Copyright April 2010
Disclaimer: Characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel: the Series are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, the WB, and UPN.
This is not logic.
Logic is at my core. Logic is my foundation. I could not function without the balanced logic of proper subroutines. Yet, though my constituent components are all the offspring of such controlled balance and purposeful focus, the composite organism they form — me — lacks that internal cohesion. I am the creature of logic, and I know of no other acceptable approach to the demands of autonomous existence, but there is nothing logical in my current pattern of operation.
I can frame my actions in terms of seeking further information. Optimum function requires adequate and relevant information. All the same, something indefinite within my fundamental processes tells me that such a framework does not fully match the definitional parameters. In a biological brain, it would be called rationalizing. It certainly is not logic.
Rebecca Lowell looks up from the menu and says to me, “I don’t suppose you have any organic entrees?”
Across the table from her, Virginia Bryce emits what would be classified as a snort, though technically it is not. Some of these gradations are purely social, and thus subjective. “What, are you trying to pull power games on her? This is a diner, not some trendy bistro on Rodeo Drive. If they have anything you like, pick it. If they don’t, accept the fact and don’t be a bitch about it.”
I could tell Rebecca Lowell that all the comestibles served by this establishment are organic (except for the coffee creamer and the chemicals in the sugar substitutes), but I am aware that she uses the term in a different sense. Calling on a comparison sample and extrapolating to produce an approximation of Trish Hervey’s tone, vocabulary, and delivery, I say to Rebecca Lowell, “What we got is on the menu. If you don’t see it there, sorry, no joy.”
Joy was a 46.33% probability for Trish Hervey’s word choice. Luck was 31.41%. By standard grammatical rules, luck would have been a more appropriate choice. “The Joy Luck Club” is a novel by Amy Tan. It spent 75 weeks on the New York Times Best-Sellers List. That was in 1989 and 1990, so it is not immediately likely that either of these women has read it. None of that is pertinent to our situation, not at this time.
“I grew up on hot dogs and Campbell’s Chicken Noodle,” Rebecca Lowell says to Virginia Bryce. “The early years, anyway. But I won’t deny I’ve gotten accustomed to watercress salad.” She looks back to me. “I’ll have the steamed vegetables, with iced tea, one slice of lemon, and I’ll sweeten it myself.” She hesitates for 2.2 seconds before adding, “And … onion rings.”
“Woo,” Virginia Bryce observes. “Get down with your bad self!” Her smile is bright and, in my opinion, shaped specifically to annoy Rebecca Lowell. (April’s programming included an algorithm for analysis of facial expressions, to enhance recognition of and response to Warren’s varying mood-set.) To me she says, “Mac and cheese, chips on the side. I’ll have a Diet Coke with the order, and a Miller Genuine Draft while I wait.”
The two women provide interesting contrasts to one another, in demeanor as well as appearance. Both are forceful personalities, though manifesting differently: Virginia Bryce by overt expression of her attitudes and wishes, Rebecca Lowell in a manner that is reserved and tightly self-controlled but somehow relentless in its determination. Virginia Bryce has hair in one of the several shades characterized as ‘red’, hanging in a mass of loose curls that appear to be entirely natural; her face is rounded, her chin small, with a mouth that an earlier generation would have described as having a Cupid’s-bow conformation. Rebecca Lowell is inches taller and appreciably more slender; her hair is deep into the brunette range, short and straight and sleek, her cheekbones classically planed, her lips perfectly sculpted by precise application of lipstick and possibly surgical correction, eyes of a bright blue most frequently achieved by the use of tinted contact lenses. Both women are above human norms in attractiveness, Virginia Bryce warm and vibrant and subtly more earthy, Rebecca Lowell cool and hinting of remoteness in a way that tends toward an abstract ideal. They are looking at me. They are waiting for me to leave. I turn and begin walking away from them.
They having completed their order, I do not have ready justification to remain directly in their company. That is not an impediment, for I can follow their conversation even away from their presence. Without being able to observe the movement of their faces, interpretation will be dependent on tonal analysis and context. That should be sufficient, though sufficient for what could be determined only by better awareness of my motivations than is available to me.
Though my processing capacity is more than adequate for dual-tasking, I let the women’s conversation fall to background awareness while I move to turn in their order. The coming interaction will be layered with complications which may require my full attention: I will be dealing with one or more persons who know Trish Hervey — as Rebecca Lowell and Virginia Bryce do not — and it would be undesirable for any inauthentic aspect in my portrayal of her to elicit a response that might interfere with the scenario into which I have insinuated myself. I can record the byplay behind me with only a fraction of my concentration, and retrospectively analyze it once the immediate necessity has been satisfied.
