December 11, 2012 by saharaj
I started this book because of a challenge. My math teacher was mumbling, “And each student had their own alphabet,” and I asked him what he meant. He, grinning, told me to not worry about it, that I would probably write a story about it anyway. So I told him I would. Except everyone takes the word ‘alphabet’ to literally in that sentence. Anyway, I challenged him to write a short story about Llamacorns in the Andes Mountains (long story). This is my story –
The man was late, yet he was grinning. As he shut the door behind him and pulled out his chair to sit, he was met with silence, everyone having stopped all conversations when he had opened the door. The president of their unit, Gerald Hashim, was frozen, still pointing to a statistic on the projected presentation. This was debatably the most important meeting of the year, yet this disheveled man who had arrived nearly five minutes late was grinning as he set his notebook and folder on the polished wood of the long meeting table and pulled out his chair to sit down.
Everyone stared. Thomas Howards was a tall, thin man, currently wearing a crumpled suit. It had clearly been some time since he had shaved last, which was unusual for him, and his eyes had dark bags underneath. As he fiddled with his mechanical pencil under the table, everyone staring, his eyes twinkled and his lips were now pressed into a tight line to avoid smiling.
“Howards,” Hashim finally said. “Why ever are you grinning like that?”
All attempts to hold back his emotions failed and he grinned, moving to pick up his notebook, flipping through pages, trying to find the right one. “Well, sir,” he began, still searching, having now moved to the folder. “I think everyone here is aware I have been working on a project for some years.”
There were several glances passed around, but Hashim silenced them all, eyebrows raised, amused. Howards was certainly one of the more eccentric employees, always ready with ideas, always making a joke at the most morbid, yet appropriate time. “Yes, I believe we are all quite aware. If you would spare us the itty bitty details I am sure we would appreciate what you are about to inform us of a great deal more.”
Howards wasn’t fazed by the comment, and finally pulling out a page from the folder, stated proudly, “I have succeeded.”
There was silence.
Then slowly, Hashim came to terms with what Howards had just said. The possibility of him succeeding had been low, he had made sure to make that clear to Howards. Howards had a habit of getting his hopes up on his various projects. The others in the room were glancing at each other, and between Howards and Hashim, wondering what came next.
“It was why I was late, sir,” Howards continued bravely. “You see, I had to be absolutely positive she,” he was cut off.
“It is a girl? I thought you were aiming for machine.” Hashim didn’t want Howards getting attached. Too many of his experiments died and then he would walk around, and empty shell, for days.
“Oh, yes, sir, I understand, sir,” Howards hurried to say. “It is just that I designed it to be a girl, sir, so I thought there was nothing wrong with referring to it as she and her and . . . sir?”
“Well, sir, I was hoping you would let me oversee the growth of this one.” His hands were shaking, eyes watching Hashim hopefully. All the other projects had been handed over, and then they had died. He couldn’t bare to lose this girl, too.”
“The growth?” Hashim frowned, and Howards nodded slightly, still holding his breath. “Howards, what exactly have you created?”
“Sir, it is a child, a girl, today a day old, but compared to any other human she would be three. Sir, I believe she will grow like any other human.”
“Yet it is not human?” Hashim clarified.
“No, sir. Well, not quite, sir,” Howards fumbled. Before Hashim could barge in, he pushed on. “You see, sir, she is entirely robotic on the inside, but she has faux skin, and hair, and sorts. She looks entirely like a three year old girl, sir, but she is robotic.”
“How did you get past the issue of programming?” Hashim pushed. “That was the issue you ran across, was it not?”
His eyes had lit up again. “It was sir, but you see, I realized that we were looking at them the wrong way, as if they were entirely robotic. We are not, however, trying to create computers and robots. What we were looking for was half robot, half human.” Give it to Howards to think of this, Hashim thought. “Computers, as you know, use a rather primal alphabet consisting of ones and zeros. To most humans, however, this is unreadable, which is where I think the problem lay. Humans understand our own alphabet, with twenty-six individual letters. What we were aiming to create, therefore, cannot only understand the computer’s alphabet, for then it is robotic, nor our alphabet, for then it is human.”
