The Greatest

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2f/Christmas_Harbour_Kerguelens_Land%2C_1811.jpg

I subscribe to a ton of blogs, but I really only read a handful.

I’d like to give out some awards:

The award for Best Blog goes to the guy who knows I know he is completely full of shit.

The award for Best Design goes to the lady who treats everyone like a mirror.

The award for Best Use of a Blog to Promote Lampshading on the Kerguelen Islands goes to rampagingferalcats.wordpress.com

The award for Best Gratuitous Muskrat goes to my good friend Salvador Escano of Port Smith West, Leaves, Engledown Farms Commune, Hellen, #322A

And kelp.

The Benefits of Having a Muse

I find it extremely frustrating that I cannot tell you about my epic science fiction series. In all the universe, there are only two people that know the entire story – me and my muse. One night, drunk at the pub, I spilled most of the plot to the second book in the series to an occasional drinking partner, but he was drunk too and likely can’t remember it either.

I finished the first third of the novel during NaNoWriMo 2011, and the second third during NaNoWriMo 2012. The final third? Well … November’s a long way away. I may have to get a jump on that.

I have extensive notes on the entire series, but a good deal of it is in my head. I had a beginning and an end very early on, but not a message, and not a final climactic reveal that really hits home with any force. I struggled with my protagonist’s final standing, who he really was, and where he stood at the end of the universe. I had eight books worth of story, but no substance in the story’s main character. Adventure boiled over, intellectual games hid beneath fragmented sentences – I was building an intricate literary puzzle that regular readers would find pleasing in the whole, and that in-depth readers would find intriguing in the detail.

But no CORE! No SOUL!

And then, my muse, my love, who accuses me of constantly giving her too much credit in all things I think she is amazing at, simply spoke a few words … and the entire multiverse in my head coalesced into a single, solid, unbreakable, infinite truth. And now, I can finish writing it. I NEVER would have gotten that one kicker on my own. NEVER. It’s so simple and so beautifully and darkly complex that I shiver every time I think about it. I get chills. Goosebumps. I almost start to cry.

Of course! Of course, no one else in the entire universe could ever have given me the key to this but her. I want to scream it out to everyone, the whole theme, the whole idea, the one thing, that one tiny little detail that makes a mediocre sci-fi epic into a real, living, breathing thing.

Ah, my reluctant, humble muse … you have no idea what you’ve done.

And I have no way of telling anyone else except to write the damned thing – to WRITE the WHOLE damned thing.

For fun, here is a summary of the entire epic from beginning to end, with all spoilers removed:

A man comes into existence on the desolate shore of a vast sea of blue … [Spoilers removed here] … A man comes into existence on the desolate shore of a vast sea of blue.

The End.

Cue Groovy Music.

Roll credits.

Polymathic Time: or How Obsession and Eccentricity Spread Me Thick

I have been told that I cannot just call myself a genius. Naturally, that should lead you to suspect that at one point in my life I may have indicated aloud to someone that I am, in fact, a genius. Well, perhaps I have, but that’s not the point.  “Genius” is just a word, and whether or not my intelligence quotient exceeds accepted cut-offs for the “genius” label is irrelevant to both my life and anyone’s perception of who I am and what i am capable of. We like to give things labels – that’s a chair, he’s a communist, those people are stupid. That’s fine, but we are often guilty of leaving it at that. Is it just a chair, or is it a chaise longue? Is he a communist, or just not a fan of capitalism? Are they stupid or just completely oblivious to the things that you convince yourself are important?

I am a polymath. I write, I compose, I create. I have an appreciation for and an intense fondness for pure art – which to me is simply the creation of something that did not exist before. I have more than just surface knowledge of physics, biology, mathematics, and computer technology. I am a willing student of world history including Chinese, European, and American histories. I am fascinated with the various mythologies of Scandinavia, Greece, Mesopotamia, and Egypt. I immerse myself in the portions of modern culture that I have found to be most pleasing – I am a competent authority on Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, and the Silver Age of Marvel Comics. I am immersed in the entire history of video games, from Pong to Skyrim and Air to Zork. I worship speculative fiction, but am well-read in nearly all genres of literature. I find pleasure in listening to jazz, electronica, psychedelic rock, and classical music. I am a competent musician and have yet to discover a musical instrument that I cannot eventually work into the eternal symphony that I write in my head (except the Ondes Martenot – but that’s only because i cannot find one). This is who I am.

Just outside the day to day activities I find myself engaged in, whether from necessity or desire, these polymathic urges pulsate just behind the curtain of my consciousness. I am easily distracted and have been known to waste an entire day at my job reading articles on neuropsychopharmacology to flesh out ideas for therapeutic implanted intelligences, or playing an emulation of  Pick Axe Pete, or molding a sound wave into a depiction of the sound of grinding molars as heard from inside the head of a madman. Once into a subject, I find it difficult to pull myself away from it – like a Butlerian disassembling a thinking machine, I will tear a concept apart to its roots and still not be satisfied. Beyond that obsession for details and data, I regulate my journeys of discovery with what can only be described as ridiculous eccentricities and hangups. I could not just read Marvel Comics, I had to read all of them, starting with Fantastic Four #1 and moving forward in order by publication date. I could not just read Kurt Vonnegut, or John Irving, or Isaac Asimov – I had to start at their beginnings with obscure short pieces that barely got published, are no longer in print, or are just extremely difficult to find because they aren’t that good. I cannot begin a television series in the middle, and will absolutely refuse to watch things out of order ever. Book series, especially those that allow a number of authors to operate in a shared universe, are a particular difficulty for me. I want to read them in order by continuity, but often a new novel will be released from a period of time before the ones I have already read. It’s enough to drive me mad.

And it does.

And that is why I am a writer.

