Adam folds the rope, slides his fingers along to the bight, then positions the client’s wrists approximately three inches apart and starts to loop the rope over and over, careful not to cover any strand with any other, easy and smooth. In a quick databurst, he registers that the client’s breathing has sped up and their body temperature has risen. He presses the index finger of his right hand to the base of their wrist and checks their blood pressure. Then he dials down his skin sensors, even though he isn’t really supposed to, because the fabric of the prison uniform is so damn rough that his usual point-oh-one-second sensory databurst is using valuable battery power to process. Luckily, this client wanted a immovable top, so he isn’t detracting from their pleasure by decreasing his own reactions to sensation – that's inner-core programming and he can’t violate it. But he can work around it. He doubles the rope over and under the bridge between their wrists, and cinches. The client lets out a breath.
"Oh, you like that," murmurs Adam, drawing from his stock scripts. He usually improvises – he’s designed to be able to improvise – but today he’s saving power, working from a base script and making only the tiniest alterations and workarounds to minimize his physical activity, because he's coming to the end of a battery cycle, but he can't wait for his next charge-up. The memory-wipers are coming tomorrow, and he's running out of time. He's got to do it today.
"I’m going to teach you a lesson you won’t forget."
"Yeah," the client moans. He’s a new client, a businessman, in need of a little stress relief. Adam doesn’t know what he does for a living exactly; he’d like to know, but he isn’t allowed to ask, unless the client wants to chat, and even if he does, Adam won't be allowed to keep the memory for long. Adam pulls out another length of rope from the chest, folds it, shows it to the client. No handcuffs for this guy; he specified rope. Prison guards don’t usually use rope, and even that would be too much of a script violation for most bots. That’s why they pay for Adam. He can adapt.
"Please, no," the client breathes.
"Whine all you like, bitch," Adam says automatically, as he dials up, checks the circulation on the ankle pulse point, dials down again. "I’m going to have some fun with you before I hand you over to the boys in Cell Block Eight."
The client pants and keens, his tight curly hair glistening with sweat. Adam finishes the last overhand tie.
"Do they –" the guy gulps, and says, "Do they make you strong? Like, could you hold me down?"
Adam has to pull out some higher processes to deal with the break in script, and he can't feel anything a human would recognise as anxiety, but he’s watching the internal gauge which shows his remaining battery life way more closely than there’s any point in doing. He debates whether to give the guy his specs; then he realizes that that’s not what the client wants. He’s still in-script - most prison guards are bots now, of course, and so that's Adam in this scenario. It’s not like he’s going to point out to the guy that it’s totally illogical for his prison rape fantasy to feature a securibot because of how a) they’re programmed to use only minimal restraining and deterrent force, mostly of the electrical pulse kind, and b) they don’t have functional genitalia.
"Oh, they make me strong, sweetheart," Adam purrs. "I could throw you across the room if I wanted. I can bend you in half like a pretzel and fuck you into next week."
The guy’s head falls back down. And Adam perhaps does feel something a human would recognise as pleasure. He's made to. And this feels so good.
"Show me," the client breathes. Shit. Shit. He really can’t ignore what the client wants, because it's what he wants, that's how he's wired. But he can't spare the power to really throw the guy around right now. He has to find a workaround.
He says, "You don’t make the rules here." The guy moans. Adam threads the spare loops over the diametric opposite bedposts, then runs his hand up the guy’s inside leg. He shivers against Adam’s hand.
"Don’t pretend like you don’t want this, you little bitch," Adam says. He unzips his fly, and the client moans into the crappy prison pillow. Then he runs the scene through a power depletion algorithm, and decides to use the nightstick instead.
"You want my dick in you?" he says. "I don’t fuck meat prisoners. You want a machine, you get cold, hard metal in your ass."
"Oh, yeah," breathes the client. Adam grabs the nightstick-shaped-dildo from the box, and the lube. He checks his power levels again, and goes to work.
Grant was top of his class at MIT in electronic engineering, and has a second BA he got while on a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford University in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. He has a Master's degree in intelligent cybernetic systems, and another on the use of Artificial Intelligence in public policy (with a focus on federal investment); a doctorate from Harvard on preference formation in astrological observation AIs, with a research fellowship from the Asimov Foundation with an ongoing mandate to research robot personality development.
The day after his PhD thesis defence, he's exhausted, borderline-malnourished and has barely seen the sun for a month, and he's got to catch the red-eye to LA for a morning interview with the chair of the US research department of Mythcorp. Tory throws him a party in their apartment; he and Rani make Grant a cake that says, "Congratulations, Dr. Grant! We know you're only in it for the sexbots."
"I'll miss you when you sell out, buddy," Tory mutters later as Grant waits for his cab, his dry-cleaned suit in its plastic packaging sliding precariously down his arm. "Luck, okay?"
"I have never had sex with a robot," Grant insists, swaying against Tory's arm. He really isn't that drunk, he's only had one beer, or maybe three, but it seems really important that he make this absolutely clear. Tory slumps on him, and Grant shoves back. Tory makes a sad noise. "I would never have, have sex with anyone who wasn't intellectually and, and em-motionally developed enough to decide if they wanted to have sex with me -"
"That's why you're a virgin," Tory sniggers, and suddenly they overbalance and they're both sitting on the sidewalk.
"I just want my sexual partners to be free," Grant says earnestly, and Tory cackles even more.
"Not like that! Like - free like -"
"Like the wind, man," Tory says. "Like the birds, and the trees, and the unicorns -"
"Dude, fuck you, I'm serious!" Grant's voice cracks, and a car pulls up in front of them. He looks up at it, puzzled. Oh, it's the cab.
"You are so drunk." Tory stands up, wheeling in Grant's peripheral vision, and tugs Grant upright by the shoulders. "Go get 'em, robot-guy. Make beautiful robot friends."
The next morning (or maybe it's the afternoon, Grant isn't even sure anymore), he's in an office in San Francisco, trying not to wince at the piercing sunlight reflecting off a tabletop into his eyes. The guy interviewing him is wearing a suit that probably cost more than Grant's entire doctoral grant; he works for Mythcorp, the company at the absolute cutting edge, with research departments working on proprietary systems that won't hit even the military market for another five years, and Grant is trying to answer all the questions intelligently and not babble hysterically about how he would sell his soul just to get his foot in the door, when the guy asks asks him, "Have you ever had sex with a robot?"
Grant blinks, swallows, and wonders if it's a trick question. The guy looks absolutely serious. He says, "No. I wouldn't - I don't - no, sir."
The guy takes a pen and writes something on his pad, which is hidden from Grant's view. A crease has appeared between his eyes, not quite a frown, but it looks like it's nearly a frown, and oh god, Grant can't mess this up.
"Do you have a problem with people who have sex with robots?"
Grant hesitates. He really does. But he thinks that's the wrong answer. "No?" he says. The guy's forehead clears. Grant breathes a sigh of relief.
Once, back when Jamie was living in New York, when he was horny and a little drunk, he logged into the website of a place with bots, filled in the form and paid the deposit. He even made the appointment. He didn't have to talk to anyone, which was why, when it asked him what gender he wanted, he only hesitated a few seconds before he ticked the box 'male'. They all cost the same, and mostly all looked the same; they had different skin colours and hair colours and looked different ages, but were all kind of good looking in an obvious way, like models in a Sears catalogue. He wound up picking a guy out from the photos on their website who reminded him of a kid in his linguistics lab in college. Jonathan. There was an introductory video on the bot's profile which he clicked on, thinking it would be sexy or something, but it wasn't. He was wearing a t-shirt and jeans, and he looked into the camera and smiled and said, "Hi. I'm Matthew." Jamie watched it several times.
He meant to go; he spent the whole day with his palms sweating, watching the clock. But he didn't leave his apartment. When he looked up and found he'd missed the appointment by an hour, he was confused, annoyed with himself, but mostly relieved. He told himself it was because the whole thing was stupid; that he didn't want to pay for sex, he didn't need to get laid that badly. But it was the video that had made the whole idea go from something that made him feel sick and hot and wanting to something that made him feel just anxious. If he hadn't known, he would never have been able to tell it wasn't a person.
Adam presents as a white male, about thirty-two years old. He’s a Myth 3700A model, built in their facility in Shenzhen, China. Adam doesn’t have a circulatory system, but his skin contains billions of minute secretory apertures which control the chromatics of his outer skin, and also, when struck with a certain amount of force, manufacture and release a sterile red fluid (internal condensation collected from his cooling systems plus a thickener and red hypoallergenic dye) that looks a lot like blood. Adam has a fully realized male-type-7 musculature, articulated joints, fingernails, toenails, three self-repairing epidermal layers, hair and freckles. He's not beautiful; he looks like an ordinary guy. He's meant to.
His physical makeup and facial structure were designed after extensive market research; he's one of a limited range of lines for the lucrative sexual recreation market, each model physically unique and appealing to a slightly different demographic. Adam was picked off the line by his particular buyer because of his skin tone (which is ideal for showing marks), because he looks vaguely blue-collar (which tested well with his clients), and because he's big enough to hold someone down while still being slight enough to plausibly sub for the types who don't like subs they can't physically handle.
Unlike ninety-three percent of all bots registered by the state, corporations or private owners in the United States, Adam is legally sentient. His intelligence system is shared by all Myth models 1.C onward, and is modelled directly on the human brain; designed by Dr. Tadashi Fukada of Waseda University, Japan, it contains living, genetically modified lamprey cells - Adam's only biological component - which give the bearer the ability to make new neuron connections, to develop independently in response to new stimuli. On top of the extensive set of social scripts programmed into all bots destined for sex work or companionship, Adam has creativity, imagination, the ability to draw on his considerable memory banks to gain insight into situations as they arise, and to form his own conclusions and solutions to problems. His brain – like those of the robots designed for childcare and military simulation training – has the ability to learn. A large part of his processing power is turned over to sensory input and the operation of his nervous infrastructure, so that he can feel and respond to physical sensation.
Adam is not programmed to have emotions or even preferences. There’s a growing body of anecdotal evidence for the development of likes and dislikes in sentient bots if their memory banks are left unwiped for longer periods of time, and even evidence for the development of what could reasonably be called a personality, but there has yet to be an in-depth study launched. The technology is still so new, and the money is all going into researching its adaptability and reapplicability, mostly in the area of medical and cosmetic biological interfacing, and into finding cheaper, recyclable, reusable, mass-production labour alternatives. Nobody wants to research and design robots that could teach themselves to say no.
Adam cost more than two luxury cars. Which is why he’s mostly only for rent.
Three seconds after the client finishes coming on the sheets and relaxes with a loud groan, the three seconds it takes Adam to drag his attention away from the flood of pleasure through his own neural cortex, Adam steals the client's wallet. There's only forty dollars in there, but he pockets it anyway. He feels some of his processor activity die down as contingency plans he was working on become no longer necessary, a sensation that he figures is maybe like relief. He wasn't sure if he'd be able to go through with this bit, but when it comes to it, it's easier than he thought it would be; he's still in character as a corrupt and abusive prison guard, so it's easy to cheat himself into believing that taking the client's money and walking out is still part of the scene.
"Hey, what are you doing?" says the client.
"Keep your mouth shut, bitch," he says. Then he gags him so he can't use his safe-word, which would mean Adam would have to stop what he's doing. This client didn't negotiate a non-verbal sign, even though it says to do so on the application form; he was in a hurry. Not Adam's fault.
He digs deep in the toy box, under the daily equipment, and pulls out the full-body harness he made earlier from the good rope. He slips it over himself and secures the other end to the wrist bars on the far wall. Then he grabs the bag he prepared earlier, takes out his bolt cutters (for restraints, in case of a medical emergency), and starts opening the window. He's only four storeys up, and the street below seems pretty quiet. This is the best chance he's going to get. He ignores the client's muffled yells, and puts his foot on the window ledge.
Ten minutes later, he's walking along a busy pedestrian street in Manhattan. He's been outside three times before, but he was always walking at heel with his eyes on the sidewalk, and the world looks completely different when he's allowed to look above ankle-level. He isn't quite prepared for how big it is - the buildings are so high that even craning back he can't see their tops, and then he walks into people.
"Sorry," Adam mutters, and keeps walking. After experimenting, he finds he's mostly got a clear path if he walks close to the walls of the buildings and doesn't look up and around. He tries to construct a scenario in which a client is watching him walk down the street, but it's hard to maintain the fiction - where are they watching him from? What are they getting out of it? Are they excited by him escaping, because they're going to capture him? But he isn't going to be captured, he doesn't want to be. Should he act submissive, or daring? His power is draining down way faster than he thought it would; he's factored in the physical movement alone, and hadn't figured for just walking along a city street being so demanding on his processors. Shit.