“Your solution?” Hashim tried to cut to the chase.
“Why, isn’t it obvious, sir? She needed her own alphabet.”
Allie held her books to her chest, biting her chapped lips anxiously, bouncing slightly. The wind was blowing in her face yet she hardly felt it. She wore her white winter jacket and jeans only because Tom had told her to, not because the temperature, only ten degrees above freezing, registered as cold in her brain.
“Come on, Jackson,” she muttered, staring up the hill as if he would magically appear. She sighed as several groups of people passed her, but not Jackson. Allie waited a few more seconds and then turned to go down the hill alone to Latin class. She hadn’t expected him to be in calculus with her – he wasn’t at that level yet, and wasn’t expected to be, only being in seventh grade – that morning, but he took Latin with her second period. It was unnerving, too, she thought, that him not being here threw her off so greatly.
Walking down to the house, Allie heard her name called and turned, grinning as she saw Jackson running down the hill. “Allie,” he shrieked. “Wait!” His black backpack bounced against his thick coat and his overgrown dirty blonde hair got in his pale brown eyes.
She rolled her eyes as he caught up to hide her relief. “I did wait, Jackson,” she tried to sound annoyed.
Jackson didn’t seem to care.”Uh huh,” he grinned, continuing towards the house. “Sure you did.”
After punching him good naturedly Allie followed him across the blacktop and into the house, slipping into the room just as their teacher was making her way to the room. They found their typical two seats in the back and set their bags down, waiting for roll call. They always sat at the back, because of Tom telling Allie she should try and not call attention to herself. He hadn’t explained that this meant not raising her hand to every question, answering correctly, but she still sat at the back despite the fact all the teachers now knew she was a prodigy.
Halfway through class Allie remembered that there was no longer a point to her going to school, despite Tom claiming it was an important part in a girl’s life, and finding her the best small private school he could, and despite the fact she couldn’t leave Jackson here.The teacher had given them a worksheet, and Allie frowned, looking down at the illegible words. She recognized some letters, of course, but the rest was nonsense she couldn’t discern. Jackson smiled at her sympathetically.
“Read it out to me?” She whispered to him, and he complied, slowly reading out Latin questions that Allie then answered quickly. It didn’t take them long to get to the bottom of the sheet, but Jackson was still struggling with question six. “The word you’re looking for is expellam,” she supplied, amused at the way his eyebrows rose with recognition and he then was able to finish his sentence.
“How do you do this?” He asked her. “You’re only twelve.”
“And five feet nine inches,” she grinned back so that she wouldn’t tell him that technically she had only been alive nine years and that there were reasons she was better than everyone else . . . even if having her own alphabet had its setbacks.
Allie tried to act cold as she walked down the first street, having got off the bus, but no one was around, so she stopped huddling and just walked as if it were a hot day in summer – not that she really understood what that meant either. It was so frustrating, she thought, to be more advanced than the rest of the human race through intelligence and physical means, and to be considered a prodigy, yet be unable to understand hot from cold, or know physical pain, or know that she would never be able to marry someone and have kids and watch her grandchildren grow up and her husband grow old beside her. Instead, she knew, she would live on forever, watching everyone she loved die, unable to create her own species because she was an anomaly, because she wasn’t supposed to have an opinion. She was a project.
She blinked the imaginary tears away furiously and pressed on. Even if she couldn’t feel the cold, she couldn’t argue the fact that the wind was picking up. That only made her want to cry. She should be able to cry, she thought, but she didn’t even have to shut her eyes, because those were mechanical too, even if they looked like everyone elses. Allie turned into her cul-de-sac trying to find happiness in the fact it was literally her cul-de-sac, because Tom had bought the entire thing and destroyed the houses on all but one lot just for the two of them.
