Excerpt from Heart of Steel: Temptation by Rose Mashal
Today, I have a special excerpt from Heart of Steel: Temptation by Rose Mashal for you. Check it out below and then snag a copy of the new sci-fi release at your favorite retailer.
It always amazed me that people didn’t realize they shouldn’t take things at face value - facial expressions can literally be deceiving. I knew that very well because I was an expert at faking my emotions.
I smiled joyfully when I was sad and laughed hysterically while burning inside. I wore a cheerful expression while my eyes stung with unshed tears.
I lied flawlessly and made believable excuses.
It wasn’t easy at first, but with time – I mastered it. When I realized that people didn’t want to hear how miserable I was, I learned to lie about being okay.
When someone’s scowl screamed at me to ‘snap out of it, already,’ I slapped on a fake smile and looked normal.
It took lots of energy, but the payback was worth it. I hated being the recipient of their sympathy, and later on, their apathy.
That was why I preferred phone calls to meetings. It took less effort to show I was okay. Texts and emails were even better. I would take them any time over having face to face conversations.
“Penny? Are you still with me?” Taylor Benz, my co-worker for the past four years, said over the phone.
“Yes, Taylor, I’m listening.”
In truth, I wasn’t. In the deep ocean of my mind, waves of thoughts clashed angrily: frustration, determination, pain, hope. And as the pressure mounted, I didn’t know which would win, as it seemed like a lost battle.
My father always thought I had a problem with moving on. He once said I couldn’t let go of anything or anyone. Well, not easily.
In a way, I think he was right. But, if I were honest, it was more than that. Maybe it was rooted in my stubbornness. The burning need to accomplish tasks, win arguments, to toil over projects until every detail was complete, was something I couldn’t deny or dismiss.
It wasn’t totally a case of being hardheaded, either; loyalty always played a part in my inability to let go and move on.
I couldn’t understand how people were ever able to let go of someone they loved. How could anybody live another day knowing they’d never be with their loved one again? How could they stand the idea of a world where their beloved no longer existed in their lives?
I never got it.
I couldn’t imagine the strength, the courage it took. I had none of that when it came to the people I loved. When it comes to letting go, the pain is never temporary. It is an ache that you have to deal with every single day until the sweet bliss of death grants you relief.
That was how I saw it. This was how I felt.
Right now, looking at what I was doing, my actions were driven by my stubbornness and loyalty. I was stubborn; that was my head talking. My heart, though, was the main reason why I couldn’t let it be as it was now. I needed to work on it more. I needed to work harder. There was no way I’d call what I was looking at a success, and I refused to accept anything less than perfection.
“You’re not, Professor,” Taylor sighed. He had been my friend for so long, he knew exactly how I felt about this, yet he didn’t understand why I was so worked up about getting it the way I needed it to be.
I didn’t say anything. I kept looking at the machine in front of me: sensors, processors, data storage, and miles and miles of wires, all covered up by the finest steel, uniquely and explicitly created for my robot.
“Look, Penny, I know it’s essential to you to make it the best it can be, but honey – it’s already better than we all dreamed of. I don’t understand why we still have to wait. It’s taking too long to be released, especially since it has passed all the tests that we have subjected it to.”
“No, you don’t get it. I don’t want it to be the best it can be. I need it to be perfect; it has to be perfect,” I told Taylor, my voice mirroring my frustration.
He didn’t understand, as no one did, and no one ever would.
“I don’t know what else to say to convince you to start the final phase.” He sounded defeated, and that gave me hope that he would drop it, that he would support my decision to delay the release date for another month. Or two. “Okay, at least tell me what you’re working on right now.”
“The eyes,” I responded, and that was the truth.
“What about them? Blurry? Weak? Any error regarding scanning or reading data?”
Although I already knew he would ask these very questions, I still didn’t have a convincing answer instead of the honest one.
“Listen, Taylor, I need to get back to work,” I said, trying to end our conversation. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I heard Taylor inhale deeply before he replied, “As you wish, Penny. I hope you know I’m just trying to help.”
“No, I know. It’s just… It’ll be okay. I need more time, that’s all.”
“I’m afraid the boss won’t give you that, honey.”
“I know,” I replied sadly, as Mr. Williams had already given me an extension on this project, a generous one at that.
“Have you eaten anything?” He sounded concerned, “Or do I have to force-feed you three times a day?”
I chuckled, recalling the bagel he’d insisted I eat that morning, “No. But, I only need another half an hour, then I’ll go home and eat,” I promised.
“You always say that, little liar.”
I could almost hear the smile in his voice.
“That’s offensive,” I mock-gasped. “I never lie.”
“Shut up! Not much, anyway.”
“See you tomorrow.”
“See you.” I ended our call, feeling shocked when I saw the time flash across the screen of my phone. It was past midnight, almost seven hours since everyone else had left. Working so late was becoming a bad habit.
