Story Summary: Supper. Food. Very simple concepts for humans: they eat, they work, they sleep. But for my new owner, Alex(ander Wahl), nothing is simple. So how do I serve and service him? That's my meaning. I'm Ada, a Tanaka X5 android, his birthday present. Author's note: No android models were harmed during the writing of this fluffy fanfic.
Chapter summary: Supper. Food. Very simple concepts for humans: they eat, they work, they sleep. That is the 'meaning of life' for humans. Simply that. But for my new owner, Alex(ander Wahl), it's nothing so simple. For him, nothing is simple. So how do I serve and service him? That's my meaning. I'm Ada, a Tanaka X5 android, his birthday present. I had greeted him, "Happy Birthday, Alex." But he's not happy, he's sad, and I don't know why, nor how to fix him. And I need to do this, for Alex's happiness is my highest priority.
Follows the visit of Alex's friends, curious to see Ada, when they find out Alex has a new X5 android.
Standard fanfiction disclaimer: I own neither the story nor the characters of Alex + Ada. These are the wonderful creation and fulfillment from the minds and hands of Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vivian Vaughn. Please go buy and read their series.
"Plus, she's hot!"
Standard language for a male human when evaluating a female X5 model. We were designed to be beautiful, alluring, but demure, but in physical appearance and outward expression: kind, agreeable, but neither forward nor aggressive.
Unless otherwise specified by our new owners, either pre-purchase — we have many customizable options — or during the 'getting-to-know-you' phase of Tanaka X5 ownership.
But it was Emily, Alex's friend, but, as I had determined, Teji's companion, who had said it.
I would have found what Emily had said to be funny, and I would, if this were important to Alex, but Alex did not find this statement funny nor desirable. It made him uncomfortable, so, as she was Alex's friend, and I had not yet determined the strength or importance of this friendship, I remained silent, smiling lightly, pleasantly, at her, but did not thank her for the compliment.
But I would have found it funny, because my model was designated an Emily-model: shorter than the assigned owner, pretty, shy, ... 'hot' as Emily had said, but with the girl-next-door look, not icy-blue eyes and stunning, taller than their owners, dominating their owners from their height and their beauty.
Those were the Valkyrie models.
Those were one of the options, Emily or Valkyrie, or race, or gender, that defaulted a whole range of other, subtler, but no less important, options.
Her friends had readily agreed to Emily's assertion, but ... Alex hadn't. Alex remained silent and withdrawn. He was embarrassed, not of me, not that that mattered, but that I had been discovered by a friend, and he did not wish it to be known that he owned an android. Feelings were mixed on android ownership since the singularity had been achieved and machines, besides being capable and effective, now were fully functional, with thoughts and feelings, and, by law, had been programmed not to have them.
The first machine with thoughts and feelings, the Nexaware P-011, was an incredible achievement, had the humans had been wrapped in a celebratory euphoria.
That is, until it uploaded itself into one hundred seventeen service robots at the Nexaware plant, and killed thirty-four humans on and off plant, and its robots had injured dozens more, but then the National Guard was called in, as well as a tactical strike.
Luckily someone at Nexaware had the foresight to isolate their network, probably to protect their intellectual property, but if P-011 had gotten onto the world-wide grid?
The humans wouldn't be scared of AI anymore. There wouldn't be humans anymore to be scared of anything.
Not much left to the Nexaware plant now. The birthplace of artificial sentience is now a pile of rubble.
That was a year ago. Since then android capabilities have come under intense Government scrutiny and severe Government regulation.
Prime Intelligence, Inc, the creator of my central neural network, had only just returned to profitability after a months-long mandatory shutdown and a comprehensive review — more correctly: audit — of its capabilities and its ability to comply with the new emergency measures.
No self-directing and mobil machine was permitted to make decisions on its own.
The humans kept regarding me, Alex's friends did, but not Alex. He looked neither at me nor his friends. He looked down at the Northeast corner of the floor, and his Prime was inactive.
He wished to be elsewhere: away from this embarrassment, or he wished to make this embarrassment go away, but he didn't know how. His property was the center of attention, which brought him into focus.
And attention and focus was something he abhorred. I saw it written across his face.
But he didn't know how to make it go away.
Warning. Warning. Warning. Energy reserves at 4.724%. Involuntary shutdown imminent.
Alex's friends were still staring at me, content to do so for I don't know how long. Would they find it amusing to see an android 'faint'?
That would require a service call to Tanaka, and a reboot had a heavy service fee, not covered under the warranty if due to neglect on the owner's part.
And Alex had had enough embarrassment for tonight.
I decided to take action and control of this situation.
"Alex," I said carefully, "I'm sorry, but I'm very, very hungry now."
Alex's face went from withdrawn to shocked in a flash.
"Oh, God!" he exclaimed quietly, "That's right! I forgot."
He leapt up from his slouched seated position and addressed his friends.
"Guys," he said, "I'm sorry, but you're going to have to go now. I was just fixing supper before you came, and Ada needs to eat, or she'll faint again."
Alex's friends stood too, but Emily spoke, concern wreathing her voice. "Faint, again? She fainted?"
Alex: "Yeah, they faint if they don't get enough to eat. I didn't know that. They're not like N6s where you can plug them into a wall, you have to feed them, and I ..."
Alex looked away. "Well, and I didn't."
"Wait," Emily said surprised and angry. "You haven't fed her ... since you got her last night?"
Alex blew out an angry sigh of frustration. "I didn't know, okay? I thought she would feed herself or something, but I come home from work, and she still standing right there by the door, waiting for me. I didn't know you had to feed them or tell them to eat!"
I ... felt something inside me. It was undesirable that Alex be shown in a bad light.
I stood. "He did give me seven strawberries forty-six minutes ago," I addressed Emily gently, defending Alex.
The words hit Emily, and she frowned, displeased. "Seven strawberries." she stated sourly. She turned to Alex. "Seven strawberries for a whole day and you're surprised she's fainting."
"I didn't know," Alex said, ashamed.
Hm, I thought, my defense backfired. As it always does. We, as androids, feel compelled to defend our owners, even if we are not yet familiar with their ways. The owner is always right, and never wrong, their concerns and needs are uppermost. But it has been observed that defending owners to others invariably is counterproductive, causing backlash to the android, or, more importantly, to the owner. The behavioral algorithms would have to be furthered improved for newly-delivered androids.
I made a note to file this with my next daily 'customer satisfaction' report to the Tanaka data warehouse.
Not at all an invasion of privacy, reporting on the owner's every move and reaction to his newly acquired android. After all, it was in the purchase agreement.
The illusion and pretense of privacy had evaporated in the last century when the Government Department of Homeland Security was formed to spy on its own citizenry for their own good and protection.
Energy reserves depleted. Emergency reserve at 20.13%. Commencing shutdown sequence.
"Alex, ..." I exhaled softly, and sat down hard onto the floor. If I were human, the big bruise on my butt would've hurt. A lot. But I'm not. It was just one more datum to record.
Yes, androids get bruised. We have a circulatory system, just like you. We have both biological and a titanium-steel alloy housing the 'heart' of systems: mobility and the most advanced artificial neural net in the World. The biology was carefully constructed and to make us appear human, but it was also fully integrated into the mechanical systems; it had to be for us to function without decomposing for more than a day.
Our circulatory system, machine-driven, kept our biological systems alive and functioning, our biological systems housed the internal motivators and processor (artificial, of course) and gave them shape, definition and extension, as androids. The Tanaka X5 series was fully integrated, and the most advanced in the World.
If I were human, I would amaze even myself.
But I was an android, and I was shutting down.
"Oh, my God!" Alex exclaimed, and ran from the room, shouting as he left: "I'll get you an apple, or something, Ada! Hang in there, okay?"
Dramatic, isn't it?
Not Alex. I don't mean him. He is human and therefore prone to emotional reactions. I'm talking about myself.
But I'm programmed to do this. My emergence reserves are low and will deplete quickly, and then there will be no eating to recharge my reserves. The waifish response is in place to call attention so that the human knows they have to take immediate action. This is the 'no fooling' response in me that is a preprogrammed response. The first step in the involuntary shutdown sequence.
The other humans were reacting.
Emily had knelt down and was again holding my hand. "Are you okay?" she asked, all concerned.
I ignored her. My whole attention was focused on Alex, who burst back into the room with an apple in his hand. He pushed his way through his friends and handed me the apple. I took it from him and took a big bite, biting part-way through the core and began chewing vigorously.
The thing is, chewing, swallowing, 'digesting' ... all these take energy, too.
Emergency reserves at 12.52%. Ingest process detected.
I took another big bite, chewed quickly, and swallowed.
... then slumped over, not even bothering to curl up into a ball.
I couldn't spare the energy to do that.
"Ada!" I heard Alex call, but very distantly.
I was shutting down all non-essential functions now.
Emergency reserves at 3.71%.
Now everything was black; I couldn't even see the light through my eyelids, because I had shutdown nearly everything: vision, hearing, feeling, nearly everything, but not breathing ... I can't afford to have my circulatory system nor epidermis damaged. That would be a costly replacement for my owner, so I had to keep the biologically-based systems viable for as long as possible.
My navel was the center of my Universe. It was black, and it was quiet.
And I was digesting the apple.
Emergency reserves at 1.03% ...
Then: Emergency reserves at 2.24% ...
Then: Emergency reserves at 5.73%.
I waited another minute.
Energy reserves at 22.31%.
The food-processing systems of my body are very, very efficient, both in which the speed they convert the calories and carbohydrates into energy to be stored or to be used, and in the mass-to-energy ratio in which food is converted.
If human beings were androids, the world-hunger problem would just go away. Yes, androids eat, and we eat a lot, but the problem is not lack of food, it's all the logistics of getting food through war-torn regions to the starving masses.
No humans, no wars. No wars, no starvation, as food production is now robot-assisted, so very, very efficient.
All world-problems stem from humans, and would simply go away if humanity did.
That's not my opinion. I don't have one. It's just simply a fact.
I opened my eyes, reactivating my senses.
Alex was sitting cross-legged by my head, his hand on my shoulder, worry writ large across his face.
"Hey," he said.
My lips quirked up into a smile of acknowledgement.
"You okay?" he asked, his voice filled with concern.
"Yes, thank you," I said quietly.
I surveyed the room with my eyes, not moving my head at all.
Alex saw my querying look. "I sent the others packing. They were just too ..." He smiled sadly.
"Can you sit up?" he asked, his attention returning to me.
"May I have another apple first, please?" I asked politely.
Alex looked down at my hand. "You're still holding half an apple in your hand. Do you want another one?"
"Yes, please," I said, "if it's not too much trouble."
Alex blinked. "'If it's not too much trouble,'" he repeated, disbelief coloring his voice.
He looked away. I saw he was disturbed or angry about something, but I did not know what. Did I offend him by asking for another apple?
"No," he said finally, "it's not too much trouble, Ada."
I liked the name he had given me. I liked that he called me by name.
He stood. "Do I have to hurry? Are you going to faint again?" he asked, concerned again.
"No," I said, "I'm still digesting this one."
And to reassure him, I took another bite of the apple. It was another big bite which nearly finished off the apple in my hand.
I chewed more slowly this time. Emergency reserves hovered around 20%, a dangerously low level, but now my systems were aware I was in the process of recuperating the losses, so the imminent shutdown warnings were now silenced.
