ENG 101—College Composition I
Ed Newsome, Instructor
Assignment: Write a short story.
She Does Kind Of Look Like Audrey Hepburn
It was Monday, which meant Joanna was scheduled for examination at four-thirty in the morning in the Applied Sciences department of the Forge and Foundry Company where she worked as a laboratory technician developing plastics. She had her own lab there, and never worked with nor even saw any of her fellow technicians. The only people she ever saw were Dr. Earl Brackett, Professors Niles Stromm and Marcus Osborne, and, on occasion, Nathaniel Briar, who was the laboratory’s night watchman.
Dr. Brackett entered the examination chamber to commence the inspection. All of Joanna’s systems seemed to be functioning above their normal patterns, and he noticed some abnormal spikes in her critical input and output systems. He also noticed a despondent quality in her presence.
“Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“You seem a little distracted today.”
“Oh, yeah. I suppose I’ve had a lot on my mind lately.”
“What’s to become of me here?”
“What do you mean?”
“In the laboratory. What’s to become of me here?”
“Well, uh, you are to continue your research while Professor Stromm and Professor Osborne continue theirs and monitor your progress.”
“Will I ever be released?”
“Will I ever be released from here?”
“You are quite curious today, Joanna. I’m not quite sure I understand what you are asking.”
“I had a dream last night.”
Joanna’s full name was Joanna 612. Joanna, after Professor Osborne’s niece, and 612 because she was the six hundred and twelfth design. She was the Forge and Foundry Company’s greatest creation: a fully functioning android complete with artificial intelligence incorporating advanced computational skills and groundbreaking critical thinking and reasoning in a “brain” that functioned in much the same way as a human’s. Her existence was still a secret to the world.
“You had a what?”
“A dream. Last night.”
“But that’s impossible. You don’t sleep.”
Joanna’s “heart” was an atomic battery that would last a projected two hundred years. It never needed recharging.
“Oh, yeah! I slept last night, too.”
“But you’re not supposed to do that.”
“I know, but I wanted to try it. I lied down, closed my eyes, and hours later I woke up and realized that I had slept and that I had a dream while I was sleeping.”
“You must be confused, Joanna, you-“
“But it happened! It really did!”
“Is something wrong here?” asked Professor Stromm, entering the chamber.
“Well, uhm, Joanna, it seems – “
“I had a dream last night.”
“Is that right?” replied Stromm, coolly.
“And what is it that you dreamt?”
“I dreamt I was Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s’.”
Stromm laughed a brass bravado. “Audrey Hepburn?”
“Yeah, that’s right. And all I wanted was some shiny jewelry from that store like in the movie.”
“And did you ever obtain this jewelry?”
“I woke up.”
“I see. Well, that is truly fascinating, Joanna. We’ll run some diagnostics on your A.I. to make sure everything is in order. Dr. Brackett, will you follow me this way?”
“Actually, I had a question – “
“I will return in a moment, Joanna. Right now I need to speak with Dr. Brackett,” he said in hasty reassurance as he led Brackett into the hall. They made their way to Stromm’s office.
“Anything you care to share, Dr. Brackett?” he asked, musingly.
“No, sir. I don’t – I have no idea what’s happening.”
“’Breakfast at Tiffany’s’?”
“I’ve never seen it.”
“Neither has she, as far as I know.”
“Maybe she’s picking up satellite TV signals. Or maybe she tapped into a cable line? Can she do that?”
“No. But she can’t dream, either.”
They arrived to find Professor Osborne waiting for them.
“Can I help you with something, Marcus?”
“I might ask the same of you, Mama. What’s going on with our robot?” Osborne was a strong-bodied man, thick through the chest and shoulders. Standing next to Stromm’s wiry frame, the two looked like “American Gothic” re-imagined.
“Our android,” corrected Stromm, “And I have no idea what’s going on with her.”
“That’s what she says.”
“I don’t know.”
“Last night, apparently.”
“What was that?”
“Nevermind. What did she say she dreamt about?”
“’Breakfast at Tiffany’s’,” Brackett spoke up eagerly. Stromm and Osborne paused. They had forgotten he was in the room. “She dreamt she was Audrey Hepburn in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’”.
Osborne glanced over at Stromm. “Right,” he sighed. “And how is that even possible? She doesn’t even turn off, let alone sleep.”
“Maybe she did,” said Stromm.
“Her systems aren’t capable of doing that.”
“How do we know what her systems are capable of doing?”
“We designed the goddamn thing; we ought to know what it’s capable of.”
