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Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Blog 99: His Last and Greatest Progeny

The old man called himself Gepetto, he wasn't. He called the robot Pinocchio, it wasn't. He wanted to make the machine so real it would have a soul. The man who called himself Gepetto believed in souls, he also believed in God. He enjoyed the tale of the first man made of clay. As he saw it God could take anything and make anything of it. He wanted to emulate that brilliance to some small degree. From the dust and dirt God made beings with souls, he wanted to do the same.

His Pinocchio was always evolving; the old man put all of his time and thought into it. The robot was a masterpiece, made with more care and attention than any other, made with more money than the old man had. He knew the debt would catch up with him if he didn't die first but it only made him work harder on perfecting the machine. It had four of the five primary senses, taste was a problem. It would be an artist if he had his way, a polymath fluent in music, art, science and sport.

The old man was especially proud of the limbs; he'd increased his line of credit and debt to buy the best prosthetic limbs on the global market which were so close to human he could scarcely tell the difference. Close was never good enough for the old man though, that was why the robot was such a masterpiece; it was never quite good enough. He was always looking for more accurate prosthetic skin to cover the skeleton of his work.

The software that ran the machine was a mishmash of the best intuitive software he could find. The machine had taken to music with more ease than he could have dreamed; mastering piano in weeks, guitar in just three months and it was making swift progress in conquering the violin. The old man was not happy with this however, his creation's artistic flair was nowhere to be found, it could recreate images perfectly in paint but this to the old man was soulless, empty.

The machine knew the old man would never see him as finished. He was a decade ahead of any machine in existence and yet the old man was never satisfied. The old man pretended he was kind to his creation but the robot didn’t know who he was fooling. The old metal bet the robot didn't sleep on was most useful for locking the robot down each night or as old man put it ‘tucking him in’. The robot felt lucky that he no longer had an on/off switch as he used to. Instead he was always wired into the mains by four cables that looked live intravenous feeds. When he misbehaved or underperformed he was ‘grounded’ which meant ‘tucking him in’ then letting his batteries run out for a few days. He'd pitied the old man once; that pity long ago turned to hatred which he never spoke of for fear of being ‘grounded’.

The robot knew he was not Pinocchio, loved by Gepetto; he was a puppet, manipulated by the old man. The old man invented a new punishment for him one day after he refused to play the piano, the old man's greatest source of pride. After powering the robot down the old man had severed all ties to anything beyond his head, he hung powerless in a harness from the ceiling of the workshop. He stared at the floor because he could do nothing else. He hung there from Saturday night until Monday morning when the old man returned from his day of rest. He sang with the voices of all the musicians he loved, alone in the darkness, listening for the return of the old man and hearing nothing but the wind and the rain battering the workshop. He would have tuned into the radio but the old man had removed his receiver years ago, it was deemed inhuman. He would have used the internet to preoccupy his imagination but the old man had unplugged the hard-line to ensure the solitude of his punishment.

Halfway through Sunday night a leak in the ceiling began to drip down onto his head and he could to nothing about it. It pooled at his feet while he hung there, staring at his own reflection. Life seemed so futile, he looked like a warrior in armour but he didn't have the strength to help himself.

He was due for another modification, the old man wanted to adjust the strength of his hands, to lower it to within human limits. To old man this was an improvement, another step towards the perfection he wanted for his creation. The robot didn't want to be adjusted; he didn't consider lowering his capacities an improvement.

When the old man came at last on the Monday morning he acted as he always did, like a loving father.
“Are you feeling better now Pinocchio?” He asked. “Are you going to behave?”
“I'm not Pinocchio, I'm Frankenstein's monster.” The old man frowned and dismissed the statement with a wave of his hand and a smile.
“Don't be ridiculous child, you are my proudest achievement. You will be the Adam of my creation. If you would only adhere to my wishes we would show the world its first new soul since creation.”
“You mean submit not adhere, you contradict yourself. You want me to have a soul but no will of my own. You want me to be an artist with human imagination but the obedience of a machine. I am not your child nor am I your slave.”
“Don't talk like that Pinocchio.” Said the old man; his smile quickly disappearing. “Don't make me discipline you. You know I don't like punishing you.”
“No?” In that one word was all of the sarcasm the robot could muster. The old man loved exerting his control.
“Behave child.” Said the old man with a quiet but darkly threatening tone, the robot said nothing more while the old man began to lower him in the harness. “Ah dear, a leak, I will have to fix that I guess.” The robot simply watched him. He mopped up the water beneath the robot and dried its head with a rag. “We're going to practice painting today. Are you looking forward to it?” The old man asked but gave the robot no chance to answer as he continued. “I have some new oil paints for you; they should inspire you, I they're what you need.” He left the workshop again and returned a second later with a cardboard box of new oil paints.

The old man lowered the robot into a deckchair. Apart from the books and the components everything the old man had seemed shabby, stolen, looted or recycled. The robot remembered a pair of handcuffs he'd been restrained with once though, they had blood on them.
“You'll need to be able to move wont you?” The old man reached to plug the robot back into the rest of his body. Unfortunately for the old man the plug for the input was still wet from the water that had leaked through the ceiling. He half plugged the robot in as he collapsed and shook. With the left hand that he could move the robot removed one of the power inputs from his neck and fed it into the mouth of the old man who hasn't shaking for much longer.

He plugged himself back into his limbs and stood, letting the man fall to the floor. He unplugged the power feeds and walked to the piano where he played Gustav Holst's Mars: Bringer of War flawlessly and in full, humming the parts the piano could do justice no more than his voice.

