Beyond the large showroom windows of Asimov Robotics, the world lay obscured by the pouring rain. Crowds of people hurried up and down the boulevard amidst the towering building in lumbering masses of raincoats umbrellas. Cars shot across the sky overhead in a crisscrossing labyrinth of invisible sky lanes. The woman standing in front of the window was deep in thought, considering the Toyota dealership across the street. All makes and models sat in the parking lot, everything from heavy diesel arctic hoppers to more affordable cloud cruisers.
The woman was dressed in the same black snug-fitting jumpsuit all the androids for sale wore at Asimov Robotics. Her arms were crossed. The name tag above her right breast read: SARA. The name tag above her left read: PERSONA 9. Her blues eyes were framed by dark shoulder-length hair. For all intents and purposes, Sara resembled a human female of twenty-years-old. She looked like a human, thought like a human, and acted like a human. Asimov Robotics had designed her in such sufficient detail that it was almost impossible to determine whether she was human or machine unless the person trying to make the distinction knew exactly what they were looking for.
She glanced back over her shoulder. Fred, the head of the sales department, approached her from behind. Fred was a balding man in the prime of middle age, with hints of gray in his hair, dressed in a suit and tie. His mannerisms and demeanor were those of and efficient man whose primary talent consisted mainly of convincing people to buy whatever he had for sale.
“Hi, Fred,” she said, now looking through the window once more.
“What’s on your mind, Sara?”
“I was just looking at the car dealership.”
“Is there anything about it you find interesting?”
“The way they sell cars is interesting, I guess.”
“Why is that, Sara?”
“Because they’re going to be sold same way I am.”
“You new Persona 9s see the world in such a morbid way for the first few days of your life cycle. But don’t worry. It tends to fade with time.”
“Yes,” Fred said. “Now come with me. I have a customer I’d like you to meet. They’re interested in the best of the best, which means you, and I intend to show them a machine capable of rational thinking, genuine compassion, and unmatched empathy.”
“Okay,” Sara said, turning around. “Let’s go.”
Sara followed Fred from the front window toward the service counter in the back. There were a few other Persona 9s, 8s, and even a 7 or two wandering aimlessly around the sales floor, reading magazines, sipping coffee, or quietly chatting with one another. Another salesman stood chatting with an elderly woman by the vending machines about problems she was having with her outdated Persona 5 that mowed her lawn and did simple chores around her house. The salesman seemed to be angling toward suggesting she trade it in on a newer model. Before Sara followed Fred into the wide corridor beside the service counter, she once more took in the large placard hanging above the service counter.
Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics
1.) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2.) A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3.) A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Sara did not have much experience interacting with humans yet. In fact, this was the first time one of the salesmen had decided to show her to a customer. She understood her model passed what Fred and the other salesmen called the uncanny valley test ninety-nine percent of the time, so she had no rational reason to be nervous, yet she could not help but wonder what could go wrong.
People, especially customers, noticed everything, and they expected androids to look and act a certain way. If the customer detected anything unnatural about Sara, they wouldn’t make a purchase, and if too many customers detected something unnatural about her, she would be shipped back to the factory to be fixed or scrapped or worse . . .
Now, Fred stopped in front of Room 13, glanced at Sara, opened the door, and ushered her inside his office.
Inside, a tree-legged triangular-shaped desk with a sleek computer on it and three chairs around it occupied most of the room. The customer was already seated in one chair. He wore the telltale kaki overalls and boots of a proxy construction operator, and his face did not betray any sort of emotion in which Sara could detect. He was thin, his arms were muscular in a lean way, and although he was clearly several years younger than Fred, he was a great deal balder.
“This is Sara,” Fred said, speaking to the man.
The man held out his hand. “Dick.”
“It’s nice to me you,” Sara said, shaking his hand.
Fred and Sara sat down. Fred sat at the spot with the sleek computer. Sara tried to look natural but instead ended up fidgeting with her hands.
“Dick,” Fred said, speaking to Sara, “is interested in purchasing you to help with his two children in the wake of his wife’s passing—”
“I’m sorry for you loss,” Sara said.”
“Thank you,” the man said.
“—but has also expressed an interest in how you are constructed, what you will require for maintenance, and the line you walk between humans and robots.” He glanced at the man. “It’s a thin line, I assure you.”
