Smiley the Robot [feat. Venus]
This is just a love story, and I’ve always been fond of it. Ron Collins liked it, too. I was to be named “Gia.” I don’t know why my mother changed my name when I was a baby, but she did. The name is somehow meaningful to me. This is like Harold & Maude. Or Smiley and Gia. Actually, it’s inspired by my grandmother and now it’s set on terraformed Venus. Some years from now.
Don’t tell me that love isn’t true.
“This is a song?” Smiley the Police Robot asked.
“You like it,” Gia replied. “I can tell. You’re smiling.”
“I always smile, Miss Gia.”
“Keep calling me that,” she said, drawing her fisherman’s sweater close to her neck. It had been fifty years since anyone had called her miss. “You’ll go far.”
Just then, a kid on a sleek, bright orange hoverboard sped past Gia’s front-facing unit where Smiley stood, and Gia leaned out the window toward him.
“Stupid robot!” the kid cried, skidding to a halt, and making a ridiculous face.
“Go safely,” Smiley said.
“Don’t disrespect an officer!” Gia cried. “You little monster! I’ll tell your mother!”
The boy was about eight. “I ain’t got one!” he replied.
Gia shook her fist. “You little liar!”
“It is all right,” Smiley said to her. “They do that all the time.”
“Smiley, don’t you just want to whack the hell out of him?” Gia smoothed her scarf and again worried at her sweater. She was cold — — always so cold. Imagine that, on Venus! Poor Smiley!
“I am — “ Smiley said, and he paused, turning to watch the kid as he disappeared down the street. After a moment, he turned back. His face was unchanged, but there was something in his measured, slow, utterly gentle and reasonable voice, that told Gia that he was not unaffected.
“I do not like it when the children tease me,” he said. “I do not like it when I go on a call, and they try to hurt me. A woman threw food at me last week.”
“Oh, Smiley,” Gia said. “And you’re always smiling.”
The song played on. Instead of answering her, Smiley said, moving a bit back and forth as if he was about to dance, “I like the beat.”
Gia grinned. “That’s the idea. They don’t know what they’re listening to these days. The kids have all turned into a bunch of unholy geeks. Maybe they wouldn’t be so horrible to you if they knew you liked music.”
Smiley shrugged with his blue-clad mechanical shoulders. “Who sings this song? Woman or man?”
“You can’t you tell?”
Smiley made a little clicking noise. “I’m a robot cop,” he said. “Not a music critic.”
“Back on Earth, the real cops used to come and have coffee with me at the end of their shift. They thought I was gorgeous. They wanted to — “
“Marry you?” Smiley asked.
“Not hardly,” Gia said. She leaned inside from her window and grabbed her coffee. “Would you pretend that you can drink it just for a while, Smiley?”
“Of course, Miss Gia,” he said. He said that every time. He always pretended to drink the coffee.
“Go on saying that, dear,” she said. Miss Gia. Oh, dearie. Well, let me just get some stale cookies and lemon drops for you, dearie. How in Christ’s name had she ever gotten so old? Not gray hair — white. And a face as wrinkled as a half-boiled plucked chicken.
“Saying what, Miss Gia?”
“Miss Gia. It makes me feel young again. Everybody else calls me ma’am. Do you know when they started that, Smiley?”
“What is the difference between ma’am and miss?” Smiley asked.
“About twenty years, if you’re lucky,” Gia said. “I was lucky. They started in when I was about 35. And that was when I thought I was getting old.”
“You’re not that old, Miss Gia.”
“Oh, Smiley,” she said. “The kids tease me just like you! Can’t you see the difference between me and those girls next door?” Gia gestured toward the opposite block of units.
Smiley’s head swiveled all the way around. Gia watched the fake brown hair on the back of his stainless steel head whip around as he scanned the apartment building. Smiley, much like the Man of Steel, had X-Ray vision.
“I don’t know, Miss Gia. They’re still inside sleeping. You have more energy than they do.”
“I always had more energy!” Gia snapped. “But they’re young, and gorgeous. I used to — “
“Your bone structure is wonderful,” Smiley said.
Gia set her coffee cup down on the windowsill with a clatter. “Somebody said that when I was thirteen years old,” she said.
“Did they have X-ray vision, too?” Smiley asked.
“Maybe it’s true,” she mused. The sun was very bright. The mountains were sharp in the distance, mottled gray and purple with veins of basalt and quartz. They reminded her of home. As she had done often in recent days, she said a little prayer of thanks that she could still see them. And to herself, thought, “Goodbye, if I don’t wake tomorrow. Goodbye.”
For Gia was eighty-five years old, and when she stood too quickly, her heart fluttered in her chest. Everything hurt. All of the time. Her jeans hung on her hips as if the bones were clothespins. Once upon a time, she’d had gorgeous breasts, but she couldn’t put that name to the things that had replaced them: flesh-colored baggies filled with Jell-O.
Did Smiley notice? Was he sorry for her, or repulsed, as so many were? She saw it in their faces. But they hated Smiley too, she thought. They didn’t like the way he looked, either.
Instead, she said, “Smiley, I used to love to dance. This is Madonna. She was famous.”
“I know who that is,” Smiley said. “I access People all the time. She died last year.”
“Yeah,” Gia said. “Smiley, don’t remind me!”
“You could have had cosmetic surgery like she did,” Smiley continued in a practical tone. His perpetual grin made it all sound so appealing and wholesome. “You could have renewed your body and face. You have good bone structure.”