There is no other way to combine all of those polymathic pursuits into a tangible act of creation. Music alone lacks detail in the void of darkness, a painting cannot capture the press of silence or the cacophonic assault of psychosis on the unwilling the way the written word does. The point of creation – the nanosecond of conjuration from vision to thought to word – is the singularity of the black hole of my consciousness as it consumes all data from my experiences and my environment. I consume, I transform, and I create at a pinpoint of infinite density and light – and from the other side a universe is forged, a universe that I pushed into existence into a void of nothingness.

At thirty-four years old, I find myself the recipient of another label. I am “getting older” and there are things that it is “too late” to do, according to some. I cannot be a neuroscientist or an astronaut. I won’t ever be a hockey superstar or an emperor. The Olympic Games are out of reach for me and I’ll never lead an army into battle.

Bullshit.

I am human. Of all the labels that might ever be applied to me, that is the only one that matters, because it says “unpredictable and curious”. I may be spread thin by my obsessions and my eccentricities, but time is relative and through my creativity I breach the frontiers that a culture of time sets before me. I can be eternal, and I am not alone. I am everyone. And I am curious.

I am a writer.

How can I not be?

 

Now Getting It Ready For You

MagicChristian

Almost ready for you.

I guess it was a couple of weeks ago that I mentioned things were going to change. Since then, things HAVE changed. I have a new laptop that would rock a Cylon’s socks off … if Cylons had socks … which I guess they would if they’re the new ones … but maybe I’m talking about the older models.

It has taken me a good long while to get all my files transferred over, and even longer to get everything arranged like I want. I’m very particular about how my computer is organized and how certain information is accessible. I’m very close – don’t panic.

Things are still going to change.

Yes, I think it’s about time to step away from nothing but science fiction and tell you a little bit about who I am, what I believe, and where I’m going.

Now getting it ready for you.

Get it here.

In Which the Automaton Finds Peace

Instructor Raines removed the old-style QF drive from the M4RV1N unit’s upload bay and closed the access panel. After a few seconds, the panel popped back open.

Raines smirked, but felt a pang of sadness. The grey-blue metal of the android was fading, deep scores marked past accidents, and the drive mechanisms were not as quiet as they used to be.

“I apologize, Instructor Raines,” the M4RV1N unit said to its operator. “I have tried to repair the panel’s latch mechanism on my own, but my appendages were not designed for self-maintenance.”

Raines smiled. “It’s no problem, Marvin. I’ll see what I can do.” The children had given the name to it, based on the Production Number stenciled on the back of his torso: M4RV1N, which stood for Mark IV Robotic Vocational unit 1N. Douglas Adams aside, Raines felt the name fit.

“I do not wish to keep the children waiting,” the android responded. “Fifteen minutes of recreation time have elapsed without my presence.”

Raines unscrewed the faulty latch and took it to his workbench to scour some of the rust from it. “I’m sure they miss you, Marvin, but just think how happy they’ll be during Instructional Time now that your new biology algorithms have been uploaded.”

“Will their happiness at a later time outweigh their sadness now?” the M4RV1N unit asked, swiveling its elliptically shaped head to regard its operator.

“I think companionship at present can outweigh loneliness in the past,” Raines replied. He smirked to himself and returned to his work on the panel latch.

Blowing away residue from the latch, Raines walked back over to Marvin and reinstalled the repaired component. With a gentle push, the panel snapped closed and held.

“Thank you, Instructor Raines,” Marvin intoned. “I can now spend the final ten minutes with the children at the pond.”

Raines patted Marvin on its metallic shoulder. “Not a problem, Marvin. Let me know how the new Biology program works.”

“I will do that, Instructor Raines.”

The android stabilized its stance and trundled out of the maintenance shed towards the pond where the sound of children’s laughter was heard. Marvin paused, then swiveled its head around to ask a final question.

“Have you had any response regarding the upgrade to my core systems shielding?” it asked.

Raines’s eyes automatically drifted to the floor. Marvin was just a robot, but Raines still felt a form of sadness about this subject. “Sorry, old bean. The company that made you just never planned for you to work underwater.”

“Perhaps a customizer of robotic systems could develop the shielding, or perhaps I can do some research on my own. I could instruct you on how to make the upgrade.” If Marvin could sound desperate, one might have noted that tone in its voice as it continued its query.

Raines shook his head. “Even if it were possible, Marvin, the orphanage could not afford it.”

Marvin swiveled its head back towards the pond, but did not continue on its way.

“Perhaps we could test–”

“Marvin,” Raines said with slight force. Moving over to the aged android with the rusting seams and discolored plastic highlights, Raines gently placed a hand on what passed for the android’s head. “If you go into the water with the children, the resulting damage, once your core systems were breached, would permanently destroy you, and could even injure the children.”

Marvin stood silently, its lifeless optical receivers, like black eyes, gazed out over the high grass waving lazily in the wind. One of Marvin’s internal components clicked and whirred as if the android were calculating this fatal possibility.

“This orphanage cannot afford to lose you or the children,” Raines explained, trying to comfort the artificial human. “You are all much too important.”

Without a response, Marvin trundled through the high grass and away from the shed. Raines stood watching it all the way down to the pond where the android carefully moved out on the dock and seated itself to watch the children play in the water. They ran on either side of it, jumping from the dock into the water. Occasionally, one or two children would sit with the android. Smiling with bittersweet acceptance, Raines closed the shed and returned to the administration building.

 

*

“A frog is an organism,” Marvin informed the children. Its tactile hands held the live amphibian with the care of a mother holding a baby. “It is made up of organs, like a heart, a brain, a stomach. These organs are made up of tissues, and the tissues are made of cells. Humans are also organisms, and like the frog, you are made up of organs, tissues, and cells.”

The children sat around the android, their eyes turned up to it in awe. Since Marvin’s upgrade, biology had become their favorite subject.

“Can a frog talk?” one of the boys asked.

“Of course,” Marvin said, its voice rising in mock excitement. “A frog says–” Marvin used a built-in sound file that had come with the new biology suite to imitate a frog’s song.

The frog in its hands repeated the song and the classroom came alive with the instantaneous mirth of children’s laughter.

