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.
NOTES: Sequel to "Joe as Foster Father", found at http://matrixrefugee.livejournal.com/510656.html. I have a feeling this is going to turn into an unwitting trilogy, once I figure what happens after the end.
"Something like him you don't put on the shelf or dissect so easily," Dr. Hobby said. Dr. Meroveque's assistant Imelda Ogata tried not to make it noticeable that her ears had pricked up. She couldn't help wanting to free Joe from almost the moment the lover-model had been picked up a few blocks from Cyberronics and brought in for questioning, partly in connection with the murder in New Jersey and partly because the Mecha had been the last to see David before he vanished. She'd only been able to cover the last three hours in which Dr. Hobby had been questioning Joe -- she could not think of him as "the Simulate City JO-1229 unit" -- but she'd heard enough to decide she had to err on the side of discretion and move fast. Even if they copied the contents of Joe's cube, there was no telling what Hobby would do with Joe. The conversation she had overheard had only confirmed her suspicion and her decision. But she had to wait till her shift ended before she could notify her contact in the Free-Range Coalition. Only five hours to go, she thought. sadly.
"Of course those vivisectionists would entertain the notion of cutting into his mind," Draper muttered over Imelda's phone, when she called him on her lunch break. "Tell me he's still functioning."
"The last time I looked, he was, and that was a half-hour ago," Imelda replied.
"Either way, the clock is ticking," he replied. "I'm getting ahold of the Mad Frenchman, see if he can crack the security cameras. Just keep an eye on that unit. Don't let them start tearing his code apart."
"I don't think that's going to happen any time soon," she said. "Joe said something to Hobby that shook him up badly."
Draper said nothing for a moment, then he chuckled softly. " Sounds like his sentimentality got the better of him. His weakness could be our breach in the firewall. Keep vigilant, I'll contact you as soon as we get our in." The cellphone hung itself up. She palmed the device into an inner pocket of her jacket.
Hobby had switched Joe off almost as if he had let the Mecha rest from the incessant questioning. But he could not keep himself from sitting beside the unit, as it sat propped gracefully in the restraint chair, like a parent keeping watch beside a sleeping child.
A copy was hardly the same as the original, and copying the entire cube of a Mecha took several hours, even with processor speeds as fast as they were. For all its flaws resulting from its creation process, it would have to do. Hobby had to find the reason why Joe had reacted to David as he had. But he loathed the very thought of what that would entail. The tired old saw about cracking eggs to make an omlette came to mind, and Joe's cube was one egg which Hobby simply could not bring himself to crack.
Joe had become more than the mere sum of his programming, more than a mere drone that dutifully followed stimulus and response patterns. Joe had become...
The security cameras took longer to crack than Imelda had hoped, but now it was nightfall and easier to slip Joe out, under cover of darkness. Draper called her back, uploading to her palmtop the route she would need to take to spirit Joe out of the building. The hard part would be avoiding the security bot details that roamed the corridors, but she had an idea to camoflague Joe (or try to). She smuggled a janitor's coveralls and a pair of sneakers in an empty laptop case as she approached the office where Joe was held.
She found the room darkened, except for the glow from the monitor on a laptop close by the restraint chair. Joe sat motionless, almost as if he slept, but she realized Hobby must have mercifully turned Joe off. She knelt beside the chair and reached behind Joe's left ear; finding the switch there, she pressed it in and back. Joe lifted his head, his eyes blinking and swivelling up and down, then left and right before he turned his gaze toward her then turned his face to hers, a smile lighting it up.
"Good evening, are you lonely my lovely one, or are you with Dr. Hobby?" he asked.
"Well, I work with Dr. Hobby, but I'm here to get you out," she said.
A blank look that might be worry crossed his face. "Then he really plans to do something with my brain," he said, with a mix of something close to fear and resignation with a hint of a cool sort of anger.
"There's a chance that he might, though I haven't heard that he's made a final decision," she said. "I'd rather not take chances on that."
His face brightened. "And so you are the fair maiden-knight sent to rescue the prince."
"You could put it that way, though we don't have much time to chat," she said. She keyed the buttons on the restraint chair, unlocking the straps that held him in and helped him to rise from it. She took the clothes from the laptop case and held them out to him. "You'd better put these on."
"Anything to please milady and hasten my departure from this place," he said, sweeping off his coat and undoing the zipper of his simulsatin shirt. As he levered off his shoes and started to reach for the waistband of his trousers, she looked away, partly to keep an eye on the hall door and mostly out of a mild feeling of embarrassment: She was no stranger to what lover models looked like, from a designer's viewpoint, but she could never help feeling funny about seeing one in the flesh -- or the silicon, rather -- particularly when it was activated.
"I would ask if this is your first time with someone like me, but we shall have to save that conversation for later," Joe said, clearly noting her modesty. She heard the coveralls rustle as he pulled them on and zipped them up. She gathered his clothes and bundled them into the laptop case.
"Let's go," she said, taking him by the arm and guiding him into the hallway, where she'd strategically placed a janitor's barrel on casters with a rack of brooms clipped to the side. "Joe, could you push this barrel as you follow me?" she asked, keeping her voice low and her ear keened for any movement or voices.
"As you wish, and in that case, one moment," he said. He cocked his head and waggled it, causing his hairstyle to change so that it fell more loosely.
"Good thinking," she said with a grin and led him along the maze of corridors, heading for a loading dock at the rear of the building.
They had just entered the dock, when an alarm started to ring out deeper in the building. Joe looked around, clearly reading this as "bad trouble" and looking for a place to hide.
"Don't worry, that's not for us; that's some friends causing a diversion at the front of the building," she said, taking Joe by the arm and leading him to a hovercar waiting at the edge of the dock, half-hidden behind a parked shipping container. Draper stood waiting for them, by the nose of the car, clad in a nondescript flat cap and a battered leather jacket which made him look like an archetypal Manhattan cabdriver in an old 2-D flick.
"Where to, folks?" he asked, keying open the hatch of the car and stepping into the driver's seat.
"We need to get this fellow to a safe place," she said, playing along. To Joe she added, in reply to his puzzled look, "This man is a good friend of mine and we're going to the Canadian border. We can help you across it and into freedom."
Joe looked toward the water. "Would David be able to find us there?" he asked.
"Maybe some day," Imelda said with a smile.
"Then lead the way, my maiden knight," he said with a bow and climbed into the hovercar.
Imelda climbed in as Draper started to close the hatch and they flew off, diving under the surface of the ocean and heading for open water.
Joe smiled to himself: David had said he had found his Blue Fairy; now he had found a maiden-knight who was leading him, through this very water, to freedom.