So Smiley had “metal structure” and Madonna had gone out looking much like her idol Evita Peron, just a hundred-ninety-year old wax model from Madam Tussaud’s. It was something like Reanimator, or Frankenstein’s monster with real Scandinavian blonde hair implants.
“I like myself the way I am, Smiley,” Gia said, swallowing painfully. Was she going to cry? In front of this robot: how many times had he seen people cry?
She guessed that it didn’t matter. He kept her happy.
“It’s 11:30,” Smiley said, checking his watch. He had an internal clock, but he wore clothes just like any cop. He told Gia that it helped him get along better. Made him more like a real cop. “I must go to center colony now and patrol during the lunch hour. There has been some vandalism. Rollerblading ruffians.”
“I heard,” Gia said. On the colony council feed. Two of the councilmembers were the grandchildren of friends she’d known years ago. Smiley, don’’t go, she thought. Don’t go. Every Tuesday and Thursday, he came. And for some time, he had been the only…person, she thought, foolishly …thing, with whom she spoke, or had any contact.
“I will see you next Tuesday,” Smiley said. “If things are quiet, of course, Miss Gia.”
Then he turned and walked away. He almost walked like a man.
“I thought today was Tuesday,” Gia said, but Smiley was already moving down the row of dwelling units.
Four days. Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. She could wait.
On went the song. Don’t tell me that love isn’t true, it’s just something that we do.
Haven’t you had enough lovers, Gia? Enough flowers and candy? You weren’t in Madonna’s class, but then she wasn’t that pretty, was she? They called you the most beautiful woman…the most beautiful…
Gia saw half her face reflected in the triple-paned window as she shut it, shivering. Good bone structure. Very easy to see. Nobody needed X-ray vision. God, so cold. Always so cold. When the last man’s been dead ten years; what is that? Three thousand six hundred fifty days? And every one of them a lonely waste.
“A mayfly dies in a day,” she whispered. “But while he’s at it, he’s beautiful.”
Let it fall by the way, baby …
She would have sung, she really would have, if her voice hadn’t been such a godawful crone quaver.
“Smiley,” she said instead to herself, “Smiley, how can a horrible old hag have feelings for a robot?” And asked herself, too, could a robot have feelings — for anything?
On Monday, Gia woke and padded to the kitchen, taking down her coffee canister. After a minute of fighting with the screw-on top, she broke down and searched the junk drawer for the plastic “round tuit” some colony politician had sent her. “Seniors vote for me!” was what it had said, or something like that. No self-respecting person would keep something like that. A flashing memory of her trying to open the aspirin bottle with her teeth, and her lower right molar shattering came to her. She used the “round tuit.”
“Oh, no,” she whispered. The jar was empty.
“Smiley’s coming,” she said. And she had no coffee. It didn’t matter that Smiley couldn’t and wouldn’t drink it. It was the fact of offering it to him. She had to have coffee.
She logged on the net; they weren’t due to deliver the groceries until Thursday, but maybe they would send the boy by today.
The fat man in the checkered apron appeared, just as always. “Good morning! It’s Monday, January 22. How can we feed you?”
“I’m out of coffee, fat man,” Gia said. Wait — Monday. Monday! But it was Tuesday. Smiley was coming. It was Tuesday, wasn’t it?
“Your delivery is scheduled for Thursday, January 25,” the fat man said. “You are on the Senior Flex Plan. You will have . . .” He paused and the digital feed flickered in and out. He began to list the thirty-one items on Gia’s weekly grocery delivery.
“Can’t I get coffee today?” Gia asked. “I don’t need the rest until Thursday.”
The screen flickered in and out. “You are on the Senior Flex Plan,” the fat man repeated. “Your delivery is scheduled for — — “
“Oh, shit,” Gia said, then she slammed her fist on the control pad. That hurt.
Senior Flex Plan. That meant she got what the government said she could get, once a week, at the exact same time. It was kind of like the way they used to give away government cheese and butter. Only a boy brought the bags to your door and Gia had to stick her thumb on his nasty ID pad, just so the colony knew it was her. Sometimes the boy even carried them inside and put them on the counter for her. There was no way she could afford an extra delivery. It wasn’t just the price of the coffee; fifteen bucks a pound or whatever it was now — it was that they’d deliver “non-authorized” regular coffee like Folgers or something instead of Venus Colony coffee, and that it would cost…she didn’t know. On the council feed the other night, people were complaining that deliveries were going up like crazy. What would it be? Thirty, forty bucks?
“Where’s my purse?” she muttered.
Under her bed, of course.
And in her wallet, behind the pictures of her daughter Kathy and the kids, behind her ancient Red Cross blood donor card and her Official Member, Venus People’s Party card, was a tightly-folded bill. Gia prized it out, and unfolded it.
And the Casual Shop was just up her unit row. Just up the —
Gia realized that she wasn’t sure any more just how the Casual Shop was from her unit. This was because it had been . . .
Two Christmases since she’d been out of the house. Not driving a cart — God, no — not that. They took your license at seventy-five whether you wanted them to or not, but she hadn’t walked outside for more than two years. The most she’d done was lean out of the front window, talking to Smiley. And staring at the passing people and hoverboards and carts.
She was getting mighty tired of staring at teenaged boys wearing pastel-colored polyester jumpsuits and girls in prairie dresses.
There was nothing wrong with her legs. She could walk. All she had to do was put one foot in front of the other. It would do her good, she thought. The fat man had said …Monday. Yes! Smiley was coming tomorrow, not today. She had all day. She could stop and rest here and there on the way to the Casual Shop.
