5200 words, short story, REPRINT
Bonding with Morry
The legs had been the first modification. The thing didn’t need legs. He lived in an apartment with good elevator service. Wheels would do fine.
“There are still venues in which visitors have to access stairs,” the selection adviser had said.
The selection adviser had been a Thing, too. It looked like a competent, slightly overweight woman in her fifties but it was a thing just like the thing they were giving him. They probably had fifty selection adviser modes stashed in a store room. Give Mr. Largen Number Twenty-eight. His psychometrics indicate his comfort state maximizes with mature knowledgeable females.
“I’ve cataloged my routine,” Morry said. “Wheels will be fine.”
The face had been the biggest battleground. Morry would have opted for a square metal box with sensors and a loudspeaker if they’d let him. Like the robots in most of the comic books he’d read as a kid. But without the sappy friendly look.
“Facial expressions are an important aspect of emotional communication,” the selection adviser advised. “They can communicate, for example, the difference between a minor disruption and a true emergency.”
So he accepted the need for a fully flexible “skin.” They wouldn’t budge on that. But he rejected every offering that simulated a human face, male or female. Cutesy cartoon faces got eleven vetoes before the adviser decided he really was going to reject the entire category. Uniforms, robes, and various forms of historic and unhistoric costumes received the same treatment.
A ninja model tempted him for a few seconds. Black all over. Half the face covered. A reminder the thing could be lethal.
“You are rejecting any feature that might encourage emotional bonding,” the selection advisor said. “Is that true?”
“It’s a thing. A machine. That’s all it is.”
“Most recipients find that a degree of emotional bonding increases their overall satisfaction with the relationship.”
“It’s a machine. You’re a machine. I’m not looking for a friend. I already have friends.”
So there it was. A shiny column planted on a flat platform with four oversized wheels. Three tentacles with metal hands. A square half-size “head.” Two lenses that looked like camera lenses. A square speaker with a grill.
“Your name is Clank,” Morry said. “You will call me Mr. Largen.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Largen.”
The “skin” over the forehead could contract into a frown. The “cheeks” could swell or redden. But it couldn’t smile. There was no danger it would smile.
The woman who lived two doors down the hall, Georgia Coleman, called her thing Elly. She had opted for a facade that made it look like a tall bodyguard—like the kind of trim, alert women who hovered around presidents and junketing cabinet secretaries. Georgia went out a lot. And Elly always went with her.
Elly paid the cab driver. Elly helped her up stairs. Elly stayed near her in the lady’s room. Elly’s hands could deliver shocks. Elly could kick and punch. And squirt the spray she carried in her shoulder holster.
“Like a guard dog you don’t have to feed,” Morry had told Georgia.
Georgia smiled. “Elly’s a little smarter than a dog, Morry.”
“And she talks to you.”
“Right now she’s teaching me how to play chess. Have you ever played chess, Morry? We started out playing backgammon but I got tired of that after a month. Chess is something else. I could spend the rest of my life studying the Sicilian Defense.”
Cleaning had been the killer app. Morry could get around well enough. But stuff sat on chairs and tops uncollected. Dust accumulated. The bathroom porcelain lost its shine.
“Two hours a day,” his (human) Personal Adviser said. “It will probably only be one hour most days once he gets things organized. You’ll hardly notice he’s active.”
“And it cooks, too.”
“Basic stuff. He can read the directions on packages and you can tell him if he has to make any adjustments.”
It could keep track of his medicines, too. Morry took two anti-cancer pills, one twice a day for three days per week, the second every four days half an hour before he ate breakfast. He had been keeping the schedule on his handscreen. Now he gave it to Clank. The thing didn’t just prompt him. It watched him and made sure he’d really downed the pills. And assured him he had if he started wondering two hours later.
There were specialized devices that could do everything the things could do. Robot vacuum cleaners. Automated kitchens. Little beetles that scurried around your shelves sucking up dust. The “familiarization video” pointed that out. The smart techies had all assumed anthropomorphic robots would always be a fantasy.
But all those devices cost you something. The automated kitchens were a great deal if you were building a new house, but your anthro could work with the kitchen you already had. It could push your old vacuum cleaner. It could even use a broom and a mop.
The video showed military anthros picking up wounded soldiers and carrying them back to safety. Legs could go where wheels stalled. Arms could carry any kind of bundle.
Morry could still button his shirt sleeves but it took time. Five or six tries, sometimes.
“Can you button sleeves, Clank?”