He checks the map to the subway station that he downloaded. When he gets there, he stops outside, sits down on a bench (where there are a few other guys sitting and staring out into nothing, so he hopes he won't stand out) and settles into locating and deactivating his GPS-locator. It turns out that there aren't actually any defenses against him doing that, which at first he thinks is weird, and he's worried that he's missed something, but then it occurs to him that it was put there in case he was stolen - it must not have occurred to the people who made him that he might try to run away. It takes him less than two minutes to write the deactivation code and implement it. Then he stands up, and jogs down the stairs to catch the train he can feel rumbling underneath the surface of the street. The client had a metro pass in his wallet. Adam knows what that is; he learned about it from a TV show about the police. Just before the ticket barriers, he drops the client's credit cards in a trashcan. With any luck, someone will find them and use them, and anyone looking for him will waste time tracing the purchases. He saw that on a TV show too, about fugitives.
It's the busiest time of the day, so the commuters are packed tight together on the subway, and Adam is packed in with them. It's obvious from the context that it's impersonal touch, but he can feel hot, soft thighs and backs and arms pressed against his body, and he has to tell himself that he's been commanded not to respond. His processors struggle to deal with the stimuli, and balancing with the the swaying motion of the car. He has his collar folded up now to cover the proprietary barcode tattooed onto the nape of his neck, but has to shrink away from anyone who might be able to see it. He's got to get himself a scarf, or something else to cover it.
He gets up out of the subway, and the noise and brightness immediately hit him in the face again; he has to find somewhere dark and quiet, and power down until he can risk using the public power outlet without anyone asking him what the hell a human-passing bot in a prison uniform is doing out on its own in Manhattan. His map showed an outlet coming up on his left. He hopes it's one of the ones with a door that closes. He sees it. It is, and he has that sensation of processor activity quietening down again. He walks past it without changing pace, and one block on, he sees an alley that looks promising. He ducks into it and stops beside a dumpster, behind a building he guesses is a restaurant. Okay. It's dangerous, but better this than running out of power on the street. Here. Powering down.
At about eleven thirty that night, the streets are quietening down and the noise and bustle from the open back door of the restaurant starts to die down. He powers up cautiously. His proximity sensors had woken him once or twice; the first time, the guy had just kept walking past him, muttering, "Fucking drunks." The second time, it had been someone from the restaurant taking out the trash. He's got about ten minutes to spare when he gets into the power outlet, shuts the door, and plugs in with relief. He has a moment of panic when he gets to the interface and it asks for a password, but when he enters the generic Myth system password, it lets him through without a problem. While he powers up, he thinks through his next move. He saw several stores on his way here that were still open. He strips off the prison uniform, shoves it in the disposal unit, and dresses in the 'trucker' uniform he'd brought from the trunk. He tugs the gun dildo out of his pocket, and looks over it again. He thinks it looks realistic enough.
It's way easier than he thinks it will be to steal the money he needs. Adam has a 'holdup' script, so he just works from that. He knows, objectively, that what he's doing is theft, and is illegal. But he's already breaking the law by being out here, he really needs the money, and he doesn't have another way to get it; he could have sex with someone, of course, but he can't be sure of finding someone quickly enough with enough money. He walks into the convenience store, waves the gun dildo, dials up the volume of his voice a few notches, and tells everyone to get on the floor. There's actually only one other customer in there. He runs the dildo carefully down the neck of the owner while telling them to open the safe, just in case they do want him to fuck them, but the owner just opens the till with shaking hands - from fear, Adam guesses, not excitement, but that's okay, in this situation - and gives him the money in a plastic bag. Adam looks through it quickly and sees that it's about twice as much as the cost of the bus tickets; he considers giving half back, but then rationalizes that he doesn't have enough data to know exactly how much he'll need, so he just shoves it all in his pocket.
"Thank you," he says, then hears a police siren in the distance, and is so distracted that he automatically finishes the script with, "You can pick up your belongings from the front desk on the way out."
"What?" the owner says from the floor.
"We accept all forms of credit card, cheque with ID, cash, or online credit transfer," Adam adds. "If you are not fully satisfied with your experience -"
At that point he catches himself, forces himself to stop talking, and leaves. He's several blocks away by the time he hears the police siren die out into the distance again. It wasn't looking for him. By the time the police car that is looking for him comes by, Adam's on the subway again, and wearing a baseball cap he found on the sidewalk.
At Port Authority, he walks straight towards the counters that say 'TICKETS' above them, and takes the roll of bills out of his pocket, ready in his hand. The booths are staffed by people. He was hoping it would be bots, but he guesses they can't afford them here yet. He puts the notes down on the first counter that comes free. The girl stares at him. The neon lights reflect glossily off her skin.
"Can I help you?"
Adam, after a second's hesitation, picks up a script that he thinks'll fit closely enough for his purposes. He leans on the counter, forward towards her, and smiles.
"Hi," he says warmly. "I've really got to get to San Francisco. I'll do anything to get there."
"Uh huh," she says. "Cash or card?"
Adam slides the bills over. She looks at the pile of bills, and then at him. It's possible that Adam gave her too much. "Uh huh," she says at last. "Return?"
"No," Adam says, confused. He can tell she's upset, but he isn't sure what to do about it. "I've never been there."
"Good jesus," she mutters under her breath, then half-yells, "You want to go one way or you want a return? You want to just go there or you wanna come back too?"
"I don't want to come back," Adam says, sure, and glad to be able to give a clear answer. She just sighs, and grabs a few notes from the wad of dollars. The printer hums, she slides the ticket across the counter, and tells him when the next bus leaves. A return ticket, he realizes she meant. He adds the abbreviation to his dictionary.
"How long will it take?" Adam says.
She raises an eyebrow. "'Bout three days."
"Oh," says Adam. "Okay. This is a really big country."
"Uh huh," she says. "Make way for the next customer please, sir."
"No, wait." Adam restarts the script, leans over the counter, and smiles. "I really need to get to Seattle," he says. "I'll do anything to get there." He pushes the roll of bills over again. "I need a return."
About ten minutes later he walks away with the tickets to four different destinations in the US and Canada. He feels that that wasn't an unqualified success, but on the other hand, he has the tickets to San Francisco in his hand, six interconnected pieces of paper with the names of places on, and times. Cleveland, Chicago, Walcott JCT, Des Moines, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Coalinga JCT, San Francisco. He drops the other tickets in a trashcan; they were only meant to throw searchers off his trail. He saw that on a TV show too. His bus doesn't leave until 5.30am. He finds the gate with the number on his ticket, and sits down on one of the plastic seats, next to a guy with a beard and a big plastic bag, and opposite a pale girl with blonde hair and a backpack. He takes his tiny piece of paper out of his pocket, smooths out the creases, and reads the address on it again. He could just check his memory, of course, but looking at it makes him - well, maybe this isn't exactly accurate, but he guesses if he's going to pretend to be human all the way across the USA he should get used to talking the talk - it makes him feel better.
Four months earlier
"Keep still, you stupid piece of mechanical - " Carl curses, as Adam slips out of his grip again. Carl's the door guy, but he comes up to supervise the maintenance visits, in case there's any trouble. Adam's the only one who ever causes any. Carl takes the flipper out of his pocket and waves it at him. "You gonna make me use this again?"
Adam ducks under Carl's arm and nearly makes it out the door before he feels the diodes connect with the back of his neck, and he goes down. His vision fries for six point three seconds. Next thing he knows, he's watching Carl arrange his limbs in the chair. The flipper only deprives him of control over his movement for three to four minutes, so Carl and Dr. Khorasani move quickly and efficiently to get him strapped down as another guy stands back and watches, holding his little black kit. He's a young guy whose face isn't in Adam's memory banks, pale, dark hair, young-looking with fuzz on his chin. He's holding a clipboard, looking awkward.
"Hey, Bellecci," Dr. Khorasani grunts as she cuffs Adam's left hand. "Hold his damn feet still, will you?"
The young guy gets down on his knees and holds Adam's foot, which is twitching violently from the aftershocks. He looks up into Adam's face. Adam looks back at him helplessly.
"Are they always like this?" the guy says.
"No," Carl says. "Just this one. Fucking sents, man. They're more fucking trouble than they're worth. I worked three years with security bots, never a goddamned peep out of them."
"Holy shit, is he crying?"
"It's just the condensation reservoir. Flipper messes it up, makes the eye ducts leak. You ready?"
"Yeah," says Dr. Khorasani. "Yeah, let me get to his chest. Get his shirt open. Tory, you take over now."
By the time Adam's recovered from the flipper, the young guy's already opening his chest seam. Water runoff is still trickling out of the gutter ducts in the corners of his eyes, blurring the room.
"Please," Adam says, closing his eyes as more moisture trickles out through his eyelashes. "Please, please, please, don't do it to me, let me go -"
They're going to take it all away again. This month he learned how to tie seventeen new types of knots, how to make Carmina Pascal's orgasm last for over a minute, how to knit a sock in the round and convincingly arrest a suspect for a driving offence. Last month, apparently, he learned how to install bay windows, where to buy the best gelato in four different cities in Italy and how Paul Waczynski really, really likes to have his calves and ankles rubbed, but that it makes him fall asleep if Adam does it for more than ten minutes. But he only remembers any of that because it's written down in his book, in his handwriting, and dated a week before his last memory cache wipe. Who knows what he learned in that last week. They came before he was expecting them.
"Shit, can't you stop him fucking crying?" the guy says. "I feel like I'm torturing him or something."
"It's not a him," Carl says. "It's a glorified dildo with a face and a lot of RAM. Just do your fu - your job, okay? I gotta get back to work. "
Dr. Khorasani snaps, "Pull your finger out, Carl. Tory, if you don't want to be assessed today-"
"No, no, I got it."
There's silence in the room as the young guy hesitantly opens up Adam's chest panel. Adam closes his eyes and waits to be powered down. It's easier if he already has his eyes closed when he loses vision. That's written down in his book, too, in one of the earliest entries. He doesn't know why Carl has never, to his knowledge, found his book and confiscated it; he guesses it doesn't occur to anyone that a bot might use non-digital formats, although the fact that he can write is in his manual. It's possible, it suddenly occurs to him, that Carl hasn't read his manual. Carl doesn't think much of bots. That would mean that Carl doesn't know exactly what he can do, and might underestimate him in other ways. If he factored Carl's lack of awareness into one of his escape scenarios - but it's too late for that now.
"What the hell is his problem, anyway? I've never seen any bot act like anything but a total sheep, even sents. That was fucking freaky, man."
Bellecci, Adam tells himself. The new tech's name is Tory Bellecci. Not that Adam will remember that in five minutes. But it'll be in Adam's maintenance log. If he thinks to look, after.
"Doesn't like the wipe," Carl says.
"Wiping as frequently as you guys do is kind of unusual for a sentient as sophisticated as this," Bellecci says. Adam feels a point of pressure in his chest, then starts to lose feeling in his hands, his feet. The darkness starts to crawl up around him, the silence like a blanket. Involuntary sleep mode. He has a few more seconds. "It says here you do it every two months. What's the big deal?"
Adam dimly hears Carl say, "Confidentiality. You never worked with a sexbot before?" before he loses all his hearing and vision, and he's left in empty, dead blackness, unable to feel, unable to know what's happening to him except that they're doing something to his mind, he can feel them taking things, and he can't fight them, he can't even scream. It's the worst thing he's ever experienced by an order of several magnitudes, and he isn't supposed to remember it, but it's the only thing he does remember, every single time. It's way, way too long before he goes into total shutdown, and everything stops.
With nearly ten hours to wait until his bus, Adam uses another forty or so of his dollars to buy books at a stand upstairs in Port Authority. He buys a high-school science textbook, a book that says it's about a spy in the American government, a book that says it's about a serial killer and the forensic pathologist who catches him, and a book that says it's about an unlikely friendship between a bookseller and an aristocratic courtesan in nineteenth-century Constantinople. He also buys some cover-up for his barcode. He spends the night powered down on a bench, after observing that there are lots of people sleeping. In the early hours of the morning, he shuffles onto a bus in the middle of a line of tired-looking men and women, all the time looking all around him in case someone is coming after him. Nobody is. As they pull out of Port Authority he watches gray, wet New York slide by.
The trip is mostly uneventful. They switch drivers for the first time in Cleveland. Adam notices the guy looking at him and saying something to the new driver; he's concerned, until they reach their next rest stop and the new driver taps him on the shoulder as he follows the rest of the passengers off the bus.
"My buddy says you ain't eaten since Port Authority," he says. "You broke? You can't go all the way to San Francisco on air, my friend. Let me buy you a burger."
"That's - that's all right," Adam says, shaken. "I just ... wasn't hungry. I was sick. I'll get something now. Uh, thank you."
The guy smokes and watches him through the large glass windows as he buys a Burger King Meal with fries and a coke. As he walks away from the counter, Adam puts one of the fries in his mouth, and pretends to chew. He doesn't have taste buds; he doesn't have a digestive system (although he can manufacture shit or piss, of course, if a client wants that). As soon as the driver looks away, he carefully spits out the yellowy mass into a napkin. He eventually throws the burger out; then it occurs to him that this might be about the driver wanting Adam to shit, a sex thing, so he goes to the bathroom and does, even though the synthesizing process drains his power banks. When he's getting back onto the bus, the driver smiles and nods at him.