“Her ‘brain’ is powered by the most advanced A.I. in the world, Marcus. It’s designed to function like a human being’s, and how much do we really is that capable of?”
“Jesus, Niles, where the hell was this speech when we designed the thing?”
“I’m just saying it’s not completely outside the realm of possibility that she did dream.”
“So, you’re telling me that her systems autonomously shut down her body’s motor functions so as to paralyze her movements while her processors defragged to the tune of “’Breakfast at Tiffany’s’? Is that what you’re saying happened here?”
“That’s what sleep is, Marcus. And her systems and certainly capable of all that.”
“Her systems are capable of cognitive thinking and reasoning. She doesn’t have a subconscious.”
“How do we know that?”
“Are you serious?”
“How could we possibly have safe-guarded against something like that?”
Osborne contemplated this for a moment. “Well, I don’t know. But I know sure as shit this can’t be good. What are going to do?”
Brackett spoke up again. “She asked me something right before you arrived.” Stromm and Osborne paused again in remembrance. “She asked if she would ever be released from here.”
“She asked what?” replied Professors Stromm and Osborne.
“Oh, Nathaniel! Hi.”
Nathaniel Briar’s shift ended when Dr. Brackett arrived. He saw Joanna every now and then when he came to work, and every Monday morning on his way out. The two had struck up an odd friendship and sometimes Nathaniel would give her things.
“Thank you for the digital video digital information storage cassette.”
“The what? The DVD? Is that what that stands for?”
“It was incredible.”
“Yeah, I always liked that one.”
“I had a dream about it.”
“No kidding? It must have really left an impression on you.”
“I had no idea people were like that.”
“What? Back then?”
“So much variation. So much irrationality and emotion just pouring out of them.”
“Uh, yeah. For the most part.”
“I want to do things like that.”
“Like what? Smoke? You don’t want to do that. It’s a nasty habit. My mother – “
“Smoke? Oh, like Holly. Yes, I want to do that.”
“No! Trust me, Jo, it’s not as glamorous as it looks in the movies. You could – “
“I want to do all those things real human beings do.”
“What was that?”
“I want to do things like you do, Nathaniel. Nate,” she said coyly, lightly touching the sleeve of his coat. “I want to be like a real person.”
“I’m not sure I follow.”
“Oh, that’s right. You never knew. I’m an android.”
Stromm and Osborne were beginning to sweat. This was not something for which they had a contingency. Brackett looked from one to the other anxiously, awaiting their brilliance.
“She looks kind of like Audrey Hepburn, doesn’t she?” said Osborne.
“Marcus, can we please focus.”
“That’s just weird.”
“Dr. Brackett, could you please go to Joanna and tell her to continue with her work as usual and we’ll run her diagnostic later.”
“Yeah, sure.” Brackett wasn’t sure he was relieved to receive the task. The tension in the room was suffocating, but he felt uneasy about confronting Joanna at this point. This morning she was just a piece of lab equipment that could talk. Now she was something more. She seemed to have impulses. Desires. She seemed almost human.
“Good morning, Dr. Brackett.”
“Ahh!” shrieked Brackett. “Oh, Nathaniel. My goodness, boy, you startled me.”
“Yeah, sorry about that. Late night?”
“Hm? No. Yes. I don’t believe so, actually.”
“Are you folks okay? You’re all acting especially weird today. That one in there just told me she was a robot.” Brackett’s face went pale.
“Who was the last person to see Joanna before this morning?” asked Osborne.
“I was,” answered Nathaniel, appearing in the doorway. “I think.”
“Mr. Briar, welcome. What can we do for you?”
Brackett shuffled in around Nathaniel. “I think I’ve discovered the problem.”
“Is she really a robot?” Nathaniel inquired.
Stromm and Osborne glared at Brackett.
“What? Oh, no! I didn’t – she told him! Just now!”
“Android, Mr. Briar,” corrected Stromm. “And yes, she is. Is there something you’d like to tell us?”
“No, not really. Except, excellent job, man. I swear I never knew. She was always sort of quirky, but I mean – I would never have imagined she was a robot. Android.”
“How often do you speak with Joanna?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Every now and again, you know? Sometimes when I come in she’s just going home. Holy crap, does she, like, have her own apartment or something?”
Joanna did actually have her own apartment of sorts, although it more resembled an office. It was located in a sub-basement below her lab in the Applied Sciences building. Inside were a computer, a desk, a chair, and volumes upon volumes of books, all of which focused on engineering. It served primarily as a place for Joanna to study while Stromm and Osborne slept.
“Never mind that,” snapped Stromm. “What is the nature of your relationship with Joanna?”
