Welcome to my foray into the world of robotics and city-based science-fiction, which will surely prove how good I am at writing it. Warning: this story will contain slash eventually, but please don't let that dissuade you from reading it, since the story won't rely on it as a plot point at all.
They were still after him. He could hear their footsteps, their wheezing breaths. He turned a corner and threw himself behind a dumpster. The footsteps got closer and closer, until he heard a voice.
"He went this way!"
The footsteps went away, and he peeked out from his hiding spot. The sounds of his pursuers were rapidly fading away. He sighed in relief and got out from behind the dumpster and walked back the way he came, carefully checking corners and behind him in case the men came back. The back alleys were quiet, almost too quiet considering he was the busiest part of the city. He accidentally kicked an empty can of some sort of soda or beer and ran away as fast he could, back into the doorway he had come out from. He left the lights on and quickly went to pack up his briefcase containing the schematics. He knew that if the plans fell into their hands, the secret would be up, and the world would suffer for it.
Walking quietly out the front door, he noticed three empty cars standing on the curb. The pursuers' cars. He hurried past them and decided not to use his own for fear of the men hearing it. The road was quiet too, the only thing indicating life were the many billboards and lights that illuminated the city street. He kept to the shadows and realized he was going to make it when he reached the overpass and subsequent bridge. About to cross the long bridge over the frozen river, he heard faint footsteps behind him. Whirling around, he saw nothing. He shrugged and blamed it on paranoia. By now, the pursuers must have reached the shopping area, and he expected they'd be quite busy in there before giving up.
There were no cars on the bridge either, which he found suspicious. True, it was about 2 AM, but that usually didn't mean a thing for traffic around the downtown section of the city. He was about halfway when he heard the footsteps again and turned around for the second time. This time, someone was there.
"Hello, professor," said the stranger. He wore a balaclava which obscured his face, and a long trench coat that hid anything on the body. His voice was masculine, no doubt about that, and the girth, although obscured by the long coat, was considerable. How this man was able to sneak up on him was beyond the professor.
"Who are you?" asked the professor, terrified. His greying beard was filled with ice crystals, making it glitter in the pale light from the streetlamp. "What do you want?"
"At the moment, your worst nightmare," replied the stranger and walked up to the professor slowly, inching out a pistol with a silencer attached to it. "We can do this the hard way, or the easy way. You can either give me the schematics and live to see another day, or you can refuse, giving me a reason to shoot you and everybody will be happier."
He knew that if he gave the schematics to this brute, he would probably only live to see the next day whereupon he would be shot for knowing too much. If only he could have talked to his son one last time before this happened. He looked at the briefcase and then at the stranger before finally letting his gaze fall upon the frozen river, particularly at the parts where the ice was broken up by the struts.
The stranger must have noticed it and quickly raised his weapon to point at the professor. "I wouldn't do that if I were you," he said coldly. "I won't hesitate to shoot you. So what will it be, professor? Do you want to die now, or as an old man?"
The professor didn't reply. He threw the briefcase over the side of the bridge, smiling when he heard it hit water instead of ice. "The briefcase and the plans are gone," he said, "what will you do now?"
"We have scuba divers," said the stranger as he came closer to the professor. "They will look for the briefcase, which I'm pretty sure is water-proof. You, however, aren't." He kicked the professor in the chest in a surprisingly agile move, making the professor stumble backwards and fall over the railing of the bridge. The professor hit the freezing, icy water and sank under it.
The stranger took a cell phone out of his pocket and dialled a number. "Yeah, it's me. No, he won't bother us any more, the target is vulnerable. What? I was supposed to…? Well, no, I didn't…hey, it's not my fault that the mission briefing wasn't complete. You know what? Screw you. What? No, it's at the bottom of the river. Yes, I know. Okay. Returning to base." He put the cell phone away and walked away from the railing.
The lion was moving from the bushes, slowly stalking its prey. The antelope wouldn't stand a chance against the hundreds of pounds of pure muscle and teeth that would soon pounce on it. The lion tightened its legs, ready to spring into action. The antelope turned its head away from the bushes and started eating the grass. The lion emerged from the bushes and threw itself at…
"Mr. Tann, do you find my lessons so boring that you find it necessary to fall asleep?" said the slightly irritated voice of Liman.
Andy looked up from his screen and saw, to his embarrassment, that the whole class was watching him along with Liman, the droid's mechanical body moving down the middle of the room, closer to him.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Liman, but I didn't fall asleep, I was just writing—"
"I find it hard to believe that someone can write with their faces away from the screen and keyboard, Mr. Tann. But since you were awake, can you please answer my question?" The droid had reached Andy's desk now, the robotic face mimicking the human expression of annoyance rather effectively despite its limited facial features.
"Uhm…" began Andy, "what was the question again?"
Mr. Liman nodded. "I see. Well, I was wondering if you could please tell me the three basic laws of robotics. If it helps, one of those laws is what's preventing me from hitting you over the head with my ruler right now."
Andy thought about it for a second. The three laws of robotics were the basis of a robot or droid's programming, and really basic knowledge in the class he was taking. Study of Synthetic Beings, or Robotics as the class was called by most students, had seemed quite exciting when he had picked it for his last year of public school, but he quickly found it tedious and boring, the only good part being the fact that the teacher was a droid himself. The three laws were the first thing they were taught, and Andy would be known as a dunce if he didn't answer the question correctly.
"Let's see," he said. He knew the laws and could repeat them verbatim, but Mr. Liman seemed to have it as a mission to embarrass and criticize Andy whenever he could. "Number one: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. Number two: A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. Number three: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law." Andy smiled at the droid, which now seemed to seethe with anger.
"Well, Mr. Tann," said Mr. Liman, cracking what could be a small smile on his face, "it's good to know that at least someone pays attention to what is taught at the beginning of the year. Mr. Krin, would you please repeat the laws?" he asked another boy who sat on the opposite row of Andy's.