“Well,” Sara began, speaking to the man, “my skin is similar to organic flesh to the point where I required nutrients to maintain it. But it’s not quite real skin. It can’t get tan, pale, or deeply scar. My skin heals with rapid intensity that rarely requires stitches or hydra fusing. I have no fat, as you can see, only slender hydraulic muscles and human fat cell concentrate—which is grown in a lab—in the proper places to simulate the required curves of the form in which I’ve been cast in demands. My skeletal structure is made of light-weight steel and aluminum. A compact hydraulic pump lies inside my chest in place of a heart. It pumps a multipurpose blue protoplasmic fluid throughout my body. The vast difference between me and a human lies in the construction of my computerized brain and electronic nervous system, which although is constructed of circuits and transmitters, operates at a similar rate of physical strength and mental thought that neither surpasses nor falls short of those of the average human. I’m sorry. Am I getting too technical? I’m saying too much at once, aren’t I?”
“Not at all,” the man said.
“Her model is designed to think like humans to avoid the uncanny valley,” Fred added.
“Therefore, it’s only natural that sometimes she gets nervous and/or makes minor mistakes in social situations.”
“Good,” the man said. “I don’t want a mindless automaton looking after my youngins. I want a sophisticated machine that will influence the social and behavioral upbringin of them in a positive way. I want somethin that will feel real to them.” The man indicated Sara with his hand. “It’s pretty, yeah. And I reckon I feel like I’m talkin to another person. But I’m still not entirely convinced I’m gettin the best bang for my buck here. She costs more than a fancy new holographic entertainment system but she’s still cheaper than a new car. How exactly do I know I’m gettin a good deal here?”
“I don’t know,” Fred said. “I’m just a Persona 7.”
The man remained silent for a moment. Then, apparently convinced by the fact he had not known Fred was an android until it had been revealed to him at that precise moment, a grin spread across his face and then he asked the question most single men of his particular age that were in his current predicament typically asked: “Can you fuck it?”
“Absolutely,” Fred said.
* * *
The mechanical hands put the last of the dishes in the dishwasher, closed the door, and pressed the START button. The dishwasher hummed to life. Satisfied, the primitive computer program operating the mechanical hands, which were attached to mechanical arms suspended from a track in the ceiling, retracted them back their compartment in the kitchen ceiling, leaving Sara alone at the kitchen table.
Sara was already dressed for the day in the same Asimov jumpsuit she had been wearing when the man had purchased her several weeks before, and as far as she could tell, most of her morning chores, which after making sure the kids were up and dressed and fed and ready for school, amounted to little more than supervising the home automation system’s cleaning tasks and then doing the handful of little things it either missed or lacked the capability to do.
Beyond the window, sunlight slanted through the trees, and beyond the trees, a rural countryside sprawled into the distance. The digital clock on the stove displayed 8:30 A.M. The man and children had already left for work and school. The children would not return until four. The man would not return until six. This left Sara with a fair amount of time to herself, time which thanks to the man’s highly automated house did not have much work to occupy her throughout the day.
After she looked around the kitchen and was satisfied with the job the mechanical hands had done, Sara stood and ventured through the house in search of things that were out of place and needed to be adjusted in minor ways.
In the living room, she shifted a couch cushion into a better position. She went through the man’s bedroom, the girl’s bedroom, and the boy’s bedroom, the bathrooms, the closets, the dining room, and the foyer. As she went, she collected dirty clothes, and once she finished her walkthrough, she deposited them in the laundry room and headed to the man’s office to see if he had notated anything special for her to do on a sticky note or loose sheet of paper on the billboard above his desk.
It was a small office. Aside from the desk and billboard, there were a few filing cabinets, a high-end holographic computer, a few magazines, a trash receptacle, and a plastic palm tree by the window. Sara first checked to ensure the trash was empty. It was. Then she checked the billboard. A sheet of paper was tacked to the cork.
The note read:
Please change the oil in the Shooting Star. Also check the back passenger-side vertical-lift rotor. Car felt crooked rising up and setting down last time I drove it. You’ll find the maintenance manual for it on a shelf in the garage. I’m planning to sell it soon, for I have no need for a second car, and I would like to get it in top running condition.
P.S. Wash it when you’re done.
Changing the oil in the Shooting Star and diagnosing the vertical-lift problem with it would take up at least a few hours and Sara welcomed the requested task ahead. And if she did a good job, the man might even want the oil changed in the Dragon Child over the weekend. Sara smiled a thought of having something to do. But when an article in the open magazine lying on the desk caught her eye, her smile faded quickly into a curious frown.
