Neon Under a Starry Night
My father was never present while I was growing up. I remember thinking how not even his death could separate us any more than we already were. How wrong I was.
As a kid, what I wanted most was some my father’s attention. Not even affection. Just attention. He barely spent any time with me. Once–I was twelve–, he took me aside, and sat me down. We were going to have a chat. Or so I had hoped. Instead he told me my mother had left us–not him–us. And that it was the two of us alone from there on. I didn’t know then he meant each one of us. Alone.
It was only weeks later that I found out my mother had died. Our house robot told me. Thanks dad. If he barely spent time with me before, after my mother passed away he almost disappeared into his studio. Because, you see, my dad was a writer and he really didn’t have it in him to be father. It’s not me who says so. He told me that much himself.
If you asked me what memory I remember best about my father, that would be the double doors of his office behind which he locked himself up. I spent hours alone while was working. Doors close shut. Me, playing outside. Waiting for him to come out.
He was always writing. Or “creating” like he liked to call it. “I’m creating worlds you couldn’t imagine, Arturo.” He like to say things like that. That and “Don’t bother me.” Yeah, that one was another of his favorites. I’m sure he would have said that line the day when I knocked on his door, had he not been already dead.
To his credit, his seclusion paid off. He wrote a bestseller, and made a fortune. He did–not us, he.
Eventually I guess I had to grow up, and move out. He was the successful writer and I was a mediocre manager at a bland company. Nothing to be proud of. He was rich, and I wasn’t.
We kept in contact mostly through his publisher, who would send me advance reviews of my father’s books. I never read them.
I decided to call him directly one day. I had been let go from my job at the Bureau and desperately needed some money to stay in Upper City. I though that maybe getting money from him would be easier than getting attention. A small favor for somebody as rich as him, but of course, I was not going to get the money, nor the attention.
My father never remarried. He lived in sour solitude. After not hearing back from him in three days, I decided to pay him a visit in person. I had a set of keys to his penthouse apartment. What I did not have were the keys to his personal office inside which, apparently, he had locked himself up again. Typical dad. Alone, and still locked up.
I called his name through the thick doors but he did not answer. My first instinct was calling the police, but I thought better of it, and placed a call to his only trusted acquittance I knew.
I stared at the closed doors in silence while I waited for his his publisher to arrive. Once again, there I was, waiting outside his office.
Sometime after midnight a robot arrived to the house. For some reason it had never crossed my mind that my father’s publisher was a robot. It did make sense though.
“You are his son,” said the robot as a greeting. It didn’t wait for an invitation and walked pass me. “How long has he been dead?”
“Dead? Who said he is dead?” I replied.
“Oh, come on. Don’t give me that crap.”
The robot walked to the studio door, and inserted a key card on the access panel. The door opened with a hiss. The two of us walked in.
Of course the robot was right.
At the sight of my father, I started crying. There it was his body, still seated seated on his chair, face down, arms spread across his desk. I let myself drop in an armchair across from his dead body. Of course he was dead. The ultimate denial. I need something from him, and he dies on me.
The robot considered me/observed me for a few moments. A blank expression on its face. “I keep forgetting about humans’ sentimentality. My condolences. I should leave you alone to grieve.”
“I am not sad. I am annoyed. Once again, he does it to me.”
The robot looked at me. “Do what?”
“Failed me. I was visiting to ask him a favor.”
“What favor was that?”
“I need money,” I said flat out. “I have some financial problems I need to resolve. I never benefitted from my father’s–” I waved at all the extravagant decoration in his studio, looking for the right words, “–fortune.”
The robot looked at my father’s body. “I don’t know if I would call it fortune.”
That’s when it struck me. I got up from my seat, and looked around again. I realized then, for the first time, that everything was mine. As his only living relative, I was to inherit everything. I let my imagination wander for an instant, while I considered what this meant for my problems. Then the robot spoke up again.
“He had no money.”
“What do you mean he had no money?”
“Debts. That’s all he had. His bank accounts are depleted.”
I couldn’t believe my ears.
“Look, Arturo. Neon under a Starry Night was a hit, but everything after has failed to bring any substantial earnings. His last ten books were a disaster. He carried on spending as if the money was still flowing. But it wasn’t. Believe me, I see the numbers. Your father has been living on credit for the last 18 months.”