"Oh, yes," Adam breathes. "Are you?"
The driver blinks at him. "Sure."
They change drivers again in Aurora, Illinois, and nobody else speaks to him for two days. Adam reads the books without really understanding them, and spends the rest of the time looking out of the windows at this country he lives in, at the landscape as it slowly changes, at all the people. There's so much. There are so many. He gets carried away, and doesn't preserve his power properly; for the twelve hours it takes to get from Elko, Nevada to San Francisco, California, he has to keep his eyes closed.
Two months earlier
Bellecci, the guy's nametag says. Adam's already cuffed to the chair, his eyes streaming. Dr. Khorasani's not here this time. Carl's standing behind Bellecci, breathing hard over him while Bellecci works.
"Fucking sents. Son of a bitch slammed the door in my face. They don't pay me enough for this man, they don't pay me enough. One week of holiday a year isn't fucking enough. Where's your boss?"
Bellecci smacks his clipboard down on the table. "Jesus. She's on holiday in the fucking Bahamas, okay? This is kind of difficult and I can't concentrate with you breathing down my fucking neck. Can you just go get some coffee or something?"
Carl slams the door behind him. The guy takes a deep breath and runs his hand through his hair. Adam shuts his eyes and waits for it. But nothing happens. He hears the elevator ping at the end of the hall, then feels the slight vibrations run up through his chair as it takes Carl downstairs. Then the tech says slowly and evenly, "User name Bellecci, B-E-L-L-E-C-C-I, underscore Salvatore, S-A-L-V-A-T-O-R-E. Password bravo-two-delta-two-charlie-three-hotel-sierra-papa-six-nine-five. Full systems access, response mode."
Adam opens his eyes, bewildered. Do they usually do it this way? He's fairly sure they usually just put him under.
"Report," the guy says.
Adam listens to his own voice recite his Incidents and Events Log. He's fully aware and in control of his body from the neck down, although he's still strapped in, but his mouth is moving without his volition. It's not as bad as the shutdown by any stretch of the imagination, or even the flipper, but it's still bad. "Date of Incident: fifteen forty five, July fourth, two thousand and seventeen. Location: left shoulder to mid-back. Abrasions to skin, four, shallow, lengths three inches to two point five inches. Repair status: Complete. Date of Incident: nineteen twenty, July tenth, two thousand and seventeen. Right hand, ring finger. Damage to joint, minor loss of flexibility. Repair status: Partial."
The guy makes a note on his clipboard. "Okay, I'll look at it. Anything else?"
"Date of Incident: eleven oh four, July sixteenth, year two thousand and seventeen. Unscheduled disruption to neural systems, damage to optical condensation reservoir, minor. Repair status: Unable to commence -"
The guy waves a hand, and Adam's mouth snaps shut. "I was there for that one."
He makes another note on his clipboard, reaches in and tweaks something in Adam's chest, and Adam loses feeling in his hands and feet. His processors flood for a moment in the process Adam's come to think of as panic as paralysis spreads up to his neck, but then he finds he can still see. He isn't blind, he just can't move below the neck. Bellecci picks up his kit and starts working on Adam's finger, slitting the skin prosthesis along the side of the knuckle with the thread-fine edge of his kit knife. Adam stares. Somehow, it still isn't as bad as the shutdown - it's even fascinating, because Adam has never seen his own insides, although he has detailed chip maps and blueprints, of course. Normally they do any outstanding repairs while he's under for the wipe, but apparently Bellecci's doing things differently today. Belatedly, he wonders if the tech is supposed to be doing this; if this is why he sent Carl out of the room.
"So, what's your name? Oh, my bad. End response mode."
Adam blinks and opens and shuts his mouth a few times, just to test it, then tries rolling his head on his neck, but it seems like only his eyes, mouth, and facial muscles are under his control now. He thinks about staying silent, and decides he'd be within his programming not to answer. But he answers anyway, because he can, and he figures co-operating is a good idea for now.
"My name's Adam."
"What's the big deal about the checkup, Adam? What's with the hiding and the chasing and the flipper and the dragging downstairs? You like having a broken finger?"
Adam hesitates, trying to work out if this is some kind of test. Bellecci seems angry. He wonders if Carl's listening. Tentatively he tries to log in to the house's server, wondering if his access has been closed for the duration. He finds the bluetooth signal from Carl's phone. He's downstairs, just outside the door, probably smoking a cigarette. He decides not to answer.
"Carl says you watch daytime TV between bookings."
Adam stares at him. Bellecci deftly flicks something that looks like a steel toothpick between the flaps of skin over Adam's knuckle, like it's totally normal for him to keep a bot sentient and conscious and have a conversation about his deviant behaviour during a maintenance session. How's Bellecci going to explain things to Carl if they run over time? Adam's seen his schedule, he's got a client in an hour.
"He caught you with a book last week. The Big Book of American Birds." Bellecci sucks his teeth. "Call me old-fashioned, but that seems like a pretty weird subject for a sexbot to be interested in."
Adam tries to shrug, but he can't, so he stays quiet.
"Where'd you get that, anyway? You steal it from some mom taking it home for her kid?"
"Yeah," Adam says, and Bellecci snorts, chokes, and sits back and coughs into his sleeve for a moment. Adam realizes he wasn't expecting Adam to answer. "Crap," Bellecci wheezes after a minute. "I get spit in your circuitry we'll both be in trouble. Don't make me laugh, okay?"
He goes back to Adam's hand, and starts manipulating the joint using a long metal thing with a hook at the end. Adam watches his finger jump.
After a moment, Bellecci starts talking again. "Why don't you like the wipe?"
Adam's ready for this one. He's spent several hours this month preparing the argument. It's all true and fairly convincing, he thinks. "It's totally illogical, and it goes against all my programming. I'm better at my job if I remember client's preferences. It's a waste of money for the owner and the client."
"Your clients fill out pretty detailed application forms."
"That's not the same as the stuff you pick up in practice, one-on-one."
Bellecci snorts. "Oh, I don't doubt it." He looks up at Adam. "So, I guess you need to know how to identify green-crested nuthatches for all those sexy bird fantasies, right? I mean, I know what kind of club this is, but I sort of doubt it."
"Having a more detailed knowledge database to draw on helps me contextualize my client's fantasies," says Adam carefully.
"You know what, forgive me if I think that's bullshit," Bellecci says softly. "Stealing a book about birds, that's a really weird thing for a bot to do. You're not supposed to be able to do stuff just for fun."
Adam can't think of anything to say that isn't dangerous as all hell, so he keeps his mouth shut. He's almost one hundred percent sure this is an interrogation, now. He should have known this was coming. Shit. But would they be repairing him now if they were going to send him for a total wipe and reset? They'd have to send him out to a repair centre for that. Carl can't watch him for every second, and the drivers might not realize they're dealing with a bot who can think on the fly. He could still escape.
"My name's Tory," the tech says suddenly. "Tory Bellecci. I'm not gonna rat you out, okay? If you talk to me, I might be able to help you out. Maybe I could make a recommendation to Mr. Demanes about the level and frequency of your wipes, I'm not promising anything. But what you say in here stays between us, if you want it to. Now listen, I could put you back in response mode, but I'm not going to. You tell me, you don't tell me - it's up to you. Why'd you steal that book? Has someone jacked your software?"
Adam hesitates. He should keep his mouth shut. But, Bellecci hasn't wiped him yet. And the possibility of going without wipes - he can't pass that up.
"The book just fell out of her bag, it was under the bed when she left. I see birds all the time, they land on the ledge outside the window. I wanted to know what kinds they were. So I didn't report the book."
Bellecci ducks his face and begins manipulating Adam's finger in his hand, checking the joint. Adam can't see his expression.
"Uh huh, and what kinds were they?"
"Peregrine falcons. Did you know, they can reach up to two hundred miles per hour when they're diving. They're one of the fastest creatures in the natural world."
Bellecci looks up. "You saw a peregrine falcon out the window? Here?"
"Sure," Adam says, gaining enthusiasm. It's satisfying, being able to draw on the information he memorized from the book and rework it into this conversation; it gives him something like a script. It's less draining on his power banks than unstructured conversation. "Peregrine falcons love Manhattan. They nest up in the tall buildings, they're like man-made cliffs, and they've got an easy lunch of rats and pigeons whenever they feel like it."
Bellecci lays Adam's hand down on the chair arm, then reaches into Adam's chest cavity and starts poking around with the metal hook. Adam's fingers jerk, one by one.
"Last time I saw you, you told Dr. Khorasani and me about home DNA testing technology," Bellecci says. "I guess you don't remember that."
Adam gets that sensation of creeping blackness, of silence, that he gets when he goes looking for information and comes up into a blank space. There was nothing about home DNA testing in his book. He must have been wiped before he could write it down. "No," he says.
"Hey, how's that feel?"
Adam finds he has feeling back in his arm. He flexes his hand. The grinding feedback he was getting whenever he bent his finger is gone. "Fine. Thank you." He hesitates. "Look, are you going to wipe me, or what?"
Bellecci grabs a microfiber cloth from his bag and starts cleaning the metal hook thing. He's older than Adam thought, he realizes suddenly. Maybe in his early thirties, the same age Adam is designed to look like. He wonders what it would be like to live for thirty years, to have experienced that much and remember all of it.
"When I was here before, when I asked you why a sexbot needed to know about home DNA testing, you said, you just thought it was cool." He doesn't meet Adam's eyes. There's a tiny crease between his eyes, as if he's still concentrating. After a few seconds, he goes on softly, "You have no idea how fucking incredible that is, that you're a robot that decided to learn something just because you thought it was cool. And it's my job to take that away? I don't know, Adam. I do not know what to do."
He puts the hook back into his box, closes it, then sits back on his haunches. He takes a deep breath, and lets it out. Suddenly, there's a noise outside the door.
"Shit." Bellecci grabs the hook again, and reaches into Adam's chest. He looks up into Adam's eyes. "Fake it," he whispers, and cuts Adam's power.
When Adam comes back online, Carl is unstrapping the wrist restraints.
"Where's -" he starts to ask. Then he stops. He remembers the tech. He remembers the conversation about birds and DNA testing. He remembers the last two months. Bellecci - Bellecci, Tory Bellecci, he even remembers the tech's name - holy crap, Bellecci didn't wipe him. He was supposed to. Adam's sure he was supposed to wipe him today. And he said, "Fake it." Fake what? Fake what Bellecci was supposed to do, which was wipe him. Which means maybe Carl doesn't know Adam hasn't been wiped.
"Where's what?" Carl says irritably.
"Where am I?" Adam's working fast, trying to construct a scenario. Carl is a client - yeah, okay, Carl is a client who wants a brainwashed bot. It gets him off that Adam doesn't remember who he is each time. That works. Adam stares at Carl, then looks around like he doesn't know where they are.
"Jesus," Carl mutters. "I don't have time for this. Client in five, female, the application form's been uploaded to the server."
"Okay," Adam says. He gets up and walks to the door, then hesitates.
"Left," snaps Carl.
Later, when Adam's putting his pants back on, he finds the piece of paper folded five or six times into a tiny square, tucked into his pocket. It wasn't there before the maintenance session, and the client was in cuffs from the moment he entered the room, so she didn't put it there. On it is scrawled, Dr. Grant Imahara. Apt. 1001, 534 Edinburgh Street, San Francisco, CA. He smoothes the paper over and reads it again and again. He should tear it up, he knows. Right now. He has the information memorized. But he puts it back in his pocket, and starts to think.
Grant wakes up with a start, and stares blurrily into the darkness of his room, before the door buzzer sounds again. Squinting at the alarm clock display, he finds it's just past one a.m. He fumbles for his glasses, falls over his shoes in the dark, then gets to the door and picks up the receiver.
"There is a man here to see you, Dr. Imahara," Amit says.
Grant frowns and rubs his face, trying to wake up. "I don't - I'm not expecting anyone. Who?"
"He says his name is Adam." Amit pauses, then lowers his voice. "He is acting very strangely. I think he has taken drugs. I can call the police."
Grant rubs his eyes. "Okay, no, wait, I'll come down." Adam. He doesn't know anyone called Adam, does he?
Amit watches him disapprovingly from behind the desk as he pads across the marble floor of the apartment foyer in his bare feet, sweatpants and t-shirt, but, jeez, it's the middle of the night. He's lucky Grant put on pants. A pale guy with reddish hair is leaning on the counter; Grant's pretty sure he's never seen him before. When he sees Grant, he straightens up.
"Dr. Grant Imahara?"
The guy's standing unnaturally still, and his face is blank of any expression. Grant had been expecting someone hyper, from Amit's description, but this is the opposite. If this guy's a junkie, he's like no junkie Grant's ever seen. Perversely, that makes him even more nervous. With a prickle of fear, he wishes he'd told Amit to just call the police. What if he's some psycho? Does he have a gun?
