Adam bursted into the study of the Wyman mansion. “Great news, Murl. Hope called from the airport about an hour ago. She’ll be arriving any minute.”
The genue, sitting in a plush easy chair with feet up on a matching ottoman, looked up from his book, On Becoming A Person by Carl Rogers. “Hope?”
“Yes, Hope.” Adam sat on the arm of Murl’s chair. “Hope Strand, my friend who’s an urban relocater in Chicago. You remember. She was here eight years ago.”
A visualization of her naked and screaming in the limousine came to the forefront of memory. “I remember Hope,” was his only remark about her. Then associations began to assemble in his brain. “I also remember that was the year your father gained control of Genusys and you became chief executive officer. It was the year that the chimpanzee died—Faith was its name.” Then more associations: “The last year of professional football. And the same year as the R.I.F.E. scandal.”
“Ah, yes.” Adam walked to the patio door to the garden. “The Radiation Induced Fertility Experiment. They radiated people’s gonads hoping accidental mutations might produce fertile gametes. Planned serendipity, they called it.”
“Indeed, Adam. An appalling waste of human life.”
Adam cocked his head at the genue. “Appalling? Is this a human sentiment you’re expressing, Murl?”
“I don’t know. I just mean it shouldn’t have happened.”
Adam stepped through the door to the patio. The sky was blue and the air warm. The fragrance of flowers filled his nostrils. “Come walk with me.”
Murl put down his book and followed Adam.
“Appalling, eh,” said Adam. “What about when a genue is destroyed? Or lost? Do you think that is appalling?”
“You mean like the genues that have been disappearing in Risen Falls for over a decade? Yes, that is appalling, too.”
“I agree.” Adam pulled a rose free and smelled it. “But no one except the owners seems to care. And even they get over it after they get a new genue. Kind of like getting a new dog.”
“That is understandable. A replacement should be just as good,” Murl said, plucking a rose also. He put it to his nose but the smell meant nothing to him.
“Murl, that’s kind of cold. Don’t you care about the genue as an entity?”
They came to the edge of the pool. Adam flipped the rose into it.
“Oh, certainly I care. However, if a genue becomes non-functional, what can be done about it? We must accept it as a fact. Yes, it is appalling that there should be such an economic loss.” He looked at the rose on the pond. “And won’t the flower clog the filter system?”
“You miss my point, Murl. When a human being dies other humans feel a great loss. We care about human life. In the same sense genues are kind of beings, and when they break down or disappear we should feel a loss, also. Doesn’t it bother you when genues die, if I can use that term?”
Murl paused. “I thought I answered that already. I said I cared.”
“No, no. It’s not the same thing. Caring… I mean…” He grabbed Murl’s rose and flung it into the pool. “I don’t give a zit about the filter system…”
The sound of door chimes. “That’s got to be Hope.” He ran into the house to the front door.
Murl went to the hallway where he watched two old friends embrace, kiss and laugh in reunion. Yes, that was Hope. Not as young, but just as vital. Then he remembered that she was also the one who, as a baby, was burned by the hot barbecue coal. The memory came from a time before he could think and it was not replete with reflections. It was just a fact, a piece of data, a singular recall devoid of context. He ended the brief contemplation and went back to his ottoman and book.
“Hope, my chocolate cake. You look great,” Adam said with a broad smile.
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 7: Passion
“So do you, my cream pie.” She hugged him, then held him at arm’s length. The years had made him more handsome, she thought, given his face more character. The gentle furrows that now bracketed his mouth and pointed at the corners of his eyes were new decorations that accented his well-shaped face. That always seemed to happen to men. On her face, those same marks were just the scars of age. Mother nature and father time did not treat the sexes with an even hand, she concluded.
She surveyed the hallway and craned to see into the living room and study. “You’re still living with your folks?”
“Well, no, not really. They gave this place to me. Mom and Dad live mostly in Florida now. They also have a condo in town. You know how easy it is to get a place nowadays. They’re practically giving homes away. Anyway, my folks happen to be in town this week. I was going to have dinner with them tonight; then you called. Why don’t you join us?”
“Sunny bunny. Be glad to.”
He led her into the study. “You remember Murl?”
She did a double take at the seated genue holding a book. “Oh yeah, I forgot you have ginner friends.”
“You still have a thing against genues?”
She gave a big sigh. “Nah, not really.”
“Then why did you use the term ginner?”
“I don’t know.” She sauntered over to a potted fig tree and fingered the leaves. “That’s just what people call them. At least the people I hang around with.” She turned back to Adam. “They don’t mean much by it. Habit I guess. Besides, I knew several ginners, errr, genues in Chicago.”
“Some of your best friends?” teased Adam.
“Don’t start,” she said with a forced smile. “I haven’t had an argument about genues since that evening at the lake with you. And I’m not quite ready for one now.”
“Okay. Okay.” Neither was Adam. “I’m going to change my clothes.” With a devilish grin he pointed a finger at her and then the genue. “You and Murl entertain each other for a few minutes.” He went out of the room with a bound.
Hope stood in the center of the expansive study, her hands clasped in front of her blue sheen pants, her head turning to examine the room—mostly the ceiling. She felt alone in the room. Then she looked at the genue reading in a chair. She could have taken him to be a mannequin, except when he turned a page and moved his eyes. She felt a little odd with it, him, sitting there. She was used to genues as chauffeurs and cooks but not companions. In a way she still thought of them as appliances, a technology she was not comfortable with but one she accepted. Yet, the object here looked too much like a being to ignore so her social instincts had her searching for something to say. She glanced out the tall window where she spied another genue doing what appeared to be gardening, and asked, ”Who’s that?“ She turned to Murl. “I mean, which genue is that?”
Murl glanced out the window for just a second then went back to his book uttering a terse, “The servant genue, Konti.”
Hope had no follow-up. She just stood there feeling like an actor who had just forgotten her lines. So much for that conversation.
Her gaze moved to a painting hanging to the right of a tall window, and though she was staring at it, her mind did not see it. She peeked at Murl from the corner of one eye, then ambled to an antique chair and sat with grace. She gave him a hard look. The genue paid no attention. She looked at her hands, then at the window, then at Murl. She crossed her legs and ran her hand down her calf until her fingers came upon a raised blemish. She looked down to see the faint scar left from an old burn. She had no memory of it, but her mama had told her many times how it got there.
