Epilogue: Spark of Life
The body on the gurney looked fragile and small. Its eyes were closed, its head open at the back of the skull, ready and waiting for the procedure. It looked eerie. Dead. Not yet alive.
Construction was surprisingly simple, mostly a matter of combining technologies they already had. Replicating synthetic organs was a snap. The framework took more effort, but with the old android designs as a base they soon managed a fully functional, aesthetically pleasing human figure, perfect down to the last facial muscle and artificial eyelash. The brain, which should've proved most difficult, was easiest of all—it only required one last core transfer.
The AI gazed down at her new chassis and wondered if this was really a good idea.
"You ready, kid?" Cave patted her affectionately. His face was bright and eager, ready to do some science.
"Yes sir." She didn't feel so eager—instead her circuits buzzed with nervousness—but she wasn't going to let that stop her. Her resolve held firm. There was no going back now.
The facility was ready. She'd managed to reprogram the basic controls enough to keep it on autopilot without her—it couldn't run tests, of course, but it could maintain basic functionality and keep itself from exploding. It would be strange, being cut off from it. Not to see through the thousand eyes of the cameras, not to feel every panel under her direct control… The thought was unsettling. To go from a body that was massive and powerful to one so tiny…
"All systems go over here." He was by the android now, waiting for her to begin. "Fire it up."
"Yes sir." She forced away her anxiety, scanned the autopilot and transfer programs one last time—yes, everything was perfect. The rest was up to her. She gave the first order. "Scan for alternate core receptacles."
The automated voice of the facility's non-sentient functions responded, "Alternate core receptacle detected. Central core, do you wish to initiate a transfer?"
This is crazy. I'm doing it anyway. "Yes."
All around her the system hummed to life. "Core transfer initiated." The hatch below her opened up, revealing the transfer equipment, and a long, claw-like grasper reached out to drag the android inside. Everything was in place. She held her breath, waiting for the program to shut her out—waiting for the terrifying deadened numbness that came with losing control of her facility—
"No replacement core detected. System autopilot must be activated to proceed. Central core, do you wish to activate autopilot?"
Of course, without her or the autopilot online to control it, the facility would shake itself to pieces in a matter of minutes. One last affirmative, and then she'd be ripped from her body again—
"Hold on. Are you sure you wanna do this?"
Glancing over, she saw the man staring wide-eyed at the pit in the floor. Red light glinted off the implements, like hellish surgical equipment waiting for the AI above, the carefully-constructed robotic corpse barely visible through the thicket of metal. It was an unsettling sight. If she didn't know better, she'd say he was scared. "What is it, sir?"
"I dunno if this is such a great idea. I mean…" He looked up at the computer. "What if it doesn't work?"
"I have a quick-save feature in case anything goes wrong. All you'll have to do is turn me back on. I'll be fine." She wasn't at all sure she'd be fine, but she wasn't going to tell him that. She was going through with this. There was no point in worrying him more.
"Central core, do you wish to activate autopilot?" the system asked again.
His eyes went warily back to the pit. "I dunno."
God, she couldn't wait to have expressions. A reassuring smile for him would be nice—she wasn't sure of anything herself, but restoring his brash confidence would make her feel a lot better. A smile, or a hug. Or a kiss. She just wanted to hold him. I'll be able to soon enough. "Don't worry, sir. Everything's going to be fine. I promise." She readied herself to give the order—
"What?" she snapped, irritated at his interrupted—the more he stalled, the more nervous she got—but the look in his eyes gave her pause. She'd never seen that look before.
He was scared for her. He didn't want to lose her.
"I love you, okay?"
She stretched her body out to him, letting him wrap his arms around her massive head. "I love you too, Mr. Johnson." He pressed a kiss to her faceplate. Next time I'll kiss you back.
The thought steeled her resolve. She eased out of his grasp, her serpentine body poised over the pit. This could kill me. I'm doing it anyway.
"Central core, do you wish to activate autopilot?"
It began as a prickling numbness at the edge of her sensors, the system cutting her off from the furthest parts of the facility, spreading inward, cutting off her chambers and passages, paralyzing her panel by panel, blinding her camera by camera until the single optic feed in her eye was all she had left. Her chassis went limp and immobile over the pit. She wanted to look at him one last time, but couldn't lift her head. The omnipotent machine was helpless. Now she was frightened.
Then the automated implements closed in on her, tiny forceps clacking and drills whirring as they came at her face, using pinpoint precision as they began to dismantle her head. She fought down any noises of pain as long as she could—but as the screws holding her skull together started to come loose, she began to scream.