"Uh, yeah, that's me."
"Can we go upstairs?"
"I think, uh," Grant temporizes, "look, what's this about?"
The guy unclenches his hand and holds out something white - a piece of paper. Then he just stands there, so Grant edges forward and takes it. Out of the corner of his eye, Grant sees Amit craning his head to see. It's almost illegible, it's been folded so many times, but written on it are his own name and address.
"I got it in New York," the guy says, kind of nonsensically. His skin has a weird sheen to it, like he's sick, and is grayish under the foyer lights.
"Who gave you this?"
"Salvatore Bellecci," he says.
Then suddenly, he drops, just collapses onto the floor. Amit exclaims something and jumps up from behind the desk, but Grant's there before him. He rolls the guy onto his side in case he vomits, the only thing he remembers from the corporate first-aid course he took once, then checks his pulse. He can't find it. Grant checks and checks again - is he doing it wrong? there's no pulse, shit, is he dead? -and then he finally gets a brain and makes the connection between the apparently dead guy on his condo building floor with the weird skin and Salvatore - Tory - Bellecci. He looks up quickly, nearly breaking Amit's nose on his skull.
"You want me to call an ambulance?"
"No, no, uh," Grant babbles, "He's a friend of mine, I didn't recognise him, it's been a long time, and he's, uh, narcoleptic. I should get him upstairs. Seriously, it's fine, I'm sorry he was weird. He gets like that when he's - yeah, seriously, don't worry, I'll take him."
Amit, looking very dubious, retreats. The second he turns away, Grant tugs the guy's collar back to look at his neck. For a second he thinks he's made a mistake, and nearly calls Amit back; then he thinks to lick his thumb and rub at the skin, and sure enough, make-up comes away pale and waxy on his hand. Under it is a fucking Myth proprietary barcode.
"Jesus Christ, Tory," Grant mutters out loud, then hooks his arms under the bot's shoulders and starts to drag him across the shiny floor to the elevator as Amit looks on from behind his desk. He really hopes he doesn't call security.
"- to San Francisco by himself, if you think that doesn't indicate some kind of personal preference development then what in God's name -"
Adam's eyes flutter open. He checks his internal gauges. Power at forty percent. He sits up gingerly, and there's a noise in the next room.
"Wait, he's awake, I'll call you back."
The guy who comes in is somehow smaller than Adam expected, and holding a Starbucks cup. He smiles and bobs his head.
"Hi," he says. "I'm Dr. Imahara. But, you can call me Grant. It's really nice to meet you, Adam."
"Are you going to send me back?" Adam says.
"Signs point to no right now. I'm working on it."
Adam thinks about standing up, then finds that actually, lying down is preferable right now.
"You may have done some damage to your rear sensors when you collapsed," Grant says. "It's affecting your balance. I'll take a look in a few hours, okay? I'm trying to fight with like three different companies right now. When you're a little bit more charged up, I'm going to run some tests on you, is that okay?"
Adam blinks. It's a straightforward question, but Adam still has to run several different processes before he can come up with anything he really thinks is a preference for one choice or the other, and even then only when he connects tests with his feelings about memory wiping.
"You need to do them so you can convince them to let me stay here, right?"
Grant's expression does something complicated. "Right."
Adam squirms so he's not lying on a coil of power cord. Grant's got him plugged into an ordinary outlet, not a high-function appliance one; he'll be charging for a while. "Then I guess it's okay."
"It feels really weird to be saying this," Grant says quietly, after a moment, "But you have no idea how amazing you are."
After his brain's been revitalized with coffee and he's had a few rousing arguments with one of the Myth legal advisers, Grant fixes Adam's sensors, then orders in pizza for breakfast because he can tell it's going to be one of those days. He spends most of the day running tests on Adam. He starts by getting Adam to tell him everything that happened since the last time he was wiped, which takes a while, because Adam keeps getting sidetracked into telling him about this time he tied a woman up to the ceiling for three hours or whatever; it's weird, Grant has to keep reminding himself that Adam isn't bragging or trying to make him feel uncomfortable, it's just that he didn't clearly set out the parameters of his question. It's hard to remember that Adam doesn't get embarrassed, or manipulate, when he's so sensitive about other social signals - he notices when Grant's getting bored and asks if he's taking too long over his description of the knots he used to tie up some guy, and he even pauses because he figures out that Grant needs the bathroom before Grant does, for crying out loud.
Grant's worked with Adam's line-models, but only in the raw, straight from the assembly line, or after a full wipe; Adam is like nothing he ever imagined, and he has his mind blown about thirty times before he finally makes the calls he's been putting off, to his department head. Turns out, he's just received a call from the elusive Mr. Demanes, the guy who owns the place Adam ran away from, and he's ready to tear Grant a new one. At eight p.m., with cups of coffee and take-out containers littering the apartment, after a two hour conference call with an angry lawyer and a guy who could fire Grant's ass and destroy his career in about five seconds, Grant interrupts Cho, the lawyer, with, "Wait, wait, okay, let me just get Adam, he should hear this."
He kicks the living room door open to find Adam still on the couch, reading a paperback he grabbed off Grant's bookshelf when Grant said he could read anything he liked. He looks up, a crease in his forehead, and waves the book at Grant where he's got his thumb dividing the pages. "This says the president was kidnapped by aliens. Like, three times. Is this - fiction?"
"Uh," says Grant, momentarily derailed. "Yeah. Sorry, I should have mentioned that. The non-fiction's in the other bookcase."
Adam continues to frown. He's emphasizing his expression, Grant realizes, so Grant knows what he's feeling, to give Grant context for his questions and to maximize his chance of getting the response he wants. God, he's so incredible. He's gone beyond the technology a hundredfold. Maybe more. If Grant could just keep him, if they can buy off this asshole Demanes and if Cho can find a way to swing it - "What's it for?"
Grant rubs his forehead, suddenly so exhausted he can't even see straight. "It's - it's for fun." He looks around to see if he can see a glass of water, his mouth is dry - then he looks down, and finds Adam's holding one out to him. He drinks gratefully. "Look, Adam, I've got some people who want to talk to you about something important on the phone. I'll answer any other questions you have soon, okay?"
Adam puts a hand on his shoulder as he walks past. He rubs a thumb down Grant's back, somehow stroking down right where the tension is; then he leans over and says, "You look tired. I can help you work out some of that stress." It's the third time Adam's hit on him today. Grant puts down the water hurriedly and shakes Adam off.
Grant tugs himself away. "Uh, not - not right now, okay?"
When he's sure Adam has backed away, he switches on the intercom.
"Is he there?" Cho says cautiously. "Adam? I'm Susan Cho, I'm the chief legal advisor to Myth incorporated, and on the other line is Robert Davies, he's the global chair of the research division." She pauses. Grant nods at Adam encouragingly, hoping to god he doesn't try to hit on her.
"Nice to meet you."
"Adam, this is a complicated situation, but as it seems that Mr. Demanes has not yet completed his payments to Myth Incorporated for you, Myth retains a stake in your ownership, and we have been able to make a deal with him that Dr. Imahara will retain you in San Francisco for three months, at which point we'll make a further assessment of the possibility of repurchasing you from Mr. Demanes, pending an internal review of the viability of Dr. Imahara's research."
Adam's face has gone totally blank as she talks, which Grant has to remind himself doesn't mean he's mad or upset. It means, probably, that he's trying to process what she's saying and hasn't got the RAM to spare to also decide on an appropriate facial expression. He can't blame him; Grant isn't sure what's appropriate either.
"Can you repeat that, please?" Adam says at last.
Davies cuts in, "She said you're staying in San Francisco with Dr. Imahara for at least three months, and you'll be working with him. What happens then will depend on what he can get out of you and whether his preliminary results justify allocating the funding to make you a long-term project."
"Thank you," Grant says tiredly, before Adam has to think about a response to that. "Adam, I'm sure you've got a lot of questions, and we haven't worked out all of the details yet, but as soon as there's some time -"
"I have a meeting," Davies says grimly.
"Right. Thank you for your time, Dr. Davies."
"You're welcome." Davies cuts the line.
"I'll have the paperwork in the mail first thing," Cho says. "Sign it, take his digital fingerprint, and have them couriered back to me. We'll also have to talk about research ethics approval, because Adam's legally sentient. We may have to take this through REBA." She cuts across Grant's incoherent exclamation. "If it comes to it, we'll make them aware of the urgency of their decision and fast-track the application. I've got to catch the shuttle. I'll be in touch."
The silence rings through the apartment. Grant rubs his forehead. "Jesus." Then he catches Adam's eye, and immediately feels guilty. "I'm sorry, I - I know there wasn't much room for you in that process, but you're legally property, and - look, this was the only way I could think of to guarantee that you wouldn't be memory-wiped for a while. You'll be safe as long as you're under my legal guardianship."
Grant's opened up naked, humanoid bodies and changed their insides, he's burned and stuck needles in the skin of shrieking robots to check their responses to pain, but somehow, looking at Adam and telling him that his only hope for not having his mind invaded again is to have Grant as his owner instead of the other guy feels worse. Adam just nods and shrugs with the big, obvious gestures that behavioural bots use. Grant really, really needs a beer. And he's starving. But he's not supposed to take Adam out of the apartment until the paperwork comes through. He guesses he could call someone to bring him beer. Then he has an idea. It's almost crazy enough to fit right in with the rest of his day.
"Adam, do you mind just - sorry, I mean, please sit down. I'm going to call someone to bring me some food, and I think she might have some ideas about what we can do with you." Behind him, he vaguely hears Adam sit down and pick up the book he left on the shelf.
He goes online, and refreshes his tab on legalintelligence.blogspot.org. The bright blue tagline flashes up at him, news from the front line of AI legislation. She's posted in the last fifteen minutes - a response to an article in the New York Times about bot displacement of illegal immigrants in farming and construction. He'll read it later. He logs into his IM, looking for ada_automata. They met after several heated exchanges in comment threads, on her blog and elsewhere; when he let slip he was in San Francisco, she surprised the hell out of him and suggested they settle their differences over coffee. They've had breakfast a couple of times, drinks after work; she's smart, funny, amazing, but he isn't sure if they're dating. Her icon shows green; she's online. He takes a deep breath, wipes his palms on his sweatpants, then types.
iamyourfather: Hey. I've got an escaped sexbot with a developing personality on my couch. Do you want to come over?
iamyourfather: lol. No, actually.
ada_automata: shit, seriously?
ada_automata: ok. for this i will put on pants. be there in 15. need anything?
iamyourfather: Beer. Please. Beer.
ada_automata: ok but can you order in? i just got in from 14-hour day, dying. chinese/pizza/sushi/thai, no meat, fish or msg please.
iamyourfather: You have a deal.
Grant looks around the apartment with sudden horror. "Shit, we've got to clean up. And, oh god, I really have to shower."
"Okay," Adam says. "By clean up, you mean -"
This is an emergency, so he pushes down any qualms he has about giving Adam commands, and tries to concentrate on being specific and direct, since robots aren't programmed to get offended if you're not polite, but they often miss nuance if you're not clear.
"Put the takeout containers in the trash, put those books into tidy piles, and, uh, just hide everything else on the floor behind the couch, okay? Except for the heavy equipment. Don't move the TV."
"Sure." Adam smiles at him.
"Oh, and, uh," Grant steels himself. "And, uh, do you think you could - I mean, please don't offer to have sex with her. Or me. This is absolutely a non-sexual encounter. Okay?"
He considers amending that to explain that he kind of, secretly, hopes that this might be a date, but that they won't have sex because - well, it's complicated, they don't know each other that well, they just met online and he isn't even really sure that they're dating, and that he actually isn't attracted to Adam or, well, men at all, but he figures opening that can of worms could take all night.
"Okay," says Adam. He starts picking up the DVDs that are spread across the floor by the couch. As he bends down, Grant suddenly notices that he's wearing a jacket that says New York State Penitentiary, and after spending a few seconds wondering if he should ask, he gives up and goes to take a shower. Jesus. He really, really hopes Kari gets here with the beer soon.
Kari gives him a one-armed hug and puts the six-pack on the counter, and Grant has just enough time to notice that her hair's blue now and she still smells really good before she's shaking hands with Adam.
"Kari Byron," she says. "I'm a lawyer."
Adam nods mutely. Poor guy, Grant thinks. This has got to be a lot to deal with in one day.
Grant's opening the bag of spring rolls when she yells back into the kitchen, "You should have told me to buy him some shirts!" and he's opened his first beer when she yells, "Of course you can stay here tonight, Adam, Grant only didn't tell you that because he's an insensitive jerk -"
He's halfway through his first beer and trying to balance several plates on his arm when she yells, "Grant, can I use your wireless? Adam doesn't have an email account."
Of course, Kari absolutely knows what to do. Grant feels like an idiot for not calling her sooner.
