Vaka came into Alvin’s room without knocking. As was his custom, Alvin slept naked, but presently the blankets were in sufficient disarray to expose this fact.
“Up! Up!” said Vaka.
Alvin came to quickly and realizing he was showing his personal issues covered himself up in the blankets hastily. “What the hell?”
“Up, up,” she repeated. “Meeting Taus. Dress.”
“Turn around,” Alvin said.
She rolled her eyes and turned to the wall. After half a minute of looking at the wall she prompted with, “How soon? Soon?”
“I’m coming. Hold your horses.”
“What?” she said and turned around to him.
“Do you mind!” he said, with his pants only pulled up to his knees.
She rolled her eyes again and went back to looking at the wall. “What is horses? What is hold horses? I have no horses.”
“It’s a figure of speech,” Alvin said, zipping his fly. “It means wait.”
“Then say wait. Don’t say horses.”
“It’s an idiom.”
“It’s stupid. Hold horses,” she muttered to herself. “Stupid. Should say wait.”
“Okay, I’m ready,” Alvin announced.
“I turn around now?”
“Yes, you can turn around.”
She turned and faced him with his pants on. “Oh, so much better now. Yes. Big difference. Let’s go. Chop-chop.”
The Grace were everywhere now as Vaka and Alvin walked through the hall. It was morning and it was a work day. Each Grace that passed took note of him. They didn’t say anything to him, they just looked with curiosity. But even if he didn’t know why he was there, they did.
Vaka opened the door to Taus’s study and they both entered. There were more pieces of furniture in it than the day before—chairs and foyer tables against the walls—and all gargantuan. Apparently this was the normal room outfitting, but removed for Alvin’s first interaction yesterday so as to avoid—for the uninitiated—a puzzling distraction produced by the accoutrements’ Grace-sized enormity.
Unlike Cathy for the first meeting, Vaka was to stay. Like the previous day, Taus—who again Alvin saw as the actor Rip Torn—greeted Alvin warmly, while acknowledging Vaka as well. Alvin took the same chair as before fifteen feet in front of Taus’s desk. Vaka stood off to Alvin’s side and behind him with her hands together in front, relaxed and low, yet her body rigid and unmoving in a quasi-military stance. Alvin glanced back to her, noting her deliberate position behind and above him, preferring that she was sitting down somewhere.
Taus folded his fingers together and with a pleasant tone asked Alvin, “How are you?”
“I’m withholding judgment on that. You probably know how I am better than I know how I am. How am I?”
“I mean how are you feeling physically today? Health-wise. Regardless of all this new and probably strange stuff.”
“Good, though that seems less than sincere. But I understand. You probably have a lot of questions.” Taus gave Alvin a moment to respond, but Alvin saw no point in acknowledging the obvious, let alone trying to assess a questions starting point. Taus continued. “You’re very special, Alvin. I don’t think you’re aware of that.”
“Why?” Alvin asked flatly.
“Because you’re not alone. Inside you is Dora One. And for the past twenty years, the two of you have explored Earth for us–your body, your observations, and Dora One’s analysis of those observations. Twenty years ago, your years, we sent a human styled android to earth. A female. This was JM-1. By comparison of what we’re capable of today, JM-1 was rudimentary. We ourselves had very little understanding of English, for example, and so we provided JM-1 with what little we knew. We decided to give her a Russian accent, though, that way her inability to speak fluent English would seem reasonable. Well, we thought it was a Russian accent. Actually, we weren’t really sure what it was. But it sufficed. That’s also not the point.
“JM-1 was able to locate a human female,” Taus continued, “young, pregnant, unmarried, you know, who would be willing to sell her soon to be born child for five-thousand dollars.”
“How did you, or this JM-1, whatever it is, locate a woman who wanted to sell her baby?” Alvin asked.
Taus paused and thought for a moment. “Oh, how did we do that? I forget now.”
“Craigslist,” Vaka told him.
“Oh, that’s right. So, anyway, via JM-1 we gave the young woman, your mother, the required payment.”
“Did you write her a check?”
“Ha, no. Good one. No, we had a bunch of emeralds lying around and we gave her a box of them. Well, they’re not actually emeralds, but look just like emeralds. We have no use for them, but you folks seem to prize them. And she was real fine with that arrangement.”
“My mother sold me for a box of rocks?”
“Crystals,” Taus countered. “Really nice ones. Like I said, they’re just like emeralds. I have no doubt the cash value would have exceeded her initial requirement in Earth money once she had them appraised.”
“Appraised by who, her drug dealer?”
“Well, I can’t speak to that. And you shouldn’t presume.”
“And she just wanted five thousand dollars for me.”
“Yes. She was, well, you know, struggling, so, you shouldn’t judge or look harshly. I’m sure she was a fine person. Anyway, JM-1 brought the baby, you, back here—”
“In the truck thing,” said Alvin.
