Everyone asks how I met Archer, if I picked him out from the agency’s catalogue or if he was recommended to me by someone else and other such questions, when in truth I must confess that I had never met him before he showed up upon my doorstep. I had merely requested a valet from the agency, and they said one would be sent, and gave no further description other than he would be up to their impeccable standards.
He rang the bell at exactly the second upon the hour he was to arrive, and I found myself unexpectedly worried. Had the agency sent a robot? That would not do, not in the least. So it was with no small amount of trepidation that I opened the door. Imagine my relief, if you can, to find not a chrome-plated Johnnie, but instead, Archer.
“I was sent by the agency, sir,” he said. “I was given to understand that you required a valet. My name is Archer”
I nodded, awed. He shook my hand firmly, and glided into the room , setting about tidying up. I have tendency to leave things strewn about while in the midst of working–a hazard of the occupation, really–and Archer went to setting it right immediately, seeming to know where everything went originally after nothing more than a brief scan of the room.
“You’ll have to excuse me,” I said. “But…how did you know?”
“I beg your pardon. sir?”
“That I was your employer, and not…you know. Did the agency tell you?” I hadn’t mentioned it to them, but they have ways of finding things.
“You are referring to your appearance, sir?” Archer asked. I nodded. “No, the agency said nothing. But if you were not my employer, and this phantom gentleman had such a robot as yourself open the door for him, what need would he have of me?”
“And this doesn’t bother you?”
“No, sir,” Archer said. But I remained unconvinced.
“I feel I should explain my position. I am, as you may have guessed from the supplies, an artist. I have been fortunate enough to be a very financially successful artist, thought I am not a fool and realize that a great deal of that success comes from the novelty of being a ‘robot artist.’ The fact remains, however, that I am possessing of a great deal of money and a great deal of social obligations. Hence, your employ.”
“Very good, sir.”
“I don’t think you understand. I need help, Archer! The clothes alone!” I rubbed my rubber fingertips against my metallic forehead, the squeaks emphasizing my frustration. “I don’t know how to behave around people. I don’t know! Perhaps that old crank Tortleberry was right. Perhaps robots are not meant for social life.”
“If I may be so bold, sir.” Archer said. He stood very still and looked at me directly. “The word ‘robot’ comes from ‘robota,’ which means ‘drudgery’ in Czech and ‘work’ in Slovak. And while I have no doubts you work very hard upon your art, I do not believe it was the kind of labor the people of Slovakia had in mind. You are a gentleman of leisure, sir. I do not believe the title of ‘robot’ fits.”
“So this situation won’t be a problem for you. You’re not… embarrassed, or anything.” At that, Archer smiled. And I confess, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone smile before that. Not at me. It was so guileless, so warm. Nowhere near the mechanical grins I was used to from my buyers and other industry types.
“To be perfectly honest, sir, I am rather looking forward to the next Guild meeting. There’s a few Johnnie models that are going to be unspeakably jealous.”
On the night Alpine Zanzibar died, that diva light, that genteel fantastic, the people that loved him bought him the moon. Together his friends pitched a fortune and purchased the lunar landscape for the entire night, inflicting their choices for the moonâ€™s color on the entire earth. At 6PM the moon was a crisp blond color but at the strike of midnight it turned a dark and mysterious blue. The gold of that light was to celebrate the long life of Alpine Zanzibar, and the blue was to mourn his passing.
The party was at the Silver Swan, the establishment where Alpine Zanzibar held his bohemian court. The Silver Swan was not just bar, nor a cabaret, but the night home of the residents of Second Paris, a place were hearts were mended and souls found, glory on a honest to damn wooden stage. Years before most of the patrons had even been born, the genteel fantastic Alpine Zanzibar had opened the Silver Swan and had commenced the nightly revelry as the city of Second Paris grew around him. The party was part roast, part jazz funeral, but most of all like a birthday and all of it like the life of the man it celebrated, all glory, all fabulous fantastic.
Alpine Zanzibar himself appeared an hour into the festivities, having just emerged from a day spent with his closest friends, his created family, those brothers and sisters holding back their tears and throwing back bubbly drinks. He wore robes of shining purple and glistening blue, the colors of the evening, past the set sun.
