15 July 2011


By Curtis C. Chen

Amanda disliked the boy as soon as he asked, "Is that your robot?"

Next to her, Irwin remained motionless. The hotel lobby was mostly empty; all the other performers and parents were either packed into the auditorium or corralled backstage. Amanda had refused to wait in either darkened space, and nobody was about to say no to a minister's daughter and her bodyguard.

She sniffed and said, "He's not a robot."

The boy rolled his eyes. "Fine. Is that your Hayden Technologies Q-704 synthetic attendant?"

Amanda blinked. "How do you know so much about androids?"

"My family runs a rival robotics company." The boy squinted at Amanda's recital name tag. "Your last name isn't Hayden, is it?"

"No," Amanda huffed. "I am Amanda Cringely."

The boy's eyes widened. "Oh. Sorry. It's just—one of the Hayden girls is about your age, and my mom wouldn't be happy if she found me talking to the enemy." He extended a hand. "I'm Bobby Altschul."

Amanda shook his hand; it would have been rude to refuse. Muffled sounds of applause drifted through the closed auditorium doors. Amanda turned to Irwin and asked, "Who's next?"

"Hilary Kirtman," Irwin replied in his soft, even voice. "You have fifteen minutes before you need to be backstage, miss."

Amanda nodded and turned back to Bobby. "Do the Altschuls and Haydens really hate each other that much?"

"It's not personal," Bobby said. "But consumer robotics is big business. There's a lot of money in exclusive contracts with leading families."

"You sound like a brochure."

"Hey, at least my mom's not here. She'd be doing a hard sell. Altschul means quality, blah blah blah." Bobby shrugged. "Let's talk about something else. What piece are you performing?"

Amanda allowed herself a prideful smile. "Rosen's Twelfth."

Bobby's eyebrows shot up. "All three movements?"

"Of course."

"Guess I'll have time to grab a sandwich, then." Bobby plopped down into an armchair. "I thought Mr. Webb hated Rosen."

Amanda gathered her skirt and sat on a small couch. Irwin followed and stood behind her. "I wanted a challenge. And Mr. Webb didn't want to lose me as a student. What are you playing?"

"Mozart's Piano Sonata Number Eleven."

"The Turkish March?" Amanda wrinkled her nose. "That's not very interesting."

Bobby raised his hands, palms up. "It's something I could memorize. I'm only here because my parents think I need a well-rounded education."

"You don't like music?"

"I love music. I don't love making it," Bobby said.

Amanda felt Irwin's hand on her shoulder. It couldn't have been fifteen minutes already. She turned to reprimand him.

Irwin's glassy eyes had irised all the way open. His other hand closed around Amanda's neck. She couldn't breathe. Her fists smacked helplessly against Irwin's inhuman forearms.

It's not fair, Amanda thought. I would have killed the Rosen.

Irwin's head jerked back, and his hands opened. Amanda fell to the carpet, hurting her knees, and coughed.

Bobby jumped out from behind Irwin, clutching a piece of plastic. He grabbed Amanda's arm, yanked her up, and said, "Run!"


Image: Playing the piano by Nikos Koutoulas, August, 2009