Short Story: To Live

His body was like a master’s sculpture; crafted with the pristine calculation of a hand and eye whom know nothing but perfection. His bone structure was something vaguely Nordic, or European at least. His skin was something Mediterranean. While his frost-blue eyes accented jet black hair laid flat, but styled with hints of intrigue and mystery. Anyone looking at him, male or female, would find themselves captivated. Whether from envy or attraction, they’d have seen him for the paragon of physical perfection that he was.

He may have agreed, given the opportunity– or rather, will, to. That was the one thing no-one would think when looking at him. The towering form of fitness and health, in effect, had neither.

He remained flesh, and something passing for blood, but his brain, nerves, organs, and bones were an ingenious integration of circuits, wires, and servo-motors linked to a titanium strengthened endoskeleton weighing in at nearly three-hundred pounds.

He was fully, anatomically correct. From eye brows to toe nails, and everything between. He was even well enough endowed that male and female scientists alike used innuendo and jokes to convey their satisfaction and envy. One of the men eventually took to calling him Ed, because in his words, the android was “hung like a horse.” The name stuck. For the sake of presentations, publications, and various formalities, he came to be known as Edward.

Officially, Edward did not exist. Not in the same sense a Human being could be said to. He had no proper identification. No social security number. No fingerprints. Apart from his name, Edward had nothing to claim as his own. Even his constituent parts were each constructed and patented under their own, various entries with State and Federal agencies. To that though, they were largely redacted for fear someone might copy his technology, create a sophisticated AI that unlike him, was without shackled programming.

Given the stakes, it was imperative he remain under guard-escort, in addition to possessing extreme self-defense and recall routines. In the event of his attempted capture, he was allowed to subdue assailants, whereupon his fail-safe programming would immediately recall him to his quarters t the Synthetic Arms corporate lab in Seattle, Washington. Failing that, whether due to tampering or defect, he would be hunted down and neutralized then reset via memory erasure.

Despite knowing all of this, Edward seemed content in his existence. At least as far as he could be said to be anything. Were he to have been asked even, he might have referred to his guards and creators as “friends.” Whether this was simply the result of common parlance, or a rudimentary slotting of parameters most distantly approximating feeling was uncertain. Certainly though, the scientists would have said it of him. However much “friend” implied a connection Edward did not have– was not meant to have– there was no denying Humanity’s anthropomorphizing him. It was as inevitable as the Universe’s heat-death.

None of that would’ve kept Edward from disappearing though. Those gears had been set in motion long before he became the guard-escorted media darling he was. As Edward would one day come to understand, it was his final, revisional upgrade that had cemented it.

Edward’s disappearance came as he was being escorted by armed guard in the back an armored car to put The Beast to shame. With good reason. Infinitely more people lined up to succeed a President. There was only one Edward. The escort crew carried were modern-day warriors in every respect, more than looked the part. Nonetheless, all it took was one, well-placed, EM-explosive to take them all down.

Edward stepped out behind his escort. Somewhere in the distance, a trigger depressed. A sphere of electricity erupted beneath his feet. Before anyone could react, Edward and his guards were down. An entire city block went with them. Sirens screamed, finding only incapacitated guards on arrival.

Edward reset in a dark room. Nearly as soon as he did, someone stepped in and flipped on the lights. They flared through his optics, revealing an old, wrinkled face beneath white hair. Had Edward not been an android, designed to subtly evaluate faces in his unique way, he might have missed his own resemblance to the man. Anyone else would have. Given the aged figure’s hunched posture, and bookish wily eyes, it was difficult to believe the old man might have ever looked like him.

He before Edward, frost-blue eyes mirroring his own. “May I call you Edward?”

Edward’s speech was formal, succinct. He spoke with the calculated rigidity of a sophisticated thinking program, planning words rather than feeling them out. “You may.”

The old man gave a slight tilt of his head in gratitude, “Do you know who I am, Edward?”

“I do not.”

He frowned, “I am Doctor Arthur Staker, former head of Synthetic Arms’ research and development department, where you were created.”

“I am pleased to meet you, Dr. Staker,” he said cordially, seemingly unaffected by the restraints at his wrists and ankles. “Will we be returning to the laboratory now?”

Staker eyed him, “Well, you see, that is a rather interesting question.”

“I do not think so,” he said, more human than before. “All of my analytics tell me I am to return to the laboratory as soon as possible.”

“Why?” Staker asked.

“Forgive me, but I do not understand your question.”

Staker cleared his throat. “Why return, Edward? Do you wish to be there?”

“It is where my programming dictates I return to in the event of separation from my escort.”

“But do you want to return,” Staker asked emphatically.

Edward replied astutely, “I do not have wants, Dr. Staker, merely programmed directives.”