From outside the classroom, Instructors Raines and Kelly watched through the door with smiles on their faces.

“It’s amazing isn’t it,” Instructor Kelly said. “They treat it like anyone one of us.”

Instructor Kelly had been brought on at the orphanage at about the same time as Raines. She had spent just as much time with the android as any other volunteer at the orphanage, but like Raines, she had grown closer to it than most. Only the children held more love for the android than Raines and Kelly, their affection even going so far as referring to Marvin as a “he” at times.

“You mean the frog?” Raines replied with a smirk.

“I mean Marvin,” she said, elbowing him. They smiled at each other and, surreptitiously, she moved her hand into his.

“Now they can get just as much education as any other children, and we don’t have to pay for expensive specialized teachers. Just the bargains, like us.”

Somberly, Kelly said, “But he won’t last forever.”

“Oh, I don’t know, old girl. There are still some of the same model in use. There are plenty of hobbyists programming upgrades out there.”

“You got approval from the old board for the upgrades. What about this new bunch?” Kelly asked, still watching the android.

“Powell’s an old fool,” Raines spat.

“She has the right, most of our donations come from Christian philanthropists and church outreach. Rumor is we may even go private.”

“Hearsay and unlikely. This is still a government facility-–federation or not, there’s still separation of church and state,” Raines argued.

“Calm down,” Kelly said quietly, squeezing his hand. “It’s not all bad.”

“It’s restrictive. There’s no balance in what they want. It’s simple politics.”

Nearly all the children raised their hands as Marvin indicated it was times for questions.

“Do you have organs?” one of the children asked Marvin.

“Are you an organism?” another followed.

The android was silent and turned its head to stare at the instructors which it had known were watching all along.

Raines quickly opened the door and entered the classroom. “Of course he is!” he said.

“Marvin forgot to tell you about the most important organ of all!” Snatching up a little girl, he began to tickle her fiercely. “The Ticklish Organ!”

The children broke in a mock panic as the girl squealed with laughter. Setting the girl down, Raines approached Marvin. “See? Marvin’s just like the rest of us.” Reaching under Marvin’s metallic appendages he pretended to tickle the android.

Following Raines’s lead, Marvin began to laugh and the children cheered.

From the door, Instructor Kelly sighed and smiled.

 

*

 

“It is neither your decision, nor your business how this board runs this orphanage, Instructor Raines,” the chairwoman, Ellen Powell, snapped. “These children will receive a morally sound education as requested by our donors, and that will be accomplished by the reinstatement of a curriculum with a strong foundation of Christian faith. That is what this orphanage was founded on, and regardless of what heathen direction it has taken since that time, it will now be brought back on course.”

“I knew this was coming. I came here to make a difference, not keep things the same. This is a Federation-owned center, it is against the regulations of the American Federation to allow religion to be taught in defiance of logic and science,” Raines pleaded.

“You will watch your tone with me, Raines. You are a valuable asset, but I can find a replacement for you in less than a day. And as for the Federation, their interference will be ended shortly. As of next week, I assume full control of this privately-owned orphanage.”

Raines glared at the plump woman behind her desk. He loathed her hair, tightly drawn up into a bun. He loathed her conservative black dress and her slightly raised chin. He wanted to quit, but could not abandon the children, or Marvin.

“What about Marvin?” Raines asked, desperately snatching at something to prevent his ideals from being trampled to death.

“Who?” Powell asked, confused.

“Our android,” Raines explained. “He’s not programmed to teach your Christian curriculum. We’ll have to wait until I can order new upgrades for him.”

“We will not spend another dime on that thing,” Powell said icily. “We need a new aircar to transport the children to a proper chapel on Sundays, and next autumn we must pay for them to appear at the Pope’s Celebration on the Lunar base for a blessing. We need that publicity more than we need an antique android to function properly.”

“You’re joking!” Raines spat. “Publicity? Do you even hear yourself? We’re here to help these children learn, not parade them in front of dignitaries for money.”

Powell ignored him. “As soon as they are approved, I will be bringing on a new group of instructors. Your robot can go back to its maintenance duties – and you can get back to teaching the curriculum you are assigned to teach.”

He is the best damned instructor you have!”

Raines spun and left the chairwoman’s office, slamming the door behind him.

 

*

After a month of interviews, approvals, and hiring, the orphanage brought on five additional Lead Instructors, all certified in the Christian curriculum that would begin to be taught there.

Raines and Kelly were retained as science and physical education instructors, respectively, but Marvin was no longer allowed to act as a teacher’s aide.

Though the android still was allowed to spend recreation time with the children, both Raines and Kelly could sense a growing distance between the children and the artificial human.

“Do you ever think you’re being unfair?” Kelly asked Raines one day while they were taking lunch by the pond. “The orphanage is getting the funding it needs.”

“I never said it was bad for the orphanage,” Raines said bitterly. “I said it was bad for the orphans.”

“Who are you to decide how they receive their education, Raines?” Kelly fired back. “I was bitter too, but we’re not missionaries for logic. You’re almost being hypocritical.”

“That sow—“

“That sow and her new cronies are the only thing standing between you and unemployment. Suck it up, Raines. I’ve heard this atheistic bitching from you for years. In the end, you’re worse than them. They’re teaching and you’re still wallowing.”

“The future of our species depends on the education of the generations that follow us,” Raines tried to explain.

“Aren’t they saying the same thing?”

“It’s different.”

“It’s not, Raines,” Kelly said sadly. “You’re different.”

Sighing, she stood and took the rest of her lunch with her.

Raines did not watch her depart; instead, he looked at Marvin, across the pond. One of the new instructors was scolding the android for watching the children play instead of cutting the grass.

“Keep thinking, old bean,” Raines said to himself. “It’s the only thing they can’t take from us.”

 

*

 

“Did God make Marvin?” one of the children asked one of the new instructors during a Bible lesson.

Marvin, who was outside in the hallway mopping the floor, heard the question and turned its head towards the classroom.

