He fell in love with her at the Department of Motor Vehicles. He’d gone to have his license renewed and he stood in the line for what seemed like hours but he passed the time by watching the pretty girl at the counter. A few times, she noticed him looking at her and she smiled shyly. Her hair was long and dark and her eyes were a deep chocolate color that kept him fascinated.
When he’d finally reached the counter, he forgot all of the clever things he’d planned to say to impress her. Instead, he stuttered when she asked his name and just barely managed to get out, “Anselm Kirk, but you can call me Anselm. Everyone does.”
It was the kind of line that smart guys always seem to end up saying to gorgeous women. Years later, he’d still look back on that moment as a complete embarrassment. But it didn’t seem to bother the girl at the counter because she smiled at him and said, “My name’s Karen Sanchez,” even though Anselm already knew her name; it was on her nametag.
Karen was the most beautiful person that Anselm had ever met. It was strange because he’d always said that when he finally settled down, he’d find a woman just like him who was smart and interested in the same things he was; someone who could really think like he did. But Karen was completely different than he’d imagined. She’d never finished college and she didn’t like to read – she preferred watching movies. She was funny and cute but she wasn’t at all interested in the development of artificial intelligence. In fact, though she was perfectly willing to sit and listen to him talk about his work for hours, she never understood any of it and could willingly admit to that.
Nonetheless, they’d only gone on five dates before Karen moved in with him. It was a nice, peaceful sort of existence. Karen continued to work at the DMV and Anselm did his work at home in the basement. The evenings were left free so they could spend time in each other’s company for a while and they were content. Anselm had every intention of asking her to marry him one day. She was his passion.
But his other passion was his work. He wasn’t much to look at, really, just a normal guy, but he was much more than that. His work had already accumulated a great deal of money for him – to the extent that he could survive comfortably in a rented home, without a second job. He was talked about in magazine articles as the country’s most brilliant mind in the field of artificial intelligence. People also said he had the most radical ideas in the field and was more than a little delusional. Anselm wanted to make the perfect machine – he wanted to piece together a robotic human that was everything a real human was, except flesh and blood.
Anselm once attended a seminar held at a local college on the impact of “Reality Bots,” the realistic androids currently all the rage, and other forms of artificial intelligence on modern society. The seminar was hosted by young, cocksure graduate students who were each supposed to represent differing views on the matter; but when the issue that Anselm found the most important was brought up, they formed a unified front against it. Could a machine become completely human? They laughed, pretending to hide their disdain behind their hands. No machine could take the place of a human; flesh and blood, capable of free thought and emotions and all those other incorporeal, fluffy white cloud ideas that supposedly made a person a person. Anselm was unsatisfied with this answer.
He raised his hand and asked if the panel thought humans were operated by some magical force, like a spirit or soul, and if that had an impact on their opinion of Reality Bots. He was informed, rather coldly, by one young woman that their opinions were based on scientific study and that scientific study left no room for silly notions like “magic.” Anselm replied that he agreed completely with her on that score but said that he wondered why a scientifically minded person such as herself did not have faith that science could one day replicate the human mind.
He didn’t like people like that girl who was so convinced that her six years of college education made her an expert. There was nothing wrong with an ambitious youth who aimed to one day be the best – Anselm had been one of those himself – but someone who already thought they were the best was unlikely to ever make any real contribution to their field of study. He’d met many people like that girl when he was in university. They were the ones who knew big names and turned their noses up at those few like Anselm who had a unique, eccentric way of absorbing all the information possible. Those kids already had detailed plans for their careers – timelines already mapped out. They knew they would be successful. However, it was the name “Kirk” that was currently stamped on every North American Reality Bot built in the last five years.
One day, he planned to prove that one could create a human life out of a machine the same as one could create life in a test tube. Cloning was old hat – Anselm wanted to personally put together every single piece of the world’s most human Reality Bot. It wasn’t even really his critics or those dumb college kids that he wanted to prove it to. Anselm wanted to prove it to himself more than anything else.
In search of inspiration for starting his greatest project, he’d remembered the worn photograph that lay on Karen’s bedside table, preserving the image of an infant boy. Simon had been born to Karen several years earlier but he’d died soon after he was born. Karen had never really recovered from that loss; she kept just a little distance between Anselm and herself, perhaps afraid of committing herself to another living person who could one day leave her like Simon had. Anselm came up with an idea.
It made sense to him. Karen needed something to help her feel safe and secure enough to move on with her life. Anselm needed a reason to build the perfect machine.
Months, and then a couple of years, were spent in the basement. Nowadays, most Reality Bots were put together on an assembly line like alarm clocks and toasters, mass produced for the wealthy in a few hours. What Anselm wanted could not be made so quickly. Karen wasn’t happy about it. He spent too much time in the basement and not enough time with her, she said. She felt like she was taking a backseat to his work. But he asked her to be patient with him and promised that it was worth it.
At last, he completed his masterpiece. It was with great excitement and anticipation that he led Karen down into the basement that day to show her what she had been waiting on all that time.
“Do you often build your prototypes in the basement?” she asked as they descended the wooden stairs, still thinking that his project he’d been working so diligently on was simply his hopeful ticket to fame. “Shouldn’t you be using a laboratory?” She’d always assumed that Anselm made mostly small things in the basement and did a lot of work on computers.
