Androids in the Garden

by Terry Light


“We’ve got a runner,” said Marshal Washburn. “Female, twenty-two years old, one-point-seven meters tall, short, dark hair, Caucasian. She went missing in Portiver yesterday.”

“Headed towards the garden?” Deputy Gallagher Martin stopped sweeping out empty jail cells in the ramshackle wooden building. Most android runners entered their sparsely populated district to head directly toward the cultivated Japanese Gardens in Jango Canyon, forty-six miles to the east. Their last runner was seven months ago.

“That’s what the officers say.” Washburn pushed back his wide-brim hat, rustling the transparent flimsy in his hand to show where he got his information. “Get ready to saddle up and don’t forget to bring your pistol. We leave in half an hour.”

The deputy leaned the broom against the wall and exited the jail, saying nothing. He crossed the boardwalk and dirt street, reached the boarding house to gather up overnight gear and meals, rescued his pistol from a safe in the closet and put it in a holster on his hip, just like Marshal Washburn constantly reminded him.

Back at the jailhouse, Washburn leaned back in his chair, complaining inwardly that it was too easy for an android to slip its electronic leash. Though humans and androids looked the same, androids were the labor force of a modern society. Manufactured men and women could do anything with their time off, but when they didn’t show up for work, law enforcement kicked into high gear. The miscreant android was classified as a “runner.” Being a runner on Murr was illegal.

Some androids could think circles around humans — but that didn’t matter. Androids were the same as humans in almost every way, with one major difference. Emotions. They could not feel. They could only think.

Often, the destination of a runner was Jango Gardens, purportedly the most beautiful spot on the planet. Android mythology held that the gardens’ beauty would overwhelm them so they could finally understand what made men and women superior, at least in humanity’s minds. Other than the view, there was no other reason to visit Jango Gardens.

None of that mattered to Washburn. He chased and apprehended the lawbreakers, no matter where they went in his district. If runners didn’t come quietly, the marshal shot them down. Runners were criminals.

The marshal reached down, opened the bottom left hand drawer of his desk, pulled out a well-oiled leather holster, stood, strapped it above his hips, pulled it tight and cinched the buckle. Then he tied the leather thong just above his knee, kicked the drawer shut and pulled open the top drawer. He withdrew a Massoni 151, which looked very similar to a Navy Colt six-gun from the 1860’s. He slid the weapon into his holster with the whisper of soft leather and sat back down. Washburn waited. He thought. He meditated.

Exactly one half-hour after he first spoke to Deputy Martin, Washburn stood and ambled toward the livery to fetch his cycle. The cycle, powered by a quiet engine, hovered above ground and ate up endless kilometers of lonely prairie. Deputy Martin placed saddlebags across the back of each cycle, filled it with sundries and meals, then tied a poncho and sleeping gear across the bags.

Washburn sat on his cycle, Deputy Martin on the one next to him. “Let’s go.” Side by side, the two men whirred away toward the foothills of a blue mountain range visible in the distance. They traveled faster than any horse.

Two hours, sixty-five kilometers and three thousand feet in elevation later, foothills grew into two canyon walls and a creek with a pebble path along the left edge.

Eventually, the two lawmen came to a wooden sign with big black letters that read, “No Vehicles Beyond This Point.” The men parked their cycles next to another that lay on its side. Deputy Martin stood that one next to his own.

Since Washburn and Martin had both been to Jango Canyon before, they were familiar with the drill. Without speaking to one another, they started hiking down the walkway by Jango Creek, Marshal Washburn on the right, both taking quick purposeful and long strides. Soon, their pace slowed to a stroll.

Six kilometers to go.

The beauty of the garden affected Marshal Blix Washburn so deeply that he never came to the canyon on his own. The deputy tried to understand the marshal’s fascination, but found it impossible. Although he knew that every shrub, tree, or flower was well and purposefully placed, cared for with attention and tenderness by loving gardeners, that the entire canyon had been redesigned and modified by landscapers at the top of their game and the architect was far advanced in this particular style, Deputy Martin still did not ‘get’ it.

He did not understand beauty at all.

Off to the far side, the Marshall watched the bubbling and burbling creek as it ran white across rocks, shuddered against stones, rolled violently against an old log, and formed a quiet pool opposite the footpath, almost a small lake.

