This story is inspired by the Universe created by DB_Story, but it isn't set in it. I would say that the stories exist in the same Multiverse with his Universe and mine diverging in different(?) directions.
Copyright © 2002 by Qickless (firstname.lastname@example.org). This material may be distributed only subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License, v1.0 or later.
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Distribution of the work or derivative of the work in any standard (paper) book form is prohibited unless prior permission is obtained from the copyright holder.
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I discovered her in an old robot workshop in the drop-off zone of the city. I would have glanced at the shop banner and passed it by, but I had noticed that such stores were becoming scarcer and rarer as time went by. Since it could be my last chance to see inside a true twenty-first century roboshop - alive as only a history lesson can make it - and since I'm not a person to give up on last chances, I decided to jump in and take a look. I found out later that it indeed could have been my last chance; a week later and the shop was screeched off by robodozers and leveled to make a park. People living around the shop probably smiled in relief, but the world lost a tiny piece of history that day and for people like me that's not a happy thing - whichever way you look at it.
But scratch all that, the roboshop was boring, just another cog-in-the-wheel of the robot revolution - still as a twoD photo, all edges and corners and nothing to see into. I'm proud of myself that day only because I saw Anita.
But to get back into my tale, the store was waiting and I was hesitating outside it, trying to choose between peering into it (and seeing nothing but shaded cobwebby windows) and peering into the fog of a late night. When I chose the yet un-rusted door, I imagined later that the stars must have smiled and the sun rose, just for Anita.
The shop was dim and dark and genuine disappointment. I almost made my way out, but a head poked in from one side of the gloom and nodded at me in welcome. Probably the manager, or a salesman - no, the owner - a bald old man with gray eyes and white full teeth and yet un-rusted genuine twenty-first century glasses. I choose not to remember much of the conversation with him, but I got a history lesson that day alright - one on two legs - and twenty minutes later, I was aching to leave. And then I saw her.
She was boxed so I couldn't make out her model right away, but I knew she was old, old, old. I don't know much about robot history, but I knew enough to know that if she was still working, she would be a find. The bald head was salesman enough to notice my fascination and he unwrapped her box like a red-ribbon package. She was beautiful; I saw that, the sort of dainty slimness that appealed to these Oldies, and she was wearing too little - I think people used to call that a miniskirt. Her skin was nice and toned if you didn't consider the generous package of dust on her. Her eyes... oh, yes, she was beautiful.
He quoted a figure, I bargained, and I think he liked me a little because he accepted a pretty low number for her (that, or he foresaw those robodozers) and I went home with Anita - still inactivated but given a thorough vacuum and as much upgrades and spare parts in the shop as there were - I doubted I would get the parts for her anywhere else. As I drew away, I read her manual and knew I was right. She was perhaps the last of the fembot line, the major attractions of the product being sex, companionship and housework, in that order. I chortled at her tagline: "A Fembot! A female and a robot, what more could you want?" What more indeed!
I installed her in my apartment and decked her away, but didn't get to play with her until a week later - I had to skip town for a while; my job pulled me in. When I did open the box, I found her as still as I left her. I removed the many, many layers of wrapping, until she was just standing there, waiting for me to pick up her remote. I was aware that many things could go wrong from this point; she was antique, older than me, older than this apartment, hell! Older than that roboshop. I would be extremely lucky if she even spoke a word, but I knew that they made things to last in those times, and that was what I was counting on even when the old geezer back at the shop told me he couldn't offer guarantees.
So I played with her remote, with her manual and with an almost invisible button behind her hair and got her to talk.
"Impression complete," she said, "Hello master" and I smiled. What it with these power games that's so un-sexy? Yuck!
"Call me David."
Her joints weren't rusted or anything (I doubt it could rust) but only her head was moving and her lips formed the words softly as she spoke. I searched in her manual and found what I wanted.
I remembered to press her command button before I spoke. "Anita? Run all self-diagnostic tests, and enter conversational mode after that."
I could imagine wheels whirring inside her, and it was a while before she spoke again. "Command completed David. Self-diagnostic tests reported no problems. I've also entered conversational mode."
Her stance changed a little after that, relaxing her arms from that robot-stance but I was more than a little surprised at the result of those tests. But she was standing there, waiting for a while and I realized that I didn't know what to do with her. I thought for a while and then asked her to follow me as I showed her around the apartment. She walked without any sort of stiffness at all and her motions were fluid and lovely to look at. I asked her to list her functions and she started rattling off a whole long list. I listened for a while until she got to D: Deductive Thinking, Defense, Drawing, Dishwashing, Doctoring, Dancing, Debating, Debugging, Decorating... yes it does get boring and repetitious after a while. I left her to simmer, asking her to lie down on the couch and sleep and went back to bed. I had a month off and more than enough time to learn more about Anita and as I drifted off, I saw her face and I saw her smile.
