“I don’t understand, it was working just fine before you walked into the room,” said Paul. “I’m sorry about this, Doctor Caldwell, I don’t want to waste your time.”
“That’s okay, Paul. Let’s do this another time. I actually need the lab to myself. I have something rather urgent I need to clear up.”
Caldwell’s eyes moved to the apparently malfunctioning apparatus in front of Paul as the young scientist rebooted the software.
“I’ve seen you working on this in the past few weeks. What is it? Killer robot? Or at least a killer robot’s head?”
Paul pretended to smile. “Not quite. Giving its, um, face, a humanoid appearance just makes more sense in the context of our project. We’ve been teaching it, essentially, to mimic human facial expressions.” What Paul wanted to say next, he was sure, would elicit a more animated, dismissive reaction. So he did. “And duplicate human emotions.”
Even now, I can’t bring myself to tell my mother about the rug.
At some stage, every little boy has a fire phase. A fascination with the flame, if you will. It calls out to each of us at some point. And it sang its song, luring me on to the rocks, or on to the hearth, when I was about twelve years of age.
Circumstances aligned each weeknight beautifully while that fascination lasted.
My mother, my very house-proud mother, worked nights, in the bar of a theatre in the city centre. And to make it there on time, she would have to leave and head off into town in her blue Mini City at ten to seven.
Now, my father didn’t arrive home from the factory he worked in as a welder until a quarter past seven, typically. So that gave me roughly twenty, twenty-five minutes to work.
But that’s not enough to do what I want to do, what I would like to do.
Maybe if it was a cat. I can’t fucking stand cats. It’s their… let’s call it insincerity, their dishonesty, their slyness. Sneaking into your freshly dug flowerbed to have a dump in the clay when they think you’re not looking. But at least cats have a purpose in mind, even if it’s just to take a shit.
“You know, pressing the button again and again like that won’t make it get here any faster.”
“What difference does it make to you?” The man didn’t even look back at George. He just kept his eyes glued to the numbered display above the elevator doors, mashing the button like he was playing an arcade game. The car was still ten floors above them, stationary. It was not descending, as George had pointed out, any faster, despite the man’s impatience.
“It makes the difference between me losing my temper. And not losing my temper.”
“Is that right?” said the man, turning around at last. “Well, let’s see.” He put his hand behind his back, reaching for the button, and looked George in the eye. He resumed pressing the button, faster and faster, fast enough that a sheen of sweat formed on his lip.
George took a deep breath.
The man smiled, registering the rise and fall of his shoulders. “Maybe you should try counting to ten.”
“That’d be pointless. I lose it well before I reach five,” said George, stepping forward and grabbing a handful of the man’s hair, looping it around his fist until he had fashioned himself a good, strong handle. He had only begun smashing the man’s head into the same button he had been pressing when the elevator did arrive.
“What do you know?” muttered George, as he let go of the man’s hair and let his bloody head follow his crumpled body to the floor. “Maybe you were on to something after all.”