by Eddie Retelj

Angel Wings Manuscript Assessment Service

Violet fingered the trigger, her eyes staring into nowhere, her smile filled with childish glee. The thin dress that she wore offered no protection for her bottom from the cold floor, where she sat. Her arms and shoulders, pressed against the wall, ached from clutching the gun so tightly. With lips pressed together and breathing deeply through her nose, she was determined to carry out the mission, no matter what the hardship. He must be close now, she thought, pulling her knees up to her chest as far as the gun would allow.

Violet tilted her head sideways, listening intently for any sign of movement. She resisted the urge to poke her head around the corner, knowing that his keen senses would detect any flurry of motion, no matter how insignificant. A quick glance at her watch showed it had been a minute and nine seconds since the trap had been set.

What was that? Violet held her breath and became deathly still, eyes wide open, mouth agape. She listened intently, and was rewarded with the sound of footsteps, gentle but unmistakable. The childish grin returned, as she quietly leaned forward to balance herself on her feet, ready to pounce. She waited, desperately trying to gauge her target’s distance based on the soft sound of his footsteps.

Wait for it.... wait for it...

Violet took a deep breath, screwed her face with menace, and sprang from her hiding position. Rolling into the middle of the hallway, she came up into a crouched position, elbow propped on her knee, gun pointed squarely at the target’s face.

“Die, Rocco! Die! Aaaaaaah!” she screamed as she pumped the trigger, ruthlessly spraying water over her victim's face and chest.

Rocco stood motionless as his suit became saturated. He accepted the onslaught without response. Violet tried to maintain her mock rage, repeatedly pulling the trigger but, seeing it was having no effect, her finger slowly lost its momentum.

She frowned and lowered the weapon. “That's it? That's all you're going to do?” She shook her head, astonished at the lack of emotion displayed by Rocco.

“What kind of response did you expect from me?”

Violet rolled her eyes, threw the gun aside, and stood up with hands on hips. “Anger! When someone does that to you, you're supposed to be angry. Or, you could find it funny because it's just a stupid prank.”

“Joy and anger are opposite emotions. It is not logical that they can be derived from the same event.”

“Logical! Stop using that word all the time!” Violet paused to take a deep breath before opening her mouth, but thought better of it. Instead, she relaxed her stance and walked over to Rocco. Taking his large, powerful hand in her small, pale one, she looked up at his now soaked face. Droplets of water still fell from his chin. Rocco set his sky-blue eyes upon her.

“My dear Rocco, the geeks really didn't teach you anything about emotion, did they?”

“The engineers at Deyus Laboratories created the most advanced emotion simulation engine as part of my development. My mindnet has this engine incorporated in a wholly novel and different way than has been done in the past. This allows me to freely associate emotional markers with experiences. I can also determine emotional responses that are a combination of a set of installed values and external stimuli.”

“I see they stuck a brochure into your head, as well,” smiled Violet. Rocco emulated her smile.

“So you're saying things can make you happy or sad?” Violet said, more as a statement than a question.


“But why didn't you respond to my attack on you?”

“The attack was not a threat. You were playing a game I had not yet experienced, and I had no prior memories that would indicate the appropriate response. I considered laughter as an expression of happiness since we were playing a game; however, since you had shown great anger, I decided laughter was inappropriate.”

Violet's eyes lit up. She dropped Rocco's hand and jumped in front of him, her long dark hair swirling around her shoulders. She jabbed Rocco with her index finger. “That's what I'm talking about! You did it.”

“I do not know what you are talking about. Could you please elaborate?”

“You thought the water pistol was funny. If that is what you felt, then you should've laughed. That's what we people do. We show our emotions all the time.”

“I did not want to offend you.”

“Don't worry about that. I'm always in trouble for something I said or did, but I always work things out in the end. That's life. If you want to be more like a human being, you've got to learn to express how you feel.”

“My primary objective is to be more human, so that I can interact effectively.”

“Well c'mon then. We've got work to do.”

Violet grabbed Rocco's arm and pulled him around the corner from which she had sprung earlier. They headed off down the elaborately decorated hallway, Rocco leaving a trail of water drops behind him.

* * *

“I believe this is an invasion of privacy,” said Rocco, stopping at the entrance to the bedroom.

Violet let go of his hand and strode into the room. “No it’s not. I can come into mummy and daddy's room any time I want.” She walked past the bed towards a mural on the far side of the room, which depicted an idyllic garden scene. With a wave of her hand, a seam appeared down the middle of the painting, to become two inward swinging doors.