“You burn any more babies?” she asked the reading genue.
Murl rotated his head and saw the woman pointing to her leg. He got up from his chair and walked over to her. He leaned to examine the healed burn and she pulled back into the chair. He backed away. “It was a long time ago. I remembered the incident when you first walked in. As I recall, I said I was sorry to your mother at the time.”
Hope perceived sincerity in his calm voice. “Mama never told me that.” She forced herself to look into his eyes where she saw a moving light. What mysteries lie beyond vision’s gate? Thoughts must be passing. But of course they were—she knew genues could think. Then what was the fascination? Maybe there was really a life in there. When she realized the glint was her own image warped around the synthetic orbs, the spell was broken. An uneasiness caused her to glance away. She stood up and walked to the window. Now that she was at a safe distance, she asked, “Do you remember me as a baby?”
Murl looked pensive, or so it seemed. He turned his head to follow her movements. “I was never a baby.”
Hope’s laughter burst through her apprehensions. “You must get your sense of humor from Adam.”
“Did I hear my name mentioned?” said Adam as he bounded into the room in pink shirt and black pants.
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 7: Passion
“No, we were just talking,” Hope replied. “Where are we going to meet your folks, Cream Pie?”
“Talking? You and a ginner? About what?”
“Nothing. Nothing. Forget it.” She flagged her hand, then started for the door. “Where’s dinner?”
“Dinner at Joe’s Boar and Gill.” Adam hurried to catch up to her. “You talked with a ginner? You, the humanist poster child?”
Over her shoulder she replied, “Yeah, I asked him if you’re always a jerk.”
Bil Sykes was on the prowl again. He and his unkempt genue, Dire, sat in his black Motomag roadster with the windows turned dark. They scanned the crowd strolling along the brick sidewalks of old Risen Falls, going in and out of the expensive shops and restaurants.
“Find me a ginner, Dire.”
The genue stared through the side window scrutinizing the moving figures. “I see lots of ginner, Mr. Sykes.”
“They’re all with people, you idiot. How many times I gotta tell you. They gotta be alone.”
“I’m sorry, sorry.”
“Shut up and keep watching, you synthetic slob.” Bil dug the knuckles of his left hand into his black beard and put his nose against the glass. “We’ll get one. We always do. What do I care if there’s lots of ginners, if they’re making millions of them each year. I can’t stop that. But I can get my little revenges.”
Bil’s mental soliloquy was interrupted by the sight of two figures walking on the far side of the street. But this time it was not the shape of a genue that caught his attention. It was a man—a graying man, arm in arm with a graying woman—going into Joe’s Boar and Gill. A man he had not seen in years.
“What luck,” railed Bil Sykes as his mind raced through new scenarios. “All these years I’ve been snatching eggs. It’s the goose I need to get!”
Dire turned his head a quarter turn, then another quarter turn toward Bil. “What eggs have you been snatching? What goose do you need to get?”
“Not eggs, you green goon.” He raised his hand as if to slap Dire. He did not because he had learned many years ago that the pain resulting from hitting a genue was his alone. Instead he shook his head in frustration. Then he pointed out the window at the elderly man holding open the restaurant door for his female companion. “See that man in the pink shirt?”
“He is the prize tonight. Follow him, Dire. Bring him to me. Use the same words to get him here you usually use. Say, ‘Quick, follow me. A human is in distress.’ Okay, go, Dire.”
“Yes, Mr. Sykes.”
Dawna led Micael through the empty waiting area to the entrance of the antique but elegant dining room. They stood at the top of two steps peering into the moody ambiance embroidered with the smell of flowers and spices and the soft tinkles of drinking glasses and plates and the hushed voices of decked out diners. Dawna craned left to right, her eyes skipping from face to face, leaping past the many empty tables covered in white cloth and set for two. “There’s Adam. He’s got somebody with him.”
Micael craned too. “Ah, yes. That’s what’s her name.”
“Hope,” she said as she left him standing by himself.
Before Micael could move, a genue host stepped in front of him and asked, “How many are you?”
He blubbered, “One. Errr, two. I mean four.” Then he pointed at Dawna weaving through the tables. “I’m with her.” He stumbled down the two steps, then quick-stepped to catch up to her.
Adam stood up with his arms extended. “Hi, Mom.”
Dawna kissed her son on the cheek as Micael came to her side.
Hope stood up also. “Mrs. Wyman, Dr. Wyman.”
Micael shook her hand and smiled at Adam. They all took their seats and a uniformed woman filled their glasses with water.
“Well, Mom, Dad. How have you guys been?”
“We’re fine,” answered Dawna.
“How’s the radio project going, Dad?”
“Oh, you can’t believe what a mess it’s turning out to be. You’d think getting international approval for fifty kilohertz of radio frequency would be a snap. But I tell you, dealing with all the foreign governments is a real pain.”
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 7: Passion
“What radio project?” asked Hope. “Or is that top secret?”
“No, it’s no secret.” Adam began running his finger around the edge of his water glass. “Dad’s working on this upgrade where each genue will have an internal phone to converse with other genues, kind of like the human personal phone system.”
“Internal phones for genues?” Hope uttered with suspicion. “Is this so they can plot their takeover of the world?”
Adam grabbed her chin with index finger and thumb and shook it. “Hope, Hope. Be nice, now. Don’t start genue arguments here.” He let her go. “Because you’ll lose. You’re out-numbered.” All the Wymans chuckled.
Hope bowed her head in submission. “Why don’t you just give ’em all wrist phones or finger phones like us people have?”
“Precisely because of your first reaction,” Adam replied. “Our research tells us some people think the genues will conspire, in what I don’t know. So instead, we will have one channel for them so that all their conversations can be monitored by a central agency.”
“Well, curse cousin Clem, why give them any kind of phone at all?”
“Because,” Adam explained, “there have been several high profile cases where a death could have been avoided if a genue could have gotten help more quickly. Remember last year when that councilman and the mayor were making love on some fire escape and he got his head caught in the railing? By the time his genue got to a phone to call for help the guy died from strangulation.”