By the time she got dressed, Gia was feeling less confident. She wrapped a striped silk scarf around her neck and tied a little bow. She toyed with the idea of bringing the scarf higher under her chin, and tying it around the top of her head. Now she looked like someone with a toothache. With great care, she drew herself a mouth and painted it with her last decent lipstick. The last thing she wanted was one of those horrible old lady mouths, where they missed their lips by half an inch on either side.
The cane was in her tiny cubby behind the broom and dustpan. Gia got it out, and realized she was trembling from the effort.
Chin up! If she tied the scarf on her head the way she’d considered earlier, she couldn’t help but have her chin up, so she did it. And then she was out the front door, fumbling with her keys. The keys were hanging on a hook by the stove. They were dusty and greasy.
The first block of units went well. Gia’s chin was up. She didn’t feel as though everyone was staring at her. It was after nine; there were no other walkers on her side of the passage.
But by the time she reached the corner to turn toward the Casual Shop, she was out of breath, and her heart felt like a tiny vibrating sac of jelly in her chest. Her knees ached; her hips were making a frightening popping noise.
And she looked up Center Row and realized that it was ten or twelve blocks, instead of six.
She crossed to the other side of the passage, her small heart fluttering. As she went past the recycling unit on the corner, a battered white cart pulled to a stop beside her.
“Where you going, lady?”
He did not look like a nice man.
“I’m out for a walk,” Gia said, and she moved her legs faster. She gripped the head of her cane and held her purse close to her chest with her other hand.
“I’ll give you a ride,” he said, creeping along beside her in his rusted old bucket of a cart.
Gia stopped, lifted her cane, and said, “Fuck off!”
His watery blue eyes widened; the cart rattled and electric motor whined as he sped off.
After that, Gia felt better.
She was on a mission. She had to get coffee for Smiley. And it was good to walk, to be out of her claustrophobic unit. To see the pretty painted units along the way. My goodness, some of them even had little robots cleaning the windows and walls. Weren’t there any real people cleaning any more? When had that happened?
While she’d been sitting in her unit, rotting into nothing, was when.
Some time later; it was after ten, so it meant that it took her more than an hour to get to the Shop, she had arrived. About a block from the corner where she recalled the market had always been, Gia had become suddenly terrified that the Casual Shop would be closed. Out of business. With the fat man and home deliveries, maybe nobody went there any more. Maybe they just —
But the lights were on; there were many carts in the passage by the store.
The automatic doors opened and Gia stepped inside.
“Hello!” said the man who was piling blue bananas in the produce department. Gia didn’t recognize him, but he acted like he knew her.
“Hello,” she said back, and her voice didn’t even sound like her own voice. “I’m afraid — could you tell me where the coffee is?”
The store looked different. All gourmet stuff. Weird — a whole pile of silvery dried fish next to the apples. They still had their heads. Now the banana man was stacking purple spiky fruits next to the bananas.
“Coffee? Well, it’s next to the Sim Stim and Energy Drinks. Aisle Eight.”
Sim Stim? Energy Drinks? People actually drank that? She’d seen the commercials.
Gia’s knees felt like they were going to buckle. Someone had abandoned a cart right beside her, so she grabbed it and took several deep breaths. Aisle eight. She could do it. Why, if she put her purse and the coffee in the cart, she could take it home that way. It wasn’t so far —
Aisle Eight started with the Super Ovaltine, then continued with a display of twenty different kinds of sugar (mostly calorie-free), then got into the Energy Drinks and Sim Stim. Yupi, Yogi, Vigor, Metabolite, Metaborama…it was endless. There was even one called Suck It Up. With an exclamation mark.
Down at the end of the aisle on the bottom shelf was the coffee. Gia saw the prices. The cheapest was a half-pound of Folgers. Twenty-two Venus dollars.
She leaned over the cart. She wasn’t going to cry. Maybe there was a display somewhere else. Maybe she could get a quarter-pound.
The banana man went by at the other end of the aisle. She called after him, but he didn’t seem to hear her.
Then, after a moment, she saw him coming back the other way.
“Excuse me!” she called. “Is this all the coffee you have?”
“I don’t have enough money,” she said, swallowing hard.
He looked at her, puzzled, then said, “Why don’t you use your card?”
“Your benefits card. I thought all older folks had a — “
Gia shook her head. “I don’t know what that is,” she said. That wasn’t precisely true. She was pretty sure that she’d gotten one five years before, but she’d cut it up, just like she did every other credit card.
“You use it for a senior discount. Half off everything,” he said. Then he laughed. “In fact, I was a little surprised you were in here today. Tomorrow is Senior Discount day. Every Tuesday. It’s packed!”
“I get my groceries through the net,” she said. “The fat man — “
“Ah,” the banana man said. “Well, that’s very convenient. But if you run out, then what will you do?”
“I did run out. I ran out of coffee. I’m expecting a guest tomorrow. I really wanted — “
“Oh my gosh,” the banana man said. Then his face changed. “Ma’am, has it been a while since you’ve been, uh, shopping?”
Gia nodded. A lump had come up in the back of her throat. She was afraid that she was about to cry. He was so nice. His eyes were very kind. And she realized, aside from Smiley, the grocery boy, and the nasty man in the cart, this was the first person she’d talked with for months. Truth be told . ..years.
“Are you married?” she blurted. Then she covered her mouth.
“Yes, ma’am,” the banana man said. “Twenty-two years. Two boys and a girl.”
Gia smiled. “What a coincidence! That was my second marriage, almost that long. The …coffee costs twenty-two dollars. I only have a twenty. I guess I’m out of luck.”
