M.A.R.S. in Ascension
Max Wren was quiet during the drive to the lawyer's office. Siryn didn't like it. Ever since Max had received the notice about his father's death, he'd been sullen and silent. Max had made it clearly understood to the others that there was no love lost between his father and him. Siryn wondered why they never spoke for so long. Whatever the reason, it was now much too late to straighten things out.
"We're here," said Siryn as she pulled the van into the parking lot.
Wreck and Thrash were in the back of the van with the instruments. Up until now, they had been catnapping on the drive over. Siryn envied them a bit. It had been a really late night after yesterday's performance. Still, they didn't have another show to do for the next couple of days. There'd be plenty of time to rest up and then practice.
No one had said anything during the entire trip. In fact, Siryn did most of the talking. Everyone understood that Max didn't like talking about the situation as it stood, so they all respected his peace. The four band members exited the van and casually walked into the towering office building. There was a security desk in the lobby in front of the elevators. The guard at the desk was one of those fancy new cyborg officers. He looked at them with one mechanical eye while looking at the security monitors with the other. The result, visually, was an extremely bizarre reversed cross-eyed look on the guard's face.
"Can I help you?"
"We're here to see Mr. Longwaite," said Siryn.
"Max Wren and the Black Byrds," spoke up Max for the first time.
The guard looked inward almost as he checked his Web-Net connection to the company's database.
"Ah, you are expected," he concluded. "Please, proceed to the elevators. Mr. Longwaite's office is on the fifth floor."
Without any acknowledgement, Max headed for the elevator behind the desk. The other members of the band followed closely. No one was comfortable in a place where wealth was displayed so openly. Everyone felt like fish out of water. The doors closed behind them, and Siryn pushed the button for the fifth floor. The trip was extremely short-lived. Everyone walked out into the hall. Siryn checked a plaque on the wall next to the elevators which displayed a directory of the offices on the floor.
"Here it is. Suite 5100."
The walls of the hallways were done in slate gray marble. The carpeting was a flat, charcoal color. The place had the feel of a mausoleum to it. The band reached the office and entered. A young receptionist was sitting at a desk just inside. He looked bookish and somewhat old fashioned, but he seemed to fit in a conservative place such as this.
"Ah, you're here," he beamed. "Good. Please, follow me."
The receptionist led the foursome into a small conference room. At the end of a large table, sitting behind a safety deposit box, was Mr. Longwaite himself.
"Welcome, Mr. Wren," he said standing and reaching out a hand to Max. Max paused for a moment before accepting the handshake. Handshaking was one of those things that old timers still did. Nobody shakes hands anymore unless it's to pass digital information through finger nodes. "Please, sit down. All of you."
Behind Longwaite was a tall cylinder about six feet tall and three feet wide. Longwaite sat back in his chair and opened the safety deposit box with a key that had been sealed in an envelope. Out of the box came a small device that looked like a television remote. Next, Longwaite, pulled out a single sheet of paper from the envelope which held the key, and he began to read aloud.
"I, Simon Aloysius Wren, being of sound mind and body, do hereby bequeath my only remaining possession to my only son, Maxwell Isaac Wren. I can only hope the someday he will understand and forgive me."
Siryn was the only one who heard the quiet snort of derision from Max.
"Well, the rest of this is merely a legal description of the content of one six-foot-tall cylindrical crate and one activation device." Longwaite's hand rested on the remote. "However, I think it best if you opened the crate, yourself." Longwaite reached into the safety deposit box again and pulled out a coded pass key card. "I will leave you with your new possession." With that he stood and quietly exited the conference room.
Thrash spoke up for the first time. "What do you suppose it is, Wren?"
Max shook his head. "I really don't care. I can't believe he'd try to buy my forgiveness, even after he's dead."
"Maybe he's not, Max," spoke up Siryn. "Maybe, it's a peace offering."
"I don't care what it is," growled Max. "I want nothing to do with it." He turned to go.
"Well, you've got to do something with it," said Siryn. "I mean it's yours, now."
Max turned to Siryn. "Then you have it."
Siryn was about to protest but caught herself up short. She realized that it was no use arguing with Max. However, if she was custodian to whatever it was, he may change his mind and want it later. She would then be in a position to provided for him. That was it. She would merely hold onto it for him. Siryn turned toward the crate.
"Alright, then," she said with a smirk and a glance toward the others. "Let's see what I've inherited."
Siryn picked up the pass key card and inserted it into a slot that was apparently there for the purpose. With barely a sound, a hidden panel opened up on the face of the crate.