Andy didn't know the boy. In fact, he didn't know anyone in this class, since nobody seemed to want to befriend him, despite his repeated tries. He didn't bother after the second month and decided to stick to his usual friends rather than trying to get to know people he wouldn't give a rat's ass about. He turned back to his screen and continued writing. It was for his literature class, which he had forgotten to do the week before. The teacher hadn't been happy, but she was willing to give him a second chance because of his otherwise exemplary work.
The rest of the class period was rather uneventful. Mr. Liman was apparently sick of Andy and had stopped singling him out for questions and had started describing the Time of Conflict, which was when a group of construction droids had rallied a massive rebellion against their masters, but were beaten down quickly. Andy knew the history in and out and didn't pay attention. It was a relief when the bell rang and he quickly packed up his things and was out of the door before Mr. Liman had a chance to hold him back.
He ran along the hallway, dodging people, ducking in and through classrooms to take shortcuts. He slowed down when he approached the cafeteria and walked in. Not bothering to look, he walked over to his and his friends' usual table. Ken, his best friend, was already there. To his surprise, a tray full of food was already on his side of the table.
"What's this?" Andy asked as he sat down and started eating.
Ken smiled at his impatience. "Oh, I came here early and decided to save you the horror of standing in line," he said and pointed to the already huge line of teenagers waiting to get their food. "By the way, you owe me five credits."
"Five?" asked Andy, almost spitting out his sandwich. "What the hell for?"
"For this," answered Ken and pulled out a small sheet of paper. He gave it to Andy.
It was a ticket, but not just any ticket. "GBS? You got tickets for General BullShit?" asked Andy, holding the ticket carefully in his hand.
"Yup. I won them in a contest," said Ken, grinning like a fool.
"In a contest? Then why do I owe you five credits?"
"Because I'm borrowing dad's car so we can drive there, and we're splitting on the gas."
"I see. When is the concert?"
"Tonight? Ken, I'm not sure I can come then," said Andy, his face drooping. "I've been invited to dinner at Uncle Gerry's place."
Ken's face also dropped, but he seemed sad instead of disappointed like Andy. "Can't you cancel? I really don't want to go alone."
It was with good reason Ken said this. GBS was a metal band that was renowned for having particularly violent concerts where crowds had a tendency to go crazy, which resulted in many fights. Going to a concert of theirs alone could very well be a death sentence.
"I don't know. Uncle really wants to talk to me about the adoption stuff."
"Why? You're turning eighteen in three months. The papers won't even be filed until at least four months after."
"I guess he just wants to reassure me that I'm still part of the family, I guess," said Andy and finished his sandwich. A hand slapped his shoulder and made him turn around. What he saw were the greenest eyes he had even seen on someone. He pushed the person away. "Tina, what are you doing?" he asked when he realized that the girl had placed a kiss on his forehead before he had pushed her.
"Just saying hello to my favourite person," she chirped and sat down next to him, her long, black hair swishing into his face, probably not by accident.
Ken's face turned sour, most likely since Tina had interrupted the conversation. He brushed his hand through his short, mussed up hair, stood up from the table and walked away, muttering "I'll just get some napkins."
"What's with him?" asked Tina, stealing one of Ken's chips. She ate it with a loud crunch.
"I don't know," replied Andy and stole a chip as well. "I think he's angry because I can't go to the concert with him."
"What? He's got tickets, oh my god. Hang on," she said and hurried after the eighteen-year old. "By the way, I think should do something with your hair, soon," she ducked back to say and disappeared again.
He wondered what she meant when he saw in his reflection in the steel table that it was getting rather long now, soon reaching the shoulders. He had wanted to grow long hair for a while, but he didn't like the way he looked with it. He decided to cut it after school.
Ken and Tina returned soon after, the girl chattering about the concert. "I guess you don't owe me five credits after all," said Ken, his voice disappointed.
"I guess not," said Andy, wondering what was wrong with his friend. He handed his ticket to Tina, who took it with glee. She had been the one to introduce GBS to the two and was their biggest fan.
They spent the rest of the lunch just talking about whatever fell into their minds until the bell rang, signalling another gruelling four hours of classes until the day was over. They all had separate classes, a result of them choosing different education lines to concentrate on. Tina had Mechanics, Andy had another period of Robotics and Ken had Chemistry. Before he and Andy parted, though, he stopped at a T-section of the school hallways.
"When are you going to your uncle's?" asked Ken.
"Right after school, why?"
"I'll drive you. Meet me at the parking lot after school."
Before Andy had time to protest, Ken had disappeared down one side of the T. Andy had classes in the other. He shrugged and went to his classroom, ready to get another berating from Mr. Liman. To his surprise, it was not the droid who was having the class. It was an elderly, kindly-looking man with a strange, angular beard who smiled at everyone as they came in. When everyone had gathered, he ended the chattering by clapping his hands loudly.
"Alright, class, settle down. My name is Dr. Marin and I'm taking over Mr. Liman's class today since he had urgent business with a repair shop on fifth."
The class smiled at the joke. Andy didn't find it funny at all. Dr. Marin seemed to notice this since he focused on Andy and smiled even wider.
"Now then, let's take a look at Human-Android relations, shall we? What do we know of interaction between humans and droids? Anyone?" He pointed to a girl in the back of the classroom. "Yes, you."
"We know that droids were created by humans and have to obey them no matter what, except if the order comes into conflict with one of the three laws," she answered.
"That is correct, miss," said Dr. Marin. "Droids are synthetic beings and need clear programming to understand and obey what we humans say. But what if the three laws were somehow dispelled in the basic programming? What would happen if, say, someone built an army of droids and attacked a human army?"
No one could answer the question, which Dr. Marin seemed to expect, since he chuckled.
