Melissa Destiny

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Chapter 1.3

Melissa leaned over and set Suky on the floor.

She looked around for signs of human activity. The room was enormous, but plain and unfurnished...nothing but white walls, a dropped ceiling, and a worn Astro-Turf carpet. There were two square-shaped chairs with maroon cushions, one on each side of the doorway. Beside each chair was a small table with stacks of "US," "People," "Field and Stream" and "Sports Illustrated." There was a reception desk at the far wall, but no one was behind it.

Melissa sighed. She could have just gone for a late lunch. She'd gone straight to Camhurst's office because she was behind schedule and worried that she might miss him if he left work early. She felt a twinge of irritation for the first time on the trip. It was 2:30 and the office was already empty. Melissa knew there were three restaurants she wanted to visit while they were in town; one Japanese, one Italian, and one barbecue place, since barbecue was Texan food. She had read about all the best barbecue places in "Texas Monthly" and she'd decided to go to Goode Company on her first day. They were close to the office, and they'd been on the magazine's top 20 list for 39 of the last 40 years.

"No!" Suky said. "Uh-uh. No!"

Melissa looked down to see her robot, still in his suitcase position, resting motionless on the floor. He was surrounded by three of the stork-like creatures. They were walking slowly back and forth beside him, stretching their necks down to the floor to examine him.

"NO!" Suky repeated in a raspy, metallic voice. Melissa knew this tone was supposed to sound commanding. She smiled.

"Suky, can't you walk with me?"

"It wouldn't be wise," Suky answered. "We don't know the temperament of these beasts."

"Technically, they're not beasts. They're birds," Melissa said.

"I'm aware of that. My words were chosen for rhetorical effect. I want to emphasize the danger of the situation."

"All right, then." Melissa swooshed her foot around a few times to scatter the birds, then picked Suky up by his handle. She walked the hundred or so paces to the reception desk. A few of the wolf creatures stopped licking their paws and hunched out of her way as she passed by.

"Where's everybody?" she asked. The desk was entirely bare except for a blue, frosted-glass vase full of orange flowers. "What are those flowers? They're gorgeous."

"I can't see them."

"Well--here." She plopped Suky on the floor. "Now stand up."

Suky dutifully unfolded his arms and legs and took a few steps back from the desk. "Oh, " he said. "Those are Paintbrushes, known to the locals as 'Indian' Paintbrushes. They're the same flower we saw on the drive here."

"With the Bluebonnets!"

"Yes, indeed. The two varieties commonly grow together in the fields of southern and central Texas. The combination of brilliant orange and violet colors is exquisite. The state...fuck! NO! NO!"

"Hey! Go away!" Melissa shouted. The storks had again surrounded Suky. They stood quietly in a circle, opening and closing their beaks at him. Melissa found the display unsettling. "Shoo!" She swiped at one of the storks and her hand passed through with a crackling sound. She yelped and cradled her hands together.

"That little shit gave me a shock!"

"I'm sorry to hear that," Suky replied. "Thank you so much for your help. Wait a might be a good idea to put me on top of the desk." The storks were gathering again, seemingly intent on Suky.

Melissa bent over and looked one of the birds in the eye. "Hey! What are you doing?" She clapped her hands in front of its face. "Go away!"

The stork leaned its head back, compressing its long neck into a tightened s-shape. Its mouth opened wide, stretching to the breaking point and beyond, as Melissa stared. The bird froze in this position, its eyes blank, waiting.

"I've never seen anything so real," Melissa said. She gazed into the open mouth. The pink tongue pulsed inside the lower bill. Melissa touched the tip of the long beak with her finger and felt a pop, like a static shock from a doorknob. "Hey..."

"What is it?" Suky asked.

Melissa frowned as she stared down the bird's throat. "Come look at this, Suky."

The inside of the stork's mouth was dotted with cysts in regular, straight rows. The lesions seemed to be grouped according to their color. There were four green next to four red, four pink, four yellow, and so on.

"Suky, come here. It's not doing anything. Look at this." Melissa waved her hand in front of the stork's face. There was no reaction. "It's hypnotized."

Suky stepped up and peered into its mouth. "Well I'll be a sumbitch," he said.


"It means I'm surprised."

"Well, duh. It just sounds a little weird, that's all."

"I'm programmed to adjust my vocabulary and style of expression according to changing circumstances," he answered. "It's important to observe the idioms of the time and place."

"When did you hear anyone say 'sumbitch?' "

"I didn't. It's pre-programmed, as you know. My internal GPS monitors our location and outputs a signal, which is converted to a four digit code that tells my--"

"All right, OK. What is it you're so surprised about?"

"Well, these look like input/output terminals of some kind, by the arrangement and the colors. I don't see how to plug into it, though. It's coded like an L2 board, but it's only these..."


"Yes. I don't know what to make of it. It's got to be the gayest thing I've ever seen."


"Sorry. I just mean..."

"Is there anything you can do with it?"

"I'll try." Suky opened a panel in his chest plate and drew out a handful of cables with an assortment of prongs and receptors. He chose a yellow cable with a long copper needle and began prodding at some point of interest inside the stork's mouth.

"Be careful," Melissa said.

"Don't worry. Just keep an eye on him."

Melissa looked into the stork's eyes again. They were glazed and neutral. The down on the underside of its neck fluttered gently in the artificial breeze of the air conditioning.

"It's so vivid," she said.

"Just keep an eye on him."

Suky removed the yellow cable and replaced it with a blue one. Melissa looked into the stork's mouth again, as Suky touched the end of the cable to a cloudy, blue-colored cyst. The infected bird flesh sizzled and melted away as though dissolved in a liquid. The robot selected three more cables and quickly began to place them. Melissa stepped away. The stork's eyes rolled back to follow her.

Suky inserted the last cable. The bird disappeared and was replaced by an oversized image of Joel Camhurst.



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