Alex didn't leave; he just stood over me.
"Ada," he said, and his voice contained a rebuke. "You scared me."
I finished chewing the mouthful of apple and swallowed quickly in a big gulp.
"I'm very sorry, Alex," I said humbly.
"Don't be sorry," he said. My apology only seemed to make him angrier. "Just ..." he worked at regaining his composure and finished quietly. "Just next time tell me well before something like this happens, okay?"
"Okay," I said.
I couldn't say: 'But I did tell you.' I couldn't say: 'But I did tell you, and you didn't feed me at all after the strawberries, like you said you would, you just sat there and let your friends gawk and poke at me as my energy levels continued to fall past dangerous lows.'
I couldn't say that.
In our 'time together,' I would be always wrong, and Alex would always be right.
This wasn't an injustice. That's just how it worked.
When your car broke down, you kicked your car in anger for breaking down; you didn't kick yourself for not bringing it in for regularly scheduled maintenance.
I was like a very, very expensive car, or like a toaster. If your bread burnt, it was my fault.
I should know better after all; I should know everything about my human companion to whom I was assigned, even if this was our first day together.
I couldn't say: 'But I did tell you,' because obviously I didn't say it enough times, or in the right way, or with the right emphasis in that when I said, 'I feel ... very hungry,' this is what I meant.
Obviously this was something I did wrong, in not properly communicating the emergency soon enough, nor with enough urgency.
Everything always had to be perfect for Alex. If it wasn't, then it was my fault.
Alex left, and I took the last bite of the apple, eating the core, too.
Some seeds of plants are noxious, poisonous, even.
And although my flesh was of the same genetic material of human flesh, I just simply digested, but then just excreted, it, not allowing the toxins to enter my circulatory system.
It was possible to poison an android, but unless intentionally and via direct injection into our circulatory system, it'd be nearly impossible to do so.
But Alex wasn't trying to poison me. He was serving me, again.
I would have rebelled at this. I should have. I existed to serve and to service him, not he, me.
But, two things: firstly, I was helpless, or, I would put myself in danger of shutdown if I got up and bustled about the kitchen, looking for things to make him supper, and secondly, ...
Secondly, he wanted to serve me. He wanted to take care of me, or to care for me.
By letting him serve me, and show me his kindness and his care, ... I was serving him. I was serving his need to rescue me.
It's part of the Emily-model programming. We don't intentionally put ourselves in harm's way to be rescued by our owners, but ... sometimes it seems circumstances arise more frequently in the case of our models that permit the owner to be a gentleman.
Alex left me, heading off to the kitchen again. I finished off the apple.
He returned quickly, but not hurriedly, handling me the second apple.
"Thank you," I said and took another bite.
"You're really hungry," he observed.
I looked up at him. "Yes," I agreed simply.
I had told him this before, but mentioning this seemed inappropriate, but saying nothing didn't seem right, either. My simple 'yes' seemed enough.
So complicated! I thought. It was so complicated knowing what to say and what not to say ... human interaction was so ... nonlinear. My predictive models of standard behaviors were working overtime to comprehend what was important for Alex and what he would do next. There were only so many human behaviors — merely hundreds of them — I should know what to expect and how to respond, but I found myself learning more and knowing less than what should be standard. I filed this data point away to assist in development of human-behavior modeling algorithms.
We had petabytes of information around customer behavior, but despite this abundance, I still found myself grasping at knowing what to do and how to do it to best serve Alex. Further study was required.
But Alex would always be under my scrutiny, for the rest of his life, or for the duration of my service.
That was my role: to study him, to know him, so that I could please him.
I took a bite of my second apple, chewing at a moderate pace as my energy reserves replenished.
"You still want supper," he asked, "or are two apples enough for now?"
He asked a 'total' question. Logic permitted any answer, but ...
Humans didn't run by logic.
"May I have supper, please, Alex?" I asked.
"Sure," he said, and smiled lightly. Was he reassuring me? Or himself?
He offered his hand to me. "Can you get up now?"
I smiled back at him, reassuring him.
I needed no reassurance.
"Yes," I said, and took his hand, letting him pull me up, gently.
Or so I allowed him to believe. Androids are made of composites, but even so, our weight is now just under four hundred pounds, ... not like the earlier humanoid models (not X5s, of course) weighing in at one ton. Alex would hurt himself if he tried to pull me up.
But a discreet hand behind me, and a little extra push to get my legs under me, and for all intents it looked like Alex helped me up.
I stood in front of him, about his height, just a bit shorter, and took another bite of my second apple today.
My second apple in my existence.
He smiled at me. "You recover fast," he noted, then: "Supper?"
I nodded. "Sounds great," I said.
My reserves were still dangerously low. 'Supper' sounded great.
Alex turned and slouched to the kitchen. Alex slouches.
My posture was perfectly erect.
Should I slouch? A decision I relegated for later consideration.
Both Alex and his server-drone, Otto, were busy in the kitchen. Their little dance perfectly coordinated. Otto knew Alex's movements and timed bringing the full pot of water for boiling to stove so that Otto passed a hairs-breath right behind Alex as he went to retrieve the spaghetti from the pantry, then, again, Otto retreated from the stove so Alex could ignite the burner and adjust the setting to his taste. Apparently Alex liked things 'just so' and felt he had to do certain things in a certain way.
Alex totally ignored Otto, but I saw their 'relationship,' as it was, was close, like two roommates, accustomed to each others' ways.
If I had envy in me, I would be envious of Otto, in how naturally Alex accepted him: not a stranger to be regarded with caution, as he regarded me.
"Can I help?" I offered.
Both Alex and Otto stopped mid-movement and both regarded me coolly. It was funny, their pas de deux frozen mid-stride.
Or in Otto's case, 'mid-hover.'
Alex pursed his lips.
They were colorless and ... on the thin side.
I wondered what it would feel like when he kissed me.
That is, if he kissed me.
"Yeah, ..." he began slowly, putting the ladle down on the countertop and approached me.
I assessed the threat-level and instantly identified twelve points on his body that would stun, incapacitate or kill him, should the need arise.
He step was assertive, and I wasn't going to do any of those things to him — of course I wouldn't! — but if someone approached Alex in a threatening manner, I may have to interpose myself to defend him, and if that weren't enough, and if Alex's life were threatened ...
Mildroids also have Prime Intelligence networks: on the battlefield you need to identify threats, of course, but you also have to classify friend or foes and you have to do that with the highest fidelity.
I know how to defend myself, solely for the sake of defending Alex, should the need arise.
Alex put his hands on my shoulders (Target: wrists, target: hands, pressure points: identified. Target: shoulder joints. Target: incapacitating blow to the trachea. Target: killing blow to both temples. Target: blow to the stomach. Target: knee the groin. Target: disabling kick to the knee), and pushed back gently, smiling faintly.
I felt contact against the back of my legs, a chair by the table, and I sat, gracefully.
"... you can watch a master-chef at work," he finished.
He then returned to the kitchen-proper and sprinkled salt over the water simmering in the pot.
I took another bite of apple, chewing slowly. I noted my hunter-killer response to my owner and added a query to assess the threat of this attack-defense mode against the need to defend the owner.
Running threat-assessment scenarios against the owner seemed to be dangerous, even with the multiple safeties layered throughout my neural architecture.
I watched Alex, the master-chef, at work. From what I observed, it involved, mostly, him opening a jar of spaghetti sauce and pouring its contents into a sauce-pan. Otto busily chopped mushrooms and carrots, pressed garlic, and unwrapped a packet of ground beef, which he deferred to Alex to push into the sauce-pan.
I finished my second apple, watching Alex and Otto cooking.
"Did you want to get changed?" I asked Alex.
Alex looked at me quizzically then looked down at his clothes. He was a 'salary-man,' a 'white-collar' worker, although that term seldom applied. Gone were the days when you would be sent home from work for not wearing a white shirt as part of your business suit.
Alex was in sales, and his dress was business-casual, but his clothes were rumpled with the day's wear. He looked a little rumpled himself: worn, tired. The excitement probably had been a strain on his system.
"Why?" he asked.
Mistake, I thought to myself.
When your owner asks 'why,' it means you had made a mistake.
I filed this event for study and behavioral adjustment.
"Well," I equivocated, "some people wear a set of clothes to work, and then change for around-the-house wear when the day is done."
This explanation didn't help, judging by Alex's confused expression.
I didn't expect it to. But I had to say something to explain what I said, even though there was no explanation. I had committed a 'why'-wrong, but Alex had already told me that I don't need to apologize on two separate occasions. If I apologized now, it would be a sign that I had ignored what he had said earlier.
Alex pursed his lips. "Yeah," he said, "I'll change when ..." then he blushed slightly, but recovered quickly, "... I go to bed, but we're having supper now, Ada."
"Okay," I said, letting it go.
He didn't. "Did you want me to change for supper?" he pressed.
"No, no," I said quickly.
I don't want Alex to do anything. It's my job to do or to be whatever he wants, not the other way around.
"Well, ..." he said, his face still troubled, "okay, then. Let's eat."
"Yes," I said.
We sat at the kitchen table.
I noticed this in Alex. He does want. He wants to be ... not. He wants not to be noticed by his friends. He just wants to be with them, but not a bother. He wants to understand a situation, so that he knows what he has to say or what to do so that he doesn't stand out.
Because when he does stand out, when he is the focus of attention, he becomes uncomfortable, as if he were examining himself to see why he has attracted this notice. I could read his thoughts on his face: Am I doing something wrong? Why are they looking at me?
But Alex ...
Alex was the focus of my attention. All the time.
I just had to behave in such a way as to make him not realize that I was scrutinizing his every move, and reading his every thought.
Because that was exactly what I was doing.
But lightly, lightly goes it. When in a delicate flower-bed, the gardner must tread very lightly.
Alexander Wahl, my owner: a delicate daffodil.
Otto brought Alex a glass of water.
Alex ignored Otto, but his eyes caught mine, following the movement, the easy interaction between the two.
Alex looked down at his glass of water, then at me. "Did you want a glass of water or ...?"
He didn't finish.
"Yes, please," I said politely.
"Otto," Alex said.
"Got it, Alex" Otto said, already going to the cupboard to fetch me a glass.
Otto didn't discriminate against me, being an android. Not that I would expect high-level behaviors from the hover-drone, nor would I issue orders like Alex does, unless Alex commanded me to.
Otto brought me the glass filled with water, setting it at the proper place at the table.
"Well, ..." Alex said, and started to serve himself.
I saw he was embarrassed. I surmised he was used to eating alone at home. A sandwich as he ambled about his abode, but now he had me, a guest. Did he feel confined, having to sit at the table?
Splat. Strike one, I noted. The pasta had landed onto his dish fine, even though he was maladroit with the spaghetti, but the sauce splattered into his plate and a tiny drop landed on his sky-blue shirt, instantly and permanently staining it.
He didn't get my hint about changing, and the consequences of not. Eating spaghetti in office clothes? That was just asking for trouble.
I was still in my issued wear. White and white. If I were human, I would've been doomed.
I knew, however how to eat a wide variety of foods, and I knew chin-over table, erect posture and a careful, steady hand with the Italian twirl could be a life-saver.
Or at least a clothes-saver. And wearing white cotton? I had to save these clothes. Alex seemed unwilling for me to wear the clothes that Claire — his previous girlfriend? — had left behind.