“We didn’t have the truck thing yet. It was actually a big Porta Potty. But it worked really well as a transport vehicle. Anyway, so, then our surgical team did a three-hour operation on the baby, meaning you, and inserted Dora One. This would be cutting open the skull and placing Dora One against the brain. Once emmeshed with the brain, and the synapsis of the brain, Dora One was able to activate and analyze. JM-1 returned to Earth with the baby, went to a Catholic convent, presented the baby to who answered the door, with a note that said, ‘My name is Alvin Zaronsky. I am an orphan.’ And JM-1 left.”
Alvin soaked that in for a moment and then progressed. “How big is this thing in my head?”
“Oh, gosh, not big at all. Like a ribbon. Piece of tape.” Taus spread his fingers a few inches to indicate length.
“Why?” Alvin asked. “Why? Why didn’t you just kidnap me—which you did, actually—and then ask me about Earth? Because I’d tell you. Or, why don’t you just ask Cathy about Earth, because, apparently, she’s been there. On vacation. Or whatever.”
“Cathy isn’t designed to analyze. Cathy is designed to just experience, not objectively observe. You might say she’s kind of a free-range robot. Anything she experiences, she’s allowed to assess and internalize—assuming she felt like assessing and internalizing—in whatever random, emotional, logical or illogical manner suited her based on her previous experience.”
“Like a human.”
“Pretty much. Not really a concept I was ever on board with, but robotics aren’t my department.”
“What is your department?”
“So then just ask me.”
“Okay. What’s Earth like?”
This wasn’t a question Alvin had studied for. “It’s…fine. Some of it’s screwed up, some of it’s nice.”
“See, that’s not really what we’re looking for, Alvin. We’re looking for a considerably greater degree of precision.”
“Why? Why are you even here—hovering? Why do you care about Earth?”
Taus nodded. “Good question.” He drew forward and rested his elbows and hands on the desk. “Our planet is dying. It’s getting hotter. We don’t know why, and we don’t know how to stop it. Eventually, if it continues unabated, it will extinguish all life. Not tomorrow, not in the next hundred years, but eventually. This is a research vessel you’re on, Alvin. Its mission is to seek out help. We have to make contact with anybody on Earth who might be able to assist us in reversing the course of our planet.”
“So, do it. Just land. Say hello. Say ‘we want your help.’ What’s the problem?”
“We have no idea what we’re dealing with. For all we know, we’ll suddenly appear, this ship will appear, and we’ll be seen as a hostile force and be destroyed. This ship is the only chance our planet has. We need to be cautious. You can understand that, can’t you?”
“So, you’ve been waiting twenty years to see how this experiment, this assessment, or whatever it is, turned out? Twenty years? Really? You’ve all just been sitting up here floating around for twenty years? Doesn’t that seem excessive? Isn’t that an inane degree of caution?”
“Oh, gosh, twenty years is nothing to us. It’s like two years to you. Probably not even that. Our life spans are considerably greater than yours. Consequently, our values of time are exponentially expanded. Imagine yourself working on an important project, like a cure for a disease, or a study of animals, for, oh, eighteen months. Not a long time at all, wouldn’t you say? Sort of the same thing, when it’s important that you didn’t make any mistakes. Take it one step further—where we are now: you discover a new world. You have to carefully analyze everything about it. You need to know what can help you or what might kill you. You don’t rush into it just because it looks nice. You need to be ever so responsibly cautious, particularly when you are in charge of the lives of other people. Does that make sense?”
“I suppose,” Alvin conceded. “So, how long do you live?”
“Longer than you. Why don’t we just leave it at that. Not really important. What is important is what’s inside you. We need what’s inside you, and that’s Dora One, to tell us, quite simply, and objectively, if it’s safe to approach Earth and ask for help.”
“It’s safe. Trust me. If you all show up, it would great. It would be amazing. I would be amazed. I would help you.”
“Well, with all due respect, and I appreciate your sentiments, you’re not everybody. We have to be sure of everybody. That’s what Dora One is for, to let us know if everybody thinks like you do. Can you understand that?”
Alvin acknowledged a ‘yes’ with a nod. “Okay,” he said. “How does this work?”
“We’re going to take you to a room. There will be some other people there. Not too many. We’re going to turn you off, and turn Dora One on.”
“What does turn me off mean?”
“Just like you’re asleep. You’ll be perfectly fine.”
“But I’m not asleep.”
“Your mind will be asleep, but your body will be awake. Dora One’s mind will be awake.”
“So, I won’t hear what I’m saying and also not remember what I’m saying.”
“You’re not saying anything. Dora One is.”
“I see,” said Alvin, settling into the idea. “When?”
“In a few days. There’s no rush. In the meantime, Vaka will give you a key card. That will give you access to decks three to seven and deck nine. Feel free to take a look around. Just make yourself at home.”
“What about deck one, two, and eight?”
“You don’t want to go there. Deck one and two are industrial, kind of dangerous, you know. Not really a good place to just wander around.”
“I’d be interested in seeing it, if I could.”
“I’ll tell you what, I’ll arrange a tour for you in the near future and you can explore all you want. But not alone. Safety first. Deal?”