Violet invited Rocco in with a wave of her hand. “C'mon.”

He followed her into a walk-in closet, which was as large as the bedroom they had just crossed. Automatic lights glowed to life as Violet began poking around her father's casual attire.

“I do not understand how this activity relates to my primary objective of improving my human social skills.”

Violet paused and turned her head. “People show what they feel and like, and stuff like that. That way, you know what they’re thinking and the kind of person they are. If you know someone better, you can get along better with them.”

“I understand your reasoning.”

“Good. Now, why do you think we're here, then?”

“In this room, a person can choose clothing that will give that person an appropriate appearance, relevant to a particular event or function.”

Violet furrowed her brow as she considered his response. “In this room, a person can choose to show the kind of person they are. They can do this by choosing colours and clothes they like.”

“What we like is based on our emotional response to certain stimuli. Showing what we like is an expression of our emotional nature. Therefore, if I show people what I like, they will understand my nature, and this can assist in improving communication,” stated Rocco.

Violet smiled at her eager student. “I think we should get rid of that boring suit you wear everyday, and put on something more colourful - something that says ‘This is what Rocco likes. This is Rocco.’”

Rocco nodded. “I think I should decide upon the style and colour of the clothes based on what I like.”

“What are your favourite colours?”

Rocco paused for a moment, contemplating. Violet knew that, at such moments, vast quantities of information surged through the intricate web that was Rocco’s mind.

“I have no record of the colours I like.”

“Hmm.” Violet strolled over to Rocco, lost in thought. She circled her friend twice, eyeing him up and down, before coming to a sudden halt in front of him. “Tell me your favourite memory. You know... like a time when you were somewhere... or… something happened, and you thought how great it was.”

Violet noticed Rocco did not pause at all this time; instead, he smiled. “During my development at Deyus Laboratories, I found the most productive moments occurred in the gardens I was encouraged to explore. There, I saw many remarkable things. In the mornings, the birds performed a chorus that was mesmeric. The air held all kinds of earthly smells, and there were so many different shapes and textures to feel. Different kinds of life co-existed, and no matter how often I visited the garden, I always came across new and remarkable forms of life.”

“That sounds wonderful,” said Violet reflecting his smile. “What colours stand out for you the most when you think of the garden?”

“I see your point,” nodded Rocco, “It is quite remarkable. I do have colours I like, yet I could not see this within me until you provided a different perspective on the matter.”

Violet flung her arms behind her back, satisfied with her breakthrough, and wandered back over to her father's wall of shelves.

“I enjoyed the many different colours to be found in the flowers of the garden,” continued Rocco. “During the day, all the shrubs and trees displayed their beauty and, when the sun set, the colours in the sky compelled me to stare into its infinite depths until night came.” Rocco looked down at his dark suit. “I would like to wear the colours of the garden and the sky.”

“Great! Can you see any of those colours here?” asked Violet, waving her arms about in the style of a game-show host.

“I do see a range of blue, red, yellow, and green colours; however, I recall your mother having two dresses that were more colourful and, in one case, it actually had floral designs imprinted upon it. Perhaps we should consider your mother's range of clothing?”

Violet looked at Rocco, indicating her mother's side of the room. She opened her mouth to answer, but was stymied. Lost for words, she frowned in thought and scratched her chin. She wanted Rocco to decide for himself what his preferences were. She had assumed he would select an outfit from her father's side of the room. Realising her expectations were biased in this respect, she didn't wish to quash Rocco's new-found creativity, so she said nothing.

“I suppose mummy's clothes would be more colourful - like a garden - although I don't think any of her stuff would fit you.”

“Yes, you are right. Your father's build is closer to mine.”

Rocco joined Violet at her father's shelves, and selected a straw-yellow tee-shirt with splashes of white across its front. He took a few paces, bent down, and selected a pair of olive-green shorts. Showing them to Violet, he commented, “I like these items of clothing. If I wore these outside, I would feel the sun on my arms and legs.” Rocco smiled at the thought of this.

Violet grinned. “Great! Now, you get changed and come into the ensuite when you’re done.”

“I understand.”

Violet skipped out into the bedroom and turned into an alcove. Lights appeared, revealing the ensuite tucked behind the feature wall. She stopped in front of her father's cologne collection and began sampling them.

A moment later, Rocco walked in, carrying his old clothes across one arm. “I have changed my clothes.”

