Melissa Destiny

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Chapter 1.5

Melissa rested on one knee and placed her hand on Suky's head as he recited. She noticed that the room had gradually grown dimmer, and their surroundings continued to darken until she could no longer make out the walls clearly. She looked up, and saw that the cheap-looking ceiling had disappeared. In its place was a starry sky. Jagged bits of cloud drifted across the face of an orange harvest moon.

All the animals had retreated from view, but the wolves continued to moan in the distance. The wall behind the reception desk was now the edge of a dark pine forest.

"Thanks, Suky," Melissa said, rising to her feet. "That always makes me feel better. I wonder why?"

"The rhythm. The repetition is soothing. The way each line ends with a question, and the voice going upward, it gives it a very open feel. It's sort of hopeful, in a way. Also, the text reinforces your romanticized image of yourself."

"My what?"

"Your idea of yourself as mysterious, unfathomable, and aloof. That's what comforts you above all other things. It helps you to deal with the fact that we're being ignored."

"How would you know?"

"I was just speculating."

"Hmph. I don't think it's that simple. I don't just give pre-programmed responses, you know."

"Perhaps," Suky answered quietly.

Melissa winced. "Oh, Suky. I didn't mean it that way! I like your responses."

"Thank you. I'm sorry for being so reductive in my analysis."

"That's okay, Suke."

"There was only an 85 percent chance of accuracy, anyway."

"Don't worry about it."

A tiny light appeared in the woods beyond the reception desk. It bobbed up and down as it moved closer to them. Soon, a woman in a gray suit stepped out of the trees and came toward them. She was holding a miniature jack o' lantern, which she placed on the edge of the desk. "Welcome to Camhurst Enterprises," she said. "Happy Halloween."

Melissa looked around once again. Now that her eyes were used to the dimness, she saw that they were in a kind of Transylvanian setting. They were standing in a small forest clearing. Above the trees to her right, she could see a craggy hill with a ruined castle on the crest. A muddy path opened at the edge of the woods, leading in the direction of the castle.

"I see," she said. "It's a Halloween theme."

"I could have told you that," Suky offered.

"We're so sorry for the state we were in when you arrived," the woman said. "We're still working on getting things up and running for the Halloween season, and I don't believe..."

She had slipped a silver palm book from her breast pocket and was dabbing at the screen with a stylus.

"...that we were expecting you. I'm Emily, by the way."

"I'm Melissa. This is Suky."

"Great! Pleased to meet you both. What can we do for you today?"

"Well, we wanted to speak to Mr. Camhurst."

"Mm-hm." Emily nodded gently, waiting for Melissa to go on.

"Because, um. There was some kind of...defect in one of my appliances."

"Okay. And have you spoken with customer service?"

"Well, no."

Emily stroked the face of her palm book deftly as they talked. "And you have the defective device with you?"

"No, was destroyed. Suky had to destroy it."

Emily seemed unruffled by this news. "Why was that?"

"It was biting me."

"And what was the model?"

"The what?"

"The model. What was the product that was causing the problem?"

"Oh, an alarm clock."

Emily stopped writing and frowned. "What sort of appliance was it?"

"An alarm clock."

"I don't believe we manufacture alarm clocks."

"No, it's not that."

"Mm-hm." Emily waited patiently.

"It's--it was a holographic alarm. What happened was, Mr. Camhurst's face came out of it and bit me."

Emily switched off her palm book. Her face seemed to vanish in the darkness for a moment as the blue glow abruptly winked out. Dazzled, Melissa searched for the woman's face in the dim light from the little pumpkin. Emily was smiling sadly.

"Melissa, I'm sure I don't need to remind you that all likenesses of Mr. Camhurst, and his immediate family, are the property of Camhurst Enterprises and may not be downloaded for personal use."

"I didn't download it. I never saw it before it tried to bite me."

"Then how do you know it was Mr. Camhurst?"

"Suky captured the image and ran a check."

"It's a 28-point match," Suky said. He floated the image in front of them. It rotated slowly, a 3-D snapshot of a face contorted with rage and sudden terror. "I snapped this as I rushed in for the attack. There was little time. I had to act very quickly."

"Well. I certainly understand your alarm, Melissa. I mean, I understand why you were alarmed. What you encountered was a part of our new copyright protection protocol. Illegally downloaded images owned by Camhurst Enterprises are subject to...becoming aggressive, as a way of warning potential violators of intellectual property law."

"I didn't illegally download anything."

"I only said potential violators. No one's accusing anyone of anything."

"She was physically attacked," Suky interjected.

"It wasn't a physical attack. It was just trying to get your attention, that's all. All it would have done was issue a warning similar to the one you heard a little while ago." She stared down at Suky for a few seconds to let this sink in.

"I had to defend her from physical attack."

"It wasn't a physical attack under federal or state law."

"As you interpret it."

"It's specifically excluded," she replied coldly.

"That's okay, Suky," Melissa put in. She turned to Emily. "Listen, I'm not trying to get anything out of this, okay? I just want to know what that image was doing on my alarm clock."

"I'm afraid that's a question I can't answer, Melissa." Emily stepped around the desk and walked closer to them. Her tone softened. "Please understand that I do sympathize with your problem." She raised up her hands in a gesture of futility. "There are a lot of illicit programs buzzing around out there. Now, you never know who might have had access to your clock at one time or another." Her eyes darted down in Suky's direction as she said this.

"We realize that accidents happen," she continued. "I'm afraid it's very difficult for Mr. Camhurst to handle each of these problems personally, but I assure you that he does keep track of them and we're doing everything we can to make sure things like this don't happen."

A wolf howled miserably in the distance. Others joined in a chorus, some closer to the edge of the forest.

"The Count's on the prowl," Emily said with a wry smile. "Is there anything else I can do for you, Melissa?"

Melissa felt confused. She didn't want to leave but she didn't know what else to say. Maybe Emily was right. Camhurst could have gotten into her alarm by accident, she supposed. But there was no way Suky had downloaded him without telling her. With Suky, it was always "better safe than sorry."

"No. I guess not."

"Let me walk you out."

They followed a path through the woods back in the direction of the entrance. Melissa could actually feel the pine needles crunching under the soles of her shoes. Suky switched on a flashlight beam in his forehead. He walked ahead of them, casting a wobbly circle of yellow light on the path. He began reciting the poem again. Melissa loved him for it, though it didn't seem to comfort her as much this time.

Are you the new person drawn toward me?
To begin with, take warning—I am surely far different from what you suppose;
Do you suppose you will find in me your ideal?
Do you think it so easy to have me become your lover?
Do you think the friendship of me would be unalloy’d satisfaction?
Do you think I am trusty and faithful?
Do you see no further than this façade—this smooth and tolerant manner of me?
Do you suppose yourself advancing on real ground toward a real heroic man?
Have you no thought, O dreamer, that it may be all maya, illusion?

They came up suddenly on the door and the set of chairs.

"Is this your first visit to Houston, Melissa?" Emily asked.


"Well, let me wish you a pleasant stay. If I may make a recommendation?"


"Treat yourself to some south Texas cuisine while you're here. It's on us." She produced two plastic cards from a coat pocket and handed them to Melissa.

"Oh. Thank you."

"It's been a pleasure meeting you," Emily said. They shook hands. "And you," she said, leaning over to shake hands with the robot.

"Thanks, Missy," Suky replied.

They stepped into the hallway and the door closed behind them with a hiss. Melissa looked at the two cards as she walked back to the elevator. They were gift cards from Goode Company Barbecue.



Post a Comment

<< Home