The article read:
If you build a machine in the likeness
of a human mind, is it still a machine?
(May 19, 2112)
“I never judge,” the android says.
“I never disobey.”
“I never put myself first.”
Except what will happen to our society when androids become a typical feature in sociological landscape of humanity?
Sophisticated androids are still too recent for people have grown up alongside them, although simple robots, like those used in mining and farming, have been in use for decades. But one day, just imagine, every single person on the planet will wake up and none of them will be able to remember a day in which they lived without androids, for one day, these days will have lapsed into the past.
Already, children and the elderly exhibit a tendency to treat these high-tech robots as human, but what will happen to us if our children grow up to treat other people the way they treat these fancy look-a-like robots?
It could be a serious problem—if that’s the way it plays out—and I doubt others will tolerate being ordered around the way we are already ordering around androids. I’d like to give the subject a fair shake, though. I’d like to explore the pros and . . .
The page ended there, and since Sara didn’t want to know what kind other vile opinions Philip Arthur wished to share with the general readership of the magazine, she left the man’s office and headed through the house to the garage.
Sara did not doubt the man had explored the positives and negatives of purchasing an android before he had invested in her, but she also felt certain he retained a good bit of faith in her abilities since he had entrusted in her with the large amount of time she spent helping his children with their homework, cleaning up after them, and preparing their meals. Not to mention, all the nights he worked late. Sara considered the man a better man than the man who had written the article, even if he did seem a bit cold-hearted toward her at times.
Most of the humans Sara interacted with at stores treated her with a reasonable amount of respect, but she had noticed once people knew she was an android, they had a tendency to treat her a bit more like a machine than the person in which Asimov Robotics had designed her to pass for. The only exception to this was the man’s children, who had a tendency to treat her like they would a person to some degree, but now Sara wondered if it was possible the man’s children might grow up to prefer the company of androids when they got older.
The little girl could sometimes be a bit of a brat . . .
But the boy was already in his teenage years . . .
Upon entering the garage, Sara tried to think of how exactly could she have a negative effect on the children that was not caused by bad parenting or them just being plain old bad seeds, but she was unable to follow the stream of those ideas, which she attributed to the Asimov’s First Law of Robotics.
It is an interesting dilemma, she thought.
Sara found the technical manual for the Shooting Star on a shelf by the workbench, and once she had read over the necessary information, she went to work on the car. Crawling between the rear landing wheels, she was able to access the back passenger-side vertical lift rotor without too much trouble.
There was nothing of a serious nature wrong with it, and at first all she noticed was it wobbled a little bit more than it should have when spun by hand. Ultimately, she concluded it just needed a new washer and bushing between the mounting shaft and the lock-bolt at the bottom. She found spares in a cabinet above the workbench. However, the lock-bolt was held firmly in place by an adhesive that required heat to loosen, and it took her nearly two hours to get it to turn by heating it up with a butane torch. But once it was off, everything else was easy. She used a C-clamp to hold the rotor in place on the shaft, undid the lock-bolt with a 20mm socket, slid the wore out washer and bushing off, slid the new washer and bushing on, applied a new coating of thread-locking adhesive, and retightened the lock-bolt. Then she undid the C-clamp and spun the rotor with her hand. It moved freely and with none of the previous wobble.
Sara moved onto changing the oil, a practice which according to the technical manual had not changed much in the past two hundred years.
She positioned a drip pan under the large sub-compact turbine engine at the front of the car and removed the nut on the bottom of the oil pan with a 9mm wrench. Then she popped the hood and untwisted the oil cap with her hand so the oil would drain out faster. Once the pan was full of oil and the drip below had abated, she threaded the nut back on the bottom of the drip pan, snuggled it up with the wrench, crawled back out from under the car, fetched the proper oil from the shelf, and filled the engine back up. Then she replaced the oil cap and closed the hood.
When she looked up, she noticed the boy standing in the doorway. He was fourteen, tall and slender, and bore some resemblance to the man, albeit with a lot more hair.
“What are you doin?” he asked.
“You father wanted me to do a few thing to this car.”
“I see,” he said. “What else do you have to do?”
“I just have to wash it.”
“Okay. When you’re done, I want you to fix me a snack.”
“Do you need help with your homework?”
“Yeah, I’m no good at orbital mechanics.”
“Okay. Is your sister home yet?
“No, Beth has band practice today. She won’t be home until five.”