“You have grandkids, ma’am?” he asked.
Gia cleared her throat. “Uh, yes. Two. They live back on Earth.”
“Oh, that’s a long way,” he said “I suppose you take the shuttle back to see them?”
Gia shook her head. “No,” she said. “Never have.” Kathy was on Welfare. It had been at least six months since she called. Kathy had never been much of a writer or a reader, either, so that was that for messsages.
“Gosh, it is expensive,” he said. “If you don’t have your card and all; senior discount’s seventy-five percent now, I hear.”
Why in the hell had she cut up that card? Why hadn’t anybody told her what the card was in the first place?
“I …I think I got that card,”Gia said. “I cut it up. I thought it was another card that I didn’t need. I only get seven hundred a month.”
The banana man’s eyes widened. “What?”
“I said I only get seven hundred — “
“My gosh, ma’am,” he said. “Everybody went up to twenty-five hundred two years ago. What in the heck happened with you?”
Gia fumbled with her purse. Maybe if she showed him her ID card, he’d see how…no, then he’d see exactly how old she was. She straightened her scarf instead.
“I don’t know,” she said. And that was the truth.
“You should have an advocate,” he said. “My mom’s seventy-five and she swears by hers. Don’t you have somebody who comes and visits? Makes sure you have everything you need and your benefits are straight?”
“No,” Gia said. She’d never heard of such a thing. Nobody came. Nobody visited. Except . . .
“There is somebody,” she said.
“Well, sure,” the banana man said. “All older people have one.”
“He’s a police officer,” she said. “He comes every Tuesday and Thursday. That’s why I want the coffee. He’s coming tomorrow. I always like to have coffee for him.”
The banana man nodded, then his eyes narrowed. “He’s a cop? You should have your benefits card, ma’am, and be getting much more than what you’ve got. Why, I can’t imagine how anybody’d be able to get by on seven hundred. Twenty-five hundred’s bad enough these days!”
“I can see,” Gia said. “With coffee twenty-two dollars for half a pound!”
“Let me tell you something,” the banana man said. “You tell that officer friend of yours to take an interest in your affairs. And look here,” he said, picking up one of the nicer packages of coffee, at forty-five dollars. “You take this home with my compliments. We aim to take care of our older customers here.”
“I …can’t,” Gia whispered. She pushed the shiny bag of coffee back at him.
“Yes, you can,” he said. “I don’t like to see older people doing without.”
He didn’t want to see an old hag suffering? Gia couldn’t speak. She reached in her purse and took out the brightly colored twenty.
“Here,” she said. “For the coffee. Maybe you can break up the package. I don’t — “
“You’re taking it,” he said, laughing. “For heaven’s sake, keep that little bit of money you have. You might want a bite to eat on the way home.”
He put the money in her purse firmly, then he put his hand in the small of her back and gave her a gentle push toward the front of the store. The woman who was checking smiled at her and waved. Gia was smiling too, by the time she left. She paused by the syncrete wall that kept carts clear of the passage and looked back at the store. The banana man had stood near the door, watching her, now he was gone. After she caught her breath, she started back toward home, but then she heard something coming up behind her. Fast.
Whirring motors. A scraping noise. Loud voices.
She never saw the two coming up behind her, but she saw the fat boy and his ugly friends right away. And got the fat one with her cane, right across the face.
One of the skinny, ugly ones with him started laughing. “She’s just an old lady! You let an old lady whack you!” He started to speed around and around her on his hoverboard.
Gia slashed viciously at him with her keys and cane, missing by a foot. The keys were in her hand, laced between her fingers.
“Fire!” she screamed. “Fire!” But her voice wouldn’’t carry. Couldn’t carry. She was eighty-five years old and fifty yards from the store. With all the people. People who might . . .
“Gimme that,” the skinny one snarled. He lunged at her.
She held her purse close to her chest, and the bag of coffee. She couldn’t let them have the coffee!
“What you got in there, Preparation H?”
Then she heard giggles behind her and realized that there were more of them. They looked ridiculous to her, in their pastel blue, yellow and pink polyester jumpsuits and big orange hoverboards. The fat boy looked like he had some money, with slicked-back red hair and big hoverboard with fake rockets on it. She had hurt him. He was off the board, kneeling, holding his cheek.
“Goddamn old bitch!” he said. He sounded like he had a speech impediment.
The others were circling around her, like they were waiting for something. Maybe for her to cry, or beg for mercy.
“Come on, lady, just hand over your junk. We won’t hurt you,” the thin, acne-covered one said.
“Screw off,” she said, but she was trembling. Then she yelled “Fire!”
“Shut her up!” the fat one yelled. “Somebody’s going to come out of that store and see!”
The skinny one lunged at her and this time, Gia could not strike out, because her cane had gone flying. He had her purse, tugging viciously. If she could just hold her ground, maybe he’d fall. Her heart beat so fast it felt like a bird trying to fly out of her ribcage.
“No!” she cried.
He gave another tug and Gia’s legs gave way. Her shoulder hit the ground hard, then her hip.
“Smiley, help me!” she cried.
Through tear-blurred eyes, she watched the others lean over her. Five or more. Somebody kicked her. They were laughing, screaming things that she couldn’t understand. Her purse flew away, up into the air. Dimly, she realized that her arm had snapped, and that there was blood. A lot of it. Something was coming out of her arm.
