there’s more to it. He told me he’s leaving Roda. I guess he finds her too obsessive—with Faith, with HARP, with everything. Now that Hope’s on her own, there’s not much to hold them together.”
She cocked her head. “Ahh, that’s too bad.” She stood up and went to the window. “Well, I guess I can’t blame him. Except now that Faith is dead, you would think he’d stick around for a while. It’ll be awfully cruel to leave now when Roda…”
“Hi, Jake. Come on in,” Micael interrupted.
Dawna turned and saw Jake standing in the doorway. She blushed. “Jake, you have a weird knack of showing up when you shouldn’t.”
“Hi, Dawna. No need to apologize, I understand.” He walked to the bed. “And don’t worry about Roda. She’ll be upset when I leave, not because she needs me, but because she doesn’t want to be walked out on. You won’t say anything to her, will you?”
“Of course I won’t,” she promised. “Well, I think I’d best be leaving you two alone to talk.” She kissed Micael several times, patted Jake on the shoulder and left.
“How are you doing, Micael?” Jake asked.
He fidgeted in the high bed. “Okay, I guess. Getting a little stiff, though. How are you doing?”
Oblivion's Children — Chapter 6: Persuasion
“I got a nice note from Roda. She wished me well, but she said something odd. Look at this.” He showed Jake the note pointing to the last sentence. “What do you suppose she means when she says soon our differences about genues won’t matter?”
Jake took a deep breath. “Roda would kill me if I told you.”
“What can she do to you in Australia making 20,000 a year more than you make now?”
Jake’s eyebrows arched. “All right!”
“So, what does she mean?” Micael asked again.
“Roda, Abellina Fye, and HARP are going to try to take control of Genusys at the stockholders’ meeting next week. They talked about it all yesterday and have been working feverishly on contacting other shareholders. I really don’t know any of the details.”
Micael was staring at the opposite wall. “I do. There are only six major stockholders of Genusys. They are: Markam Morris, co-founder and former president who owns 24% of the shares; Abellina Fye, who owns 15%; Ceola Rover whose husband, Rad, owned the DuroDerm patents—she owns 11%; me, who owns 10%; Pete Xing, our comptroller a while ago—he’s got 8%; and Kate Kismer, somebody’s widow who owns just under 11%. The other 28% is scattered among many other investors. I know I’ve got Xing and Rover on my side. But Mrs. Kismer and Abellina are close friends. That would give Abellina 26% control.” He pounded his fist. “That snake Fye is planning to get Dr. Morris on her side. That would give her control.”
“That explains what else they said.”
“Else? What else?”
“Roda talked about stopping the production of genues and turning the plants to research on human reproduction. Abellina Fye wouldn’t have any of that. She said the bucks were too big with genues. But she talked about being able to sell the original genues—the ones without ‘idea loops’ or whatever you call them. And the moving jaw—she really hates that feature. She thought marketing the original model would have virtually no impact on sales. Roda finally agreed.”
Micael shook his head in disgust.
“Oh,” Jake added, “and Abellina did want to add a feature.”
“What could that possibly be?”
“She said she would add a component that would get the genues to say prayers regularly.”
“That old lady is crazy,” Micael shouted. “I’ve got to get to Markam Morris. I’ve got to stop her from getting his vote.”
“I think you might be too late,” Jake said. “They already have his vote. That’s what I heard Roda say.”
“We’ll see, damn it. We’ll see.”
* * *
Murl watched the early morning countryside speed by at over 500 kph as he sat contemplating his mission. He could have flown to Arizona, but with all the connections it would not have saved him any time. The infinite monorail, or ‘rail’ as everyone called it, provided a smooth ride with no stops. Besides, the scenery rushing by gave him pleasant recall of the accelerated experiences of his psychological infancy. And the rail was always less crowded. He was only one of nineteen passengers, the only genue, in a car built to hold sixty-six.
