Sunday, May 2, 2010

Daily # 3 Legacy (short story)

I'm in the process of packing up my stuff, so it'll be a few days before i have any new sketches. BUT! daily creative posts must continue! So, here's one of the stories I did for my creative writing class this semester. (This is also the reason for the bird illustrations, the two will come together in a few days.) So, enjoy the read! let me know what you think.

I'm starting the Renault in alias tonight, so be on the lookout updates.

*edit* sorry guys, importing the text killed my indentations.


I was always amazed when I opened the door to the studio. Crossing the wide cherry wood threshold dismissed any chill from the cool winter wind. A warm, golden dust hung in the air, as if held captive by the rays of light cascading from the arched windows. The tables, crafted by Amadeus himself, were now comfortably worn with grooves in the wood where the artisan placed his elbows. Tools, blueprints, and metal parts were strewn about like stars in the night sky, and at the far end of the studio, at his newest table, sat Amadeus, the calm center of his chaotic universe.
I approached him quietly. Years of working in near-solitude made him a bit jumpy, and he needed to focus on the task at hand. I could tell he had been working all day. Brown leather goggles sat askew atop his messy white hair. His jean overalls were caked with dust, specks of precious metal mixed with oil and grease, giving the clothes a reptilian shimmer. As I neared I could hear the tune he was humming. I couldn't place the song, but that didn't surprise me; I had a hard time keeping up with Amadeus' eclectic tastes. His feet were trying their hardest to tap the beat, but either his lack of rhythm or diverted attention prevented them from succeeding. This resulted in a nervous, flailing twitch, which made him look like a fish that was trying to swim, but couldn't quite remember how.
I was carrying a letter, which I shifted nervously in my hands. I was hesitant to give it to him. Letters from the Magistrate were rarely good, and as I carried this parcel to Amadeus' desk, it seemed especially heavy. A wheezing cough broke my thoughts. Placing his work on the desk, Amadeus groped the handkerchief from his back pocket, and held it to his mouth. I didn't need to see the cloth to know there was blood. Damn, he's getting worse, I thought as I moved to his side.
"You alright, sir?" I asked. He looked up at me as he would look upon an old friend. No matter how bad he got, the warmth never left his old eyes.
"Oh! William, I didn't hear you come in!" he said, hastily moving the rag back to his pocket. "Yes, yes, I'm fine. I think the dust is getting to me, I've been at it all morning. But, look at this!" Turning back to the table, he grabbed the fruit of his labor. It was a small gold object, the size of an apple. I gently took it from his hand and inspected closer. What first appeared to be a mess of metal was in fact a highly detailed mechanism, like a dozen watches rolled up into a precise bundle. The housing was brass, delicately engraved with beautiful curves. It held the most complex gear work I had ever seen. Minuscule gemstones were set among the sea of brass and gold, making the device glisten with life as I turned it in my hand. Of all the components Amadeus crafted, these were the most ornate. They were hearts, and each was as unique as the shell it would soon power. Amadeus was an artisan unparalleled in the realm. While others made clocks and machines, Amadeus created life. I always thought 'Artificial Life' was too crude a term for what he does, but that was what the Magistrate called it, and for longer than I've been alive, Amadeus supplied the King with artificial beings for any purpose, he was the Royal Animator. The guards in the palace were his first commission. Simple creatures, they only needed to move if there was a problem. It's easy to build robots that only move as ordered, the trick is making them think for themselves. The messenger birds were more complex. Creating the proper guidance controls took Amadeus longer than he'd like to admit. He said the key was, oddly enough, not telling the birds exactly where to go.
"Just give them the idea, and they'll find the way, you don't give a hawk exact coordinates, do you?" And it worked; the mechanical birds never got lost. They would occasionally take a detour, possibly to mingle in a nearby bell tower, say 'hello' to the pigeons, but they always arrived. Since then, he had created librarians, book-keepers, minstrels, cooks, and, most recently, soldiers. That commission had bothered him the most.
"I'm just worried about what they might do," he told me, "I don't much care for the idea of my creatures taking the lives of others. But, I suppose it's not my place to judge. We make the machines, William, remember that. We give them life, it's up to them how they use it." Cradling the new heart in my hand, I wondered how this robot would use it. It was easily the finest work Amadeus had done yet.
"It's beautiful, sir," I said, handing the mechanism back to him.
"And," he said with a brilliant smile, "it's the last piece! I'm assembling him today."
"What's this one for?" I asked, "I didn't know there was an order placed."
"Oh, this is a personal project. The Magistrate's soldiers are getting a bit boring, I wanted to try something harder. This, here, is a new high-dexterity prototype. See the hands over there? Twelve new joints! New contact design in the wrist, translates motion better. I'm expecting at least a 40% performance increase. If all goes well, I should finally surpass human dexterity."
"Well, normal human dexterity, maybe. You can't imagine surpassing your own, can you?"
"I can always imagine, William... I can always hope." He paused, looking down at his hands. "Anyway, what's that you've got there?"
"Letter from the Magistrate, sir," I said, handing him the envelope.
Cracking the red wax seal, he read the letter in silence. As he set it down, he went into another coughing fit. They were coming more frequently.
"What are they on about this time?" I asked, ignoring his condition for the time being as I knew bringing it up again wouldn't do any good.
"Oh...nothing, nothing. Well then!" he said, the gleam back in his eyes, "What do you say we put this fella together?"

