<back :: contents :: next>
The valley has a small oasis within -- a sure sign that water runs somewhere here, though whether it is at the surface or unreachably deep is something the dogs are better equipped to find out than I am. The four adults, Jess, Pace, Flopsy, and Shadow, disperse to move swiftly about the entire area, noses to the ground, sniffing out water and the possibility of food. The two youngsters, Star and his older sister Boots watch for a while til they become bored and start to play. Boots and Star are almost fully grown, but are still pups in behavior. My sense of smell was never terribly good, but what little there ever was had faded to insignificance in my first few decades so I stand and watch my friends efficiently quartering the area while the pups jostle and bump each other.
Boots finds something in the gravelly dirt and is nosing it when Star snatches it and waves it before his sister. She tries to grab it back saying, "Mine!" Star joyfully taunts her, saying it back to her, jumping backwards and holding it just out of reach. She launches herself at him. He twists away and they are off, leaping and weaving about the small valley, Star trying to lose his sister by taking tight turns around large rocks and small trees. Finally they are heading in my direction and I know what will happen. Star will make a sharp turn around me, hoping his sister won't be tempted to simply push me aside. Dogs love contact, even if it is in collision. For the pups it is also seen as a grand joke to "accidentally" crash into an adult. I am out in the open with nothing to shield me and before I can get anywhere safe Star has flown past and Boots has knocked me to the ground.
Star returns to his sister and teases her with the object again. Now I can see it more closely and I'm interested. Getting up to a sitting position I dust myself off while squinting against the brightly lit sand and rocks. "Star. Bring it here. Let me see."
"Mine," he answers, but brings it over. Boots goes to him and pushes him with her side while grabbing part of the object he's carrying and makes this into a new pushing-pulling game. I hold out my hand and they release the spittle-covered object to me.
"What is?" Star asks.
A small plastic doll -- missing an arm, but otherwise in surprisingly good condition. I'm amazed. I haven't seen one of these for centuries. Toy and doll manufacturers were some of the early entrants into the business of making robots, and later, the first androids.
"A toy," I whisper.
Suddenly I'm aware that my ankles and wrists are in chains, and I'm standing in a shadowed hallway at the entrance to a large, candle-lit, high-ceilinged, richly carpeted room. The room's walls were decorated with large tapestries and paintings. There were many sculptures and pieces of machines cluttering the floor space, and over at the far wall stood what appeared to be a metal, life-sized model of a young man looking this way.
The guard ahead of me was speaking to someone I couldn't see, off to the left, inside the room. "Lord, my men found this devil's toy and immediately realised you would like to present it to the Judge on his next visit." The guard indicated me, "It was attempting to impersonate a person, but we immediately saw through its diabolical ploy."
I had been passing by their town and one of the soldiers had decided to have a little "fun". If I'd been human doubtless I would have been raped and perhaps killed. Such behavior was revoltingly common, though this was the first time I'd been assaulted by a guard. He'd been shocked when he saw I had no nipples or sex between my legs. He'd immediately summoned his captain and they'd chained me and brought me here, stripped of my robe.
A middle-aged, richly dressed man stepped into view before me. He was unusually tall and a little overweight, though not obese, had straight, dark hair cut so as not to bother his face, but falling to his shoulders at the sides and back. His nose was large and prominent, his eyebrows furry and his face oval, pale and unweathered. He had scratchy bits of beard trimmed close to his face
When he saw me he gasped in awe. "Oh my! Black." He reached out and touched my face. "And soft. Amazing." He turned to the guard and gave him a gold coin. "Thank you, Captain." He then dropped several smaller silver coins into the captain's hand. "Please distribute these to your men. Let them know I'm always grateful to our guards."
The captain and the other guards thanked him enthusiastically and left.
This was my introduction to Lord Smith, one of the few knowledgeable men left in this broken world. Now that the guards had left he beckoned the metallic youth over and asked me if I could speak. I answered that I could.