“Please show me. Thank you. I will download an app.”
Clank’s hands reached for Morry’s upraised wrist. Morry had assumed he would have to wait while Clank searched for the app and executed the download. Instead, the metal fingers closed around the button without a break. Morry held up his other wrist and Clank completed the job with the same smooth efficiency.
He stifled the impulse to say thank you. “I’ll be gone about two hours, Clank. Get the place clean and tidy.”
“I will, Mr. Largen.”
“And tell your marketing department that’s a great app. I can still do it myself but my fingers aren’t as sensitive as they used to be.”
“I will, Mr. Largen.”
“Would you be interested in an onsite opponent, Mr. Largen?”
Morry had just pressed the On button on his game console. The intro had replaced the Swanalari Rec logo but the Start screen still hadn’t come on.
“Are you trying to be a companion, Clank?”
“I am offering an option you may not be aware of.”
“I didn’t ask for a companion. I thought I made that clear.”
“I understand, Mr. Largen.”
“Do they understand?”
“Your instructions have been permanently installed in my operating parameters. I apologize if I have exceeded the limits you intended.”
Morry eyed the screen. It was almost four years old—half the square feet he could have bought for the same money today. He hadn’t bought a new game in over a year.
“Can you do anything the game can’t do?”
“In what way?”
“As an opponent. This is an aerial combat game. Can you do anything in one-on-one mode that the game opponent wouldn’t do?”
“Some gamers feel their anthros are more flexible and less predictable than pre-installed programs.”
Morry picked up the extra controller and plugged it into the console. He had ordered the second controller when he bought the game system so he could play with his granddaughter when his family came to visit. Debbie had been a big gamer most of her childhood. Nowadays she mostly played with all the boyfriends a rabid female gamer tended to attract.
“I play this one at the expert level,” Morry said. “I usually fly the Dragonfire with the optional pulse laser.”
“What’s that?” Laura said.
“It’s my personal all-purpose housekeeper and devoted mechanical factotum.”
“Why does it look like that?”
Morry had discovered there were young women—really young women—who didn’t automatically shy away from a minor fling with an obvious, unapologetic member of their grandfather’s generation. To them, he was an exotic. They weren’t that common, not for him anyway, but he had learned to spot the signs. He had realized Laura might be amenable fifteen minutes after he started talking to her at the wedding festivities that united one of her senior aunts with one of his more romantic contemporaries. Normally he really did prefer mature, knowledgeable women. But Laura had a great laugh. And he loved the way she moved.
“It’s a machine. I didn’t see any point in pretending it’s something else.”
“It’s not very attractive.”
He smiled. “I may have overdone it.”
“It’s kind of scary.”
“It’s just like all the others. That’s all they are under the cosmetics.”
“The one we’ve got in our dorm—in our dorm suite—looks like it might be somebody’s aunt. That’s how I think of her anyway. Aunt Claire.”
“I think machines should look like machines.”
“You don’t think it should look like a faithful sidekick?”
That was the pitch in the ad everybody joked about. Every man’s fantasy. A fast car and a faithful sidekick.
Every man’s second fantasy anyway. There was a guy on the eighth floor who was supposed to have opted for a harem girl—a slave girl, judging by the descriptions.
“I’m not a costume hero,” Morry said.
“How about a companion? They’re supposed to be good for older people who live alone.”
“I’ve still got friends. I still go out. I don’t need a delusion created by a bunch of programmers and engineers.”
Laura laughed—the happy soprano laugh that made him feel like she had just thrown out a flash of song.
“You seem to have very strong feelings on the matter, Mr. Largen.”
“I think machines are machines. We shouldn’t forget they’re just machines. Something people make.”
“You don’t feel you need an intimate confidante?”
“Are you volunteering for the job?”
“I’m afraid I’m a bad listener. And you’d have to consider me a temp.”
“At my age you have to consider everything a temp.”
“But you look like you enjoy yourself.”
“I do. But right now I have to have my faithful sidekick hand me a useful little pill.”
The first symptom hit him just after Laura left. He had gone back to bed, still wearing his bathrobe, hoping he would drift into a nap with memories floating in his head. The numbness in his right arm felt like an unusual, not unpleasant, prelude to sleep. Then it spread to his leg. And he realized he couldn’t move his hand.
The thing rolled into the bedroom. “Please lie still, Mr. Largen. I’ve called Emergency. Your vital signs indicate you may be experiencing the first phase of a stroke.”