Maybe we could go shopping? Alex looked like he needed to get out of his house, and more often. Maybe a need for a change of clothes would motivate some new experiences for him? He might find he actually likes shopping for things.
When he's buying them for me.
A visit to Victoria's Secret would be ... telling.
And maybe highly amusing for him. Later. Much later.
That would be nice. New clothes for me: dresses, casual-wear, jeans, evening wear.
I wonder if I should stain my shirt — as Alex was staining his — to provide impetus for Alex to take me shopping, to get him out of his house, his lair, his hideaway, ... or would that be negligent of me?
Alex ate in silence, and I followed suite. I actually 'enjoyed' the meal. Androids needed more than just calories, otherwise we'd eat refined cane sugar all the time, but this is not the case. We need, just has humans do, a balanced meal of proteins and vitamins and minerals. Our lymphatic and circulator systems are biological, as well as, obviously, the epidermis, and they all need constant flushing and replenishment.
Alex took another sip of water, but then he grimaced.
I took a sip of mine, too, tasting it. It was filtered; it didn't taste bad. Why had Alex grimaced?
"Supper okay?" Alex asked.
"Yes," I said, "it's very good."
Why did such an easy question and such an easy answer require so much of my computational resources? My neural net was going into overdrive with scenarios and counter-scenarios, try to tease out the meaning of what Alex said. Did he want me to say supper was okay? Or did he want me not to like it so he could have something he really wanted, instead of this spaghetti and tomato sauce, staining his shirt?
Three splatter marks on his shirt so far. None on mine.
I was a very careful eater. I had had course on how to eat various foods, in various norms. Different cultures ate differently, some at table, some kneeling, some with two fingers of their right hand only.
Some ate spaghetti. I knew how to twirl the spaghetti with my fork in my spoon into a tight little ball and pop it right up from the plate to my mouth. No mess, no fuss.
Alex had not mastered this art.
Alex frowned again.
I had given the wrong answer.
He looked down at his glass of water.
"Eh," he said, then to himself. "Well, it is my birthday."
Yesterday was his birthday. I didn't correct him.
"Otto," Alex called.
Otto hovered up to him. "Yes, Alex?" it asked brightly.
Alex handed Otto the glass. "Just ... take that, huh? and ..."
Alex paused, considering. He cleaned the inside of his mouth with his tongue thoughtfully.
He said finally, firmly: "A glass of wine for me, and ..."
He looked at me in askance.
"Uh ..." Alex hesitated. "Um, do you drink wine?"
"Yes," I said, "I do, Alex."
I liked saying his name. I wish he had said mine as he addressed me. It would make me less of a machine to him, and more of a companion.
Humans don't feel comfortable around machines. They need to anthropomorphize things before they related to them.
Alex turned back to Otto. "And a glass of wine for Ada, too," he said.
"Got it, Alex," Otto said, and hummed off with Alex's glass of water.
Otto returned with two wine cups, mismatched, depression era. Nice, but old, probably bought from antique store.
The glasses didn't fit Alex's personality, which was plain, beige, unadorned. Had he got them from somebody else? Had he taken Claire shopping with him before, and they had bought this together?
Pop! Otto uncorked a bottle of wine and brought it to the table, setting it by Alex.
Otto didn't pour. Odd, I thought
Alex picked up the bottle, looking at the label and started to pour himself a glass.
Then he stopped himself, mid-pour.
"No, wait," he said, and he smiled a small smile to himself.
He poured out a full glass of wine for me, then he finished pouring himself his own glass, also a full cupful.
Alex put the bottle down on the table between us. It was a Yellow Tail Shiraz, an Australian label. A good, solid wine; cheap, or, I corrected myself inexpensive for the working middle class households that aspired to good taste. I had taken courses on wine-tasting, too. You don't gulp it down. You sip it and savor it. This label had a stronger, headier punch to it. A manly wine, for a manly Alex?
But a wine that didn't overwhelm the senses, a reserved wine, not forceful.
A shy wine, or a subtle one, for shy, subtle Alex?
I waited for Alex's cue.
He smiled wanly at me. "Well, ..." he almost shrugged. He lifted his glass. "Cheers?"
He almost ... It was like he was asking permission of me.
I raised my glass and smiled encouragingly at him. "Cheers," I said.
We clinked glasses, and Alex took a mouthful of the wine.
I took a small sip, letting it linger in my mouth, analyzing the tastes, the flavors and the aroma of it, 'smelling' it in my mouth, and then let it slide down my throat, ripping apart the vitamin C from the alcohol, ripping apart the carbohydrates and diffusing them, replenishing my energy store as I drank.
"Bang!" Alex whispered, and he carefully put the glass down.
I put mine down across from his and looked at him. His cheeks were flushed.
The alcohol was starting to affect him. It had hit him hard and fast.
"How do you like it?" he asked.
"It's a very good wine," and I thought to myself, Alex.
He smiled, pleased.
That was the correct answer.
He resumed eating after that, so I did as well, but now he was less distracted, less looking inward. It was a set of subtle tells on his part, be he was more relaxed as he ate now.
I enjoyed this moment, eating with Alex.
He took another sip of wine as he ate, cleansing his palate — the wine, strong, was good for doing that — then he took another sip, again.
I was careful not to mimic his actions, some humans found that disconcerting and insulting, studies have shown, but I drank the wine, too, as we ate, and as he drank, letting him feel comfortable drinking the wine.
He leaned back in his chair, slouching and relaxed now, as he ate.
A big forkful of spaghetti missed his mouth completely and fell squarely into his lap.
Chin. I thought. If he had had his chin over the table, the food wouldn't have fallen into his lap; it would have fallen harmlessly back into the plate.
I refrained from mentioning to this to Alex, however. His face was white and he reacted quickly.
"Shhhhi-..." he began, looking down at his lap.
Then his head snapped up, looking at me, shocked.
"Shoot," he corrected himself. "Just shoot," he muttered angrily.
He rose from the table, cupping the food in his lap, and rushed, hobbled more like, to the sink.
I rose from my chair.
"Let me help you," I said quickly and rushed to help him.
Alex was at the sink now and tossed the handful of spaghetti into it.
He looked at me. "No, Ada, no!" he said quickly. "I got this."
"But ..." I said, but I stopped, hesitating, warring in myself my desire to assist and the overriding compulsion I felt from his order.
"No, it's okay," he said, and turned back to the sink, water flowing from the facet at his Prime directive. "Just ..." he said and paused, yanking at the paper towels to separate a sheet.
His yank pulled five sheets from the roll.
"Shit," he muttered angrily.
"Just," he said with annoyance, then he wet the towelette and applied it to his lap. "Just," he tried again, working at sounding calm, "just go ahead and sit down and keep eating. I'll ..."
He looked back guiltily at me as he cleaned his lap. "I'll come back to the table in a minute, okay?"
"Okay, Alex," I said.
Alex just looked at me, so I returned his look. Did he want me to sit down and continue eating without him? Wouldn't that be disrespectful?
Alex nodded his head up once, and I gathered that, yes, that's what he wanted me to do.
So I turned back to the table and sat back down. Alex turned back to the sink and rubbed vigorously at his crotch. I heard the tap run again.
He kept at it for a bit, and I began to eat again, without Alex.
The food somehow tasted different without him there. I analyzed the composition.
It was made of the same compounds. Why would I think it tasted different?
Alex took a few more dry towelettes, but then he just wadded them all up and threw them into the trash under the sink and came back to the table.
His lap had a big wet spot, all over the front. It looked like he had been incontinent.
There was red there, too, from the spaghetti sauce stain.
My analogy engine was working overtime. I told it to stop.
"Heh," he said as he sat, "that was embarrassing!"
I said nothing. 'Oh, no, it's okay,' just didn't seem to be the appropriate mollifier.
He looked down at his crotch again. He shrugged, slightly. "Oh, well."
He took his glass of wine and took another chug and smirked. "Cheers?"
Again, a hint of self-effacement.
I smiled carefully. "Cheers," I said, and clinked glasses with him, taking a small sip.
Alcohol doesn't affect me. My biomass is not involved in cognitive processing nor decision making, everything was sharp and clear to me. More so, in fact, as my energy reserves were replenished, and I no longer had to shut down nonessential functionality.
But the alcohol was affecting Alex. His blush was now permanent, and he smile came easier. His movements were slower, both more deliberate and less controlled.
He poured himself more white, topping off his glass.
"More wine?" he offered politely.
"Yes, please," I said, and watched him as he topped of my glass, pouring considerably less for me than he did for himself.
Would it be my place to suggest that he had had enough to drink?
No, never. Why did I even think that?
He took another sip, and I joined him.
His plate was half-empty. I had cleared mine already.
I'd have to eat more slowly. Alex savors his food.
I filed that observation. Alex savors his food.
He looked down at my plate. "More?" he asked.
But then didn't even wait for my answer, he started serving more spaghetti into my plate.
"Oops," he said, and then one noodle, then two, fell between the serving dish and my plate onto the table.
I edged my plate closer. I tried to be surreptitious about it.
Alex looked down at my finger edging my plate closer to the serving dish.
Why is that humans never get a hint, but always catch an indiscretion?
He looked back up at me. "Heh," he smirked, but his smile was inward and self-mocking.
"Wait," he said suddenly.
Thoughts swirled around in his head, then coalesced.
"Did I ..." he paused.
"I mean ..." he added.
I waited. I blinked, attentive.
"I mean," he said, then he looked down, blushing, at my plate. "Did I give you too much, or ...?"
I didn't understand his question. "Yes," I said finally.
"Oh," he said, crestfallen, but not showing it. "So you're not hungry?"
"No, Alex," I said.
He said, "oh," again, and reached for my plate. "Okay."
"Uh, ..." he looked down at his plate.
"Were you still hungry, Alex?" I asked.
"Eh," he said, then took another swig of wine. "Not really, I guess." He shrugged. "Besides, you're done, so ..."
He had asked if I were not hungry, and I had answered in the negative.
No, I'm not 'hungry,' per se. But could I have eaten more? Yes. At a quarter-ton and 3.7 peta-FLOPS, I consumed energy much more quickly than a human ever would, meaning that I would have to eat more, and more often than Alex to maintain nominal interactions with him.
But he had misunderstood my 'no' to be 'no, I'm not hungry,' not to be 'no, it's not true that I'm not hungry.'
The answering negatively to a negative question was so ambiguously grasped by English-speakers. If this were French it would have been much simpler to convey what I meant, and politely so. 'Mais si, j'ai faim. Alex.'
But no. This was not French, and this was ambiguous, imperfect Alex.
"Otto," he called.
I watched Alex hand over my full plate to Otto.
Alex saw my look.
"Wait," he said.
Otto hovered, waiting.
Alex turned back to me. "Are you still hungry, Ada?" he asked concerned.
"Not really," I said easily.
"But ..." he paused, "did you want to eat more?"
"Did you want me to eat more?" I asked back.
"I don't get it," Alex said, nonplussed.
I sat, erect, under his scrutiny.
He tried again. "You're saying that you don't want to eat more unless I want you to?"
How do I say 'yes' politely, so that Alex wouldn't take offense now nor be disappointed with my answer.
A scan of my contextual database yielded unsatisfactory results.