"No one knows since it hasn't happened before. But we've seen what happened fifty years ago during the Time of Conflict. We beat down the rebellion quickly, but those few hours were filled with human casualties the size of which we seldom see, even during times of war. Let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that if someone were to remove the three laws and build an army…society as we know it would end. Droids are much stronger, faster and more agile than your average human. We would be beaten down and killed before we could even register what had happened."
The class was completely silent.
"Why are you telling us this?" asked Andy suddenly. There was something sinister behind Dr. Marin's smile, and only he seemed to see it.
"No particular reason," said the professor or doctor or whatever he was. "I was just posing a hypothetical situation. I was only wondering how much you actually know about droids. Now, let's take a look at how droid's are taught the three laws."
Andy couldn't pay attention during the lecture. All he saw was the darkness behind Dr. Marin's smile and eyes, or sporadic and unwanted images of death and destruction caused by rampaging droids. He had a very active imagination, he knew this, and sometimes had trouble controlling it. He felt sick to his stomach at the end of lesson, and by the end of the class, he felt like he was going to throw up. Dr. Marin held him back, though.
"Ah, Mr. Tann, might I have a word with you?" he asked. No one seemed to notice that the teacher knew Andy's name despite never having asked for it.
"Sure," said Andy, wary.
Dr. Marin closed the door after making sure no one was around. He then locked it and went back to the desk and sat down behind it, motioning for Andy to do the same. Andy grabbed a chair and sat down on the other side of the desk, noticing that there was some kind of recording device on it.
"What's that?" he asked.
"Oh, that?" asked Dr. Marin and picked it up. "This is just a recorder for the conversation we're about to have, nothing to worry about."
"What if I don't want to be recorded?"
"It's required, I'm afraid," Dr. Marin said and placed it back on the desk. "You see, I work for a robotics company that is very much interested in having the younger generation work for us, and we've been sending many researchers and such to evaluate possible candidates. We've seen your test scores, and I must say that we were very impressed." He smiled and slid a paper across the desk. The paper displayed Andy's name in large letters along with a large number of test scores.
"Aren't these supposed to be confidential?" asked Andy, suspicious of the old man.
"Well, when one has friends in higher places…" said Dr. Marin and took the paper back. "Anyway, back to the matter at hand. This is, essentially, a job interview. I will ask you questions, and you will answer them accordingly. If I find your performance satisfactory, you will be granted a second interview at our headquarters, where you will most likely be given a job upon conclusion of the interview. Does that sound interesting to you?"
"Well, of course," said Andy, who had wanted a job involving robotics, but if it proved anything like the classes… "But I've got some questions first."
"Go ahead," said Dr. Marin.
"First of all, how is this even legal?"
"Well, we've been given special permission by the minister of education for this. Sure, it may seem shady, but trust me, we had to go over it hundreds of times with him before he approved it. I can show you the permission, if you wish."
"No, that is not necessary," Andy said and shook his head. "Okay, second: what kind of job are we talking about?"
"Advisor, tester and developer of advanced synthetics and robotics."
"It entails coming up with ideas, testing them and assisting during construction of prototypes. It is a job that requires imagination, enthusiasm and team spirit, all of which we have observed in you."
Andy couldn't find anything else to ask, too overwhelmed at the possibility of having a good job without even having to study at some kind of university. "Okay, ask your questions."
"Good," said Dr. Marin and pulled out a small laptop computer. It booted up with a quick little tune. "Question the first…"
"You what?" asked Ken as they got in the car, an old, beat-up 2011 model of some kind. It made a grinding sound as Ken back it up, making sure to swipe some teacher's car just slightly.
"I was interviewed for a job in my Robotics class," Andy said happily.
"Well I'll be…is that even legal? To recruit right from schools?" asked Ken. The streets around the school were narrow and full of treacherous turns, and the blinking 3D billboards were in no way helping when it came to navigation. They barely missed an old lady crossing the street because a large shark had decided to try and eat both of them.
"Remind me to send a complaint letter about those billboards," said Andy. "Anyway, yeah, it seemed legal enough. He even offered to show me personal permission from the minister of education, so they've got to be legit, don't you think?"
"I don't know. Offering to show the permission might indicate that they actually don't have one and use it just as a last resort. But hey, if it proves to be real, congratulations."
"I don't know if my answers were satisfactory, though. He only said he'd come back to me about the second interview."
"Well, let's hope so. You're the born robotics engineer or whatever it was. It'd make your dad proud—"Ken cut himself off too late, he realized when he saw the frown spreading on Andy's face. "Shit, I'm sorry. I forgot…"
"Don't be. I guess it's time I faced it now, right? I mean, it's been over a year now…"
"Stuff like that shouldn't be faced until you're ready, and if you're not ready, it could break you. If you're not ready, don't think about it. God damn, I'm sorry Andy, I didn't mean to rip it up again."
"It doesn't matter. I bet Uncle wants to talk about it anyway, so you're preparing me in a way. Thanks."
Ken, thrown off guard by the thanks, barely made the turn to get up on the highway access ramp. The rest of the trip was spent talking about anything else but family, mainly GBS and how dreary it would be going to the concert with Tina. No matter how much they both liked her, she could be incredibly annoying and irritating to hang out with.
"Well, here we are," said Ken and pulled over next to a large house. "The only reason for why I think the adoption would be a good thing would be the access to this, I guess," he said. Andy's uncle was rich, and the house reflected it. It even had its own gate and path through a gigantic garden to the front door. For a house smack-dab in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world, this is quite a feat.
"Yeah, you're right," said Andy, "but if I get the job, I will have a house like this myself anyway, so it doesn't matter." He opened the door and got out. "Thanks for the ride."
"No problem," replied Ken. "Do you have a ride home?"
Andy waved his arms. "Don't worry about me; I'll take a bus or something. Go have fun at the concert, and don't let Tina drive you nuts, okay? Bye."