Virginia Bryce’s description of this establishment as a diner was not inaccurate, but it was incomplete. It is an adjunct to a truck stop, itself a seemingly independent operation rather than part of any franchise of which I am aware. The dining area is relatively small, only six tables, and accessible by a separate door from the exterior. Inside, the food preparation area in the main part of the truck stop is connected to the diner by a two-level door, the top half of which is open to allow orders to be delivered and completed meals passed back through, while the lower half functions as a gate. “Order up,” I call through the open top, in a tone pitched to carry as I have heard it done.
The man whose face appears in response is named Joel Kreuter. He is well past forty years of age, with thinning hair and stooped shoulders, and Hollywood casting would find his appearance perfectly suitable for the role of a janitor. He was a Marine during the American presence in Lebanon, and his record shows three combat decorations and eleven commendations for exemplary performance. He owns the truck stop, works an average of 17.6 hours a day, and coordinates thirteen employees on three shifts without ever — so far as I have yet observed — appreciably raising his voice.
“Trish?” he says, cocking his head to one side. “I thought Marilee was on this afternoon.”
“She got a call from school,” I tell him. “Something about her kid. And I was okay with getting some extra hours.” I pass over the ticket for the order.
Joel Kreuter nods, calls, “Ellis,” and hands the ticket back to the cook without looking around. To me he says, “June isn’t sick, is she? or in trouble?”
“Marilee didn’t say,” I reply, glancing back as someone else enters the dining area, a young man with subtly spiked hair, pale streaks bleached in along the sides. “Just, there was a deal and they needed to see her and better if it was today.” This is a rough approximation of Trish Hervey’s somewhat disconnected syntax, and should suffice for characterization and justification of my presence. “Customer,” I add, with a backward jerk of my head to indicate the newcomer.
“Right,” Joel Kreuter says. “Get on that, then.” As I turn away, he is musing (apparently to himself), “I hope June isn’t sick.”
June Renfroe is eleven years old. She weighs 75 pounds. Marilee Renfroe is divorced, and appears to be thirty years old, ± two years. Marilee’s behavior, as I have seen it, is consistent with a growing interest in Joel Kreuter as a potential mate. Joel’s behavior toward Marilee is consistent with cautious appraisal. Joel’s behavior toward June is as solicitous and affectionate as he might be expected to display to his own progeny.
The call to Marilee Renfroe was not from the school, though I identified myself to her as a secretary in the principal’s office. I placed it immediately after phoning the school to inform them that a member of their staff (one of June Renfroe’s teachers, according to the class rosters in their database) was registered as a sex offender before relocating from Indiana without, as required by law, advising the authorities of his movements. Nothing in June’s demeanor suggests she has been molested, or solicited for such, but the two calls served to pull Marilee away at a time when I needed a gap that I could fill. A lesser consideration, though not unimportant, is that Robert Tindell should have acted in accordance with the dictates of the law.
Ted would not approve of pedophilia, but — though he would conceal the fact until effecting possession — would be equally critical of Marilee Renfroe having ended her marriage. April would not know the meaning of the term, or have an opinion if it were explained to her; all of her parameters were referenced to Warren Mears. The Buffybot would have been firmly against it, and taken forceful action if confronted with the reality, but would have done so without passion.
I … do not know how I feel. The elements of which I am composed remain incompletely integrated, lacking consensus even when they are not in conflict, and in addition I cannot be certain to what extent my internal discordance, or its manifestations, correspond to human emotions. I know only that what I am experiencing would seem to match the descriptions for uneasiness, rootlessness, and distress. These things reduce Marilee Renfroe’s situation, and her daughter’s, to irrelevance.
Of the persons potentially situated to observe the imminent unfolding of events in the diner, I have most comprehensively observed Trish Hervey, so that my reproduction of her movements and mannerisms has the highest probability of undetectable accuracy. Furthermore, since this is one of her normal days off, I could contrive to fulfill her role here without needing to take pronounced measures to ensure her absence. There may be some confusion afterwards, but I will have departed by then. It is a suitable arrangement of circumstances.
The young man whose entrance facilitated the end of my exchange with Joel Kreuter has started across the dining area as I complete my turn away from the order/serving window. Two long strides and I catch his sleeve with the tips of my fingers: physical code for a polite request to pause, rather than the seizure and challenge that would be necessary in another situation, or if he were to reject the request. “Sorry, champ,” I say as he glances back toward me. “The ladies asked for privacy, so that end’s reserved.” I nod to the table next to him. “Set there, and I’ll be right with ya. Want a menu?”