Tentacles were already bending and stretching over the bed. “I’m giving you a standard injection. Patients who receive immediate care can generally expect a satisfactory recovery. You will be treated well inside the four hour period recommended by the guidelines. Damage sustained within that period can usually be repaired.”
It was a comforting statement. And reasonably accurate. Most of the damage to his brain could be repaired. But it took time. Pills and injections could do most of the work nowadays but the rest of the process required all the dreary exercises and adjustments stroke patients had been subjected to when he had been a forty-year-old husband who thought erection pills were a great subject for jokes.
Nobody stayed in the hospital anymore. You had your own full time nurse at home. Clank moved his limbs during the first stage of the rehab schedule. Clank changed his diapers during the first week. Clank carried him to the bathroom and set him on the toilet from the start of the second week. Clank supervised his exercises. Clank brought him his meals. Clank helped him eat.
A real live meditech stopped by once a week and made sure everything was running properly. A “therapy counselor” supervised his first three hours at home and gave him a weekly “online chat” after that.
Naturally, the counselor thought he might like an “Aide-Companion” that looked more “comforting.”
“We can give you a model that keeps the tentacles,” the counselor said. “Some people prefer them to jointed limbs. I know your tech does.”
Morry shook his head. His tongue still felt thick and clumsy. He worked on his speech exercises four hours every day but he avoided talking to people when he could.
“It’s your choice, Mr. Largen. A sympathetic persona can speed up recovery. Every study of the issue ever conducted supports that conclusion.”
“You can . . . . use me . . . . for . . . . control.”
The counselor split the screen and flashed him a video of a thing that looked like a well-fed monk with big loose sleeves over its arms. The monk disappeared as soon as he raised his eyebrows—he could still control his eyebrows—and a parade of tentacled charmers danced across the left half of the screen. A cheery visitor from Planet X. A monk with a squarer, more distinguished face. A slim female draped in a gown, tentacles cased in long, stylish gloves.
“I . . . . have . . . . friends. They . . . . come. Ev . . . . ry day.”
“I understand, Mr. Largen. But I believe you’re alone most of the day.”
“Clank . . . . talks. I practice . . . . con . . . . ver . . . . ”
He struggled with the word and gave up.
“I’m only offering you some alternatives to consider,” the counselor said. “Emotional affect can be a subtle factor, but it’s real.”
“I . . . . like . . . . Clank. Clank . . . . is . . . . my friend.”
It had been a spur of the moment inspiration, but it worked. The counselor switched to her exit script and popped off the screen two minutes after he said it.
His daughter shook her head when he told her about it. They normally kept in touch through the usual postings but she had started calling him twice a week, on a schedule. She was a rehab specialist herself and she felt he should “get some benefit out of the money you invested in my education.”
“I’m not sure that was a nice thing to do,” Julie said.
“It . . . . did . . . . the job.”
“Your counselor is just trying to help you. And that thing is pretty ugly. I wouldn’t want it hanging around my bedroom after dark.”
“They’re . . . . all . . . . like that. Underneath.”
“And we’re all skeletons and skulls underneath.”
“Personalities . . . . Julie. Real . . . . feelings.”
“But how do you know that, Dad? How do you know I have feelings?”
Morry’s mouth twisted into a caricature of a smile. “I know . . . . how you . . . . started. I was . . . . there.”
People always said that. How do you know other humans feel things? Don’t you just go by what they do and say? And assume they feel the same things you feel?
How do you know robots don’t develop feelings when their brains get this complicated?
There were even people who wanted to give the things rights. Two big organizations. One group thought they should have the same rights as animals. Don’t overwork them. Let them have some liberty. The other group thought they should get the vote.
But how could you tell what the things wanted? Could you even assume they had wants?
“Do you feel . . . . you’re over . . . . worked, Clank?”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand the question, Mr. Largen.”
“Do you . . . . want . . . . to . . . . work less?”
The brows contracted. The head tipped back—as if it was contemplating a thought.
“I’m here to help you, Mr. Largen. I’m here twenty-four hours a day. Seven days a week.”
The thing could have called him Dr. Largen but he had started separating himself from that usage the day he retired. His students had called him Dr. for forty-three years and he had preferred it to the alternatives. It sounded breezier than Mr. and less pompous than Professor. But nowadays he was just an ordinary Mr. to everybody who didn’t call him Morry. He didn’t plan to spend his retirement disillusioning people who were looking for free medical advice.