"See ya," said Ken and sped off, disappearing around a corner. Andy sighed and walked up to the gate and punched in a code on a hidden panel. The gate swung open with a grinding sound, reminding him to tell his uncle to oil the damn thing before it fell off its hinges. He slowly walked up the path, not looking forward to the dinner at all. He didn't want to be adopted by his uncle, thinking that it was ridiculous to be adopted when he was so close to being legal. He reached the elaborate door and rang the bell. It barely took a second before a dignified man wearing an expensive-looking tuxedo opened the door and ushered him in.
"Master Tann, it is good to see you again. I trust you are well?" asked the tuxedo man.
"As good as I can be, Timothy," answered Andy. He had always liked the kindly butler, although he only seemed to be this way with Andy and no one else.
"Master Donahue is waiting for you in the study. He apologizes for not greeting you himself, but a contract signing went awry yesterday and he had to deal with it right away. Knock on the door before opening it," said Timothy while taking Andy's jacket and hanging it on the wall.
"Alright, Timothy. I'll see you later."
"During dinner, to be precise," said Timothy and flashed him a smile before he disappeared into the labyrinth-like hallways of the Donahue household. Andy also smiled before walking down a corridor as well. The corridor was majestic, filled to the brim with valuable and irreplaceable art, carpeted with expensive rugs, probably from Persia or some other exotic place and lit with lamps that could very well belong in a museum for fine art.
He reached a door that was decorated with carvings of angels, demons and other beings of mystic quality. His uncle was an avid collector of anything with monsters and other things on it, and he couldn't get enough of diverse mythologies. He knocked on it three times and turned the door knob. The door glided open.
"—No, I don't care how much it will cost us! I want that contract signed by nine o'clock tonight, or I'll have all your hides!" said a screaming voice, and Andy was impressed by the sound insulation of the door.
Inside, his uncle sat in a chair, glaring at a hologram of a fat, weasel-looking man who was sweating profusely and trying to hold his briefcase between himself and the angry executive. The weasel tried to stammer, but his uncle cut him off.
"No discussion. Either get them signed, or find yourself without a job tomorrow. Good night!" said the uncle and ended the conversation, whereupon he noticed his nephew standing in the door, feeling awkward for intruding on the conversation. "Ehm…" he said. "Exactly how much of that did you hear?" he asked.
"Only the firing part," Andy answered.
"Oh, good. Hello, Andy, it's good to have you here," said his uncle and embraced him so hard that it felt like some bones were about to break. "I hope it wasn't too much trouble getting here, I could've picked you up, you know." He let go of Andy, who needed a second to get his breath back.
"It's alright, Uncle Gerry, really. A friend drove me here."
"That's good. Give him this for the trouble," said Gerry and gave Andy a ten-credit chip.
"I don't think he'll like being paid like some kind of taxi driver," said Andy, "but I guess this is about how much the gas to drive here costs. I'll give it to him the next time I see him."
"You do that," said Gerry and led Andy into the study and had him sit down in a fancy leather chair which made him feel like he was sinking into it. "Listen, before we go to dinner, I would like to discuss something with you."
"Let me guess, the adoption," said Andy, rolling his eyes slightly.
"Exactly, and don't give me that look, young man, you know I want this for your own good."
"Are you sure about that?" asked Andy.
"Of course," said Gerry, seemingly offended. "Why wouldn't I? This is what your father would have wanted."
"How do you know that?"
"Because of this," said Gerry and opened his desk's drawers, pulling out a tiny disc that he inserted into the hologram projector's interface. The tiny lens at the top of the ceiling whirred to life and displayed an old recording. Gerry stepped into the picture, holding a baby. He showed it to whoever was recording the image, until a man remarkably similar to Gerry stepped in and took the baby from the willing Gerry. Sound suddenly kicked in, and the sound of laughter filled the room.
"You know," said the image of Gerry, "that has to be the cutest little boy I've ever seen."
"Thanks, brother," said the other man, and Andy realized it was his father. Something hit his heart, hard, and he sank a bit deeper into the chair, wondering why he had never seen this footage before. "I think Mary is going to be ecstatic when she wakes up to find her next to her bed."
"She's still unconscious?" asked a female voice which Andy recognized as belonging to his aunt, Moira.
Andy's father looked sad and stared down at the baby Andy. "Yes, I'm afraid so, and the doctors aren't sure whether she'll wake up or not." His voice trembled, and despite the bad image quality, Andy could see a solitary tear making its way down his cheek. He felt like crying himself, but ever since his father had passed away, he hadn't been able to.
"Don't worry, Patrick," said Gerry, "She will be fine, I'm sure of it. She's strong-willed, that one, and there's no way she's going to give up before seeing her son all grown up and successful."
"I hope you're right," said Andy's father.
"I know I'm right," said Gerry, smiling and giving his brother a hug.
"But just the same, I want you to know, Gerry, that I want you and Moira to be his godparents in case something happens."
"Oh, Patrick," said Moira's voice. The recording tilted a little, producing an effect that would have been comedic had it not been for the sombre subject. Gerry and Patrick's feet were standing on nothing, hanging sideways in the air.
"What's this talk of something happening, Patrick? Don't be that guy. Mary will be fine, you will be fine and this little tyke," said Gerry and poked the little Andy on the nose, "will definitely be a-okay."
"Even so—"began Andy's father.
"No discussion," said Gerry and effectively ended the conversation with his catch-phrase.
The image faded away slowly, and Gerry took out the disc and gave it to his nephew, who clutched it tightly in his hand. He knew that his mother had never woken up after the birth, and it hurt so much to hear the conversation about it.
