"Joe as Foster-Father"
by "Matrix Refugee"
DISCLAIMER: I do not own "A.I., Artificial Intelligence", its characters, settings, concepts or other indicia, which are the property of the late, great Stanley Kubrick, of DreamWorks SKG, Steven Spielberg, Warner Brothers, Amblin Entertainment, et al, based on characters and concepts created by Brian Aldiss.
Author's Note: Set after Joe's capture and David's descent into the ocean. Okay, it's not specifically a Christmas fic, but it has to do with fatherhood, and I've always pointed out that Joe is, in a sense, the foster-father to David, much like another Joseph so long ago. Hence the title....
The sunlight glinted on the thin coating of ice which covered the metal skin of the Cybertronics statue, just outside the window of Dr. Allen Hobby's office, warm enough to cause the ice to melt and drip.
The interrogation had been going on for over two days now, and they were no closer to finding out what was going on in the mind of the Simulate City JO-1229 they had recovered. Hobby could not tell if Joe was genuinely unable to answer his questions, or if by some quirk in the Mecha's unusual programming, he was evading those questions.
Hobby had turned away to gaze out the window for a long moment and to take a few slow, cleansing breaths to clear his head and recollect his thoughts. Now he turned back to the Mecha who sat before him, strapped into a restraint chair, yet managing to sit gracefully even within its confines. "But you're not telling me why, Joe."
"I'm not telling you the why because I cannot put a name to it," Joe replied, the blank look in his eyes seemed to tale on a baffled expression. "I cannot put a name to what lead me to help David."
"You could have left him at Dr. Know's, once David had his answer. Why did you tell him what you did and why did you bring him here?"
"I told him what I did because it was what he needed to hear, to maneuver the human world," Joe said.
"But this is just it, you told him the truth, Joe, and your make was not designed to tell anyone, much less a child, the grim truth: you were meant to give them an idealized truth," Hobby said.
Joe looked at him blankly. "Then there is more than one sort of truth? I thought you humans defined truth as an absolute of some kind."
"What I meant, Joe, is that you weren't meant to deal in the coldness of reality, but a warmer version, we'll say," Hobby said. "You were meant to reassure and comfort a lover uncertain of their desirability. You weren't meant to introduce a child to the harshness of reality."
"He could not understand why his mother did not love him, and I have seen many women ask me why their lovers did not love them as they deserved to be."
"But a child and the needs of that child were not in the range of your programming's frame of reference," Hobby noted.
Joe lifted one shoulder in a graceful shrug. "He had a heart had been broken by one who claimed to love him."
"But involved a different kind of love than what you were designed for," Hobby said.
"I knew that. His kind would be far too young for the kind of affection which I offer, and yet he needed the care of another. No one else offered it to him, save perhaps that woman who cried out in the Flesh Fair, that he was a boy." He paused, clearly trying to compile the proper string, then paused, as if unable to find a fitting reply. He looked up at Hobby. "Has something changed in my programming?" he asked.
"We're trying to figure that out, which is why Dr. Sutter and Dr. Meroveque and I have been asking you all these questions in the first place," Hobby said.
A note of something like concern or perhaps fear came into Joe's even tone as he asked, "Does this mean that you will need to put me to sleep so that you may properly read my brain?"
"It would only be for a little while," Hobby said. He knew full well what a deep scan of the Mecha's coding could entail. Joe might not even survive the ordeal, at least not as himself. Somehow, the look in Joe's eyes hinted that he did not believe Hobby for a moment, that he suspected the scientist of hiding the cold facts from him.
The Mecha shifted in his restraint chair. "Before you undertake that, there is something which I want to ask of you, Dr. Hobby. Something that I would have explained to me."
"Go right ahead, Joe," Hobby said, wondering what the Mecha could wish to know.
"There is something I was to him, something you could have been to him, but which you failed to be," Joe said. "What is the word for it?"
Hobby bent his head, closing his eyes. In this most simple question, Joe spoke the truth and whether Joe intended to be cutting or not, that truth went to Hobby's heart like a serpent's bite.
"I would like to know that word, Dr. Hobby," Joe said. "Can you tell me what it is?" He tilted his head, finding Hobby's gaze with his own.
Hobby rose from his chair. "I'll tell you when you get back," he said, and left the room, closing the door behind him.
As he passed through the anteroom, he paused and rested one hand against the console at which his assistant Lambert Meroveque sat, observing what had transpired during the interrogation. "Unusual signs of intelligence in this model," he noted, leaning back in his chair. "Do you think he could have learned that behavior from the DA unit?"
"He may have had the propensity from the start; JO-1229 units have had a reportedly high rate of idiosyncratic behavior," Hobby said. "But this is moreso than I've heard of before."
"So are you going to wipe his cube?" Meroveque asked.
Hobby shook his head. "I'd have his cube archived first, but something like this you can't discard or put on a shelf so easily."
Not when the unit had done more for David than he had. Not when the unit could rightly be called David's father.