“Okay. Do you want me to stop this and attend to what you need first?”
“No,” the boy said. “I’ll hang out and watch you wash it.”
The boy pressed the switch for the garage door. The garage door slid up on its track. “You ought to let a little light in here,” he said, pulling up a chair. Besides, it’s a nice day out.”
“Okay,” Sara said. She retrieved two buckets from the work bench and headed around the side of the house to the water spigot. She filled both buckets with water and returned to the garage, where she added soap to one of the buckets. Then she dropped a sponge into the soapy bucket, and was about to start applying the soapy water to the car when the boy spoke from the chair in which he sat.
“Maybe you ought to wash it in a bikini,” he said.
“What do mean?”
“Well, ain’t your jumpsuit goin to get wet when you wash it?”
“Yes . . . ?”
“So why don’t you wear a bikini instead since it’s meant to get wet?”
“I see your point . . . but . . .”
“I don’t have a bikini.”
“Well . . . why don’t you do it in your bra and panties then?”
“They’re basically the same thing,” the boy said.
“Yes . . . but . . . it could be seen as inappropriate”
“I don’t see how. Ain’t they basically the same thing?
“Well . . . Yes, I guess they are . . .”
“I don’t know . . .”
“You really have no reason not to do it the way I want you to.”
“You’re right,” she said. “I guess I don’t.”
She hesitated for a moment. Then, aware the boy was watching her with keen adolescent interest, Sara slipped off her shoes and socks, which she set them on the workbench, and slid the zipper on the front of her jumpsuit down, exposing the white T-skirt and the waistband of the white panties she wore underneath. Then she shrugged her arms out the sleeves, slid the jumpsuit down her legs, and stepped out of it fully awake of the way the boy was looking at her legs. She placed the jumpsuit on top of her shoes and socks on the workbench, turned around, hesitated a second time, glanced at the boy, and pulled the T-shirt up and over her head, exposing the bra underneath. He appeared to be quite interested in the way the two white cups held her breasts. She placed the T-shirt shirt on top of the rest of the jumpsuit, bent, picked up the sponge from the soapy bucket, and started lathering soap onto the hood of the car.
It didn’t feel right. There was a humiliating about the whole experience at first, for Sara was entirely aware that the boy took some sort of perverse sexual pleasure from it.
However, while she was in the middle of rinsing the car, a strange thought surfaced in her mind: What if the boy grows up unable to get a girlfriend or form any sort of intimate relationship with a female because he has an android to sexually exploit around the house? Then, deeper, in a part the previous unknown subconscious part of her mind, a second slightly more insidious thought formed: And if he is socially unable to attract a female mate, he’ll surely live out the rest of his life in a state of terrible loneliness.
(he might even deserve it)
Sara did not doubt the boy would find other ways to exploit and humiliate her for his own sexual pleasure, and she wondered if perhaps he would eventually fall in love with her only to someday realize in a state of misery that he had fallen for a machine.
As Sara finished applying the soap to the car and begin rinsing it off with the hose, it occurred to her that Asimov’s Three Laws of Robots were rather vague when it came to the self-inflicted psychological harm that a human could inflict upon themselves through their interaction with androids, and once she was finished drying the car, she was wet and covered with soap suds and grime from getting down on her hands and knees on the garage floor, she decided to counter exploit the situation, and approached the boy, with the intent of giving him just a little bit more of her simulacra to fulfill his later fantasies and actions, the latter of which would she thought had the potential to bring about the damnation of his sanity later in life.
“Could you hose me off?” she asked. Sara was standing in front of him now. Her wet synthetic hair, skin, hips, curves, and cleavage glistened in the sunlight, and the boy’s eyes were practically crawling over every bit of her they could physically take in. “I mean if it’s not too much trouble,” she quickly added. “Without my jumpsuit, I seem to have gotten dirty like something awful, and I’d hate to go inside and make a big mess or something.”
The boy looked surprised at first, then a shy grin spread across his face, and he accepted the hose. “Sure,” he said, “It’d be no problem at all.”
“Thanks,” Sara said, flashing a large synthetic smile.
* * *
When the man set the landing wheels of the Dragon Child down on the rooftop parking lot of the mall, it the entire place was buzzing with activity. Shoppers hurried by, going to and from their cars, and their androids, most of which were loaded down with bags and box and parcels and screaming children, hurried after them. Sara followed the man, the boy, and the girl from the car to the elevator. A few snowflakes capered on the cold wind blowing about them. A few months had passed since the incident in the garage, and although the boy had found a number of other ways to exploit her without his father finding out about it, Sara had taken a great deal of satisfaction when the girl had told her the boy was feeling kind of down that day due to the fact that the girl he had asked to the winter dance had flat-out turned him down.