"If it hadn't been for that damn new adoption law, you would have fallen into my custody right away when your father passed away, but now we have to fill out all these papers which will take months to file away at the government office," said Gerry and held a hand out to Andy, who took it and was helped out of his chair. "I understand that you want to be on your own since you will soon be eighteen, but if you want to be pointed out to be my heir, you will need to be a full member of my family, and that can only happen if I adopt you."
Gerry and Moira had never been able to have a child of their own due to both of them being infertile. Moira had taken it hard and, Gerry hadn't dealt with it very good either, which was why they lavished all their attention on Gerry's brother and their nephew.
"I need to think about it," said Andy.
"Alright, that's all I ask," said Gerry and put his hand on Andy's shoulder. "Now, what do you say to getting some food into that scrawny body of yours?"
Dinner at his uncle's house was always a grand occasion, with dozens of courses and other edibles. The gigantic table Andy remembered from earlier times had been switched with a smaller one that didn't fit the hundred people the other could. On the other hand, the room it was situated in could fit over two hundred, and an echo could be heard whenever one of the three people around the table talked. They had just finished the main course and were waiting for the dessert.
"So you've been offered a job? Where?" asked Gerry.
"Well, I haven't been offered a job, exactly," said Andy, feeling embarrassed by the intense looks he was getting form his aunt and uncle. "I've been interviewed with a chance for a second interview, but no guarantees. He didn't say what company it was, though, only that it had something to do with robotics."
"Sounds like the tactics of SyntCorp," said Gerry, grimacing at the name. "That's the kind of tactics they use, recruiting from schools. The bastards."
Gerry owned the Neo-Robotics Corporation, another robotics manufacturer that specialized in household items. They made everything from vacuum cleaners to shingle-repairing droids that lay hidden among said shingles when inactive. Gerry had made quite a good living on it. SyntCorp, on the other hand, focused on producing humanoid synths, droids and robots.
"You don't like them, Uncle?" asked Andy, worried that his uncle would be angry for wanting to work with a competitor. "I don't think they're outclassing you in the household department."
"It's not about the competition, which doesn't exist by the way," said Gerry.
"It's the way they're continually trying to bend the laws into accepting new basic programming for synths," said Moira. Andy's aunt, although clearly reaching her mid-fifties, was still as beautiful as ever. Her long, brown and wavy hair framed a face that should have been immortalized somewhere, and her piercing, blue eyes were whirlpools that could suck one in if given the chance. But her beauty was not the only thing that shone like a beacon, but her fierce intelligence and business sense also made themselves evident whenever a discussion was started. Andy understood why his uncle had married her.
"So you don't think I should work there if I'm wanted?" asked Andy, honestly wondering what his godparents thought about it. If they didn't like it, he wouldn't take the job. They were family after all, his only family.
"Of course you should work there, Andy," said Gerry, "but don't push for changing the programming. If they were given the permission, they could make the droids into soldiers if they wanted."
"If that happened, humanity could very well be doomed if the droids were to suddenly decide that humans aren't necessary," added Moira. She smiled as Timothy carried in three plates filled to the brim with ice cream of every flavour imaginable. "Thank you, Timothy."
"My pleasure, Madam," replied Timothy and walked out of the room, his footsteps echoing.
They ate in a comfortable silence, all three of them savouring the taste of real ice cream. The stuff people could buy in stores was nothing compared to the homemade one. Andy loved ice cream and wolfed it down greedily. To his aunt and uncle, it looked like he was inhaling it rather than eating it. Gerry suddenly remembered something.
"By the way, Andy, how is it going with your remembrance appointments? Have they cleared up your memories yet?"
"Gerry!" hissed Moira.
"Sorry, but it's not healthy for a young man to walk around with a hole in his memory the size of a month. Anything could have happened during that time," said Gerry apologetically.
"It's alright, Aunt Moira," said Andy, shrugging. "They're not going well. They say none of the usual treatments are working. I think they're just doing it for the money now since I overheard one of the doctor's saying I'm a lost cause."
"They said that?" gasped Moira outraged.
"I'm gonna have a talk with those people," said Gerry, cracking his knuckles. Andy hated that sound.
"No, please don't, Uncle. It's not worth it."
About a month before Andy's father had died, Andy had been involved in a bus accident where the bus had driven off a raised highway above a busy intersection in the city. Many people died, and Andy had come very close to dying himself had it not been for the effectiveness of the paramedics. He had fallen unconscious for a few days before he woke up again. He could not remember a thing from just until the day of the accident or the following month. The first day he could remember was two days before his father had committed suicide by jumping into the river that divided the city into two. No one knew why, and Andy had been devastated. Almost a year had passed now, and he still couldn't bear to think about it.
"Yes, it's worth it. If they can't make you remember, I'll demand the money back. That's what their advertisement says, after all."
"So it's about the money?" asked Moira.
"No of course not, it's just…" Gerry trailed off, unable to come up with anything to counter his wife's question.
The rest of the evening was filled with pleasant conversations, none of them wanting to rip up any bad memories anymore. They talked for hours upon hours, and Timothy joined them when they asked him to. Timothy was practically part of the family to the Donahues, something he apparently found quite delightful since he seemed so much looser and happier than many of the other butlers Andy had seen whenever he had joined his uncle to oversee meetings and contract signings.
The evening came to a close when Moira said she was tired and retired to the bedchambers. Andy, Gerry and Timothy remained up playing cards and smoking cigars. They kept on until the clock signalled it was four in the morning.
"Damn, the last buss drove at three…" said Andy, checking the schedule.
"Ah, screw it. I'll drive you," said Gerry and went for his coat.
"I don't think so," said Timothy and slapped Gerry's arm away. "You've been drinking. The only proper thing for you to do is to say goodnight to your nephew and go to bed. I'll drive you home, Andy." He smiled and led his master to the large staircase and sent him upwards. Andy smiled as he realized Timothy had been on first name basis with everyone since he had joined them earlier in the evening. "Shall we?" asked Timothy when returned with Andy's jacket and led him out the door.