In accordance with Zanzibarâ€™s own request, they held the usual cabaret; girls dancing, the political puppet show outlining the faults of the United Parliament, the heckles and the teasing, the stripping and the finale, which Zanzibar sang himself. He sang his torch song, his familiar standard, the old love song, almost antiquated until Zanzibar put it past his lips.
Suddenly, as the last chord played, there was the sound of wild horses, and the laugher of women. From the cold autumn night, like a crisp wind blew in that proper villain, that rouge, the gypsy Prince; Vlad of the Jagged Spire. He entered with his cadre of gypsy girls in their striped corsets. Vlad wore his stylishly disheveled Victorian tails, and top hat. His dark hair curled around his shoulders, and the crisp click of his heels on the ceramic tile sent the crowd silent. Long had Zanzibar and Vlad been rivals, Zanzibar stealing Vlads gypsy ladies to his stage and Vlad temping Zanzibarâ€™s lovers into his caravan.
Vlad swept through the silent crowd, holding the edges of his stain lined cape and mounted the stage with an effortless little hop.
â€œLong have we been rivals, Alpine Zanzibar, but tonight, that ends.â€ Vlad wrapped his arm around Zanzibarâ€™s waist, pulling Zanzibars body towards his in a smooth, practiced motion. Vlad caught Zanzibar in a long and passionate kiss. When they finally parted, Vlad bowed to Zanzibar. â€œA decent rival happens once in a thousand lifetimes. My deepest thanks.â€
Zanzibar lifted the glass thrust into his hand, and proposed a toast to Vlad, and Vlad toasted Zanzibar, and into the night the patrons of the Silver Swan toasted each other and danced and laughed and sang away every hour.
Alpine Zanzibar took the key from around his neck, that brass key to the Silver Swan, and placed it around the neck of his lover, the doe eyed boy named Daniel, whose white shirt clung to his ribs like paint on a wall. Daniels eyes went liquid, he lost a crystal tear to Zanzibarâ€™s thumb on his cheek and a kiss that was tender and sweet, a taste, an echo. But Zanzibar wouldnâ€™t let his lover cry for long. He encouraged the band with a dramatic wave, let the drink pour from the fountains, and danced with the girls. Vlad whirled, skirts flew, and the organ played on.
After midnight, when everyone was drunk and singing, Zanzibar went to the back room and changed his clothes. He wiped the paint off his face and put on grey trousers and a flat, black cap. He picked up his satchel, the one with a change of clothes and his new identification cards, the ones that said Eugene Johnston, freshman university student in physics. He opened the back door into the alley and walked towards the public transport pod-station. Behind him, Alpine Zanzibarâ€™s friends were toasting the life of a man they loved, ahead, Eugene Johnston started his life.
Claude scuffed his feet against the burnished steel floor of his ship, a deep frown settled on his features. No matter how old he got, there were some women who always seemed to bring out the child in him, the contrite young boy who had just been given a firm scolding. Jelari could do it more easily than most.
â€œItâ€™s not that I think itâ€™s a bad thing,â€ she was explaining, her voice quiet and reasonable. â€œBut really, Claude, even you have got to see that this is a little unhealthy. It makes sense for a mechanic to be devoted to his ship, but with this thingâ€”Claude, I donâ€™t know how else to say this. You treat it like a person.â€
â€œI treat her like a ship,â€ Claude protested. â€œA good ship whoâ€™s gotten me through a lot of scrapes and deserves respect.â€
â€œSee?â€ Jehari said, giving him a look of profound disappointment. â€œYouâ€™re personifying again, Claude. You just called it a â€˜she.â€™ A spaceship isnâ€™t a person. Itâ€™s a piece of machinery.â€
â€œEven landside sailors give their ships a gender,â€ Claude replied, but the sinking feeling in his heart told him he was losing yet another battle. Jehari just didnâ€™t understand the special relationship Claude had with the Mermaidâ€™s Wing. Heâ€™d raised the ship from a baby, just a junkyard scrap with a tiny spark of potential, and she had carried him through thick and thin. Every ounce of money Claude got from his various odd jobs wound up sunk into the Mermaidâ€™s Wing, on engine parts or upgrades or new tools or even just a new coat of sealant. He could tell that his girlfriend was not amused.
