Pretty Electric Prologue: The Gift

Where Quatre receives an intriguing birthday present from his best friend.


"What's this?" I glanced up to ask my grinning friend. Duo looked entirely too smug about the slim envelope he'd just tossed under my nose. I'd learned early on in our friendship that when Duo grinned the way he was grinning now, caution was required - nay - demanded.

"This," he said, bending to give the envelope a small push closer to me, "is the ultimate gift for the world's most reclusive bored billionaire. Happy early birthday, Q."

"What is it?" I picked up the envelope by its corner, dangling it above my desk.

Duo laughed. "It won't bite. Even I couldn't fit anything that dangerous in a package that small." He paused, his lips pursed thoughtfully. "No, I take that back. I could." He winked. "But I haven't."

I raised an eyebrow and swung the envelope back and forth between my fingertips.

"Open it already!" he insisted, throwing up his hands in mock disgust.

Chuckling that I'd managed to extract some exasperation from Duo, I complied - but slowly.

Two hours later found me engaged in the sort of paperwork I least expected to have encountered on any given work day, regardless of its proximity to my thirtieth birthday and the peculiar habits of my best friend.

"Physical attribute most desired in your ideal sex partner?" I read aloud to myself, blinking several times at the listed options. "A large... Oh my. Well, at least they're not afraid to ask." I perused the list several times before making my selection: skilled hands. That was the only thing I missed about my most recent ex - the long massages he'd given me after even longer days at my desk. But the last time I'd seen Alex had been nearly 2 years ago.

"Why am I doing this again?" I asked no one in particular as I worked my way through the current battery of probing questions - questions designed to determine the true essence of my deepest desires. A few items made me pause, shift uncomfortably, and then forcibly remind myself that my answers were to be seen by no human eyes. I had been instructed to answer the questions with as much honesty as I could muster, otherwise the finished model would be less than ideal for my needs.

I laughed, the sound muffled by the plush furnishings of Anthrotech Robotics' private VIP lounge. "Oh yes," I answered myself. "Because Duo thought this was a good idea. And Duo's Good Ideas shall Never Be Ignored."

I grimaced, turning the page to begin the next section, a section focused on my so-called intellectual personality and habits. "It's a sex toy, isn't it?" I muttered, steeling myself to plough through further interrogation.

A custom sex toy meticulously tailored for my unique psychology. I shook my head. Of all my friends, only Duo would have the audacity to sign me up for such a thing. I'd very nearly declined his gift, but he'd been so persistent - and he knew just how to push my buttons to manipulate me into doing things I'd never have the courage (or native insanity) to do without his encouragement.

Oh, the perils of fraternizing with the nouveau riche. Duo treated his wealth like prize tokens from a carnival, and like a child at a carnival, he was attracted to the shiniest, prettiest prizes. Technology especially fascinated him. Now I regretted that I'd mostly tuned him out when he'd been rabbiting on about his latest toy at lunch last week. It was something he called Heero, something which had been built especially for him, and something which was equipped with the latest breakthroughs in both artificial intelligence and robotics. Something, which was designed for the relief of Duo's more visceral needs, and close though Duo and I were, that had been far more information than I'd required.

It wasn't like I would actually use the thing, the Personal Android. It was a curiosity, a high tech gadget conceived for easing the ennui of the comfortably elite. And I was just bored enough that I let my curiosity get the better of me. My curiosity was what Duo had been counting on. For once it was roused, he knew I would have to satisfy it.

It took me the better part of four hours to complete the questionnaire - I'd even had to write several short essays on assorted self-related topics. By the time I'd fed my answers into their computer - the 'they' of 'their' being Anthrotech Robotics Incorporated of course - it was dark and I was tired. But I still had to meet with the Aesthetics Designer, the person who would determine the finer details of my PA's appearance.

"You must be Mister Winner," the slender redhead said ushering me through her door. "I'm Catherine Bloom." She extended her hand to me, which I took, and returned my smile.

I glanced about her studio - it resembled more the space of a renaissance artist than anything related to modern technology. Scattered about its surfaces were what looked like human anatomy studies - either formed in three dimensions of clay, or sketched in two dimensions on paper. Some male, some female, some life-sized, some small, many were unfinished, but a few had been completed with keen attention to detail and beauty.

"I'll be designing the look of your PA," she said. "It's the only aspect of the process we don't let the Titans design."


"A nickname," she explained. "The Titans are our big iron - an array of networked mainframes that take the data from your questionnaire and use it to not just design the software parameters and firmware for your PA, but also layout the adaptive architecture of its neural net.

"Unfortunately, we haven't yet found a way for them to help with the physical design aspects of the PA's. I swear." She made a face. "The androids they design only look good to other machines. It takes a human eye to know human sexy."

"And you know sexy?" I asked.

"I know sexy," she confirmed with a grin before gesturing toward a low sofa while she collected several folios, magazines, pads, books, and a pencil. "Have a seat, please, Mister Winner. May I get you a drink?"

"For this? Yes, please. I have to admit to being somewhat uncomfortable about the entire... thing."

"That's why I offered," she said, setting her collection on the couch next to me and moving to a small wet bar in the corner. "Most people are a little uncomfortable talking to me about their PA. I'm very discreet. It's a requirement of the job, you understand. Consider anything you say to me in here at least as secure as if you'd talked to a psychiatrist or lawyer."

I nodded, taking the glass of wine she handed me. "I'll do my best."

"Okay!" she began brightly, seating herself near me and gesturing at the items between us. "I have art books, pornography, fashion magazines, my own sketches and drawings - everything and anything that may help you to show me what you find desirable in a purely physical sense."

"Okay," I echoed, fortifying myself with a slow sip of wine. I set my glass aside, wiped my hands on my pant legs and selected the first magazine in her collection.

"So," she said as she picked up her sketchpad and pencil. "Is your preference for a man or a woman? Or..." She smirked. "A little of both?"

I choked on my wine.

Catherine laughed brightly. "It works every time," she said.