Lights passed by at high speed as the fancy car, courtesy of Gerry Donahue, made its way down the highway. There was little traffic, and Timothy permitted himself to go a bit faster than the speed limit. Andy kind of wished he didn't. He was feeling a bit dizzy, and the blurred objects outside weren't helping.
"Are you alright?" asked Timothy suddenly.
"Yeah," said Andy, "just a little dizzy."
"Want me to pull over?"
"No, it's not that bad. It's just been a long evening, and I'm tired."
"Good thing there isn't any school tomorrow, then," smiled Timothy.
"Yeah," said Andy and yawned.
"You can sleep, you know, I won't mind."
"No, no, I can keep myself awake," said Andy.
He fell asleep thirty seconds later.
"How was the concert?" Andy asked. Ken and Tina had come over the following morning, like they usually did on Saturdays. They were sitting in Andy's living room. The room was spacious, with a large LCD screen covering most of the wall opposite the couch. It was currently on, with the sound muted. Andy's apartment, where he had lived with his father, was large, one of the biggest in the city, it was said, and it felt far too big now that he was on his own. A social worker came by from time to time to check up on how he was doing. Special exceptions had been taken after he had done a psychic evaluation and other tests to see if he was fit to live on his own, which granted him ownership of the apartment.
"It was great," half-yelled Tine, pumping her fist in the air.
"Yeah," agreed Ken, who looked like he had a massive hangover judging by his expression and tendency to massage his temples. Andy took pity on him.
"Do you want some aspirins?" he asked.
"Please," said Ken and stood up. He followed Andy into the kitchen. Tina stayed in the living room, though, quickly finding the remote for the TV and turned the sound on.
Andy closed the door, which effectively blocked out any sound. "So how was it really?" he asked as he rummaged through the cabinets, trying to remember where the painkillers were.
"Horrible," said Ken and sank into a chair. The kitchen was big as well, although still comfortably sized enough to resemble a kitchen. There were about fifty different cabinets, though, and Andy could never remember where anything was, which was why he was still ordering out for food rather than cook himself. "Tina wouldn't stop hammering me on the head, and the only way I could get away from her was too stand in line and buy beer. Want to know how many times I had to stand in that damn line?"
"You didn't have to drink all the beer, you know," said Andy, finally finding the aspirins hidden in the cabinet right above the sink. His naked feet padded along the tiled floor and placed the bottle of pills in front of Ken's head, which had sunk to the table. He continued to the cabinet opposite the sink and found a glass. He went back to the sink and filled the glass, placing it next to the pills. He didn't understand why the glasses were placed so far from the sink and vowed to rearrange the kitchen whenever he had the time.
"I bought it, I have to drink it," said Ken and swallowed two pills. "It was expensive."
"You could've sold it to the people at the back of the line," said Andy and sat down next to Ken. Andy had a suspicion it wasn't just a hangover Ken had since his cheeks were red. He placed a hand on his friend's forehead, startling said friend.
"What are you do—"
"You have a fever," said Andy.
"F-e-v-e-r," said Andy slowly, "you have a fever. You're sick."
"Don't remember getting that," said Ken. His hand went for the pill bottle again, but Andy grabbed it and put it away. "Come on, man," he whined.
"Don't whine. It's not becoming of a young man, and it's not healthy to take more than two pills. The thing you need is sleep and lots of fluid."
"Sheesh, you sound like my mom, you know that?"
"Well, someone has to be when you're away from her. Honestly, sometimes it seems you can't survive by yourself unless someone is around to look after you," said Andy and patted the older teen on the head. "Now, go back to the living room and I'll be right back with something to drink for all of us. Oh, and tell Tina to turn that shit down."
"Yes, mom," said Ken and trudged back to the living room. Moments later, Andy could hear a shouting match between Ken and Tina, both of them trying to control the remote. Andy sighed and filled three glasses with some soda, put them on a tray and walked back to the living room, grabbing the remote out of Tina's hand as he passed the couch and turned the sound off.
"Ken is ill and needs peace and quiet," he said and handed two of the glasses to them.
"Fine," said Tina grumpily and sipped her soda. Ken took one sip and put the glass back on the table, stretching out on the sofa. Tina and Andy each took their seats in two chairs that were angled so they could watch the TV, yet they only had to turn their heads slightly to talk to each other.
"Anyway, I don't know if Ken told you, but I've been interviewed for a possible job at a robotics company," said Andy.
"You have? That's great," said Tina and clinked her glass to Andy's. "Which company is it?"
"I don't know. The interviewer didn't say, but my uncle thinks it's SyntCorp."
"Aren't they those guys who want to remove the three laws from the droids' basic programming?"
"Some of them do, but I won't be one of them if I get the job."
"So when do you know if you've got the job?"
"I don't know, I hope it won't take a long—"
A loud ringing filled the room, interrupting Andy. The ringing sound came two more times before Andy got up from the chair and walked to the front door. The door opened with a hiss, the heavy bolt-locks sliding away. Outside stood a man in a lab coat holding a briefcase. He looked at Andy with an air of distaste around him.
"Mr. Andrew Tann?" he asked.
"That's me," answered Andy.
"This is for you," said the man and handed him an envelope. The logo of SyntCorp, a man and a droid shaking hands inside a circle, was displayed on the front. "Answer quickly." The man disappeared down the stairs, leaving Andy to stare after him, blinking. Excited, he opened the envelope with shaking hands. Inside were two sheets of paper. A job application and a CV form. He whooped with joy internally and closed the door. He walked back to the living room, shaking the papers in the air.
"I think I passed the first interview," he said loudly.
Tina jumped out of the chair and hugged him. She also kissed him on the forehead again, to his dismay. Why she was always so affectionate was beyond him, but he couldn't help but appreciate it anyway. He did block out her chattering though, which had a tendency to be quite annoying. He noticed that Ken hadn't said anything, and saw that he had fallen asleep. Deciding he was not in the mood for waiting, he pounced on the sleeping boy's stomach, tickling him.