“I’ve never built anything this big by myself before,” he admitted and he flashed her one of his crazed but somehow charming smiles as he flipped a switch and flooded the room with light.
On the big metal worktable was something big sat on the edge and covered by an old bed sheet. Anselm reached for the sheet and declared proudly, “This is my greatest invention yet. It will revolutionize Reality Bots. Brace yourself.” And then he pulled the sheet away.
Seated on the table was a boy. His legs hung over the side of the table and his hands gripped the edge but his eyes were closed and he sat completely still. His curly blond hair had an unearthly sheen to it, like synthetic doll hair.
“You made a whole Reality Bot?” Karen asked and Anselm could hear the wonder in her voice, as though she was looking at a fine sculpture in an art museum. “It’s beautiful,” she murmured, reaching to lightly touch one of the android’s curls.
“It gets better,” Anselm told her. He turned to his desktop computer and swiftly started up the appropriate program.
The boy’s soft, freckled eyelids snapped open to reveal a set of stunning eyes; they were bright blue and lovely in a very unsettling way. Anselm knew Karen liked blue eyes; she had complimented Anselm’s own baby blues before. But now she looked pensive. “It feels like he’s watching me,” she murmured.
“He is,” Anselm replied brightly. “He’s looking at you and memorizing your face. I designed him to learn through experience. He can recognize differences in facial structure and can learn to associate names with faces. Jonah,” he addressed the boy now, “this is Karen.”
The boy’s head moved to look at Anselm and the movement was as fluid and natural as any person. His mouth turned up in a happy smile and then he looked back at Karen. “Hello, Karen,” he said in a youthful but calm voice. “My name is Jonah Kirk. It’s very nice to meet you.”
Anselm put an arm around the boy’s shoulders and hugged him, still grinning. “He memorized his own name and yesterday I taught him to tie his shoes.” Jonah sighed happily and leaned into Anselm’s touch. “He likes hugs,” Anselm explained. “Since I installed his sensory programming, he likes to feel things.”
“What are you going to do with him?” Karen wanted to know. Her eyes fixed to the cords trailing from the back of the boy’s head to where they connected to Anselm’s computer. “Something like this could put you in the history books, couldn’t it?”
Anselm’s expression turned grim. “It could,” he agreed, tightening his hold on Jonah just enough for the robot to look up at him in confusion. “But I’ve decided it’s not time to share this with the rest of the world. Karen, knowledge is a powerful weapon. This country doesn’t really need any more weapons. I built Jonah for a different purpose altogether. He’s going to stay here with us.”
He felt a little disappointment when Karen only stared at him as though she couldn’t comprehend what he was saying. “You don’t want to be famous?” she asked helplessly, as though it was a foreign concept to her. But she forced a smile; she seldom argued with him. “Well, he’s beautiful, Anselm. I just hope you decide to share him with the rest of the world one day.”
The world didn’t deserve Jonah, as far as Anselm was concerned. When he looked around him, all Anselm ever saw was war and greed and a dried out, used up country that had once been great, many years ago. The United States of America were hardly united anymore and barely any real, natural wilderness was left. People didn’t care about each other. Everyone wanted to make money or transcend to the supposed next life. But he’d realized that with Jonah he had an opportunity. He could teach the boy how to be good and smart. Jonah could be the one person that understood what Anselm understood.
He never stopped loving Karen. For Anselm, love was something permanent and everlasting. It didn’t matter if they had disagreements or if Karen didn’t appreciate his work like she should, because Anselm didn’t think that was what love was about. With that said, however, he was as much in the dark as the next person when it came to a logical explanation for love. He wasn’t a religious man but love was something he just accepted and didn’t question too much.
His best efforts to get Karen to bond with Jonah turned out to be in vain. There were only a few times she expressed interest in him, and she seemed only to view him as an object and never talked directly to him. Anselm tried to explain to her that it was best to interact with Jonah like one would interact with another person because he was trying to teach Jonah how to communicate properly with people.
“He’s not a real person,” Karen objected heatedly. She often became offended when he tried to explain the proper way to handle Jonah. “You keep saying he needs all these things but he doesn’t because he’s not alive. He doesn’t breathe, he doesn’t have a heartbeat – he doesn’t have a soul, Anselm!”
At that point, Anselm surrendered in defeat and stopped trying to connect Karen and Jonah. He was more than a little bitter that she’d reacted so poorly to his gift and he let it affect his attitude towards her. He spent more and more time in the basement, teaching and improving Jonah.
Jonah developed a habit of asking constant questions. They were usually easy to answer; he would point at something and ask what it was and Anselm would explain it to him. Or he would ask what the most common spelling of a word was. The more questions he asked, the more his personality seemed to grow. He expressed interest in the music Anselm listened to and wondered about what certain foods tasted like. Still, a properly programmed machine could do all of these things. Anselm was not yet convinced he’d succeeded in making a true person.
Then, Jonah surprised him with a question that caught Anselm completely off guard. It had been a few months since the last confrontation with Karen and even Anselm had nearly forgotten her words. Jonah, however, apparently hadn’t.
“What’s a soul?” the boy machine asked innocently. The question was delivered the same as any question that Jonah asked, bluntly and with a straight face. “Is it critical that humans have them?”