It was when I saw her with the sun shining around her early the next day that I realized how beautiful she was. Evidently her makers had reached a period where robots of her kind were custom-made. Some artist had been paid a hefty sum for her features, and some designer a dripping bucket for her body. I had gone to sleep with her in mind so when I saw her the next morning, I thought I was dreaming. But my yawns didn't make her go away, and as I stared up at her and saw her and smiled, she smiled too. That made her all the more beautiful. She was still wearing one of those ugly dresses from the shop, and I resolved to myself that first thing today, we were going to get her some real clothes. She had a cup in her hand which I knew to be coffee, and I smiled and accepted it. She evidently had been listening yesterday when I told her about my habits.
I took a sip of the coffee (nicely done, with just the right amount of sugar) and motioned her to sit. She still had a smile on her face as she sat on the side of the bed, and her gaze when it met mine was so unflinchingly blue that it was hard to stare at her and hard not to. It was so easy to imagine her as intelligent. The coffee, as usual, made me reflective and I thought about her face, and what was it about it that made her so beautiful.
I had taken a class on hairdressing once and they said that an oval shape was the most desirable. As if they could quantify desire! Personally, my favorite was the kind of face which they termed 'heart-shaped' with a bit-longer chin, enough to make it lose that annoying perfection. Definitely, Anita had a heart-shaped face, but that was not quite it. I stared at her eyes - blue and fierce, her hair - curled up in a fashion which I'm soon about to change, her eyebrows - yummily lickable, her lips...
"Anita, can I kiss you?"
She smiled and nodded and I set the cup down and she moved into my arms and we fit - like lock and key, like star-crossed lovers of Old and I quietly moaned into her warm mouth, shaken. She was an idiot robot for Christ's sake! I looked into her eyes, trying to tell myself that and I flinched at her eyes. Then, I knew that I couldn't let Anita go. Perhaps it was a subtle combination of her looks and her programming, but whatever the hell it was, it stuck on to me.
"Anita, I hope you learnt a bit of the history of the world since they made you, did you?"
"Yes, David, I looked at the discs you gave me."
"Do you have some questions?"
She nodded and started to speak but I cut her off. "Later ok? Right now we're going out - have to get you some nice clothes, a new hairdo and let's see some shoes, some nice makeup, some heels maybe?" I was thinking aloud at that point and I didn't notice when I offered her a hand or when she took it, but we went hand in hand to my box and I plugged in to voice my demands.
"Glasses," she said suddenly.
"Huh?" I was pretty much into my list when I heard that and it didn't connect at all. I searched my mind, but didn't need to, because Anita was elaborating.
"If you are going to buy me stuff I'd like some glasses."
I looked at her for a moment and then brought out her manual. No, she definitely wasn't supposed to do that. I thought for a moment, listing all the possibilities, and since most of the scenarios came out to be very bad, it wasn't with enthusiasm that I asked her the question. "Why Anita?"
Her eyes then sparked of something that I recognized it surprised the hell out of me.
She shrugged and replied, "It's just something that I like, that's all." She stopped suddenly and said, "Can I elaborate?"
"Go ahead honey, elaborate all you want. In fact, from now on, always elaborate on everything that you say and don't worry about what any one else tells you to think. Wait... let's see... if you want to speak something always speak out loud, you don't have to obey anybody if they tell you to shut up, and that includes me ok? Always, always speak your mind, got that?"
I think she was a little surprised at my raised voice and my ill-rehearsed speech, but I was robot scientist enough to recognize what was happening in her.
"Got that David." She smiled and continued, "Well, about glasses, I saw them yesterday while I was browsing the discs you gave me and I think it looks real nice. It was not much of a picture, only three frames or so and I only saw it once, but I like those. So if you are buying me something, glasses will be nice, David."
"You mean, like spectacles?"
She glanced at me a little oddly before replying, "Yes. Spectacles. Glasses. Do you want a description? They are made of clear transparent..."
"Yes I got that Anita honey." Specs? Well, her tastes sure are weird. Encouragement, David. Encouragement is key. What has a pair of glasses and Sentience in common?
I left my box to chug along and went to take a shower. Anita was sitting there, staring at the box and for a while I thought I'd imagined her little speech. She looked so much like her manual, just sitting there. Well, the spark was there in her, it only needed something to light it.