“You’re tugging my toe.”
“No lie. Anyway, we’ve got most of the technical bugs worked out, like how to have millions of genues on the same channel simultaneously. But to do this Dad has to secure radio spectrum space world wide ”
“Couldn’t the Congress of Nations help you with that?”
Micael took a sip of water. “You’d think so, but somebody still has to do a lot of leg work in each country, attend hearings, slapping backs, twisting arms.”
Dawna chimed in. “Yes, your dad has been on the road, or in the air, constantly. I haven’t seen him for more than three days in a row in the last year.”
“Hi, I’m Darclop. I’ll be serving you this evening.” The genue waiter handed them menus.
“Do you have real shrimp, today?” Micael asked.
“Yes, sir,” the genue answered.
“Good. Bring us your famous Sea Spray appetizer tray.”
The genue nodded and left.
Micael rose. “If you’ll excuse me for a moment, I have to go wash my hands.” He left the table.
Dawna gave Hope a smile. She smiled back.
Adam played with his spoon. He tapped it on the table, hummed a few notes, then pointed it at Hope. “Hey, Cake. Did you know there are over 65 million genues in the world?”
Hope grabbed the spoon. “Gotcha beat, Pie. There are 3.6 billion people.” She stuck her tongue out at him.
He swiped at her hair.
Dawna laughed. “So, Hope, what have you been doing with yourself all these years?”
Hope played with the four interlocking rings hanging from the bracelet on her wrist. “I’ve been living in Chicago. It’s a water ride. A splash. I love it.”
“What do you do there?”
“I’m a relocator.”
“That’s great. I’m sure you get a great deal of satisfaction out of resettling people,” Dawna said with a smile.
“Actually I gotta confess, I’m getting a little tired of it. Some day soon I’d like to own a pillow back in Risen Falls.”
Adam put his hand on her wrist, then fingered the bracelet. “You still wear a lucky charm of circles, I see. Now it’s four rings. I didn’t know superstition was subject to inflation.”
“It’s like anything else, Pie. You get used to a certain amount and you got to increase the dosage to feel it.”
The genue waiter placed the appetizer tray in the middle of the table.
Hope dipped a shrimp in red sauce and ate it. “How have you been, Mrs. Wyman?”
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 7: Passion
“Oh, just fine. Couldn’t be happier. Micael and I have a nice retirement. We’re healthy.” She took some crab meat. “And we’re so proud of our son.” She beamed at Adam. It sounded like a commercial, but it was not. She felt lucky to have raised a child. She sighed. “I just wish you two could have the opportunity of having a son or a daughter to be proud of. To have a baby…” The word sounded funny. Baby. Oh, to see an infant again, to touch the innocence, to cradle and hug the joy of new life. “To see your child grow up.” And my grandchild. Dawna’s eyes glazed over as she replayed memories of her motherhood.
“You don’t know how strange that sounds to us, Mom. I can’t imagine people being little. When I see babies and children in the old recordings it all seems like science fiction.”
“Or a dream,” Dawna thought out loud. It did seem like a dream. For a moment she could not think which was more real—a world with children or one without them. Both seemed possible, then impossible, as distant recollections mingled with recent ones in a timeless universe of reminiscence. But sanity fell back on reality and she knew the truth. Children were memories—only memories. She picked out a crispy morsel from the tray and ate it. “What’s happened to your dad, Adam? You don’t think he’s taking a bath?”
“I don’t know. I’ll go find out.” He got up and headed for the restroom.
Dawna grinned at Hope. “How’s your mom? You know she and I haven’t seen each other much over the years. We used to be close.”
“I really don’t know. When Daddy left her after Faith’s death, we kind of strayed apart. I talk to Daddy a lot, at least once a month, and I even visited him in Australia last year. I talk to Mama maybe three times a year. Did you know she took over the presidency of HARP after Abellina Fye passed away several years ago?”
“Yes I did. And that has me worried. Micael and I think that HARP is involved in the disappearance of those genues.”
“I don’t think so. Mama’s not a violent person. And as far as I know, neither are the HARPs, not since that the dumb raid on the factory.”
“I’m sure you’re right,” Dawna said. “But there were times I worried about that group doing something to Micael. I used to worry that one day he would just disappear…”
“Mom, Dad’s not in the wash room!” Adam dodged his way through the table-ridden obstacle course. “I looked all around. He’s not in the restaurant and your car is still parked outside. I tried his finger phone, but no answer.”
“What are we going to do?” asked Dawna. “Should we wait?”
“I don’t know.”
The two women stood up. All three looked at each other.
The waiter approached. “Is there something wrong with the shrimp?”
A full moon brought the night alive, yet the house at 2153 South Fork Road seemed to be hiding in the shadow of an elm tree. The bungalow sat alone between two empty lots covered with a medley of weeds and litter. The front yard was a field of broken asphalt and tall grass, the porch a wooden ruins. A patchwork quilt of shingles covered the roof while the siding had not quite finished shedding its last coat of white paint. And from a filthy window came the harsh light of an ugly lamp on an old table.
Next to the table, Micael Wyman squirmed on the floor struggling to free his hands from the cords behind his back. His feet, bound at the ankles, trace double heel marks in the carpet of dirt.
A green sentry stood over him. Across the room Micael saw his bearded kidnapper sitting in a chair cocked back on two legs with his hands behind his head and his feet up on a table. Apart from a refrigerator and an old 2-D I-port, no other conveniences could be seen.
“Do you want me to take him apart like the ginners, Mr. Sykes?” asked Dire.
“Shut up and let me think, you plastic pinhead.”
“I’m sorry, sorry.”
Bil kicked the table away and stood up. He walked over to his hostage and glared down at him. “I’ll bet your son would do most anything to get you back alive.”
Micael stared back. “Let me guess. You’re the one who’s been snatching genues all these years.”
“Yes, but now we have the goose,” responded Dire.
Bil took a half swing at the genue. “Go stand in a corner, you idiot machine.” He turned back to Micael. “I’ll bet you thought it was the HARP people, didn’t you? After those fools did your factory nice, they didn’t do nothing for twenty years except picket and talk. They didn’t have the guts. And they didn’t have the brains, neither.”