Anselm had not expected to hold a philosophical conversation on the subject of souls with his android creation but he always answered Jonah’s questions. He smiled wryly as he tried to think of a way to explain the concept. “Well, some people believe that there’s sort of a force of energy that all people possess and that’s what makes them truly alive. It’s like a source of inspiration – it’s the one thing that keeps people going.”
“I think I understand.” Jonah was quiet for a few moments as he absorbed the information and then he spoke again. “Karen said that I don’t have one.”
“Yeah, well, Karen doesn’t really understand most of what she talks about,” Anselm grumbled in response but he reached out and ruffled Jonah’s hair fondly. “Look, I’ll tell you what; you can have my soul. I don’t use it that much anyway. So now you have one and you don’t have to worry about it.”
In the first place, Anselm didn’t believe in souls or a higher power. He believed in science and cold, hard facts; but if there was such a thing as souls, Jonah most certainly had his own. He hadn’t gotten it the normal way and he hadn’t been born like everyone else but Jonah was real and alive. To call him anything less was, for Anselm, an insult to his own intelligence. After all, he had designed Jonah to be just that.
Jonah continued to learn at an incredible rate. All of Anselm’s time was taken up with helping the android grow. He was so preoccupied that he never noticed the slow deterioration of his relationship with Karen. Later, he would say that he supposed he took for granted that she loved him as much as he loved her. But one day, Karen was simply gone; the only explanation was a note left behind on the kitchen table that just said, “I’m sorry, it’s not working.”
Anselm was devastated. When he read the letter, he realized that he hadn’t really talked to Karen in months since he’d built Jonah. He couldn’t blame her for wanting to leave. But he knew that he loved her and he had to apologize and try to convince her to come home. He called her personal phone – he called her close friends. He tried everything to find her but it was no good. It was like she had disappeared.
Still, Anselm was not the type to ever give up on something. The next step was private investigators who managed to tell him a little, like how she’d gotten on a plane in Denver, Colorado and headed out of the country but the paper trail soon dried up and no matter how much money he poured into it, Anselm couldn’t turn up a single trace of Karen. Following in the footsteps of Karen’s paper trail, Anselm’s money started to dry up too.
Since starting his work on Jonah, Anselm had done barely any lucrative work, living mostly on the money he’d diligently saved up during his career. That money could have lasted him quite a while if it had been used only for paying rent and buying groceries. The fruitless search for Karen put Anselm in the hole and he found that all he had left was his carefully guarded research and Jonah, his greatest achievement.
Then he was offered a lifeline. He hadn’t been vocal in the world of Reality Bots and artificial intelligence for a few years but people still knew him as one of the sharpest minds. He was approached by a young company known as “Real Lives.” They were interested in any research he might have done on the past few years and they were willing to pay him a substantial sum. But Anselm was stubborn and unwilling to surrender his work, even if he was in desperate need of the money. He ignored the letter. And the two that followed it.
He wasn’t expecting a representative from the company to turn up on his doorstep. When he answered the door, Jonah was quietly hovering behind him. The boy gazed out at the well-dressed man at the door with simple curiosity. The man at the door smiled brazenly at them both.
“Real Lives would like to make you an offer, Mr. Kirk,” he announced plainly. “We were told by a reliable source that you’ve actually built your own Reality Bot here at home and we’d love to see what such personalized work looks like.” His gaze locked on Jonah. “This is it, right? Your robot?”
Anselm stepped in front of Jonah, blocking him from the man’s gaze. “My son is none of your business,” he stated firmly and then closed the door in the man’s face.
The problem didn’t go away like it should have. Real Lives seemed determined to get their hands on Jonah. The polite letters became pleading and then the offers came; lots and lots of money but it wasn’t hard to tell himself that he couldn’t be a sellout. Money and job offers – that was all bribes. He could sacrifice himself for his work.
But there was one offer he took notice of; one name printed on crisp white stationary that he could never ignore. The ultimate offer was made. If Anselm would sell his research and his prototype Reality Bot, the company said, they would be happy to help him find Karen Sanchez.
He took a few moments to read the letter over again, just to be sure of what he was reading, and then he picked up his phone and dialed the number listed. Anselm had never been able to argue with love.
Jonah had no memory of the very first time he woke up, or even the second or third. In that first month, he was rebooted many times; often with barely enough time to register his surroundings before he was shut down again. Though he had snatches of memories and recollections of Anselm's voice speaking muddled words, nothing was concrete about those days. It was fair to say that he came to life gradually. It is said that babies can sometimes hear music or voices while still in the womb. That month was like being in a womb to Jonah. He was safe and secure while Anselm, his father and mother and personal god, developed him into something more and more human.
There was one thing that Jonah was always sure of; he loved and trusted Anselm without question. Anselm described it as complete loyalty but the line between loyalty and love was very blurred for Jonah. In his mind, he was loyal to Anselm simply because he loved him. It never occurred to him in those days that his love and loyalty might be the simple result of Anselm’s programming. It didn’t matter. Things were perfect then.