"Stop," said Ken weakly, his voice bubbling with laughter, "I think I'm dying."
"The hell you are," said Andy, "you're not dying when I've got a second interview."
"You did? That's fantastic, congratulations, now let me sleep."
"That has to be the stupidest thing I've heard you say yet," said Ken. They – or Ken – were driving to the SyntCorp main headquarters that was located conveniently close to their school. Ken, after fighting off the fever, had graciously decided to drive Andy to the interview and even accompany him inside.
"What? That I really want to work for them and have a lot of enthusiasm and that I'm really willing to learn whatever it takes? Why is that stupid?" asked Andy, crossing his arms in an incredibly childish way. He looked outside and saw that someone on a motorcycle was giving him the finger. He politely gave it back and added the two-fingered version as well. The cyclist seemed to lose his balance for a second and fell behind him, making Andy laugh.
"Of course it's not stupid," said Ken, sounding sad, "but it's what everyone says during their interview. What you need to do is to essentially say the same thing, only differently. Something like, 'I don't know all the skills, but if someone can teach me'…or maybe not. That sucked. Anyway, you've got to come up with something original, you know?"
"Yeah, I guess."
They turned a corner and were greeted by a large building made completely of glass, the supporting pillars and struts cleverly concealed by the panes. A large sign with the SyntCorp logo stood proudly next to the road leading to it. Ken turned onto it and followed it until they reached a gatehouse. A serious-looking security guard greeted them.
"We're here for an interview," said Andy and showed the guard a card he had received in the mail after sending his application to the company. The guard took it and swiped it in some kind of reader he had in his hand. It made a saluting sound. The guard nodded, handed the card back and opened the bar blocking the way. Ken drove through, his car blowing an extra large cloud of smoke in the guard's face.
They drove for at least fifteen minutes before reaching the main building and another thirty were spent trying to find a parking spot. When Ken finally found one, Andy had about ten minutes before the interview was to start, prompting them to run across the huge parking lot.
The lobby was magnificent, full of expensive-looking fountains and tiny palm trees and everything that major corporation's main office should look like. The girl behind the information desk told them that the job interview section was located on the first floor, but she wasn't sure exactly where, which had them searching the lobby area for a while for some kind of sign that would point them in the right direction. They found it after a few minutes, close to the entrance hidden behind the largest fountain.
"That figures," commented Ken as he followed the increasingly panicking Andy down the incredibly bland and boring corridor to a door marked "INTERVIEWS"
Andy didn't even have time to knock on the door before it opened and he was ushered in by Dr. Marin. Ken wasn't allowed to follow and was left alone in the corridor. Luckily, there was a chair, although not a very comfortable one. There was a clock on the concrete-coloured wall which seemed to tick louder and louder, irritating him more and more.
If that clock doesn't stop, I might just have to do something to it, he thought.
"Mr. Tann, it is a pleasure to see you again, and a double pleasure to see that you are interested in the job," said Dr. Marin, shaking Andy's hand vigorously. "Your previous evaluation was as satisfactory as it could be, and you're practically a shoe-in for the job, but you know that everyone gets a chance, and that is why we are conducting this second interview."
Behind the door lay another corridor, although a shorter one than the previous. Dr. Marin continued talking while they walked, and they eventually reached another door, which seemed to be the kind that was used to keep out insane people with guns. Behind it was a small, cramped room that housed a table, two chairs on one side and one on the other side. The first of the two chairs was occupied by a portly man with a receding hair line who was clutching a briefcase. Upon Dr. Marin and Andy's entry, he stood up.
"Welcome to SyntCorp," he said and shook Andy's hand. He opened his briefcase and held out a gun-like object.
"Don't worry, Mr. Tann, it's just a body scanner. We need to check if you've brought any deadly substances, chemicals or weapons with you to the premises," reassured Dr. Marin.
Andy found this highly suspicious. Why would they scan him now that he was already inside the building? Wasn't that more appropriate when you were trying to enter? Nevertheless, he assumed that working for SyntCorp would be a highly eccentric period and agreed to the scan. A red, horizontal line travelled down his body as the portly man used his scanner. He ran it over Andy a couple of times before nodding satisfied.
"It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Tann. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have another interviewee I need to scan," he said and walked out the door, leaving the briefcase.
Dr. Marin motioned for the chairs. "Go ahead and sit down, Mr. Tann, so we may start the interview." He opened the briefcase as well, taking out a small laptop computer, the same one he had used at the school, as well as the little recording device. "I assume you remember how this went along last time. Answer my questions loudly and clearly."
"Yes, sir," said Andy and relaxed in his chair. If it was going to be anything like the last time, this was going to be a breeze.
"Question the first: is your name Andrew Tann?"
The question was nothing like the ones he had received last time. Andy sat up straighter. "Yes," he answered.
"Question the second: is—was your father Patrick Tann?" Dr. Marin had stumbled over the second question, which was evident by the red sheen on his face. "I'm sorry about that," he mumbled.
"Yes," answered Andy again.
"Right. Question the third: why would you like to work for SyntCorp?"
Now that was a question right up Andy's alley. "I believe I have a lot to contribute to this company, both in the ways of creativity and workmanship."
"Care to elaborate? In what ways could you contribute when it comes to workmanship since you have not even graduated from public school?"
Andy understood that this was going to be nothing like the last time. At school, Dr. Marin had only asked what he thought about this and that, and how he would do that differently or this the opposite way. The conversation he had had with Ken barely an hour before popped into his head. "I may not have the skills yet, but if someone were to teach me the basics, I would really make a difference. I just need a push in the right direction."
"And the creativity?"
"I have an active imagination."