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 7: Passion
“Obviously it was the work of one sick mind.”
Bil laughed. “Yeah, it was me that picked off the ginners.” He went over to Dire and gave the genue a slap on the back. “Me and my faithful green companion.”
The genue took a step forward. “I am his green companion.”
Bil Sykes scowled. “Would you get the hell out of here, you moronic machine.” Dire’s underdeveloped mind always froze when his master yelled some illogical statement. He waited for clarification. Bil gave a deprecating wave of his hand. “Go set the Fuerolene packs around the house. Wire them all together and bring the main fuse into this room.”
A panic rushed over Micael. He had thought that a quick payment of ransom would get him free. Now it seemed the outcome might not be so simple. “What’s that for?”
“I expect your people will try to rescue you. If they do—kabooom!” He flung his arms out.
Micael pulled at his ropes. “You’re crazy.” As he looked at Dire moving across the room he wondered how the genue could take part in any of Bil’s destructive deeds—it was against his programming. The genue’s arms moved across his chest and obscured the last letter of the name “Dire.” Something clicked in Micael’s head. “Dirf. The missing genue. The genue that had a dose of violence in experience training. Murl was right about that after all.”
The cocky grin melted behind the black, but graying beard. “Smart guy, huh. Then you know who I am?” Bil kicked the soles of Micael’s feet. “Don’t ya?”
“Tar. Tar something. I’ve forgotten.”
“Forgotten? Do you remember how you dumped on me and gave my job to your ginner, Murl. Do you?” Bil turned his back to the captive and walked away.
“Tar Tankard. That was the name,” recalled Micael.
Bil stopped and looked over his shoulder as if he had been insulted. “Bil Sykes is the name.”
Micael had vague recollections of this man, a disagreeable sort, a humorless loner. The mystery of his character scared him. “So you’re going to ask for a couple of million dollars for my release. That’s how you get your revenge.”
Bil Sykes sat down in his chair, rocked it back on two legs and put his feet back on the table. “Maybe.” He rubbed his knuckles in his beard and thought of what to do with his hostage. Money? What would he do with money? He was used to getting by. Besides, he would have to spend the prize on the run. No, something more rewarding, something more dramatic. “I wonder if your people would blow up a ginner plant to get you back. Maybe two plants. What do you think, ginner-lover?”
Micael saw the silhouette of a genue move past the window and heard the sound of uncoiling detonation wire as it clicked and slapped against the side of the house. “That won’t stop the production of genues.”
“Maybe not,” Bil gloated. “But who cares?” He threw his head back, bellowed in laughter, and fell over backwards in a clamor. Dire entered the room and looked at his master lying on the floor, feet tangled in the chair legs. He would have laughed if he had had a sense of humor and knew how.
“Don’t say nothing, you piece of green garbage.” Bil got up and kicked the chair at Micael. “Let’s make it three damn ginner plants.” He began to pace in thought.
“Let’s see…” His fingers worked his beard. “Can’t use the I-port ’cause they can trace that.” He stopped pacing. “Got it. Dire, in the morning, I want you to go to the Wyman estate and tell them there that I want three genue plants blown up, on international TV, by sundown, or they ain’t never going to see Dr. Wyman again. And I want genue witnesses. Tell them that. And don’t let nobody follow you on the way back here. Got that?”
The genue nodded. “Yes, Bil. Don’t let nobody follow me back from the Wyman estate. Where is the Wyman estate?”
Bil’s eyes rolled up. He walked toward the door leading to another room. “I’ll show you on a map tomorrow morning. Until then, watch this guy here while I try to get some shuteye.”
The glow of a new morning triggered Murl out of his idle state. He had spent most of the night trying to analyze the possible plights of Micael. But nothing had come of it, so he shut down for a couple hours of genue sleep. He scanned the living room and saw the three sleeping humans. They too had spent the prior evening weaving plausible and hopeful scenarios. Adam was slumped in a recliner, one leg over the arm, Hope was curled up in a big easy chair and Dawna lay stretched out on the sofa. The genue walked over to the young man and nudged him. “Adam, it’s morning.”
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 7: Passion
Adam raised his eyelids, yawned and stretched, then shook the sleep from his head. “Have you heard anything, Murl?”
“Nothing. I think we should contact the sheriff’s department.”
Adam swung his feet to the floor and stood up. “Yeah, I suppose so. Why don’t you do that.”
Dawna sat up startled. “What’s happening? Any news?”
“Nothing, Mom.” He sat down next to his mother and stroked her arms to calm her. “Don’t start worrying all over again. Murl is going to call the sheriff.”
Door chimes brought everyone’s attention to the front hallway. Each visualized Micael standing on the front porch; and each wondered why he would ring the doorbell. Adam bounced up and scurried into the front foyer where he found Konti, the house genue, pulling open the front door. A dirty, green figure stood in the doorway.
“Hello,” greeted Konti. He thought it odd that a genue could be in such a shabby state. “May I help you?”
“Is this the Wyman estate?” Dire asked.
Konti was perplexed. “Indeed.”
Adam stepped around Konti to greet the visitor. “Can I help you?”
“I have a message for you,” Dire said.
“Yes,” Adam replied as he peered at the genue’s breast plate. He puzzled at such an odd name as Dire. The random namers at genue factories were programmed to avoid monikers with unpleasant connotations.
“I want three ginner plants blown up, on international TV, by sundown, or they ain’t never going to see Dr. Wyman again. And I want genue witnesses. Tell them that. And don’t let nobody follow you on the way back here. Got that?”
Adam grabbed the genue’s shoulder. “You know where my dad is?”
“Yes I know where he is. He’s at 2153 South Fork Road.” Dire turned and walked away, speaking to himself. “I will head north and weave through the shopping mall. Then, when I am sure no one has followed me, I will go home. Mr. Sykes will be proud of me.”
“Odd sort of genue,” remarked Konti.
“I’ll say.” Adam ran back to the living room. “Dad’s been kidnapped. But I think I know where he’s being held.” He pointed at Murl, “Have you called the sheriff yet?”
“I have him on the I-port right now.”
“Tell him I’ll be right over.” He saw the torment on his mother’s face. “Mom, I think you should go with me. Murl, you stay here in case anybody calls. Hope, do you want to come with us or should I drop you somewhere?”