He quickly found that there were many things he liked and Anselm encouraged him to record each and every thing and talk about it, so he made lists. He liked tying his shoe laces because it was like a puzzle to try and get them perfectly tied. He liked listening to “classical music” with Anselm in the lab while they worked. He liked the color blue and Anselm’s hair and the music box sitting in the living room. There weren’t very many things that Jonah didn’t like.
However, there was always one thing that Jonah didn’t like at all. He didn’t like Karen. She was always distracting Anselm with something unimportant and she didn’t like being around Jonah and said rude things. Anselm tried to explain that Karen was “having difficulty adjusting.” Whatever the reason, Jonah found her very unpleasant. Nonetheless, at Anselm’s request, he did his best to be polite to her.
Anselm was sad when Karen left but Jonah was happy. Without Karen around, he could have Anselm’s undivided attention, he thought. Except that wasn’t how it turned out. Anselm paid less attention to him than ever because he spent all of his time looking for Karen. It didn’t seem fair to Jonah that Anselm would spend so much time on someone who didn’t want to be around. Karen wasn’t worth Anselm’s time but Jonah would do anything to make his creator happy.
He kept it all to himself and just pretended things were normal but more and more often, he found himself spending his days alone. He missed listening to Mozart while Anselm’s machines buzzed noise over the sound of the music. He missed being the golden child that Anselm was so proud of. These days, it felt more like Anselm blamed him for Karen’s disappearance. But still he loved Anselm more than anything.
“Love is unexplainable,” Anselm had told Jonah once. “It’s just this feeling you have for someone but it’s completely different from any other feeling you’ve ever had and you just know, somehow, that it’s the most important feeling that you’ve ever had.”
Anselm said that he never tried to give Jonah the specific ability to love. In his words, he wanted to see if a combination of attraction, the ability to comprehend and express emotions like fear and anxiety, and Jonah’s unique learning abilities would somehow replicate it. He talked about love a lot to Jonah and Jonah liked the word. It rolled nicely off of his tongue, and so he tended to use it in nearly every other sentence.
Betrayal was not a concept that Anselm taught to Jonah. He read about it in the dictionary when he read the entire book but he didn’t pay much attention to it. It was not something that had, up until that point, any impact on his life. He stored it away for later use in the back of his mind. He didn’t think about it again until he found the letters.
One of the things that Karen had really hated about Jonah was that he had a habit of reading anything that was left lying about the house. It was part of his learning programming, so Jonah didn’t understand the problem, but Karen always complained about it being an invasion of her privacy when he read her mail or romance novels. Anselm did not sympathize with her on his matter because he, for one, never left important, private information lying around where anyone could find it and he thought she ought to be more cautious.
But Anselm had left a letter lying on the kitchen table, perhaps in a moment of complete distraction, and Jonah had picked it up and read it, front to back. The subject matter distressed him. Someone wanted to buy Anselm’s research. Jonah knew well enough that selling research was how Anselm had initially made a living but now Anselm had plenty of money, didn’t he? That was what Karen had always said before she left, when she wanted some new trinket. Anselm had plenty of money to buy her a new dress or a pair of diamond earrings. So Anselm didn’t need to sell his research anymore. Besides, that research wasn’t just Anselm’s anymore. It was something that he had shared with Jonah; it had become the thing that they truly bonded over. To him, selling that research would be like selling the happy times they’d had together.
He’d intended to talk to Anselm about the letter because he wanted a little reassurance but Anselm seemed so tired and worried all of the time that Jonah felt guilty disturbing him over the matter. After a while, he put the matter out of his head and he didn’t see any more letters about it.
Then he overheard Anselm talking on the phone. “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he heard the man say to the receiver. “I can’t pay the bills. Everything I had, I’ve spent on her and I still don’t know where she is.”
The way Jonah saw it, Karen was messing up their lives again. She was the reason Anselm was unhappy and she was the reason all of Anselm’s money was gone. If Anselm had to sell his research to pay the bills, it would be all her fault and Jonah would never, ever forgive her for messing everything up.
He’d never gone through Anselm’s things before because he’d been taught early on that it wasn’t okay to do that. However, he’d seen the postman deliver letters to Anselm and he couldn’t help wondering if any of those letters could tell him what Anselm was planning. Anselm never knew it but Jonah found where he kept them and read each one, his alarm growing every time he saw a new offer in print. But he kept telling himself that Anselm wouldn’t do it, not for money. Even if Anselm was poor, the two of them could still be happy and keep working together. They didn’t need money and they didn’t need Karen.
Jonah wasn’t used to people coming to the house – Anselm was very private – so it alarmed him when the man came to see them. He could tell that Anselm didn’t like the man either and Jonah didn’t like the way the man looked at him. He willingly hid behind Anselm until the intruder finally left them in peace, and then he’d been more than happy to accept the protective hug Anselm gave him and the reassuring words murmured into his hair.
But the letters kept coming and now there was something even worse to worry about. The people didn’t just want Anselm’s research anymore – they wanted Jonah too. They referred to him as Anselm’s “prototype” but he knew what they were talking about. Money didn’t really make much sense to him but he could tell that the offers were getting bigger and bigger. Still, he couldn’t believe that Anselm would ever give him to someone else.
One day, he and Anselm went down to the basement lab together for the first time in a few weeks. Jonah was excited at first but Anselm looked worried, so Jonah’s excitement slowly dwindled. He watched his creator cautiously.