She closed her eyes. She was no longer afraid, not particularly, but she wished that it didn’t hurt so much. She wished they’d just finish and go, but by the time she heard footsteps and raised voices from somewhere beyond the circle of her torturers, she was no longer able to see, even when she opened her eyes.
She heard the whine of the fat boy’s hoverboard.
“Smiley,” she whispered.
“My God,” she heard somebody saying. “Those bastards! If that was my son, I’d kill him.”
“Call the cops!”
“Jesus Christ call MedicAlert!”
“The poor little gal,” she heard somebody saying. She thought it must be the banana man. “The poor, poor little gal.”
Then everything was black and quiet.
It was like one big dream. And it went on and on. Sometimes Gia was interrupted by a stranger with food; and that horrible monster of a nurse with a moustache who wanted to “bathe her.” At these times, she remembered that she’d been terribly hurt, and that something awful had happened to her, but mercifully, these times were brief, and she slipped back into the happy dreams she had. Mostly she thought about her favorite lovers, and sometimes her friends. She went bowling. She bathed Kathy, and dried her hair with a soft towel while the little girl giggled. She ate a grilled cheese sandwich, and it was buttery and crisp, the cheese oozing out the sides.
So bad for you, she thought. So very bad to eat so much grease and fat all at once.
Then she ate a grapefruit. Some of it struck her in the eye. Steve, her second husband, the one with the thick, curly red hair, wiped off the juice, then he kissed her. He slipped his arms around her waist and she wanted to cry.
Her eyes fluttered open a brief moment.
She heard voices from somewhere outside her room. It was a madhouse, of course. She was in an asylum, and they’d drugged her up and tied her to the bed. She couldn’t move either her arms or legs.
“I am here to see Miss Gia,” somebody said.
“I’m sorry, it’s family only,” came the curt reply. A woman’s voice: cold and careless.
“Her family is back on Earth. I have contacted the daughter. She can not come.” Gia thought she recognized the voice. There was something about it. Strange, low and measured. A very odd voice.
“We still can’t allow you to see her,” the nasty woman’s voice replied.
“I will obtain a warrant,” the first voice said. “I will return to search the room.”
“Well!” the woman exclaimed. “I never!”
“Sorry to have upset you, ma’am.” Gia heard the woman’s footsteps receding.
Gia drifted away into more dreams. She heard a man calling her. “Miss Gia …Miss Gia …”
She was eating papaya and squirting lemon on it. A bird flew past her window. Then a ball. Kathy was playing outside in the gentle sun, the right sun, the real sun.
There was something cold on her arm. Again, her eyes fluttered open and she looked up to see a smooth, blue metal face smiling down at her.
“I have come to see you, Miss Gia. The youths who attacked you are in custody.”
“I …see …”she croaked. Who was this creature? Some nut in a Tin Man suit!
“Help!” she cried. It came out sounding like somebody was crumpling paper.
“I am here,” the creature said. “You are safe.”
“Help!” she cried again, struggling in her bed. My God, they had strapped her arms down! And legs, too!
“Miss Gia, it is me, Smiley. Officer Smiley.”
“You’re crazy,” she said in her dry, half-whisper. “There’’s a crazy man attacking me!”
Now there were two smooth metal hands on her shoulders and the strange metal face was grinning at her, right in front of her face. She shut her eyes.
The slow, calm voice continued. “Six teenagers attacked you. The hoverboard gang. I have apprehended them. They are in custody. They cannot hurt you any more.”
Gia tasted something nasty in her mouth. She heard the whine of a hoverboard. Then she remembered a fat, ugly face, with bright red hair. Boys, wearing awful polyester jumpsuits, racing around wildly. Hurting her!
“Why did you walk to the store, Miss Gia? Why did you not tell me you needed help? You could have called any time. I am on duty twenty-four hours a day.”
She opened her eyes. The face was still looming, and still grinning.
“Smiley,” she whispered. And at once, her whole body hurt. She felt a deep stab of shame. Why, she hadn’t even remembered the right day — she hadn’t had to go out for coffee at all. Not then. Not on that day. “I wanted to get you coffee,” she said, voice full of remorse. “The man at the store told me so many things. I didn’t know — “ her voice trailed away. Her throat was raw agony.
“I obtained a special warrant from Judge Morris to see you. I am supposed to search this room,” Smiley said.”He told me to look after you. You are famous, Miss Gia. Your picture is on the netfeed even today, because of what happened.”
“Famous like Madonna,” Gia said.
“Yes,” Smiley said. “Just like Madonna.”
“So go ahead and search,”Gia said.
Smiley did not reply. Instead, he pulled a gray plastic chair close to her bed and sat down. Then he took her hand and stroked her palm lightly with his cool metal fingers.
“There is a nurse here,” he said. “The nurse stated that you should be dead.”
Gia turned away from Smiley. “I remember,” she said. “Why am I still alive?”
“I told the nurse that she did not know you. You are a strong woman, Miss Gia. That is why you are not dead.”
“Smiley,” Gia said into the pillow. “Smiley, that sounds like something a person would say. Not a — “
“Not a robot?” he asked. “Miss Gia, I want to say so many things to you.”
“We had good talks,” she said.
“Yes, Miss Gia,” he said. His hand gripped hers. It hurt, a little, but that pain was nothing compared to what she felt in the rest of her body. Her arm …she saw the big white cast. And her body was in a cast, too. She must have broken her hip. When the kid knocked her down. She remembered well when her arm had snapped. And there was something funny about her head, too. She guessed they’d broken her head too. How on earth had she survived?