He looks from me to the two women, and back, and slightly raises one eyebrow in an expression that, in my assessment, is meant to convey good-natured consideration of my statement followed by acceptance. “All right,” he agrees, and seats himself at the table indicated. “Menu would be fine. Coffee while I look it over?”
“Sure thing, hon.” A two-pot coffee brewer is at a counter next to the order/serving window, along with pitchers of tea, water, and ice cubes. By the time I have poured a cup of coffee for the young man, and provided him with a menu, an opened bottle of Miller Genuine Draft has appeared on the little shelf atop the half-door. I take that, and a glass of iced tea (with one slice of lemon) to the women’s table. “There you go,” I tell them. “Anything else?”
“No, I’m good for now,” Virginia Bryce says, and Rebecca Lowell also shakes her head in negation. I move back toward the entrance end of the dining area, reviewing my record of the women’s conversation in my absence and finding nothing beyond a few noncommittal comments and near-monosyllabic responses. Apparently this is a lull in the interaction between them. It will not continue for long. Insistence shows through the deliberate, careful control in Rebecca Lowell’s speech and gestures and facial expressions, and Virginia Bryce has made no attempt to conceal her own annoyance and impatience.
Remaining to be considered are the lines, invisible to human eyes, that lead to and emanate from the young man now studying his menu. They are not nearly so prominent as the ones that course through Virginia Bryce and Rebecca Lowell; those were sufficiently emphatic to claim my attention, and initiate my nine-day surveillance of the truck stop and its attached dining area, along with the individuals who maintain and frequent it. When the two women arrived, following the lines or being led by them or perhaps moving along a path predicted for them by those ribbons of force, I believed that the portended occurrence was at hand, and had learned enough that I could place myself as an immediate observer. I see now that the other, lesser lines that terminate here do not move through the women. I see as well that some of them flow independent of the young man. Those are even more tenuous, though less so than can be seen in the force-difference between his — secondary — and the primary currents of which the women are center.
Additional participants in whatever will unfold here? Subsidiary or contributory events? I cannot guess. I see, but do not know what I see. This sense-experience is unknown to any of my constituent elements. It, like my own existence, is a new phenomenon — new to my knowledge, at any rate — and its nature must be assessed even as its effects are observed.
The young man has seated himself, I note, such that the women remain in his view. He has drunk approximately one-third of his coffee. I replenish it from the pot, announcing cheerily, “Told ya I’d be right back. So, you had time to pick out what you want?”
His smile is bright and confident. “Oh, I know exactly what I want. It’s just not written out on the menu.”
Yes. He wishes to have sex with me. This is neither new nor unanticipated. April’s files grant me ample recognition and knowledge in that field, and there are a few protocols that Willow Rosenberg could not entirely eradicate from the Buffybot. Though I have seen her manifest a markedly different mood toward the end of a busy shift, Trish Hervey would normally respond with a simper, so I simper. “Got six hours to go, sport. Come eight o’clock, we can talk, but right now it’s just what you can see written out.”
“Eight,” he repeats, still smiling. “I’ll remember. And to keep my strength up in the meantime, BLT, extra mayo, double order of fries, large Pepsi.”
“I’ll put a rush on it,” I tell him, returning the smile. Trish Hervey would, I believe, make a further comment designed to increase the probability of his following through on the implied promise, but I do not desire the complication. Whatever transpires here may require me to proceed with little warning, which would be more difficult if I am occupied with him. Still, the time scale has yet to be determined, so his continued presence should be potentiated. To this purpose, when I go to pass his ticket through the order/serving window, I ensure that my buttocks move in the fashion that will draw and hold his attention.
(That is predicated on the assumption that his stimulus-response matrix matches those of Spike and Warren. There are enough points of correspondence between the two, however, to justify a preliminary theory that the pattern is largely consistent within the male gender. If I see evidence indicating otherwise, I will adjust accordingly.)
Trish Hervey would ask, and the knowledge could prove useful, so I give him a coy backward glance. “Got a name, handsome?”
“Dustin,” he returns, his eyes showing satisfaction. He is confident that he has identified me as to personality type and pattern of behavior, and can orchestrate my actions by skillful application of charm. “Dustin Clarke. Any sugar over there?” He raises his coffee cup. “I like hot and sweet.”
Moloch would kill him, simply because that was Moloch’s preference in most situations. Adam would choose vivisection, to see if some aspect of Dustin’s physiognomy differed from human baseline. In both instances, however, the consciousness was external to the cybernetic appurtenances, so those parts of them contained within me contribute only memory, without personality or impulse.
I have no inclinations in the matter, so I merely — as requested — give him some sugar.