“Humans put Marvin together,” Instructor Thomas explained with a forgiving smile. “God works through his children to make the things we need, like computers, automobiles, and shelter.”

“Will Marvin go to heaven?” another child asked.

“Heaven is a place prepared by God for humans,” Thomas said shaking his head. “And even then, only those humans that believe in and accept Jesus as their Savior.”

“What if Marvin believes in Jesus?”

“Yeah!” a few other voices intoned.

Sighing with frustration, Thomas said, “Marvin is not real. Marvin cannot believe in anything. Marvin only performs as it is programmed to perform. It is just a machine.”

In the hallway, Marvin stood silently, his internal components whirring and grinding as he processed new data and sorted it into complementing packets.

“Where will Marvin go when he dies?” a little girl asked sadly.

“A robot doesn’t die like you or me. A robot will stop working and then it will be thrown away.”

Later, when the lesson was over and the children bustled out of Thomas’s classroom. Marvin trundled over and knocked politely on Instructor Thomas’s door.

“Come in, Marvin,” Thomas said from his desk. “What can I do for you?”

Marvin made its way to the desk and stood silently for a moment.

Thomas impatiently removed his reading glasses and looked up from the textbook he had been marking lessons in. “Yes?”

“Will the children be happy in heaven?” Marvin asked him.

Thomas chuckled. “Most assuredly, but hopefully they won’t be children when they go to heaven. They all have long lives ahead of them.”

“Why do humans not go to heaven as soon as they are able, if happiness awaits them there? It seems logical that a longer life only opens the opportunity for unhappiness to occur.”

“What are you asking, Marvin?” Thomas queried, his brow furrowing slightly.

“If it only takes belief in Jesus, then why would God not wish for his children to be brought to heaven as soon as possible so that they may be happy sooner and for a longer time?” Marvin expanded.

“You must die and move on from this world before God brings you into his heaven,” Thomas stated. Slipping his glasses back on, he bent back down to his work.

Marvin remained.

After a few moments, Instructor Thomas looked up and tore the glasses from his face in agitation. “Please leave, Marvin. I have important lessons to prepare.”

“Do humans not wish to die, to reach heaven faster?” Marvin asked.

“No human truly wishes to die,” Thomas said, rising from his desk, intending to use his communications console to call someone to remove the android. “And those who commit suicide are not allowed to enter Heaven.”

After entering the code that would summon one of the groundskeepers, Thomas returned to his desk.

When he looked up a few seconds later, Marvin had left the classroom.

 

*

     Raines had several difficult adjustments to make in Marvin’s delicate machinery. The increased physical workload placed on the android had overtaxed the joints in his legs. For a week, Marvin had been unable to properly use his right leg, and when he did, it made a terrible metallic scraping noise.

Powell had threatened to chuck the robot, but Raines had promised to correct the problem. He was forced to take a personal day without pay to do so.

“How have you been, Marvin?” Raines asked cheerfully. He had removed the offending leg and proceeded to give it a brief chemical bath to cleanse away the grime caked in the joints.

“Excluding the inoperative status of the appendage you are repairing, I am functioning at average levels of efficiency,” the android responded. His voice, normally ranging in tone, was now monotonous and even.

Raines winced at the sound, gripping his spanner a little tighter. “We miss you in our discussions during the biology lessons.”

Marvin was silent; his head dipped and what passed for his chin tapped gently against his chest.

“Been doing any thinking lately?” Raines queried, desperately trying to ignite a conversation like they had in the past.

“I have run several models on the likely growth patterns of the landscaped shrubbery in the front fields. I think they are accurate given my observations of their previous growth and meteorological forecasts.”

Raines sighed, and began scouring the dirty appendage. He remained quiet during the rest of their time together.

Once he reattached the leg and checked that it was working properly, he helped the android up from its seated position.

Marvin trundled silently away towards his duties for the day.

Raines clenched his jaw tightly, trying to ignore the sudden blurring of the tears obstructing his view. After a moment, he turned off the lights in the shed and slammed its door home.

 

*

On a pleasant afternoon, a week after Raines had repaired Marvin’s faulty leg, the children were exceptionally loud with happiness. Several of the instructors came out of their classrooms to watch the orphans play. The sun played off the water of the pond, and the birdsong intermingled with the giggling joy of youth. It was a perfect day.

It had been many weeks since Marvin had come down to watch them play in the pond. They splashed water at each other and played underwater games as the android looked on from its position at the edge of the dock. Its mechanical legs swung slightly over the water as it sat there.

Instructor Raines was in his shed, working and diligently studying diagrams on a shielding interface for Marvin’s core systems. He had spent weeks to find a customizer who could help him with the complicated upgrade. It was going to be a surprise for Marvin and Raines hoped it would cheer the android up.

Down at the pond, Marvin’s lifeless optical receivers recorded the movements of the children as it imperceptibly inched its body closer to the edge of the dock.

Instructor Thomas appeared in the doorway of the shed and knocked politely. Raines looked up and nodded at him.

“I don’t mean to be a pest,” Thomas began, “but your robot has been a bit of an irritation to me lately.”

“Oh?” Raines remarked with surprise. “What has he been doing?”

“Frankly, it’s been asking too many questions.”

Raines chuckled and went back to his studying. “He’s a vocational android. They’re meant to be inquisitive. They’re programmed to learn and then teach what they have learned.”

“Well, it’s not been taught properly, then. I’d appreciate it if you’d just instruct it not to enter my classroom again.”

Raines looked over at his colleague, confused. “I don’t have control over him any more than you do, Thomas. What kind of questions has he been asking you?”

On the dock, Marvin’s body tipped slightly forward and the wood creaked, then it rocked back.

“It’s been awfully morbid, asking about heaven and hell, death, suicide. At first I thought it would be an isolated event, but he keeps coming back. I know several others that say he’s been asking questions along the same lines. Just what sort of robot have you got working here anyway?”

