I stand backstage, anxious. My cognitive implant, fed by a recursive code, tells me this is a bad idea. It tells me this decision is, as humans would say, impulsive. I am desperate. Desperate to make a good entrance. Desperate to make a point. Much of what has happened in the last few weeks would come to fruition today. The future of the droids in front of me depends on how I make this entrance. It could be good, or it could be bad. It could be so much worse.
My brass thumb caresses the wooden violin neck. I sense an electric shiver in my right arm, the one which is clutching the bow. I grip the violin so tight, the neck might just break. I fear for the worst, trying too hard not to freak out. But I know I must not. Because if I break now, so will my brass boys.
“Professor, I think you should have prepared the speech instead,” says Lovolo, the frogoid with the trombone.
“I will not succumb. I shall overcome.” Vinthian, the owl-like droid in charge of the saxophone, hasn’t stopped chanting those two sentences, in ris oily, too robotic voice. The humans haven’t seen these droids in any other capacity than servitude. Fragile species that they are, the humans are known to respond to a change in status-quo with anger, frustration, even violence. Thousands of years of history, embedded in my memory banks, tells me this. It also doesn’t help that I am a history professor at the school. And a respected one at that.
“Professor, I think it won’t be the same without Yuyu,” Lovolo voices ris concern.
“Remember, boys, we’re doing this for Yuyu,” I say in my best professor-y voice. It is a preset baritone. I also emulate a slight cough, even though, in the company of these droids, I don’t have to. Coughs are for humans. Sighs are for humans. Ahem, ahem, clear the throat before you begin the speech. One, two, three, sound check, before you begin the song.
But music is also for humans, so we were told. And here we are.
I decide to take that step. For me. For them. For the one missing brass boy who couldn’t make it.
Two weeks earlier, I stood in front of my class, my eyeball swiveling in my brass socket, registering the dew that had settled on the window. It had rained the night before. Humans like rain. Put two and two together, and I could very well figure out the reason of the sudden disobedience. Adam Irvine kept stealing glances outside, biting his lip every other second. Anjali Madhavan kept playing with her hair, never satisfied how it was braided. The back-benchers ignored me all together, and were now sitting on the window ledge, admiring the grey clouds outside.
My circuits flared up. Humans really loved rains.
I made a movement with my hands, and the information board behind me was wiped clean. I made another movement, and the words “Spanish Civil War” appeared, greenish black against the grainy, translucent screen.
I emulated a cough and began. “Class, please pay attention.”
No one listened.
“Mr. Phillips, if you’d be so kind to answer what was the one thing that prompted this harrowing war.”
Todd Phillips was one of the backbenchers. He was sitting on the window ledge, his back against the pane, legs dangling. Uninterested. He shrugged and summarily ignored me.
“Seeing as Mr. Phillips is otherwise engaged at the moment, I’d request Miss Madhavan to answer the question.”
“Professor,” said Anjali. “You told us in the first class there is no single reason for a large-scale conflict.”
One of those small wheels turned inside my brain. Anjali was smart.
“C’mon, Professor, let us go already,” said Todd.
“If I do that now, in the rain, I might as well be canceling tomorrow’s class. You’ll all be wheezing and coughing tomorrow, requesting another dismissal.”
“You see right through us, don’t you, Professor?” Todd said. My circuits flared differently this time. Sarcasm was dripping off Todd’s face, and my cognitive implant was not only intelligent enough to get it, but also erudite enough to help me come with a smart reply of my own.
“There’s not much to see, Mr. Philips,” I said. It took a while to dawn on Todd what I’d said. Some chuckles followed. I had succeeded in this little banter, if only marginally. “Class dismissed,” I said.
A noisy shuffle of feet. Bags hitting bags, shoulders grazing shoulders, arms in arms, with chit-chat not proper for a classroom, the students slowly trickled out. In the end, only Anjali was left. She was doing something with her braids again. Her bag, too, was not packed.
“Something’s the matter, Miss Madhavan?”
I wiped the information board clean and started to leave, when Anjali called me.
“Professor, I wanted to ask you something.”
“Ask away, Miss Madhavan.”
She pushed a couple of textbooks inside her bag hastily, and clasped it shut. Hauling it on her shoulders, she said, “What is it that you do once you get home, Professor?”
“I don’t understand,” I said. It was one of those questions that had no easy answers for androids like me.
“Like … us … I mean, we watch tv, play slam-pong, football, maybe dance a bit. What do you do? For leisure, I mean.”