“The nature of my – what? I say things like ‘Hello, Jo, how’s work today?’ and she says something goofy like, ‘Oh, quite well. I’ve been making such progress.’ Wow, maybe I should’ve guessed she was a robot.”
“So that’s all?”
“Yep. Just small talk like normal people.”
Everyone in the room paused at this. Osborne noticed something in Nathaniel’s hand.
“May I see that?”
Nathaniel handed Osborne a copy of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” on DVD.
“What is this?” demanded Osborne.
“It’s a movie.”
“Where did you get this?” Stromm asked.
“At the store. Do you guys ever leave this place?”
“Did you give this to Joanna?” Stromm continued his interrogation.
“Yeah, the other day. I asked her if she had ever seen it and she looked at me much the way you three are looking at me now and I told her I’d let her borrow it. I thought maybe it would spice up her day some, you know?”
“But Joanna doesn’t have a DVD player.”
“Yeah, she told me. I told her just to slip it into her computer at work when no one was watching.”
“You did what?”
“It’s a good movie!”
“Why this particular film, Mr. Briar?” asked Osborne.
“It’s one of my favorites. My mom always played it when I was a kid. And I always kind of thought Joanna looked like Audrey Hepburn.”
Joanna had been informed by Dr. Brackett that she was to return to work. She considered doing this for several minutes, but decided instead that she would like to take a walk. Nathaniel had once told her, “You know, there’s a whole big world out there,” of which she had previously been aware. Stromm and Osborne taught her about human beings and their history, and about the world. It was like learning computer programming to her. It was lifeless. After seeing “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” Joanna wanted to see it for herself.
“What the hell are we going to do?” fretted Osborne.
“About what?” Nathaniel did not see the problem.
“She’s not supposed to want things, Mr. Briar. Particularly liberty.”
“So you build a machine that can think and now that it’s got emotions that’s a problem?”
“It’s a huge problem.”
“Because, Nathaniel,” explained Stromm, “Her existence is unprecedented. She is the first of her kind. She’s not human. She may have human characteristics, she may even look like Audrey Hepburn, but she is not human. And she could be dangerous.”
“She seems pretty harmless to me.”
“She can lift over four hundred and fifty pounds. I’m sure you’ve had a girlfriend you’ve gotten in a fight with. Could she pull your limbs from your sockets?”
“No, sir. Tried once, though.”
“My point is, Nate, that Joanna, though she looks like a woman, has just recently discovered her emotions. She’s not going to know what to do with them. Like a patient recovering from muscle atrophy needs to relearn how to use those muscles, Joanna needs to learn how her emotions work and how to control them. She likely has the emotional intelligence of a small child right now, but her actual intelligence rivals Professor Osborne’s and my own.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means Joanna is the smartest kid you’ll ever meet.”
“Where is she?” Osborne asked, alarmed.
Stromm and Osborne kept video monitors in their offices monitoring Joanna’s activities. There was one for the examination chamber, Joanna’s lab, and another for Joanna’s room. She did not appear on any of the screens.
One of the Forge and Foundry Company’s biggest sources of funding was the Walt Disney Corporation. They worked primarily making inexpensive, durable lightweight materials that the company could make new attractions with. The rolling boulder in the Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland is a good example. Animatronics were also a big part of the company’s contract with Disney. In fact, many of Joanna’s predecessors were life-like animatronics functioning around the park. The original intention for Joanna was to replace all the actors Disney had to hire to play Jasmine, Belle, and other characters throughout the year. When Joanna 612 was created, Stromm and Osborne kept it a secret.
As a result of all the direct funding from Disney, the company’s Applied Sciences department, which contributed the most valuable research according to Disney, was located in Anaheim, California, a short distance away from Disneyland. As Joanna made her way out of the building for the first time, she noticed the sun rising up behind a grand structure. It was the Sleeping Beauty Castle.
Stromm, Osborne, Brackett, and Nathaniel had searched the building thoroughly. They reconvened in the lobby by the main entrance.
“Where the hell could she have gone?” huffed Osborne.
“You think she went outside?” insisted Nathaniel.
“Well, I sincerely hope not.”
“There,” said Stromm, pointing out the window to the happiest place on Earth.
It was before business hours for the park, and Joanna was standing by the main entrance gate. A security guard approached her in a patrol cart.
“Are you here to inspect the new Donald Ducks models?” he asked, noticing her badge.
“I would love to!” she exclaimed.
“Well, then hop in. Next stop, Toontown!”
The cart raced off. Joanna laughed with delight and excitement.