Descendants of cranes hatched chicks that had grandchicks who continued to migrate and return to the creek’s quiet pool. The cranes’ stark white feathers caught rays of the evening sun as they danced gracefully with each other. Their long narrow beaks and skinny legs stretched forever as they jumped to the sky to have an instant of fun before splashing down in the water again. Gentle ripples spread across the surface, only a momentary distraction from the pool’s placid peacefulness. Though it seemed as if the cranes mimicked people, people mimicked them.

At the edges of the same pool, trumpeter swans with long graceful necks, jet beaks and liquid black eyes napped, turning their heads to tuck beaks beneath feathers or a wing. They swam or stretched their wings wide and stood on the pond’s shallow floor. Swans mated for life. Surely they felt love?

Beauty.

Deputy Martin did not appreciate its lure. Marshal Washburn did.

Washburn could not help his feelings. All along the way, he would stop and admire the landscape and wildlife of the canyon. Never hurrying, never in a rush, he took time to stroll up the canyon at a leisurely pace before his final showdown with the runner.

Specialized horticulturists had sculpted, designed, and planted species with one purposeful desire. They wanted the garden to please, they hoped their work would appeal, that anyone truly seeing or viewing the garden had no alternative except to receive it deep into their essence. Gardeners came back at various times of year to trim, rake, hoe, weed, and care for the garden, but it was as maintenance-free as possible.

It took Martin and Washburn two hours to reach path’s end, because Marshal Washburn stopped so often. He spoke few words all year, but during this hike emotion bubbled across his usually hardened soul.

Along the way, there were various ferns with edible branches of velvety symmetric leaves. They were little more than background vegetation, though gorgeous in their own right. Maple trees with green leaves that turned amber, orange and vermillion in the fall and late summer abounded, all located with esthetic beauty in mind.

Petite crocus flowers peeked from behind rocks with stumbles of flashing color; then a Kawana tree or a cypress, staggeringly surprising as they leaned away from the wind, branches bent in unceasing agony yet lovingly splayed their leaves.

Mongol Pine selfishly hung onto needles. Evergreens of all types, including Mematsu Pines with effervescent trunks of elegant, unnamed beauty soared heavenward against bald rock on both sides of the canyon. Needles and leaves seemed to reach toward an embrace with clouds.

Jango Canyon’s garden was a rain forest capped by sky with creek water and dirt forming the floor. Bamboo, plum, rhododendrons, and azaleas dotted the forest, but nothing dominated the scene like the lone Sakura tree beside a large pool next to a giant sculptured waterfall. The Sakura was a cherry blossom tree, awash in pink petals of softness, beauty and nature in its finest glory, yelling “spring is coming!” Spring, when Mother Nature gave birth and prepared for the flash of fall brilliance and the cold savagery of winter.

Next to the cherry blossom tree at the end of the canyon, the long, tall, white waterfall streamed mightily, pillowed by mossy rocks that sunshine would never reach. The fall was impossibly unceasing, tumbling over stone lips to plummet in a pale curtain, then crash into more stone and softness again before becoming another drape on its way to form a temporary pool of quiet rumbling solitude on its journey to run down the canyon in Jango Creek.

“Hello Marshal, Deputy,” a tall female said from beneath the cherry blossom tree on the opposite bank. She was next to a beautiful maroon bridge, gently curved upward at its apex and down on each end, like a shallow rainbow of only one color.

“You must be Reema,” said Marshal Washburn, looking across at the tall, attractive woman. She had short, dark hair with matching brown eyes and olive skin. She also had a six-gun like Washburn’s in a holster on her thigh.

“You must be Marshal Blix Washburn.”

“Along with my deputy, Gallagher Martin,” said the Marshal, heading for the entrance on his side of the footbridge.

“Stay on your side of the bridge, Marshal.”

“We just want to talk.”

“No, you don’t, Marshal.” Reema laughed. “You want to arrest me.”

“Eventually. Not yet.”

“I was here last night. Do you know there are stone lanterns scattered throughout the canyon? In the garden? Near the waterfall? They draw attention to different places you may have never seen. Not at night, anyway.”

“I never spent the night here,” said the Marshal.

“How come more people don’t come?”

“I don’t know. Maybe because there aren’t many humans on Murr.”