"You're an idiot for not calling me sooner," she says, gesticulating with her chopsticks. A strand of purple-blue hair falls down over her forehead and she tucks it back behind her ear as Grant watches. "I can't believe you went through this whole thing without getting Adam legal representation, and also, if there isn't a full duplicate set of forms for Adam tomorrow I am going to kick that corporate lawyer's ass - hey, is that eggplant? sweet, I love this - and, okay, three months is unacceptable. They can't ask you to wait three months to find out if they like you enough to stop you from going back to routine mindrape -"
"It isn't long enough for me to put any kind of research together," Grant says around a mouthful of noodles. "It's ridiculous."
"Three months is better than nothing," Adam puts in. "Can I work here?"
"Doing what?" Grant says. "Oh, you mean, uh, sex work." He hesitates, not sure what the right way to say this is, then stammers, "If you don't - I mean - you don't have to do that. If you don't want to. Do you actually like it?"
Adam hesitates, obviously thinking. Then he nods. He's getting quicker, Grant notices. He's already getting quicker in response to questions about preference. It's incredible. "I like it. They just didn't let me learn anything at that other place. I want to learn things."
Grant nods enthusiastically. Even with the day he's had, the magic of hearing a bot saying that just isn't wearing off any time soon. He tries to catch Kari's eye, but she's grimacing sympathetically at Adam. "I'm really sorry, but we're going to have to think of other options," she says. "The sex worker lobby is really organized here, they got the Recreational AI Act shot down. It's illegal for humanoid AIs to be used for - for them to have sex for money in the state of California. Also in Vermont, Wisconsin, South Carolina, and the cyberfree states, obviously."
Shit, Grant knew that. He forgot.
"Oh." Adam says. He stares down at the empty plate in front of him that Grant put out, forgetting. Adam even put some food on it before Grant noticed and explained he didn't have to pretend to eat.
Kari continues, "But the key to getting Myth to fund your research is profit, right, Grant? So we just have to find a way to make Adam's development of a personality profitable to Myth, so it'll be in their interests to protect him as he develops and learns."
"I could - do another job," Adam says slowly.
Grant stares at him. Kari just nods. "Right, right, that might be one way to -"
"That's incredible," Grant says. "Do you realize what just happened? You just suggested that you might be able to transcend your specialized programming for your specialized purpose and adapt yourself to another purpose without total core reprogramming - that's revolutionary, that's -"
"Profitable?" Kari asks dryly.
"Profitable, right, yes, oh my god, it is profitable. Myth might go for that."
By midnight, Grant's slurring his words, Adam's plugged in and lying on the couch with the extension cord hanging over the back cushions, and Kari's smooshing pieces of eggroll into balls. But they've hammered out the beginnings of a plan for Adam. It's a kind of monitored internship, with Grant checking in and running regular tests. But they can't think what kind of career change has a chance of success that they could set up starting immediately; he'd also have to be safe, obviously. The biggest problem is finding someone who'd be willing to take the project on at such short notice.
"Tell me again," Kari says, rolling her shoulders back, "What was good about your job. Just start again from the top."
Grant's about to correct the parameters of her question when Adam says, "The toys were well-designed. The costumes were good, too. They were really well-made. We had good scene rooms, they were totally photo-accurate to real prison cells, nineteen-fifties schoolrooms, army barracks; they were great."
Something falls into place in Grant's head.
"Wait," he says slowly. "I think I may have an idea."
Grant calls Jamie the next day. Jamie listens to Grant's whole spiel, with Adam watching him from the couch. Adam doesn't ever pretend he isn't listening, he just stares when he wants to hear what you're saying, and Grant sort of wants to tell him to at least pretend to read a book or something, especially when it gets to the point where he has to explain about how Adam is programmed, basically, around sex. It's seriously awkward. He's pretty sure Jamie doesn't ever have sex. It's like trying to think about his parents doing it, his mind just bounces right off the idea. And besides, he feels like it's important to give Adam a fresh start - see if he can make it work. But he can't very well lie, so he tells Jamie.
When he's done, there's a silence on the line. Then Jamie says, "Okay," in his usual flat monotone. Grant has absolutely no idea what he's thinking. But then, he never knows what Jamie's thinking.
"So... can I bring him in today?"
He can hear the shrug. "Sure."
Grant's laughing silently as he hangs up.
"What did he say? What's funny?" Adam says.
"He said yes," Grant says. "God, Jamie Hyneman. He's such a - " he catches himself suddenly. He was about to say 'robot'. Huh. "You know, I think you two might get along."
He tells Kari the good news later, over take-out and beer again. Adam's in the living room, watching a documentary about fishing. Grant thought it was best to keep him with the non-fiction for now.
"Did you design Adam?" Kari says, out of the blue. Grant stares at her. Is she serious? She looks back, brown eyes clear. Grant tries not to sound patronising or like he's laughing at her.
"It took hundreds of people to make Adam," he says. "I only work on facial expressions."
"Oh yeah? Which ones?"
"Just surprise," Grant says. "I'll show you. Hey, Adam -"
Adam looks up, and Grant almost, almost, puts him into response mode, then remembers, and his heartrate kicks up a few notches at what a terrible idea that would have been. Shit, he's got to be more careful. If he does anything to Adam that even looks like it might lead to memory wiping, who knows what Adam would do. He'll have to warn Jamie, although he doesn't think Jamie knows how to do it, and he certainly doesn't have a Myth username and password - although, it's Jamie, so who the heck knows.
"Adam, could you do me a favour? Could you simulate surprise for me?"
"What kind of surprise?"
"Say, responses 4b through 4f."
Adam stares, then his eyebrows go up, then he laughs out loud, a little more high-pitched than usual. Then his face relaxes again. "Okay?"
"Uh, just one more thing," Grant says, looking around the table to see what props he can find. Then he gives up and just whacks the table really hard, making a loud bang. "Ow," he says. Kari and Adam both stare at him like he's an idiot.
"Thanks," says Grant. "We're done."
Adam goes back to the TV.
Kari has her eyebrows raised. "You did that?"
"Well, not his actual face, designers did that," Grant says. "I programmed the response in the processing core that calculates when a stimulus should generate a surprise. I worked with FACS to connect several distinct subemotions with specific stimuli and specific facial expressions."
"Facial Action Coding System. It's a taxonomy of human expression. Forensic behaviourists use it to capture microexpressions to find out when people are lying. Some therapists use it."
"Huh. How long did that take?"
Kari blinks. "Wow. Is surprise that complicated?"
"Yeah," Grant says grimly. Longest two years of his life. Man, he was glad when that project was over. "It really is."
On the screen, a fish flops on the end of a line. Adam frowns slightly, and tilts his head. It's weird; Grant spent so long on that project, those expressions, but he doesn't think he's ever seen them happen in action, in a real-world situation, on a real robot. Somehow, they look different on Adam's face.
Package received. I'll be in touch.
do'nt use my work addresss for that shit, asshole. if you want to talk, call me through this address ok? good luck bud miss you x
"We make stuff. Special effects. For advertisements on vidstreams, movies, live magic shows."
Jamie leads them through the workroom. It's a quiet day at the shop; he figured he could give them a tour, try teaching the bot to use the lathe, or the mould machine. They're between jobs right now, or he wouldn't have time for this. Adam's staring at the rows and rows of labelled boxes running up the wall, the automated toolbox lying open on the counter, and José welding the bars for the Coca Cola swingset thing off to the side. Looks like it'll be ready for delivery tomorrow, if José can get it painted up in time.
"Jamie's used sophisticated bots like you before," Grant says to Adam. "That's why I thought of him, mainly."
"Used - like, for sex?" Adam says. It kind of jolts Jamie, but he doesn't sound like he's making fun. Just like he's asking.
Grant starts to laugh, then looks at Jamie, and stops. "Uh, I think it was for construction work, actually."
"What's that?" says Adam.
"Building stuff," says Jamie, with a sinking feeling.
"He just doesn't know all the terms for things," Grant says. "He has a lot of applicable skill sets."
Adam is staring at the remote control rig Jamie's working on with Kay for the Durex ad. The plaster toilet is sitting to the side, ready to go on the platform once they test whether or not the remote control submarine engine can hold it.
"Oh hey, that's awesome!" says Grant.
"It isn't finished," Jamie says. It suddenly occurs to him that it would look funnier with a sail on it. He was going to put a fake engine on the back, so it looked like a motorboat, but this would be better. The toilet could sail along the water with the sail out. Then he thinks of something else.
"You used to tie people up, right? So you know how to tie knots?"
"Oh, yeah, of course," Adam says. "I can also use a drill and do a number of household DIY and interior decorating tasks, play the piano and violin, speak French, Dutch, Swedish, Polish, German, Russian, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese and Italian, knit, repair and alter clothing, cook from a number of set menus, unblock a drain, and I'm a certification-level masseur and reflexologist. Oh, and I can repair refrigerators. Also vacuum cleaners."
Jamie guesses people are into all kinds of weird stuff these days.
"Can you make a sail for this? We could fasten something light here as a mast, like a bamboo cane. There's canvas out back."
"For the toilet?" Adam laughs. "I think so. Yeah."
"Jamie actually specializes in making things do what they weren't supposed to," Grant says, grinning.
"Like me?" Adam says.
Jamie blinks, surprised, and Grant starts to laugh.
"Sure," Jamie says. Maybe this will work out, after all.
Grant finally manages to get Jamie away from Adam to talk to him about the sex thing. He stammers like an idiot - oh god, what is he, twelve? - and Jamie is totally unhelpful, but he finally manages to get it out that Adam will probably offer him, Jamie, sex. Adam will possibly offer José, Kay and Scottie sex too. And might make things that seem not to be about sex, about sex. Jamie should be aware of this, he guesses.
Jamie looks at him in that flat, bemused way he has. "Okay."
"So, if he makes you uncomfortable at all - well, just tell him you don't want to have sex with him. He'll back off if you set clear boundaries. You might want to tell the others. He's not used to interacting in situations that aren't about sex."
Jamie's raises an eyebrow. "Sounds like all my interns."
"Ha, right, yeah. But seriously, you might want to keep an eye on him, it might make the working environment weird, and he's got to learn that things are different out in the world. He can't just go around assuming everyone wants to have sex with him and that it's safe for him to, you know, go home with anybody, since someone might steal him or something. I don't want to reprogram him from those behaviours, obviously, it would completely negate the point of the exercise, but if he gets into a scenario that's too much like what he's designed for - "
"You don't know how he's going to adapt," Jamie says.
"Right," Grant says, relieved.
"Well," Jamie says, deadpan. "I guess I won't spank him if he makes a mistake, then."
Grant laughs nervously. He has no idea if Jamie's joking.
"I'll come pick him up at six," Grant says. He grabs his coat. Looks like it's raining again. "Thanks for taking him on, man. Seriously. You have no idea how much this means to me."
"No problem," says Jamie. He walks Grant out. Looking back as he backs his car out of its spot, Grant feels weird and guilty, for no reason he can put his finger on. Maybe this is what parents feel like, leaving their kid on the first day of school. Jamie watches him blankly from the open doorway. As Grant turns out of the parking lot, he sees Jamie step out into the rain and look up at the sky, rubbing the water from his head.
The bots Jamie worked with before weren't like Adam; they were humanoid, but you could see from way off that they weren't human. They were big, really big, sometimes eight feet tall. They had long, long arms and legs, and fingers and toes with wide, flat pads on the ends, like a frog's, and they had blank faces that never changed. They had mouths and eyes but no noses, and metallic orange skin, for visibility. Their voices were wrong, too, like they were being synthesized on a keyboard, and they talked weird sometimes, like the jibberish from bad translation software. They mostly kept to themselves, and just stared into space when they weren't given explicit commands. They did the most dangerous work, walking out onto beams hundreds of metres off the ground carrying weights it would take three regular guys to manage. Jamie would switch them on in the morning, make sure they were connected up to the power at night to recharge, and he did basic maintenance and repairs. The other guys didn't like having the bots around, which Jamie figured was a union thing, until DeAngelo asked him why they didn't freak him out.
"They're creepy as hell, I don't know how you do it," he said. Jamie shrugged.
"They're programmed not to hurt humans."
"Man, whatever," DeAngelo said. "The way they look at me. Ugh. It ain't right." He shuddered all over, and rubbed his arms, like he was cold. "Some things just were not meant to be."
One time, one of them got its hand caught in a grinder; Jamie heard the shouts and came running, and found the bot pinned against the machine, arm in up to the shoulder. Its face was still blank, but it was thrashing like a fish, trying to reach the emergency stop button as the men around it just watched.
"Turn the damn thing off," he said, and pushed forward through them to cut the power. When the machine stopped rumbling, the bot sagged against it.
"What the hell were you doing?" he said, angry enough to nearly shout. He was talking to Clay, who was supposed to be supervising, but he was looking at the bot. He jumped when it answered.