I wasn’t going to complain. I knew that by the end of the project, when I brought my robot to life – just the way I dreamed – I would be the happiest girl on earth, and all the late hours, hunger, and sleepless nights would be worth it.
It has to be.
The clock was forgotten as I tried various blues for the millionth time, though none ever seemed to be right. The tone was wrong.
Exhausted, I called out, “MiDa13, activate.”
The soft hum echoed out in the empty lab as my robot’s eyes flashed open. That needed to be fixed. There shouldn’t be any sound at all.
I looked at its eyes and they shone bright blue, much brighter than I wanted them to be.
I shook my head, typing fiercely on my computer in an attempt to fix the code. I didn’t know what else to do. I’d tried every shade of blue that existed on this planet. I even mixed it with grey and green at some point. Nothing worked.
“Hello again, Professor Ford,” MiDa13 greeted me. “How can I be of service?”
MiDa13 sounded exactly like everything I didn’t want. Its vocal pattern was humanlike, if a little gruff and deep. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to fix that. I could only soften his voice or make it gruffer, neither of which I wanted.
I tried everything, but there was no way I could make MiDa13 sound like him. So, I had to make do with the annoying voice it currently had.
“Can you change your eye color and make it perfect?” Frustration could be heard in my voice, but sarcasm was dominating my tone.
“I’m afraid that is not an option, Professor Ford.”
I rolled my eyes as I continued typing. Of course, I knew it couldn’t.
“I can, however, define objects one kilometer away, in clear space and through barriers,” it continued.
“I don’t sense that you’re feeling impressed, Professor Ford. Do you think there’s something wrong with my sensors?”
I stopped typing and sighed. When I turned to look at MiDa13, I noticed that it was closely observing me. The monitor beside it displayed what it was seeing, and it showed that MiDa13 was going through its maintenance protocol, looking for system errors.
“There’s nothing wrong with you, MiDa13. I was being sarcastic. I’m sorry. It’s something I tend to do when I’m frustrated,” I said, feeling defeated.
“I understand that now, Professor Ford. However, I think my sight is impressive, nonetheless.”
I chuckled humorlessly.
“It is. But I’m not impressed now because I already knew that. I created you, remember?”
“Yes, Professor. That information is in my memory bank. My memories shall remain there and will never be deleted. They may be stored or archived, only if you order me to do so, Professor Ford. I remember.”
“Okay,” I said in a low voice. My robot wasn’t telling me something that I didn’t already know. I was getting distracted again, feeling overwhelmed as I contemplated that I might have to accept the current color.
“I can sense your stress, Professor Ford. May I help you feel better?”
“I’ll be fine. If I could fix your eye color…” I said the last part to myself.
“How would you like it to be, Professor Ford?” my robot asked.
“You don’t have to call me ‘Professor Ford’ with every sentence, you know?” I told him, frustrated again.
“I will remember that. How would you like the color to be?” It repeated the question.
“It needs to be human-like.”
My voice was low, and I didn’t know why I was replying to him still. It was silly. Although MiDa13 was smarter than most humans, it had no common sense, and there was no way it could give me a solution that I didn’t already insert in it myself.
“But, I’m not a human,” My robot said.
“I know that.” I guess. “MiDa13, deactivate.”
Maybe I was trying to avoid questions from my robot which would surely prove me insane; I didn’t know. But looking into its eyes aggravated my frustration and I had to deactivate it.
MiDa13 clearly wasn’t human, and it certainly wasn’t him, but I wouldn’t stop trying. It was what I did best – I never gave up.
The sound of the lab’s intercom system rang loudly in the room, startling me. With a frown, I picked up, confused why Paul – one of the lab’s security guys and a good friend of mine – was calling. He knew better than to distract me.
“Yes, Paul?” I answered, viewing him through the security camera, “Is everything okay?”
“Hey! I’m sorry to disturb you, Professor, but you have a package, and it says ‘Urgent.’”
My frown deepened, and I glanced at the giant clock on the wall. Who would deliver a package at 1:03 am?
“Alright, I’ll be at the main door in a minute,” I said before hanging up.
Heading towards Paul, I wondered what was so urgent that it couldn’t wait until morning for delivery.
“Thanks, Paul,” I said as I took the package from him, “Any card with it?”
“Oh, I almost forgot!” he said, reaching for his pocket. I turned the package over several times, searching for markings but found none.
“You said it was labeled urgent!” I said with confusion.
“Um … maybe I lied. Here,” he said as he handed me the card, a smirk on his wrinkled face.
With some hesitation, I opened the card, my confusion turning into a grin as I read the handwritten note: ‘Eat, little liar.’
“You got me, old man,” I laughed. Paul knew I wouldn’t leave the lab for the package had he said it was food. I would’ve told him I’d pick it up on my way out. “I’m going to tell your wife you lied.”
Paul chuckled, “I’ll get away with it. I did it for a good cause.”
Shaking my head, I thanked him again and returned to the lab, not sure how much longer I would stay there. The thought of crashing on the floor was tempting.