Several hours of assembling and tweaking had passed, and now there was a third man in the room. A lanky six-foot automaton hung, suspended on a hook, from the center of the ceiling. Hunched, lifeless, but about to be born. Pacing around his latest creation, Amadeus looked at me, his eyes filled with pride.
"Not so bad, eh William?"
"A bit gaunt, isn't he, sir?" I said. Amadeus dismissed the remark with a wave of his weathered hand.
"He's efficient!" he defended, "you-you-you know as well as I do less mass means less energy to move, and more control sensitivity, more grace!" As he often did when speaking about his work, his mind was moving faster than his mouth could keep up.
"Efficiency is one thing, but it looks like a slight breeze could topple him! I'll be afraid to open a window!"
"Bah! That shows how much you know about gyroscopic stabilizers or windows!" he said, returning his gaze to the robot. "Trust me, young William, he's going to be perfect." He smiled, and seemed happier than I had seen him in a long time.
I decided to trust him. I'll just have to watch where I sneeze, I thought.
"By the way," I said, "is he going to have a name?"
"Oh...right," he said, as if snapped from a trance, "I hadn't thought about it."
A mischievous smile crept across his face. "Why don't we just ask him?"
He moved in front of the robot, and, after a few seconds of contemplation, raised his hands like a conductor leading his symphony. The room was silent, and I held my breath. Placing his hands on the machine's chest, Amadeus spoke with conviction, "Power on!"
For a second nothing happened. Then a slight whir sounded from deep within the mechanical torso. The whir became a steady buzz, and Amadeus stepped away from the machine. The body began to shake from the gyrations, then fell silent. I looked at Amadeus. Had it failed? I was answered by a click and a hum. When I looked back at the robot hanging from the ceiling, I saw a bright amber glow emanating from its round eyes.
"Hello," said Amadeus, extending his hand, "what's your name?"
"I---I have not been issued a name," said the automaton, the words fluctuating in pitch as he struggled to find a range that suited him.
"Hmm...Run a random-output simulator, parameters: male names, minus Amadeus, minus William. Initiate," Amadeus commanded.
"One moment, please," the robot said, having settled on a deep baritone voice.
"Output: Landon."
"Alright then, Landon it is!" said Amadeus.