“You and Dawna go ahead. I’m not quite awake yet.” She sat brushing her hair. “I hope he’s all right.”
“Let’s go Mom. Konti, you come with us.”
Murl signed off the I-port. He walked over to the large picture window and watched the trio get in the luxury sedan that within minutes disappeared down the street.
They were all alone again, just Hope and Murl.
She studied the back side of the green figure from the corner of her eye as the hair brush pulled her head back with each stroke. Now she looked right at him. He certainly had a great physique. Her dislike of genues had kept her from noticing. But over the years that dislike had turned into indifference, even acceptance. Now there was curiosity.
Hope broke the silence. “Well, here we are again, luv.”
Murl turned to look at her. “Yes, here we are.”
She stood and ambled past the genue to the window and stared out as he had. After a moment she rotated on one heel to face him. “What do you think will happen to Dr. Wyman?”
“I think there might be violence.”
She squinted at him. “You don’t like violence, do you?”
“I find it difficult to understand or accept.” Murl watched the woman saunter past him again, this time back toward the center of the room. He turned his body to face her. “Humans seem to do a lot of things that are irrational, including violent acts. Their emotions seem to motivate their actions often, invariably for no good end.”
An alien, gentle intelligence, she thought, but a bit naive. “You don’t have any emotions?”
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 7: Passion
“My actions are not predicated on chemical changes within me but on considering logical alternatives to serve the purpose at hand. I have goals, motives and opinions—but not emotions.”
She pointed her hair brush at him. “Then you can’t love, can you? You don’t love Micael, and Adam, and Dawna, do you?”
Murl’s brain began a vigorous analysis of the question. He knew the many definitions of love and surmised its many connotations and implications from the many movies of humans he had seen. And as a functional, adaptive being he tried to emulate modes of human thinking and action that were not in conflict with his programming and experience training. He could not be sure if he loved, but he knew he cared and his actions, as far as he could tell, were like the actions of people who loved. “I think so,” he said in a soft voice. “I care about their health, safety and happiness. I would say I love them.”
“I don’t see it that way, Murl, my pearl. I see your so-called love as a kind of servile dedication, like Fido’s devotion to his master. That kind of licky-licky has no passion, no intensity, no spontaneity. It imitates the real thing—just like everything else genues do. It’s part of your programming, right? I wouldn’t call that love. Would you?”
These words perplexed Murl. He wondered if they might be true given his own uncertainty about the subject. He wanted to believe he loved, just like he wanted to believe he performed his executive functions at the plant in human, yet logical, fashion. So what was he missing in his caring? Why was that not love?
He looked at Hope, ready to receive wisdom. “This passion you refer to does interest me. Perhaps you could clarify for me what passion is.”
She grinned at him. “You want to know what passion is?” A mischievous idea seized her. She blinked her eyes at Murl and sauntered toward him with swively hips. “Do you like me?” she said in coquettish fashion.
Murl watched her movement and wondered why she was walking in such an odd way. “We are not well enough acquainted, but I certainly have no reasons to dislike you. In fact, I am presently at your service until we hear what is happening with Dr. Wyman.”
Hope stepped up close to him and scanned his form from head to foot. It was a well-formed body. It could turn her on, she thought. For the first time it dawned on her that Murl was not wearing clothes. How silly. Of course not. But the titillating notion was serving her purpose.
She put a hand on the soft plastic skin of Murl’s shoulder. She could not remember touching a genue before. It was spongy, yet firm. She studied his well-formed lips. She stared into his dark eyes. “Eyes like a puppy. Aren’t those engineers wily.” She pressed her fingers into his buttock. It felt like the Real-O-Seal doll she used to have as a child. No, sexier than that—it was more like the hard muscular bicep of a sailor she had dated. She put her chest next to his. “Could you like me a lot?”
Murl thought the conversation was going okay up until now. It started to sound like something two humans talked about. But he was having a difficult time focusing his eyes on her at such close range and he had to adjust his stance as her arm weighed down one shoulder. “I don’t know what you expect me to say.”
She took his arm and slung it around her back. “Hold me.”
The genue’s hand slid to her waist. Hope curled one leg around Murl’s and put her other hand on his back and then pressed herself against him, her head next to his. Murl was motionless. She slid her body against his, closed her eyes and whispered, “Tell me you love me.”
Murl gave up trying to focus on the woman and stared straight over her shoulder. His mind was filled with bewilderment as his ideator loops competed with conflicting messages for the main train of thought. The amygdala circuit was not sensing any distress, therefore this physical experience was not really unpleasant. In fact, the attention this woman was paying him was, in a sense, quite satisfying. It reminded him of a scene from Love Story. But what was he supposed to do now? He did not wish to offend her. But where was the logic of it?
She then put his soft but firm plastic hand between her legs and began to move rhythmically up and down on it. All of a sudden Murl understood everything—or so he thought—and he pulled his hand away and pushed Hope with the other. Her body fell to one side and his gyros could not react fast enough to keep his balance. The two of them fell to the floor. Hope opened her eyes briefly, then slammed them shut again and continued to squirm on Murl’s prone body. “Tell me you love me,” she moaned.
He pushed her off and said without hesitation, “I’m sorry. I cannot love you the way you want me to.”
Hope’s eyes popped open and her mouth gaped in contorted anger. Then she rolled on to her back and began giggling.
Murl stood up, amazed at her radical changes in mood.
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 7: Passion
She got to her feet and brushed her pants and smiled. “You asked me to define passion, Murl. But it’s strong, unpredictable, and unthinking. I couldn’t chatter you through it, so I demoed.”
His brain struggled to correlate Hope’s words with her actions. He could see there was a definite difference between what he thought he was imitating as love and what she had tried to demonstrate. But if passion was part of love, why were not humans always physically climbing over other humans? Why did he not ever see Adam wrapping himself around Dawna or Micael? He had seen people kiss each other. Perhaps touching was the key. Was touching passion? The concept of love was much too confusing. Perhaps he was not ready for it.