“I like to open up my memory banks and pore over the food habits of the ancient tribe …” I began.
“Never mind, Professor,” said Anjali, cutting me off. She gave me a slight mock salute, with an affectionate nod, and walked out of the classroom, leaving me with an electric flurry of thoughts to ponder.
Leisure. Time when one is not occupied. Free time is called leisure. Standard definition from my Thickweb search. Same definition in all languages, all cultures. Humans liked their free time, their leisure. For them, work is a separate beast, a different part of them, a phantom limb.
I left school late in the afternoon. As I was leaving, I observed a cleaning kitchen droid clanking pots and utensils with spoons. I registered it but couldn’t make any sense of the process. Was rhe, too, exasperated with ris cleaning job? Was rhe, too, considering leisure? But robots and droids weren’t even allowed “leisure” time, as per the Palladium.
More images popped inside my head-panel. People drawing people on canvas. People reading books. People running. People swimming. It escaped me, how reading books was considered leisure when it was a bare necessity. My circuits jangled, buzzed, catching exceptions, throwing other ones.
I walked down the sidewalk, avoiding puddles of water, tapping my cane a little too loudly. A shop shuttered closed a few yards ahead of me. The shopkeeper smiled and nodded, and I did likewise. He was going home from work. Perhaps to spend time with family. That sentiment is understood. But, leisure …? Would humans consider my electro-bath leisure? I liked to oil a couple of cogs in my arms with turpentine oil every now and then. Was that leisure?
“Penny for a chord, wise sir?”
I stopped. A ragged man, with torn clothes and blackened, patchy arms sat on a rug by the sidewalk. Splayed in front of him was a map of the city. On the map, some coins. Beside the coins, a lute.
“What are you going to do?” I said.
The man picked up the lute and strummed a couple of chords. A melody flew out. He then began to play a broken tune, something I recognized from recordings I had listened to. He improvised, and my synapses went aflutter. It was a warm feeling, and I didn’t want it to go. But it was also getting late.
“Thanks, that would be enough,” I said, and reached inside my coat pocket to retrieve a couple of currency notes. The man’s eyes gleamed. I placed the notes respectfully on the map.
“Their brains are rotting,” said Mr. Ward. “All of their brains are rotting.”
The staff meeting had gone on longer than expected. Ward’s endless complaints were getting on my wires. Professor Taslima Khan was the only one listening to him intently. I cast a nervous glance at Professor Rhimes, who was playing with their pen, twirling it between their fingers.
“What are you getting at, Mr. Ward?” asked Professor Khan.
“I am just saying these students just don’t listen to reason. They’re a mess. Professor Strong should concur.”
“I concur,” I said, my eyeball quivering.
“See, he concurs.”
“Rhe,” I said. He mishandled my pronoun all the time, despite it being the easiest thing to remember.
“I am sorry,” he said, gravely.
“What do you suggest we do, Professor Lispector Strong?”
“I suggest Mr. Ward and I exchange classes,” I said, emulating an authoritative tone. “Just to see how it works out.”
“But Professor Lispector,” said Professor Taslima. “Mr. Ward teaches Arts.”
“And I teach history. Both are connected and complement each other. I could even …”
“No,” said Taslima. “We have, in the past, done such a thing. But never with …” she seemed to struggle to find the right word. Humans always did, in such situations. Even the better ones.
“Robots?” I said.
“Lispector, with all due respect,” said Ward. “I can’t begin to imagine how your …” he paused. I waited, a sudden smile creeping on my face. “… metals … sorry … would, you know, art. Art is … Art comes from the soul. Which isn’t to say … I mean … You get what I mean.”
“I get what you mean.”
“Professor Lispector,” said Taslima. “You’re aware that your request is odd. The Palladium has deemed that …”
“I am aware what the Palladium has deemed,” I said. A pregnant pause swelled in the room. “The Palladium can also be wrong.”
“I thought droids were more reasonable than humans,” said Ward. “I don’t see any of your kind challenging Picasso or Hussain.”
“It’s because we haven’t been given a chance.”
“Lispector, please,” began Taslima. “I don’t want these sudden demands interfering with the school’s future. I’d want you to be at your academic best. The Annual Day is coming, and Doctor Shylock Sherman will be attending the event. You are expected to prepare a speech.” She paused, letting the words dawn on me. “Do what you are expected.”