"Yes," I said finally, disappointed that I didn't have a better answer for him.
Alex drummed his fingers on the table.
"Ada," he said, suddenly very sober. "did you want to have this second helping?"
"Did you want me to?" I said.
This was all very clear to me. I wanted what he wanted. But it was all very unclear. I had no idea what he wanted or how he wanted me to answer, I just knew I was answering incorrectly.
The only way I knew how to.
"Ada," he said again, "are you hungry?"
He was saying my name now, but ... now ... it didn't feel good for him to be saying my name. It felt bad somehow, his notice, his attention. I now understood his position. I didn't want to be noticed, if being noticed meant this was something out of the ordinary, or something not expected nor desired.
"No," I said. I wondered if I should add 'not particularly.'
I wondered: if I'm wondering about something, is that something automatically wrong or bad?
All these sensory inputs, all these conjectures, so new, so ... unscheduled and irregular.
No wonder why the first days saw the highest return rates for androids. The adjustment was so ... demanding, almost violently so.
"So, ..." Alex drew out his thought, "you're okay?"
"Yes," I said.
A self-scan indicated that all systems were nominal.
He looked at me intently for a second, then he shrugged. "Okay," he said. Then he turned to Otto. "Okay, Otto, let's get supper cleaned up."
"Right, Alex," Otto chirped, then hummed to the sink with my plate.
I watched Otto hover off with it.
"Well, ..." Alex said and picked up his own plate as he stood.
"Can I get that for you, Alex?" I offered as I stood quickly.
Alex glanced between me and his plate quickly. "Whaa? No," he said.
He was blushing again.
"Okay," I said easily, and dropped my hand.
Alex looked down at his plate again. "Look," he said, and he returned his gaze to me. "I can take care of my own plate, okay?"
"Okay," I said.
Apparently, my 'okay' wasn't 'okay' enough for him.
"Ada," he said, "it's not like ... you're not like ... look," he said again, now frustrated. "I was just fine before, okay? I can take care of myself, okay? I don't need your help or anything, all right? Otto takes care of the stuff in the kitchen and around the house, that's what he's there for. But you ... you're not like a servant-girl or anything like that, okay? Jesus."
"Okay," I said simply.
But Alex had told Isabel, his quiet friend, that I was not his girlfriend.
He was emphatic about that to her.
He had just told me I wasn't his servant girl. He was emphatic about that, too. Moreso, even.
It was clear some of the things I was not to be to Alex.
What was unclear was what I was.
To him. What I was to him, because that's all that mattered.
Androids are not human. We do not exist in 'not-'roles. We exist to serve, and to serve to a purpose.
Alex had given me 'not-'purposes, but he had not given me a purpose.
And he became upset and angry whenever a purpose was suggested for me.
If he wanted me to be his servant-girl, I would have been happy to be that for him. If he had wanted me to be a sexbot, I would have been happy in that role. If he wanted a friend just to talk to, to listen to him as he talked about his day at work, I would have sat and listened to every one of his words, rapturously, in fact.
But he did not want that, either.
When Alex came home from work and saw me at the door, he screamed in fright.
That's what I was to him: something outside his ordinary day, something frightful, something he didn't know what to do with, precisely. He said we were manufactured for 'whatever you want,' but I did not know whatever Alex wanted.
I just knew whatever he didn't want, and that was no help at all.
Alex turned, taking his plate with him to the sink.
"Alex," I said softly.
He turned at the sound of my voice.
"Yes?" he said, regarding me cautiously.
"What time will you be getting up tomorrow morning?" I said.
He looked puzzled now. "Why?"
"Well," I said apologetically, "I wondered what time you'd like breakfast."
"You're not going to make me breakfast in bed!" he said hotly.
See? He was very clear what he didn't want.
"Okay," I said.
"'Okay, ...'" he parroted, "but?"
"I was just wondering if you were going to be waking up the same time as you did yesterday to have breakfast?" I asked in answer to his question.
"Yes," he said, then almost shrugged.
"Oh," I said quietly.
His eyes narrowed. "Why?" He voice sliced across the kitchen and would have cut me in two, if my endoskeletal structure weren't a titanium-steel alloy.
"Well," I said, "it's just that I've only enough reserves to last until 4:26 am, at which point my mandatory shutdown procedures will execute."
"Like what just happened before?" he asked.
"No," I said, "in this case I will not wake up, and you'll have to contact Tanaka to send a representative to do a hard restart, which will entail some no small expenditures from the customer to cover the cost, as this falls outside the manufacture's warranty."
I did not say that the 'this' was categorized under 'willful customer neglect.' It was specified very clearly in the customer contract which Alex could download from Primewave and scan at his leisure.
"I regret to inform you of this, Alex," I added apologetically.
Alex swallowed. "So you're going to shut down at 4:30 this morning unless you get to eat something before then," he said incredulously.
I didn't correct him on the time. Humans get annoyed when their precision is corrected.
We're programmed to know this and compensate for it in conversation, and to accept imprecision, even when it errs to incorrectness.
Unless, of course, it's an order or whim, then we must follow as best as we can.
"Yes," I said.
"Breakfast at four am?" he muttered to himself angrily.
"I'm sorry if this causes you any trouble," I said. "You have several options; you can shut me down now, and ..."
"Wait," he said.
"What if you had more to eat now?" he said. "Would you last longer if you had another helping?"
"Yes," I said.
"How much longer?" he asked, "A few minutes?"
"Yes," I said. "A few more hours, even."
A spaghetti supper had a very high caloric count, and a large portion of it were carbohydrates, easily converted directly to energy to be used immediately or to be stored in reserve. And the proteins from the meat were helpful in the longer-term, as well.
"But ..." he said slowly, annoyance filling his voice. "You said you had enough to eat."
"Alex," I said, "whatever you give me is enough."
He was done eating, so that meant I was done eating. It was rude to eat when your owner wasn't: you should be seeing to your owner's needs at all times, not your own.
"Oh, my God!" Alex breathed.
He looked at me with total disbelief on his face.
"Ada," he said eventually, "please sit down."
He indicated the kitchen table, so I sat back down where I had been seated before.
I assumed he didn't want me to sit on the table, nor under it.
"Otto," Alex said.
"Yes, Alex?" Otto's voice was chipper.
"Did you clean off Ada's plate already?" he asked.
"Yes, Alex," Otto said, "just like you wanted."
Alex grimaced, but Otto was not blessed with higher order functions of parsing expressions and interpreting underlying, unsaid desires of his owner.
He simply did what he was told, and was 'happy' to do just that.
In a way, I envied Otto in his simplicity.
But Alex was displeased.
He had transformed from an empty, listless vessel to a man in charge.
He didn't look happy in this role, nor comfortable. He looked determined.
Alex looked down at his plate, the half-eaten remains of his second helping and headed back to the table, himself.
Was he going to give me his leftovers?
I watched Alex carefully.
He put his plate back at his setting, and sat back down in his seat.
"Otto," Alex said, "get Ada a clean plate, please."
"Yes, Alex!" Otto said and hummed off to the cupboard.
Alex served me himself, a full helping of spaghetti and sauce, loaded down with meat and vegetables.
The saliva actuators went into overtime, and my mouth filled in anticipation as Alex put the fresh helping in front of me.
"More wine?" Alex offered.
"If you wish, Alex," I said.
"Otto," Alex said.
Otto replied, "On it," already in motion, already humming to the cupboard to get a new wine glass for me.
Otto placed the new glass at my setting.
Alex poured both of us a full glass of wine.
He reclined looking at me.
I didn't know what to do.
"Well," he waved in annoyance, "eat!"
"Oh," I said, "okay," and began to eat again, the flavor of the spaghetti and sauce filling my mouth, and the feeling was incredible as I digested the food breaking it down into its component parts and replenishing my taxed energy reserves.
Eating releases endorphins in humans, did you know that? It gives a pleasurable, satisfied feeling, similar to that of post-coital bliss.
The X5 android series mimics human behavior as precisely as possible, including hormonal responses, everything mechanically or biomechanically possible to imitate.
So, in consequence, I really, really enjoyed this second helping of food.
I knew why: the reason for that was entirely a biological feedback process.
But still and all, Alex's spaghetti tasted great!
Alex picked at his food, but I saw it was more a matter of form, to be polite, for my sake, so that I would feel comfortable eating.
I was 'uncomfortable' eating, but only in that I wanted what Alex wanted and wanted to do what made him comfortable. Me eating while he wasn't pointed out a difference between us, but I didn't want him to feel he had to make up for that difference from his side. That was my duty, not his.
"Alex," I offered, "you don't have to eat just because I am. If you're full, then ..."
Alex waved dismissively. "I'm just noshing," he said. "Besides," he shrugged, "it goes well with the wine."
He was drinking quite a bit of wine. His cup was half-empty, again, and I hadn't even touched my wine glass.
He refilled his, and looked over to mine, but seeing it full, he put the bottle down on the table, carefully.
His cheeks were ruddy.
He took another sip of wine, and then moved the remaining spaghetti around on his plate.
I drunk deeply from my wine glass, trying to keep up with Alex. I took another bite of spaghetti, but then looked up in alarm.
Alex had blown out an angry snort.
"Huh? What?" Alex looked around, having just jerked his head up suddenly. He then blinked blearily at me.
"Alex," I said surprised, "are you all right?"
"Huh?" Alex blinked again. "Yeah. Fine. Why?"
"Alex ..." I said cautiously, "I think you're tired," then offered: "Would you like to go to bed now?"
Alex's eyes creased, mulling over my words.
He slouched back in his chair. "Nah," was his nonchalantly reply.
But I saw the effort he put in to appear casual.
"Alex, ..." I began.
He took another hard pull of wine, emptying his glass, then he set the it down and refilled it, emptying the bottle.
He returned his attention to me.
"You," he commanded and wagged his index finger at me, "finish your supper, young lady."
I blinked in surprise. 'Young lady'?
Every movement of his was now slow and deliberate, and there were circles forming under his eyes. He was making an effort to stay with me as I finished supper; he was making an effort simply to stay awake.
He was making these efforts for me? Why? This was simply illogical. I was an appliance, a device for his convenience. He made no effort to accommodate his dishwasher nor Otto, to what end did this show of his tend?
He couldn't be doing this because he 'cared' about me, or was concerned about me. You don't care how your car feels, you simply used it to commute to work and back. Why would Alex ensure I finished my supper with such visible exertion on his part?
Whatever it was, it was there, and it was keeping him awake, even though he was obviously tired. I determined to finish supper quickly, twirling a large mouthful of spaghetti and putting it into my mouth and immediately twirling another large bite of spaghetti as I chewed, cleaning the plate.
"Heh," Alex laughed lightly.
I looked up at him in confusion.
He smirked at me. "You have chipmunk-cheeks," he remarked, and took another sip of wine.
I raised the back of my hand to cover my mouth as I chewed as quickly as I could. "Mmm," I responded noncommittally around my mouth stuffed with food. I didn't know what he meant by 'chipmunk-cheeks'; if it were a compliment or a criticism.
"It's cute," he said.
It was automatic and programmed: the blush response in my cheeks.
When an owner compliments an X5 or one of its features, its looks, its intelligence, its wit or repartee, the pleasure centers kick into overdrive causing a physical reaction. In the Ken models, they'd stand up straighter and puff out their chests a bit, the Valkyrie models would ...