“I’m not sure that I can understand what you were trying to show me,” he remarked. “It seems to me you were showing me something other than love. Perhaps the prelude to human sexual intercourse that I have read about. I know that Adam loves Micael and he certainly has never done anything like what you tried to do to me.”
“Very genue of you, Murl, but I can see you don’t know the depths and the dimensions of human love. It’s like I said, you don’t love Micael, Adam or Dawna. You’re a Fido.”
Murl walked back to the window to stare at nothing as his mind spent several minutes digesting her words. She could be right but he could not confirm it through logic. He gave up on the topic and went back to thinking about what might be happening to Micael.
Micael Wyman awoke from a moment of half sleep, one of many during the long night of captivity. He ran his tongue across dry lips. His stomach growled in hunger. His bound wrists burned from the heavy ropes. He looked out through blurry eyes and saw Bil Sykes gazing at a foggy mirror, scratching the rumpled black hair atop his squinting face. Bil turned around, looked down at Micael and snickered, then went to the refrigerator and took out a cold ale and guzzled it down.
On top of his physical discomforts and mental anxiety, Micael felt frustrated. For the first time in his life he was confronted with a situation his genius could not solve. There must be a way to talk to this madman, to manipulate him in some way. What was it he had read once? Something about crazy people being more predictable than sane ones, if you could only figure out their lunatic logic. Perhaps an appeal to his compassion.
He wet his lips with his tongue. “I’m dying of thirst.”
Bil wiped his beard with his arm and gave his captive an icy stare. “I can’t imagine why. You don’t eat or drink, do you? I know ginners don’t, and I’m sure you must’a made them in your own image, right?”
“Come on, Bil. I need a drink.” Micael twisted his cramped legs on the sandy floor.
“Maybe your buddy Murl will get you a drink,” replied Bil. “You thought he was so much better than me. Remember? You demoted me. You gave Murl my job, remember?”
“Yes, and now I remember why I did. You acted like a latent misanthrope. Uncooperative, humorless, irresponsible…” Micael ducked his head as Bil hurled his empty ale bottle at him. The plastic container bounced off Micael’s shoulder. So much for the appeal to compassion. Antagonizing him was not the approach either. How about reason?
“Look, Tar, kidnapping me isn’t going to accomplish what you want. If we treated you unfairly, perhaps we can make it up to you. Maybe we were a little insensitive to your feelings when we put Murl in a superior position.”
Bil turned his back to Micael and said in his mutilated voice, “Don’t call me Tar. My name is Bil Sykes. I don’t want anything from you. I don’t want anything from nobody. I don’t want people helping me. I hate people helping me.” He dug his fingers into his scalp and pull his hair. “It’s too late. I’m doing what I want to do. Me, alone. I don’t need people.”
So much for reason, Micael thought. He felt despair settling in. What could he say? How could he say it? There must be some way to get control of the situation.
Bil rambled on. “I know I can’t stop the ginners all by myself, but so what? We’re all going to die anyway. What bugs me is that ginners think they’re better than us. It ticks me off that they’ll still be around when people are long gone. I hate ginners.” Then he looked down at Micael with evil glee. “Then you happened along. If I can get three ginner plants blown up in exchange for you, I’ll not only be famous, but people’ll see how ginners have ruined me and maybe they’ll start to set things right. They’ll see that the ginner is vulnerable. They’re no better than us. They can die too.”
Micael shuttered at the unbridled bitterness in his tortured voice. “What about Dire? How can you stand to have him around? Don’t you hate him?”
“That can opener, that toilet cleaner?” Bil Sykes stared in contemplation for a moment. “Nah. He’s too stupid to hate. He does what I want. Dire doesn’t act high and mighty like that ginner Murl of yours. He knows his place.”
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 7: Passion
Dire burst into the room and proclaimed, “I delivered the message and nobody followed me back here.”
Bil jumped up from his chair. “You’re a good ginner.” He patted the genue on the back. “Let’s turn on the I-port and see what Adam Wyman has to say. Will he do it or won’t he?” He walked over to a small counter that was supposed to separate the kitchen from the rest of the room and fiddled with the antiquated video appliance that sat between a jar of pickles and an old hard roll with a knife stuck in it.
Micael puzzled at what might have been the oldest I-port in the country. In fact, it was just a TV set, one that could only receive two dimensional digital broadcasts. Colors spangled on Bil’s face as he poked the channel indicator looking for the news.
A voice blared in from outside the house and interrupted his search. “Bil Sykes, this is the sheriff.”
Bil jerked up in surprise. After a moment of disorientation he strode over to the front window, pushed aside a dirty curtain, and squinted through the grimy glass into the bright daylight. A police vehicle stood in front of the house and behind it a rotund man in uniform with a voice gun. Next to him were a casually dressed young man, a graying woman and a genue. Off to either side were two other vehicles and deputies with high powered rifles pointed at the rotting gray house.
“How the hell… ” Bil muttered. He looked back into the room. “I thought you said nobody followed you, you moldy moron.”
Dire seemed to shrug his shoulders. “I’m sorry, sorry.”
“Bil Sykes!” The sheriff’s voice shot in through a window as a concentrated beam, then burst against a wall in full resonance. “I’m asking you to surrender yourself and your hostage. You cannot escape. Come out with your hands up.”
Micael struggled with his ropes as if they should all of a sudden be looser. “So much for your plan,” he said with some elation. The ropes held and his hope tangled with anxiety.
The bearded man ran into the bedroom and returned with an old shotgun. He cocked it open and inserted two shells, then thrust it at the genue. “Dire, you complete idiot, take this out on the porch and shoot anyone who comes toward the house. You remember, like a commando, like Rambo.”
As Dire went out the front door, Bil took an ancient detonator box from a cardboard carton on the floor and put it on the table. Bil’s mind was racing. He was not sure he was ready for this showdown. Yet his obsession drove him on. “There will be no surrender,” he vowed as he began attaching wires to the detonator. Then he ran over to the front door and yelled, “My demands are simple. Three genue plants must be blown up…on the I-port news…today! And I want genue witnesses to attest to it. None of this special effects stuff. I will kill the ginner king, Micael Wyman, if my demands are not met. And I will blow this place up if anyone comes near!” He ducked back into the dark.
