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.”
“I don’t read.”
“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.