Violet spun around and eagerly took in the sight of her friend. Although Rocco stood in his usual perfectly balanced stance, the change in clothes gave him a softer look. His hairless arms and legs were realistic, although too perfect to be real. Violet ended her inspection, focusing on Rocco's hesitant smile.

“You look happier now, and I think people would be far more willing to walk up to you, just for a chat.”

“I am pleased with the outcome of this activity. My self image has changed and there are subtle changes in the emphasis and nature of my thoughts. I am finding this process fascinating,” said Rocco, lifting his hands in an expressive gesture. “I see you are now examining your father's cologne.”

“Yeah, but I call them perfumes because they all smell like flowers anyway. I’d like you to pick one you like.”

Rocco placed his old clothes on a bench beside him and stood next to Violet. He took the cap off a blue bottle. “I will look for a smell similar to that of the garden.” He raised the bottle to his nose and paused for a moment, sampling the whiff of scent without really breathing. Having done this, he proceeded to similarly sample every bottle on the shelf. Violet patiently watched his every move, careful not to influence him in any way. She could not sense any difference in his reaction to any of the colognes.

When he was done, Rocco returned to a dark crimson coloured bottle. “I like this one the most because it has a sweet, fresh smell, similar to the garden.”

“Excellent! Go on! Splash some on!”

Rocco did as instructed, replacing the cologne on the shelf, and smiling as he did so.

“Now, Rocco, I think you're ready to go on an inner journey!”

* * *

Rocco watched Violet dip her brush in the blue blob of paint. She then did the same with the white paint, before the colours were swirled together on the palette.

“You see, you can make any colour you like out of these basic ones.” Violet spread the new colour she had made across the canvas before her. She took the brush away to assess the beginnings of her creation, and looked at her intrigued student. “Okay Rocco, I would like you to paint something you like, something that makes you happy when you think about it.”

Rocco turned to his canvas. “We have established that I like a garden environment. I will paint a garden.” He looked to his side, where a wall of glass separated the recreation room from the garden outside. Violet watched him take in the form of the huge twisted tree with the many songbirds fluttering about it, singing their springtime melodies. His gaze followed the trunk downwards to the dazzling display of exotic flowers that were surrounded by insects that hurriedly whizzed about.

“Are you feeling inspired?” questioned Violet.

“I am filled with many ideas that I find pleasing. Do you think I am inspired?”

“I think you are.”

Violet watched her friend's engineered hand gently take a brush of the same type that she had used. No matter how accurately human motion was replicated, there were always subtle nuances that exposed the true mechanical nature within. She smiled, marvelling at his eagerness to go on this journey with her. Rocco is such a daring machine, such a great explorer.

Violet turned back to her own work, and continued painting, forcing herself to ignore the desire to peek frequently at Rocco's creation.

The semi-muffled sounds of life in the garden played like music in the background, as Violet focused on her family portrait. When completing something and using all the skills she had, Violet had an exceptional ability to block out everything, other than the task at hand. This allowed her to work quickly. It did not take long for her blank canvas to become a vibrant picture.

In her painting, Violet had placed her parents on a golden beach. She had given her mother a bright and colourful summer dress with a hat to match. Her father looked as if he were ready to go for a swim but, for now, he held her mother's hand. She captured their smiles as they looked up into the sky at their daughter, who was flying with arms outstretched.

She gave a satisfied sigh, dropping the palette and brush on the table beside her. “I'm done,” she announced swinging herself around to face Rocco, at the same time throwing her eyes onto his canvas. Rocco had painted the garden scene that lay outside the window, from the many intricate flowers in the foreground to the rolling hills in the background. The hue of the sky was depicted as it would have looked about an hour or so ago.

“What is your opinion of my painting?”

“It's beautiful. You've captured all the colours out there. You've even added the birds...and are these insects I see around the flowers?”

“Yes. Accuracy is limited by the size of these brushes and the canvas medium, both of which do not lend themselves to high-resolution image production.”

“That's a good thing because if we wanted 'high-resolution image production', we'd just use a camera.”

“That is true. A camera would be more accurate.”

“But painting isn't just about accuracy. It's also about capturing whatever you want. In the art world, you are not limited to what you can only see. Here, have a look at my painting.”

Rocco focused on Violet's portrait of her family. He studied the bright, colourful scene carefully. “You have painted your family and placed yourself in the sky, like a bird, yet I do not believe you can fly.”

“That's right,” smiled Violet. “I don't fly, but I am as free as a bird flying in the sky.”

Violet knew she had made a salient point because Rocco sat still for a moment, no doubt processing this profound deduction.