Over the next few days Amadeus and I taught Landon his basic tasks. Within a few hours he was sweeping the floor, a day later, making supper, and, after only three days, he was working with tools, building small model animals out of Amadeus' scraps. I was embarrassed, because by day five, Landon had surpassed my own ability. Amadeus told me not to worry, "This is what he's made for, of course he's gonna be good at it!"
It was mid-afternoon, and I was in the shop with Landon, watching him play with his tools. Amadeus walked in, carrying a packed bag. He was breathing heavily from carrying it up the stairs. As he neared our table he went into a coughing fit.
"Erm! Hmm," he cleared his throat before speaking. "I've got some business to attend to in the city. That letter you brought last week was a summons, something needs fixin' with the soldiers, I reckon. So, I'll be away for a few days."
"Let me come with you, Sir. In your condition you shouldn't be-"
"My condition! Bah! This is nothing, I've never felt better!" Amadeus said, faking a smile, "besides, someone needs to stay here and watch Landon. So, what'll it be? Would you rather I watch this fella while you go repair the King's soldiers?"
"No, sir."
"Uhumph! Well, keep an eye on him then, I expect him to have made something mechanical by the time I return!" he said on his way out the door.

I quickly learned two things about Landon. First, he had a fantastically dry sense of humor. It took me a while to realize that his quips about my tooling ability were an attempt to be funny, not demeaning. He had developed a strange habit of naming his little models with a complete lack of reason. He had a pigeon named 'Seven', an owl named 'Circus', and a squirrel, complete with pivoting tail, named 'Twig'. The second realization was that Landon was, by far, Amadeus' best work. Landon's mechanical ability was growing quickly. 'Twig' was soon eclipsed by articulating felines, barking dogs, and walking beetles. His personality was equally impressive. He could carry a conversation (today, he was trying to justify why 'Cheddar' was the perfect name for a snake), and even critique my craftsmanship. Although his body was metal, and his face stoic, he glowed with life. Sometimes I could swear his round, amber eyes reminded me of Amadeus.
"I still don't see what's wrong with it, William," Landon said without pivoting his head away from his work. "It's just as good as anything else."
"Cheddar? You want to name that snake after a cheese? Do you want it to be eaten? It's a snake, for heaven's sake, call it 'Slither' or something."
He paused for a moment, and looked up, as if considering the possibility. Then he looked at me with his mouth piece slightly open, a gesture I have come to recognize as something like a smile.
"Cheddar is better," he said with finality, turning his attention back to the mechanical snake in front of him.
"Ugh! You're impossible!" I said, getting up off my stool.
"Improbable," he corrected.
I was about to retort when the studio door swung open. In walked Amadeus, carrying his bag and a look of contemplation.
"Welcome back, Sir. You feeling alright?" I said, taking his bag for him.
"Yes, yes. A little road-weary is all."
"What did they need from you?"
"Well, I was right," he said, taking a seat next to an old desk, "the soldiers needed some upkeep. Seems like they've been put under more difficult conditions than originally intended."
He looked concerned, I didn't know what to say. "Were you able to take care of the problems, Sir?"
"Yes," he said distantly, "they'll be able to keep going for a long time now...a very long time."
As we were talking, Landon rose from his seat and made his way to Amadeus. "Greetings, Sir," he said, bowing slightly to the old man.
"Ah! Landon, what have you been up to? How are you progressing?"
Landon simply draped the snake model over Amadeus' shoulder and said, "Cheddar."