The trip had started at the Risen Falls station when his connecting rail car took off on the spur and, with precise timing, merged and hitched up with a train of cars constantly circling the country on the interlinked rail networks. His car became the lead car and remained so until Cincinnati when a new one linked up in front of his, and the last car of the train disconnected and headed toward the station. The new passengers on the lead car had to make their way through the train to the appropriate compartment for their destination. At Louisville the train split in two, six cars linking up with the southern network while the remaining seven, including Murl’s, headed west. At St. Louis the train again got shorter, then longer—and westward it went.
Murl tried to read, but his mental digressions took his gaze to the window, now to study the high-speed Oklahoma scenery. He thought about his mission. He was to see Markam Morris later that morning at eleven-thirty in his villa home near Phoenix. He had to persuade him not to side with Abellina Fye in her takeover bid of Genusys at the noon stockholder’s meeting. He wondered how he could do that in just one-half hour.
By now, some three hours into the journey, the car that Murl sat in was the trailing car and a soft-toned bell broke into his thoughts, then a gentle voice announced, “All passengers destined for Dallas or Fort Worth please move to the last car, car T8731. All others must now leave car T8731. Thank you.” Murl, along with five people, got up and walked forward to the next car.
Oblivion's Children — Chapter 6: Sensation
Again Murl tried to read. He was at chapter three of Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and again his mind wandered. He wondered why Micael thought he should be the one to carry out this assignment. Wouldn’t Adam be more appropriate? It was true that Adam was needed to chair the stockholders’ meeting, but that was less demanding and he, Murl, could have done that.
That did not matter now. Phoenix was his assignment. As he watched the Amarillo car streaking in from an angle to become the lead compartment, he recalled how Micael had told him that he was counting on the genue’s intelligence and cool logic to persuade Markam of the importance of producing thinking genues. If that did not work he was to appeal to their long friendship. Still, uncertainty filled Murl’s head. He did not quite know if he could do it—he had never before tried to convince anyone of anything.
Murl himself was not sure why it would be bad for genues to be changed or simplified. Micael had not clarified this fact for Murl and his own reasoning could not come to that conclusion. If being without ideator loops was the best way for genues to serve humans and avoid their wrath and irrational prejudices, than what was wrong with such changes?
As Murl moved up a car so he would not end up in Denver, he wondered if Abellina won her bid to exclude ideator loops from genues, would he have to lose his too? He could not recall much of his first five years of existence—his pre-thinking days when all he could do was obey commands and wait for more commands. There was no intervening exercise of judgment, no self initiated ideas. There was no planning, no anticipating, and no sense of the future. He had been totally dependent on human input. Then he got his ideator loops. By and large Murl thought he enjoyed thinking.
As the Albuquerque car joined the train and another car dropped off, Murl tried to go back to his book but now the thought of not thinking puzzled him. He wondered if he would like it. He thought he might try it to see how it felt, but he could not. Every time he tried to pause in thinking, he caught himself thinking about the fact that he was not thinking. So Murl could not sense how not thinking would be, and, therefore, he concluded he could not assess how important it was to him.
He decided it was not productive to think about what would happen if Abellina Fye had her way. He was on an assignment to prevent that from happening. Genues needed to think. Markam Morris had to be convinced that it was better for humankind. How do you convince people? Why did Micael not use the I-port and confront Markam himself? Surely Micael could have done all that he, Murl, had been asked to do. Except Micael kept saying how important it was for Markam to see first hand an exceptional genue, a knowledgeable and talented one. That could make a difference, Micael had said.
“All passengers destined for Phoenix please move to the last car, G4983. All others must now leave car G4983. Two minutes before departure for Phoenix. Thank you.”
Murl made his way to the last car where thirteen people were already seated. There was a slight lurch, a banked curve, and a sensation of deceleration. Moments later the rail car came to a stop and Murl exited with the other passengers. A short taxi ride took him to the Morris villa.