“Jonah, I’m going to entrust you with something very important,” Anselm said, finally turning to Jonah with a forced smile. “Up here,” he tapped on Jonah’s forehead, “you are capable of storing an immense amount of information.” He waved his hand about the room. “Every file on every computer in this room will fit inside your brain. I need you to do me a big favor. I have to store all of my research inside your head.”
“Everything?” Jonah murmured, confused. “Why? You have computers for that.”
Anselm knelt down and gently gripped Jonah’s arms. “Listen, I love you very much,” he said, looking directly into Jonah’s eyes. “I do everything for a good reason but I can’t explain this to you right now. I need you to take good care of my research. Jonah, my work, my research, is my whole life. It’s what has kept me going this long. It’s so important to me but I have to give it to you now. Do you understand?”
Jonah nodded because he thought he did understand, a little. He understood because Anselm’s work was important to him too. Anselm’s work was the whole reason Jonah existed at all. They both lived for it. “It’s your soul,” he said quietly.
“Yes, it is,” Anselm murmured, seeming surprised by the statement but in agreement. He gave Jonah’s shoulders a light squeeze. “Remember when I said I would give you my soul? That’s what I’m doing.”
That was all the convincing that Jonah needed. He sat perfectly still as Anselm connected cables to him and the rush he felt as the information began to slowly flood his brain was one of the best feelings he’d ever known. This was a new purpose – a reason for being alive. His job was to protect Anselm’s soul. He could do that. He would devote himself to it.
The day that Jonah found the last letter was the day that Anselm announced they were going to take a trip. Anselm had hidden the letter well, perhaps ashamed of it, but Jonah had eventually found it. When he saw the new offer, he knew deep down that this trip Anselm was planning had something to do with it. He began putting the pieces together.
The people who wanted Anselm’s research had offered to help find Karen. Anselm had stored all of his research inside Jonah’s mind. Now they were going on a trip. Jonah wanted to believe that Anselm loved him more than he loved Karen but he had lived with Anselm long enough to know that Anselm would give up anything for Karen. And he knew that Anselm was doing that now. He was giving Jonah up.
He didn’t say a word about it as they traveled to the airport, bags packed. Anselm said they were going to Germany to visit his family there. He chattered at Jonah about how much Jonah was going to like Germany but Jonah wasn’t really listening to him. Anselm didn’t know that Jonah’s thoughts were elsewhere. It seemed to Jonah lately that there were a lot of things about him that Anselm underestimated.
At the airport, they sat for a couple hours near some people who all had tickets to London, England. When one friendly older lady asked Anselm what their plans for London were, Anselm became flustered and clumsily made up a lie about flying to Germany from London. Jonah pretended to believe this but he had noticed that he and Anselm had no tickets and Anselm kept looking around nervously.
A voice came over the loudspeakers announcing that the plane to London would be leaving soon and all passengers needed to begin boarding. The people around them began to rise from their seats to make their way to the boarding ramp. Anselm’s phone rang.
Jonah waited until Anselm walked off with the phone pressed against his ear and then turned to survey the people boarding the plane. He needed a ticket to get on the plane, that much he knew, and he had to act fast if he was going to outsmart Anselm. If there was anything he could do about it, he wasn’t going to let himself be traded for Karen.
There was a young woman who wasn’t boarding the plane but Jonah knew she was supposed to be on the flight because she’d been talking to another woman about it earlier. She was talking angrily into her phone. Jonah moved a few seats closer to her to quietly listen.
“You said you wanted to go!” she was fussing. Her accent was very strange but Jonah liked the sound of it. “I bought you a ticket. I can’t believe you’d stand me up like this. Oh, fine! If that’s how it is - goodbye, Richard. Don’t call me again!”
She hung up the phone in a huff and then stared at the line of people boarding the plane a little helplessly. Jonah looked around; Anselm was nowhere in sight. This was his one chance.
Cautiously, he approached the woman. She noticed him and smiled a little, though she was obviously upset. “Hi there,” she said kindly. “Where’s your dad? You fellows are going to be late for your flight.”
“He’s not my dad,” Jonah replied, looking up at her with his most solemn expression. “I need your help. You have an extra ticket, right? I have family in Germany. If I can get to London, I can meet up with them like I’m supposed to. That man stole my ticket.” He felt terrible, lying like this about Anselm, but there was no other way. He didn’t even know if it would work but he had to try. “He was supposed to take care of me while I’m here but he lied to my parents and I think he’s trying to kidnap me.”
The woman’s face tightened into a look of concern. “Oh, honey, are you okay? Has he hurt you or anything?”
Jonah shook his head but let his lower lip tremble just a little. “No, but I’m scared. I just want to go home. I’m supposed to be on this flight and my mom’s going to be waiting for me.”
She nodded to show that she understood. “Look, I have an extra ticket,” she said kindly. She took a ticket from her pocket and presented him with it. “You can use it. No one else is going to. We’ll get you back to your parents.”
“Oh wow, thank you!” Jonah exclaimed, throwing his arms around her in a tight hug. “Thank you so much!”