â€œThat is not the point, Claude, and you know it.â€ Jehari straightened and frowned, and inwardly, Claude groaned. This always meant that she meant business. â€œThe point is that you are spending too much time working on the ship and not enough interacting with real human beings.â€
By that, Claude knew that Jehari meant heâ€™d been ignoring her, and he felt a pang of guilt. Jehari was a human, though, and humans could take care of themselves. The Wing couldnâ€™t. â€œShe needs me,â€ Claude protested weakly.
â€œClaude, this is not acceptable.â€ Jehariâ€™s mouth was set in a thin line and Claude knew it was only a pale representation of the line he had just crossed. â€œIâ€™m not going to live here with you and watch you waste all of your time on unnecessary engine diagnostics and triple-redundancy system installations. You need to make a choice. Itâ€™s either me or the ship.â€
Slumping in his chair, Claude nodded. Somehow he had always known it would come to this. He felt a certain sense of defeat, but in the end, Jehari was probably rightâ€”it was better this way. He needed to learn how to let go and make choices. It was with a very real pang of regret that he dropped Jehari off at the next spaceport.
As he piloted the Mermaidâ€™s Wing away from the station, Claude felt a lightness that he hadnâ€™t experienced in months. He patted the control panel affectionately, noting as he did so that the Wingâ€™s coolant system was running just a little below 90% efficiency. Heâ€™d have to take a look at that. â€œDonâ€™t worry,â€ he told the ship with a smile. â€œIâ€™ll take care of you.â€
You remember when Billy first went into space, donâ€™t you? First time one of those crazy rockets of his went off with him in it. First time he sent up the big rocket, not those little ones with the sensors made of old cell-phones and other garbage. Chuck always said heâ€™d send up Chairman Meow, or Mr. Catkins, or Daisyâ€™s kitten Cindy next, but he didnâ€™t. Billy went up immediately, soon as he knew as he could.
You hear what Daisy said? She was just in here, you just missed her. Billy calls her now and then. Only one from round here, â€˜spect. She told me Billy says the Jupiter colony wasnâ€™t gonna work by the end of next year. Called it the biggest failure of his life.
Daisyâ€™s doinâ€™ well. Says her VDâ€™s cleared up clear as day, and she gonna get back to work. That boy of hers is gettinâ€™ tall. She made a joke about how someone needs to market a daycare for prostitutes. Thatâ€™s Daisy for you. Always got a sense of humor.
She made some joke about Billy; canâ€™t remember what it was.
Remember how Chuck broke Billyâ€™s arm soon as he came down? Billy told everyone it was from re-entry, but a bunch of us saw him crawl out of that craft using both arms after landing. You saw it was Chuck, didnâ€™t you? Slammed Billy up against the wall, kicked him in the stomach, spat in his face. We all did a bit of that, but Chuck broke Billyâ€™s arm, make no mistake.
You seen Chuck recently? He looks good. Heâ€™s serious about quitting this time. Ever since that last binge, heâ€™s been serious. You know, the one he pawned his prosthetic leg to finance. You said heâ€™d be clean after losing that leg in that car accident, but he proved you wrong, eh? But heâ€™s serious now, he said so.
Still hard to believe Billy went, ainâ€™t it? Even after we all saw him, saw that rocket made of junk and debris took off into the sky? No one thought it would, despite what Billy told us about super-dense material and reverse-gravity fields an all that other hoodoo heâ€™d spout. But there it went, rocketing into the sky, out of Filt Street, out of Sporboro, out of the goddamn state and country and world.
Anyways, hereâ€™s the usual; youâ€™re still one of the best customers here, even after what happened to your throat. It’s amazing you can get enemas to work like that for you. Bottoms up! Ha! See you next week! The wine’ll be restocked!