“Ruined…” I dropped in the seat once again, letting the words float away.
“I’m also out of money. Your father owed me a manuscript. I gave him several advances and he never delivered. That book was supposed to get him out of bankruptcy.” The robot looked at the back of my father’s head. “Not any more.”
“How are we going to tell the press?” I said trying to put everything behind me as swiftly as possible.
“The press!?” exclaimed the robot. “What press? No press. None at all.”
“Belvedere Sequeiros, the writer, is officially dead. People will find out.”
“How many people knew your father’s pen name?”
“Nobody knows. My father–you knew him personally–, he was a private individual.”
“Private? I’d say antisocial.”
“To say the least. He used a pen name because he was ashamed of our family name. My name. At least I think he was. It was his big secret. He didn’t want anybody to know Belvedere was really a descendant from a colonist.”
“As if being a writer was any better!” said the robot with a scoff.
The editor sat on a second chair next to me. He rotated the chair around to look out of the floor-to-ceiling glass window behind my father’s body.
“That means nobody knows the genius is dead,” it said after a few seconds of silence.
“What do you mean?”
“You want your money and I want my book.” The robot looked at me in the eye, with a seriousness I couldn’t shake. I was scared, but also intrigued. “I have an idea to solve our problems, Arturo.”
“What idea?” I said with trepidation.
“We’ll write the book. A new book. And we’ll publish it under his name.”
“You are mad.”
“Arturo. Your father is dead. Belvedere Sequeiros can live on.”
“You want somebody else to write his book? Nobody would buy that. The techno-critics will detect it’s a forgery on the first page.”
The editor walked turned around in his chair to look back at me. He was going to say something, but hesitated and stopped before starting. He was picking his words with care.
“What do you know about robots?”
“I know you are very…”, I wasn’t sure what word I was looking for, “–smart?”
The robot smiled. “Precisely. I’ve read everything your father has written. I know his style.” The robot tapped its metal finger on its metal head. “It’s all in here. An artificial brain can be programmed to emulate any pattern of behavior.” said the robot.
I didn’t understand. “Are you saying you can copy his brain?”
“Not literally. But I can imitate to perfection the frequency of words, the vocabulary used, his particular turns of phrases, the sentence length, his most used images and metaphors. Nobody will be able to detect it’s a forgery. It will be stylistically and statistically his work/him.”
“I am going to write the book he couldn’t write. It will be a masterpiece. It will be exactly what his fans have been asking for since Neon. It will be a space opera of epic proportions. A hundred thousand page volume. Imagine that!”
“It will be a monument to Science-Fiction. It will redefine the genre. It will define new genre.” The robot was talking to itself now. “Now that he is dead, there will be no more of those attempts at high-brow literature. Nobody to oppose my vision. We’ll give his fans what they really want. Sex, lasers, robots!”
“It will be!”
I thought the robot had gone mad.
“We need to do this now. As soon as possible. Tonight! It can’t wait.”
“The sooner we get it done the better. I need all personal documents, books, manuscripts, notes, letters,… everything.”
“Everything! I must absorb his psyche/soul to perfection.”
I gave the machine books, and notes, and papers, posts-its, anything I could find in the house. After delivering every last piece, the robot pushed my father’s body to the side, sat at his desk and started going over all the documents. I thought the robot had gone mad. But–you must understand–it was the best plan I had.
“It will be a hit. I assure you.”
I stood there, not knowing what to do.
“Please, close the door when you leave,” said the robot. “I need to concentrate.”
I waited outside the office all night until the sun came out.
I called to the robot through the doors of the studio, and heard a voice reply. “I’m creating worlds you couldn’t imagine, Arturo. Don’t bother me.”
The book never came out. And neither did the robot from the studio.
It’s now been two weeks that the robot has been locked inside. So long I almost lost track of time. You might think I must be furious. Bit I am not. Hearing that voice from behind the wooden doors scream back at me, when I knock, gives me a strange sense of familiarity and comfort.
I only worry about my father’s body, still laying on the floor. There is this smell in the air that it’s only getting worse. I wait by the wooden doors. The book must be almost done by now. Certainly the robot will come out any moment now.
February 10, 2019