Her sister told me John was a creep, the girl had said earlier that morning, and when they emerged on the main floor of the mall, Sara was still relishing the words in the solace of her own darkening thoughts.
The man and the boy were going to go shop for holographic videogames and a new—smarter—set of mechanical hands for kitchen that would be capable preparing their food instead of only being able to clean it up. Sara would accompany the girl on her never-ending quest to acquire more clothes and makeup and things that she could admire on herself in front of the mirror.
The girl was only twelve. But Sara could already tell she was well on her way to transitioning from a full-blown brat to a fledgling little bitch.
The four of them split into two groups at the food court by Three-Meat Burger, and from there, the girl lead Sara from one store to the next, buying whatever she wanted with the money her father had allotted her to spend on herself that day. All the retail stores Sara and the girl visited featured other androids in small glass display cases at the front of them advertising the merchandise. Everything from male androids in athletic clothes to female androids in linger were included as part of the displays. There were even a few child androids dressed up like princesses—Cinderella, Elsa, Ariel, Zaria—in the front display window of the Disney store.
Sara and the girl returned to the food court around two o’clock with a ton of bags, and the girl sent Sara to fetch her something from Three-Meat China.
The line was long. But that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that on her way back to the table in which the girl was waiting for her to return, Sara felt an immense pressure begin to suddenly build in her chest, and by the time she reached the girl, all she could do was set the food on the table and stand there teetering at the brink of collapse.
“What are you doin?” the girl asked, clearly irritated. “Sit down.”
The girl frowned. “What’s wrong with you?”
Sara held her hands to her chest. “There’s p-p-pressure.”
“Are you about to break down?”
Sara nodded. Then the pressure, which had become unbearably painful, became too much, and the floor rushed up to meet her face.
From where she now sat above Sara at the table, the girl said: “Goddamn it, Sara, you stupid robot.” Then the girl took out her phone, swiped the screen, tapped the screen, and held the phone up to her ear. “Dad,” she said. “Somethin’s wrong with the robot.”
“. . .”
“I don’t know.”
“. . .”
“She’s just lying on the floor clutchin at her chest.”
“. . .”
“Somethin about pressure. I don’t know.”
“. . .”
“I reckon it’s serious.”
“. . .”
“Okay. I’ll wait here.”
Then, from where she lay on the floor, withering in agony, Sara watched as the girl flipped open the Styrofoam box she had fetched for her from Three-Meat China and began to eat what passed for noodles and shrimp at the mall.
Curious people passing by stopped to have a look, but once they saw the black Asimov jumpsuit most of them appeared disinterested. A few of them took pictures or made short video recordings of Sara. A security guard came over and asked the girl: “Are you here alone with this broken android?”
“My daddy’s on the way,” the girl said. “So is a repair truck, I reckon.”
“Okay,” the security guard said. “I’ll wait here with you, if you want. I want to make sure you’re okay.”
“Oh, I’m fine,” the girl said. “This is just a little embarrassin.”
* * *
It took twenty minutes for the man and the boy to arrive, and it took another fifteen for the two repair technicians to get to Sara. They told the man they believed a tiny piece of an aluminum valve could have broken loose and caused the hydraulic pump in her chest to have backed up, thus creating the crippling pressure she felt. They also asked if he was like them to administer anything for the simulated pain she felt, but he opted not to, for he viewed it was an unnecessary expense. The repairs themselves, the technicians assured him, would be covered under the 10,000 day warranty, but they would have to cart her off to the shop to get her fixed.
The man was fine with that.
Then the repair technicians carted her out.
The trip across town to the repair shop took another thirty minutes, and by the time the two repair technicians got her onto the stainless repair table in their shop, Sara wished her hydraulic pump would explode and result in irreparable damage that would result in a need for her immediate termination.
But it never came to that. The repair technicians worked as quickly and efficiently as Sara worked on the man’s Shooting Star. A wide variety of tools hung from the walls, highly specialized equipment hung from the ceiling, and the two repair technicians knew just what to do with it all.