Fuck the gods, but I'm going to do just that. Resolutions always leave me with considerable high spirits (high-fiving and hand-shaking within my innards) and I thought up a plan to shake her up.
"Anita honey, do you want to take a shower?"
She shook her head no. Try again.
"Anita honey, if it's ok will you take a shower with me?"
She smiled and nodded and we held hands to the bathroom. Inside, I quickly shucked down bare and she, following me, was nude as well. For the first time, I saw her naked.
She was beautiful, though I had kind of expected that. Her breasts were nice and shapely - not too large or small, and her legs - lovely and long - met in a completely bare public area that didn't conceal anything. She was breathing softly as she stood there, and I realized that her body wasn't glaringly wonderful. If I have to pick a best feature, it would be her eyes. Always her eyes.
I bent down and she moved in to kiss me. But I didn't meet her lips, not just yet. I kissed her closed eyes first, both of them, then the nick just above her nose, her cheeks - and then the tip of her lips until I saw her smiling. Her hands had been slowly moving down and I stopped the kisses when it reached my thighs. I ignored her confusion and shuffled her into the shower. It was clean soapy water and it was wonderful rubbing it all over her skin and watching her do it for me and then slowly hugging me as the warm water washed it all away. She touched me many times during the shower - the first time I recoiled a bit and she seemed to get the message. We touched everywhere after that but it was strictly all business. She wasn't ticklish anywhere, which took half the fun off the shower, but even then we were both smiling when we got out and dried. She went to put back her old skirt on, but I stopped her and pulled out one of my old pants on for her and told the box to re-suit it for her. Within moments, we were ready to go, she in faded blue pants and an open shirt and me in a comfortable toga.
I took her hand as we went out and for most of the day she sought out my hand after we'd let go for a while. It was a nice, warm feeling - holding somebody, and I realized that it was something I had missed for a while. When we got out of the G-lift, I had a card which the box helped me with and I referred to that to find the shops. I chose to walk the distance since most of the shops were pretty close together, and mostly because I've always enjoyed walking and window-shopping and I've never used (nor do I want to) things like Eazywalks and G-cruisers. My two legs mostly carry me wherever I go.
Anita definitely was enjoying the walk. There weren't many people who passed us - even though this was a busy mall, it was pretty much deserted at this hour. I kept the pace slow since she was looking all around her - to the left for a few minutes and then to her right, and I thought that she must be thinking that it would have been nice to have eyes in the back of her head. But she never paused to look at anything deeply, nor did she lengthen or shorten the stride that I set, so we went like that to our first shop - to get her some decent clothes.
I explained to the attendant the situation and let him (an extra-sweet looking guy with hair shaped like a banana) handle the rest of the deal. He obviously thought he had better dress sense than both of us but I rejected outright half of the things he brought her to wear and to my surprise, Anita told me that she didn't like something. I had been careful never to command her to select any dress, always prefixing things with, "Do you like this..." and suffixing "... if you want this" but I was really surprised when she outright rejected some of my choices. Well, I suppose I was a bit hurt even though I didn't show it. In the end, we had a healthy pile, and I told Anita that this was enough for now and to confirm every purchase. That took some more time (and more corrections) but we were onto the next shop and the shop after that and Anita got more chic and beautiful as we went along. She wore out a dress she liked as we got out of the shop, achieved with a sentence like, "Now Anita honey, select one of these that you like and go slip it on." Of course, it could have been just a random selection, but the smile on her face made the chances against that close to infinity. I was pleased, and I made sure that I showed that. Like that, the beauty parlor gave her a new cut and a makeover making her blue eyes shine, and at the shoe-shop we got her some nice shoes - leather and rubber and sandals and some heels too even though I dislike heels - and we finally made her way to a shop which would sell her what she wanted.
My poor box had done a lot of chugging to find out a shop which sold spectacles because they had been medically outdated almost four centuries ago, and what I had in hand was an old shop which specialized in arcane jewelry. I didn't know Anita that well yet, but her hands tightened in mine and her eyes brightened as we entered that brightly lit store. I have to admit, I too was a little bowled over. There were all kinds of things there - all bright and shiny and half of the stuff I didn't even know existed. But then a scrawny lady popped in from somewhere and spoke in a deep voice.
What it was that I was looking for? I answered, correctly it seems, for her eyes lit up and we were directed to the back of the room where I saw glasses everywhere. Evidently, there were more people like Anita who had a glass fetish.