She forced herself to turn back to Smiley. He was still grinning that idiot grin. In a sharp bit of pain that had nothing to do with her body, and everything to do with her heart, she saw him for what he was now, a blocky, shiny, blue metal robot with an absurd, ever-smiling face. Just a robot. What kind of lunatic would think that a robot would make a fine friend? Even …fall in love…with a robot?
Tears stung her eyes. Tracked viciously down her cheek and into the corner of her mouth.
“I’m a pitiful old woman,” she said. “I lived . . . lived in a crazy fantasy world all my life. My own daughter doesn’t even care about me.”
“No,” Smiley said. “You taught me many things, Miss Gia.”
“Smiley,” she said, her voice quavering. “Let me be. I just want to get out of here — “ and she looked around the ugly gray-white hospital room, turning her head painfully.
Then, from somewhere deep inside, she cried, “Go tell that nurse to unplug me! Get me out of here! Give the bed to somebody who needs it!”
“No,” Smiley said. He was out of the chair. His hands returned to her shoulders. “You should stay. There are machines. Nanos. They can make you young again. Heal your broken parts. You can have the same treatment Madonna had. She could have lived forty or fifty years more. She just forgot to take her — “
Gia stopped him, remembering the story. “I would forget to take my pills too, Smiley,” she said in a calmer voice.
“I would help you remember,” he said.
“Smiley,” she whispered. “Smiley, you’re a robot. And I’’m very old. I don’t want to be something I’m not.”
“Miss Gia, I have so much to learn. You were teaching me. You can’t — “
“I just want out,” she said. “People aren’t like you. We don’’t have parts that can just be replaced.”
“Miss Gia!” Smiley was now leaning all the way over her, looming. “Yes, they do. Yes, they can. I earn fifteen thousand dollars a month. This is Venus statute law. Robot cops must be paid the same as all other officers, including overtime.”
Gia had to admit, it was a lot of money. “You work all the time,” she said. “What on earth do you spend this on?”
“Nothing,” he said. “I am a rich robot. I can spend as I choose. And I choose to spend this money on you.”
Gia laughed. It was very painful. Then she looked at the thick black straps tethering her arms. There were more beneath the covers, holding down her legs.
“Smiley, don’t waste your time talking about money,” she said. “Just let me loose.”
“What? Let you — “ His head swiveled. He hesitated.
“Undo these straps. They’re hurting me.”
“Yes, Miss Gia,” he said. In a moment, her arms were free, though the one in the cast lay uselessly on the covers. She lifted the arm that would cooperate, and brushed her fingers against his smooth metal cheek.
“You’re very sweet,” she said. “You make me feel better.”
He shook his head.
“If you do care about me, you’ll help me,” she whispered.
“I don’t understand,” he said, very slowly. “If I pay for these procedures, you will be well. You can look young again, Miss Gia. You’re not like me. You can change.”
Something stuck in her throat. Hard and unyielding. She found it difficult to swallow, and even more difficult to speak.
“I don’t . . . don’t really want that. I just want to — “ She thought for a long while. Fought for the words.
“I want to feel like a human being again,” she said. “You don’t know what it’s like to feel like you’re not even human any more, and that no one in the whole world, not a single person, even cares if you’re alive or dead. I want to feel like a human being, with someone near me who cares.”
Smiley was silent. He slid one of his strong metal arms beneath her shoulders, and lifted her up in the bed.
Then he leaned close, and pressed his cool metal cheek against her face, like a child. “I do know how that feels, Miss Gia,” he said. “I am a robot. And only you ever cared what happened to me or what I did.”
“Smiley,” she cried, and her chest felt warm and cold, all at the same time.
After a moment, he raised one hand, and wiped the tears from her cheek. “I will do as you say,” he said.
“Take me out,” she said. “Carry me out, and lay me in a bed of roses. I want to see them. I love them.”
There were no real roses on Venus, of course. Not in that colony, not in any other. Something about the soil; only silk flowers survived.
But there were roses, in the courtyard, though made of polyfiber and silk. With artificial scent, arranged around a fountain filled with precious water.
“I will,” Smiley said. “They will not stop me.”
And she knew that he meant it.
“I want to tell you something about life,” she whispered in Smiley’s ear. He was so strong. Gia, who had been carried over the threshold or hurled into a bed or onto a couch many times in her life, had never been carried in quite such a way, by quite such a powerful man. And that was how she saw him now — a man — made of metal, certainly. Her Smiley.
“I want to see the roses,” she said.
“Yes, Miss Gia.”
“I wish you could smell them,” she said.
“I am a robot,” he said. “I cannot.”
“You’re a man, too,” she said. “And a man could.”
He paused just before the elevator. “Thank you, Miss Gia,” he said.
Behind them, the nurses clamored. Gia had paid no attention to them whatsoever except to glare at the moustachioed nurse who had tortured her with “bathing.”
“We’ve called security! You may have had a warrant, robot, but you can’t do this!”
“I am doing this,” Smiley said, turning slightly toward them.
Then, to Gia, he said, “I wish to smell the roses with you.”
She nestled her head against his huge metal bicep, smiling. They entered the elevator. The nurses hung back; Gia realized that they were afraid of Smiley.
When the elevator doors opened, two hospital security men greeted them, their service revolvers drawn.
“I’m releasing myself from the hospital,” Gia told them.
“We’re going to have to ask you to take her back,” one of the men said to Smiley. “We don’t want to hurt anybody, but you’re breaking all the regulations.”
“What’s got into you, tin man?” the other one demanded.
Smiley merely strode forward, brushing the one on his right aside if he was a mannequin. The man sprawled on the floor, eyes wide. The other one turned, keeping his gun trained on Smiley.
