Saturday, July 27th, 1991
One week after the Lollapalooza incident, the Moreau-Walter family became accustomed to the new silence in the manor. Peter, Alex, Patrick Reed and Lilah were seldom seen, spending most of their waking hours in the labs preparing the new robots, should their experiment fail.
One and Two had been due to come online soon and their projects were merely sped up. They were given the appropriate medical designations “Ether” and “Salve”. Most of the build was done and final checks were being performed. Ether was a tall, grey robot with a blank, featureless faceplate that was designed to be a roving diagnostic center, able to collect medical samples and readings. Salve was shorter and designed to administer first-aid on a variety of levels. It had a brushed stainless steel chassis and a round, friendly-looking face. Unlike normal medical equipment, the medi-bots would be able to interact and adapt to any situation with the aid of Blue Matter cores to give them the spark of artificial intelligence Peter A. Walter developed almost a century before.
A third new robot named “Pi” was being constructed from the ground-up in one week’s time by Lilah and Alex. Pi was shorter yet than Salve at about five foot five and given the most life-like features such as a fully-articulated face and hands and the smoothest gyros for fluidity of movement. When Pi came online, except for the obviousness of its electrostatically-applied blue painted exterior, it would seem very human in mannerism. All three robots, unlike their late, nineteenth-century brothers, were not steam-powered. Instead, Alex had routed the Blue Matter output to alternating current.
It was rare in this time to catch sight of Lilah Moreau-Walter so when her younger sister found her sitting at the breakfast nook in the family kitchen Saturday morning she did a double-take. Lilah was only twenty years old, but looked like an old woman as she sat hunkered over a half-eaten and soggy bowl of cereal. Her head was in both of her hands over this and a tall cup of coffee had grown cold at her right elbow.
“Lilah?” the fifteen-year-old asked.
Lilah raised her head slightly and looked to her left. “Deelia,” she said in voice rough like a phonograph recording. She wore black cotton slacks and a fairly grimy t-shirt which hung off of her and made her appear even thinner than she had become.
Deelia Moreau-Walter was dressed in a short, pleated skirt with pink and blue flowers on a black background. Tucked into this was a white button-down shirt. The collar was open, unbuttoned to the second button and pulled up to her neck so that it billowed at her lower back. Her pale blue hair was cut to shoulder-length and pinned back with a headband. “You look like crap,” she said, taking a seat next to her.
“Gee. Thanks,” Lilah answered leaning back in her chair. “Nice to see you, too.”
“I haven’t seen you in weeks.”
“Six days, actually.”
“I’ve been busy, Deelie.”
“I know that,” the girl replied, annoyed. “It sucks what happened.”
Lilah almost scoffed. “Yes, that it does.”
Deelia scuffed a loafered foot across the floor idly. “But Pete says we’ll have new robots soon so that’s good, right?”
The older girl closed her eyes tightly. “Sure.” She pushed the chair back and grasped her coffee mug; a tall, silver travel mug with the Moreau-Walter Amalgamated logo on it. “It’s been swell talking to you, but I have to get back to work.”
“You didn’t even eat breakfast.”
“Breakfast?” Lilah asked, stood and looked to the clock on the wall. “Oh,” she laughed lightly. “That was dinner, actually. Good morning. Have a nice day with your… whatever nice thing you’re doing today.”
“What the hell is wrong with you? I’m just saying you haven’t eaten anything. Mom’s a wreck over you, you know!”
“Oh, I know. She told me as much herself,” Lilah said without a hint of mirth in her voice as she walked slowly to the doorway. “Her solution was that I should go out on a date with Patrick. Isn’t that a hoot?”
“Well, maybe you should! He’s in love with you.”
This got a laugh. “I know. Poor fool.”
Deelia leapt up out of her chair and balled her fists. “Why can’t you just do it? Maybe if you went out with him--went outside the house at all--you’d be happier! All you ever do is hang out with robots!”
Lilah stopped laughing and leaned against the doorframe. She leveled her blue eyes at her sister until they forced the younger girl to look away. “Whatever you do with your life, Deelie, do it for yourself. Don’t try to do it for someone else. Otherwise, you’ll just end up disappointing people.” And with that, she slipped out and down to the lab once more.
Wednesday, July 31st, 1991
Lab One was quiet. All the preparations were done. Of the four humans in the room, not one made a sound for a few moments. On one side of a large, gunmetal-grey folding screen were three exam tables ratcheted at a forty-five degree angle, each with a bright, shining new robot body on it. On the other side, the three bodies of Col. Peter A Walter’s Steam Man Band lay clothed on similar tables at the same angle, waiting for the experiment to begin.