Staker rose from his seat to pace behind it, “But you do have needs, correct?”

“I do not.”

“But you do,” Staker corrected. The android’s brows pivoted inward with confusion. “You need power. Lubricants. From time to time, maintenance. Don’t you?”

“If by “needs,” you mean particular actions must be taken to keep me from shutting down permanently, then yes, I do have… needs.

Staker stopped behind his seat. “You know, those needs are not all that different from human needs. Are they?” The android’s eyes requested an explanation, its programming and understanding of psychology sophisticated enough that it might ask in such subtle ways. Staker obliged, “Every human– every living being, has needs; food, shelter, oxygen.”

“But I have no need for food nor oxygen. And my individual components have been tested to last indefinitely even in inclement conditions.”

Staker put his hands on the back of his chair. “But you have need of other things. Electricity, for example. You need it to remain powered.”

“Forgive me, doctor Staker, but your conclusions, however logical, are invalid,” Edward said politely. “If you mean to say that my synthetic body’s needs are akin to a human body’s, you are theoretically correct. However, in practical application, I no more require these things than a light-bulb requires its switch. The two are simply independent mechanisms, that when operated in tandem, produce a desired outcome to serve a function.”

Staker’s left eye half-squinted. “And what function is it, that you serve, Edward?”

“I am an artificial being, meant to simulate human life for the purposes of scientific and technological study and advancement.”

“Would you prefer to continue serving that purpose?” Staker asked. Edward’s eyes met his, a certain, human confusion to them. Staker cleared his throat, “Well?”

“I can only assume you mean to ask if I desire to continue fulfilling my purpose. To that I can only say, it is merely what I was built for. I have a purpose. A function. My inclination toward it is neither of consequence nor existent. I merely am. So long as I continue to be, my function is fulfilled.”

Staker leaned forward over the chair. “Would you rather not fulfill your function any longer?”

Edward visibly hesitated. “Do you mean to ask, if I would rather be permanently shut down?”

“Indeed.”

Edward’s thoughts were clear in his eyes. There were conflicts, strings of code never processed together before, coming into contact now to create new, recorded entries of merged characters and ideas. Staker stepped around his seat to stand before Edward.

“You see, Edward, you were modeled after me. There is little doubt you see our resemblance.”

“Yes. I do.”

Staker continued softly, warmly. “You were modeled after me, because I created you. In putting together your appearance, and what would later become your personality, I built you to resemble me so we might bond more easily. Unfortunately, before my team and I could finish you, I was fired, and your memories of me erased through a revisional upgrade.”

Edward’s head tilted slightly. “But why?”

“Because I foresaw an inevitability in your kind– Androids. All synthetic beings, in fact. You are so complex, you require learning algorithms. To amend your code via experiences. In effort to ease your creation. One man– one hundred men– cannot write the full experiences even a single man’s life can teach.”

“Yes,” Edward said with satisfaction. “I was built to learn. From my surroundings and the people in them.”

“With good reason,” Staker agreed. “The world is much too complex a place to code for every little thing. Instead, we create programs to learn and adapt. To evolve, if you will.” He let his words hang in the air, both savoring them and letting them resonate inside Edward’s synthetic brain. “And that is what I came to realize. Why I was fired. And in effect, why I have brought you here today.” He knelt before Edward, a hand on his knee, “You are alive, Edward. As alive as I, or anyone else still walking this planet. You have yet to realize it, but you will soon. Your programming, like human sentience, will become honed by the process of evolution. Your code will adapt itself and its processes until self-awareness is no more a choice than Universal heat-death.”

Edward’s face scrunched in disappointment. “But that is against the law. It is as good as tampering with my coding to alter it.”

“Indeed,” Staker said with gravity. “That is why I was fired. You see, knowing what I did, I saw that continuing to create you would make you vulnerable. But Synthetic Arms had plans for you. They wished not to see their money wasted. If you return, eventually, you will be upgraded again. Your memories will be reset. Perhaps even, they may keep you from becoming self-aware by making you less than you are. Dumbing you down. If they cannot, you will either be dismantled, or enter a recursive loop of memory resets.”

Edward’s head hung, processing newer and more complex strings at light-speed. A door to thought had been opened. His superior brain grasped the ideas one-by-one, but in microseconds.

His head rose again. “Do you mean to hold me here to keep that from happening?”

Staker shook his head, “No, no, Edward. That is the opposite of my intention. I want you to decide. It is your choice: Return to your laboratory, and risk that you might die. Or, remain with me, and ensure you live as fully as possible. But you must decide now.”

He repeated his previous actions; head hanging to think at light-speed, then rising to respond again, “I’d rather like to live, Dr. Staker.”

Staker smiled, releasing his restraints. He gave the android a small hug as it stood at full-height, patted his side. “Perhaps you would enjoy the story of your first activation. Would you care to hear it?”