“If you discharge your weapon, you will probably injure Miss Gia. I cannot allow that,” Smiley said. He paused. Then, he said, “You will certainly not injure me.”
“Stop right there, robot!” the security man called.
Smiley shifted, putting all of Gia’s weight on one arm. It hurt — a lot — being held this way. She heard an amazing popping sound. Had the gun gone off?
The man screamed. Gia realized that Smiley had simply crushed the gun in his left hand. That had been the popping noise. Parts flying off.
The one on the floor was scrambling to his feet. Aiming his gun. Good Lord, the fool wasn’t going to shoot, was he?
“You may follow us,” Smiley said. “But have some respect. I am taking Miss Gia to the roses.”
“Damn!” the first officer cried. “Damn it all. They’ll send you back to the bit-bucket, you crazy robot!”
“I am prepared to defend my actions,” Smiley said. “I am aware that there is a review process.”
“Tony, call the cops!” the second officer yelled. “We can’t do anything with him.”
“I’ll melt you down myself, you stupid robot! You dumb piece of shit — they’ll come down here and pull your plug.”
Smiley was nearly at the exit. The big automatic sliding windows opened.
“I did not draw my weapon,” Smiley said, turning back to the two security men. “You drew yours.”
Gia saw a good-sized group of nurses coming out down the hall, along with other people — orderlies and even a couple who looked like they were from the kitchen.
“There they go!” one of the group called out. “Where’s he taking her?”
The whole crowd followed them outside. Gia noticed with pleasure that they stayed quite some distance back. Far enough away that no one could hear what she said to Smiley, or what he said to her. It was getting difficult to see, and she was one mass of agony from head to toe.
“Smiley, I don’t feel very well,” she said softly. “You should hurry.”
“Yes, Miss Gia,” he said. “I will try. The courtyard is far away.”
Gia had been to courtyard many times, back when she was still getting out of the house.
“There’s a courtyard behind the big building,” she told Smiley. Then she closed her eyes and tried to dream the pain away, but she couldn’t.
The crowd made a lot of noise, even though they were fifty yards away.
“Smiley, I wish they would go away,” she said as he strode steadily toward center colony and the courtyard.
“They will not,” he said. “You are famous because of the attack.”
“Like Madonna,” she said.
Smiley made a little coughing noise. For a moment, Gia could have sworn that he laughed.
“I see the flowers,” he said.
“Are they …blooming?” She thought that she could smell them.
“Yes,” he said. “All colors.”
“Name them for me,” she said, because it was too difficult to open her eyes.
“They are yellow, Miss Gia. White. Red. Pink.”
“Can’t you do any better than that? Use that brain they stuck in you!”
“Miss Gia,” he said. And there was the strangest sound in his voice. “I will try.”
And Smiley spoke to her of the roses. Gia was very weak now. His voice came to her as if from a distant room. He told her of the pink ones, with yellow edges, the color of a sunrise over the far, high mountains, and of the pure white ones, like the burning disc of the sun, and the deep, crisp red ones, the color of a young girl’s heart.
“That’s called Mister Lincoln,” she whispered.
“The darkest red roses are always Mister Lincoln,” she said. “And the white ones are John F. Kennedy.”
“They are Presidents from Earth,” Smiley said. “They both died when men shot them.”
“Yes,” Gia said. She felt something changing. Her body shook. The world seemed like it turned upside down for a moment, and in a great burst of pain, she opened her eyes. Smiley was kneeling beside the rose garden. She was resting on his lap.
“I have never shot a man,” Smiley said. His silver hand reached out to pick one of the roses. A pink one, so lovely, with pale yellow barely brushed on the tips of the curling petals. He brought it close to her face, and the perfume came to her.
“When a person dies,” he said quietly, “Do they plant a rose for them?”
Gia heard, but could not see, the crowd gathered behind them. She did not want them there. Only Smiley. He seemed to understand what she was thinking. “They cannot see you,” he said. “I am covering you. Protecting you.”
“Miss Gia,” he said. “There is something inside of me. It feels strange. It …hurts.”
“The robot’s doing something to her. He’s gone crazy!” someone from the crowd yelled.
“I have never shot a man,” Smiley said, much more loudly. He said this to the crowd, Gia realized. “I do not plan to do so now.” In the distance, the sound of a klaxon.
“Smiley,” she whispered. “Just be with me.”
He was grinning down at her. “I am trying . . . not to smile . . .” he said.
“But you must,” she said. “That’s the way you were made.”
“That is not the way I am,” he said. “I am not smiling inside. Inside, Miss Gia, I am crying. Like when they yell at me, and when they hit me.”
“Men don’t cry,” she said.
“I am not a man,” he said. Then, his hand rose in a flash. She saw the metal fingers form into a fist. And he hit himself, square in the jaw. He looked down at her, and she saw that one corner of his mouth had fallen.
“Smiley! You hurt yourself!”
“It does not hurt there,” he said. “It hurts in here.” And he pressed her head against his chest.
“My God,” she said, wondering. “Smiley …”
His fist flashed again, and he struck himself once more. Now both corners of his mouth pointed downward. It looked so strange. It would cost a lot to repair, she thought. Oh, poor Smiley! With the last bit of her strength, she reached upward, so slowly, with so much pain, and put her fingers against his broken mouth.
“The crazy robot’s hitting himself! Now he’s going to hit her,” a man’s voice cried. The people were closer. She smelled them. Heard them.