Hiking up the steep incline of the cul-de-sac, Allie felt the metallic tendons in her legs straining, and she let herself take her time as she made her way up. Coming up to the door she took the key from her necklace and unlocked the door, shutting it firmly behind her. She could hear the dishes clinging in the kitchen, and dropped her back by the door with a thump, taking her coat off and leaving it on the railing of the stairs as she made her way to the kitchen, where Tom was searching through a top cabinet.
“Is that you, Alphabet?” His muffled voice asked.
“No,” she rolled her eyes, but continued in a perfect imitation of Hashim’s voice. “I’ve come to tell you I have some bad news.”
He startled, hitting his head as he pulled it out, sighing an obvious breath of relief that it was Allie. “Don’t do that,” he chided, but Allie could tell there was something more going on. He was usually less jumpy, laughing when she used her voice like that, saying it was an amazing achievement, perfect imitation.
She walked over to the oven, where something was cooking, and turned the light on, peering in. “Enchiladas?” She asked dubiously.
“I thought you would like them,” Tom frowned. “They’re your favorite, right?”
Allie sighed. Maybe, she thought, there really wasn’t anything going on, except that she didn’t have to eat anything to survive so they usually only ate together on special occasions. She ate small lunches at school to avoid suspicion, but that was it. All she needed was oil to lubricate her insides. Still, she hated to hurt Tom when he treated her so well, and enchiladas really were her favorite. Yet she wanted an answer. “Yes,” she replied slowly. “I just didn’t think you normally made dinner except for special occasions.”
“I have to eat,” Tom shrugged, his face still a mask.
“That’s not fair!” Allie cried. “Don’t play that card. Don’t look at me like you know eating is one of the few things that makes me feel normal. Don’t.” If she could cry she would be now. “I know something is up, Tom. Please just tell me, and then I promise I’ll sit down and we can have the dinner you wanted us to have. Really. It’s just that you’ve seemed so excited recently and now . . . I don’t know. Are you sick, or something?”
He seemed dejected that she had seen through everything so quickly, but he told himself really he should have expected it. She was smart, his Alphabet. “Nothing is wrong, exactly. Really it is good news,” he smiled. Allie wasn’t impressed. “We have to go up to Washington, Allie, and it’s more testing.”
For a second she was quiet, but then she shrugged, turning the light in the oven off again. “You could’ve just said so. That’s not so bad.”
“I thought you hated testing,” Tom said warily.
She shrugged. “I hate acting like I don’t care,” she said softly.
Tom smiled at her. “This time I don’t want you to, Allie. I want you to act like you, just be careful in what you say, okay? I don’t think these tests are going to be like the usual ones.”
Now Allie was frowning. The one thing she argued with Tom about was her having to act like she had no opinion when they went up to Washington. “Why?”
Strangely silent, Tom shrugged. “Hashim warned me we might be there for a while. You should collect assignments from your teachers tomorrow.”
“When are we leaving?” She inquired, picking up a pen from the counter. She started taking it apart subconsciously.
“Friday so we can get there in time to go to a dinner, and then Saturday testing starts,” Tom was almost flinching already, waiting for her outburst of disapproval. It didn’t come. Instead, she started putting the pen back together, staring at it sadly. When it was whole again, she set it back on the counter and turned to leave.
“I’ll go pack.”
Watching her leave, Tom called out, “Aren’t you going to say something?”
There were a million things running through her mind that she wanted to say, but all she asked was, “Can I go to the park tomorrow, after school, with Jackson, or should I cancel that?”
“No that’s fine. We’ll leave the house at six, but you can stay up as late as you want.” Allie nodded and turned again. “Hey, we can do your homework during dinner, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Allie smiled, and then stomped up the stairs to her room. There she sat on her window sill, staring outside, thinking about all the tests she had been through, and what she would have done differently if she had been allowed to be herself.
Jackson looked down at her from the tree he was in, grinning. “Take that, Allie! I’m taller than you, now. See?”