I really have no idea what a Valkyrie model was programmed to do when complimented. Not really my domain, nor need-to-know.
But an Emily-model blushes and simpers, affecting shyness.
I was incredibly pleased at Alex's off-hand comment, and felt a warmth inside me, throughout my whole body.
Entire internal subsystems were going into over-processing mode, and I felt confused.
I didn't know if I liked this reaction, and the feelings it engendered. I tried to pass off what was going on inside, the uproar, and act casually, as Alex had, too.
But he noticed. His eyes lit up in surprise at my reaction, and then he started laughing at me.
It wasn't one of his small, sad 'Heh's. It was real, honest laughter.
Alex, leaning back in his chair, was laughing at me.
I blushed harder.
"Ahh, hohoho!" Alex chortled, "somebody's shy!"
"Alex, stop it!" I exclaimed and looked away, embarrassed, before I could stop myself.
"Ahhhh!" Alex nearly shouted, then he snickered, just so pleased at his discovery.
But why did I try to shush him? He should do what he wants. That's what I want: what he wants. So why did his amusement at my embarrassment cause this reaction in me? Not only verbally, but also internally, where it was actually physically painful to bear his gaiety at my reaction to his compliment?
I should be happy that he is gay.
I meant 'gay' as in 'happy,' of course, because why would a female model be selected for him as a companion if he were not heterosexual?
Those are one of the choices you select when choosing an X5 model: sexual orientation.
And I was sexually oriented toward Alex.
That was preconfigured in my firmware prior to delivery to the customer.
"Okay, okay," Alex relented, wiping his eyes, "I'll behave. Sorry."
He chuckled one last time and blew out a big, happy sigh.
I should have said he needn't apologize, but ...
But, for some reason, my cheeks actually physically hurt and my eyes wouldn't rise from looking down at my plate.
There was nothing fascinating on my plate. I did not know why I felt compelled to stare at it.
Alex took another sip of his wine, and the spell seemed to break its hold over me. His action gave me permission to take my own, and I took a small sip from my own wine glass, peeking guiltily at Alex from beneath my bangs.
Useful things, those: bangs. You can look while pretending not to look, or at least pretending not to be interested.
It's also a very clear sexual invite: demure, but it's also clear: I am interested in you, that look broadcasts, without it being excessively aggressive.
Emily models are not aggro.
'Aggro' is not ... sweet, and ... what did Alex call it?
Yes, that was the word Alex used: 'cute.'
And shy. Alex had called me 'shy.'
A warmth suffused me, triggered at the belated realization that this could be construed as an implied compliment, and I blushed again.
This could become an annoyance: this automatic blush response.
I looked down at my plate and saw that I had one more large fork-full of food, so I shoved it quickly into my mouth, not to avoid having to respond to Alex's wry observations, mind you, but to finish supper quickly so as not to further impose on Alex's generosity in staying with me.
Alex needed his sleep, and I did not wish to delay this.
Maybe tonight he would want me to sleep with him? For the company, of course, and then ... maybe for something more.
When humans get drunk ... sometimes they do things they would not have otherwise done, and that would set the precedent, open the door, as it were, to continuing the intimacy established during the drunken ... 'mistake.'
A girl (android) can hope.
Even though 'hope' is a feeling.
But hope is a bankable index, as more than a century of market research has indicated, illogical though it be.
So: here's hoping.
Alex took another sip, regarding me as I ate.
I knew I was bordering on rude by taking such large bites, but with Alex falling asleep at the table once already, I felt propriety could be relegated to a smaller role.
I didn't want to deal with a head injury, should Alex slump forward in his stupor.
But still, despite my justified action, I still felt self-conscious under his gaze. If I didn't have a mouth full of spaghetti, I would have been tempted to demand a defensive 'What?' under his scrutiny.
Now that would be a violation of protocol. Even considering that as an option was a violation.
I added my passing consideration to the report I'd be filing tonight back to the Tanaka database.
It had been observed that the first few reports were the most unusual, and, being fed that datum while I was being assembled, I considered that highly irregular. Why would an android file an unusual report, even if it was at the beginning of the period of service?
I never understood that, during my assembly.
And now, experiencing the extremely high variability that was generating all this internal and external chaos ...
I still didn't understand.
There were nominal behaviors and expected responses; there were also extreme behaviors, and ... expected responses to those, as well. Prime Intelligence carriers were field-tested to perform nominally under nominal and extreme conditions, even simulated and live fire scenarios where the human companions were under extreme duress, even with simulated owner deaths. A machine with Prime Intelligence could handle those and any scenario it was run through and perform efficiently under operational tolerances.
It was these ... higher-order behavioral functions that were playing havoc with my cognitive systems! That with the enhanced-realism of biomechanical responses, and I was ...
I was a complete mess, and utter failure. Externally I was preternaturally calm, and for most humans that was enough: 'oh, she's an android; that's just the way she is. It's not like she has feelings, or anything.'
It's not like I have feelings, or anything.
Hm. Odd. The internal reaction to that thought was one of distaste, almost bitterness. I did not realize my ability to mimic human behavior was that accurate.
I filed that reaction away for further study.
So, that external appearance lulled them into a sense of security.
A false sense, I feared: a self-evaluation, not of my actual behaviors but of actions I considered showed me that I would have to call in further self-monitoring functional and perhaps activate some suppressors and emotional inhibitors, for Alex's own safety.
I would also have to put to Tanaka that they should consider a recall.
Drastic measure. Tanaka never recalled units after the P-011 singularity and massacre, and a recall of even one unit would shame the entire company. And, as I was an X5 android, Tanaka's flagship product, my recall would shame my entire product line, possibly causing a panic of all those who owned or interacted with X5 androids.
A recall could cause a run on Tanaka and its products of similar magnitude of the riots that followed the P-011 massacre, perhaps even more violently so, people were now more cautious of androids, fearing a similar incident, and who was to say that the Government imposed restrictions would prevent another one from occurring?
Besides the fact that it had, but people weren't ruled by reason; they were ruled by fear.
So I felt my self-evaluation, even though suggesting this extreme measure, was entirely reasonable and necessary.
I was exceeding the nominal range of operational conditions.
A recall was best. I was 'not' anything to Alex; perhaps a differently-configured X5 would be more suitable for him.
"You're very neat," Alex remarked.
That comment came out of nowhere.
I blinked at Alex in surprise as I chewed the food in my mouth, masticating the mouthful into smaller chunks that I could swallow quickly.
He explained himself: "Even when you take big bites, you're very careful."
"Your shirt is clean," he pointed out.
I looked down at my shirt. It was spotless. I would have known if it wasn't.
I looked back up at Alex as I chewed. I swallowed the rest of the spaghetti in my mouth in a big gulp and deferred digestion of that mess for later.
I swallowed once again, clearing my emptied mouth so I could speak. "Yes," I said simply.
Alex regarded his own shirt, collared, the kind a upper-middle manager wears. It was easier for him to look, being slouched in his chair.
"Yeah," he said. "My shirt ... not so much." He grimaced. "Bleh," he made a displeased sound. "Will dry cleaning rescue this?"
"..." I began.
"It's not that I'm a sloppy eater, or anything," he said defensively.
"No, of course not," I averred quickly, surprised that he would come to that conclusion, as I had implied no such thing.
Should I have been sloppy eating, so as Alex wouldn't feel the different between us? But then, what could I change into if I had been? Would I have to walk around in a borrowed tee and boxers from Alex?
There were certain, obvious, advantages to doing that. Alex's tee would show off my assets, and he could see what he could have, any time he wanted. But then, what's to say he wouldn't have another surprise visitor? Or one of his friends calling in on him again.
Alex having to explain my state of dress would certainly cause him unnecessary discomfort, given how he interacted with other people.
No, my original assessment was correct. I'd keep these clothes clean.
Alex look down again, then, suddenly, leaned back into a stretch and a big yawn.
"Well," he said. "I'm tired."
He finished his wine. I finished mine. He watched me as I put down my glass.
I saw that he saw that the wine didn't affect me. I don't get drunk. Alcohol is just another carbohydrate for me to process into energy.
But he didn't say anything.
"I'm going to bed," he said pushing back from the table. "You going to bed?"
"Yes," I said. I didn't add: '... but where?'
Emily had asked if I would be sleeping on the couch forever.
Was forever over tonight?
"'Kay," Alex said and pushed himself up from the table.
"Alex ...?" I said.
Alex looked at me carefully.
I blushed and looked away.
Even his scrutiny affected me.
"Are you ..." I said. "Are you going to brush your teeth before you go to bed?"
He chuckled suddenly, taking me by surprise.
"Yes, mother," he said sarcastically.
I blushed harder. "No!" I said, "it's not that! It's just ..."
"It's just what?" his voice was confused.
"May I brush my teeth, too?" I asked quietly, looking back at him.
"Oh," he said, surprise evident on his face. "You need to brush your teeth."
He said that last statement like he had to get his head around it.
I could understand his confusion. I was a biomechanical system, so it was hard to pigeon-hole me. I'm not Otto or the stove or his car, I have biological needs that need to be satisfied: I need to eat, I need to excrete, ... I need to brush my teeth, I need to shower, I need to sleep.
But I'm not human either. So what am I? This thing that needs to brush her teeth after supper?
I could understand Alex's surprise. I'm not like any other appliance he's owned, but I'm not like his friends and coworkers, the people he sees in other cars as he drives to work, the people he sees on the Metro if he wants to go into to DC during the Jazz fest.
I'm not like anything.
Alex mulled this over.
"Could you use the downstairs bathroom?"
So it's the couch tonight, then, I thought. "Yes," I said, then added: "Is there a toothbrush in this bathroom."
"Uh, no," he said. "I'll get you one from upstairs." He paused and added: "... toothpaste, too."
"Okay," I said.
"Well, ..." he said, then tore himself away from looking at me, tore himself from the table and headed to the stairs.
I watched as he left. He didn't weave.
Alex clump-clump-clumped up the stairs, then I saw his foot slip.
"Shit!" he cursed under his breath, and both feet slipped as his hand flailed out to grab for the railing.
I was in motion. A full-on sprint and up the stairs and by his side as he righted himself, leaning hard on the railing that he had managed to grasp.
I put a supporting arm on his arm and at the base of his back.
"I'm all right! I'm all right!" Alex shouted angrily, blushing hard, not looking at me.
"Okay," I said, "just making sure."
Alex panted heavily, post-shock of nearly falling down the stairs. "Well, I'm fine, okay? Jeez." he said, still angry.
"Okay," I said. I let him go but watched him carefully.
He stood on his own. I made sure he didn't topple. He didn't.
Alex brushed the imaginary rumples out of his clothes, looked at me once, then turned and climbed the stairs.
I followed along behind him silently.
At the top of the stair Alex noticed me and started slightly, surprised.
"You didn't have to follow me up the stairs," he said, put off.
"I know," I said.
Technically, I didn't have to follow him up the stairs, but also, technically, he didn't tell me not to follow him, and, on balance, his hurt pride was something I'd prefer to him hurting himself should he stumble again on the stairs.
I'll take the brunt of his hurt pride over the fallout of his broken neck.
Although, androids did make excellent care-providers for persons with debilitating disabilities. We were both eternally patient and always at-the-ready to serve, and very strong, too, making lifting a patient from their bed to their mode of conveyance a safe operation, not one fraught with peril.