It was just after eleven-thirty when Murl was met by a genue at the front door of the beautiful southwestern styled ranch home. “I am Bajinto. May I say who is calling?”
“I am Murl from Risen Falls. I am here representing Dr. Micael Wyman chairman of the board of Genusys. I am to talk with Markam Morris.”
“He is expecting you. Please follow me.”
Murl followed Bajinto through the large stucco foyer into a spacious living room decorated with early American Indian rugs and pottery. “Very interesting home. Do you find living here pleasant?”
The servant genue did not turn around as he continued through the room into a large dining area with a fireplace at one end. “I do not understand your statement. Therefore I cannot obey.”
Murl was perplexed at the odd reply.
Bajinto led him through the palatial home to the huge patio in back. Murl’s optics constricted to a pinpoint in the brilliant sunlight. He scanned the desert backdrop, its sandy terrain dotted with prickly vegetation stretching to the distant gray mountains. In the foreground was the oasis. To his left was an oval swimming pool where tiny suns jiggled on calm waters while Aztec tiles wiggled beneath. To his right, a copper-green fountain sprayed border flowers with rainbows. In between stood several redwood furnishings and marble statues like chess pieces on the patio’s yellow and red blocks. Every object seemed razor sharp under the brilliant sun. At a round redwood table shaded by a large multicolored umbrella was an old, dark-skinned man dressed only in a brief swimsuit sitting in a padded redwood chair with his head laid back staring at the sky. On the table was a glass tumbler containing an icy drink next to an I-port.
Bajinto stood before the old man. “This is Murl from Risen Falls, representing Dr. Micael Wyman chairman of the board of Genusys.” He then stood motionless.
The old man twisted in his chair. “Murl, you’ve certainly come a long way. Come and sit down.”
Oblivion's Children — Chapter 6: Persuasion
“Yes I have, Markam. May I call you Markam?” He put out his hand so that the human could shake it. Murl assumed shaking hands gave humans some pleasant stimulation—there was no other reason for it.
Markam Morris shook the green hand. “Yes, you may call me Markam. May I call you Murl?”
“Yes, Markam, you may. You certainly have a beautiful home here.” The genue sat in a redwood chair opposite the nearly naked man.
“Why, thank you, Murl. Yes, it is very nice.”
“And, Markam, you yourself look well.”
“Thank you, Murl. I feel fine. However, you look a little green.”
Was that a human joke, Murl wondered. Must be, he thought. “Yes, I do, Markam. The hot sun is good for me. It gives my batteries a full charge.”
“Well, good. And how is Dr. Micael Wyman?”
“He is still in the hospital, Markam. But he is doing fine.” Murl was getting bored with the small talk even though he knew it was necessary to get Mr. Morris in a favorable mood—like using his name so frequently. Dale Carnegie had written that a man’s name is the most pleasant sound to him. Murl decided it was time to get down to business. It was time to issue his statements of logic and reason, to convince this man of the importance of voting with Micael Wyman. “The reason I have come…”
“I know why you’re here, Murl,” the old man cut in. “You came to get me not to vote with Abellina Fye at the stockholders’ meeting. When I got Micael’s message a few days after I talked with Abellina, I figured it had to be about the same thing. Well, I’ll have to disappoint you because I have already promised my vote to her and I’m not about to go back on that promise.” Markam then reached over and manually enabled the I-port on the table. “Do you mind if we watch the stockholders’ meeting? I will need to vote on the proposals.”
Murl was dumbfounded. “That would be fine.” What was he to do now? Surely he could not let the discussion end here. He had all those elegant points to make about how important thinking genues were, about how Abellina’s plan would be a setback for humankind. As he tried to think of the right thing to say, Murl noticed Bajinto standing rigidly a few meters away. Murl could not contain his curiosity. “Is your genue in working order, sir? His behavior is rather odd.”
The I-port showed the board room back in Risen Falls. People were taking their places around a large table. Adam took his place at the end.