They first bound her wrists and ankles to the table with heavy leather restraints. Then they gagged her, n zipped the front of her jumpsuit. One of them cut through her t-shirt, bra, and skin with a scalpel, first across her collar bone and then from her neck between her breasts to her lower abdomen to where he made a third incision across her hips. The other folded the two large flaps of skin back created by the three large incisions, which exposed the metal frame of her ribcage underneath. Blue protoplasmic fluid got everywhere during this process. One technician began suctioning up the spilled protoplasmic fluid with a device suspended from the ceiling. The other suited up in a pair of thick flame-retardant gloves and a welding helmet and fired up an oxyacetylene cutting torch. Once they were both suited up in the appropriate gear, they began the long process of carefully cutting through all her ribs with an oxygen-acetylene mixture that burned at 6,000 °F. The gag on her mouth muffled Sara’s screams but failed to completely silence them.
This part of the procedure took about an hour.
But for Sara, it seemed to last a thousand years.
Once they finished, the two repair technicians attached two slide-on hydraulic couplings to the hydraulic lines running to and from her hydraulic pump, and turned to valves near each one to allow her hydraulic fluid to bypass her own hydraulic pump and run through a sort of mechanical bypass. The pressure abated in an instant, although the rest of the pain, all the new pain the repair technicians had created in the process was worse than ever. They detached the two main hydraulic lines running to and from her hydraulic pump and lifted it out. After a minute, they confirmed that it had indeed been clogged up due to a piece of broken aluminum, and that the amount of pressure exerted on the hydraulic pump had rendered it useless and malformed for future use in an android of Sara’s caliber.
It took a week for Sara’s replacement hydraulic pump to come in.
* * *
She awoke with a slight gasp from the darkness of the torturous nightmare to the darkness of the man’s bedroom and breathed a sigh of relief. Beside her the man lay snoring peacefully. Beyond him, the alarm clock on the nightstand displayed 3:00 A.M. It had been a week since she had been returned to the man’s house, and she did not look forward to ever again being repaired.
Sara he sat up, sliding the blankets to the side, and got slowly out of the bed, taking care that she did not wake the man. She was dressed in her nightclothes—a tank top, a pair of pajama pants, and socks—which were all white and easy to spot in the darkness. Her black jumpsuit and assorted clothes for the day ahead lay folded up on the floor beside her side of the bed. She crossed the man’s bedroom, moving like a ghost in the shadowy darkness, entered the connected bathroom, closed the door behind her, and switched on the light.
In the mirror, the scars from when the two repair technicians had sliced her open were still faintly visible on her between her collarbones and the upper part of her chest. They had however healed a great deal since she had been repaired. According to the repair shop, the scars would be healed in their entirety within the next two weeks, provided of course Sara ate the recommended diet required for her synthetic skin to generate the enormous amount of energy required to heal such a large wound after it had been hydra fused back together.
She did her makeup, brushed her hair.
Upon finishing, Sara gazed into the eyes of her reflection in the mirror and composed a simple couplet in her mind:
I’m neither human nor machine,
I’m something awful in between.
Sara stood there for a long time.
At length, she returned to the man’s bedroom. He was still asleep. The alarm clock on the night stand displayed 4:39 A.M. It was already Saturday. Everybody else in the house would he up sometimes between six and seven Sara didn’t need to be up until five, so with nothing else to do, she stood in the darkness until six. Then she went downstairs to get the new mechanical hands started making breakfast.
* * *
The girl emerged in the kitchen first. It was still early and the first gray light of morning had only begun to break across the sky beyond the kitchen window. Sara and the mechanical hands almost had breakfast ready. The clock on the microwave display 6:45 A.M.
“It’ll be ready in a minute,” Sara said.
“Okay” the girl said, gazing out the sliding-glass door into the backyard and the countryside beyond. “Sara,” she whispered suddenly with a note of awe in her voice. “Come look, Sara.” Sara came and looked. There was a deer walking across the backyard. The girl adored animals, especially cute ones.
“I wish I could pet it,” the girl whispered.
“I don’t see why you can’t,” Sara said.
“It’ll run away before I can get near it.”
“I think I can fix that.”
“I’ll just go outside and get it.”
“But how are you goin to do that?”
“I can move pretty quietly. Besides, I’m an android. I don’t have a scent.”
“That’s true. You never smell bad, Sara.”
“It’ll never sense me coming. Wait here.”