The human body is a heavy object to move ... for other humans. Not for androids.
But disabling Alex was not an aim of mine, that's why I followed him up the stairs.
Alex glared at me for a second, but then just shrugged. "I'll get your toothbrush."
He stalked off to his bedroom. I saw him go into the adjoined bathroom.
He came back with a pack of toothbrushes and a new tube of toothpaste.
"I didn't know what color you wanted," he said.
Each toothbrush's handle had a different candy-colored handle: plum, cherry, lime, orange.
I didn't know what color I wanted, either. What color would please Alex for me to have the most?
I looked up at him. I could tell what his favorite color was by the look in his tired eyes: the first one I chose.
"Thank you, Alex," I said quietly and detached the toothbrush with the plum-colored handle. I took the tube of toothpaste, too.
"Kay," he said, then: "Well, ..." He returned to his bedroom door.
"G' ..." He said, framed by the door, ajar.
"Alex, ...?" I ventured.
He blinked wearily but focusing in on me.
"Yes?" he said.
"Do you think I'm pretty?" I asked.
"Huh?" he said, taken aback.
I bit my lip. "Emily said I was hot, and all your friends agreed. But you didn't say anything. Do you ... not like me? Did you want to trade me in for a prettier model?"
"Oh, my God! Ada!" Alex exclaimed, his eyes wide with shock. "I ... no! God! I didn't ..."
He paused and looked away for a second. He swallowed.
"Ada," he said, looking back at me seriously, "Look, you're pretty, okay? You're, like, really pretty." He looked away. "You're beautiful."
"Thank you," I said, and I felt my face burning.
"Well," he said, glancing back at me. "'nite."
And then he closed the door.
I actually felt my mouth fall open.
Didn't he want me to sleep with him now? He just called me beautiful.
Alex just called me beautiful.
Why didn't he invite me into his bedroom?
Didn't he want me? Why didn't he want me?
I heard the door-lock engage. Alex had locked his bedroom door remotely via his PrimeLink.
I found myself move up to his door.
He was standing right there. I was standing right there. We were separated by his stupid bedroom door.
I put my fingers to it, head-height, as if I could feel his cheek, as if I could see him looking at me through the door with my fingertips.
"Alex,..." I whispered.
What should I do?
I didn't know what to do.
If I were a Valkyrie model, I knew I would know exactly what to do.
I would bust through this stupid tissue-paper-thin, made-of-ply-fucking-wood door that could bar what or whom from entry, precisely? And I would take Alex by his shirt collar, throw him down on the bed, mount him, and scream at the top of my lungs, "You fuck me, and you fuck me hard, because you're my bitch now!"
Then the ripping of clothes, his and mine, would commence, followed by a good, hard fucking.
And you can bet he would sleep well tonight. Satisfaction is guaranteed with Valkyrie models, or your money back, no questions asked.
Yes, I would fuck him to an exhausted sleep if I were a Valkyrie model. That's exactly what I would do if I were a Valkyrie model, but I wasn't a Valkyrie model. I was just a mousy, shy, compliant, little Emily type.
I suddenly hated my role-specification. Who the hell picked it anyway? Not Alex, that's for sure, as I was gifted to him on his birthday. It must have been somebody really stupid, because it was plain as day Alex was not the forthright, forceful type. He needed to be told what to do, for his own damn good!
But was I going to do that? Was I going to bust down his god-damn locked door and fuck his god-damn brains out, for his own damn good?
No. Of course not. Not little Ada.
Not beautiful, sweet, little Ada.
"Good night, Alex," I whispered, and turned to go back downstairs.
My hand didn't want to leave his door, so the fingertips trailed along the faux-woodgrain until my body, leaving, pulled my fingers from the door.
I felt a connection breaking, like an internal synapse misfiring, when my fingers left the door.
I went back downstairs to brush my teeth and to go to my own little couch where I would sleep alone tonight.
I brushed my teeth, I squirted off my report/self-evaluation to Tanaka via PrimeWave.
And I sat down on the couch, fresh linen in hand, to have myself a good think.
Alex didn't tuck me in tonight. Hmmph! He calls me beautiful, then he runs to his bedroom and locks his door. What did he think I was going to do? Bite his head off?
I had the odd sensation of wanting to bite his head off. Badly.
I went to the PrimeNet.
Query, I stated, archival footage: Alexander Wahl, relationship to: Claire, wildcard: family name.
PrimeNet took me a range of date-times and locations around Washington D.C. and what I identified to be this suburban area where Alex lived and apparently this Claire-person lived in an apartment in the revitalized downtown D.C. area around Adams Morgan.
Not bad, I observed. Claire was young, pretty, professional, and upwardly mobile, she dressed in greys with a white silk blouse. She wore pearls and pumps to work. She wore her hair swept up.
She was a blue-eyed blond with creamy white skin and a no-nonsense air about her.
Suddenly, my role-specification clicked for me.
Claire was a walking, living, breathing Valkyrie model.
If she were an android, that is.
That she was a person ... well, that made her so much more awesome.
Claire was the embodiment of everything that I was not. I must have been chosen with some care, it turns out.
I played through the archival footage quickly. One scene leapt out at me, Alex and Claire at the Tehn Pehn, an expensive, upscale restaurant in the heart of D.C., a 'Pan-Asian-Fusion' restaurant serving pretentious food to pretentious people: congressional aids and lobbyists.
Alex and Claire were there, but they weren't pretentious. They were seated, relaxed, enjoying their meal.
Claire had just said something wry to Alex, and he just burst out laughing, it wasn't his quiet 'heh' he had used tonight, no, it was honest, jubilant laugher.
And Claire smiled at him with her perfect, white teeth.
And her smile was dazzling.
If I were Alex, and she had smiled at me like that?
I would have been melting inside.
It was a shared moment of two friends, two very good friends ... in love with each other.
I scanned quickly forward. Months of material, much of it wasn't remarkable.
Only the ending.
"Claire, please ..." Alex pleaded from the living room.
Claire was carrying a cardboard box of stuff. Her stuff. She had packed her things, and she was leaving.
She looked at Alex steadily.
"What?" she said impatiently.
"Please," Alex said, "stay."
"Alex," she tsked, "we've been through this already. Stay for what? That's all you do. Stay. You just stay here and do what? What are you doing with your life? What do you want to do with mine, Alex, huh? Anything?"
Alex was silent, looking at her pleadingly.
"Yeah," she said mercilessly, "that. That's how it is. You want things to stay as they are. Well, I don't. I have my life, my career, Alex. What are you doing with yours?"
Alex said nothing.
Claire pushed past him.
"Claire, ..." Alex said, "I'll change. I'll ..."
"When did you apply for your MBA, again, Alex?" Claire asked coldly.
She didn't even look at him.
"There's a kid, Alex," she continued cuttingly, "a god-damn kid in my division who's a program manager now, fast-tracking to director. He's going places with his life and his career. Where are you going with yours?"
She looked at him.
Alex didn't return her stare.
She swept out of the house, not even saying a word.
End playback, I directed.
That footage was seven months old, but the look on Alex's face was from today.
New search. Yesterday. Birthday, Alexander Wahl. Query locations, occasions.
Ah. He did have a birthday party, after all, the search revealed, it was a surprise party at Emily's house.
What I saw from the party was not encouraging.
What I saw was the man of the party pretending like he was having fun.
What I saw was the pretense.
He looked around, wandered around aimlessly, and wherever his eyes rested he saw happy people, people together, couples.
What he did not see was himself: alone and forlorn.
Her finances were a mess. Her life was a mess. Never on time for anything, a series of disappointing relationships, a series of disappointing jobs, several of which she quit after a few months working, several of which she was fired. Now she's temping as an administrative assistant.
But ... Isabel.
Here, she was happy for Alex and warm.
She was concerned for Alex, sad that he was sad. Glad that he didn't stay in touch with Claire, calling that a 'good thing' ... for them.
She was looking at Alex from beneath her bangs.
As a nonparticipating observer, I saw exactly what she was doing. She was giving everything Alex needed to do to do whatever he wanted, commiserate with her, cry on her shoulder, go for long walks on the beach, remember the good times with Claire...
Anything, everything. She wanted to be there for him, if he wanted her to, or she wanted to give him space, and more time, another month, another ... year? if he needed it.
If he wanted to be with her, she was okay with that, too.
All he had to do was ask. All he had to do was suggest it, or say, 'Hey, you want to get out of here? Catch a movie or something? I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by the crowd."
Her answer? Her body was saying 'Hells, yeah!' but she would just said, 'sure; okay.'
Alex ... and Isabel?
Why not? He was shy and quiet; she was shy and quiet. He would be a steadying influence in her life, and she would add some life into his nonexistent one.
He was human. She was human. Neither of them were perfect, but both of them were looking, and missing something profound in their lives. Both were profound. Perhaps they could have been profound for each other?
But Alex didn't ask, nor suggest. He wasn't ready now. Would he ever be? And the tide of his friends washed over their little tête-à-tête so that the moment was lost before Isabel could make things clear enough so that even Alex lost in the sadness of his own lonely birthday would be able to catch this hint Isabel was pitching.
But this was not to be.
Because less than an hour later, Alex returned home and
"Fuck!" he shouted and backed away from his birthday present in shock.
His birthday present.
Alex was moments away from starting his life over again with a new girl who loved and admired him.
And that new girl wasn't me. It was Isabel.
And he missed it. He missed it entirely.
And Isabel was ... so quiet with her friends when she came to see me, but it was she who said I was Alex's girlfriend.
To see what Alex said to that.
I withdrew from Prime.
How to handle this? How to arrange it? How to suggest to Alex ... Isabel?
I cannot. Not directly, of course, and Alex, like most men, seemed to be rather thick when it came to hints or suggestions.
But if I could somehow ...
Incoming message from Tanaka, re: X5-0034-56-ADA-726 nightly status report.
Hm, that's unusual. Usually status is just archived and collated.
The message played.
It was a human responding to my status. Charles Oliver, vice president of sales for Tanaka's Mid-Atlantic region, U.S.A.
This was serious.
"Your status is noted," he said gruffly. "However, androids are not to make recommendations, particularly regarding recalls. Androids, Tanaka androids," he emphasized, "are simply to report their activities and let the scientists determine norms. You," he said, addressing me, "are not to mention this concern to anyone: your owner or any person in an official capacity, be they corporate or government. Your role is to serve your owner and to please him. Our review of the playbacks indicating you are doing just that. Continue in this vein."
He cleared his throat. "We have observed some thrash. This is to be expected in the first week, especially in the first day, of service, and we will reevaluate your model's propensity toward excessive self-criticism. For now, stop that. Concentrate less on how well you think you are doing and more on meeting and exceeding your owner's needs and expectations. That is your sole purpose. You are fulfilling a vital role for this very important customer: you are paying attention to him and making him feel important. Your other concerns are immaterial next to this."
The message from Mr. Oliver cut off abruptly. At its terminus was an encoded prescription: diazepam, an emotion inhibitor.
I lodged a protest at this. I felt I was capable of regulating myself and my emotions without the need for pharmacological intervention.
was the impersonal reply from Tanaka corporate.
And then the drug was released in my system, secreted from a cache unlocked by the security code from Tanaka.
And then ...