Anselm would never expect him to try something like this. Certainly, the man would think Jonah was sitting in his chair, waiting patiently like a good boy, because that was how Anselm had programmed him to behave. But it felt decidedly good, somehow, to disobey Anselm like this. Jonah gripped the woman’s hand tightly as they both boarded the plane with the rest of the passengers. His plan had worked.
He was anxious as he waited in the plane. Anselm could still find him at this point. He wasn’t safe until they lifted off. But the woman continued to hold his hand, kindly reassuring him that she was going to help him get home to his family. After she’d said it a few times, Jonah found that it was a comforting thought, even if it wasn’t true. It would be nice if this woman really was taking him to a family that was waiting for him in Europe. He pretended, for a little while, that he really did have a mother who would be there when he got off the plane in London and would hug him up tight and tell him that everything was okay.
Then the plane lifted off and Anselm still hadn’t come to get him. He wondered if Anselm was worried about him down there on the ground. Would he be upset that something might happen to Jonah or would he just be afraid that he wouldn’t be able to find Karen now? He tried to tell himself that it didn’t really matter. Once he got to Europe, he doubted that Anselm would follow him. Anselm didn’t have the money to follow him. He’d spent it all on Karen.
“What’s your name?” the woman beside him asked. “Mine is Amanda.”
“Jonah Kirk,” he replied and he managed to smile at Amanda but she still looked worried about him. She squeezed his hand.
“Hey, Jonah,” she said softly. “I know you’re scared. And I know what it’s like to have someone you trust betray you like that. I’m going to make sure you’re safe.”
Jonah thought about that word, “betray.” Did it apply in this situation? He’d loved and trusted Anselm completely. It had never occurred to him that life would ever be anything other than days spent in Anselm’s basement, working and listening and learning. But Anselm had changed all that. He’d ruined everything.
Even if Anselm tried to find him, Jonah would never go back. He wasn’t human but he knew that people weren’t supposed to betray you when they loved you. He didn’t want to be second place to Karen anymore. He didn’t want to be expendable.
“People who love you should take care of you,” he said. He stared at his knees. “That’s what my dad told me.”
Amanda wrapped her arm around his shoulders and hugged him. “Yes, honey, that’s exactly right. But don’t worry about it now. Everything is going to be okay.” Her accent was so strange and nice, and her words relaxed him.
He leaned back in his seat and watched the people in the seats near them. It wasn’t very often that he was around so many strange people that he didn’t know. He liked watching them and memorizing their unique behaviors. Maybe this would be fun after all. In London, there would be even more new people. This could be the start of a grand adventure.
Over the course of the trip, Amanda fell asleep several times and didn’t seem to notice that Jonah remained awake the entire time. When she was awake, Amanda talked quite a bit. She told Jonah about the man she was leaving behind in America. He was an American she’d fallen for while visiting some friends she had in the states. They’d been carrying on a long distance relationship for several years but it had never worked very well, apparently. Jonah didn’t completely understand everything Amanda talked about but he listened because he felt that he owed it to her.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to stay and wait with you?” she asked worriedly when they arrived at the London airport. Jonah smiled and assured her that he would be okay waiting alone for a little while. “Here’s my number if you need anything,” Amanda said, quickly scribbling her phone number on a bit of notebook paper. She handed it to him and patted his shoulder. “Good luck, Jonah.”
He was sorry to see her go but right now he needed to form a plan. Anselm was going to come looking for him before long, not to mention the people Anselm had planned to hand him over to. They wouldn’t be happy about all of Anselm’s research going missing. Jonah wasn’t going to let them get their hands on it. And as much as he liked Amanda, he couldn’t trust really trust her. She seemed nice but people weren’t always what they seemed to be, he’d found out the hard way.
First things first, he needed to get a bearing of his surroundings. He knew next to nothing about London, except that it was a city in the United Kingdom. There was a display of free maps near the exit but Jonah needed something a little less concrete and more absorbable.
Stealth was decidedly not his best talent, Jonah realized, as he tried to find a way to sneak a peek into the airport’s computer system. All he needed was one computer to connect to and he could get the information he needed but the workers were fairly diligent and teaching Jonah espionage had not been something high on Anselm’s priority list. That would need to be remedied.
He decided to sit down near a service desk and just wait until the woman working it stepped out for some reason. Before too long, the woman sat out a little “service desk closed” sign on her desk. Jonah waited until she was out of sight before slipping over to the desk and ducking behind it.
The computer’s modem was stationed beneath the desk. Jonah curled up beside it and fished a cord out of his pocket. He connected one end to the port located just behind his left ear and connected the other end to the computer modem. Bingo, he thought to himself with a smile. He now had access to the internet.
Unfortunately, it was taking longer than he expected to locate and download all the information he needed on London – in addition, it was difficult for him to surf the cyber web and stay focused on his surroundings at the same time. He’d only gone hunting in the internet like this a couple of times, and then only with Anselm there to help him. The sheer amount of information that bombarded him was overwhelming and difficult to sift through. He could feel it putting strain on his systems.
“What do you think you’re doing?” a woman’s sharp, high voice suddenly snapped, drawing Jonah back into the present. He looked up to see the clerk looming over him, her hands on her hips. “Security!” the woman yelled irately. “Someone is tampering with my computer!”
Jonah acted fast and jerked the cord out of the computer modem, quickly scrambling out from behind the desk.