As I ate, I fired off a text to Taylor. He was probably asleep by now, but I thought it would be the first thing he’d see in the morning.
‘It’s delicious. Thanks, Mom.’ I texted, giggling to myself as I chewed on my food.
Laying my phone down next to me on the floor, I looked up at MiDa13, thinking of how far we’d come since day one, and remembering the very moment Michael and I came up with the idea of creating an android that would make history.
A wave of sadness washed over me at the thought of how Michael wouldn’t be here to see how well we did. A sigh escaped as a wave of loneliness engulfed me. Had he been here, things would’ve been different. For the better, I was certain.
My phone beeped, announcing a new text message from Taylor.
‘Mom? Ha. Ha. Very funny, kiddo. May I remind you it’s past your bedtime?’
‘I was thinking about crashing here. Speaking of bedtime, why are you still awake?’ I texted back.
‘Don’t you dare! You’ll be a zombie in the morning. And, I’m not awake.’
‘Go home, Penny.’
Fifteen minutes later, I realized there was no way I could continue working tonight, so I decided to go home, hoping that tomorrow would bring a solution.
On the drive home, I distracted myself by checking my emails. The driver of the company car was new, and that didn’t ease my phobias at all. I found a rather stern message from Mr. George Williams – my boss. He was giving me one week for MiDa13 to be officially activated, or else. ‘Or else’. That meant that he would remove me from the project, and my co-workers would bring it to completion.
I would still get paid, but it wasn’t about the money. It was never about the money.
There was no way I could let someone else do this, even my team. It was impossible to imagine someone taking over my years and years of work, the countless hours that I spent doing nothing but obsessing over making MiDa13 into what it was now.
This project was my dream; it was Michael’s dream. Giving up on MiDa13 wasn’t an option. I was not going to let anyone violate our work, hopes, and wishes. I had to think of something.
A blast of chilled air hit me as I opened the front door of the big house I called my own. It was never warm, no matter how much I turned up the heat. Not since he left me.
I could be drowning in sweat, but still felt cold inside… empty. I had no idea when, or if, this feeling might end.
Settling into bed, I got my notebook and pen from my nightstand and started writing a letter to my father, something that I had done every single night since I was a child. Writing to my father had always been the best therapy. The few minutes it took to compose the daily letter provided a much-needed respite from feeling so lonely since he left.
I wish I could give you an update about my project, but things are pretty much the same as they have been for the last ten days; I’m still not satisfied with the eye color.
It’s very frustrating, I have worked so hard, and it looks like it’s going to be fruitless. I’m devastated, Daddy. I worked about eight hours longer than the other professors today; almost sixteen hours, can you imagine?
Yet, I’m not getting the results I’m hoping for.
I forgot to eat at some point. If it weren’t for Taylor, I would still be at the lab, starving, and probably passed out in a corner.
It’s nice to know that someone cares about me. Taylor is such a great friend, but he doesn’t understand. He doesn’t grasp my need to get my robot to look a certain way. He doesn’t understand that I’d rather spend the whole day at the lab than to come back to this empty house, where loneliness is my sole companion.
He tells me to sleep, believing that my sleeplessness is because I’m overthinking work. He’s wrong. I throw myself into my work so as not to let the overwhelming sadness take over and remind me of what I’ve lost.
He doesn’t know that I exhaust myself so that by the time I get back to this cold place – which was warm and cozy in the past – I’ll be too tired to think about anything other than sleep.
Nobody knows it, Daddy. Nobody but you and me.
I hold a small shred of hope that I might get to be happy again. But, I’m not sure if it’ll work. I’m not sure if I should do it at all. I guess only time will tell.
Mr. Williams is twisting my arm to finish, and I don’t know how to respond. I wish you could tell me what to do.
I don’t know what to do or say, but I promise I’ll sleep on it before I give him my answer.
However, I believe I’ll cave and start the final stage tomorrow – I mean, in a few hours. It’s almost three in the morning.
Let’s hope that the last layer will look good on MiDa13. Good enough to make it look exactly like him.
People grieve differently. Some hide in a corner and cry, others find strength in the arms of loved ones, while a few swallow their sadness and cherish the good memories. None of those appealed to Professor Penelope Ford. When fate tested her, tearing apart her life with her fiancé, Michael Davis, she refused to accept her new reality. Instead, she chose to live in a fantasy world of her own creation. For four years, Penelope worked on designing a clone of Michael. She wanted this new version to be stronger, smarter, and – most importantly – even more devoted to her. She craved a lover who would never walk out of her life again. Will the professor succeed in making her human-like android exactly what she wants him to be? Even more, will she be able to face the real world with what her grief has created?
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Rose is a loved mother, wife, and a stay at home lawyer. Writing is her passion, and reading is her obsession. Music is her best friend and sarcasm is her speaking trend. One of her joys is bringing happiness to others and her biggest wish is that they stay true to one another. Through her stories, she wants to spread nothing except understanding, peace and love.