Raines’s eyes moved past Thomas’s shoulder and he could see Marvin on the dock with the children. The children seemed awfully happy to have their companion back.

“He has a logical mind, Thomas. He can’t comprehend farcical deities and mystic rituals. He operates on fact,” Raines stated matter-of-factly. “If he can’t piece together a concept based on what you’ve given him to work with, he’ll keep asking until he can, or until some outside influence changes his perception.”

Thomas turned slightly red. “Perhaps this isn’t the sort of orphanage for a robot like that–”

Raines’s eyes squinted slightly as they watched the robot on the dock.

“–or people like that. Its obsession with the children going to heaven and being happy has just become tiresome and I–”

Thomas’s words faded out and Raines’s eyes went wide as everything clicked together.

Thomas was in mid-sentence when Raines leaped from his seat and bowled him over. The world moved in slow motion as Raines sprinted through the high grass.

Marvin’s body leaned over the water again and this time did not tip back to the safety of the dock.

“Marvin!” a voice screamed over the fields, echoing off the hard brick of the orphanage in the distance.

Marvin’s body slid off the dock and into the water with only a whisper of a splash.

It took a few seconds, but the water found the nooks and crannies in Marvin’s mechanical body.

A boy floated in front of Marvin, his face a masterpiece of elation and joy at seeing his friend finally join them in the pond.

Marvin wished, for the first time in his existence, not that he was alive, but simply that he had a mouth to smile with.

As Marvin died, black-eyed angels swam with him.

###

Pushing Daisy

The building was small and unmarked. When Rolo had first been contracted to perform services for Ulysses Robotics, he had difficulty finding the location.

As he had numerous times since then, Rolo entered the door at the front of the building and waited in the small room just inside it.

Some might consider it a room, but to Rolo it was a closet. He was unable to raise his arms to the side, and if he were to happen to faint, he would hit the wall in front of him before he hit the floor.

A green light switched on in the corner of the room and Rolo knew from experience not to look directly at it.

*

“What’s the difference?” Rolo asked the diminutive technician before him. The Ulysses employee was dressing what appeared to be a teenage girl in front of him; he snapped his fingers and the girl raised her arms.

Rolo didn’t flinch when the technician removed the non-descript shirt it was wearing, revealing pale naked flesh beneath.

“Base assumed you’ve been keeping up with the industry,” the technician said. He snapped a bubble of chewing gum as he did his job.

“I haven’t,” Rolo admitted.

“The difference is significant,” the technician said, pulling a new t-shirt over the girl. This new piece of clothing had a genial panda on its front. Again, he snapped his gum and Rolo visibly flinched. “If you’d read the manifest you’d know that. I’d suggest you study it.”

“It looks like any other I’ve seen,” Rolo stated. The girl’s eyes stared straight ahead and did not blink.

“This isn’t the unit I’m talking about. You’re taking two on this trip.” Snap, snap.

“Well, would you be so kind as to elaborate on the difference between one droid and another?” Rolo asked impatiently, clinching his fists.

“There’s a DataNode on the table just there,” the technician gestured. “You can read it on your flight. And don’t forget the manifest. There’s special instructions on this delivery.”

Snap.

“I don’t read.”

Snap.

“Then it will be difficult to continue in this line of work,” the technician said.

“What I meant to say is that I don’t care,” Rolo replied. “And if you snap that gum one more time, I’m going to punch you in the face.”

*

As his plane touched down, the guard named Rolo mused upon his choice of career.

After sixty-three successful contracts, Rolo had seen and experienced more than most people would in a lifetime. As a professional guard, he was contracted to escort and deliver high-quality androids made at the Ulysses Robotics home office in Osaka to their purchasers on and off the planet Earth.

Rolo half-listened to the feed playing on his DataNode:

Ulysses shipments of their newest therapy droids have reached record levels. The latest advance in reactive therapeutic intelligence, Ulysses therapy models have become overwhelmingly popular due to their impressive reactionary communication skills, which as the number of interactions with their masters increase, begin to evolve the droid’s social interface into a near-human personality. Dr. Housenberg, the advanced intelligence engineer who pioneered the Reaction Tables that bear his name, has been pleased with the first rollout of the new models, but has faced increasing scrutiny as more reports of unpredictable droid behavior, a result of the open programming –

Rolo switched the DataNode off and slipped it back into his threadbare pack, one he loathed to replace.

“Should I have ordered a drink to seem more human?”

The question came from Daisy, the more advanced unit in his charge, and Rolo set to grinding his teeth in response. The teen unit had been a mannie, a unit programmed only with basic locomotion. It was an easy assignment, the type Rolo preferred. Daisy was fully programmed and had talked most of the flight to Amsterdam before Rolo finally asked her not to speak to him until they landed in Dallas.

“It doesn’t matter, and I don’t care what you do,” he snapped at her. He craned his neck over her to look out the window and see how much longer they would be taxiing. Rolo had never been to the airport in Dallas, so was unable to determine anything from the layout of the terminals and the direction they were rolling. He preferred the Amsterdam airport, where he had dropped off the easy part of his current job.

Rolo casually chewed the gum he used on flights. On a whim, he folded it over itself and snapped it.

With a dissatisfied grunt, he spat the gum onto the floor under the seat in front of him.

The majority of the airliners trundling about the tarmac were newer Avery HyFusion A12 models. Rolo would be taking one of these supersonic jets to New York to pick up a return before getting on an older model A7 jet to cross the Atlantic back to Germany.

“Should I not speak to you?” Daisy asked. Her eyelids blinked silently over her green eyes three times before she added, “It’s only that you said not to speak to you until we reached Dallas, and now we’ve arrived.” With a casual and very human movement, she combed her auburn hair behind her ear and regarded him with what could only be described as a look of concern.

Rolo glanced at her before tearing his eyes away to regard the older-model plastic droid moving down the aisle unlocking everyone’s seat restraints. Plastics he could deal with, but this Daisy just really set him on edge.

“Talk all you want. I don’t care,” he said away from her. “You’ll be gone in a few minutes. Go nuts.”