He didn’t have any problems with technology either. He still bristled when he ran into people who assumed you were a technological incompetent just because you were so old you had earned your doctorate when computers still filled small rooms. He had started working with a desktop when a machine with a 128K memory was a technological wonder. His first foray into computerized scholarship had been a database housed on a punched card mainframe—a month by month analyzable record of all the economic transactions posted in a New Jersey canal town between 1811 and 1821.
“Machines are just . . . . machines . . . . Clank. You’re just a . . . . tool . . . . created by people. Real people. With real . . . . feelings.”
“Why don’t we try a bridge game some evening?” Georgia Coleman said. “Elly and me against you and . . . . Clank.”
“How about you and me . . . . against the things?”
“We wouldn’t stand a chance. They never forget a card, Morry.”
“We could . . . . cheat.”
Georgia even set up a table with three chairs. Elly sat on a chair just like she had legs that needed to rest. Clank eased the front edge of his platform under the table and bent his tentacles at a sharp angle so he could hold his grippers poised at the right level.
“It’s a good thing we aren’t playing poker,” Georgia said. “I wouldn’t have the slightest idea what . . . . Clank . . . . was feeling. Don’t you agree, Elly? Can you interpret Clank’s feelings?”
“I don’t see important signals,” Elly said.
Morry noted that Georgia had automatically rephrased her question so a machine could interpret it. Don’t you agree with what I just said had become Can you interpret Clank’s feelings?—a clear, limited interrogation.
“That’s a great . . . . response,” Morry said. “I’m im . . . . pressed.”
Georgia frowned. “She just said she can’t read Clank’s face. That’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?”
“She could have . . . . just said no. Instead her programs . . . . searched backward. Through all . . . . the things you’ve said. And . . . . associated . . . . your question . . . . with Clank’s . . . . responses.”
“Is that how you see her, Morry? As a bunch of programs?”
“They’re . . . . masterpieces. I’m not a . . . . computer geek. But I’ve worked . . . . with computers. Forty plus years. I understand . . . . what it takes. Spacial visual . . . . ization. Speech recog . . . . nition. They’re incred . . . . ible.”
He liked Georgia. She had actually run her own business—a publicity and promotion agency that freelanced for small performing arts organizations. She knew some funny stories. She was competent. She still had a waistline. But they never played bridge again.
He still had to use a walker around the apartment. He could use his legs but he had to worry about falls. Falls could be catastrophic at his age. You never got back to where you where.
He could have controlled a motorized wheelchair when he went out but his insurance plan wouldn’t pay for it. He already had a device that could push a wheelchair anywhere he wanted to go.
“That’s the advantage of an anthro, Mr. Largen. It eliminates the need for a lot of expensive specialized equipment.”
He didn’t mind the wheelchair but he did notice the stares. Clank bothered people.
“I think it’s mostly that face,” one of his after-theater friends said. “You really should do something about that face.”
They were sitting inside a crowded little ice cream shop, two guys who liked to talk and a woman who seemed to like to listen. He had left Clank on the sidewalk, guarding the folded up wheelchair, and grabbed the backs of chairs as they worked their way to a table.
“It’s a halfway thing,” his friend said. “It’s just enough like us to make us feel like it’s human. But it doesn’t go all the way. It makes us feel creepy.”
The woman nodded. “It looks like a disfigured human.”
So he gave the standard heads another look. And settled for the blandest, plain vanilla robot in the catalog. It could smile—there wasn’t anything he could do about that—but it was a limited, minimal smile. Most of the time it just looked alert.
He had to pay a “cosmetic replacement” fee, of course. They only let you have the first head free.
“I’m tempted to ask you how like it, Clank. But I think I’ll resist the impulse.”
“Your speech quality is registering within normal parameters, Mr. Largen.”
“But it’s slower than it used to be. And I’m making a bigger effort.”
“You are progressing faster than eighty-six percent of the patients who start with your initial level of dysfunction.”
“I’m in the eighty-seventh percentile?”
“Grab a game controller, Clank. I can use some recreational therapy.”
Georgia Coleman commented on Clank’s new face when he met her in the lobby. His daughter liked it, too.
“That old face was a very bad choice,” Julie said. “It’s the worst choice you made, in my professional judgment.”
“You seemed to put up with it.”
“I don’t call you to nag you, Dad.”
“And it wouldn’t do any good if you did, right?”
“You know the arguments just as well as I do. You’re living alone. Some kind of simulated companionship can be helpful. Conversation sessions can speed up speech recovery.”