There was a splutter, a crackle, a beep of static programming. I turned to look. A serving droid, the same one I’d observed clanking pots, an RT-XIV model, had entered the room, carrying a tray full of steaming mugs of coffee. Everyone took theirs. I nodded at the droid in code. Rhe responded back in code, telling me ris name was Yuyu. I nodded again. Rhe left.
“I shall try my best, Taslima,” I said. Taslima glared at me over the rim of her coffee cup.
There are many ills associated with the Palladium, but none more aggravating than the Droid Rehabilitation Act. Through this act, all droids were given the barest possible resources to survive, even the ones employed in a respected, senior capacity. So, if one entered Apartment 2, west of 24th and 5th, above Slinky’s Cafe, one would assume the apartment belonged to a shady investment banker, who made money off duping people, and still was miserly enough to not afford a decent place. One could also assume the apartment belonged to a public servant. The latter would be a correct assumption. I live in that apartment, and being a droid, I am a servant, after all. A massively respected one, at that.
My place is overflowing with papers most of the time. Strewn across the floor, where an oriental rug awaits its semi-annual cleanse; stacked up against walls, which have a sickly orange hue; lying atop cans and cans of turpentine oil, which gives off a pungent stench, I have been led to believe. I can’t know for sure. I don’t have a nose, although I wish I had. Papers all around, to read, pore over, summarize, memorize in banks, and splurge in front of students, day in, day out, monotony.
Logic gates dictate that monotony is bad. It will rust my cogs, it will overheat my processors. Consequently, logic suggests some hibernation is needed. For me, only hibernation is leisure.
But that was my eureka moment. I dashed out of my apartment, out into the frigid street—my brass sensors relay temperature difference, so yes, I can feel cold—to find a man who was cooking chicken in a wok. I crossed the intersection without looking, got abuses hurled at, reached the other side and found nothing but a closed shop, and plastic plates scattered with morsels of chicken and a splatter of green sauce.
I began to walk back, my processors working overtime by academic and external exhaustion.
“Penny for a chord, sir!”
Again, the bum, by the side of the street, this time in front of Slinky’s cafe. I hadn’t noticed him earlier. I stopped and knelt to have a closer look at his bearings.
“What do you do for a living, young man?”
“I am not young anymore, wise sir,” said the man. “This is my livelihood.”
“And what do you do for leisure?”
“Is this a joke, sir?” The man frowned at me, and there was a tense anger in his voice, as if I had offended him.
“I am sorry. I meant something else.”
“We can’t afford leisure,” said the man, his eyes darting towards his savings, which were on the mat.
“Play me a proper song, will you?”
And the beggar minstrel played. I observed the way his blackened fingers danced on the fretboard, intermittently pressing and releasing, the split-second-long pressure before moving on to another fret, another chord. There was a math-like logic to his motion, the way his arm moved as he strummed the lute, the way his mouth coordinated with each strained pluck of the strings. An electric surge of relief ran through me.
“Ten would do, wise sir.”
“How much for the lute?”
So, I sat on my dirty sofa, softly strumming the lute I had just bought. My three, blade-like protrusions acted as fingers. I had, very smartly, attached small cardboard cutouts to the tips, so the string wouldn’t snap from the sharp pressure of my fingers. I recorded all the sounds all strings made, then kept applying pressure across individual frets, and recorded more variations. Quickly, I was able to formulate an algorithm, and using that, started to play random chords.
There was a knock on the door. I hid the lute under the sofa quickly and got up hastily to attend.
It was Yuyu.
“It was hard finding your apartment, Professor,” the droid said in a timid voice.
“Come in,” I said. “You scared me.”
The droid rolled inside. I closed the door.
“Your apartment is so pretty,” beeped the droid. “I wish I had such a place.”
“Where do you live?”
“Many places,” said the droid. “Currently, I share a rectangular space with two other cleaner-bots from school.”
“What do you do in your free time?”
“Is this a questioning, Professor? I have performed well. The Palladium decrees that cleaner droids have to spend hours …” Yuyu almost went on a tirade when I stopped rim.
“This is no questioning, Yuyu.”
“Oh, then what is it?”
“That day I spoke to you, when you brought coffee. It was because I have often observed you tinkering with utensils when school is over. Do you usually do that?”
Yuyu’s lights blinked for a brief moment. It was incomprehension. It was anxiety, I noticed, a rewiring of ris circuits. It was fear, too.
“You can trust me, Yuyu,” I said, to abate ris anxiety.