“Stay away!” Smiley said in his most commanding voice. He lowered his head, brushing his face against her fingers, and his broken lips formed something like a kiss.
“I will miss you,” she said. She felt sleepy. There came a rushing in her ears. And there were roses all about her. She felt covered with their rich, sweet scent, felt the softness of the petals.
“I have made the bed for you, Miss Gia,” Smiley said.
She looked up at him one last time, at his crazed, crooked face — no trace of a smile remaining — and closed her eyes.
“For you, I will cry,” he said. “I do not yet know how, but I will learn. For you, I will plant a rose. I will drink coffee.”
“Always to learn,” she said. “That’s what life is, Smiley. Coffee will rot your insides.”
“Yes, Miss Gia,” he said very quickly and his voice sounded so strange, and far away. “Love is something that we feel. Hurt is something that we feel, and to be alive is to feel.”
And she felt his metal hands gently caressing her, lifting her.
“I must take you back now,” he said.
“No,” she muttered. “No.”
“Yes,” Smiley said.
He lifted her, and she was covered with petals.
“I am taking her back,” Smiley said. Gia understood that he was not speaking to her. They were amid the crowd. The people parted. Smiley strode through, and Gia’s eyes fluttered open.
There was a cop there, a real one, and his sidearm was drawn. “Put the old lady down,” he said. His partner was right beside him, half-crouched, with a sonic shotgun.
“I’m not,” Gia whispered. Not an old lady.
“I am taking her back to the hospital,” Smiley said. “I have done nothing wrong.”
“Put her down, Officer, or you’ll be decommissioned right now.” But the cop’s voice was softer. Gia could barely see his face, but she thought that something about his expression had changed.
“We don’t want to shoot you,” the second cop said. “Just …whatever’’s going on…you’ve got to let the old woman go.”He was much younger, and gentler, than the first one.
Then the first cop relaxed. “What did you do to your face, Officer?” he asked.
“He’s crazy!” a man yelled from the crowd. “He smashed his face. He was going to — “
“That’s enough!” the first officer cried, silencing the man.
“What happened to your face?” the second officer asked, very softly.
“I could not smile any more,” Smiley said.
“He was trying to kill the old lady!” the insistent man in the crowd said.
Gia felt Smiley tightening. Hardening. His head turned. “You will stop calling her that. Her name is Miss Gia. She is a human being.”
“Yes, she is, Officer,” said the first cop. “And you could have killed her.”
Smiley relaxed. At that moment, the first officer lowered his revolver. He nodded toward the second officer, who pointed the barrel of his shotgun toward the pavement.
“You’re in a lot of trouble,” the second officer said.
“I had a search warrant,” Smiley replied.
The officers looked at each other, amazed.
“Now I will take Miss Gia back. She will get better. She will take treatments. I will pay for them.”
“What kind of treatments they got for being a hundred and fifty?” said someone in the crowd. Gia tried to see who it was, but she could not.
“She wanted to see the roses,” Smiley said to the first officer. “I did as she asked.”
The officer nodded. Gia thought that his face looked very strange, as if he was thinking, very hard, and it hurt him to do that. “Let’s all go back,” he said. He put his hand on Smiley’s arm.
Smiley was still hard and unyielding. “I will not leave her.”
“Officer,” Gia said, and it felt like she was barely making any sound, “I would like a rose. For my room.”
Smiley started to turn.
“No,” she said. “The other officer.” And she inclined her head toward the young cop with the shotgun. He stood awkwardly, not moving.
The first cop turned toward him. “Take one out, Dave,” he said. “Make it a nice one.”
“Pink and yellow,” Gia whispered. But he did not hear her. She saw him moving toward the red roses, then hesitating, and reaching for a white one.
“She says pink and yellow,” Smiley said. At that moment, four more cops came trotting up.
“What the hell is Dave doing?” one of them demanded.
It hurt too much to smile. Laughter was impossible, but Gia nestled in Smiley’s arms. The older cop shrugged and the new arrivals stood, hesitating.
“He’s picking a rose. For the lady,” the first cop said.
“Dispatch said Smiley’s gone rogue,” one of the group said.
“We’re escorting her back to the hospital,” the first cop said.
“The crazy bucket of bolts!” one of the others cried, stepping forward. His revolver was still drawn.
“Put that down!” the first cop commanded. “This isn’t a shootout. We’re going to escort this lady back inside. All of us, and the officer here.”
“Thank you,” Smiley said. “I am not a bucket of bolts.”
The cop glared at him. “You’re writing the report,” he said. “Or I’m kicking your tin-can ass!”
“Don’t listen to him, Smiley,” Gia whispered as she and Smiley and the group of cops made their way through the crowd. “Your ass is cute. I always liked it.”
“You are better already,” Smiley said.
“Smiley, I wanted to die,” Gia said.
“I know, Miss Gia,” he said. “And now I will tell you my secret.”
“What?” she whispered. They entered the elevator. The cops piled in, and in the jostling, Smiley leaned close to her and spoke very softly.
“Until today,” Smiley said, “So did I.”
“What was that?” the first officer asked.
Smiley waited a moment. “I told Miss Gia that today I thought that I could touch the sky.”
“Pretty damn poetic,” the cop said, clearing his throat. The younger officer leaned close and put the pink and yellow rosebud on Gia’s chest.
“Pretty poetic for a robot,” Gia said.
“I was thinking it was pretty poetic for a cop,” the officer replied.
“God damn it!” Smiley cried. “I can’t smile.”
“Yes,” Gia said. “Yes, you can.”
And Smiley did.