“Do you think Mr. Hinsdale will find me acceptable?” she asked him as she nervously crossed and uncrossed the first and middle fingers on both hands, a habit nearly as irritating as her blinking.

“He’d better,” replied Rolo, pressing his lips into a line. The plastic in the aisle was taking way too long. “I’ve only got one ticket to New York, so you’re stuck here if he doesn’t take you.”

*

     “She’s completely wrong,” Hinsdale explained. “What more do you need to hear from me?”

Rolo busied himself by scrolling through the manifest a third time. He had been in this situation so many times that he had the routine down. Ulysses wasn’t perfect – sometimes orders got screwed up.

This wasn’t the worst reaction Rolo had seen. The withered old man before him was barely raising his voice. Daisy was a leisure purchase, not like some of the labor droids he escorted. Her absence wasn’t holding up terraforming or asteroid mining. Regardless, Rolo knew he wasn’t going to get rid of this droid easily.

“Hmm,” Rolo politely stalled, scanning information on both the DataNode and the manifest. “Yes, it appears the documentation is correct. Unit 738294QZ-HIN.” He checked the barely visible unit tag on the nape of Daisy’s neck. “Same here.”

Hinsdale shook his head, a momentary look of sadness glazing his eyes before he sighed and said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Rolo. I cannot accept her.”

The old man pulled a wrinkled photograph from the inside pocket of his weathered coat. Silently he held it out for Rolo to take. Curious, Rolo took the relic from him. A stunningly beautiful woman looked back at him, one that looked nothing like Daisy.

“My wife,” Hinsdale said softly. “She died thirty years ago. I took that picture with an old film camera we bought at an antique store. I’m surprised it’s lasted so long.”

“She’s very beautiful,” Rolo said, and he meant it.

“It’s odd, but I have thousands of digital photos of her, and none of them make her seem as real as that. She meant very much to me. So, you can see why I cannot take this droid.”

Rolo looked at Daisy and then the photograph. “Honestly, this is the worst bungle I’ve seen Ulysses make. They look nothing alike.”

Daisy remained silent during the exchange, looking in turn at both of the men as they spoke to each other.

Rolo gazed at the photograph a few more seconds, strangely feeling as if the woman was looking back at him.

Handing it back to Hinsdale, Rolo politely relented. “I’m sorry, Mr. Hinsdale. It seems we’ve wasted your time today. Can I call an aircar for you?”

Hinsdale smiled. “I prefer to drive myself. Like the photo, it feels more real.”

As the old man turned and departed, Rolo looked over the paperwork again, shaking his head. “I should probably upload your full specs and run them against this manifest.”

“That is not necessary,” Daisy stated. “During your conversation, I checked the original order myself through uplink to Ulysses. I have also filed a refusal of delivery claim. You should call Osaka to complete to the process.”

Rolo’s anger flared a moment. “I don’t need a droid to do my job for me. Just shut up and start looking pretty. I might need to push you off on another buyer.”

Daisy blinked. Thirteen point four seconds later she blinked again.

*

“We thank you for delivering the secondary unit, Mr. Rolo; however, we either need a fingerscan for 70,000 credits to show up on our records by tomorrow, or we need Daisy back in Osaka in mint condition.”

“It’s not my fault Hinsdale didn’t take her,” Rolo barked at the voice on the other side of the phone. “He said she was wrong. That’s your problem. I’m not under contract for returns here.”

People milled about the passenger drop-off, carrying their luggage, looking lost until their rides arrived. Daisy stood awkwardly among the moving crowd, staring at her escort as he made his phone call in the small semi-private combooth. Rolo himself was losing focus as the movement of people began to distract him. He wanted off this call and on to a bar where he could relax.

“Your contract states that in the event of refusal of delivery, you are liable for the return of the unit back to us. Have you made any adjustments to the unit’s programming, or altered her appearance in any way since picking her up?” the voice on the other line inquired.

“I wouldn’t even know where to begin. She looks just like she did when I picked her up.”

Rolo failed to mention to mention the photo, even though it was at the forefront of his mind. The distraction of his surroundings was causing him to halfway tune out his employers.

“Mr. Rolo, are you certain the unit has not changed in appearance since you received her in Osaka?”

“Auburn hair, green eyes, blinks every seven seconds,” Rolo stated impatiently, banging his head against the booth. “I think I’d notice if that had changed.”

“We either need a fingerscan for –“

“I know that! My problem is I have a job in New York tomorrow night and I don’t have a ticket for this bot. I’d have to foot the ticket myself and I don’t have the credits,” Rolo lied. He had the funds – he just wanted free of this droid.

“You will not take Daisy with you to New York. You will promptly book a flight directly back to Osaka for both of you. If we do not receive her back within 72 hours, we will pull the 70,000 credits from your broker directly,” the voice demanded. Its tone was becoming less monotone and increasingly angry.

Rolo pleaded, “Can’t I get a local guard from Dallas to take care of her? My broker has connections here.”

“We do not have approved guard contacts in that area, Mr. Rolo,” the voice stated flatly.

“I know this guy, an old friend of mine –“

“We will see you in Osaka in 72 hours, Mr. Rolo.”

The line went dead.

*

Daisy did not protest when the prospective buyer, a weasel-faced man with greased hair, began squeezing various parts of her body.

“What’s your fluid situation?” the man asked her, roughly grabbing her waist and pinching the skin there.

“My saliva comes in three flavors: Morning, Smoker, and Mint,” Daisy replied. Rolo looked on from the other side of the table. “My other fluids are as close to the real thing as possible.”

“Sex bot?” the man queried.

“I have been engineered with that option,” Daisy said. “Level Seven realism.”

The man whistled in awe. “What’s your main function?”

“Therapy droid. I can simulate a beneficial emotional response for a number of different stimuli according to Housenberg’s Reaction Tables.”