The genue on the porch took a stance like a minuteman, feet apart, shotgun held at the hip and aimed at the besiegers. He moved the barrel back and forth with empty mind, waiting for the assault that would dictate his next action. The deputies leveled their laser guns at him.
The sheriff waved at his men. “Hold your fire.”
Dawna chewed her nails. “Is Micael really in there?”
“Yes, I’m afraid he is,” answered Adam. “The police infrared imagers show a person crouching on the floor. I’m sure it’s Dad. But don’t worry, everything will be all right.” He tried to calm her with a pat on the arm. He took the voice gun. “Sykes, this is Adam Wyman. We can see and hear everything going on in the house. We know what you’re up to. Sykes, don’t be foolish. Let’s talk. We can work something out. I want to hear from my dad. What can it hurt?”
Bil felt his knees shaking. He paced cross the room. “Yeah, okay. But only a minute.” He kicked Micael in the thigh. “Convince ’em good cuz I mean what I say.”
The outside voice boomed in. “Dad, what do you want us to do?”
Micael studied Bil’s bitter face, then answered. “Adam, I think we have to do what he says. Is Murl out there?”
“No, but Konti is,” Adam replied.
“Konti, we have to destroy the plants as Mr. Sykes demands. The best way to accomplish that is to blow them up the way they did in movie Hollow Flames, if you know what I mean. Explain to the genue Placebo how to set the explosives. Have the genues on the receiving dock serve as witnesses. But do it quickly.”
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 7: Passion
Konti turned to Adam, “What is he talking about, Hollow Flames? I know of no movie by that title. And we have no genue named Placebo.”
“I don’t think that was a movie title. He must be telling you something in code.” Adam pondered awhile. “Hollow flames, placebo… as in making the flames seem real but with no effect. The buildings are concrete structures. They should take a lot of exterior abuse without affecting operations. And the genue witnesses need only attest to the apparent destruction. Tell him you understand and you will do it.”
Konti spoke into the voice gun. “Micael, we shall do as you say.”
“Can I talk to him?” Dawna pleaded.
The sheriff nodded and Konti handed the voice gun to her.
“Micael, I love you. Please do as he says. Please don’t be a hero.”
Through the sound detector she heard his reply. “I’m fine. Everything will be okay, honey. The genues will have to do this. I know they can. Then we’ll be together again….” the last word was muffled by Bil Sykes’ hand.
“No more talk.” Then he shouted out at unseen ears. “Just do it. And no funny business.”
As Konti placed the calls to simulate the plant explosions, he stared at Dire guarding the house. He wondered if he could fire his weapon at humans. Such a notion was incomprehensible to him.
A growing crowd encircled the scene and aircraft hovered overhead.
Adam whispered something to the sheriff. They seemed to agree, and Adam spoke into the voice gun aimed at the house.
“Bil Sykes! Before we go on with this we’d like to see Micael Wyman. If he’s unharmed, your wishes will be carried out.”
Bil Sykes paced as he argued in his mind. “Okay, okay,” he grumbled. He walked over to his captive, picked him up by the armpits and dragged him to the almost opaque front window. He pulled up the sash and placed the hostage so that his head could be seen by the outsiders.
Micael breathed in the fresh air. He saw Dawna and tried to give a brave smile. A few moments ago he was sure he was going to die. He now thought it might end all right. When Sykes pulled back on his head he had his doubts again. Neither hope nor despair would lock in.
Dawna gasped at the sight of her husband’s anguished face and called out, “Micael!” She came out from behind the vehicle and took two quick steps toward the house.
Dire turned to the false threat, raising the barrel of his gun toward the woman. Adam stepped to his mother’s side and held her back.
“Take a good look at Dr. Wyman, the great ginner maker!” Bil yelled out from the darkness. Only his bony hand could be seen in the window, clutching Micael’s hair. “My demands must be met or he dies. I swear I’ll blow this place up.”
Dawna gazed at her husband, at his scowled eyes, his cheek crushed against the sill. She inched forward and Adam grabbed her by the waist to restrain her. She called out, “Are you okay, Micael?”
“Dawna,” he answered, struggling to turn his head to see her. The hand glutching his hair yanked him back inside out of sight.
“Micael!” She tore loose from her son’s grip and bolted past Konti across the uneven dirt yard toward the house.
Dire rotated and aimed his shotgun at her. She did not stop, so he pulled the trigger.
Dawna’s foot hit a rut and her ankle twisted. The shot pellets flew past her falling body.
The deputies’ guns responded to the blast and Dire’s chest exploded. The genue bounced against the door frame and staggered into the house.
Bil Sykes panicked and reached for the detonator. Micael threw up his bound feet to stop him. Bil stumbled and fell to the floor grasping the wires that led up to the table, yanking the detonator to the floor. “You can’t stop me.” Sprawled, he pulled the device toward him and struggled to his knees.
The disabled genue teetered from one foot to the other, turning and bumping around the room.
Micael thrashed his legs at Bil. His heart throbbed, his muscles strained. All of a sudden death was real and near. His mind kept saying, “I’m still alive, I’m still alive!” If only he could continue to hear, see, move, feel, think, he would stay alive.
He heard Bil sneer, “Someone must pay!” He saw the man put his hands on the handle of the detonator. He kicked at him again. He felt exhilaration. I’m still alive, he thought.
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 7: Passion
He heard Bil grunt in pain. He saw him bounce against the counter. He was afraid. I’m still alive, he thought.
He heard the I-port tumble off the counter. He saw the detonator beneath it. He felt panic.
He heard the I-port bang on the detonator. He saw the handle move down…
It was as if someone had turned the dial of an old gas stove. Pillars of green and blue flame shot up from the ground on all sides of the house. Like a dancing picket fence, the columns of fire encircled the old structure, then quickly merged into a yellow wall that turned orange, then red. The high-pitched scream of Dawna lying in the dirt pierced the low-pitched roar of the conflagration. The other onlookers stood frozen in horror as the hot wind blew past them.
Konti began an analysis of the situation and concluded that Micael must be retrieved from the burning house. His own safety did not enter his thoughts. The goal was set and the means were obvious. He dashed across the yard, past Dawna, up the old porch steps, then disappeared into the inferno.