* * *
“I want to tell me what happened one more time,” the man said. Sara and the man were in the bedroom. Beyond the window, the sun was up. However, the man was still dressed in the shorts he had gone to sleep in the night before. His face was red and there was a fiery look in his eyes that Sara had never seem before that made her feel tense and uncomfortable. Nothing about this talk was good. But at least he had managed to get the girl to stop screaming. Sara tried again to explain what she had been thinking.
“We were watching the deer out the window,” she said, “and the girl said he wanted to pet it, so I went outside to get it. It wasn’t hard. I went out the front door so it wouldn’t hear me and I crept up on it from behind so it wouldn’t see me. It freaked out when I picked it up and started to twist and kick at me—”
“Tell me again why you snapped its neck.”
“Well, I didn’t think it was a good idea to bring it inside flailing around like it was. I—”
“You honestly didn’t think it wouldn’t make a difference to Beth if it was alive or dead?”
“Well . . . I knew I couldn’t bring it inside like it was. It might have panicked and physically injured her while trying to escape or something like that.” She paused. “And I had already told her I could get it for her to pet.” The man sighed. “For all you’re worth, you actually pretty stupid when it comes right down to it, you know that?”
“I’m neither stupider nor smarter than the average human being.”
“Yes, I know.”
“I can make mistakes.”
“Yes. Believe me, I can see that.” The man stood there for a moment, considering whatever it was he was thinking about before he spoke again. “This is what you’re going to do. First you are going to get that fuckin dead deer out of the living room, drag it at least ten miles away from this house, and burry it at least six feet in the ground. And then you’re going to apologize to Beth. And then you’re going to come get me. And then I’m going to get cleaned up, load you into the trunk of my car, drive to Asimov’s Robotics, drag your dumbass to the service desk and demand a full refund. Do I make myself crystal clear?”
“Good. Get started. And don’t bother changing out of your pajamas or putting on your shoes. Get a shovel from the garden shed, go barefoot, and hurry up. And don’t you dare try me, or I’ll make you’ll wish you had been incarnated as a smart toaster.”
“I have to be in working order for you to receive a re—”
His closed fist collided with her face mid-sentence. “Go ahead and try me if you want,” he said. “I used to do physical construction before I got into the proxy business on Mars. I can keep a machine running for a long, long time. And really I don’t have to return, you know that?”
“I won’t try you,” Sara said, holding a hand to her face. A trickle of blue protoplasmic fluid started running from her nose.
* * *
Sara cut herself again with the switchblade knife the man had left lying on his nightstand and watched the blue protoplasmic fluid seep from her wrist. She was standing in front of the bedroom window. It had taken her all day to drag the deer ten miles, bury it, and return to receive the beating promised to her. Now, before her and beyond the bedroom window, the sun had set and the moon had risen and the entire world seemed darker than it ever before had on previous occasions. All Sara was waiting for now was the man to finishing showering and load her into the trunk of his car.
The cut on her wrist clotted, closed, and healed, leaving behind only the faint trace of a scar. Sara cut herself again . . . and again . . . and again, and again, and again, and again and again and again and again and again, and each time the cut clotted, closed and healed before her eyes.
The shower cut off.
She cut herself again.
Sara could hear the mechanical hands in the bath drying the man off.
She watched the stream of blueness leak from her wrist.
Sara heard the bathroom door behind her open.
She watched the wound clot and start to close itself.
Sara felt the man’s hands on her shoulders.
She watched the scar form and fade. She knew that although she could psychologically strike back at the man’s son and daughter for the way they treated her, she would never be able to strike back at him. He was too cold, staving off his own dislike for the world in which he lived only enough to show minor affections toward only his own two children and nobody and nothing else. He didn’t give enough of a damn about Sara for her to ever be able to lash out at him and hurt him on an emotional level, and Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics prevented her from ever physically harming him or other humans like him. It was a losing situation for herself and likely for many others like her who walked the blurry line between human and machine. And to be honest, Sara hoped he was almost ready to return her and get his refund. The man was standing behind her now. He set his hands on her shoulders.
“What are you doin?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “What does it matter?”
The man peered over her shoulder. “Never mind, I see. Perhaps I was too hasty when I decided I would return you.”
Sara paused for a moment with the switchblade poised above her wrist
(but I want to go back)
and tightened her grip on the handle. Then, with the man watching over her shoulder, she dug the switchblade into her synthetic flesh, this time a little deeper, this time with a little more hatred.
“Keep cutting,” he whispered in her ear. “I want to watch you bleed.”