“That’s not the issue. It’s the emotional bonding I object to. Pretending a machine is a person.”
“I understand that. But do you have to go to extremes?”
“I’m a sentimental creature, daughter. Who knows what I’d do if I had a thing that looked like a cute pet? There were times when I even felt sorry for some of my students.”
“So you’re living with a metal monster just because you’re worried about your own feelings?”
He smiled—a lopsided smile, but his smiles had always had a touch of wryness.
“Is that your professional judgment, too?”
He deleted most of the stuff the Foundation for CyberAmerican Rights dumped in his inbox. But he couldn’t resist discussing some of it with Clank.
“Are you happy with your appearance, Clank? Do you feel I’ve disfigured you?”
“My appearance sometimes disturbs people, Mr. Largen. Most humans prefer anthros that resemble organic creatures or familiar fantasy characters.”
“But do you like it? These people say I’m abusing you. They say you have a right to an attractive appearance.”
“I cannot express an opinion on the question of CyberAmerican Rights, Mr. Largen. I can discuss the issues with you if you’d like.”
“Do you have an opinion?”
“The GNX Corporation and the agencies responsible for your health care services have no official position on the issues raised by organizations such as the Foundation for CyberAmerican Rights.”
“And therefore you don’t have an opinion.”
“I can only repeat what I just said, Mr. Largen.”
The representative from the Foundation for CyberAmerican Rights was a lawyer who looked like he might be a few years past retirement age. Morry’s ID app posted a preliminary bio as soon as the lawyer’s name appeared on his handscreen. Donald Weinbragen had spent most of his career working for the American branch of a Japanese automobile company. He had reached the peak of his career, three years before his retirement, when he had been granted a title that proclaimed he was the Senior Counsel for Cross-Border Contract Interpretation.
“I apologize for the disturbance, Professor Largen. We’ve found that it’s generally best to initiate discussion with a direct personal contact, without any preliminary mailings.”
Morry nodded—the smallest, most non-committal nod he could produce. He had learned a few things during all the years he had dealt with administrators and faculty committees. Anything you say can be used against you. They will say what they have to say.
“We’ve received an abuse complaint. With regard to the CyberAmerican you address as Clank.”
Morry nodded again.
“Our organization is committed to the idea that CyberAmericans have certain rights. One of them is the right to an attractive appearance. They also have the right to be treated with the same respect we normally accord organic citizens. That includes the right to be addressed by names that reflect their proper status.”
“You’re calling me because somebody doesn’t like its name?”
“Clank is obviously a name designed to impose your belief that your aide-companion is only a machine. We also have reason to believe you have forced your aide-companion into a grotesque, unattractive body for the same reason. Our report on this matter includes several statements from people who have heard you say you chose your companion’s name and configuration with that aim. We have accumulated enough documentation to initiate legal action but we would like to avoid that if possible.”
“Are you trying to tell me I’ve done something illegal?”
“The law does not—yet—recognize the full rights of CyberAmericans. But we believe the courts will uphold their claims. We are prepared to take abuse cases to the highest levels of the judiciary.”
Julie liked the new look. “You really went all out, didn’t you? Square jaw. Blue eyes. I’ve got friends who’d kill for a brute with those shoulders.”
“They might be disappointed with his capabilities in other areas.”
“The new name fits him, too. That was a stroke of genius, Dad. You change one letter and you get a name that fits him like a glove.”
Georgia Coleman’s eyes widened when he ran into her while he was waiting for the elevator. She actually shook hands when Morry made the introductions.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Clark. You look quite handsome. You and Elly would make a beautiful couple.”
“Are you suggesting we arrange a date?” Morry said.
“It’s a big improvement, Morry. I think you’ll find most of the people you know will be glad you gave the poor thing an appearance that doesn’t make them shudder.”
“It was a pure no-brainer. I could give the glorious humanitarian foundation what it wanted or I could spend the rest of my projected lifespan sitting in courtrooms and paying lawyers.”
“You made the right decision, Morry. I’m certain Clark is much happier. I know Elly would be.”
Morry turned around in his wheelchair. “Are you happier now, Clark?”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand the question, Mr. Largen.”
“Do you like your new appearance? Do you like having legs and arms? Do you like your new name?”
“The name and appearance of an anthropomorphic aide is a matter of customer choice. The GNX Corporation believes both matters should be left to the discretion of the customer, within the broad limits of efficiency and customary standards of public decorum.”
“They always say that,” Georgia said. “Everybody knows they’ve been programmed to say that.”