Markam looked at his genue servant, then at Murl. “Oh, he’s fine. He just doesn’t have your improvements. No ideator loops… or moving mouth.” He took a sip of his drink before continuing. “Bajinto was actually the second genue produced—just after you. He was originally called Clikbuz because that damned name generator wasn’t working. But later I had him renamed. But that’s all. No other changes.”
From the I-port came Adam’s voice. “Welcome everyone. Nice to see you, Mr. Morris.”
“Good day,” Markam answered at the virtual image.
Adam began the board meeting with some formalities.
Markam turned back to his green guest. “Adam’s a fine young man.”
“Why didn’t you have him upgraded?” asked Murl.
“Have Adam upgraded?” Markam asked astonished.
“No. I mean your genue servant.”
“Oh, Bajinto. I felt he was fine the way he was. I still do. He does everything I want. Maybe I’m a little old-fashioned but I think genues don’t have to think. They serve us fine the way we originally made them. Oh, I was for those ideator loops originally, but looking back I’m not sure they were necessary.” He studied the genue across from him. “Don’t get me wrong. You seem a fine genue. I certainly have nothing against you. In fact, I’m impressed by your sociability. Micael has done a great job. If it weren’t for him I wouldn’t be the richest man in the world. I am, you know. But like I said, I don’t really see the need for any more genues like you. I’m sure genues like Bajinto will sell just as well.”
“But if Abellina Fye gets your vote, Dr. Wyman will no longer be chairman of the board for Genusys. She is bound to have him fired. You know she is the leader of HARP.”
The old man did not seem to hear; he just turned to his genue and said, “Please bring some fruit, Bajinto. And bring my vita-capsules.”
“Yes, sir.” The genue turned and disappeared into the house.
From the I-port Adam announced, “The chair recognizes Abellina Fye.”
Oblivion's Children — Chapter 6: Persuasion
Murl saw the white-haired woman stand in the I-port image. “Thank you, Mr. Adam Wyman. I am pleased you could sit in for your father today. I hope that God is watching over him and that he is feeling better. Ladies and gentlemen, for years now Genusys has been spending vast sums of money on research to improve genues. This research has not, in my view, paid off. It has led to more costly and complicated machines. Further, studies show that people don’t need such sophistication. They need a simple, obedient, low-cost servant that will simply do their bidding. The current management refuses to accept this. Therefore, I move that we replace the current chairman of the board, Dr. Micael Wyman, with Harmon Bates, our vice president for marketing.” A meek old man on the left stood up, waved a hand, then sat back down.
Abellina droned on while tapping her finger on the table. “The new leadership will return Genusys to this older, simpler course by down-sizing the genue. Make them more like the models Robotics Technologies used to make before we bought them out. Those were the good old days, before God took his revenge.” She paused and looked at her listeners. Nobody would look her in the eye. “In any case, you will see. The results will be that Vomisa will be able to make and sell many more genues, at lower cost, for greater profit.”
“You mean Genusys,” offered the gentleman next to her.
She coughed into her hanky. “That’s what I said.”
“Discussion,” intoned Adam with an air of objectivity.
Back on the patio, Bajinto returned with a bowl of fruit and a small dish containing two white capsules.
“See, Murl. That’s all I need from a genue. He doesn’t need self-actuated thought. He just needs to respond to my every whim.” Markam chuckled, picked up a piece of pineapple and slurped it into his mouth. He then slid the plate toward Murl as an offering. Instantly he chuckled and said through the pineapple, “Whoops, I forgot you can’t eat.”
Murl agreed with a nod while he continued to reason through the situation. He did not seem to be accomplishing his mission. Perhaps he should fall back on Micael’s friendship with the old man.
“Markam, you and Micael are friends. You go way back.” Micael’s phrase. “Don’t you remember how you were impressed with his contribution to the company? Don’t you care about his standing in the company?”
