The Robots Know Me Well
STSC Symposium "Dinosaurs"
The story below is my submission to the STSC Symposium, a monthly set-theme collaboration between STSC writers. The topic today is “Dinosaurs”.
The Robots Know Me Well
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At the dead end of a quiet and neglected side street high above Sunset Boulevard you’ll find one of those old mansions from the late 2020s. The kind they thought looked hot during those days. Bright shiny travertine and boxy indecisive shapes by a pretentious and overconfident architect who somehow convinced the clueless client this was the peak of aesthetic beauty.
Now overgrown with an especially aggressive ivy imported from Italy, and bougainvillea gone wild around the estate gate, the mansion looked like one of those deserted and moss-covered cars you see in forests sometimes. The big difference was this thing of the past had a sprawling view of the Los Angeles basin. On a clear day you could see all the way to Catalina. Inside things hadn’t changed much since the final weak and pulsating days of Hollywood filmmaking, when the original owner lived there. Old appliances, old furniture, old air. Most of the smart appliances had of course stopped working, leaving them unused. Built for at least ten inhabitants, it never hosted more than two, so many of the rooms were practically empty dust gatherers.
The old man preferred to sit in his library. He sometimes laughed out loud at how incredibly stupid he had been when his interior decorator had convinced him to get rid of the original library. The story was that the book collection had belonged to an old movie star named Caren Lombard or something. Maybe Carole. All gone because an expensive and popular interior designer told him and his ex-wife that they needed a solarium. For entertainment. It was the thing, and it would get them a guaranteed spot in Architectural Digest, the only magazine worthwhile then for rich people to compare themselves with others.
Two years after the solarium was finished they still hadn’t been featured in AD. AD had moved on to tropical greenhouses that featured rare orchids. By chance, a child actor from the 2000s had a career revival due to her massive collection of blue orchids. This created an orchid rage that spread from Pacific Palisades to Boca Raton. She eventually received the last Oscar ever given to a human actor in a supporting role. The old man didn’t give a shit.
So they demolished a perfectly beautiful oak paneled library and threw out the old moldy books (to quote the interior designer) and leather chairs, and replaced it with a giant steel-reinforced tempered glass wall and ceiling. This was around the time it was popular to build artisan furniture from unwanted trees from local backyards. Uncomfortable, unergonomic, and exactly what the Hollywood crowd liked back in those days. It forced everyone to stand while talking, leaving the furniture as some sort of art collection. It was during one of these standing parties that the old man had sworn to himself that he would demolish the solarium and rebuild the library.
As soon as the divorce had been finalized he’d contacted an old artisan craftsman from Scotland to come and redo the original library. It took them five years and half of his savings. He wasn’t really interested in literature that much but he loved the feeling of the wooden walls, and the search for actual paper books. Something about the smell reminded him of his childhood. Something about leather furniture and wood and paper.
This is also where he installed his vast movie collection. He kept the discs in archive grade sleeves inside high quality leather albums. It was mostly Blu-Rays and spanned the entire history of cinema. Of course, he’d get blank stares when he talked about a physical movie library, so he shut up about it. Once a year his pal, George, would spend a week there and they binge watched movies. At some point they always ended up in the backyard which jutted out over the vast L.A. night and they screamed movie quotes like: “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”
Books had begun to grow on him. Real books that he gently held about a foot and a half from his face so he could read the small printed letters. He spent most of his youth and productive years doing everything he could to avoid reading or listening to meaningful literature. Now he found pleasure in sitting in a comfortable leather chair by the window in his library reading an old book.
At one point, quite late in his career, he tried one of those neural patches and spent three years in a Canadian “body shop” hooked up to a nutrition and exercise machine. That was a trip! He ended it only when that director Crawford called him nonstop and begged him to come and produce an old-school film he was calling ‘The Robots Know Me Well.’ What sealed the deal was that Crawford wanted to do it 100% human. In the Arizona desert. In the summer. The likelihood of an android managing that without being discovered was less than 10%.
So he contacted the body shop and started the two-month process of waking up. Now that was a trip! No one had told him about the freaky AI hallucinations and withdrawal of a meat body trying to connect back to its meat brain. No more lovely AI connected brain trips with perfect chemical balance and a high rate of success (but not too high) in everything you did there. Back to reality and, frankly, more pure levels of sensations. But the pain.
Thankfully he had requested the highest tier of body work so his actual physique came out looking pretty damn hot. It was just the inside persona that melted after such a sick contrast. He’d done some crazy shit in there for three years, and he was just thankful his identity hadn’t completely vanished. This was, of course, when his wife chose to run away with a neuro-transformation agent and filed for divorce. He didn’t blame her. He got his meat brain sorted out a few months later in a human-only retreat in northern California. After that he felt he was good to go and ready for a new movie. But he wasn’t interested in producing it. He wanted to act!
By then Crawford’s movie project had fallen through, and Nolan had snatched it up. Why? Nobody intelligent could give a good answer to that. Nolan was unpredictable but definitely hadn’t lost his touch. He rarely gave interviews, but had for a while alluded to wanting to take on one final movie project. The old man was one of the few people who had access to the script for ‘The Robots Know Me Well’ and he set out to memorize it. Every bit of it.
So, he was making up for lost time. He read a ton of books and watched a ton of old movies. The rest of the house? Well, it was as it was. The beginning of a museum. An unregistered cleaning crew came by every month to give the place a touch-up. He paid them in old whiskey from his vast collection of booze. He had about two years left. He always wondered what they did with the whiskey since androids couldn’t drink it. The garden was overgrown but a narrow pathway led to a sparkling blue pool. He was a swimmer. The pool was in excellent condition. He cared for it himself.