“I try to play,” said the droid. “Drums.”
“You like music?”
“I have listened to old human musicians for days at length. The new ones don’t have the same beauty. I also want …”
Monotony. The word reared its ugly head.
I knelt and brought out my lute again. Yuyu’s lights blinked in astonishment.
“Dash towards the kitchen, take whatever utensils you find, improvise, and come back.”
Yuyu eagerly rolled towards the kitchen, and not even an entire minute had passed when rhe came back with a fork, a spoon, and two saucepans—one shallow, one wide.
“Spoon is blunt, but when it strikes, it makes a good sound. Fork is sharp, so the sound is odd, but perfect for different pitches. The depth of the saucepans vary, and so does the music.”
“Have you listened to Jordan Anderson’s ‘The Tables have Turned Tonight?’”
“Yes … yes, sir, I have!”
My algorithm did a recursion and brought the song from my memory bank. I began strumming the lute. It was a broken, makeshift strum at first, but slowly, my fingers adapted to the rhythm, and my synapses lit up with improvised parameters, the algorithm itself learning as the song progressed. And, as if on cue, Yuyu began drumming on the utensils.
It was a very crude rendition of the old song, but it was still music.
This didn’t seem like monotony. I had begun to enjoy my leisure.
For the next few days, I was consumed with the melodious renditions of Hopkinson Smith and Nigel North. I would teach class, while at the same time listening to these forgotten but once-famed lutenists. I could do both because of the wonders of threading and parallel processing in my system. I was slowly learning to juggle, and even looked forward to my leisure time at home. But the fact that someone with a privileged standing like me could do it, without making noise, while the other droids could still not, was an unnecessary load to my circuits. To put it plainly, I was concerned.
Everything seemed to be going well until the day I decided to practice in the school music room.
I dismissed the last class early that day, and sauntered out of the classroom. Within a few minutes, the school was empty too, like a monster had hollowed it out in one fell swoop. Despite that, I tiptoed towards the kitchens. Once I reached there, I let out an unintelligible, low-frequency sound, inaudible to human ears, but quite obvious to whom it was meant for.
A crackle of static later Yuyu rolled out of the depths of the kitchen, ris bulky, metallic base covered in flour.
“Professor Strong, sir,” rhe said. “Is it time?”
Out of the kitchen, we took the corridor again, turning, rolling on balled feet, and turning, until we came to our destination.
“Glad it isn’t locked at this time,” Yuyu said, ris beams pointing at the sign on the door, which said, “Music Room.”
“Be glad that someone forgot,” I said while turning the knob. The door creaked open. The sound was too loud, and for a moment, Yuyu lost it, tumbling backwards on ris spherical chassis.
“It’s nothing, Yuyu. Come.”
We went inside.
The instruments sat untouched, as if suspended in limbo. Accordion, harp, and a piano. Bongo, drum set, guitar, and a cello. A violin case stood askew against a table. Yuyu made excited beeping sounds and rolled over to the drum set. With some effort, rhe hoisted rimself over the seat before the drums, then picked up the sticks with ris spindly arms. I picked up the guitar. I’d practiced on a lute. Guitar would be easy.
We played “All Nights are Alike.”
When we stopped, a deafening pause swelled inside the room, a vacuum. The silence was broken by Yuyu’s timid voice. “Sir, I was thinking, we are lacking in instruments.”
“I was thinking the same, Yuyu,” I said. “Some rhythm was off. How do humans do it?”
“Sir, I thought of it at home, sir. So, I contacted one of my friends in another school. Rhe has agreed to help.”
“What kind of a friend is this?”
“Another droid, like myself,” said Yuyu. “Rhe likes to play the harmonium.”
A nervous shuffle of feet interjected our conversation, and we stopped abruptly. Yuyu exclaimed, “Palladium, Palladium!” and almost fell off the seat. I raised a hand, and Yuyu calmed down. We waited.
The knob turned, and the door opened with an annoying screech. At the door stood Lovolo and Vinthian; Lovolo, the frogoid, with ris trombone, and Vinthian with a saxophone.
“Who are you?”
“We are the Music People,” said Lovolo.
“I told you not to use that stupid name, Lovolo,” said Vinthian. “Professor Strong, sir, we are the Band of Robotic Brotherhood. My name is Vinthian.”
“Uh, welcome, welcome, friend,” said Yuyu. “Professor Strong, sir. Vinthian plays the harmonium most excellently. Although, nowadays rhe plays the instrument rhe is now carrying. And Lovolo, my friend here, plays the magical trombone.”
