On the Fourth Day of Christmas, the Matrix Refugee fanficced for ye:
Frank Sweitz adopting a David unit,
One Chateau Christmas party,
One American Gods fic,
and An A.I. fic with David decorating his first Christmas tree.
"The First Gift of Christmas"
by "Matrix Refugee"
DISCLAIMER: I do not own “A.I., Artificial Intelligence”, its characters, settings, concepts or other indicia, which are the property of the late, great Stanley Kubrick, of DreamWorks SKG, Steven Spielberg, Warner Brothers, Amblin Entertainment, et al, based on characters and concepts created by Brian Aldiss. I also don't own Nat the fixer, who belongs to nightofcydonia
AUTHOR'S NOTE: In a lot of ways, this is based on O. Henry's classic "The Gift of the Magi", with a dash of Richard Paul Evans's "The Christmas Box" tossed in for good measure. It's a bit less fluffy than my previous "A.I." effort, but that kind of comes as no surprise given that the story is told from Hal McGeever's largely unsentimental viewpoint of his very sentimental partner Frank "The Heroic Reporter" Sweitz.
Christmas night and I'm sitting at the bar in Here Kitty Kitty, nursing a beer, when in shambles the last guy I want to have sitting next to me but that short, repulsive-looking fellow known as Hal McGeever. He orders his usual vodka then looks up at me sidewise. "Drinks are on me tonight, Nat: I'm an uncle."
I almost did a spit-take: I knew Frank Sweitz, Hal's work partner and long time friend (possibly the only real one which the short, scraggly bastard has) wanted to start a family, but there was less chance of that happening since Frank's wife Bernadette had died in an anti-Mecha terrorist attack on a hotel somewhere in East Europe where they'd been staying while Frank was on assignment there. "What do you mean?" I asked. And while Hal's predilections extend to anything legal and only anything legal, I didn't trust him around a child unit any more than I really trusted him around any Mecha. He's got something of a bad record with them, not that he's anti-Mecha or anything of the sort, he's just been known to press some to their limits.
Hal took a sip from his glass. "My partner in crime just got himself a David unit."
"On a reporter's salary?" I asked. I know Hal is as much of a scrounger as I am, but I didn't see him going to the lengths of acquiring one of Cybertronics' newest and most popular units. When they first hit the street, he'd ranted so noisily about how absurd it was to create child Mechas that he got himself banned from the bar for a couple of weeks.
Hal wagged his head. "There's ways around that.
"It started on what would have been Frank and Bernie's fifth wedding anniversary," Hal began. "He's wanted a kid since they first met, and he's still qualified for a parental license. He could have hired a surrogate, but he still had -- and has -- it bad for Bernie, plus the Church ain't too keen on IVF. I told him he and Cecie should try getting together again, the way they almost did when Joe was resold to those cheap pikers in Haddonfield, but Frank wouldn't hear of it. He's more of an old-fashioned gent than I am: told me he didn't want to get in between her and Joey-boy now that she's got him back in her life. Of course I told Frank he was passing up a good catch, but he wouldn't hear of it.
"So, almost as soon as Cybertronics releases the David and Darlene line, he got his hands on the catalog; the fact that he and I covered some of the press on it certainly helped him in that regard, but it didn't do a damn thing about the price tag. MSRP on a David model is 30K on a good day, which is slightly more than Frank makes in a year, before taxes. At least he and I split the rent and the utilities on our apartment and I hacked the cable box so we don't have to pay for that. He doesn't have my vices, so he was already able to set aside some pretty decent savings, but that barely covered a third the price tag. So of course he goes into extreme frugality mode. He started skipping lunch and since he's not exactly what anyone would call husky, I had to step in and remind him to eat before he started to look like he'd escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto. Next he quit smoking, which Cecie and I had been trying to get him to do for years; not that he exactly smokes like a chimney either, but considering how crazy the taxes on cigarettes are, he was shocked to find how much he could add to the kitty once he quit the habit. Don't get me started on the time he turned down the heat to save on the utilities; I woke up one morning at the end of October and I thought I was going to freeze my family jewels off."
"Which might not be a bad idea," I murmured.
Hal pretended to ignore my remark. "I finally sat down with Cecie about the whole situation: she and I don't necessarily see eye to eye on anything, except when it comes to Frank, and we agreed: he was going overboard.
"'So how do we help him?' she asked.
"I gave her a look and said, 'You really think we should encourage his madness?'
"'He's lonely and he misses Bernie,' she said. 'I think a David would be good for him.'
"'So would a cat, or a girlfriend, even a personal companion unit,' I said. 'Besides the fact that you got entangled with the green-eyed beauty, why didn't you ever try to start something with Frank?'
"Now it was her turn to give me a look. 'Not your place to ask me that, Hal,' she said.
"I knew enough to change the subject. 'Back to helping Frank: he's only got part of the cash he needs, and he's got two months to order the unit if he wants to get it for his Christmas present to himself.'
"'Well, I've got several thousand saved up myself,' she said. 'It's left over from when I tried buying Joe from his former owner. What about you?'
"'I've got access to Frank's account, so I can keep an eye on the numbers,' I said. 'But my money is mine, even that stipend my adopted parents send me to pay me to leave them alone, not that I need it or do much with it.'
"Joe entered from the kitchen at this point, bringing a pot of tea Cecie had asked him to brew for her. 'And what might you two be having a tete-a-tete about?' he asked. He grinned at us and asked, 'I thought that you said that you annoy each other, or do your hard words for each other merely mask your true desires?'