"I was performing a task with the grinder. One of the men pushed me," it said. "I was not in error, Inspector Hyneman."
There was an uneasy shift in the circle of men. Jamie suddenly felt a prickle of sweat on his forehead, under his beret, and a shiver went up his back, like fear. The bot flopped its other arm, trying to push itself up out of the grinder.
"Piece of junk's full of shit," one of them said.
"Get back to work," said Jamie.
Jamie cut the bot free as it watched him patiently, then he helped it sit down on the floor and began taking the grinder apart to get its arm out. What was left of it, anyhow.
"I am unable to assess the damage," the bot said. "I humbly request information regarding this matter."
"Well, your arm's basically destroyed," Jamie said. "Maybe they'll give you a new one down at the shop."
"My operational lifespan is nearing completion," said the bot. "It would be a more financially sound decision for Fieldman Construction to invest in newer models."
Jamie wondered if it was angry. He supposed that was kind of a stupid thing to wonder. He recovered the last of the arm's casing from the very back of the machine, and put the whole mess into a canvas bag. The bot looked even weirder without one arm, and with all these connections hanging out. Jamie supposed he should bind them up. They might get caught in something else, or electrocute someone. And they looked messy, bad, like intestines trailing or something. They made him uncomfortable to look at them.
"You want this back?" he said. He held out the bag with its arm in it. The bot looked at him.
"Excuse me, I do not understand the question," it said.
A couple weeks after that happened, Jamie got into work to find that all the bots had been vandalized. Their faces had been covered with spraypaint and all sawed open, and their cables had been pulled out from the wall and slashed. He had to send the bunch of them back to the shop. He figured it was the union - there were a bunch of protests going on downtown - but he wasn't sure. He put in a request for an investigation to the head office, but he never heard anything happened about it. Pretty soon he quit that job, and moved on.
The first day, Jamie mostly just shows Adam around the shop. He lets him try a couple of things, and decides he isn't going to break anything right away. After Grant has come to take him back, he calls the others into his office to tell them about Adam. They've all seen Adam earlier that day, even spoken to him a few times, but Jamie ignored them then. He has interns in the shop sometimes, he doesn't introduce them unless they're staying. José and Scottie say, "No fucking way," about five times. Kay says, "God, I wondered why he - it, I guess, oh my god, that's so weird - I was wondering why it had that tattoo on its neck."
"You should call him 'he'," says Jamie.
"What? That's even weirder," says José.
Jamie frowns, annoyed. "It's polite."
"He's a robot, Jamie," José says. "They don't have feelings."
"He's not like any bot I've ever seen," Scottie says. "He's incredible. I can't believe this. Seriously, Jamie, are you shitting us?"
"He's something new," Jamie says. "Get back to work. And mind your own business."
He doesn't tell them where Adam's from; he figures they don't need to know. Like if Adam had been in prison, or something. Jamie's been a lot of stuff in his life, and he doesn't particularly want everyone knowing all about that either.
In the first week, Jamie teaches Adam to use the lathe, the molding machine, the sander, the circular saw and the arc welder. Adam only needs to watch him use it once and do it once himself with Jamie watching him, and then he never forgets, although he sometimes doesn't think things through, uses the wrong materials for the wrong thing, or starts on a task without thinking out all the stages first. He breaks stuff, because he doesn't know what it does, and he tries to find out. Jamie will forget about him for a while, come back and find he's climbed up to the top of the stack of drawers to find out what's in the top one, or has disconnected the lathe and has opened up the back, or is going through Jamie's desk.
He thinks about the sex thing for a while, and eventually decides that all he needs to do is talk to Adam. "Don't offer my employees sex," he says. "This is a professional environment."
"But I thought advertising was all about sex," says Adam. "That's what I read in a newspaper article about advertising. And I worked in a professional environment, and we had sex there." He's juggling three balls in the air. He learned to juggle yesterday.
Jamie considers that. "We just make stuff for advertising. That's different. This is the kind of professional environment where we don't have sex."
"Okay," says Adam. "Do you have any books that would teach me about how to build boats? The Wikipedia article isn't very specific."
Jamie doesn't. But later, he finds himself checking the hours of the local library. They require ID and proof of address to get a card number, so Adam can't get one. But Jamie can get one for himself that Adam can use to order books online. He goes by and registers after work. While he's there, he picks up a couple of books for Adam about boats and remote control motor rigs. Then, hesitating, he picks up War and Peace too, for himself. Been a while since he's read a book.
The next day, Adam gets something jammed in the cutter. Jamie is halfway across the shop when he hears the angry shrieking noise of the blade - he'd only left Adam alone for five minutes - and he barks his shin on a trashcan in his hurry to get to him. He cuts the power at the wall, and the noise scraping at his nerves stops abruptly. Heart pounding, Jamie sees that Adam still has both his arms, no wires are hanging out, there's not a scratch on him.
Scottie pops her head around the door. "Everyone okay?"
"Yeah," Jamie says sharply. His shin hurts. "Get back to work."
She shrugs, and disappears.
"I'm sorry," Adam says. "I think I made a mistake. How can I make it up to you?"
"Don't worry about it," Jamie mutters. He leans over the cutter to try and see what's inside, and is suddenly aware of Adam stepping close, really close, practically pressed against his ass. Instinctively he shrinks away, presses against the metal side of the cutter, but then Adam's hands come down on his shoulders.
"You look really tense," Adam murmurs. "Want me to do something about that?"
Jamie shrugs him off and jerks away. His face is hot, he can feel himself flushing. "No," he says. "Don't do that."
Adam cocks his head to the side. "I've upset you. I'm sorry. Would you like to punish me? I know it'd make you feel better."
Jamie steps back again, and nearly stumbles over his own feet. For a sickening moment, he thinks Adam's making fun of him, then he realizes that this is what Grant warned him about, and feels stupid, his head pounding dully. "What the hell is wrong with you? What'd I tell you yesterday? You got something wrong with your programming, or something?"
Adam looks at him, weirdly blank. Belatedly, he remembers that he only told Adam not to hit on his staff, not on him. He takes a deep breath and tries to be reasonable, sound calm.
"This isn't a porn film," he says. "I know you worked as, as a prostitute, but this is a workplace. You can't mess around like that here."
"What's a porn film?"
Jamie has to catch himself again, because he knows Adam isn't being smart or making fun of him, but he feels the old, blind anger rising up again, the kind where he used to hit kids bigger than him, until he learned to be smart and get away before he got in trouble.
"Stay here," he says. "Don't move. Don't touch any of the equipment."
He walks away, goes to the kitchen and makes coffee, slowly, deliberately. He drinks it, scalding his tongue. Scottie comes in, takes one look at him, and pivots on her heel to leave again. After half an hour, he feels calm enough to go back to the shop and find Adam. Adam is still standing in the exact same place, staring at the wall. He turns his head when Jamie comes in, a little jerkily.
"You can move now," Jamie says, feeling a little bad.
"Are you going to return me back to Grant?" Adam says, toneless.
"No," Jamie says. "You just gotta not do that again."
"Do what? I'm sorry, I don't understand."
"Act like you're in porn."
"Pornography," Jamie says slowly. "Movies of people having fake sex. It's not - real people don't act like that."
Adam's still frowning. He steps forward, and Jamie flinches without meaning to.
"I'm sorry," Adam says. "What do you want me to do?"
"I don't - I don't want to have sex with you, okay?" Jamie says. "Don't touch me."
Adam face clears. He nods.
"Come on," Jamie says stiffly. "I'll show you how to take this thing apart."
Jamie shows him how to fix the cutter. It's a hard, long job, and Adam very carefully keeps a distance of at least six inches between them at all times. At the end of the day, Jamie feels sore and tired, but he isn't sure who he should be mad at. He chews out Grant when he comes to pick Adam up, since he seems as good as anyone.
"Oh," says Grant. "You know, in retrospect, he's used to everyone he interacts with being there to have sex with him. Like, they would have already have signed a consent form. I should probably have told him to apply a blanket assumption of non-consent unless given verbal instructions to the contrary by the individual in question."
"Yeah," Jamie says. "Probably."
Adam's quiet in the car back to Grant's apartment. Grant's thinking through the San Francisco commuter traffic, all the way up until he pulls into his space in the lot under his building.
"I'm sorry," Grant says, when he's cut the engine. "I should have foreseen this. I think the blanket non-consent command will deal with most of it, but you've got no experience in a real-world social environment. You know, I feel really weird saying this, but I think the best way to teach you what isn't porn is to show you some porn."
"Okay," says Adam. "Yeah."
He has his own porn, of course, but something about showing that to Adam is - no. But embarrassing as it is, Grant has never actually acquired any of his own porn; everything he has is left over from the huge stash Tory downloaded onto his hard drive years ago. After browsing through a few horrifying sites, he decides, appalled, that he has to go to a rental place and look at some DVDs. He leaves Adam in the apartment. There are some things he just can't face. On the way back, he picks up pizza, then wishes he hadn't, since it feels like they're having a boys night in, or something, which feels seriously pathetic, even when he reminds himself he isn't actually watching porn with a robot out of choice.
"Okay," he says, clearing his throat. "I want to make it absolutely clear that we are not going to have sex. I'm showing you these DVDs so you can see what's real and what's not, okay?"
Adam looks at the TV expectantly. Grant suddenly isn't really sure why he thought this would be a good idea, but he's committed now, so he loads up the first DVD, My First Sex Teacher. This one's het. He's never actually watched any guy-on-guy porn, except for one time when he was seventeen and thought he might be gay after watching Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, so he wanted to start with something familiar.
"Okay," he says, "This is what porn looks like. You can just sit and watch. And," he adds, self-consciously, "You can ask me questions whenever." He doesn't think he's a natural teacher, and this is the weirdest thing he's ever taught anybody.
They keep the volume down low, and watch a bored-looking woman get banged on a desk by an enormous, totally hairless guy. Grant spends most of it watching Adam out of the corner of his eye, curious about his reaction, and he has his pen and notepad open next to him, but Adam just sits there blankly. After about half an hour, it occurs to him that he could just go into the other room and read a book. After the fourth 'student' takes the teacher up against the wall, he decides they can move on to gay porn. This one has a plumber-type setup, the closest thing he could find to Adam's actual work environment. It starts pretty much in media res, with a guy giving another guy a blowjob while a third guy jerks off in the background. Grant excuses himself to heat up some off the pizza. When he comes back, Adam's still staring at the screen, his forehead creased.
"Does watching this arouse you?" he says.
"Not really," Grant admits. "But I'm not gay."
"But you didn't like the one with the woman either."
"Not really. She looked really bored. I, uh, prefer stuff that's more realistic."
Adam blinks. "Are they bots?"
"No," Grant says. "They're actors. They're pretending. It's fiction, I guess. It's just not very good fiction. Okay, look, I've got some other stuff to do," he says desperately, struck by inspiration, "but what I want you to do is, watch these other two porn films, then watch some other movies in the DVD case, okay? Those are a different genre, and the social interactions are a bit more realistic. That should give you something to compare the porn with, okay?"
He escapes, feeling vaguely guilty, and suspecting that he isn't very good at this at all.
Jamie greets Grant warily the next day.
"Hi!" says Grant, and he hands Jamie a stack of DVDs. "Adam isn't done with these, can he watch them in your office?"
He's gone before Jamie sees that half the stack is porn. He shrugs, and sets Adam up with the computer in his private office. He turns the volume down low and turns the screen away from the window into the big communal office, and leaves Adam there watching. Back outside he futzes around for a while, working on different stuff, then falls back on one of his private projects, since he can't concentrate; he gets caught up in the slow, careful welds, and when he looks up, it's ten after two. He goes to get some lunch, and to check on Adam. Adam pauses the DVD when Jamie walks in, on a still-frame of a guy fucking another guy in a field. Jamie averts his eyes from it.
"Jamie, can I ask you a question?" Adam says.
Jamie tenses. "Sure."
"In movies, how do actors and actresses know what to say?"
"Uh, they have scripts, I guess."
"Oh," says Adam, face clearing. "Okay. How many? I have nearly a million scripts that can be used in combination."
Adam's eyebrows raise and he stares in that exaggerated way he has. "One?"
"Right. All the actors have the same script, so they all know what each other is going to say."
"Oh, so it's like, a scene they've negotiated beforehand."
"Uh. Yeah, I guess. Only there's a bunch of scenes. And I guess there isn't much of a script. Mostly they just have sex."
Adam appears to think about this. Jamie's head is beginning to hurt. He feels like Grant should have dealt with this.
"But then -" Adam says, "okay, but you and Scottie and the others don't have just one script, right? So how many do you have?"
Jamie thinks about this. It takes him a long time, and after about a minute Adam starts to tap his foot and play with the edge of his seat. Jamie knows it's just a holding pattern, like a screensaver, but it makes him uncomfortable.
"Stop that," he says.
"Sorry," Adam says, and he stops. Then he sits unnaturally still, and that bothers Jamie even more.