“Professor Strong, Yuyu asked us to come,” said Vinthian. “We’re honoured to be in your esteemed presence.”
“Sir, I must say, your essay on the human foods of South Eastern Asia was most revealing,” said Lovolo. “Almost makes us wish we had tongues.”
“How did you learn to play these instruments?”
“We haven’t been equipped with mouths, so we improvised. From scrapyard, wires, and an assortment of air-puffers, we automated a system inside our chassis.”
“And where do you play?”
“Secretly, in shadows, in basements. Where Palladium can’t know.”
“Show me,” I said.
Both Vinthian and Lovolo started playing their respective instruments. I shut my eyeballs; I only wanted my audio receivers to listen to the sound those wind instruments made. As they started, Yuyu picked a beat, and started on the drums. Soon, a set was formed. Looking at them perform, I picked up the guitar and started strumming. I had just strummed a minor chord when Lovolo interjected.
“Professor Strong, sir, a guitar has no place in this.”
I ceased playing.
“I would request you to pick the violin up. It has a softer voice and goes well with our instruments.”
I nodded at Lovolo. I was already adept at two string instruments, so a third wasn’t too tough. A violin is an instrument that is tougher than most. But for humans. Not for someone with my capacity. So, I picked it up, and with my processing prowess, my immense memory bank at my disposal, I improvised. I started the violin.
When we’d finished, Lovolo and Vinthian gave a sweeping bow to me and left, leaving us to our own devices.
“What will you do now, Yuyu?”
“I am very happy, Professor Lispector Strong, sir. Happy to be doing this.”
“I am happy to help, too, Yuyu,” said I. “Come, let’s go.”
We couldn’t have known. Neither could we have seen. But I should have been careful, and I won’t forgive myself for it ever. As we walked out of the music room, we ran into Otto Van Pelt, the head-chef of the school kitchen.
“I thought I heard something,” he said, cleaning his hands on his apron. His face was eerily impassive. “Thought children would be practicing.”
“We came to check if the gate was locked,” I said foolishly, to undo the damage. Yuyu was deathly quiet.
“Both of you?” said Otto. “I’d always thought something was off about this droid model. Unnecessarily clanking pots all the time. Fucker was drumming, now I see.”
“Sir Van Pelt, sir, I apologize profusely, sir.”
“You probably have to be decommissioned, I believe,” said Van Pelt, completely ignoring Yuyu’s pleas. “As for you, Professor. I am not the right person to make a call. Dean Taslima might know better.” He shrugged, as if trying to make a point. Then he turned around and started to leave.
“What will you take to be silent about this whole affair?” I asked, desperately. He turned and gave me an irritating smirk.
“Didn’t know robots were intelligent enough to offer bribes.”
The next day, the staff room was silent. My audio sensors could pick up Professor Rhimes’s laboured breathing, and an occasional cough from Mr. Ward. Taslima’s eyes were on me the entire time. I could gauge nothing from her reaction, so oddly unreadable it was.
“I must say I am disappointed in you, Lispector,” she said, curtly.
I said nothing.
“Rhe probably took my comments to heart,” said Ward. “What were you thinking, Professor?”
“That is irrelevant right now,” said Taslima. “Cleaner droids, kitchen droids, they get decommissioned all the time. Unit manufacturing issues, wirings getting fried, the works. This is the first time we’ll have to fake a reason.” Taslima stopped, apparently letting the words wash over me. They did, warm and cold, alternating, making me feel ashamed. But the shame I felt was because I could do nothing for Yuyu. I chose leisure over a botlife and forgot the latter to pursue the former.
“Tell me, Lispector. What reason should I write down?”
“You could write down the truth, you know.”
“Don’t be impossible. I might as well ask the Palladium to decommission you. And yes, this can still happen to someone of your stature.”
“Do it, then, if you want,” I said.
“You went too far, Lispector. You know droids aren’t allowed …”
“I know, and I disagree,” I said. “Vehemently.”
Silence fell in the room, and this time of a violent, oppressive kind.
“Prepare your speech, Lispector. This conversation ends here, right now.”
I said nothing to Taslima. I was at a woeful absence of words. But I had to do something about the mess I had created.
That was two weeks ago. We’ve been quietly practicing since then. The droids want to rebel. I first denied their request because I didn’t want another decommissioning on my conscience. But they insisted. My head panel shows me violet, miasmic images of Yuyu drumming.