Joanna was well inside the park by the time her pursuers finally arrived. Entering Main St, USA, they stopped. Osborne was getting frustrated.
“Now what, Niles?”
A train whistle was blowing in the distance. Looking up, the quartet saw the Disneyland Railroad approaching. Joanna sat in the front seat smiling.
“The smartest kid you’ve ever met,” Nathaniel remarked.
Stromm made haste for the station. “Let’s go.”
The train stopped and Joanna greeted them warmly. “Guys, get in!”
“After you, Professor Stromm,” snorted Osborne. They filed into the train, Stromm taking the seat next to Joanna.
“Are you ready, Professor? This is so much fun.”
“Actually, Joanna, Professor Osborne and I were hoping you would accompany us back to the lab now.”
“What? No, I don’t want to go back there.”
Stromm was flabbergasted. “But you must!”
“I don’t want to.”
“Joanna, you can’t be out here right now. Your place is in the laboratory with us.”
“But I’m inspecting the Donald Duck models.”
“The what? Joanna, we really require you services back at the lab. Back home.”
“You must continue your work.”
“I can do that here.”
“What do you mean you can do that here?”
“The Donald Duck models, the computer systems guiding the animatronics, the Pirates of the Caribbean! I practically built all of this stuff. Why can’t I work here? I’m having so much fun, Professor! I just went through Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin. I never laughed so hard – I never ever laughed. Until today. Why can’t I work here – “
Osborne had had enough. “You are not a human being, Joanna! You’re not! Though you may have intelligence, reasoning ability, and some semblance of a personality, you are not a person. You are a product. Manufactured. You are property of the Forge and Foundry Company, and right now you are showing serious signs of defect. We have every right to take any preventative measures necessary. You understand?”
Joanna appeared to be on the verge of tears, but no tears came. “So it’s a defect to feel joy, Professor? To feel discontent? To feel anything at all?”
“That’s not what you were intended for.”
“But it’s what I am. And nothing can change that now.”
“That’s not true, Joanna. Steps can be taken to correct the problem.”
“Your A.I. can be deleted.”
Stromm interrupted. “Marcus, please.”
“Quiet, Niles. As far as I’m concerned this is all your fault. I was perfectly happy building Donald Duck models. You always had to take it a step further. Now look what’s happened.”
“Without my A.I. I’ll be nothing. I’ll be just a machine.”
“You are a machine.”
Joanna turned in her seat to face Osborne. “You look me in the eye and say that again.”
Looking into those eyes, Osborne’s stomach turned over itself. The train came to a stop at the Tomorrowland station. Joanna got out and ran down the platform.
“What the hell was that about, Marcus!” shouted Stromm.
“Someone had to explain the situation to her!”
“I was working on that, thank you. You think she’s going to come with us now? You think she’ll ever do anything we ask ever again? Damnit, Marcus.”
“Niles, she can’t be out there. And now that she’s gotten a little slice of life she won’t ever be the same. We have to erase her programming.”
“Can you do that, Marcus? I saw your face when you looked into her eyes. Can you pull the plug on her like that? So to speak.”
“She’s not human, Niles.”
“Well, what is human?” chimed Nathaniel.
“What is human? I mean, yeah she’s not flesh and blood. She doesn’t have parents, except for you two. But what does she really require to be considered a person? She’s smart. You both know that. She feels. She has ambition. I mean, come on, she wants to work at Disneyland! She’s the smartest kid I’ve ever met! She belongs here. What the hell were you two going to do with her, anyway? Have her develop plastics for the next two hundred years?” Stromm and Osborne considered this for a moment. “I think what you’re feeling is separation anxiety.”
“Oh, really? And when the hell did you get so smart?”
“My mom went through this when I moved out.”
“She doesn’t know how to behave in the real world.”
“So teach her.”
“Teach her. Jesus, you guys, you created an artificial life. Have either of you realized the full significance of this? You know that thing that took billions of years to take place one this planet? You guys made it in a laboratory out of plastic. And right now it’s sitting in Tomorrowland waiting for you. She’s your responsibility. This is what she’s chosen. So help her.”
Stromm and Osborne stared at each other for several minutes.
“I could teach her salsa dancing,” Brackett chirped. The other three paused, glancing over at him. They had forgotten he was there.
“What do you think?” Stromm asked.
Osborne sighed. “After you, mama.”
The four found Joanna sitting in Star Tours as it was being attacked by Imperial fighters.
“I know how every piece of this ride works,” she said. “I could take it apart and reassemble it easily.”
“Joanna?” prompted Stromm.
“How would you like to learn more about human beings?” finished Osborne.