He smiled and turned to the metal one. "Adonis, it looks like you have a companion... at least until the Judge arrives."
I already knew of the Judge. He travelled far and wide. He'd appointed himself the judge of what was acceptable to god and what was not, pompously pronouncing people and things tainted by the devil, then greedily confiscating or gleefully destroying them. His position was unassailable. Anybody who was less than happy at his arrival was denounced as being in league with the devil, tortured til a "confession" was obtained, then killed and their possessions confiscated. Generally some of the loot was awarded to those who turned on the unfortunate one. Greed and fear worked in the Judge's favor. If anybody saw the insanity in his judgements they kept it to themselves for fear of being among his next victims.
It seemed I was to be destroyed as a tool of the devil.
Lord Smith asked what I was able to do and I told him that I was made to care after and serve people.
"In what capacity do you care after people?"
I wasn't sure what he meant and answered that I simply did what was asked of me.
"If I asked you to kill someone, would you comply?"
"No." I was affronted. "I don't kill people; I help them."
"Not even to prevent your own death?"
That was an odd question. Even back in the time when I was built people had not generally considered me alive.
The one he'd referred to as Adonis spoke with a soft human voice. "She is surprised, Lord."
"Yes, she is, isn't she." He addressed me again, more gently, "Why does the question surprise you?"
"You consider me alive?"
Adonis said, "I don't believe she is a threat, Lord."
The Lord murmured to him, "I think you're right." Then to me, he replied, "Alive? I have no idea, and can't say I'm particularly interested in definitions. I'm a pragmatic man, my dear. I'm interested in what things can do."
The metal one suggested, "Perhaps she has medical knowledge."
Lord Smith lifted his eyebrows in question and I nodded, "Some."
The man's expression changed in a way that I couldn't read and he asked me to follow him. The chains prevented me moving very quickly. He led me across the room, over soft carpets, past intricate pieces of clockwork and other delicate machinery, through a door into a stone hall with many glass windows looking down to the valley and snow-capped hills beyond. It was very warm here. Weak sunlight heated the hall and was trapped by the multitude of glass windows. At the end of the short hall he paused to knock at a door. "Sippy dear, I'm bringing a visitor." Then he opened it to a child's room filled with colorful rugs, pictures, and all kinds of toys. Mobiles hung from the ceiling and posters on the walls. It reminded me of the kind of room children had hundreds of years ago, when people in the twentieth century thought excessive lifestyles were their birthright. Along the far wall of this room was a large, glass window framed by brightly patterned curtains. Under the window was a bright pink single bed, and on the bed was a young girl surrounded by dozens of soft toy animals and dolls of every kind. The thin little girl looked to be around 10 years old and was dressed in a pink nightie and pink bunny slippers. She had long blonde, wavy hair. It was clear she had every luxury that could be obtained by her wealthy father.
She kept her head turned away from us. "I don't want to see anybody. Take them away."
"She isn't a doctor Sippy. She isn't even a person; she's a toy."
Sippy's play paused as if tempted by this new information, but then continued. "Take her away!" she yelled angrily.
We left the room and her father closed the door, then started back down the small warm hallway towards the large, candle-lit room.
"What are the symptoms?" I asked.
She is always tired, but doesn't sleep well. Her hands often hurt. Her lips, fingers and toes tingle and are sometimes numb. She is easily annoyed, as you saw." He permitted himself a small smile. "She doesn't eat enough because she rarely gets hungry."
"Does she have white spots on her arms?"
He thought for a moment and shook his head. "Not that I've noticed."
"Sores in her mouth or on her lips?"
"Yes, she sometimes gets sores in the corner of her mouth."
"Yes, but I thought everybody got those."
"I think I know what the problem is. The good news is that if I'm right it's easy to fix."
His face lit up. "Wonderful! What do we do?"
We were now back in the large, dim room of treasures. I stopped and raised my chained wrists. He looked embarrassed and went to the wall behind the main door and removed a keyring on which were several keys. He held up one while he walked over to me. "Promise me you won't try to escape."