"'It's nothing like that, silly,' Cecie said with a smile. 'We're talking about Frank's plan to adopt a David unit.'
"Joe cocked his head at that, but his eyes somehow went all misty as well. 'An image of the one who saved my brain?' he asked.
"'A custom unit,' I said. 'He's been all over the catalog, wants to have one built in his and Bernie's image.'
"'Their numbers don't come cheap, do they?' Joe observed. 'Love can come with a high price.'
"'No, it doesn't, and he's only saved up part of the price,' Cecie said.
"Joe gave us both that hundred-watt smile. 'Not to worry, I would be delighted to assist him with some of my own funds.'
"I glared at Cecie. 'Don't tell me you're pimping your boy out now,' I said. 'A DA's daughter like you?'
"'It's perfectly legal; they started regulating sex work in Massachusetts decades ago,' Cecie said. 'And you were the one who said that Joe couldn't limit himself just to me.' I could tell by the look in her eyes that it bugged her, but she wasn't going to dwell on it.
"'So you look the other way while he's selling his wares?' I asked. I know, I'm a bastard who couldn't resist jabbing her. 'Please tell me you've got his license in order.'
"'That was the first thing I took care of when he asked me if I would let him go back to charming the ladies of the city,' she said. 'I let him keep every credit he makes.'
"'And since my needs are more simple than those of you Orga, I have amassed some considerable savings,' Joe said. 'I have a few thousand saved away against a rainy day, but I would gladly lay it all at the feet of the one who saved me from certain destruction.' He didn't make it clear if he meant Cecie or David, but from the way he looked at her, I suspected that he meant Cecie."
"Mm," I said, breaking into the narrative. "I've seen Joe strutting his stuff on Broad Way, same as in the old days. Looks like he's got a private license. I saw that coming: at least Cecie got her head around that much. His kind aren't meant to be housebound."
"Did you know she wanted me to rewire him for monogamy? I told her she might as well rewire him to fly to the moon," he said. He paused to take another sip from his glass. "So between Cecie's donation and Joe's nest egg, we had almost the whole amount squirreled away. Operating word being 'almost'. But imagine Frank's surprise when he went to make a deposit the next day and he found his savings had more than tripled. The guy almost had a heart attack. Then he came to me and asked if there was any sign of the account being hacked. I told him to ask Cecie about that, so of course he burned leather to the phone to call her. I heard her tell him it was an early Christmas present from her and Joe.
"He took the next day off as personal time and went to the Cybertronics outlet to get his order out pronto. He went for a custom unit, modifying the design to look like the kind of kid he and Bernadette could have had: Then came the long wait for the order to be shipped. He knew it was going to take at least six to eight weeks for the unit to be assembled and there was a chance the unit... the kid would not arrive till after Christmas, perhaps not even the New Year. He managed to keep his cool, but the past week has been especially maddening. We've been covering Christmas festivities of all kinds, and he's been calling home to check and see if it has turned up at our apartment. Then there was that day we had a cold snap and he was in a lather that the unit might get frostbitten somehow if he had it wait in our unheated entryway.
"Christmas eve rolls around. No sign of the box that morning. Frank is in a panic now: it's like something out of a damn Christmas special now. Frank was so jumpy he was almost as jerky as one of those Rankin-Bass stopmotion figures.
"Haskell, our editor, wanted us to cover some of the Christmas Eve services at the local churches; most were the usual religious fluff, but it also meant we had to sit through some dull sermons, one on the crass materialism that obscured the true meaning of Christmas. Another minister whom I knew had ties to the ARM even went on about how Mecha toys would corrupt the youngsters. That one just made Frank turn green in the face, so I finally dragged him out of there on the pretext that I'd had trouble with one of the filters in my camera. He's usually pretty thorough about getting every useful bit out of a story, but this time he clearly had more than enough to work on. Back to the office to get our copy off to the printer and then back home to our apartment.
"And what to my wondering eyes did appear but a pair of Cybertronics techs in a company van, waiting for Frank. He stared at them much in the way that Joseph must have when the midwife told him he was the father to a fine and healthy son, even though that child was no fruit of his loins. Frank unlocked the door to the apartment and let the techs wheel in the box containing his son.
"Of course we hardly had the kid up and about when Frank wanted to imprint him, but I told him the kid needed to learn the lay of the apartment and he had to get some idea of who he'd be sharing it with. I'm not fond of kids by any stretch of the imagination, but the little tyke is a sweetheart: got his dad's dark hair and his mom's blue eyes -- or replicas of them, anyway. This is that happiest I've seen Frank in years and no doubt he's going to stay this way, relatively speaking. So what if the price tag was steep and the kid is made of different stuff. All that matters is we've got our Heroic Reporter back to his old self again."
At this point a small female Mecha in a red corset shirt over fishnets, with red and gree arm warmers and what looked like a came bouncing over to us and draped her arms about Hal's shoulders. She chirped something in his ear in what sounded like Japanese; he murmured something in the same as reached back to pinch her somewhere I didn't want to think about. She squeaked and stepped back as he drained his glass and got up from his stool.
"Wait, Hal, you said Cecie's donation and Joe's nest egg only covered part of the difference. Who made up the rest?" I said. "There's something you're not telling."
Hal curled his top lip back from his crooked upper teeth. "Sorry, got a date with a new unit who needs a test. Got no time to chat." And with that he let the chirpy Mecha lead him upstairs to one of the private rooms.
That was when I noticed the hundred NewBucks note stuck under the corner of my napkin.