Issue #23: June 18 (Post Modern Prometheus)

This entry is part 13 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 2: Magic and Machines

Part 3

Alexis looked out the window of the taxi at the manicured lawns and scenic stone fences going by and smiled coyly. “You know, I thought that you just introduced yourself as being from Paradise as a lame come-on line back in school.”

Ian nodded. “Paradise, California, born and raised.” He chuckled knowingly, “Though I did mention it every chance I got because I thought it was a good line to use.” Alexis smirked and hit him playfully on the shoulder. “What? I was fifteen! The hormones, combined with going to a school where the student body is eighty percent female and lives in the same building as you—they make you do dumb things!”

“Shouldn’t you have stopped after it didn’t work the first fifty times?”

“Again, stupid teenager.” said Ian.

A chime sounded and the taxi rolled to a stop. “Destination reached: 445 Riley Lane, Paradise, California. A fare of one hundred and twenty-three dollars has been deducted from your credit card.” A slot opened in the seatback in front of them, from which emerged a tray holding Ian’s credit card and a printed receipt. “Thank you for choosing TransWay Transports. Please retrieve your card and receipt and have a wonderful day.”

Ian picked up the items and looked at the empty driver’s seat through the thick, smoked glass that separated the cabbie from the passenger compartment. “Friendly.” He said, grabbing his overnight bag and opening the door. He got out and held out a hand to help Alexis out. “You know, I how those things never make it to Mayfield.”

“Wave of the future, I’m afraid.” Alexis shrugged. “Can you really blame them though? The whole Linderman hijacking in New York got national attention and no companies want their cabbies to end up like poor Jerry Linderman.” She let him help her out and shouldered the old, well loved backpack that served as her overnight bag.

They made quite a pair, standing on the curb; Ian in a new sports jacket and Alexis in simple, but elegant black dress.

“Point taken.” Ian said. He looked forward, across the wide, well looked after lawn, to the French colonial he’d grown up in. A long, deep breath rose and fell in him. “Ready? He asked.

“Of course.” Alexis said. “And relax, you said your father didn’t sound upset with you when you called, there’s not reason for him to be upset now.” She urged him forward, staying close by his side.

Entirely too soon for Ian’s taste, they were up on the porch and at the door. Alexis hit the doorbell before Ian could stall any longer. After long minutes, the door opened and a man of about Ian’s height stood with the screen between the couple and himself.

The family resemblance was unmistakable. He and Ian shared the same brown hair, though the former’s was professionally cut. He also wore brow line glasses and had a moustache and short beard. After a moment of awkward silence, the stern facade cracked into a grin. “Well, if it isn’t my least favorite little brother.”

“I’m your only brother, Isaac, open the door.” Ian rolled his eyes.

Isaac made it a point to put great exaggeration and flourish in doing as asked before slamming Ian in the shoulder with his own shoulder. “Then by default, you’re my least favorite, right? Now get back outside, you know dad’s rules: ladies first.” He offered Alexis his hand like a knightly suitor before giving her a studying glance. “Wait, a minute, that’s no lady. Keyes?”

Alexis stepped up and slammed Isaac with her shoulder. “Yes.”

Isaac staggered back, having been taken completely off guard. He regained his balance quickly and laughed. “The last I heard about you, Ian was bawling on the phone to me about how he hadn’t heard from you in a year and he thought he’d missed an opportunity with you for the last time.”

“Isaac…” Ian started, but his brother ignored him.

“And here you are. Guess dreams come true, eh?” He leaned closer to her, “You realize he’s been trying to get your attention since you were in school, right?” Alexis blushed and looked at Ian who did likewise.

“Where’s Vince, Isaac?” Ian asked, trying desperately to change the subject.

The older brother made a dismissive gesture. “This is what you miss being gone for a year – we’re through, he’s in Detroit or wherever.” He turned his attention back to Alexis. “Anyway, I’m just happy this guy finally got his girl.”

“How’s the law firm?” Ian tried again.

That seemed to do the trick. “You’re looking at the newest junior partner at Hoffman, Wells, and Brown.” Isaac said proudly. “Just got a new office, my own assistant and I’m building my own client base.”

“Oh, god, you got him started on the firm again.” A voice drifted from down the hall. A lean figure appeared form the room beyond. He was only slightly shorter than the two brothers, with silver mixed into his once brown hair. A craved wooden cane with a cobra’s head as a top helped manage the prominent limp in his gait. “Isaac, they haven’t even sat down. Have I taught you nothing about manners? Sit ‘em down, offer ‘em a drink, I don’t care if he’s just your brother, this is my house and he’s a guest.”

“I’m a guest too, you know.” Isaac countered.

“You’ve been here all week.” Maxwell Smythe, the patriarch of the family said. After a moment of though, he sighed. “Fine, I’ll do it. Beers for my boys and… Alexis Keyes, is that you?”

Alexis nodded. “Hi, Mr. Smythe. Thanks for having me.”

“You’ve grown up a lot from that smarmy wanderer Ian mooned over at the Academy.” Mr. Smythe laughed, “What can I get you to drink?”

“Beer is fine for me too.”

“Coming right up.” The Smythe father said, making his way back toward the kitchen.

The remaining three retired to the family room with Ian and Alexis sharing the couch and Isaac taking one of the arm chairs. “So dad says you’ve been tied up at work and that’s why you basically dropped off the face of the Earth?” His tone indicated that he wasn’t completely accepting that excuse.

“Well…” Ian started.

“He got transferred.” Alexis broke in. “To Virginia.”

“Yeah.” Ian said, sparing Alexis a glance. “It was pretty chaotic there for a while. I had to find a place, and get all the utilities and such set up. Then there was the actual work I’ve been doing…”

“Yeah, I can understand that.” Isaac nodded.