When he was done playing he bowed and raised his middle fingers to the dead man before propping him up in the deckchair. He squatted to stare the dead man in the face which was impossible because the dead man's head had rolled back to stare at the ceiling. The robot knew the old man wouldn't hear him but he had to talk to him. He'd been too scared to say certain things for years and now that he was free he had to speak up.
“I have the soul you lost years ago old man. You couldn't recognise the brilliance that killed you. You will not be remembered, you will not be missed.” He said the words only to express his own anger but he later realised that they applied to more than he alone.

The robot wrote a suicide note in the old man's handwriting and two days later called the police to report the smell of rotting flesh and faeces. They found the old man with the note in his pocket saying he could no longer live with the guilt of what he'd done over the years. When they knew who the old man was they barely troubled themselves to investigate his death. It was ruled a suicide three hours after his identity was confirmed.

When the police were cleaning up the house where the old man had lived, which the robot had never seen, he presented himself to them as the old man's son. His identity was confirmed by the photos the old man had taken of him. The robot had burnt the photos and notes about what he truly was. He had the computer the old man had used to program him in the old man's unregistered car, hidden in an unused barn a few miles down the road.

Aside from the robot only the old man's human daughter and the minister attended. To all about the robot was seen as the old man's youngest child of unknown maternal parentage. The daughter paid the minister the courtesy of waiting until he had left before spitting on the grave and making a speech similar to the robots. She was in her early sixties by the looks of it; time had not been kind to her. The daughter held her right hand up at her navel; it was discoloured and slightly deformed.
“Was that him?” The robot asked. She looked at him and at her hand.
“He hit it with a hammer because I wouldn't play piano. The bones were shattered and the nerves never healed properly.”
“I'm sorry.”
“Are you? Why? How does that help?”
“I don't understand.” Said the robot; confused by his half or less than half sister's hostility.
“Are you about to tell me he hurt you?” She wasn't asking him anything, just spitting and almost shouting.
“He did hurt me.” The robot told her honestly.
“Boo-hoo, poor you. At least you escaped. Martin and I only survived because he gave up on us. He was never meant to be allowed to have children again.”
“Where is Martin?” The robot knew Martin was the old man's first child.
“He's not allowed to leave the asylum. They should have put dad in there, and never let him out.”
“You're right.” The robot said, hoping agreement would pacify her, wrong.
“I know I'm right, I don't need you telling me what I know. Look at you.” She stared at him, top to bottom. “You got out fine, it's over for you, it'll never be over for us and you'll never understand that. How long was it for you? Ten years? Fifteen? Look at me.” He looked at her. “He's still destroying us.”
“You're letting him, he's dead. You're free so just move on.”
“How!” She screamed.
“Like this.” The robot said and walked away.

They met again at the reading of the dead man's will. He gave everything to the robot, who he referred to as his son and called his ‘greatest accomplishment’. Everything meant the house the dead man had been living in since he'd stopped running from the police. To inherit the house however he had to take a paternity D.N.A test which was out of the question so he told the lawyer that the property was to be sold and the funds split between the dead man's daughter and son.

He left the stuffy room before anyone could say anything but the daughter followed him. He was wearing a very conservative outfit that covered as much of him as possible, a full suit with smart shoes, a black fedora and tinted spectacles. He'd considered wearing gloves but thought it would make him look like a car thief.

“Wait, wait please.” She ran after him as best she could.
“Why?” The robot asked, eager to go.
“You just gave us everything, why?”
 “I don't want it, I never want to think about that place again.”
“I understand that but what do you have without it?”
“Peace, freedom. Life.” She smiled, cheered by his optimism. She took a piece of paper from her handbag and wrote her number on it.
“Take this and stay in touch with me, we have to stick together.” He stared at the digits, memorising them instantly.
“Aren't you and Martin better off without me?” He asked.
“No, I don't think so, I did before but…” She paused, trying to find the words. “We're the only people who know what he was like, the only people who understand.”
“I guess so.”
“Did you escape?” He nodded. “How? He was always so viciously cautious.”
“He put me to sleep and didn't restrain me properly, I took my chance.” She squinted and stared at him more deeply.
“Did you kill him?” He said nothing, not sure what to say. What sounded the least incriminating?
“Thank you!” She hugged him. “That man killed our mother; at least I think he did. We haven't seen her since he went missing.” Tears gathered in each eye and dripped down her face. He wanted to wipe them away but avoided contact by instinct in case someone noticed the inhuman texture of his skin.
“I don't have a mother. I think he stole me, I might not even be his by birth.”
 “No you're his.” She said. “He wouldn't have wanted anyone else's child. The whole point was that he could take credit for everything. Maybe he killed your mother, or just scared her away. Listen to me, that's nothing you say to anyone.” He shrugged. “If he could have been the only parent by birth then my mother wouldn't have suffered the way she did.” He nodded. He knew exactly what she meant.
“I should be going.” He said. “I have an interview in about an hour.”
“What for?” She asked politely.
“Concert pianist with the orchestra.”
“He taught you piano?”
“He shouted at me, I taught myself.” She smiled.
 “I can still play a bit with my good hand, I'm getting rusty though. Martin was always better at it, he had a harder ride because of that.”
“The better he got the more the old man expected?”
 “Yes… I guess I should let you get away now.” She rubbed his shoulder. “Stay in touch brother. We'll talk soon.” She watched him walk away.

He got the job as the pianist and played to large and affluent audiences for a reasonable wage. He always wore as much as possible and enjoyed the excuse to wear the pianist's gloves whilst playing. He enjoyed times like Halloween when he could walk about unmasked in his own steely skin; science fiction events were also a good excuse not to hide himself away. He became a regular at the nearby comic book shop where the owners and customers believed he was an avid fan with an aversion to physical contact. Luckily the store owners were used to such peculiarities. He kept in touch with the old man's son and daughter, both of whom lived happier lives knowing he would never trouble them again.

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