I answered, "Promise me you won't hand me over to the Judge."
He burst out laughing. Unlocking the chains at my wrists he said, "Fair enough. If you can help my daughter then I wouldn't want that idiot destroying you anyway."
"Why would you give anything to such a monstrous person?"
He raised his eyebrows then bent to unlock the chains at my ankles. It was one thing for him to criticise the Judge, but for someone like me to do so was not acceptable. I made a mental note to be more careful of my language. "The Judge likes to accuse those with knowledge in order to maintain his position of power. I love to learn, which makes me a potential target. To keep myself safe I give him gifts from time to time -- 'devil's toys' that he can destroy to make it appear that he is doing... ummm... god's work." He shook his head. "As if any god worthy of worship would be so wicked."
He threw the chains into the corner behind the door, turned and looked at me. "We must get you some clothing. You are altogether too disturbing like that." Addressing the metal youth, "Adonis, fetch her something to wear, would you?"
"Yes, Lord," and he left.
Smith turned back to me and asked, "What can you do for my daughter?"
"Can you convince her to eat meat?"
"No. Ever since her pet lamb died she refuses to."
"I believe she has vitamin B12 deficiency." I didn't expect that he would understand, but he frowned and walked over to one of the enormous tapestries and pulled it aside, like a curtain. Behind was a wall of books. I was astonished. I hadn't seen that many books for a long, long time. He pulled down a volume and was leafing through it.
I added, "Vitamins are nutrients. B vitamins are soluble in water. B12 is mostly in meat, milk, and eggs--"
"She won't eat any of those."
"--and also brewer's yeast. Is there a brewer in town?"
Oops. It has been brought to my attention that I was wrong in thinking that brewers yeast is a reliable source of vitamin B12. There is a very good chance it doesn't contain it at all. Ignore this part of the story till I think of a way around it. Sorry for the mistake.
I'm very grateful to
(http://dorjejaguar.livejournal.com ) for coming to my rescue here.
He mumbled to himself reading from the book, "...vitamin B12... deficiency symptoms... oh my... almost as if they were describing her..." He looked up from the book. "Uh, yes, there is a brewer."
"Does Sippy eat salty foods?"
"Yes, she likes to add salt to her meals. Too much, in my opinion. I swear she adds more just to annoy me." He smiled tightly.
"Then I believe I have the solution. Obtain a handful of brewers' yeast, mix it in water with salt. I think perhaps one part salt to ten parts yeast. Mix to a slurry, then while stirring, heat it to a simmer -- almost boiling, but not quite -- for about an hour or more. Yeast is high in vitamin B12. Adding the salt stops other things growing in the mix and helps kill the yeast cells. Heating breaks open the yeast cells, releasing the nutrients and concentrating the mixture into a dark brown paste that can be used in cooking or spreading on bread. Look up yeast extract in your books."
He shook his head in amazement. "The answer was here all along. Hmph! Now we just have to convince her to eat the stuff."
"Perhaps the best way to do that is not to tell her to, but to eat it yourself. If she asks for some then give the appearance of grudgingly admitting that she is probably old enough to appreciate its flavor, and allow her to have some. She will most likely enjoy its flavor, but if she doesn't, it can be added to soups, stews, and sauces and she will eat it without realising."
He laughed aloud. "How very devious! You would make a good human, my dear."
The metal fellow returned carrying an assortment of women's clothes. Smith clapped him on the shoulder as he passed. "Dress her well Adonis. I'm off to the brewery." And he exitted, chuckling.
The metal android handed the clothes to me and turned to look in the direction Smith had gone. "That's odd." He paused a moment then turned back to me.
I waited a few seconds then, a little annoyed I said, "I'm speaking to a shiny metal person in the household of a surprisingly well educated feudal lord to whom I was brought in chains with the intention of having me destroyed by a religious maniac after a failed attempt at rape by thuggish guards. Which particular odd thing are you speaking about?"