When the German documentary filmmaker contacted him he ignored her. She even voice-messaged him. One day in December she knocked on his door. It was one of those days in L.A. when everything looked bright outside but felt cold inside. The doorbell didn’t work so she banged on it really loudly. The sound made him curious enough to go check the door, and that’s how she managed to get access to him. Few people travel nowadays. This was a peculiar gal, he thought. She was perhaps in her mid-thirties, but who the hell knew? Brown hair, blue eyes, and wearing a black, long-sleeved dress with what looked like pointy leather shoes. Definitely a peculiar chick. Who wears leather nowadays?
The old man rarely spoke to people. He’d spoken enough, seen enough, messed around enough, and was fed up with most things and all humans. He also hated his old man voice. What was up with that endless mucus production? And the sort of brittle tone? Yeah, he could’ve gone to a clinic and fixed it but he didn’t. Sometimes he thought it sounded like trying to start an old motorbike, an old relic from a million years ago. Some kind of freaking fossil. They used to say he had the smoothest voice of late Hollywood. Something about vocal chords and the inability to artificially reproduce his exact tone.
He agreed to let her film him because she brought an old film camera. He agreed to let her record his voice because she said he was the only living human movie star left, and it would be a damn shame not to document it. He agreed to this shit because he thought why the hell not. Perhaps it was good for him to talk to someone. A random German filmmaker who seemed to know everything about him. As long as he didn’t become one of those annoying old people who reminisce about the good old days. Well, he’d give it a shot. See if his old meat brain could muster up another go. She was the first human in years that didn’t piss him off. That was something.
Interview with Bruno
‘The Robots Know Me Well?’ Yeah, I made it with Nolan. It was his last one. He liked to go authentic, you know. Analogue shit and stuff. Crawford? He had to sell out because he got sort of screwy near the end. He’d experimented too much with mirrored neuro-boosters. Anyway, I got hold of a copy of the script.
I had just come out of the body shop in Yellowknife, and had to straighten out my own brain for a while. I went to Sea Ranch for a couple of months. I brought the script with me, and I tell you, it saved my life. I memorized the thing backwards and forwards, so I could do any role he’d give me. No, I didn’t know Nolan. That was my next job, to convince him to give me a role. By then there were no agents. Everything was handled by AI, and the few big human actors left were just lucky to be on for the ride.
What I did was unique, and I believe never done since. I canceled my SAG membership so I wouldn’t be thrown around by their algorithms. Then I sort of became a detective and set out to locate Nolan so I could talk to him in person. Do you have any idea how difficult that was without any AI help? Thankfully people still have to eat and some still like to go outside and take in the sunshine and ocean vibes, so I found him at Geoffrey’s in Malibu. That’s where the fossils hang out like limpets on rocks before they get shuffled into the Pacific.
By some weird freakish luck Crawford was there, with Nolan! He immediately saw me and waved me over. I don’t know what to say other than this was the luckiest moment in my life. Maybe it was the tequila that made him like me. Crawford and Nolan were going over some details and I sensed that Nolan wanted to make sure this project was done right. Crawford had spent years carefully and systematically developing his pet project. It was deep stuff you know. Stuff that he said would blow people’s minds. Stuff nobody had ever seen before. And boy, did it ever! Anyway, I got the part and the rest is history.
We started shooting two months later in Carefree, Arizona. This was in July, and close to 110 degrees every day. Combined with the humidity from the monsoon storms it was, shall we say, interesting. The little child actor who played the younger version of me turned out to be an android. We wouldn’t have noticed anything until one day the kid started getting leaky ears. That’s in itself nothing unusual but we called in the medics, and it wasn’t ear wax. It was neuro-booster fluid! The kid was asked to leave and this is when Shirley Tanner was brought on to play a 10-year-old boy.
You might know her in her grown-up role as Sister Ambrosia in ‘The Cantaloupe Is Not Quite Ripe.’ This was the surreal comedy that kicked off the Nouveau-Thirties and catapulted Shirley Tanner to the higher stratospheres. Literally. This is why all the outermost satellite stations are called Tanner gates. Crazy, huh? Anyway, I knew her when she was just a little brat. She could act, I tell ya!
Then we moved the film set up to Flagstaff for the dinosaur scene, you know, which I’m sure you’ve seen. No one has still been able to beat it, you know, replicate it. It took two weeks to set up the scene and then another two weeks to rehearse. We had one chance to get it right, maybe two. Everyone claims they made us do a second take, but that’s not true. It was the first one, and we got it right. Never been done since! They never gave us a non-disclosure agreement to sign. We always told everyone the truth. They just chose not to believe us. It was one take.
What I can’t explain to this day is how the hell they made the dinosaur seem so real. They had horrible breath. In that leaping scene where I fell, I really fell hard. You can see how I struggle to get up. You want to know why I got up and continued running? Because there was a god-damn living, breathing dinosaur chasing me in those hills!
George texted Bruno a week after the interview. He’d stumbled on a German documentary about Bruno on Basalt, an obscure online forum. George claimed it looked newly produced. He wanted to know if Bruno was aware. Something about the dinosaur scene in “The Robots Know Me Well.” This had blown up on Basalt, and everyone was convinced the documentary was AI generated and that it had solved the dinosaur enigma after sending an android to interview Bruno. Rumor was that the AI was creating dinosaurs.
Bruno sighed. He’d known something was off when he saw her pointy leather shoes. He went down to the pool and jumped into the clear blue water. After a few laps he turned over on his back and floated with his eyes closed. He needed to think. What if it wasn’t the dinosaur scene they were after? He drifted in the pool. The peculiar smell of dinosaurs had never left his olfactory memory. Just thinking about them brought back the memory. He sensed a series of repetitive vibrations in the pool, and opened his eyes. The dinosaur was getting ready to leap into the water.
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