Blasts and booms rang out over the gymnasium, as Junior stood next to his father and a group of board members on the upper level viewing platform, watching twenty-five Megagirl units practice their weapons. Dr. Spaceclaw was dressed in his sharpest grey suit, and had required Junior wear the same, as this would their first diplomatic visit. It had been eight months since the first successful download of the girl who had once been Laurie Mambat. Since then, the Megagirl Initiative had persuaded forty-nine other girls to join in the project. This was the first time that their main sponsor, OmniCorps, would send in agents to oversee how the project was going.
"So then," said a company executive to Dr. Spaceclaw's right. "How many girls are there?"
"Fifty," Dr. Spaceclaw responded proudly.
"Why no boys?" another asked.
But one of their own, an older, more experienced businessman, answered him. "Let's not relive the Astroboy disasters, please."
"Now," the leader said, addressing Spaceclaw, "Tell me how they function. Describe the… Inhibitor chip, you call it?"
"I can answer that," said Dr. Fendleton, head scientist on the Megagirl Board. "The human conciseness provides an imprint on the Megagirl mainframe. The consciousness is, of course, preprogrammed with the infantile values of right and wrong. This imprint, straight from a living mind, is welded to the robotic core. It completely cancels out the ability to perform malicious acts on a human being."
"Animals are fair game, though," Junior said, obediently playing the 'likable good guy' role for the directors. "So nobody wear fur." They laughed at the jibe, clearly thinking Junior as no threat at all, but also no great asset.
The leader had some pressing questions, though. "I got reports of an irregularity."
"Yes, yes," said Spaceclaw, "Our first download actually. The irregularity is corrected in all other droids, though."
"What irregularity?" the younger officer asked.
"She seems to have fashioned a name for herself," explained Dr. Fendleton. "All other Megagirls are identified as 'Megagirl' and their ID code. But Megagirl A-1 only seems to respond to 'Ultrabeam.'"
"It's no issue to the android's functioning, of course," Junior added.
"One more thing," the elder executive said. "These girls used in the initiative. They're not still alive in any way, are they?"
Junior looked away so that they couldn't see his face, as his father responded with a laugh. "Oh no," Dr. Spaceclaw said, "They're dead. Perfectly and utterly dead."
"Dad," Junior had asked once the executives had gone, "About the 'Ultrabeam' Megagirl.."
"What about it?" he'd replied.
"Well, that is, do you think I could run some, um, tests on h—it?"
"Sure. Whatever you want. You know the codes."
And that had settled it. That very evening, Junior made his way into the Central Control Center of the Megagirl Base. It was late, and there was only one scientist there. Junior said he'd wrap it up, and the scientist wished him a good night, and went on his way. Alone in the room, Junior looked around himself. It was an octagonal room, with the usual computer screens set up along the walls, various apparatus strewn about in organized chaos. And in the center, a glowing blue cylinder stood, illuminating it all. The tube was a direct line to the Megagirl Storage, where every droid was kept unless needed.
"Computer," Junior ordered. "Bring me Megagirl A-1."
The tube began to tremble and glow, and spin in a circle. It slowly lowered itself into the floor, paused for a moment, and then began another dramatic ascent. When it was in position, it displayed, kept inside, a Megagirl unit, identical in every way to the rest. Every way, except for inside her mind.
He took a breath, and turned a dial on the control panel directly in front of the cylinder. The lights switched from blue to white, so he could see her more clearly through the glass. The face was beginning to haunt him, having seen it thousands of times a day, on fifty identical robotic bodies. It looked nothing like Laurie once had. He could still remember her face.
Junior had gone to the funeral, a decision he didn't regret, despite being a complete outcast. Most people there didn't know he was part of the company that had killed Laurie, and the official story was that she'd had a seizure during practice, and passed due to complications, but that didn't stop him from getting dirty looks from those who recognized him. That day was the last time he saw her face, cold, lifeless. But, somehow, much more alive than the face staring at him from on the Megagirl unit.
He ordered her, "Activate."
She opened her eyes, and said, "Please state a command for me to service you."
"State your identification."
"Identified Ultrabeam Megagirl," she replied, her monotone voice echoing through the empty room.
"Who were you, though," he said, searching her face for any kind of recognition.
"Identified Ultrabeam Megagirl," she said in the exact same tone as before.
Junior sighed. He didn't know what he'd expected. He just figured, maybe if he was alone with Megagirl, he could remind her, she would remember who she was, and what they had… But then he remembered: Laurie had spent her final moments hating him. She sat there, dying before his eyes while he did nothing but instruct those who were killing her. Perhaps it was good Laurie's mind was lost with her body. But he couldn't stop trying.
"Who were you before you were Ultrabeam Megagirl?" he asked, tension in his voice rising.
She responded immediately. "I have always been Ultrabeam Megagirl."
"Who were you when you were human?"
"I am not a human."
"But you were human once."
"I have never been a human."
Junior was running out of questions to ask, and found himself resorting to simply shouting at her. "Yes you were! You were human once, Megagirl, and you know it!"
"I have never been human."
"Yes you were, Laurie!" He screamed, banging his fists against the clear glass cylinder. Everything was quiet a moment as he backed away from the Megagirl unit. He listened to his own violently beating heart, the only heart in the room, and waited a moment before she responded.
"I…" she said, fixing her robotic gaze on him. "Have never been human."
Junior closed his eyes and took a breath, trying to settle himself. But it didn't work. He found the words tumbling from his mouth. "You used to be human, Laurie, and you know it! You were a human being. You were Lauren Marie Mambat and dead God damnit – you loved me!" He raced back to the cylinder, and put his hands against the cool glass again. "I know you're in there, Laurie. I know you're in there… Talk to me. Say something. Laurie please!" It was too much. He could hear his voice cracking, could feel the heaviness in his throat. But he'd promised himself he wouldn't cry. "Damn it all!" He pounded the cylinder once more before walking away. He was almost to the door, when he heard her speak once more.
"I am not a human," she said, her monotone voice showing no acknowledgement of Junior's explosion.
Junior initiated the tube to sink back into the floor. As he was exiting the room, he looked back to see the blue cylinder nearly back into the ground. "Damn you," he said. But he wasn't entirely sure of to whom he was speaking.