Anita and that scrawny lady (whose name she told us was Juanita) fell to talking. Well, not exactly since it was Juanita that did most of the talking, and Anita listened. But she was interested evidently because once when the chatter at the other end stopped she asked a question bringing a smile to Juanita's lips. I was watching the two ladies talk - mostly I was watching Anita - as she tried on one glass after the next. After every round of mirror-watching, they would turn to me and Juanita would ask, "Well, what do you think, sir?" and I would mostly hmmmm and haw my way along (I didn't like these glasses.) But one of the things that she tried on didn't look that bad really and I told her when asked that I liked that one. Anita was looking at herself and at me behind her in the mirror - the glasses that she had on were thin and whispery and almost non-existent (I think that was why I liked it) and she smiled when she heard my reply. She picked that one and the shop added the specs to her body. Juanita was very pleased with the choice - at least, it seemed that way to me and she left me a card and a discount coupon "when the lady or the sir needs to make more purchases" and we left the shop, smiling. All three of us.
I glanced at Anita and she was again window-shopping, though this time with a smile on her face. I knew again that she was something special. I had told all the shop-attendants about her situation (I left out most of the details, but described her model and her age) so they knew what to expect. But Anita had surprised all of them - Juanita the most probably - and I wished now that I hadn't told all of them that. Anita wasn't any simple robot; I knew that she was so much more.
When we got back, it was afternoon, and I fetched us a little snack. Anita was the first robot of her kind to include eating-addons (a convertor of biological food to energy) and I had paid a lot of money at her shop to fit her with the newest model of that organ and I was more surprised when I read her manual yesterday. She was a surprisingly up-to-date robot for something made three centuries ago. Sure, some things had been discovered that made some things inside her easier and longer-lasting and more refined, but she had all of the senses that a normal mech-robot had today. I had a list inside me of the things that she would need upgraded (her skin for one, she must tickle) and I knew the place where I could get such things done, and I resolved to do that as soon as possible. Perhaps today? I was thinking that out as we ate; I didn't want to stress her new organ with more solid food - we were eating light cereal and milk, and when my thoughts churned into a decision, I placed a call to a friend of mine in the Clinic.
What I had decided was something of an unconventional procedure for her. It would been that thousands of my credits that I'd already spent on her would be washed down the drain, but I had decided that she would get a complete work-over - from mechanics-oriented to bio-centered; it was a slightly risky procedure - this transition - and only recently developed but I knew it gave a much better result and much broader spectra of sensations to enjoy. Sticking with metal wouldn't be a nice choice - it wouldn't be fair to her and the transition was worth the small risk.
It was an old friend that I called - Charlie, and he assured me that everything would be fine. We'd met a long while ago but he owed me a few favors that I was only too happy to call on.
When I hung up, Anita across me had gotten herself a very different body (and I hoped very much better one). In fact, aside from one difference, her body would be almost exactly like mine.
"Do you have any problems, Anita?"
She looked at me and seemed to be ordering stuff in her head. She nodded. "Well? List them out," I said.
"I don't know where in this house you keep your food-stores, your tour didn't include that. I don't know what you want for lunch, or dinner. I don't know the emergency numbers in case of an accident. I don't know..."
"Wait, Anita." I brushed the hair from my face. I didn't know how to explain this, but I knew this was something important.
"You have a list of all the things right?" I asked and she nodded. "Order it so that things which relate only to you - your problems, your wishes, your needs, your everything is on top and after that comes everything else. Got that?" When she nodded again, I said, "From now on, any time you form any list like that or any time you make any decision, put yourself first always, ok? And only after that, anybody else." It took a long while and I thought something had happened to her but she slowly nodded after a while. I waited a while and then asked her again, "Do you have any problems, Anita?"
"There is something wrong with me," when she spoke this time the words were slurred a little and I was a bit uneasy. I found her hand and slowly clasped it. "There is something wrong with my senses. When I went outside today, lots of the people looked like people but didn't read like them - their emissions were very different. Juanita, all the other salesman... you..."
I think I knew what her problem was. "We are all enhanced, Anita. Part of me is metal, like you, but only a very small part but there are so many bio-engineered organs in me that I'm not quite human. It's the same with most of the humans on Earth today." I paused as she digested this. "Evidently, the history lessons that I gave you weren't enough. I'll dig up more..."
"What about robots?" she asked.
I immediately saw her dilemma. "Robots are also very similar to humans. Down to the bio-gened parts, the only thing different is the brain, which you wouldn't be able to sense."
"So how do you tell them apart?"