As soon as Lilah entered the room and saw them lying there, she began to hyperventilate and had to sit down. Patrick Reed hovered over her and her father folded his arms. “You must be ready for this, Delilah,” he said plainly. “You must show no negative emotion when they go online or the impression will be...”
“I know--Dad,” she huffed. “Give me--five--minutes.”
He turned his back on her and pretended to be busy checking charts and going over his notes for the fiftieth time. Her brother rubbed his thumbs over and over and made little eye contact if any. “It’s ok, Lilah,” he said meekly. “The medi-bots are ready. It’ll be smooth. The transition. It’ll go quick, I mean. Over soon.”
“I know,” she gently brushed Reed’s hands from her shoulders and stood. Her eyes were half-lidded and darkly circled. Her hair was limp and unwashed. She had thought to wear a lab coat and its crisp whiteness heavily contrasted her disheveled appearance. “I know. Ok,” she took a deep breath and her mouth settled into a dull, expressionless pout. “Let’s do this.”
Peter, Reed and Lilah lined up before The Jon, The Spine and Rabbit’s bodies--ready. Alex directed them and observed readings from the monitoring devices attached to all six robots. He also presented three of his great-grandfather’s unused power cores to each of them from a gilded, blue-velvet-lined box. With a glowing, blue core held firmly in their gloved hands, each technician moved forward and the experiment commenced.
The core was nestled inside the housing and attached to the neural network. The clamps were secured, locks turned, gates closed and finally shielding placed over the housing. The technicians stepped away from the robots and Alex confirmed that the area was clear before throwing an impressive-looking switch to ignite the circuits of the near-century-old robots. Lastly, the techs returned and pressed two pressure points on each robot to boot them up.
Lilah kept calm as she touched two hidden, flush buttons, one behind Rabbit’s left ear and another on his lower right chest. She breathed deeply and steadily, counting to three on each inhale and exhale. She never once looked at their faces as she performed her task and now as she stepped away again her eyes unfocused somewhere near Rabbit’s feet. The distinctive hum of their gears turning, of boilers boiling, filled the room and soon their photoreceptors were glowing once more.
Everyone held their breath.
“Hello, robots,” Alex addressed them, stepping forward from his position at the console and speaking in a voice that sounded as if he thought they were both deaf and foreign. “How are you feeling?” he boomed.
“Hello?” said The Jon.
“Feeling?” said The Spine.
“Robots?” said Rabbit.
Their voices sounded the same as everyone remembered, but that was to be expected. Voice patterns were more machinery than soul.
“Do you know who we are?” Alex asked in a softer, graver tone.
From their forty-five degree perch, they could see well enough, though they couldn’t move to get a better look. Reed and Alex had argued about whether or not to let them be able to move about. In the end it came down to a vote: two for, one against, one (Lilah) abstaining to restrain them. One never knew what might happen.
“You?” asked The Spine. “No. There are four of you, correct?”
“I do not know you. Do you know me?” asked The Jon.
“I want to know you. I think. I’m not sure,” wondered Rabbit.
Alex smiled widely, albeit falsely. “That’s alright. We’re testing you out at the moment. Bright, shining new chassis we’ve made for you are right behind the screen. Right now, my assistants will take you offline and in less than five minutes you’ll wake up again, ready to go! Assistants?” Peter and Reed stepped forward but Lilah hung back. “Assistants?” Alex repeated. She took a staggering step forward and with trembling hands booted Rabbit’s body down and his mismatched eyes went grey for the last time.
“Hang in there,” Reed hissed quietly to her as they performed the next step of the process--the one she had known she had to perform for the last week but now the crushing reality of it seemed to slow her down as if she were walking into a morgue to identify a loved one.
“Right,” she said, shaking her head. The dull, emotionless look fell over her face again as she removed the core and all three of them walked around the barrier to the new robot bodies.
When they were brought online, the robots were thankful that they were conscious again but as soon as it was clear that these were in fact totally different beings, Lilah’s legs gave out. Without a word, Patrick Reed scooped her up into his arms and rushed with her out of the lab. No one called after them.
He lay her down on her bed in her suite. She was limp, but conscious. Her body shook and she panted lightly.
“Jesus, Lilah. You weigh next to nothing. Have you been…?”
“Please leave me…” she said at a whisper and brought her hands up to her face.
“I know, just please, please leave me be, Pat!” she cried and drew in a racking breath.
She knew. He frowned, briefly, gently touched her face then turned and did as she wanted. When the door clicked closed, Lilah let go and screamed in agony and grief until she thought she couldn’t possible cry anymore, then she cried again. And again.