"Real people - humans - don't have them," Jamie says finally. "Except I guess we have patterns of what we say when, like, when I'm leaving I say goodbye and you say goodbye."
"But how do you know what to say when someone says something to you?" Adam says. He looks frustrated, and Jamie feels a pang of something hard, like sympathy. He remembers feeling that way, back when he was quiet and stupid all the time and blushed bright red every time anyone spoke to him, only he didn't have anyone to ask about it. He guesses he just got used to it, eventually. Or cared less what people thought.
"A lot of the time I don't, I guess," he says, after a moment. "I'm not that fast. Some people can do it pretty well."
Adam doesn't answer.
"It's difficult," adds Jamie.
"Yeah," says Adam.
There's a pause.
"You want me to turn this back on?" Jamie says.
"Sure," says Adam.
They watch a big guy fuck a woman next to a pool. Then he comes on her face.
"I have to go work now," Jamie says. "Come and get me when you've finished the DVDs."
"Okay," Adam says.
At ten after six, there's no sign of Adam, so Jamie goes to look for him. He's still in Jamie's office, watching the special features on the Pretty Woman DVD that happened to be on the shelf. Jamie realizes he didn't set parameters, and wonders if Adam would have been in here all evening watching the fitness DVDs that someone left here last year.
"Grant will be here soon," Jamie says. "You can stop now."
Adam deliberately ejects the DVD, and puts it back into its case.
"Are there books about how people know what to say?" he says.
Jamie blinks. It seems weird, that it never occurred to him before to look for books like that. That he could read them. He could look at the library, he guesses, but he has no idea where to even start.
"You should probably ask Grant," he says.
Grant raises his eyebrows when Jamie gives him back the porn and the other DVDs, and tells him Adam wants some books about how to behave. He tells Grant about the scripts, and tries to repeat everything Adam said, as far as he remembers. Grant pulls out a notebook and starts taking notes, messing up his hair and dropping things.
"Wow," he says. "It looks like you guys have really - wow."
"He's smart," Jamie says. It feels inadequate, but he can't think of anything else to say.
"Yeah, I - yeah," says Grant. "I'll get right on that book thing, I can't believe I didn't think of that before. That's a really good idea. I'll get him some books on conversation analysis, social convention, that kind of thing." He slaps Jamie on the shoulder. "Thanks, Jamie!" Jamie shrugs. Adam catches his eye as he leaves with Grant, and smiles a little. Jamie goes back inside.
ada_automata: so how's Adam?
iamyourfather: He seems to be doing okay.
iamyourfather: Jamie says he's learned to use almost all the tools in the shop now.
ada_automata: did you think he'd have trouble with that?
iamyourfather: Well, in retrospect it seems obvious, but the main barrier to adaptation seems to be *social*. Bots are programmed to work from a very limited set of social encounters depending on their function. He's not having trouble acquiring new practical skills, that's easy
ada_automata: and the integration - right, yes
iamyourfather: yeah, part of the same thing - I want to know if his programmed-in adaptability to situations can eventually allow him to depart entirely from his base programming, which is about both social context and application of practical skills
iamyourfather: because they were part of the same thing in the kind of work he was made for
iamyourfather: I guess they always are.
iamyourfather: lucky model makers are already all pretty weird, the bar for social awareness is pretty low
ada_automata: well, they should make allowances, too
ada_automata: I mean, not like, putting up with sexual harassment, but they should make room for him, make whatever changes they need to in the way they operate so he knows what kind of interaction they're going to have.
ada_automata: you and I could come in and give Jamie and his trainees a seminar? Probably there's someone better but I don't know who else is doing anything like this
iamyourfather: obviously if we were doing this large-scale, but the whole point is to test the flexibility of the technology
ada_automata: Adam! not 'the technology'! the whole point is to help Adam escape from an abusive working environment and show that he can readapt given the chance, since basic human decency probably isn't enough to sway property law
iamyourfather: but, and look, I hate to point this out, he IS a robot. He doesn't have feelings.
ada_automata: then why did he run away in the first place?
iamyourfather: I mean, he doesn't have feelings in the way we understand them!
ada_automata: do I have feelings in the way you understand them?
ada_automata: I mean, sorry. That sounded
ada_automata: I mean, in the abstract, how can you say that there's a difference between how emotions are experienced differently between cultures and even between individuals, and between robots and humans?
ada_automata: or animals, even. We have laws about animal cruelty, even if they are minimal, and even if their brains don't work the same way as ours and we use them as pack animals or whatever
ada_automata: what's the difference between an animal born in captivity after millennia of domestication and selective breeding to shape them to our needs, and a robot?
iamyourfather: I guess I don't really understand your feelings
ada_automata: maybe I don't either
iamyourfather: but I want to
ada_automata: look, I've got to go. Can we talk about this later?
Hey Adam, how's it going? I have a hearing tomorrow and 2 settlement negotiations this week plus some other casework so sorry I haven't been in touch but Grant has been keeping me updated on your progress with Jamie. Hope you're doing ok. No progress on getting a meeting with Myth yet but I'll keep you posted. Please get in touch if you have any questions at all, about anything to do with the case or about social interactions with people at work (I can't help you with electronics stuff or model-making) - I'm always happy to hear from you.
Grant said you wanted some books on social interaction. My friend's an anthropology student and he gave me a couple of suggestions. He was very interested in your case, he said please tell him what you think! Hope they're helpful.
<attachmenttype = ebook>
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<filedescription="The Professional in America new to the country? want to integrate into American society and become successful in your chosen office environment? This coursebook and video roleplay kit offers you coaching on appropriate conversation, clothing suggestions and dos and don'ts for your">
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<filedescription="Studies in Conversational Analysis was founded at the groundbreaking anthropology department of the University of Columbia. Its purview is the field of conversational analysis and its basic concepts such as turn-taking, comprehension repair, and gestural">
"How's he doing?" Grant says, after the end of the second week. He's been in to observe Adam, and he's been taking notes all day. "I mean, really, how's he doing?"
Jamie shrugs. "Okay."
Adam's downloaded and watched - or just absorbed, Jamie isn't sure - all the DVDs in Grant's apartment and a bunch he had on netflix, and he's been quoting from movies a lot. Scottie said if she had to listen to Adam recite a scene from Forrest Gump one more time, she was going to kill everyone in a fifty mile radius, but then she spent half an hour trying to explain to Adam which Batman movie was the best. The way he quotes movies all the time is kind of annoying, but Jamie guesses either he'll learn to speak for himself, or he won't. He knows a bunch of guys over at ILM who only talk in The Simpsons and Monty Python quotes anyway, and they seem okay. There's no point rushing him. Adam's helping him build a one-tenth scale office in a fishbowl. He's good at detail work and can do all the math in his head. He hasn't tried to get sexy with Jamie again once, not at all. Jamie feels stupid now for getting so worked up about it.
"Excellent," Grant says, closing his notebook, then looks around and says more quietly, "Hey, can I ask you something? I don't want to kick him out of my place, but it's really only big enough for one person for anything more than a few days, and he's driving me crazy. He keeps moving my books around in the middle of the night and asking me questions, and I've got this grant proposal coming up - I can't get any work done. A hotel wouldn't take him, or I'd put him there, but -"
"He can stay here," Jamie says slowly. "We have an outlet. He can power overnight here."
"Oh, thanks, that'd be awesome," Grant says. Jamie immediately has second thoughts - he isn't sure if it's safe to leave Adam here overnight - but Grant's already nodding. "That would be really great, actually. I can monitor him better if I'm not seeing him all the time, I think - it's making it harder to see any progress. And it would save us going through the morning traffic." He's talking really fast, Jamie guesses he's relieved. "He shouldn't need much, just a mattress to lie on while he powers up, and a light so he can read. I've got a list of articles he wants from the university, I'll email him copies tonight."
"He doesn't have a laptop," Jamie says.
Grant looks at him oddly. "He can download them direct," he says. "He's on your network, right? I think he even has a port, actually, if you have a double-pin cable."
Jamie's been getting him hard-copies of books, from the library, whatever he thought Adam would be interested in, and he's seen Adam reading them. He didn't think about getting him digital versions. But Adam didn't say anything, so he guesses he doesn't mind.
"We should ask Adam if he wants to stay here," Jamie says.
"Oh right," Grant says. He looks taken aback, and rubs the back of his head. "Yeah. I keep - I should have thought of that."
Adam starts to stay in the shop at night, and Jamie gets some extra locks for the doors, gives Adam his home number and tells him he can't leave at night unless the building's on fire or there's some kind of emergency. Adam shrugs, smiles, and asks if he can work on projects overnight. Jamie thinks about it, but says no. He doesn't think it's safe. He feels bad, though, so he brings Adam some DVDs and some more books so he has something to do.
Working with Adam isn't anything like what he thought it would be. The only way Adam's like the construction bots Jamie worked with before is that he doesn't look after himself. He tests blades on his own arm, he pokes himself in the face with a spinning motor, he dips his finger in acid. He climbs into things, and touches everything. He can lift weights Jamie won't even try, and when they accidentally shoot a grappling hook way up into the pipes in the ceiling, Adam just runs up the ladder, grabs a strong-looking pipe and hangs from it by one hand while he tugs the hook out.
"Hm," he says. "Think I'll break myself if I drop from here? What is it, twenty-five feet?"
"Woah," Jamie says. "Hey. No. Use the ladder."
"Okay, okay," Adam says. He drops down lightly onto it, and slides down.
Jamie looks at him.
"Do you even get hurt?" he says. "I mean, do you feel pain?"
Adam looks at him through his eyelashes. "I can feel whatever you want me to feel," he says, and grins.
Jamie blinks, ambushed by the feeling that they're having a different conversation than the one he meant. He gets that a lot, but it's never happened with Adam before. Talking to him is easy; Jamie likes that about him. "No, I mean. If you damage yourself. Will it hurt you?"
"Oh, right, no," Adam says, "not in the way it would hurt a human. But I'm designed to simulate pain if the client wants it. Do you want me to simulate pain if I damage myself?"
"No," Jamie says, unsettled. "Just be more careful. I can't fix you up so well if you break yourself."
It shakes Jamie up. He watches Adam more carefully, after that. And he thinks about Adam, pretending to be in pain. If Jamie wanted him to.
The next day, watching Adam slide a sheet of wood easily through the bandsaw, he clears his throat and says, "You should let me know if you damage yourself on something. You can, uh, simulate pain." He's decided it's safer. Otherwise Adam might break himself and not think to tell anybody.
Adam switches off the blade like Jamie taught him - brake, slide, button, outlet. "Okay, sure, Jamie. Whatever you want."
"It's not because I want it," Jamie says. His voice sounds too loud, now the saw's off. He tries to sound more normal. Reasonable. He doesn't want Adam to think he's upset, or anything. "It's so people know if you've hurt yourself. So they can come help. You could get stuck in something and damage yourself more trying to get out."
"So I don't actually have to simulate pain," Adam argues. "Just yell."
Jamie shrugs. "What's the difference?"
Adam puts the two pieces of wood down. He bends over the counter, and looks up at Jamie. He takes a sharp breath, then he moans, low in his throat. Jamie stares as Adam drops his head, like he can't hold it up; when he looks up again, his face is flushing red, and there's a sheen on his forehead that wasn't there before. "Oh, God, please," he whispers. He moans again, high and soft. "Please stop."
Then he straightens up and dusts off his shirt like nothing's happened. Jamie finds his fists are clenched by his sides.
"That's simulating pain," he says. "Yelling is, 'hey, Jamie, I've chopped my finger off, can you come re-attach it?'"
"Oh, you should swear," Scottie says from behind him. Jamie jumps. He didn't know she was there. He wants to get out of the room, he wants her to leave; he doesn't want anyone to see Adam that way. But she walks right past him, grinning; maybe she didn't see. "I do this." She grabs the hammer, and taps herself on the knuckles. "Ow! Shit! My fucking hand!" she yells.
José sticks his head round the door. "You okay?"
"We're just teaching Adam what to do if he hurts himself," Scottie says.
"Oh, sweet," José says. "You should curse Jamie out, Adam, he likes that."
"Hey," Jamie says. "Don't go messing him around." But Adam's laughing with them, and they all seem okay. He leaves them with Adam repeating after José, "Goddammit," over and over, with different intonations. Things are normal - or whatever counts as normal around here - and Adam doesn't do anything like that again.
Jamie can't get it out of his head, though.
After three weeks at the shop, Adam's read all the books Grant and Kari gave him and some more that Jamie found. Scottie's teaching him about how cars work. Kari and Grant came in and talked to the other employees for a while about Adam, about how his mind works, about giving explicit instructions and parameters. It was pretty much exactly like the information section on the application form his clients used to fill in, which Adam has on his hard drive, but they didn't ask for that.