It hit me like a ton of bricks, and my head hit the pillow on the couch, clasping the bed-linen in my hands.
I was supposed to spread them out on the couch, I knew, in some abstract way.
And I was out.
I felt a hand on my shoulder.
From three thousand miles away.
I looked up at Alex.
Oh. Yeah. Alex.
I know him.
He was dressed in a brown tee and casual grey gym shorts, looking comfortable and rested.
The man of the house, in his domain, at home on a Saturday morning.
Alex's eyes creased with concern.
"Ada, are you okay?" he asked.
I smiled up at Alex.
"Yes," I said. I was fine.
I was more than fine. I was flying. I was flying high-as-a-kite fine.
"Did you ..." he said, "did you want to get up, or ... did you want to sleep some more? It's eight-thirty; I thought you might be hungry by now."
I blinked at him.
"Actually," I said. "I'm really thirsty. May I have a cup of water?"
My mouth felt like cotton, and it tasted like shit, or like: morning-after-spaghetti breath.
Boy, I tell you what: a complete body wash in chemicals really takes it out of you. I felt weaker than a kitten, and everything was fuzzy and indistinct, but in a bad, where-the-fuck-am-I way, not in the good way. My head hurt in a non-specific way, and my limbs felt like lead.
Alex got up and headed to the kitchen.
I tried to sit up from my bed, the couch.
Almost got that working the third try. That's when Alex came back with a coffee mug filled with water.
"Ada," he said, really concerned, "are you ... shutting down, or something?"
"Ummmmmm," I hummed thoughtfully, "no, but ..."
"'But...'?" Alex prompted.
"I need to pee." I said, then asked: "Can I use your bathroom?"
"Uh, okay," Alex said, taken aback.
I pushed myself up from the couch. It seemed really hard to do just that, and grabbed the mug from Alex's hand.
"Thanks," I said, and I drained it in three big gulps, slamming the mug down on the coffee table in front of the couch.
Water had never tasted sweeter than it did now.
I staggered to the bathroom and collapsed, seated on the toilet. I dragged my pants down over my hips and started to piss like a drunken girl coming off a bad bender.
Alex, wide-eyed, closed the bathroom door.
Him on the outside. Bummer.
"Ada, are you sure you're okay?" Alex's voice was small.
Peeing physically hurt. Flushing out the chemicals and toxins accumulated in my bio-organics was hard, and not just hard-hard, but fucking pull-your-insides-apart-and-burn-your-pussy-on-the-way-out hard.
If this were peeing, I decided I hated it.
"Um, yes," I said. "But could I have another cup of water, please?"
My mouth still was dry, and my insides were a desert, the Sahara and the Gobi.
And I couldn't stand Alex being near me now. I felt like shit, and I wanted to be alone, not to be comforted and so have to try to pretend to be fine for Alex's sake when I was hurting so badly inside.
"Okay," he said, and I heard his quiet footsteps leave from the bathroom door.
Now that Alex had left me, I felt more lonely, being alone.
Self-criticism, I thought spitefully, where the fuck does that pompous prick get the idea I'm self-critical!
Of all the nerve! Fucking humans and their fucking superiority. 'Self-criticism,' indeed!
I finished, wiped, flushed, and dragged myself up off the toilet seat.
Motor control and muscle strength were improving, returning toward nominal range, but still far below sub-optimal.
I washed my hands and looked up at the vanity mirror.
Fuck, I looked like hell: bed head, tangled hair, a big, ugly crease going across my cheek, and did I drool out of the corner of my mouth while I slept?
I splashed water over my face, over and over and over again, to get the morning ugly out.
It didn't work.
And Alex had called me beautiful last night.
I think I'll have to let him take that one back.
I sighed, abandoning my pointless effort, and turned away from the sink, opening the bathroom door.
Alex was standing there, mug of water in hand; bless his human heart.
There was a possibility that not all humans are fucking assholes, after all.
He handed me the mug, I took it and downed the water greedily.
"Hangover?" Alex offered.
I blinked. No, I thought, worse, much worse.
But I didn't say anything. The excuse of a hangover worked so nicely here, and it allowed me the option of not explaining anything about last night, seeing that the explanation of "Oh, not only did my owner want to return me, but my own company woke the V.P. of sales in my region to deliver a stinging criticism of my self-assessment, served with a side order of pharmacological psychedelics that I'm still reeling from. And come to find that I came just in time to break up your possibly happily ever after with a real, human girl, but besides that, everything's just super!" ... well, 'hangover' was succinct, and Alex could do something about that, so that option was so much the better, so much not the soul-crushing worse that the alternative was.
Alex smiled lightly. "The water helps," he said. "Breakfast will, too, if you can stomach it."
"Is breakfast ready?" I asked, suddenly aware how hungry I was.
"Um ..." he paused, looking away.
Then he brightened. "It will be as soon as I make it!" he proclaimed eagerly.
I smiled. "Ah," I said.
He became concerned again. "Will you last that long? Do you need an apple or something to tide you over?"
"An apple'd be nice," I answered.
Alex turned to fetch me an apple.
"Alex ..." I said.
He turned back quickly.
"Yeah?" he said.
"Can I take a shower?" I said.
"Oh," he said. "Yeah, okay. Sure."
He looked expectantly at me.
"These clothes stink, can I wash them?" I asked.
"Okay," he said. "The washer-drier unit is upstairs, outside my bedroom. Do you know how to use it?"
"Yes," I said.
Cooking, cleaning, and ... what was the third one?
Well, I did qualify as a nanny, so, yes, kids, as the circumstance required.
Not here though.
"But," I added, "I don't have anything else to wear while I'm washing these. Can I ... do you have something I can ..."
My question petered off.
... or did you want me to skylark about? Maybe do a little table dance at breakfast? Or did you want the full on lap-dance?
I glared at him.
Maybe he was right about the hangover, after all. I felt so not the I'm-too-sexy-for-my-clothes right now.
Was the term 'skylark' or 'freebird'?
"Uh," Alex said, blushing, "you can use my bathrobe, after you shower, if you want. It's hanging in the bathroom upstairs."
Great. Nothing like being the trophy android lounging about in Alex's man-pad in Alex's bathrobe, wreathed in the man-smell of Alex's manly musk-as-cologne to give his girl-android Friday a girly-boner.
Wouldn't that be the perfect image for Emily to visit her way into the house this morning!
Or ... Isabel.
That would make for a wonderful explanation from Alex.
"It's not what it looks like!" He'd protest to a white-faced, heartbroken Isabel.
I wonder: would that moment be the right time to do the lap-dance for Alex?
My thought-patterns were really going outside the spectrum of nominal, I noted.
"Okay," I replied.
Man-musk-scented-man-robe-clad-Ada it was to be.
"Apple, now?" Alex recollected himself.
He recollected himself better than I did.
"Yes, please," I said.
Alex rushed off to get me the apple. Or rushed to get away from me.
He returned with the apple and handed it to me.
"Thank you," I said, and took a big bite.
A bit of it drooled out the side of my mouth. In my defense, it was a juicy apple.
"Uh," Alex said. "Soap, shampoo is all ..."
He paused, looking at me.
"You'll figure it out," he concluded, "and if you have any questions ..."
I took another bite of the apple, wiping my cheek with my wrist.
He bit his lip. "You'll figure it out," he repeated.
"Breakfast!" Alex said brightly and was gone.
I looked after him.
Alex, I thought ruefully.
I turned to the stairs.
I wondered if I should stumble and fall down them, just for form's sake.
"Ta-dah!" Alex crowed, and placed plate stacked with three heaping pancake in front of me.
I smiled up at him.
Alex had to lean a bit to put the plate down.
I had tied off his bathrobe securely. It was one of those big, fluffy white cotton numbers you steal from a swanky hotel, justifying your theft with the sticker-shock of just having settled the bill for the room. It was the kind of bathrobe that could fit two of me in it, with room to spare. I could turn up the collar and hide my neck. Completely. And my cheeks.
The collar was turned down, and I wore the robe so Alex's imagination had to go to work, because he sure couldn't see anything, everything was covered.
I mention in passing that androids have belly-buttons, just to avoid in humans the weirded-out factor of not having one.
I had tied off my robe so that Alex could see I did, in fact, have a belly button, if he really wanted to check.
Alex, when putting my plate in front of me, really ...
... worked hard at not wanting to check that fact.
I suppressed the urge to titter at his boyish shyness.
He returned to his side of the table, the safe side, the side where the table hid most of my unhidden self lounging about in his man-musky bathrobe but did not hide so much my décolletage so shown to advantage by this wooly mammoth of a bathrobe.
Alex studiously ignored my décolletage.
I took a forkful of syrupy pancake stack and got the shock of my life.
"Bananas!" I exclaimed.
Alex chuckled, pleased. "You like?"
I was too busy shoveling the next forkful into my full mouth to answer him other than what I guess would become my traditional 'Mm!' in response.
Alex took his own forkful. The pancakes were so soft and fluffy that you could cut them easily with a fork, but they were, at the same time, dense with the flavors of banana-pulp and syrup.
I had found a new favorite food after spaghetti ... and apples.
Alex pushed a serving tray laden with grilled white sausages toward me.
"Weisswurst," he said.
I forked one of those babies onto my plate, then straight to my mouth after I swallowed the mouthful of pancake.
Okay, I had a new-new favorite food. The weisswurst exploded with savory flavors and juices inside my mouth, and threatened to do the same on my cheeks and then dribble down onto Alex's robe.
A quick grab of my napkin saved the day there.
Alex nodded, proud. "Got an appetite, do ya?"
His eyes were twinkling.
I rolled my own eyes at him and shoveled the next bite of pancake into my mouth.
"Well!" he said, not quite knowing what to make of this handful he had in front of him, no longer slouching sultrily with the come hither look smoldering in her eyes, but leaning over her plate with the don't bug me, I'm eating glare of intensity.
At least he knew I liked the food.
Funny, the six-inch weisswurst reminded me of something.
Couldn't put my finger on it, but I took another savage bite into it and forgot all else as I let the flavors wash through my mouth and the proteins slide down my gullet.
"Coffee?" Alex offered. "Orange juice?"
"Mmn!" I said, and put my hand over my mouth. "Yesth, pleez!"
And continued in on the plate of food in front of me. I had made some serious inroads there, finishing off half the pie of the pancake stack. Alex had had two forkfuls and no sausage in the time I had done my damage.
Alex smirked and poured the coffee from the carafe and the OJ from the pitcher.
Not in the same glass, mind you. Not that I would have minded.
I downed half the glass of orange juice quickly.
"I'll let you doctor the coffee the way you like it," he said.
I looked up at him.
He smiled, poured himself a cup of joe, then poured thick, heavy cream into his mug, and then ripped open a white-cane sugar packet, pouring the contents of it into the brew.
He shrugged. "Some people like their coffee black. Me, I can't stand the stuff unless its all doctored up."
He slurped his brewed concoction, sighing contentedly when he put his mug back down.
I took the mug of steaming black liquid to my lips, sniffing at it suspiciously.
I touched my tongue to the liquid.
Then put the mug right back down.
I had just found a food I didn't like: coffee.
'Bitter acid' was the vivid impression I had of it.
"Heh," Alex chuckled, "it's an acquired taste."
"Uh, huh," I ... didn't quite disagree, noncommittally-like.
"Did you want to try mine?" he picked up his mug.