“You have given form to an idea that has none in the physical world. This is a novel concept.” Rocco looked at his garden scene, then at Violet's picture once more. “While I am proud of my picture, it is your painting that is dominating my thoughts.”

“Why does it grab your attention?” prompted Violet.

“Your painting inspires much reflection in me. It is a contradiction. I can see it is not an accurate representation of reality because you cannot fly. Yet it shows your nature in a surprisingly accurate way. Your painting's lack of realism is what makes it so realistic.” Rocco looked at Violet. “Your mind comes across as free in ways I doubt I could fully grasp. In comparison, my mind is trapped within rigid system constructs. I dwell within a maze, while you fly in the sky.”

Violet could only smile, happy to share this profound moment with her artificial companion. Rocco turned back to the family portrait, captivated by it.

“Rocco, I think we should both do another painting.”

“I would like that. What do you have in mind?”

“Let's do portraits of each other. Put a new canvas on your easel.”

Violet put her painting to one side, and moved her easel so that it sat at a right angle to Rocco. “We need to sit like this, so that we can face each other while painting.”

With Violet's easel facing away from the window, her workplace became illuminated in white.

“Thank you and could we have some fresh air… about there,” said Violet, seemingly to herself, while waving her finger at the window near Rocco. At once, a dot appeared on the glass. It gradually grew into a circle before morphing into the shape of a fairy. Spring air from the garden began to waft into the room through the fairy-shaped hole in the window. “Wow! I haven't seen that one,” gasped Violet. “It's a fairy and she’s got a magical wand. Cool!”

Rocco took in the details of the fairy. “This is a representation of a mythical entity. Fairies do not exist, except as entertainment. Yet they are much revered.” He turned back to look at Violet. “Humans are not limited to this world. They create their own world according to their inner needs.”

“Yeah, that’s right. We do,” grinned Violet, eyes alight, “and it's the best thing to do.”

“Do you think I could create something that has never existed before?”

“Mummy always says that, if you want something that seems hard to get, you need to believe that you can get it. As long as you can believe in it, the possibility of your getting what you want will always be there.”

“Then, I will believe that I will be creative one day.”

“That's the way! Go, Rocco!” urged Violet, throwing her arms in the air and cheering her friend on. “Go on, you can do it too! Goooo, Rocco!”

Rocco raised his arms as Violet had, imitating the speed of the motion accurately. “Go, Rocco!” he said in a raised tone. Neither his movement nor his voice matched Violet's enthusiasm.

“Oh, Rocco, you're so funny,” giggled Violet.

“Funny is a good thing. Humour is often a catalyst for effective communication between humans.”

“Rocco, please stop,” said Violet, trying to contain her laughter. She took a deep breath, but was unable to wipe the cheeky grin from her face. “Okay, c'mon, let's get started.”

Violet picked up her palette and brush, and proceeded to examine her subject. For a moment, her face became serious as she considered the best way to paint Rocco. When the corners of her mouth rose with her mischievous smile, she was ready to begin.

Violet painted a beautiful blue sky with a bright sun at the top of the canvas. The bottom third of the picture became a dark, swirling ocean made of oil and machine parts. From this darkness surged a super-hero Rocco, reaching for the sky, rays of light exploding from his head, swirling around him, and radiating in every direction. Rocco's eyes were replaced with two burning white lights, while his gaze cut through everything including the gloom far below.

As Violet added the finishing touches to the canvas, she began to wonder how Rocco was going to paint her. “Rocco, how are you doing? I'm almost done.”

“I have almost completed the portrait. Please allow me a few more minutes.”

“Sure. No problem.”

Violet played around with a few more details, while relishing the spring breeze that blew her way. Eventually, she ran out of ideas and decided that her painting was complete. She looked over at Rocco and saw he was still adding small dabs of paint to his canvas. Patience was not her strong point, but she remained silent, twirling her hair around a finger to pass the time.

Finally, Rocco gently put his painting equipment down. “I am finished.”

“Great!” said Violet, as she pushed her chair back and moved her easel around so that Rocco could see her painting. “I'll show you mine first.”

Rocco paused to examine the image of himself. He smiled. “I knew that you would not allow reality to limit your composition, but I had no idea how you would do that. I very much like this painting. It shows who I am and where I am going.”

“And where are you going?” Violet questioned poignantly.

“A place where I can fly as you can.”

Violet smiled.

“Although,” continued Rocco, “I am unsure whether this is possible. As advanced as I am, I may not have the capability to ever be as human as my creators hope me to be.”