"Ah, I see. Very well, if we now could—"
Something beeped, making the doctor look closer at his laptop. He pressed a few buttons and grimaced. He looked at Andy apologetically. "I'm sorry, Mr. Tann, but it appears something has happened which requires my immediate attention. If you will please excuse me for a few minutes," he said and walked away, making sure to take his laptop with him.
Andy cursed out loud. He could have gotten a good look at the questions so he would've had better time to think of answers. He picked up the recorder, though, and looked closer at it, trying to find some kind of interface for it. The tiny little thing was intriguing him, and he wanted to know how it worked. He heard a noise outside and quickly put it in his pocket so he wouldn't look suspicious with it in his hand. A few minutes passed without anything happening, and he sat down in the chair and tried to relax.
Over half an hour passed before Andy decided to go out into the previous corridor and talk with Ken. It wasn't like the good doctor could sneak in while he wasn't there since there was only one entrance. He found his friend asleep, snoring loudly. He couldn't help but find his friend, in the present situation, adorable. It quickly passed when he poked him in the ribs, though, eliciting a small giggle.
Ken giggles? he asked himself mentally.
He poked again, harder. This time, however, Ken moaned, and it wasn't a complaining moan either. It was a pleasured moan, he was sure of it. He felt embarrassment rising up to his cheeks and quickly held Ken's nose so he would wake up from his dreaming. He coughed and opened his eyes slowly, blinking repeatedly to get the blurriness away and finally focused on his friend.
"Hey, how'd it go?"
"It's not done yet. The doctor went away," said Andy sat down in front of Ken's chair, looking up at him.
Ken looked at him and shook his head. "Yeah, I saw him walk away right before I fell asleep. He was angry, I think, cursing and spitting all the way down there, the same way as the fat guy went."
"I wonder why…"
"Who cares? Right now, we both know that you're gonna get the job. And we've got to celebrate later, alright?"
"You know I can't drink…" began Andy.
"Who says we have to drink. We can…I don't know, go out to dinner or something. What do you say?"
This made Andy think. Ken was never really the type who invited people for dinner, not even for girls. He was the guy who would get roaring drunk and fall asleep with his face buried in someone's neck. Mostly Andy's, for some reason. Now that he thought about it, Ken had never really been that much into girls at all. Sure, he was friends with several girls, but Andy had never seen him with a girlfriend.
"Sure, why not? Gotta celebrate," answered Andy, aware of the nervous look on Ken's face, which proves his suspicions.
Ken was about to say something before he noticed two men in security uniforms walking down the corridor, their hands on their belts close to the batons. They walked with an odd kind of swagger, yet they seemed imposing. It wasn't until they were about thirty metres away that Andy noticed that their joints seemed to be oddly rectangular.
"Droids?" he asked out loud and looked at Ken, who was glaring at them. He had always had a problem with authority figures.
"You see droids, I see trouble," he replied and stood up, in front of Andy. He was taller than his friend, and Andy could barely see over his shoulder if he stood on the tips of his toes. "What do you want?" he asked loudly. The droids stopped, surprisingly.
"Are you Mr. Andrew Tann?" asked one of the droids.
"Yes," answered Ken.
"You must come with us," said the other.
"It is necessary for your final evaluation, and you must come alone. Your friend will have to wait here."
"I don't think so," said Ken and gave them the finger. "I was told to wait here, and wait here I will."
The droids looked at one another and one of them made a mechanical sigh. They both drew their batons and advanced upon the two teens.
"I don't think I want the job after all," said Andy.
"I think it's time to run," suggested Ken and picked up the chair he had been sitting on. It was a simple aluminium design, which made it incredibly light, but could still be damaging if thrown the right way. Ken threw it the right way: at their legs. The droids were both caught by the chair's legs and fell to the floor, making thunderous clanking sounds as they hit the concrete.
Ken and Andy took off, running down the way they had came, soon finding the door that led them to the lobby. The receptionist noticed them and spoke something into her headset and hit a button on her desk. A security grate started to lower over the entrance. They both threw themselves under it and rolled out just in time before the grate sealed off the entrance. The sprint over the parking lot seemed to take forever, and they could hear a multitude of footsteps along with shouts behind them.
They threw themselves into Ken's car and sped away, refusing to look back at those who were following them. Ken drove around the building and kept his foot on the gas as they approached the gatehouse. The security guard there seemed to lose his resolve to stand in the way and play chicken with the car and threw himself away at the nick of time. His bar, on the other hand, never knew what hit it as its splinters were hurled in every direction.
No one followed in cars or whatever when they hit the main road in the city, and Ken slowed down so they wouldn't get stopped by the police. Questions were racing through Andy's head as they came onto the freeway. Why had they tried to take him away? It definitely wasn't for the interview, that was for sure. Why go to such a great length as to make the receptionist seal off the main entrance?
"What the hell was that all about?" asked Ken after a while.
"I don't know."
"Did you steal something while in there or what?"
"No, I didn't," said Andy.
Silence fell over them again, and they didn't speak until Ken missed the off-ramp that would take them to a road that led to Andy's apartment.
"Uh, I think you're going the wrong way," said Andy and pointed in the mirror. Ken didn't answer and kept going. "Hey, you missed the—"
"No, I didn't miss the off-ramp. I was never aiming for it anyway," said Ken.
"What? Why not?"
"They know where you live, Andy. What if they send those guys to your apartment? They'll kidnap you and never let you go again. No, we're going to my place, or Tina's. They don't know who we are, so it's going to be alright if you stay there."
"Are you sure?"
To be continued…
Well, I've been in a bit of a bad mood lately and not in the mood whatsoever to write on Kane's Field, so I'm starting another story that will eventually receive the same amount of attention as KF when KF is finished. Anyway, please read and review this story, people! Oh, and thanks to the person who helped me find the three laws of robotics.