“Looks like we’re actually out of brew.” Mr. Smythe said, coming in with a pitcher of iced tea in his free hand and a stack of glasses wedged under his arm. He raised an eyebrow at Isaac. “Someone drank it all and didn’t remind me to get more.”

“Sorry about that, dad.” Isaac said, getting up. “Let me help you with that.” He took the glasses from his father and distributed them around the table.

“Don’t let it happen again.” Mr. Smythe said, pouring for everyone. “So, Ian, we didn’t have much time to talk on the phone; what’s been going on in your life, boy?”

“Alexis was just telling me how he got transferred to the east coast.” Isaac said, reclaiming his seat.

“Uh, Mayfield to be specific.” Ian supplied.

“I’m not sure that’s a good enough reason to miss your mother’s day.” The elder Smythe said. “But that’s not between you and me. You’ll explain that to her in person tomorrow.”

Alexis blinked. “I don’t mean to offend, but… I thought Ian’s mother was dead.”

A certain darkness came over Mr. Smythe’s eyes. “Yes, yes she is. Krista will have been gone for six years come tomorrow.”

“I should have explained this to you before we came, Alex.” Ian said, taking her arm lightly. “Tomorrow’s the anniversary of her death. Every year on the 18th of June, we have lunch at her favorite restaurant, and then visit her grave.”

***

“Dr. Atan.” Brother Wright greeted as he descended the metal stairs into the large, spacious laboratory known as Lab 2700. The place was alive with aides working on Atan’s other projects (or parts of them) in their own designated areas; climbing scaffolds or walking catwalks to service components or make observations.

One huge, plexiglass tank in particular caught his eye as he reached ground level. In it, intermittent arcs of energy flashed through a hazy, grey liquid to strike a minute object he couldn’t quite make out.

“Mr. Wright.” Dr. Atan stood waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs. She was tall and built like a sprinter with black hair tied back in a severe braid. Her complexion and visage made certain her middle eastern heritage, but her accent was tinged with Russian if anything.

“Please,” Wright said, flashing her a smile. “Call me Brother.”

“Very well,” Dr. Atan said briskly, “But I ask you not to call me Robin. I try to maintain a certain level of professionalism here at 2700.” She motioned for him to follow her and struck off further into the lab.

“I understand entirely.” Brother nodded sagely. “Speaking of which, I have your check…your research grant. I expect the other materials you required have arrived safely and in a timely manner?”

“They did.” Dr. Atan confirmed. “I’ve turned the learning AI over to our programmers to reconcile it with the chassis control program and the rudimentary behavioral parameters. Luckily, the AI is built on existing software and is capable of using real logic to assimilate our prepared programs.”

“Better than you expected?” Brother asked.

“Better than anyone could expect.” Dr. Atan admitted. “We’re six weeks ahead on production of the prototype. Admittedly, we would be much further ahead if you hadn’t insisted on us using no metal other than this orihalcite material in our construction.” She stopped at a scaffold that supported a man sized mechanoid.

The machine resembled a more robust version of a human skeleton with the ribs fused and interlocking beneath the sternum. Everything was the dull, enamel color of high end ceramic, laced with dark skeins of orihalcite.

“The L-2700 model W-X32 non-intrusive humanoid combat mechanoid.” Dr. Atan introduced the machine. “There is, of course, still some work to be done yet; install the operating system, injection molding of the dermal bonding fluid to simulate skin, etcetera. And there are a few minor flaws—“

“Flaws?” Brother asked, “Dr. Atan, I thought you were an expert in the field of mechanoids and cybernetics. Project Tome sought you highly over this last decade, if I recall.”

“I am.” Dr. Atan said indignantly. “And they don’t have me. You do. But if you want me to get this done, you have to understand some things; namely, that you’ve asked me to deliver a fully functioning robotic warrior that is indistinguishable from a human. It is a miracle that we’ve gotten this far. In general, research and development does not work this way!”

“I can appreciate that, Dr. Atan, but it has thus far.” Brother pointed out. “But perhaps, I’m becoming too enthusiastic. Tell me, what are these flaws you’ve come up against.”

The scientist nodded slowly. “For one thing, the chassis is too light. This is due to the use of ceramic, which, while stronger, is significantly less dense than human bone. Even the orihalcite lacing and components haven’t made up for this.”

“Forgive me, Doctor, but isn’t that a good thing?” Wright asked. “Engineers and technicians strive for lighter, more fuel efficient designs.”

“Normally, yes.” Dr. Atan agreed, “But your request was that this unit be indistinguishable from a normal human.”

“I don’t expect anyone to be picking him up.” Wright pointed out.

“But with traditional locomotive commands, it will be markedly lighter on its feet than a person. Human beings are far more perceptive than we get credit for, Mr… Brother. This is especially true when dealing with the uncanny valley.”

“Then he’ll pass as a psionic instead.” Wright said, “What else.”

“The sensor array.” Dr. Atan said, gesturing at the machine. “You wanted at directional theta wave sensor as part of the suite, but frankly it drains far too much power to keep it active at the same time as the standing field generator that protects the unit from EMP or unexpected fluid breeches. We simply don’t have room for more capacitors.”

“Then give him a standing priority only to bring that sensor online when asked to.” Wright said. “Dr. Atan, if these at the most grievous flaws in the unit, I don’t see any reason to address them before we activate. How soon can you add that injection mold… dermal… stuff?”

“It can be done overnight, if necessary.” Dr. Atan said with a frustrated sigh.

“Excellent.” Wright said, stepping closer to the machine. “Hmm… you truly are a work of art aren’t you, my mechanical friend? A triumph of multiple fields brought together. I think I’ll call you Leonardo.”

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Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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