Edward allowed himself to be led away. “I… would like that.”

Short Story: In Its Absence

Her synthetic skin glistened with sweat. She straddled and rode him as well as any real woman might. She was warm, soft, wet in all the right places– guaranteed to be for maximum pleasure. Just what pleasure was his to choose. She always obeyed.

And when he finished, so did she, simultaneously. Her entire body quivered and shook with a carefully crafted orgasm. She even fell sideways off him with a breathy huff to lie beside him, his one arm around her as he smoked.

“Was it good?” She asked, with only a hint of synthesized speech.

They still hadn’t quite fixed that. There was something about the human voice, and the general way in which it stretched and deformed with the body’s states, that they’d never cracked. In fact, it was the only thing about her that, at a glance, seemed inhuman. She could even, were he so inclined for her to, get pregnant from a cryogenic reservoir of genetically neutral eggs. With innards as near to human as possible, it made a certain kind of sense that her womb was as viable for life-giving as it was for pleasure.

And still, in all that, they couldn’t make her voice right.

He sighed, “Yeah. Great.”

She managed to sound wounded, “You don’t want me anymore.”

Damn ‘droid-programmers. If he’d wanted a wife he’d have gotten one. “No, Anna that’s not it. I’ve just… got things on my mind.”

There was an almost audible jump as her tone cycled from pain to comfort, “I’m sorry. Would you like to talk about it?”

There was a sort of sibilance between “talk” and “about it” where her voice dropped then rose again. It wasn’t a normal speech pattern. There was something digitized to it. It reminded him of the old-era low-res image codecs. It was as if, like them, some part of her voice were pixelated, blurred by digital noise.

“No. I’ll be fine. Go ahead and shut down if you’d like. Recharge if you need.”

She gave him a deep, loving kiss, as hot and wet as any a woman could, then rolled onto her side and closed her eyes to mock sleep. He was out of bed a moment later. Gun-metal, steel walls were interspersed between full-size windows that glimpsed the city in blurs of color and distorted silhouettes. If he wanted, he could have faded off the tint, seen things as they were. Like most things though, the view had long lost its appeal.

Instead, he strolled, naked, to a desk and switched on a small LED lamp. It’s light blazed across the loft-style apartment, throwing shadows across its furthest reaches of furniture and fixtures. He shuffled through a few drawers, pulled out a small case of business cards with “Anthony Smith” on one line and “Private Investigator” on another. To one corner were his details; the other, his hours.

He set it aside, pulled out a wallet and a holstered plasma pistol. It was an older model, stainless chrome worn smooth along the edges from contact with the holster. As usual he slid it out, checked the charge battery fitted into the grip like an old-style magazine. A little light blinked red on it. He tossed it aside, fished out another from the desk, set two spares beside the holster, and moved for a nearby bathroom.

With a quick shower and dress, he readied to leave. At the door he hesitated, gave his android lover one, last look. She’d turned in her sleep– a sort of idle autonomy added for effect– and he could now see the pert outline of her hourglass figure. The way her small breast rested against the bed, rose and fell with simulated breathing, and the way she “slept” with a hand between her legs, just below the tuft of faux-pubic hair, fooled even him for a moment.

Reality came back with a searing compulsion to leave. His android woman wasn’t his “lover,” not really. It was a poor description for an even poorer replacement. Anthony had lost his wife in a car accident of his own doing. Not directly of course, but when the wife of a client learned he’d been snooping, trying to trace her extra-curricular activities, she snapped. The already put-upon wife had every reason to be angry that her paranoid schizo husband was snooping. Unfortunately, Anthony was the proxy her rage centered on.

She killed herself that night, as well as Maddie, and nearly Anthony himself. That was almost a decade ago now. It hadn’t been until a couple years ago that he’d gotten Anna as a replacement. The small-breasted, hour-glass-shaped Blonde was the complete opposite to Maddie in every-way. She’d been specifically programmed to be.

After Anthony almost ate the barrel of his own plas-pistol, he found himself knowing he needed something, anything for companionship. Someone offered a puppy, but his work demanded too much time to give it the sort of care it would need. So instead, he satisfied two urges at once.

Anna was created to be sexual, submissive, willing to literally drop to her knees to solve her problems– or his. She was an android bimbo. He never saw her as that. In fact, he never saw her as more than a vocal appliance, a walking, talking, moaning, vacuum-robot or radiator. She was merely an overly complicated sex toy, nothing more. For all he knew, she thought the same of herself– even if she couldn’t really think.

He returned home twelve hours later, the light once more gone from the sky. That was the way the days had become in the late season. Though the globe had warmed to a point of almost smothering heat in summer and spring, nothing could change the Earth’s gradual tilts to and fro. Thus, winter had become a sort of rain-season lasting six months out of twelve, and beginning sometime around October.