“Sure I care,” mumbled Markam while munching grapes. “We will remain friends. He is a rich man himself, so he will not be hurt financially. I like Micael—but I like Abellina also. Besides, I promised her first.”
“There is no need to discuss this. I move for a vote on the proposal,” Abellina declared from the I-port. “Most of the shares are present, either here or by media. You can’t stop this motion by stalling, Mr. Wyman.”
Adam, hoping Murl had fulfilled his assignment, issued the call for a vote. “Regarding the motion by Abellina Fye to replace the current chair with Harmon Bates; please be prepared to certify your vote at your I-port, and say aloud aye if you are for, nay if against.”
Markam put his left hand on the security pad of the I-port. His right hand reached into the dish, pulled out a vita-capsule, and with the precision of habit tossed it into his mouth. The old man smiled warmly at Murl as the right hand now blindly reached for the glass tumbler, knocking it off the table. He reacted with an inhaled “huh,” then a stunted outward breath with a harsher, more obnoxious, guttural sound. Both hands went to his throat. He made a honking gasp. Then another.
Murl watched the old man, coughing and hacking, struggle to get up from his chair. He turned to see Bajinto standing as before, motionless. Something was wrong and the genue servant was not responding. Markam fell to the patio, hands clutching his throat, face gripped with panic.
Choking. That was it, Murl reasoned. He is choking. Murl picked Markam up by his armpits and, standing behind him, encircled his chest with his green arms, fists clasped, and gave a quick squeeze. The vitacapsule popped out of Markam’s mouth. Murl placed the old man back in his chair. “Are you all right now, sir?”
Markam’s eyes were filled with tears. He nodded and coughed. He tried to speak. “You… you saved…”
“Are you all right?” came a chorus from the board room.
Murl commanded Bajinto, “Bring some water for Mr. Morris.”
Oblivion's Children — Chapter 6: Persuasion
Markham sipped the water and the coughing disappeared. “I am deeply indebted to you, Murl. I wish there was a way I could repay you. But genues don’t need anything, do they?” The old man studied Murl for a moment, then spoke again. “I hate to admit it, but I can see that if it hadn’t been for your ability to think I would have been a goner. Bajinto was no help at all. It’s almost as if you had planned the event to convince me. Well, someone did, perhaps the Grand One upstairs. I can see how thinking genues might actually be better for humanity in some ways.”
“Then you will not vote with Abellina Fye?” asked Murl.
“I wish I didn’t have to, but I am also a man of my word. I did promise her I would vote my shares for her proposal. I am ready to vote.”
“Wait,” Murl called out.
Markam stopped and looked at the genue in puzzlement.
Murl continued. “You are required to vote your shares to fulfill your promise. If you had fewer shares, then you could only vote those. Therefore, you can do me a favor by selling one third of your shares to Micael Wyman. Then he will be able to cast his new shares against Abellina Fye’s proposal.”
Markam’s eyes blinked in thought. He nodded. “You are an amazing genue. I like it. Great idea. Indeed, this is my repayment to you.”
His fingers touched the I-port directory and a second image appeared. It was a hospital room with a man sitting up in bed. “Micael Wyman, I offer you 41 million Genusys shares for 41 million world dollars. Do you accept?”
Micael realized Murl’s trip had been a success. “Yes, I accept. But the shares are worth fifty times that much.”
“So what? After the sale I’ll still be the richest man in the world. Join me at the stock market.” The two linked into the exchange and within seconds the sale of stock was an electronic fact. Back came the image of the stockholders’ meeting.
“I vote my shares aye, Mr. Chairman,” announced Markam.
After all the shareholders had declared their vote a small tally board behind Adam showed the results in percentages. Adam announced the vote with visible glee: “46% aye, 54% nay. The proposal made by Abellina Fye to remove and replace the current board chairman is defeated.”
Oblivion's Children — Chapter 6: Persuasion
Continue to Chapter 7