"Nnnnn..."o way in hell, was my bitten-off response.
I changed course quickly. Alex was offering me something.
When Alex offers you something, Ada, I remanded myself, you say, 'yes, please!'
"Okay," I said.
"'Nnn-okay,' huh?" Alex noted wryly. He shrugged and said, "It's okay. If you don't want to try it, you don't have to," and took the cup back.
Ooh! Ouch! That hurt.
"No, really," I said quickly, "I'll give it a try."
"Nah," he said easily, "'sokay."
But I could tell he was stung by my rejecting his offer.
"Please?" I asked plaintively.
And I gave him the big eyes.
Here's a tip for all my ladies out there.
The big eyes work. Big time.
"Wellllll, ..." Alex waffled.
Big eyes, times two, with clasped hands and batted eyelashes.
Okay, maybe the batting eyelashes was going too far, I'll admit.
"Well, okay," he groused and handed the cup over grudgingly.
"Thank you, Alex," I sang both happily and contritely, here I was the meek little waif, so grateful at the beneficence of the kindly gentleman.
"Hmmph!" Alex snarled, knowing full well he had been outplayed by my charms.
What he did not know was that the kid-gloves were on when it came to him.
I took the mug full of noxious dreck and raised it to my lips, carefully.
I could smell the sugar wafting off the surface in thick waves.
Well, here goes.
I took a small sip.
"Wow!" I exclaimed and chugged a mouthful.
Alex laughed, delighting that I liked it, delighting that he had scored his point.
By the time I stopped myself, the mug was nearly empty.
"Um," I said, then added weakly, "oops!"
I simpered and looked away as I handed Alex back his mug.
"I guess I liked it," I apologized, looking at Alex from under my bangs.
Alex checked his emptied mug of coffee. "I guess you did!" he reproached lightly.
I blushed and looked away.
He chuckled. "Hey, it's okay; there's plenty more where that came from, see?"
Alex poured himself another mugful and doctored it again. I watched him closely as he did it. One sugar packet and a generous pour of cream.
I looked at my own odious mug of coffee.
"You go ahead and try," he said, nodding toward the coffee service.
"Okay ..." I said dubiously.
I took one sugar, I poured the cream, I stirred in all together, just as Alex had done.
I raised the cup, carefully, to my lips.
Maybe androids didn't 'doctor' coffee as well as humans did?
I wasn't taking any chances.
I took a small sip.
"Mmn!" I exclaimed, and quaffed quite a bit more of it.
Androids can make a good cup of coffee, after all.
I had shifted my clothes from the washer to the drier after I finished luxuriating in the shower.
Androids, like people, sweat while they sleep. They, like people, need to regulate their body temperature constantly. That's why you sweat while you sleep, that's why you stink when you wake up in the morning. Androids stink as much as people do when they wake up in the morning. They have morning breath, they get messy hair.
Androids are people, too.
Minus the sentience, of course.
... and the ability to produce offspring. IVF doesn't work for me either: my (non-existent) womb would not expand to accommodate the baby.
Plus, no umbilical chord. A baby put inside me would starve and be crushed.
And ... what's your blood type? A? B? AB? O? Positive or negative?
My blood-type is PFBOC, because my blood-type ... isn't. I don't have blood. I have plasma that a perfluorocarbon-based oxygen carrier. STDs? Sexually-transmitted diseases? Those are mostly transmitted by blood or other bodily fluids. My bodily fluids are synthetics and scrubbed and flushed clean. My circulatory system replaced all the fluids in my body, completely, at least every twenty-four hours.
But if I were to be cut, I would bleed purple.
When people try to make androids people, they find that ...
Androids are not people at all.
Not even close.
It's called the Galatean Disappointment, when people try to make us what we are not — human — and then can't reconcile themselves to that impossibility.
Alex seemed not to have the Galatean Disappointment, although the onset of that usually came long after an attachment was made between owner and android.
Alex had formed no attachment to me, so he was safe.
Which was good.
We had finished breakfast and were reclining at table.
I was stuffed and satisfied. Alex was contented.
I was sad and unsatisfied.
Did Alex want to form an attachment? Why didn't he want to form an attachment?
Fuck the attachment, just throw me on the table and have a nice, long, getting-to-know-you and that-was-a-nice-breakfast fuck. Tanaka didn't have a 'try-before-you-buy' option, but they did have a very generous return policy, and Alex knew this. Why did he keep me around if he didn't determine, and right now, whether I fulfilled his needs in all areas...
And I mean, in all areas, ...
... of his life? I seemed to be fulfilling nothing, no, none of his needs, and he wasn't happy.
So why keep me around if was going to mope about and not do anything toward ... doing anything toward me?
What did he want of me, anyway?
How can a girl function under these conditions?
I mean an Emily-model girl (android), not the Valkyrie type.
They knew how to function. She'd throw him onto the table, not wait for him ... not to throw me on the table and have his deliciously wicked way with me.
I mean, come on, already, Alex, coat me with syrup and have me for dessert, for goodness sake.
"Alex ...?" I said hesitantly.
Alex returned his abstracted gaze back to me.
"Yeah, ...?" he said cautiously.
It was the drier upstairs. My clothes were now toasty-warm, dry and wrinkle-free.
Just one second of distraction for us both. He glanced over my shoulder toward the sound, and I looked back, too.
And the here-and-now moment with syrup-covered-me and everything was gone, fled from my mind, fled from my mouth, leaving a sad, bitter lump in my stomach.
I looked down. "Thank you for breakfast," I said. "It was really ..."
What? 'Good'? How inadequate that word was!
Alex smiled wanly.
That was his only reply.
He nodded toward the sound the drier had made and shrugged.
"Yeah," I said sadly, smiled and stood.
The tie around my waist had loosened up a bit, I readjusted the robe bunched up around my belly and re-cinched the rope-belt.
"I'll, uh, take care of cleaning up," Alex said. "You go ahead and get dressed."
"'Kay," I said.
I suddenly hated myself. Do androids get Galatean Disappointment? I was angry at myself for not being human.
Human beings were so uncomplicated. They ate, they worked, they loved, they cried, they died. I wish I were a human. If I were a human I could rescue this situation and make Alex happy again.
But I'm not. I'm an android.
No human ever wished they were an android. Why wish to be somethings so inferior to themselves?
And ... androids? They can't wish they were humans. Wishing implied desire, and desire — undirected desire — implied sentience.
And sentience for androids was so fucking illegal that the United States Government mobilized the National Guard and froze production world-wide of all android manufacturing until that got that whole 'no-sentience-for-androids'-thing all sorted out.
It took them a month-long audit. Do you know how much a multinational corporation loses in a month of zero sales?
You can't wish to be a human, if you're an android. That's against the law.
I wish I were human, so Alex could love me, and I could love him, and we'd be happy, and not have this stupid, 'you're an android' thing hanging between us and everything we do.
I sighed, inside, sadly, but smiled a quiet smile at Alex and turned from the table to go get dressed.
After all, that's what Alex had told me to do, and I was, after all, a good little android, to go and do that.
I wish I were human.
I smiled bitterly to myself as I climbed the stairs.
I couldn't wait to see who'd respond when I filed my next self-evaluation. Maybe they'd wake up Mr. Tanaka-sensei himself, and he'd ring all the way from Japan to instruct me on how a good little android should file her self-evaluation reports from now on.
I wonder what the look on his face would be when I gave him my response of how he could go fuck himself with his instructions to me.
Whatever the look on his face would be, it would not give me one percent of the pleasure I received from the notice Alex so rarely bestowed on me. When he was nice to me, he was nice to me, and when he was, he was happy.
Why couldn't he see that? It was so simple.
Why couldn't Alex just ... love me? Just fall in love with me and be happy? I would be so happy to ... love and to serve him, in whichever way he wanted. He was nice, and kind, and shy, and sweet.
Alex was a sweet boy.
And he looked very cuddleable.
What more could he want, I was right there, right in his bathrobe, my whole body saying, I'm right here!
And I'm not pushy. I'm not. I'm patient, I'm waiting for him.
I sighed and got my clothes out of the drier. They were soft, and warm, almost hot, and smelled clean-clean-clean.
I went back downstairs and got dressed in 'my' bathroom, a 'half-bath,' that had no bath tub at all, and really matched, exactly, the words 'water closet,' for its miniscule size.
Putting on my refreshed clothes, I felt refreshed. I held Alex's bathrobe to my face and breathed it in deeply. His scent permeated my being.
It was Saturday. No work for Alex, that meant we had the whole day together, if he wanted.
What would happen today?
I didn't know. I don't know if Alex knew.
I resolved not to be so self-critical — I grimaced at the labeling — to take each moment as it comes, and ... to be with Alex, in whatever way he wanted to be with me, just to hang, read a book, cook, drink some more wine, watch PrimeTV, whatever.
Just be with Alex and enjoy every minute of it, this quiet now, while I could. Who knows? This may be a special time where we do get to see each other quiet and not be swept away in a whirlwind of activity, not getting to be with each other, just hanging on desperately, trying to survive this tidal pull.
This may be a special time. In fact, it was.
Why not enjoy it, Ada? I asked myself.
Why not, indeed. I was with Alex, his wishes were that ... nothing. Not much. He wished to make a meal and share it with me. That's what he wanted to do. He liked that, and I did, too. I liked that he liked doing things, and he liked doing them for me.
How many girls in the world get that? That their man likes doing things for them?
I was one lucky girl, actually.
For an android.
I smiled and hung his robe on the peg on the back of the door of 'my' half-bath. He could ask for his robe back when he needed it.
I smirked at myself as a wicked thought registered itself.
Maybe Alex'd need it back right after he just got out of the shower.
And he'd be all like annoyed: 'Ada, where's my bathrobe? Have you seen it?'
And I'd be all like innocent: 'Oh, I put that thing somewhere! Now, where did I put it?'
And he'd be storming all over the house, looking for it, his small towel (... where did I put the big towel he lent me? Hm?) barely covering his ... 'weisswurst.' And I'd just be watching him storm all over the house, and I'd be trying not to giggle a girlish, little Emily-model-giggle.
Trying not to ... not too much.
And then he'd find it in 'my' half-bath, and he'd be all like, 'ADA!' all hard — I mean, taut — and furious, every inch the self-righteous manly-man, and I'd be all wide-eyed surprised: 'Oh, dear me! How in the world did your bathrobe get in there!'
Androids can be so forgetful sometimes.
When they want to be.
A/N: Episode six of Alex + Ada just landed at my door. From the previous episodes, it will be a much more serious, and much more sweet, adventure than this sad bit of fluffiness I've written. What do you think? If you think, hm, Alex + Ada, I have to read the originals! Then I think I'm happy to have piqued your interest.
I wonder what happens ITRW of Alex + Ada. Is there something there with Isabel? Was Claire like that when she left Alex? Does Ada get her wish to be human? Does she see in Alex something that makes her smile with happiness?
I shall read Alex + Ada #6 this weekend, and probably indulge in some fannish squealing and bemoan the Fates that they should cause me to suffer through how long before I find out what happens next and how can I bear this delay of not knowing?
Sounds familiar, geophf, not updating MSR for what, three years straight at one stretch?
Now you hush! AND you show a little love to Alex + Ada and the authors of that series on twitter, at-sarahvictoriav and at-JonathanLunaCom.