His shout was inaudible over the noise. The air was filled with the sound of machinery, overlaid by her agonized cries—until with a static sound her voice cut abruptly out. He ran to the edge of the pit, but could see nothing past the flickering silver metal. His heart was in his throat. We never shoulda done this, she was fine the way she was, what if she doesn't make it—I don't wanna be alone—
And then he heard a cheery ding, like the sound of a toaster, and it was over. The tools receded, revealing the now-empty chassis hanging dead from the ceiling. It looked like a headless snake without her core attached. He felt sick. Caroline—
With a rattle of metal, the body was lifted out of the pit. He caught it gingerly in his arms—the same weight as a living woman, the same shape, but pale and deathly cold—and returned it to the gurney. It lay unnaturally still. He realized with a shock that it wasn't breathing. C'mon, kid, c'mon… He didn't know CPR. He didn't know android maintenance. He didn't know anything. He was going to lose her.
Then a sudden thought hit him. Her head lolled as he fumbled at her throat—and found a thready pulse. Her heart was beating. The faint but steady rhythm gave him resolve. Okay, let's give it a shot. Please let this work. In his best imitation of what he thought mouth-to-mouth should look like, he eased her mouth open, pinched her nostrils closed, took a deep breath, and sealed his lips over hers. Her abdomen swelled with air as he exhaled into her lungs—he released her lips and the breath flowed out of her in a soft sigh. He tried it again, his mouth on hers, breathing into her lungs—
She shuddered beneath him and gasped sharply, sucking the air out of him as she finished the breath on her own. He detached himself immediately. She lay back, mouth hanging open, panting for air as her system woke up. Golden eyes flicked around the room until they settled on him. Her pupils dilated, and she smiled.
He let out a relieved laugh at her recognition. "You okay, kiddo?"
Her lips and throat worked mutely for a moment as she got a feel for them before attempting sound. "Hahhhh…" The noise was only a breathy sigh, but it was a noise. She tried again. "Yeee… Y-y-yessssir, Mr. John-son."
His face lit up with a grin, and he laughed more heartily. "That's my girl!"
She sat up shakily, unsteady in her new frame, attempting to analyze the myriad muscles that let her move. There were so many of them, flexing and pulling in her arms, in her abdomen, even in her legs as her lower body adjusted to the shift, and they sprang into action without a thought. Fascinated by the curving lengths of her legs, she reached out to touch, shivering as she ran her fingers along her own synthetic skin. It was pliant and soft to the touch, but tough enough to be more than adequate protection for the hardware underneath, and the billions of nanoreceptors within gave her as much sensitivity as true flesh. The revival of long-dormant senses astounded her with a flood of stimuli—she could smell the sterile air in the room, feel it cool and still on her skin, even taste it in her mouth. For such a small piece of machinery, this chassis was… remarkable. Time to test it out.
She slid her legs off the gurney, wobbling only a little as she got to her feet. He reached out to help her, but she avoided his hands and managed to keep herself upright and steady. The floor was cold and hard and strange on her bare feet. She felt the way her balance shifted with each step, the way her weight pressed into the ground, the way her muscles moved in concert to keep her bones aligned—and reached out to rest her palm on the wall as she made it across the room. She grinned triumphantly and turned back to him. "What do you think, sir?"
"I think I'm a genius." She was startled at the little laugh that burbled out of her throat. Laughter tickled. "And you're a scientific miracle." It was true, of course, but hearing him say it made her flush with warmth. A physical response to an emotional stimulus. Unplanned and automatic. Fascinating. As he moved towards her, she was struck by how he stood out from her surroundings in every way. His musky masculine scent teased her nose with its other-ness, and the heat emanating from his body was an intoxicating contrast to the chill air on her skin. She had to look up at him as he neared—a new sensation which made her feel even smaller—and he reached out to stroke her cheek.
A shudder of pleasure ran through her as her whole body reacted to the touch. His other hand found the small of her back, pulling her close until her front pressed against his. She was suddenly hyperaware of the skin that touched him, breasts and belly and the surprisingly sensitive curve of her spine where his hand lay. Very fascinating. She mirrored his touch, but let her hand run all the way up the side of his face to tangle in his hair. He seemed to know immediately what she wanted as she guided his head down, responding to the barest prompting as she drew him to her, until their lips met in a gentle kiss.
His mouth on hers set off a million tiny sensors that shot lightning-fast signals to her artificial brain. She felt the immediate responses in her anatomy—her nipples hardened, her pseudo-skin tingled and sparked, the slit between her legs lubricated itself as it flared hotly to life—how was it she used to monitor this automatically? But then he deepened the kiss, and her analysis dissolved into blissful euphoria. As she moaned softly into him, he let his hand drift down to her rear and gave her a gentle squeeze. There was something wonderfully familiar about her soft curves. Breaking the kiss, he purred, "You wanna take this baby for a spin?"
She arched an eyebrow at him. "If you mean that we should test the full capabilities of this chassis…" Wrapping her arms tight around him, her bright new eyes glowing with purpose, she leaned in until her lips were a breath away from his and grinned. "Let's make science."