Adam rushed to his mother’s side and knelt beside her. The searing heat clawed at their faces as they stared in disbelief. Adam picked her up and carried her away.
When they reached the sheriff, he put her down and gazed back at the man-made hell.
Flames lapped at the sky from holes in the roof. Twisting balls of black smoke burst from the windows. Lumber crackled and screamed, mocking the growing crowd. In the distance wailing sirens grew louder.
Then through the dancing yellow veils, a living image wavered like a mirage. The shape of a genue holding a human across its arms flickered in the fire as it stepped in slow motion through the doorway. Sheets of flame lashed at the figure and soon its pace mired to a stop. The plastic being began to droop and sag like a melting wax statue, the human body in its arms dropping clumsily to the ground. Konti’s form changed into a sagging blob that spread over the charred body of Micael Wyman, then disappeared behind the fiery curtain.
Dawna let out a blood-curdling scream and fell to the ground. Adam knelt down beside her and put his arms around her. They stayed there, huddled, until the fire was dead.
In the living room of the Wyman mansion, Murl sat by the fireplace reading Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. When he heard the front door, he glanced up. “Hope, I believe they have returned,” he said to the woman sleeping in a ball on the sofa.
She stretched and yawned, then sat up. “It’s about time. I just hope everything is okay.”
Dawna entered the room sobbing. Behind her was a stone-faced Adam, but no Konti.
“What has happened?” asked Murl.
Hope jumped to her feet. “Adam, what is it? What happened to your dad?”
He stepped to her. Sadness enameled his eyes. “He’s… dead.”
“Oh, Adam, no!” She embraced him. Then she went to Dawna to console her.
“I’m sorry,” responded Murl with unintended curtness.
Adam glared at the genue. “Is that all you can say? You’re sorry?” He came up close to Murl.
Murl backed up a bit. “I mean, it would have been better if he had not died.”
“What! Didn’t Micael Wyman mean anything to you? Don’t you feel bad about his death?”
Murl was puzzled. He could see that Adam was feeling human sadness and he thought he expressed an appropriate condolence. Apparently he was to feel sadness, too. Sadness. Was that like not getting closure on a thought process? No, it must be more than that. Whatever it was, it looked painful. And he, Murl, could not feel pain. “Yes, Micael Wyman was important to me. And where is Konti?”
“He’s dead, too,” Adam huffed.
Murl did not know if that brought sadness also but it was a surprise. He was afraid to offend Adam any more so he uttered, “I’m sorry.” Not knowing what else was to be said, he picked up his book and turned to go back to his chair. “I’m going to read now.”
“What?” He grabbed Murl and turned him around. “Murl, he’s gone forever! Act like you care!” he growled through his clenched teeth. There was no reaction. “My father is dead. Your creator is dead. He’s never coming back. Don’t you care?” Still none. “You should have loved him!” He shoved the genue to the floor with both hands.
Dawna pulled away from Hope. “Everything is gone. I can’t…” She let out a dreadful howl, then left the room.
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 7: Passion
Adam stood over Murl. “I’ve tricked myself into believing you were kind of like people. That maybe you could care. But you can’t, can you? You didn’t love Micael Wyman. You have no feelings. You’re a machine. You always will be. You’re nothing…” He raised a fist. “Ohhh, get the hell out of my sight.” He stomped out of the room.
Murl did not get up. He was stunned. This was not a trivial incident, he could see that. He had never been treated like this by Adam. He looked at Hope who was staring at him. He got to his feet and went to her. “I have upset Adam and I am not sure how.”
Hope stood up and gave him a cold but casual look. “It’s all right, Murl. He’ll get over it in time.”
“But what was I supposed to do?”
“Nothing, Murl. There was nothing you could do. Adam is upset with you because he forgot what you really are—a machine. He expected more from you because you’re such a damn good imitation of a human. But you can’t imitate love, luv. I already pointed that out to you earlier tonight, didn’t I.” She turned to leave.
Murl spoke to her back. “But I want to do what’s right. Adam expected me to do something that I did not do. Can’t you tell me what it is?”
She kept walking. “He wanted you to love, Murl. But it wasn’t in your specs. Good night, hon.”
Murl stood alone in the living room. A stampede of thoughts took away his vision. The words you didn’t love Micael Wyman echoed in his head. Love. That was the thing that seemed to be causing these problems. Just another word before today. He thought he knew what it meant. He thought he was doing it—loving. But then, today, everything changed. First, this morning a human female wanted to show him passion—to feel something he knew he could not. And now his friend expected him to express grief for his creator which he did not know how to do. Both had something to do with love. Both made humans respond with extreme behaviors, each so different from the other. How could these both be called love? It must be a very complex emotion, Murl thought. Could it be that love was just another human frailty, like anger, fear, violence, greed?
“No!” The sound of his own voice startled him. He stood up and went to the window and gazed at the sunset. No, he thought, love was not a frailty; it seemed to be a special emotion, or feeling, that humans seem to think was good. It was like caring—only much stronger. He, Murl, cared—at least as he understood the word. Caring was dedication of thought to somebody or something…. or no… it was being concerned or interested. But apparently whatever caring was, it was not love.
Even though he looked at the orange horizon, Murl did not see the last arc of the sun slip behind the distant trees. Again the words rang in his ears—You didn’t love Micael Wyman.
“Why didn’t I?” Was it because love was a feeling? But genues had feelings. Puzzlement and curiosity were feelings, weren’t they? Or just sophisticated programming? Did he understand feelings? If love was good, shouldn’t genues have it too? How does a genue love?
He turned and paced across the room. You didn’t love Micael Wyman. But he should have, and he thought he did. How wrong he was. He had deluded himself. It was true—he was just a robot, a machine, play-acting the role of a good human servant. He, Murl, a genue, needed to feel a loss with such intensity that it was painful. Yet he could not—not with all the curiosity and logic he could muster. He was missing something.
Murl stood alone before a large mirror wondering who or what he was. “I don’t want to be a machine. I want to be a being.” Then his vision took hold of his brain and his image came into focus. It was not a being he saw, but a green object staring back. He turned around and saw no one in the room. He looked back and saw no one in the mirror—just a genue.
Oblivioun's Children — Chapter 7: Passion
Continue to Chapter 8