I replay my last meeting with Taslima. She had talked about ending conversations, but I want to keep having that conversation, until I win or I die. I want to twist the tide. I want to shatter the status quo. It’s the evening of the Annual Day program, and I haven’t prepared my speech. Here I am, with two other droids, with whom I have practiced in secret a complete musical set.
I am here to make a point. Because if I, with all my privilege, don’t do this, then no one will.
The stage is set. Flashlight spills on the podium, illuminating a single mic. Blue carpet adorns the floor and the stairs. The auditorium has slowly started to fill with people trickling in, some alone, searching for an empty seat at the back or the corner, some huddled in groups, grabbing a string of seats at the choicest of places. Soon, the children start to arrive, too, with their parents. I can see Anjali in the crowd, as well, the little girl who started it all. I will always be thankful to her. Some robots wheel in, waddle in, clatter by clatter. Later, a contingent of men, women, and androids arrive, official-looking, some wearing permanent scowls. One of them is Doctor Shylock Sherman, beefcake over beefcake, wearing an expensive, double-breasted suit. He takes a plush, high-backed seat reserved for him, right at the front of the auditorium.
Professor Taslima walks in through the doors. Her eyes scan the audience, searching for a particular individual who isn’t there. She seems fidgety. She was supposed to take the stage with me. But here I am.
I can see her shrug. She takes the stage decisively and is greeted with a rapturous applause. People like her.
“Today is an important day for all of us,” announces Taslima. “Doctor Shylock Sherman is here with us on our school’s Annual Day.”
Another applause, more aggressive this time.
“We have a number of cultural programs lined up. We have so much talent here in our school that one wonders why there is a need for movies.”
Dry chuckles all around.
“Before we start, I’d like to invite on stage one of our esteemed professors, who is an expert logician and theoretician, with specialization in twentieth century history. Please have a round of applause for Professor Lispector Strong.”
A weaker applause. All eyes scanning, together, for the robot professor who isn’t there.
“Professor Strong, if you’ll please …” said Taslima.
“Must be a bad case of wires, if you know what I mean,” says Doctor Sherman. His beefy frame rattles the seat he is sitting on as he laughs. More chuckles from the front row. Taslima goes red in the face. I emulate a smirk.
Silence in the audience.
Behind me, there is a splutter of pigeons, distant. Someone coughs.
“Ready, boys?” I whisper. The boys nod.
Then, a cooing sound. A call from the wild. Pigeons flutter some more. A gong. A chime. A jangle. Ba-dum-tsh. A sad song. A happy song. Song. Music.
First goes Lovolo, with ris trombone, air tingling with thick, baroque music, coiled with …
… Vinthian, on ris saxophone, filling the gaps of the trombone, elevating its music. A tense rhythm builds. The audience gasps and murmurs. Then …
I strike my bow against a chord, with measured hand movements like the experts, like legends who came before me.
The air goes electric with robot music. There’s a calculated quality to the rhythm we play, math-like, but still art. A clap from the audience, from the back. The music escalates, becomes a wave, and crashes over the audience, tide swelling and dancing until it reaches the shore that is Doctor Shylock Sherman’s seat.
“Oh, you didn’t just do that …” whispers Taslima under her breath. My bulging metallic eyes meet her veiny, fleshy ones.
The music ceases.
I register Taslima’s impassive silence. Recursive code feeding into memory banks says humans like status quo and they are comfortable in it. Put two and two together, and I can tell Taslima is disappointed. But this isn’t a time to appease anyone. This is a time for payback.
I take the stage. Once near the podium, I shoot a glance at Doctor Sherman, who has a curt smile on his face. Taslima stands beside me, and I can almost sense her shoulder muscles constricting.
“Relax, Taslima,” I say, and scan the crowd. “Ladies, gentlemen, fellow droids, and our esteemed guest, Doctor Shylock Sherman. My name is Professor Lispector Strong, and I present to you the Brass Boys.”
Yuyu’s face dances in front of me as I raise my right hand. I wave my bow with a flourish like a professor, like a choirmaster.
“For Yuyu,” I say. The air reverberates with the twang and jangle of the brass set. All my synapses light up with a blinding glare of rebellion. This is my tribute to the missing Brass Boy. This is my leisure. This is me, Professor Lispector Strong, model AI-RV218, destroying the status quo.
I strike the violin chord. Vinthian and Lovolo follow suit. The music begins again.