He regarded me expressionlessly -- his face had no movable parts. His lack of movement seemed to indicate he was a little taken aback. "Lord Smith doesn't drink alcohol."
"Ah." I smiled to myself and turned away to put the clothes on a nearby chair. "Don't worry Adonis. In the very short time I've been here I haven't driven him to drink. He is fetching a byproduct of the brewing process. It may help cure his daughter."
"Oh. That is very good news."
I held up a pale yellow dress. "You are fond of the child? Or are you glad that Smith is still a teetotaler?"
"Neither... well both, but, what I mean is that being able to help Sippy means you probably will not be handed over to the Judge."
I held up a longer, darker gown. "You pining for company?"
"Not really. With you here Lord Smith might stop his periodic disassembly of my systems. I fear he may eventually damage something that he can't repair."
"Why would my presence change that?"
"He might disassemble you instead."
I grinned. "Bad luck for you. I can't be taken apart."
He looked directly at me. If he'd been capable of facial expression I feel sure he would have been smiling back. "He will find a way."
Well that was unsettling. I would think more about this later. Right now none of these garments were really suitable. "Do you have a coverall? A boilersuit? A jumpsuit? Failing that, pants and shirt?"
"These are women's clothes." He waved his hand at the heap.
"I'm aware of what they are. Bring me one of the forms of dress I mentioned. I'm not a human woman. I should dress in something more suitable." Privately I thought, something that doesn't invite sexual advances.
He was indecisive for a little while, but decided it would be the easiest way to get me clothed, and asked me to come with him.
My face is wet. Wet? Strange. Suddenly my cheek is warmly wet again and I realise that Jess is licking my face and all the other dogs are around me. I'm lying on my back on the light-colored gravelly ground and the valley is now partly in shadow. I wonder how long I was out this time. "I'm sorry. I'm alright now."
"Good," says Jess, but they all still look worried.
Boots says, "Long dream."
I sit up. "Oh. Damn! I wish I knew some way to stop it happening."
There are still a few hours of daylight yet. It is best to camp here. I ask them, "Find water? Food?"
A couple of them give dejected 'wuf' grunts. Jess calls me over to the dry sand-bed and paws at it. "Here. Dig."
I look around. She's chosen well. If there is water within reach this is where it will be. She can smell it, but can't tell how deep it is. I find a sturdy stick and use it to dig into the sand, loosening it. The pack saunters over, they arrange themselves in a circle around me and all start digging the sand away. They are very efficient and in a fairly short time we have a circular bowl almost to my waist deep, with a radius of my arms outstretched, fingertip to fingertip. There is no water though. The sand is only barely damp.
I climb out and go to my small carrybag. I remove a plastic bag and a folded plastic sheet. Climbing back into the dug out depression I push the plastic bag into a smaller pit, dug at the center specially for it. That will be the collection container. Now I unfold the sheet and spread it across the large depression. The dogs carefully take the edges of the sheet and hold it for me while I weight the perimeter with rocks and seal it with sand. Lastly I delicately stretch out over the sheet and place a pebble in its center. This makes the sheet into a downward-pointing cone. Moisture evaporates from the damp soil and condenses on the underside of the plastic sheet, then runs down to where the pebble weights it. From there it drips off into the collection bag set into the smaller pit.
All done. The dogs should have a couple of litres of drinking water by some time tomorrow. I don't need to drink or eat, so that eases the burden a little.
Time for the dogs to have their dinner. I get the water canteen from my carrybag along with some of the dried food, and start to ration it out to the dogs. I give them enough water to prevent kidney damage, but we can't do this for much longer. I've altered my dogs to be much more efficient in their use of water than wild dogs, but even so, we are soon going to have to make some difficult decisions about who lives and who dies for the good of the pack if we can't find a suitable water source in another day or two. And my reveries are not helping.
<back :: contents :: next>