"You can't." I paused a little while she digested this and then continued. "I hope you know that most of the robots became aware in the middle of the 22nd century? The process had started much before, but by the three-quarters of the 22nd century, all of the robots alive were sentient. And you know what happened later."
"I do not." She said.
"Well, you're right, you don't. I don't. But let's forget that. Back to history. Most of the robots which became self-aware weren't exactly independent creatures. They needed humans to survive, they were like a servant race still. But things changed, and other things happened and now robots and humans live together - as equals."
"But how do you tell them apart?"
"You can't. It isn't necessary."
"It is. My programming marks a definite distinction between humans and robots. There are various things hard-coded in me that I should and shouldn't perform for humans, similar directives exist for robots. I have to tell them apart." Her voice had slowly risen and as she told me the last part, it was very affirmative.
"Okay, shall we worry about it later? Maybe for now, you can assume all the people you meet are humans, can you do that?"
She paused for a while, but her answer was very strong. "No."
"Well then, if there is a person you want to interact with, and you ask me about him I'll warn you if he is a robot. Is that ok?"
I could feel her relaxing somewhat. "Yes."
"Well, how many other things are on your list?"
"Lots." She smiled, and I noticed she hadn't asked about Juanita or any of the others.
I grinned with her. "Well I suppose you know how to use the box. If you don't, just ask it, and it'll tell you. It is probably more intelligent that you and I combined together so you just need to ask it once and it'll probably understand you. But if you need my help, I'll be in my room, working, ok? Remember what I told you, Anita? Your needs, your wants, and your wishes always at first. After that, others'."
She interrupted me several times but I didn't mind, and always we had a little conversation. She made me a nice dinner (one of those interruptions had been about my likes about dinner and lunch) and I thanked her and then I told her about her big day tomorrow.
I told her what I knew about the operation, the box explained the rest, but when I finished I gathered she was a bit apprehensive, but also a little excited. When I went to bed, it seemed so natural to invite her in, and we slept together - she in her new cotton nightdress and me absolutely naked (as always), and when she spooned in beside me under the covers, I smiled myself to sleep.
The next day there was a bit of an incident when I asked her to turn herself off. It was the first semblance of real worry that I detected in her and it was lucky that we were still in bed, because I hugged her and slowly kissed her until I could feel her relax.
"I can't," she said.
I analyzed her statement, but I couldn't figure it out.
"You can't or you don't want to?"
It was difficult for her to reply - I saw that, and I could feel her stiffening and relaxing in my grasp. This was a situation that I hadn't envisioned for myself two days ago when I bought her, her manual said that she would answer all questions "intelligently and promptly" and any deviation from this behavior could mean a functional disability. But I could feel this was more like a functional ability.
"Both," she said. "If you have to disable me, you have to do it yourself. There is a small button in the back of my head. Press it and say..."
"For god's sake, Anita, I'm not disabling you! Don't you remember what we talked about yesterday? This is just an operation remember? You'll be fine when you wake up, better than fine. What happened? You were alright and excited yesterday."
"I don't know," she said and she was still restless and I couldn't calm her down. I didn't know what to do so I kissed her softly and whispered, "It's alright." And I pressed her button.
For the first few hours after they picked her up, I lounged about the house, but soon I followed her. Charlie met me at the foot of the company and escorted me in, and we settled into his office. It was a nice place, big and spacious and obviously built for a person of his tastes. Light came in from all directions and that was one of the things that I liked about the room.
"So dear buddy," he began and I winced. Charlie's enthusiasm about everything sometimes grated on my nerves until it was like the annoying buzzing of mosquitoes at night. "Well, why are you here?"
"Anita," I said slowly, sipping on the wine that he'd got me. Red wine. Nice.
"Ah, yes Anita." He swiveled his glass in front of him, got up, and started walking around the room, his arms brandished theatrically. Yes indeed, annoying.
"Anita, Anita, Anita. Who is she? Is she a divine temptress reborn on Earth? Is she a soulless maiden demanding your life? Or is she an innocent young soul looking for true love?"
"I see that you are not pleased with the scenarios. Well, is she the dark..."
"Ah yes, let's. Fuck off that is." The wine glass flew from his hand and smashed into a glass window with a smattering sound that shocked both of us.
"That was an accident," he admitted sheepishly.
"I guessed as much," I said and I moved to help clear the mess. As I was picking up the glass pieces, a good analogy came to mind. "You know, Anita is like these glass fragments, she needs somebody to piece them together."
"So that you can drink red wine from it?" Charlie grinned.
"Yes, that too." I admitted.