“Do you want to know what a really human thing to do is? I betcha the geeks at the lab never told you this.”

Rocco's eyes locked onto hers. “Please, tell me of this really ‘human thing.’”

Violet looked to either side, pretending she was about to divulge a great secret. They both leaned towards each other. “Well, a really human thing to do is…” she paused for dramatic affect, “…to live your life as you wish to live it, free from other people's expectations. Who cares what the geeks want you to do? The question you should be asking yourself is 'am I happy?', not 'am I doing what other people want me to do?’”

“Am I happy? You are right. Deyus Laboratories did not instruct me on this. I am unsure whether this is an appropriate life value.”

“I'm just saying that wanting to be human is fine, as long as you have fun heading towards this goal. Don't stress about trying to make the geeks happy. That's no way to live. Just be happy that you are living life to the best of your ability.”

Rocco paused for a moment before turning again to his portrait of Violet. “You are a wise and generous friend. I hope my painting has captured this essence in some way.”

Violet walked around her easel to stand by his side. She looked upon an image of herself, her face turned to the side, while smiling over her shoulder. Rocco had given her the wings of a bird, drawn from her back. With arms outstretched, she was shown as flying through the air over a flat landscape that consisted entirely of a never-ending maze.

“I love it!” cried Violet, as she wrapped her arms around Rocco, hugging him tightly.

“My painting is not real, but it is true - a paradox I find delightful.”

Violet kept her gaze on the painting, enthralled by the scene. She noticed a small, indistinct figure tucked away in one corner of the maze. “Who is that in the maze?”

“It is I. I am stuck in the maze. I have been constructed to be an expert at navigating the maze. However, no matter how much progress I make, at the end of the day I am still in the maze - the same place from where I started.”

“But you can think outside the maze,” emphasized Violet.

“You have shown me that there is a world beyond the maze, and it is that world that I hope to one day enter.”

“Rocco, I think you’re already on your way to getting your wings.”

Rocco looked away and nodded. He paused for a moment before looking back at Violet. “Your mother is calling you to dinner.”

“Great, I'm starving,” she said rubbing her tummy, “and I've got to tell mummy the wonderful things we did today. She's gonna be amazed!”

With that, Violet gave Rocco one more hug before skipping out of the room, leaving the machine to his own thoughts.

* * *

Rocco watched Violet leave. She was a remarkable little girl, like no other. He turned his attention back to her painting and, once again, examined the bold image of himself rising from the machine world. Violet seemed to possess so much creativity and her thoughts, like her personality, were filled with all the colours of the rainbow. Perhaps one day he also would be able to transcend the limitations of the machine mind he had, and follow in Violet's footsteps. He knew, however, that, as amazing as the technology in him was, the underlying paradigm on which it was based was most likely to be a dead end. Few people realised this and an even smaller number knew of the precise nature of the next step in machine evolution.

Violet's parents would be pleased with today's activities. So far, they had seen no significant behavioural anomalies. Any outsider would have thought that Violet was a perfectly normal young girl. There were no outward signs, either physical or behavioural, of the trauma Violet had suffered three years ago, when the earth had trembled, sending a steal beam crashing onto her skull.

Her parents had been devastated. Their wealth and influence were almost beyond measure, yet they had been left feeling helpless. As they watched their child being kept alive by medical machines, Violet's father drew on every scientific, technological, and political resource he had at his disposal. The technology had been experimental and the process had not only been unethical, it had been illegal. This had not deterred Violet's father. He bought entire companies, bribed those who got in his way, and silenced those who did not bend to his will, just to keep his darling daughter alive.

The result was that half of Violet's brain had been reconstructed, using adaptive neurofilament technology. From the time Violet was again able to open her eyes and smile at her parents, she had been carefully monitored for problems that might arise during her recovery and ongoing development. So far, there had been none.

Rocco understood he was more than just a play thing. He was the avenue by which Violet would ultimately accept her dual nature, once this was revealed to her.

A strange but familiar sensation suddenly came over Rocco. It happened when he thought of Violet's fragile existence. There had been so many unknowns concerning her fate, and Rocco knew this sensation, unpleasant as it was, marked the beginning of his emotional evolution. In the past he had felt trapped within this dark place but he knew better now. Instead of dwelling in darkness, Rocco chose the light. He hoped that Violet would, forever, be the shining light in his and everyone else's life. Focusing on this with his rigid machine determinedness, he felt, deep down in a place not in anyone’s schematic, that this vision of Violet’s future would be true.