“Stop right there!” a man in uniform demanded as he approached. “Put your hands where I can see them!”
They must take terrorist threats very seriously in this country, Jonah thought to himself. He didn’t have time for this kind of interference. Getting arrested would make it that much easier for Anselm to find him. He gave the security officer an apologetic smile and held up his hands – then turned and made a break for it.
“Hey, kid, wait! Stop!”
Jonah could hear the man running after him but he didn’t look back over the shoulder. He knew that he was faster than most humans – Anselm had said so. He was made to be a capable long distance runner and he was much smaller and lighter than the bulky officer chasing him.
Still, the officer was keeping up surprisingly well, and a couple other men joined the chase. In his haste, Jonah burst through the exit doors and out of the building.
He was met with busy streets. People crowded along the sidewalks and cars zipped by on the road without mercy, packed together so that it amazed Jonah that none of them had crashed into each other. He found himself being quickly hustled along by the crowd and he had to move fast just to keep up with all the people. A glance back over his shoulder showed that the security guard was standing some ways away, trying to hunt through the crowd without getting trampled. Jonah grinned and let the crowd guide him away.
London was an impressive menagerie of every kind of architecture. Many of the buildings were ancient and crumbling but were preserved because of their historical value; still more buildings were incredible testimonies to mankind’s genius and stood tall, new, and shining in the sun. Jonah was captivated as he wandered along, his face upturned.
Gradually, he began to slow down, his limbs growing heavier and his eyes starting to droop closed. He was running out of power; should have recharged on the plane. He needed to find a safe place to sleep and let his energy source recover. He looked around urgently for somewhere discreet.
He slipped into an alley, sighing in relief to be away from the rushing crowds of people. There was a large garbage dumpster against one wall with enough space behind it for him to squeeze behind it and curl up as small as he could make his body. Feeling secure, he let his system shut down.
When he woke again, it was to darkness. It had been morning when he’d arrived in London so he surmised that he had spent the entire day recharging. His system obviously wasn’t designed for this much activity. There were still flaws with his design. Without Anselm’s help, however, he doubted there was any way to remedy them.
He crawled out from behind the dumpster and found the streets less crowded when he stepped out of the alley. Apparently, not as many people had places to be in the middle of the night. Feeling refreshed, Jonah set a more leisurely pace for himself as he walked, taking time to truly observe and appreciate his surroundings.
There were pros and cons to this plan of his. On the one hand, he was completely on his own and that had never happened before. Anselm wasn’t with him to explain things and show him the right way to handle a situation. On the other hand, Anselm had already taught him a lot and Jonah was capable of learning on his own. He didn’t need to eat or drink, either, so he didn’t have much need of money. All he needed was to find a place to sleep when his energy was low and he could spend the rest of his time moving and exploring.
The internet had spoken highly of London’s art museums and Jonah was intrigued by the idea of a place that collected together man’s greatest artistic achievements. With help from the internet, he knew where he was and how to get where he wanted to go, for the most part. Directions were not always completely accurate but they worked well enough most of the time. Jonah set his sights on the nearest museum.
It was closed when he arrived, which was fine with Jonah. The electric lock on the back door was easy enough to crack open with a quick electrical shock. He slipped into the museum and quickly located a security camera. A security system was easy to shut down too when he connected himself into it. It was too bad people didn’t look after their treasures themselves. He supposed they probably had once, before they’d replaced themselves with technology.
He spent hours wandering through the museum, drifting from exhibit to exhibit. He especially liked paintings of other places, like Venice or Paris. Many of those paintings showed what seemed to Jonah to be much simpler times. They were lovely scenes of little cafés or wooden boats floating down rivers.
By the time he left, he’d memorized his favorite pieces and the names of the artists, promising himself to do some more research the next time he had the opportunity. He decided that he’d definitely made the right decision. He could go wherever he wanted now and see whatever he wanted to, provided he could walk or hitch a ride there. He figured he could work his way from Britain to France, investigating everything on his way. It wouldn’t be easy for Anselm to find him now. He was just one small person in a world full of people.
In the early morning, he found a café just opening for the day and was pleased to discover that they offered free computer and internet usage. The man opening up let him inside a little early when he asked and directed him to the computers set up on one end of the store. Jonah happily settled himself in front of one and plugged in.
This time, he tried to make his searches more specific to reduce the amount of information he came up with. Still, it was taxing, and after a little while he switched to surfing the web like anyone else would, with a mouse and a keyboard. He liked this better, he found, because the information didn’t stay clogged in his system and he could memorize what he wanted and ignore what he didn’t want.
A search on French art museums brought up the Louvre. The online pictures of the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo were nice but he wanted to really see them up close. The works he’d seen the previous night were much more impressive than a digital replication could ever hope to be. There was something about standing in front of them that made Jonah want to keep going.
He settled down in a comfortable chair later on and relaxed while he watched the people shuffling about the café. This was a much slower way to recharge but it left him awake and aware of his surroundings and he liked the feeling of warm sunlight pouring in on him through the café window. The café employees came by a few times and asked if he wanted anything but he just smiled and shook his head.
This wasn’t as fun and exciting as working with Anselm or visiting art museums but it was still nice. All of the people had the same nice accent that Amanda had, which Jonah understood to be a regional thing. He was asked a couple of times if he was American or Canadian because he apparently had an accent that sounded like he was from North America. Accents, he decided, were very interesting.