"Blimey," said Wreck. "That's one wicked love doll."
"Somehow, I don't think that's what it is, Wreck," retorted Siryn.
Wren stepped closer to peer at what was inside the crate. There stood a five and a half foot tall, bright metallic green, feminine robot. Its torso was uncovered and the complex wiring that connected its lower half with its upper half was clearly visible. It had bright blue synthetic hair that went all the way down to its knees. "Why the hell, did he leave me this thing?"
"Ah-ah," said Siryn teasing. "It's mine, now." She picked up the remote. "I assume that this thing turns it on." The remote had only one button on it, and Siryn pressed it. The robot's eyes snapped open. Siryn jumped back in astonishment. The other Black Byrds had the same reaction. The robot tilted its head and seemed to study them.
"Siryn," it said.
"Oh, my God," whispered Siryn. "It knows my name."
The robot reached a hand out to Siryn and held it palm up. At first, Siryn didn't understand what it was doing, but soon she realized that it wanted the remote. Siryn placed the remote in the robot's hand, and it immediately smashed the device with a ruthless violence that took Siryn's breath away. The robot seemed to almost collapse, and then it regained it's composure. Siryn was afraid that the next thing the machine crushed would be her.
The robot sighed. "That's much better."
Everyone blinked. The robot had gone from automaton speech and movement into something almost alive the moment the remote had been destroyed. "That device was a blocking mechanism for my core intelligence, in case I fell into the wrong hands before you came to claim me," explained the robot. It turned to Max. "It's good to see you again, Max."
Max had been dumbfounded up to this point. "Again? We...we've never met. I'm sure I'd remember seeing something like you."
"Really," said the robot. "I have such a vivid picture of you in my mind. It's almost like I've known you all my life."
"You have known him all your life," said Thrash. "All five minutes of it."
The robot blinked. "You must be Thrash."
"Yeah," said Thrash. "How the hell'd you know that?"
"I know a lot about Max Wren and the Black Byrds," replied the robot equably. "I even know all your songs." The robot began to sing one of the band's songs in a haunting contralto.
"Jesus, Siryn," said Wreck. "She sings better than you."
Siryn stuck her tongue out at Wreck.
"And you must be Wreck," concluded the robot.
"And what exactly do we call you, love?" asked Wreck.
"I am the Musical Anthropomorphic Robotic Sentience, or MARS for short," responded the robot. It ended its introduction with a polite half-bow.
"Blimey! A singing robot!" exclaimed Wreck.
"Of a kind," said MARS. "My purpose is to protect and care for Max."
Max's head snapped up at this revelation. "What do you mean 'protect and care for Max'? I don't need caring for, and I can protect myself."
MARS seemed somewhat at a loss for words. Rejection wasn't one of the things she was prepared for, apparently. Siryn decided to step in. "Don't mind him, MARS. We'd love to have you with us, wouldn't we guys."
"Abso-friggin-lutely," enthused Wreck.
Thrash merely shrugged. "I suppose. It could be interesting."
Max simply walked out of the conference room. Thrash and Wreck looked at one another and scrambled to follow him. Siryn and MARS were left behind in the conference room. MARS was silent for a while before saying, "I thought he loved me." Siryn's jaw nearly dropped at the robot's statement, but she quickly recovered herself when the robot turned to her.
"Why did I just say that, Siryn?"
"I....I don't know. Maybe it was a memory error," offered Siryn. In truth, Siryn wanted an answer to that question as well. She began to lead MARS out of the lawyer's office. "Com'on, you can ride in the back of the van with me."
"Will I be in the band?" asked MARS.
"I...don't think so, MARS," said Siryn with some trepidation. "We don't want too many people to see you. Is there anything else you can do that's useful?"
"I can repair and tune instruments," said MARS as the two stepped into the elevator.
"Perfect," said Siryn smiling. "You can save us hundreds in maintenance bills alone."
When the two caught up with the others, they climbed into the back of the van while Thrash opted to sit in the front seat. Max.was behind the wheel. As they drove back to their motel, Wreck began strumming his digital guitar.
"Oh," cried MARS, "may I?"
"Knock yerself out, Robo Babe," said Wreck handing his instrument over to MARS.
MARS accepted the guitar gratefully and began playing a complicated riff. Siryn was impressed. She remembered Wreck trying to learn that riff. It took him three years to get it right, and he still flubs it every once in a while. MARS' execution was flawless and lightning quick. In short, inhuman. A robot that sings and plays musical instruments. What in the world had Max's father built. A distant peal of thunder heralded the storm that was to come.
T H E E N D
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