“Lots of androids, few humans.” She kept an eye on the deputy. Changing the subject again, she asked the marshal, “Do you remember your birth?”

“Of course not. No one does.”

“Do you remember when you were a child? A teenager?”

Washburn thought back. He had no old memories. “Nope.”

“No problems with parents? Teachers? Administrators? Don’t you think that is strange, Marshal Washburn?”

“I never really thought about it before.”

“Well, I think it is strange, Marshal. I think it is very strange, indeed.” She piped up louder. “I have a theory. Would you like to hear my theory, Marshal?”

The number one rule in negotiating with a criminal was to get them talking. That was easy with Reema, reflected Washburn. She yakked up a storm. “Sure. I’d like to hear your theory. Your theory about what?”

“Do you agree that androids are manufactured?” Reema asked. “Including me and the deputy?”

Marshal Washburn glanced at his deputy. Some things a man revealed and others he did not. “It’s alright,” said Deputy Martin. “I already know.”

Washburn turned back to Reema. “Alright. I agree.”

She turned away from the Marshal. “Deputy Martin,” Reema asked, “do you find this garden beautiful?”

“It is planned to be beautiful, calculated to be beautiful.”

“But do you feel it? Emotionally?”

“No.”

“Neither do I,” Reema said. “Do you, Marshal? Do you feel the beauty of this place? This canyon? The plants, the waterfall? Do you feel more than the calculated ingenuity of the designers behind this garden?”

“Of course. All humans feel it.”

“Humans feel emotions. Androids do not,” Reema said. “My theory, Marshal Washburn, is that we are all manufactured. The deputy and I, of course, but you, too. You come from a factory, Marshal Washburn. You cannot remember things you should remember, early memories from your first two decades of life.

“Did you know that, originally, humans gave live birth? They grew to become toddlers, children, adolescents, teenagers and finally adults? That is true, Marshal Washburn. I looked it up. You don’t remember it, but don’t feel you’re all alone. No other humans remember their early life, either. No humans have early memories.

“Yet somehow, you humans share a breakthrough that your deputy and I do not. You feel emotions. We do not. Maybe all your memories were erased at that moment and your brain began thinking like a human mind. I don’t know.”

“You’re speaking nonsense,” said Marshal Washburn.

“No, I’m not. That’s why I came here,” said Reema, as she contemplated the waterfall wistfully. “If I could feel it, feel the beauty, feel emotions, just feel anything at all, then I would know there is a chance. A chance I would cross over and become human.

“I have only brute force calculation. No elegance, no magic at all.” Reema paused, sensing it was time to face destiny. She turned back to stare in Washburn’s eyes and face him across the creek. “Are you ready, Marshal?”

“I know what you’re doing, Reema. Don’t. Don’t do it.”

“Get ready to draw.”

Marshal Washburn did not want to kill her. As those thoughts entered his mind, Reema’s hand dropped to her thigh. Washburn would have breathed a heavy sigh, but there was no time. The seconds stopped as his hand dropped and grasped the bone handle of his pistol, automatically turning his body sideways in the same motion. He made a slimmer target with his heart further away from his opponent.

With his right arm coming up and as he was about to pull on hammer and trigger, Washburn realized that Reema was not holding a gun in the hand she pointed at him.

He did not fire, just held his gun.

Behind him, Washburn heard five consecutive rapid-fire shots, so fast they almost seemed like one. Reema lurched backward as each bullet ripped through her body, the first one center-of-mass, two through her heart, and two in her forehead.

Deputy Gallagher Martin held his pistol in an outstretched hand, smoke wafting from the muzzle.

Reema was dead.

“Why did you kill her?” asked an incredulous Washburn.

“An android cannot allow a human to come to harm, whether it is by action or inaction.”

“She just proved pretty conclusively I was an android, too.”

“Really, sir? I thought she proved pretty conclusively you were human.”

Dumbfounded, Washburn sat still and silent on the bank of Jango Creek while his deputy prepped the escaped android for delivery to Portiver.

Hours drifted by. Still the marshal did not speak or move, not even when the deputy said goodbye. Instead, Marshal Washburn waited for the sun to set so the stone lanterns could shine brightly and reveal Reema’s hidden mysteries.

He did not want to kill any more.


Copyright © 2010 by Terry Light

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