“Sure. What’s deck eight?”
“Lots of ducts and air conditioning machinery, that sort of thing. Pretty boring.”
“How many decks are there?”
“What’s up there?”
“I’m afraid those are restricted, Alvin—not just to you but pretty much everybody. That’s the ship’s command center. Authorized personnel only. Lots of busy people who have to be focused on what they’re doing. You know. Not really a place for anybody to be there if all they’re going to do is get in the way.”
“I won’t get in the way. I’d like to see it.”
Taus paused and gave it thought. He sighed. “You know, I appreciate your curiosity, Alvin. I do. I’ll tell you what, let me run that by some other people and make sure they’re okay with it, then I’ll take you up there myself and show you around. But for the moment, let’s take one thing at a time. Okay?”
“Okay,” Alvin said.
Alvin sat on the floor with his hands in his lap, contemplating the extraordinary circumstance he presently existed in. When he was a child, and he saw The Day The Earth Stood Still on TV, he not only admired Michael Rennie’s character of Klatu, he wanted to be Klatu, especially since Klatu had a discerning killer robot protector as a sidekick. How cool was that. The present reality was more than close enough, albeit sans the killer robot wingman. This was a world that Alvin had fantasized existing in, and now he was actually in it.
At the same time, as he walked through the corridors of decks three to seven, he felt the same growing sense of ennui as that experienced by walking around Las Vegas in the daytime.
He looked at the white wall, wishing there was a portal there so he could see whatever wonders might be on the outside in outer space. But there was no portal. He then wondered if the wall would be more interesting if it was painted taupe.
He got off the floor and punched in Vaka’s code on his wall communicator. Her face came on the screen.
“Yes?” she asked.
“Go for walk.”
“I did. I need something to do. Anything is fine.”
Vaka thought for a moment. “Wash pots in kitchen?” she suggested.
“You want me to wash pots?”
“You said you want something to do. Washing pots is something to do. Do you want to wash pots?”
“I don’t know! Anything.”
“Yeah, something maybe a little more intellectually involved?”
“Like drive ship maybe.”
“Never mind!” Alvin said, and hit the disconnect button.
And immediately the communicator buzzed back. Alvin hit the answer button.
“That was rude!” Vaka yelled. Don’t ever do that to me again!”
It was rude, and Alvin knew it. But it irked him to be made aware of it. “I’m sorry,” he said, nonetheless sincerely. “I apologize.”
She nodded. “I accept your apology.”
“You’re welcome,” she said with another couple of sharp nods that served to dispel the rest of her rage. “Alvin,” she added.
“I will look for something. For you, to do.”
“I appreciate that.”
“Okay good. Have nice day.”
“Thank you. You too.”
“Thank you. Okay, bye.”
Alvin lay on his bed with his hands behind his head studying the ceiling and considered how far more interesting it was when he had taken cresp. Vaka entered unannounced with a box in her arms. Some odd wooden thing stuck out from the top of it.
“Do you not ever knock!” Alvin said as he jerked his head off the pillow.
“No. You need knock?”
“It would be nice!”
“Fine. Next time I give knock. Here, I brought you things.” She put the box on his bed. She first pulled out the wooden thing which was a stringed instrument. “Marenza,” she said.
“Oh, my goodness,” Alvin said as he took it from her and held it delicately. “Oh, this is gorgeous.”
“I don’t know how to play. You have to figure out.” She took out a pad and what looked like a pen. “Writing instrument and adherent material.” She then handed him a paperback copy of A Tale of Two Cities. “Book.” Next out came a deck of cards. “Cards for playing games.” Then she pulled out a Rubik’s Cube and held it out to him. “Puzzle,” she said.
“A Rubik’s Cube?” he asked in casual amusement. “Where did this come from?”
“From the moon. Where do you think it come from?”
“You have a real knack for sarcasm, you know that?”
“Okay,” she responded, with no interest at all as to what his point was. “Cathy give it to you,” she said. “And book. And cards.”
He had mixed emotions about that. He studied it. “I gave her my heart and she gave me a Rubik’s Cube. That would be a good country song. Maybe I’ll start writing that, now that I have my writing instrument and adherent material.”
“She could have give you nothing.”
Alvin had no response. Vaka turned to leave.
“Vaka,” Alvin called.
“Yes,” she said, turning back.
“Thank you, for the things.”
She nodded. “Check.”
She left and the door closed behind her. Then just as quickly, a knock—and an unending one—sounded upon his door.
“Come i-in,” Alvin called, as though uncertain as to who might be rapping, rapping upon his chamber door.
Vaka appeared again in the open doorway. “Go to deck nine,” she said. “All way down at end of hall.”
“Okay,” Alvin said. “Why?”
“Bar there. You know, saloon.”
“There’s a bar here?!”
“Mm hm. Deck nine. Lots of people. Music too. You go.”
“Okay,” she said. Then she stood there for a moment longer, assessing the next appropriate conversational entry, finally deciding on, “Bye.”