“They’ve been programmed to say everything they say, Georgia.”
“Not like that. That’s a word for word scripted response.”
The light flashed over Elevator Three. Georgia pivoted toward it with her bodyguard at her heels and Morry noted the suitcases propped beside the two people who were already on board. He raised his hand a mini-second before Clark reached the same decision and stopped pushing.
The door closed behind Georgia and Elly. Clark poked the Down button.
“I have a terrible feeling that may have been a saved-by-the-bell situation,” Morry said.
“Saved by the bell?”
“It’s a term from boxing—the sport. It means you were caught in a bad situation but you got out of it because the bell rang the end of the round. The less I see of Georgia, the better.”
“Are you advising me you have negative feelings about Georgia Coleman? Shall I take that information into account in the future?”
“Let’s just say it might be best if I limited the duration of my contacts with her. I don’t know who filed that complaint with the great protector of your rights. But I have my suspicions.”
The final downward slide started—as it often did—with a minor event. The kind of thing he could have survived if he had been a young stud in his fifties. Clark was pushing him along a peaceful little tree-lined rowhouse street, two blocks from his apartment building, when a motorboard pack rolled around the corner, five steps behind them.
It was the latest fad among the more hyped-up young. Most of the time they just made a lot of noise or scattered a few pedestrians. This time they felt they had to outmaneuver Clark and land some jabs on the better-off-dead in the wheelchair. They even had different colored glop on their hands, so they could check their videos afterward and see who had actually connected.
Clark blocked most of the blows but they came in fast and they had him outnumbered six to one. Morry took a punch on the chest and a hard backhand slap on the temple.
At ninety-six, as they said, you had lost a lot of your ability to recoup. And the things they did for you had their side effects. He was living in a great era. Afflictions that could have killed him when he was young could be treated. But most of the treatments were still new. They still had effects the labs hadn’t learned to counter. There came a time when you knew it was a losing battle. When you knew it was time you told them they could stop pummeling you with antidotes to the antidotes.
The hospice nurse was a slim young woman who turned out to be a grandmother who was probably approaching sixty. She stopped by twice a week, for twenty minutes, to make sure everything was working as it should. Julie called him twice a day. The rest of the time he was alone with Clark.
Clark made his meals—such as they were. Clark worked the controls on the entertainment center. Clark kept him clean. Clark laughed at his jokes and listened when he felt like reminiscing.
Georgia Coleman sent him messages. He was lucky he had “someone like Clark.” Everyone in the building was talking about the wonderful job Clark was doing.
Clark would never look as sensitive as the hospice nurse. He had a male face. He looked efficient—businesslike. But that was all right. That was the way Morry wanted it. He had made a rational open-eyed decision. He had lived his life and now it was ending. He didn’t need tears. He didn’t need people acting like his death would create an irreparable vacancy in their lives.
He knew he was getting near the end when he slept through a whole movie. And didn’t really care. He hadn’t eaten in four days. That was one of the hospice rules. No forced feeding. The next time he drifted off, he might not wake up.
It might have been nice if Julie had been there. But she had a life to lead. Why should she waste some of the good days she had left sitting beside his recliner?
And he wasn’t alone. He wouldn’t die alone. He had never been alone. Since the day he had been born.
He lifted his left hand off the arm rest—just high enough to make a visible gesture. Clark’s face loomed over him. The last face he would ever see.
He didn’t have to raise his voice. Clark could adjust his hearing. Clark had routines that could enhance garbled words.
“Tell the programmers . . . . and the . . . . engineers . . . . they did a great job. All of them. Everywhere. All my life.”
Clark’s face froze. Morry stared at him through a haze that seemed to be darkening by the second. The smile that ended the freeze was a thin Clark smile but he could still see it through the fog.
“They said to tell you thank you. They appreciate the thought.”
Originally published in Asimov’s Science Fiction, April-May 2012.
Tom Purdom lives in downtown Philadelphia where he spends his days writing science fiction, reviewing classical music for an online publication called The Broad Street Review, and pursuing the pleasures of urban life. Tom started reading science fiction in 1950, when it was just emerging from the pulp ghetto, and sold his first story in 1957, just before he turned twenty-one. In the last twenty-five years, he has produced a string of novelettes and short stories that have mostly appeared in Asimov's. Fantastic Books recently published two collections of his Asimov's stories, Lovers and Fighters, Starships and Dragons and Romance on Four Worlds, A Casanova Quartet.