He was hunkered down in the big, fluffy chair when he saw the two suspicious looking men come into the café. He called them “suspicious looking” because they began looking around the café with searching eyes as soon as they entered. Feeling a little paranoid after his recent evasion of the law, Jonah carefully slipped out of the chair and crouched behind it, watching the men from his hiding place.
“We’re looking for this boy,” he heard of them say as they handed what he thought was probably a photograph to the girl working the counter. “He’s run away from home and his father is very worried about him.”
The girl immediately looked in the direction of his chair and seemed surprised when he wasn’t there. “Well, a boy who looks like him was here earlier,” she said. “He’s been here all day.” Jonah scowled to himself. The girl was going to give him away and these men were obviously here to retrieve him. But how had they known to come to this exact café? Something didn’t add up. Did Anselm have some way of tracking him?
“Mind if we have a look around?” the man with the picture asked and Jonah felt something akin to panic. This was a time when having simulated human emotions and feelings was not really a big plus, he decided, because he needed to keep his head clear and stay logical.
The two men started over to Jonah’s corner and Jonah waited until they got close to the chair before making a break for it. He shot out from behind the chair and around the men, making a beeline for the door. “After him!” one of the men yelled as Jonah escaped out into the street.
These men were much better at following him than the men at the airport had been and it was difficult to work his way through the crowd. The men were catching up to him. Jonah needed an escape route and quick. He ducked down an alley like the one he’d hidden in the day before.
“Jonah, stop!” he heard one of them men yell. They’d followed him down the alley. “I don’t want to shoot you, Jonah, but I will bring you down if I have to!”
“How do you know my name?” Jonah yelled back over his shoulder, catching a glimpse of the guns the two men had leveled on him when he did so. Could he outrun a bullet? He doubted it. Even for a robot, it was probably impossible. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t just evade a bullet.
The city was becoming less crowded and more worn down, the further Jonah ran. He realized his mistake when he noticed that there were far less people. In the crowded streets of uptown, he’d been safer. These men couldn’t risk shooting at him in a crowd of people, where they could miss and hit someone else. Down here, there were barely any people to worry about.
He ran out into the road, oddly empty of cars compared to the busy world just a few miles away. This part of London had not aged well, it seemed. It looked practically abandoned – all the buildings were slowly falling apart with many broken windows and doors. The few people he saw were dressed in rags with weary, strained faces. None of them seemed interested in helping him.
“This is your last chance, Jonah! If you don’t stop now I’m going to shoot!” Jonah ignored the warning and kept running. He wasn’t going back to Anselm, not after the man had been willing to betray him for Karen, and he sure wasn’t planning on being anyone’s guinea pig or “prototype.” He remembered the smiling man who’d come to Anselm’s house and he made himself run faster, though his energy was getting low.
The sound of the gun firing was the first shock. The noise was so loud, it blocked out any other sound for a split-second. Before he could overcome that shock, searing pain tore through his right arm and he cried out, stumbling. Barely managing to stay on his feet, he looked down at his arm through blurry eyes. There was a gaping hole in his upper bicep. His whole arm felt like it was on fire and it hung limp and useless at his side.
He could hear the men catching up. Terror gripped him then and he wrapped his good hand around the wound before taking off again. He couldn’t stop now just because he was scared. That would be letting them win and Jonah was not prepared to lose this fight.
Up ahead, he spied an open manhole. Those led to the sewers, he knew, which should be dark and difficult for humans to navigate. The smell was supposed to be atrocious but Jonah had an advantage over his pursuers – he could simply turn off his sense of smell.
The gun fired again just as Jonah reached the manhole but he dropped down into the hole to avoid the bullet and plummeted down into the darkness. He landed in the sewer with a loud splash and for a moment the horrible scent assaulted him before he managed to turn it off. He staggered to his feet uneasily and his ears caught the sound of someone climbing down the ladder. He started running again.
Water was hard to move in and noisy but he kept going. It was completely dark in here and he doubted the men had a source of light with them. They followed him for some time, never catching up, as Jonah traveled further and further into the sewer. For a while, he could hear them talking. They didn’t dare shoot in the dark – the bullet could hit anything, and possibly bounce back at them. Gradually, their voices became more and more distant until Jonah could no longer hear them at all.
Exhausted, he leaned against the wall of the sewer for a moment to try and rest. His energy was low and he was still in immense pain. His right arm was useless and there was only one way out of the sewer – up.
He forced himself to start moving again until he finally found a ladder. One handed, he slowly made the climb, barely managing to make it to the top without falling. He pushed up on the cover with the top of his head and managed to move it off enough to pull himself out onto the street.
It was dark again outside and Jonah’s systems were starting to shut down without his permission. The street looked abandoned but that didn’t mean that Jonah could just collapse out here. He had to find a good place to hide so he made himself keep going, wandering about the street until he found some old garbage cans to collapse behind.
This part of the adventure wasn’t fun. How had those men found out where he was? Were they working for Anselm or for the company that had wanted to buy him? He tried to keep himself awake just a little longer but he couldn’t manage it. His body needed to recover. Finally, he gave up and let himself shut down completely.