Landon was improving quicker than either of us could have anticipated. Unfortunately, as his skill grew stronger, Amadeus grew weaker. The coughing fits were a regular occurrence now, leaving his voice rough and faint. It was good that Landon was around to help. Today, he was assisting Amadeus with lunch. I was sitting at the kitchen table, fiddling with a model I was planning on calling 'Swiss'. Amadeus was lecturing Landon on the finer points of making stew.
"You see? You need to chop it up very fine, like this," he said, demonstrating the proper technique.
"Like this, sir?" Landon said. Before Amadeus had finished his demonstration, Landon had finished his own pile of onions.
"Er...yes, that's very good, Landon!" Amadeus said, smiling at him. "Now, why don't" He put the knife down and braced himself on the table, a confused look on his face. He took his handkerchief from the table to cover a wheezing cough. "William... could you" he managed. He looked at me, shocked, before collapsing to the floor.
"Amadeus!" I cried, rushing towards him. "Landon, go get help!"
"Yes William!" he said, and strode quickly out of the room.
"William! Listen to me!" Amadeus groaned. A trail of blood trickled from his mouth. I was trying to hold back tears.
"I'm here, Sir."
He fumbled a hand into his pocket and produced a small letter. He handed it to me, his hand shaking.
"William, look at me," he managed, coughing up more blood, "I've seen what they've done, the soldiers. I've seen the error of my ways." A wheezing cough was followed by a spurt of blood, and Amadeus started to shake violently. " must....Landon...he's..." He looked up at me, his eyes still full of warmth; until the moment they closed for good, his eyes were full of life.
"Over here, quickly!" I heard Landon’s distant call. I could hear footsteps approaching. I collapsed on top of Amadeus, sobbing, his letter clutched in my hand, and the image of his warm eyes in my mind.

Friends came and went, spoke words of consolation, but I didn't hear any of them. I found my way to my room and sat on the bed. I fiddled with the letter in my hand. I didn't want to open it. It was as if, by saving the letter, I could wait to say goodbye. It was hard to imagine life without Amadeus. My bed never felt so cold, my room so large, or the studio so empty. I had never felt so alone. I was a wayward moon, flung out of orbit into the abyss of space. I had lost my world.
Wiping the tears from my face, I cracked the seal on Amadeus' letter. It contained a single sheet of parchment. I recognized Amadeus' script immediately.

Dear William,
If you are reading this, then I'm sorry. I wish I could be there for you,
continue to help you grow, but, alas, there are some things even I
cannot fix.
Being so close to the end, as I have been, makes one review one's life.
Have I lived it well? What have I given to the world? What have I
left behind? I thought I knew the answer to these questions, then I saw
with my own eyes the culmination of my life's work. I went to the
front lines, William. I saw my soldiers, and the lives that they were taking.
Funny, a life devoted to creating, and my legacy is one of destruction.
This is why I made Landon. If I will continue to be the cause
of death, I must continue to create life. Landon must continue
my work, until you are ready yourself. You mustn't give up, William.
You are strong, and you have in your heart a spirit I can't replicate
with gears and machinery. I'm proud of you, William.
Landon is my replacement, but you, William, are my legacy.
- Amadeus

Tears covered my face as I put the letter down. A hint of hope was beginning to work its way through the abyss. I won't let you down, Amadeus, I'll make you proud.
The next morning, I woke to a knock on my door.
"William, might I enter?" Landon asked from outside the door. I glanced at the letter on my bedside table.
"Yeah, come on in." I said, sitting up in my bed. The door creaked open as Landon entered.
"William, I have something for you. I thought you could use some cheering up," he said, producing a small gold bird from behind his back. He tossed it into the air, and, as I was about to catch it, the small creature flapped its wings and began to fly around the room. As it did aerials through the sunbeams, the gold and silver feathers in its wings glistened. After nimbly darting across the room, it landed gently on my shoulder, fluttering its wings and chirping quietly.
"Landon, it's beautiful!"
"I'm glad you like it, William."
I held out my hand, and the bird hopped into my palm. "What's it's name, then? Apple? Twelve?"
"What?" I said, sitting up from my bed and looking up into his amber eyes.
"His name is Amadeus," he said, "I thought you might-"
I cut him off with an embrace, holding his warm metal body tight.
"Thank you, Landon," I said, holding back tears. He put his arms around me, and as Amadeus chirped happily on my shoulder, I knew I wasn't alone.

No comments: