DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
TEL. 01273 603766 - EMAIL [email protected] - www.fulltable.com/fj
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This was a bright and sunny morning in Brighton. Small tails of cloud layered the sky overhead, and the sun tinged everything with a yellow glow, even the rooftops and paving-stones. The people in the streets had already shed their coats and sweaters, and now walked in a less hurried and lazier way. It was half-past nine in the morning on this day in May, and the smell of summer, with all its’ promises to come, lay in the air. It also affected Simon, a young, shortish man, who wore his normal dress of jeans, T-shirt and sandals, together with a rather stylish pair of sunglasses, that he thought made him look, in modern terms, ‘cool’. Not that he was: in fact he was a rather shy and reserved person, who was neither popular or unpopular. Most people liked him but he was seen as rather ordinary. But this morning, something would happen that would change his life, and his future completely.
Carrying his shopping, he walked slowly along the already crowded sidewalk, pausing every now and then to peer into the windows of clothes and music shops, making a note of what he saw there. As his mind was absorbed, he turned around and then crashed heavily into a girl walking in the opposite direction. Such was the impact that they fell onto the ground together, his groceries and her shopping spilling and scattering in all directions.
‘I’m terribly sorry, I am so sorry!’ stammered Simon. ‘It was my fault!’ The girl looked at him. For a moment he saw her eyes, a strange dark colour. He blinked again, and saw himself looking into large dark brown eyes. ‘ It is all right’ she said as she rose to her feet with one long movement without even using her hands. Simon hastily gathered their things together, and handed her shopping back. Just for a moment, their hands touched, and Simon was suddenly startled. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘If you’re hurt, I’ll carry your shopping for you. It’s the least I can do.’ ‘No, thank you.’ replied the girl. ‘I have to go now.’ And she did.
Over the next few days, and even during his work in the building society, where he worked as a receptionist, Simon thought of her. One or two of his customers became impatient with him. His two flatmates also noticed how far away his thoughts were, and teased him.
‘Come on, boyo! Got things on your mind, have you? Fallen in love or something?
Course he has! Go on , tell us who it is! Not that girl in the shop, is it? I bet it is!
And the two laughed and sniggered together. In the end, Simon just got up and went to his bedroom. What was it that had troubled him about that girl? She was pretty, normally dressed, with short dark hair, and a slim figure. But his mind kept coming back, over and over again to the things that he had noticed.
It was the way in which she had simply got up to her feet, without using her hands in any way. It was also her voice, that though pleasant, had a slight monotony to it as if she was speaking – mechanically? And then her hand, that he had touched. It was cold. Finally, he remembered the sound when he had bumped into her. It was a clang, almost as if she was made of ……metal? Still puzzled, he went to bed, but as he slept he still dreamed of her. He woke up in the middle of the night, and suddenly remembered. O f course! Just for a moment, her eyes had looked him as if they were bright steel! But when he picked up her shopping and looked again, her eyes were large and dark brown. Could he be mistaken? He turned over and went to sleep again.
Two weeks later, he saw her again, walking down the street. As he ran towards her, he noticed she held herself very upright, with her shoulders thrown back as if she was facing some enemy. He called out, and she stopped and looked at him with no expression.
‘Could you tell me your name!’ he cried, quite forgetting his shyness.
Petra, can I take you for a coffee somewhere?’
‘No, but it is good to see you again’.
‘Can I ask you where you live?’ he blurted.
‘By myself. I have a small room. Here. In this building’.
And she turned and pointed to a small apartment block a few yards down the street.
‘Can I see you again?’
“It is best not to’.
But she turned again and smiled at him, and then walked to the apartment block and went into the main entrance.
Again over the next few weeks, Simon still thought about Petra. She was strange, and unlike any of the other girls that he had known. But he was still fascinated by her. “Perhaps I’m in love’, he thought suddenly. Already, she had had an effect on him. Oddly, he felt less shy, and though his flatmates continued to tease him, he was still determined to try to see her again. He wanted to know more about her, and who she was. With his new confidence he decided he would do exactly that.
Later that evening, he walked to the building Petra lived in, trying his best to be very brave. He stood outside and looked up. There was a window that was lighted, on the fourth floor.
‘I wonder if that is her’, he thought, and then walked in, and looked at the list of tenants. Her found just the single name – Petra – and then walked up to the fourth floor, because there was no elevator. Finally he came to the room with her name and number. He knocked gently, but there was no reply. Then he looked down and gasped. The door had been forced open, and there still splinters of wood around the lock!
He pushed the door open and almost ran inside. The room was very clean and tidy, with not much furniture and no clutter. But it was not this that drew his attention, and made him cry out. It was the sight of Petra, lying on the floor, on her back, with her arms outspread and her eyes closed. He bent over her and whispered to her anxiously.
‘Petra, are you all right? Please answer me!’
She opened her eyes, and, to his dismay, they were like cold steel. She murmured: ‘My battery. Please find it for me. I need recharging.’
He leapt up and ran down all the stairs again in a panic. Where to look? He stood outside the front door, and gazed around. Then he saw a rubbish skip only a few yards away. Without thinking, he leapt into it and began rummaging frantically, not caring that his suit was wet, that he was covered with cabbage-leaves and wet teabags. He was absolutely covered in rubbish, but still he searched and searched. Finally, he sat down on top of the rubbish in despair. ‘Petra, I can’t find it! I don’t even know what it looks like!’ Then he looked at one corner of the skip. There was a sharp corner of something metallic. He scrabbled anxiously to pull it out. It was a small square box, with strange holes on each side. ‘This might be it!’ he breathed. Picking it up, he ran back upstairs with it under his arm.
‘Petra, is this it!’
‘Yes. Put my fingers in the holes. Please!’
He gently put her fingers, one by one, into the holes on one side of the box. And then she screamed loudly, and her body arched in pain. ‘Petra! Petra! What have I done!’ He pulled out her fingers, and sat and looked at her in misery. Had he killed her? Was she dead? But her eyes suddenly opened, still like steel as before.
‘That was – that was – the –the wrong side. Please. Turn it around.’
He quickly turned the box around. Sure enough, there was another set of holes. Very gently, he took her fingers, one by one, and put them into each hole. This time, she did not scream, but seemed to relax and sleep.
He sat next to her for what seemed like hours, just waiting, and hoping for her to wake up. He was beginning to fall asleep himself, when suddenly, she moved. She sat up, and he saw that her eyes were now the same dark brown eyes – not steel – but her own. She rose to her feet, again without using her hands, picked up the box, walked over and placed it in a cupboard. Then she turned around and looked at him. ‘You can get up now,’ she said, ‘and then sit down over on that chair. I feel I must tell you something strange.’
He sat down but she still stood, with her arms by her sides.
‘Who are you?’ he stammered, feeling very foolish, but having nothing better to say.
‘I am a Guardian. I am here to look after human beings. I was made a few years ago. My mission is gentle. I help people. That is what I was made for. My real name is ICJK 413 756 K/P. Please do not be frightened of me. I am gentle, but I have to keep my real identity a secret. I would never do you, or others like you, any harm.’
‘Are you a robot?
‘In a way, yes. I have a robot body, made of metal. But I have a human brain, which allows me to feel emotion and…’ she paused, ‘other things There are only eleven of us. There should have been more, but the scientist who created us died suddenly.’ Suddenly she added, ‘Some of us have jobs, and we live among you. We try to do good. It is our mission.’
Simon thought for a few moments. He knew he had a question but he was suddenly afraid to make it. Then he decided.
‘Petra,’ he said slowly, ‘what happened to you? And whose brain do you have?’
She stood by the window, looking out onto the street below. She began to talk slowly.
‘My mother and I were killed in a car crash. I was too badly damaged. But the scientist who made me found a way of giving me life again.’
Simon could barely speak. But he asked again,’ Whose brain do you have?’
She paused, as if she did not know what to say. Then she replied simply,
‘ I have my mother’s brain.’
Simon looked at her. She was crying! But there was something strange about her tears. Quickly he got up, and put his arms around her. He put a hand up to her face and took a tear from her face. There was no mistaking it. She was crying oil! He pulled out a tissue and wiped her face gently. They sat down together on the sofa.
Petra began to talk. ‘I have all the memories that my mother had of me. I can see all that she thought of me. I can experience all the love and the affection that she had for me as her daughter. She was a very wonderful human being, who saw the world in so many different ways. She saw how difficult that human life could be, but she also saw how rich and kind it was. , but I can understand how she saw other people – what they could give to other human beings. I may be a robot, but I can feel for humans in the way that my mother felt. I can see through her eyes!’
Simon had never heard her talk like this before, and suddenly he felt, for no reason at all, that he was proud of her. ‘Petra, he exclaimed, ‘will you come out with me tomorrow? I’d really like to go out with you.’
‘You know already, that I can’t eat or drink.’
‘It doesn’t matter. I would just like you to come and walk with me.’
The next day he called for her. She was smiling again, and, just for a moment he saw just what her mother was like. And still is, he thought. They strolled down the street together. Without thinking, he took her hand. It was cold, like metal, but her fingers clasped around his very gently. They looked at each other, and smiled, and they walked down the street, towards whatever, and wherever the future was.
Frank Jackson (08/06/07)