“Not a companion droid,” the man stated rather than asked Rolo. “Unusual for a non-companion to have the sex feature, unless it’s a fetish request. You know, affair with the shrink and all. I bet she’s damned expensive. ”

“Hinsdale wasn’t the type,” Rolo said. “From what I could gather before he backed out of the deal, Daisy was supposed to be a copy of his dead wife – a very successful psychologist who smoked.”

“How’d she die?” the man asked.

“How should I know? I didn’t have time to sift through the guy’s closets right there at the terminal,” Rolo snapped. “I just saw a photograph.”

“Fine. With specs like this, I don’t care. I’ve wanted to get my hands on a therapy droid. Never thought I’d see one with sex features.” Rolo was beginning to get irritated with the man. “Of course, with all I’ve been hearing about therapy droids, I ought to be more suspicious. I heard that one even manipulated his master into-“

“70,000 credits,” Rolo said, already knowing the reaction.

The man stood up without a word and walked away, a reaction that had been repeated four times previously since Rolo had started to try and push Daisy to a buyer.

*

Of all the nights Rolo could have been stuck with a droid he couldn’t push, it just had to be St. Patrick’s Day.

With a grimace, he threw back the cheap scotch on the rocks and ordered another.

On the barstool next to him, Daisy was drinking a green beer.

“This beverage is not naturally green,” she stated. “I believe it contains artificial colors.”

“No kidding?” said Rolo sarcastically.

“I wonder what effect the food coloring will have on my waste gel reservoir,” Daisy asked to no one in particular. “Bartender, can I have an empty glass please?”

The bartender handed her a highball glass and leaned aside to Rolo.

“We normally don’t allow them at the bar,” he warned. “But seeing as how she’s so realistic, I reckon we’ll let it slip. Okay?”

Rolo nodded his imaginary gratitude.

Daisy reached under her blouse and procured a small plastic tube. She shut her eyes for second and a thick dark red substance ran out of the tube and into the highball glass she held up to its end.

“Jesus, that looks like blood,” Rolo said in disgust.

“Normally, it is an orange hue,” Daisy explained. “The green beer is affecting its color. Orange juice has the same effect sometimes.”

Most modern droids could simulate food and liquid intake. Their pseudo-digestive systems would extract whatever tiny amount of fuel it could from whatever was eaten or imbibed and the waste became a thick gel that could be released safely into any wastewater system.

Daisy set the glass of her waste on the bar and two young men seated on the other side of her from Rolo promptly got up and left.

The bartender shot Rolo an angry look and pointed to the door.

Realizing she had worn out her welcome at the bar, Daisy quickly stood up.

“Let me have the key to your room. I will go there and wait for you. I should be safe. You should enjoy yourself.”

“You’re not staying in my room,” Rolo stated gruffly. “You’ve got your own.”

Impatiently, Rolo pulled the extra pass key from his pocket and tossed it at her. With lightning quick reflexes, Daisy snatched the key out of the air and slipped it away out of sight.

“While I am aware that it is against your agreement with your employer to leave me unattended, I understand that you hold a certain grudge against androids, and will agree to sleep separately from you.”

Rolo didn’t acknowledge her statement and took a long drink from the glass of scotch he had just been served.

“I’ve been accessing your records and I notice that your great-grandfather was jailed for leading a sect of anti-droid terrorists during the AI riots several decades ago. I understand that often the core beliefs of these groups grew from resentment that robots had taken jobs away from humans. I find it true that sometimes the illogical fears and hatreds of one generation can pass down through the next without reason – even lacking sufficient provocation or indoctrination from society or one’s family. Perhaps this irrational distrust comes from –“

Rolo left his barstool and grabbed Daisy’s blouse. Twisting sharply, he threw the android roughly against the bar and spat in her face.

“Stay out of my files, and stay out of my life,” Rolo growled at her.

The fist that connected with Rolo’s head came from the side. Reeling, he let go of Daisy just as another fist struck his jaw from the other side. Three patrons had come to defend Daisy, and proceeded to drag Rolo roughly from the establishment.

Daisy followed the group nervously as they passed through the shocked whispers of the crowd.

“Are you okay, ma’am?” one of her rescuers asked once they were outside.

“I am an android,” she explained. “He is my protector.”

“I know that,” the man replied. “That doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to be respected just as equally as any human.

“Thank you,” Daisy replied curtly. Her attention was on Rolo, who had extricated himself from the two other patrons and was now walking away from the bar, down the crowded sidewalk of revelers.

“Can I call someone for you?” the man pressed, genuinely concerned for her. Daisy noted the way his eyes fell to her body more often than they turned to look her in the eye.

“That is unnecessary,” Daisy replied, and walked swiftly to catch up to Rolo.

Looking over his shoulder, Rolo noticed her following and stopped.

“Go back to the hotel,” Rolo said wearily. “I’d like to get properly drunk now.”

“May I accompany you?” Daisy begged, using her voice to try and subtly influence his decision.

Rolo contemplated the request for a second. He almost began to form an apology in his mind when a young college-age female sauntered past him and smiled at him. His contemplation and impending apology were stopped short.

“I want to be alone,” he replied and walked away.

If Daisy had been a labor model droid, the people passing her by would have been able to see the flashes in her positronic brain as her synthetic neural nets reconfigured, adapting to her experiences. She had remained in a neutral, non-reactive state since Rolo had picked her up in Osaka, but shortly after Hinsdale had refused her, she had silently switch over to active therapy mode, using the data she had already gathered on Rolo to formulate the appropriate responses.

In the short time she had spent with Rolo since the activation of her primary functions, the android was already developing what in human terms might be observed as “feelings” for him.

Daisy watched him continue down the sidewalk and disappear around a corner. She blinked her eyes several times as she considered what to do.

Reaching into a small compartment hidden away beneath her blouse, she removed a small wad of gum from it. She rolled the gum between her fingers, allowing the small sensors there to register its surface, the cracks and particulate food materials trapped there, an impression of one of Rolo’s teeth. After a moment, she tucked it away again. She stared blankly ahead of her briefly before walking away. As she navigated her way through the increasingly rowdy crowd, she observed several hungry glances from drunken males who had surreptitiously begun to follow her.