What was that joke about Billy…
The aroma of cooked vegetables filled Lebaâ€™s nostrils as she finished mixing the oils for the final touches of her dinner. All the guests had been waiting to taste her delicious mixture of carrots and lettuce with roots and peppers as spices. In fact, the whole of the community adored Leba for her talents at making their normal everyday meals into something exquisite.
Though, even as Leba prepared the courses, her sister Enias watched and listened as their guests of honor eagerly awaited her sistersâ€™ well-prepared meal. They laughed and smiled as they readied themselved for the feast they were about to receive and many even went so far as to ignore Enias for the time being until their meals were to be served.
Jealously was a trait that indicated the annual shot wasnâ€™t working and even though she knew this, Enias kept the idea from public. She had thought that the guests must have known, since they spent so much time around the two. If they knew, she mused, it must not be wrong.
Enias began to wonder why they had to eat with tongs. Every edge of the tongs perfectly sculpted to be as dull as could be, and yet she wondered what tool could be used to supplement them. The very idea that larger portions had to be torn by hand boggled her mind.
The sour sister sat watching the guests and the table lay out like a large slab of marble with its pretty silk dressings, and she began to wonder if there would ever be something else to consume, something else to appease their honored guests. Perhaps in the back of her mind, Enias wanted to be her sister this night. Though now she was getting impatient as time was going by and there was no response from the kitchen.
As the laughing and the carousing of their guests went on, Enias became agitated and impatient. She stood, excusing herself and made for the kitchen where she would politely remind her favored sister of the importance of pleasing their guests with punctuality and good offerings. She entered through the swinging doors to find her sister kneeling over what looked to be a broken tong. Her left hand gripped her right wrist as she looked on in sorrow and horror at the crimson fluid dripping down her finger.
Looking upon the scene, Eniasâ€™ eyes were transfixed upon the very wound inflicted by the shattered wood of the tongs. Her sister was holding back tears and all Enias could think of was the something trying to unleash itself from the back of her mind. She could not define it and yet it pushed harder, trying to break free as the blood flowed. Suddenly it all broke free, and Enias knew what her and her honored guests had been missing all along. She would impress them this night.
I loved you John, I want you to understand that.
The Core wasnâ€™t wrong to match us as marriage candidates; it just didnâ€™t understand who you were really, the physical you. When we spoke and wrote and sent all those mad pictures over the Core – that was some other John. You used to write to me like a mad lover. You told me you would carry me though fire. You treated me like a partner, you told me you would always have my back, and that you could always trust me to have yours. I had compatibility with seventy-eight men over the Core, but none of them wrote like you, none of them sent the kind of beautiful pictures you did, or the songs you composed, or the mad videos you hacked together for me. No one was like you. Thatâ€™s why I married you John, you were singular.
When we bought this house on the floating islands, I thought I was about to enter a dream. I was going to be living with the most amazing man on the pacific islands in a planned community. We dreamed up a thousand adventures for when we got here, do you remember?
I told myself a lot of excuses when we moved in together. You were adjusting, it was a new place, and it would take a while for you to find your feet. You were rude because you were nervous. The drugs were just your way of making yourself comfortable, the way you yelled was just your passion. You said you would carry me though hell, but you couldnâ€™t love me enough to clean your clothes or rub my shoulders when I was tired.
After a while, I began to feel as if I had been tricked. I invented odd fantasies, that someone else had written those words, had sent those videos. I was being played on a trick, a terrible lie. Perhaps it was a program designed at seduction that you had bought; perhaps you bought me for the price of a cruel hack.
You asked me why I haven’t been bringing you meals, why I haven’t set the dials to clean the house, why I haven’t been talking to you. I thought you were a big liar, that I was wrapped in a lie, and I wanted you to suffer for what you have done. But that’s not the person I want to be. I don’t want to live as a bitter woman, angry about the life I keep choosing to trap myself in. I have to go away.
You are not the person I love, you are some strange, twisted imitator, some dreamer who dreams himself better than he is. You are so good at this that you fooled the Core, with all it’s wonderful psych tests and profiles. You fooled me too. You might even be fooling yourself.
I have to leave you. I cannot stay with the John who lives in that house; he is not the man that the Core matched me with.
When you become the man in those messages, find me.