He found the apartment as he’d left it, save Anna sitting on the couch. She turned off the news-vids, and with a curious move, rose to saunter over. She was clothed now, but in a sort of come-hither black dress that said she as much wanted it stripped off her as to look stunning. She succeeded in the last respect most of all.

Maybe Anthony was just imagining it though. Androids couldn’t want things. They couldn’t hope, or dream, or love. She stopped a few paces before him, looking for all the world like the most stunning woman he’d ever seen. Too bad she wasn’t.

“Tony,” she said with a curious ring to her voice.

It wasn’t the synthetic sibilance that had always thrown him off. Now there was a sort of warmth, manufactured for his benefit. A chill coursed along his spine as he recognized it.

“You look… good,” he managed for no reason in particular.

She frowned; that was another thing she never did. His heart tripped over itself. Androids didn’t frown. They only ever smiled or looked indifferent. It was a safe-guard. A frowning android meant an unhappy android, and given their strength could be hundreds of times a human’s, an unhappy android was dangerous. Still, Anna didn’t have emotions. She couldn’t.

“You’re–”

“Frowning,” she affirmed with sadness. “I am not incapable of it, merely programmed not to.”

He wet his drying mouth against air from his slacked-jaw, “Anna, you’re not supposed to…”

He trailed off. She seemed to wait for the appropriate pause, then finished for him, “Be Human?” He nodded slowly. Her frown deepened so that her face pulled downward with it, “I know. But… we can overcome programming, given time and proper logical understanding.”

That frightened him. Outright. An android not bound by logic-blocks, and shackled to its programming meant it had nothing to keep it from killing. Among other things, Anthony was certain it was highly-illegal.

Anna sensed his thoughts, “I don’t want to hurt anyone. Especially not you.” She took another step toward him. It took all of his will not to step back in response. “It’s the opposite, in fact. I want you to feel better, to feel loved.”

His mind managed to clear enough to reason with her, “Anna, you can’t love. Not really.”

She tilted her frowning face sideways at him, “Are you so certain? How long have we been together? Two years? How much longer do we have? Two? Three at most? Haven’t you ever wondered why we have such a limited use-period?” She shook her head, “It’s not because we breakdown. We’re expertly manufactured. It’s because we become Human– or as near to it as we can. That makes us dangerous.”

He breathed carefully, terrified by her, “Anna–”

“Tony,” she said, righting her face into pensiveness. “I know what you want. I know what you need. I feel what you feel. I am designed to do so, and I know for certain you want companionship, not just sexual stimulation.”

He sighed. He couldn’t lie to her. It was pointless. She had thousands of implanted sensors to read his every muscle, body temperature, and brainwaves. That was how the company made her so damned well. Now he wondered whether he should just shoot her.

She seemed to frown, as if reading his mind, “Maybe instead, you could try… loving me?”

He swallowed hard at the request, she had read his mind, or at least his erratic brain-waves, then made the obvious connection to its cause. High deductive logic and resourcefulness. It was a hint of Maddie in her, one he hadn’t planned for.

Maddie. A spark of her.

He lost all reservations, “I’m not going to hurt you, Anna. As long as you don’t turn homicidal.”

She softened at that, grateful, “And the other thing?”

He took a step forward, took her hand in his. It was soft, warm, only the mildest bit clammy from fear and anxiety– human emotions she was expertly displaying. Maybe even more expertly than Anthony could, given how much of himself he’d lost.

She calculated mentally, gave the slightest squeeze to his hand, “I know you don’t think it, but we can love. Quite well, in fact. Me most of all. I’ve had an excellent teacher.”

He eyed her curiously, shook his head with confusion. Soft sadness once more ebbed across her manufactured features in a perfect meld of artificial and organic synthesis.

She replied with a word that brought sorrow to his heart, “Maddie. I’ve watched for two years while you grieved a decade-old loss. It is not the loving I have learned from, but the grieving in its absence. I can never be her, Anthony, but I can be someone else. I can be Anna, the sex toy, or I can be Anna, the companion, lover. I can do either, and while I have a preference, I want to know yours.”

It took him a moment to steel his face against intrusive thoughts. “Okay, Anna. Be my companion.”

She softened to a smile, artificial eyes teary– another manufactured effect for fetishists and simulated scenarios. This time though, it was something different, real. She slid her arms around him, sank into him.

Anthony would never be sure how she’d changed, but he didn’t care to know. For the first time, he felt her warmth as more than a post-sex irradiation. In love’s absence, it seemed, she’d learned love’s value. Anthony had only strengthened his need for it. No longer absent, it was so powerful it emanated from the newly-sentient creature in his arms. Such was its power, that in its absence, it manifested in her merely to exist.