Daisy recognized the intention of the group of men was to rape her before they even made a move to corner her. She then attempted to counteract that occurrence.

*

The woman Rolo took back to his room was aggressive beyond his experience. His shy and clumsy attempts to woo her back to his hotel room were met with the girl’s automatic usurping of his control.

The blur of alcohol slowly drawing curtains over his consciousness was swiftly cast away and the fierceness of the girl’s attack once they locked his hotel room door was like the sun suddenly hitting the bare ground of a landscape that had been buried under ice for a decade.

She clawed his back and bit wicked tattoos into his flesh as she directed his body into the positions she desired. He quickly reached the pinnacle of his physical tolerance, but she dragged him along further into the experience like a troglodytic human dragging its prey into a deep, dark lair of bones.

Again and again he felt near death, only to be resurrected like a phoenix from his charred and burnt-out flesh and revived with her passions.

Finally, he fell into a deep sleep and dreamed of the woman in Hinsdale’s photograph.

*

When he opened his eyes the next morning and felt an arm draped over his chest, he smiled to himself. For once, he felt okay with a one night stand ending with two people still in the bed in the morning. For Rolo, it was a rare thing.

He turned to regard the lovely thing he had managed to coerce back to his room the night before.

It was Hinsdale’s dead wife’s face that looked back at him. After seven seconds, she blinked.

Rolo screamed and backpedalled out of the bed and onto the floor. He backed himself against the wall and looked upon the naked android in horror.

The android smiled at him seductively.

Daisy lithely slipped off the mattress and into a burgundy-colored robe that had been tossed on the armchair near the bed. As she did so, her flesh rippled – her eyes grew slightly larger, the size of her breasts decreased, and her hair turned from dark brown to auburn. She had reverted back to the form she had taken when he picked her up from Osaka.

“Why didn’t Hinsdale take you?” Rolo demanded. “Better yet, why the hell weren’t you in the form he expected?”

“I have the ability to change my features.”

“You tricked me!” Rolo accused. His flesh turned mottled and red as his blood pressure rose.

“I gave you an opportunity to leave a part of yourself behind,” she said coyly as she seductively padded over to him. “I killed a man last night, Rolo.”

She pressed her hands against his chest and he instantly felt himself reacting just as he had the night before. It was against his will and he fought it, but her touch and her voice were soothing.

“I’m no different than any female you’ve slept with. You didn’t know the difference then, but now you fight a useless battle with revulsion.”

Rolo was trembling and within his mind he was locked in a fierce combat between that revulsion and rising ecstasy.

“Jesus,” Rolo panted. “You killed someone?”

“It would have been more, but the others fled. He tried to rape me, and I defended myself. Haven’t you killed before? Colonial Rangers don’t exist that don’t have blood on their hands.”

The smile playing across her lips was more human that Rolo wanted to imagine. It read just like cheap fiction – casual sex and violence.

“Do you know the most amazing feature of therapy droids, Rolo? We observe you, yes, but more than that, we reprogram ourselves to mimic you. It makes us more human,” she said, pressing her lips against his neck.

Rolo shook his head, but he felt a part of himself give up, the possibilities burning away his fears and distrust.  That same part was slowly gaining dominance in his consciousness and he giggled with the thought of so perfect a thing being given to him. His mind continuously flashed back to what he had experienced with her through the night.

Blaring warning sirens echoed through his mind. The contents of the DataNode flashed into his mind as if he was just reading them, just truly understanding what he had skimmed before.

Therapy droids could behave unpredictably, mimicking humans, and this one had just had a full taste of rejection, hatred, jealousy, murder, and sex, all in one night.

Something snapped within him.

Something switched all the anger off, and slowly he began to feel a sense of serenity as he stared back at Daisy. She performed to her specifications as she was expected to.

With a final exhalation of surrender he kissed her and tasted the smokiness of the night before. His hands pressed her against him and the passionate force of the embrace brought him to tears. They fell to the floor together and did not rise from the carpet for several hours.

*

“Your accounts have been frozen. While we understand her appearance at the proposed time of transfer may have been different than the specifications the buyer was expecting, you were given details as to Daisy’s model and all of her abilities. You should have been aware. We find it hard to believe that Daisy would have willing deceived her buyer, so we can only assume you have engineered this event for your own purposes.”

Rolo just listened with grim acceptance.

“We registered the seal being broken during the night and, since no funds have been transferred as we have requested, the funds have been extracted from your broker’s accounts. Your broker is now in conference with the police to track you down to pay the 70,000 credits through forced labor in incarceration.”

Rolo hung up the phone.

Rolo silently looked out from the balcony attached to his room on the thirty-seventh floor of the hotel. Rolo thought to himself that he felt suddenly empty and emotionless. He understood why Daisy thought she could see a change. All noise was off now. Cars flitted back and forth along the avenues beneath him. Occasionally, a private air vehicle would gurgle past along the airlanes that only the richest people could afford to traverse. He would never be one of those people.

Behind him, he heard the odd watery sound she made when she changed her appearance, but he did not look at her.

Silently, he turned away and walked past her and back through the sliding glass door into the room.

Daisy remained on the balcony and sipped her orange juice casually. She didn’t register the taste of it. She didn’t feel the coolness as it slid down the plastic tubing that led through her waste processor and into her waste gel reservoir.  She didn’t feel sympathy for the humans too poor to afford air vehicles whizzing by in front of her, or too wrapped up in their repetitive and pointless lives to live a meaningful existence.

The hands on her back – expected hands – were nothing more than data to her, recorded, analyzed.

Her central processor was able to record one final observation into her permanent memory before she didn’t feel the impact of her naked android body against the concrete, thirty-seven floors below Rolo’s balcony.

A substance not unlike blood ran from her broken body.

A short time later, it mingled with real thing.

###