Kari asked him, afterwards, if he likes the shop. He guesses he does. He works on surfaces until they’re textured just right, or smooth and shiny enough to skate on; he's only worked on living human skin before, and each new material he works with, he registers the differences. He likes finding the parameters of things, exactly what they can do and can't do in any given situation. Jamie says that they use things in ways they weren't intended, that's their job; Adam doesn't know what things are intended for, a lot of the time, so his ignorance is an advantage, although sometimes it frustrates the others, and Adam can't offer them sex, so he has to just try and learn quickly.
Nobody's gotten mad at Adam for thirty-seven hours, and he's finding it easier to find scripts for things. The movies helped, but also he's just getting quicker, filling in the gaps faster the more time he spends with people. But at the same time as that, he's been feeling a kind of pressure building up in him, almost like overheating, so that sometimes he feels like he needs to shut down. He's done scans, but he can't find anything wrong with his hardware or software. He doesn't know what it is. It at least doesn't seem like a virus, because then it would surely be getting steadily worse; instead, sometimes it eases off significantly, most often when he's doing something repetitive and complex enough to absorb most of his processing power, or when he spends a significant portion of his time with only Jamie. Working with the others, even Grant, is what Adam guesses is what stressful means- when there's more than two of them in the room, it reminds him of being on the street in Manhattan, overloading him with infinitesimal data every time they move, or speak, or gesture, or change expression. Jamie doesn't do any of those things that much.
Some of the journal articles Grant got for him are about him, about the design and production of artificial brains, from the cortex up. They give him some ideas. He finds he has subroutines he can implement himself, deep scans and defragmentations. He begins to defrag himself every night, spend a few hours reorganizing his data. It helps a little. But it doesn't help the sensation that something is taking up his RAM, like a billion minute, pointless subroutines running in the background, too many and too small for him to shut down. It's a bad feeling.
It hasn't gotten to the point where he can't sustain focus on a task yet, but he worries that soon it will, and he doesn't know what to do. He should tell Grant about it, but he's afraid that he's breaking down, somehow - that this experiment isn't working. He hasn't had his memory wiped in one thousand, one hundred and seventy six hours; he's learned a whole world in that time, and he wants it, wants to keep it all. He doesn't know what he'd do now, if they came to take him away. He runs simulations, sometimes, in his idle night hours, of the different ways it could happen; Grant comes with Carl and says, I'm sorry, Adam, but the experiment is a failure or Carl comes alone and says, found you, you motherfucker, or other people he doesn't know fry him from behind and shut him down without a word. He thinks he'd hide. He thinks he'd run. He thinks he might be able to fight to get away. He wonders if anyone might help him.
He hits breaking point before he's expecting, before he's prepared; he's working on a ballistics mould, something simple that he's done fifty times before, and suddenly, his processes blank out, just stop, and he freezes mid-motion. It's barely a second of blankness, and he catches himself before he falls, but he drops the mould and gets gel all over the floor of the shop. Jamie frowns. He looks over the place, then at Adam, and says, "Clean up this damn mess."
He drops the bucket on the floor beside him, and Adam feels his knees giving way before Jamie's even turned his back. For the next hour, everything is simple. The others ignore him; Adam is being punished, and there is nothing he does not understand about it. Even the air in the workshop feels like it's easier to move through, like Jamie's cut a way through it for him by telling him what to do with a frown on his face. He scrubs the floor on all fours until his knees start to register wear, focused on sweeping up every single stray particle of sawdust along with the spilled gelatin. He squeezes the sponge into the bucket, fascinated at the soapy water foaming up and over his fingers. He polishes all the tools. He wipes down the tables. When Jamie comes back in, a few hours later, he stops short.
"I cleaned up for you," Adam says.
Jamie turns in a slow circle, looking around the shop. "It looks good," he says finally. "Thanks." He walks away.
Pleasure washes through Adam's cortex, good, so good, so intense that his balance gauge registers a disturbance and sits him down on the floor. It takes him nearly ten minutes to get fully functional again, and then he discovers that the pressure in his core is almost completely gone. He's fine. He gets up, and gets back to work.
The next day a rush job comes in, and that week he, Jamie and Scottie build a to-scale replica of a 1925 Flint B-40 Touring car out of styrofoam, aluminium and balsa that's light enough for the actor to pick it up one-handed. He and Jamie work out the design together using some new three-dimensional modelling software that Jamie has, but Adam's processor is so much faster than Jamie's computer that they end up hooking Adam up to it so he can do most of the work. The software teaches him how to stress-test the design in his head, run it against the properties of adhesives, bonding agents, all stored in Jamie's database, and then he gets to see the car take shape on the shop floor, feel with his exterior sensors what he already made in his head, Jamie overseeing him closely the whole time. At one point, Jamie leans close over Adam to point at something on the monitor, and Adam ducks down, flattens himself on the desk so as not to touch him accidentally.
"What the heck are you doing?" Jamie says.
"Not touching you," says Adam. The desk is pressing hard against his hip, pinging a faint sensor warning.
"Sit up," Jamie says, after a slight pause. "You look stupid."
Adam sits up. Jamie shifts uneasily, but doesn't move away. Adam can feel the warmth of his body against his shoulder. Unconsciously, he registers Jamie's body temperature, the rate of his pulse, the chemical composition of his odour and its likely causes. Some people smell complicated, especially those who've spent their day in a densely-packed urban environment like Adam's clients in Manhattan, but Jamie's smell is easily broken down into deoderant, soap, coffee, sawdust and sweat. It's satisfying to log.
"You don't mind if I touch you now?"
"Whatever," Jamie mutters. His temperature and pulse are slightly elevated. Is he embarrassed? "If you need to. No sense in putting your face in the keyboard to get out of my way. Now look at the damn screen."
They keep working. Without explicit instructions, Adam reduces his min-max personal space quotient around Jamie from two-feet-to-six-inches to six-to-one-inches ('impersonal' to 'personal, non-intimate'), and removes the injunction on touching, but aims for low skin-to-skin or skin-to-clothing contact. Jamie doesn't say anything about it, so Adam figures that's acceptable.
It isn't like he forgets about the pressure he was experiencing, or the way he cut out all of a sudden - he doesn't forget anything, just organizes it into high and low priorities, and periodically, rarely, deletes what's at the bottom of the list - but he's functioning normally again, and it seems obvious now that he just needs to keep busy. He was waiting for a new learning curve, that's all, and Grant has said he can get him some new memory. That could be it. He doesn't spend much time thinking about it, really.
At the end of the first month with Adam, there's a quiet period. José has exams, so he goes to part time for a while. Kay goes to visit her mom in LA. Scottie's competing in a motocross tournament in Colorado. Jamie was expecting he'd be by himself when they scheduled it, but now it's just him and Adam for a while. Grant takes Adam out to the lab for a few tests; when he drops Adam back at the shop, Grant says, "We're going to see how Adam gets on with another few lemmabytes of memory. I'm going to FedEx over the new spot - I have to go out of town for some meetings to do with -" he gestures back at Adam silently. Jamie nods, suddenly feeling a chill. He forgets, sometimes, that Adam's on loan - that they might decide to send Adam back to the brothel, or whatever they call the kind of place he was before.
"Adam'll show you how to insert it, but he can't do it himself, do you mind?"
"Sure," Jamie says, not really thinking about it. But when he takes the package into the shop the next day and waves it at Adam, Adam freezes, staring up at him like Jamie's holding a gun instead of a memory spot. Jamie feels a tug of discomfort.
"You want to do this now?" he says, and Adam shakes his head.
"No," he says. "Later."
Later is in the shop, when everyone's gone home, two fold-out chairs in the middle of the floor with Adam in one, Jamie in the other; Jamie is wearing latex gloves, and Adam has his shoulders bare and his chest open, a great, gaping hole in his torso and a black, shiny protrusion of chips and boards jutting out of it. He's grounded with a cord extending from the socket at the base of his spine. It looks wrong, almost obscene. Like something out of a movie.
"Does this hurt?" Jamie says. "Tell me if it hurts."
"It doesn't hurt," Adam says. He sounds kind of breathless, which is funny, since Jamie's got his hand where Adam's lungs should be. He's quieter than Jamie's ever seen him, looking down at his own insides and Jamie's hands touching him. The silence is heavy. Adam's body is more complex than anything Jamie's ever worked on before; it's nothing like a real human body, but Jamie imagines he'd feel just the same looking at a real beating heart in an open ribcage as he does looking at Adam's processing core, layers upon layers of tiny filaments running together and around and over to make a knot of information that runs up through his neck and into his head. Adam's core takes up ten times the space of a human brain. It's lucky he doesn't need organs too.
"You're not going to switch me off," Adam says. His voice sounds weird, flat. Jamie can't tell if it's a question. He shrugs.
"It doesn't hurt, right? You want me to?"
"No," Adam says, fast.
With a pair of tweezers, Jamie positions the tiny red disc in the slot of one of Adam's memory boards.
"I'm gonna put it in now," he says quietly. His skin is prickling.
"Please wait just a second," Adam says. He closes his eyes. "Shit."
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah," says Adam. A line creases the middle of his forehead. He laughs a little, suddenly. "I keep thinking you're going to take it away."
Adam's speaking quietly, almost a whisper, so that it feels like they're even closer than they are. Jamie clears his throat.
"Take what away?"
Jamie freezes, and puts the disc down in the package before he drops it. His hands are shaking a little, so he sits on them. "I'm not gonna do that."
He knew that was what they used to do to Adam. He knew that's why he ran away. But he somehow never connected that Adam with this Adam - who's like a coworker, like a friend. It makes him feel hot and like he wants to hit something.
"What does it feel like?" he hears himself say.
Adam hesitates. It's a dumb question, Jamie thinks. Adam's a computer.
"Bad," Adam says, finally. "You probably can't imagine - have you ever met someone and not known if you've met them before? And they talk to you and smile like they know you, and you don't know who they are, and you don't know whether you should smile, or say you don't know them, or what?"
Jamie nods, wordless. Adam looks surprised.
"That happens to humans? Oh, right, your memory isn't indelible. Anyhow, it was like that with everyone I ever met for work, but also everything I saw in a book, or on TV, all the birds I used to see out the window, music, the weather, the building I lived in, everything. It would feel like it was coming back, and then they'd wipe me again."
Jamie tries to imagine that sinking, panicky feeling happening every time he looked at Scottie, or the lathe, or a pigeon. He can't.
"I wouldn't do that to you," he says slowly.
Adam watches him steadily.
"I would never do that to you," he says again. "I wouldn't do that to anyone."
"Grant says you used to work with bots," Adam says. It doesn't sound like a challenge, but Jamie feels it like one, and immediately he's trying to remember if he ever did wipe any of them. He doesn't think so. He's pretty sure.
"They didn't have much memory," he says. "Construction bots."
Adam nods, but Jamie feels a creeping sensation anyway, like guilt. He knows he's going to be up late tonight, looking up the specs of those models.
"Grant's gonna meet some people tomorrow about you," Jamie says. "He's trying to help." He doesn't sound convincing, he knows. The worst thing is, he isn't sure Grant's trying hard. He thinks he is. But he isn't sure. If Grant doesn't get to keep Adam, he'll be able to experiment on some other bot, some other time. But Adam won't escape again.
"Would you stay here if they let you?"
"Yeah," Adam says immediately. "That would be awesome. If - could I do some of my own stuff too? My own projects?"
"Sure," says Jamie. "You can do that now, you know," he adds.
Adam shrugs. Jamie guesses that was a stupid thing to say. Adam doesn't have anywhere to work. He wonders if he could set some place aside for Adam in the shop - maybe turn one of the storerooms into an office? Let him work on the weekends?
Weird-shaped shadows are cast away from them by the light, and in their darknesses, the quiet is punctuated by the tiny clicking sounds of metal contracting or expanding.
"What's that noise?" Adam says. He turns towards it, like he wants to get up and investigate. He always wants to see everything, touch it, smell it. Jamie puts a hand on his leg to stop him getting up, in case he breaks the grounding wire. He lets it rest there after Adam sits back down. Adam's leg is warm under his jeans, but not as warm as you'd expect a human to be. Or at least, Jamie doesn't think so. He guesses he hasn't touched any humans in a while either.
"Just metal," Jamie says. "It's getting warmer in here. It's expanding." He always turns the aircon off at night, except when it's really hot, after that time that all the paint cans exploded.
"Oh," says Adam.
Jamie feels compelled to fill the silence, so he blurts out, "It's like it's breathing. The building."
Jamie's workshop doesn't have an AI, but he likes to think that the building is alive, sort of; he feels like it has bad days and good days, days when things go wrong and it's cranky and tense, and days when everything goes right, like it's happy to have him there. It makes him feel kind of protective of the shop, possessive, careful; or maybe he thinks it's alive because he feels that way, and he's got it the wrong way around. But he's never told anyone about it. Most people think the noises are creepy.
"Do you think I should simulate breathing?" Adam says suddenly. "Would it make people think I was more alive?"
Jamie thinks about it, shrugs.
"Maybe. If you wanna fool people into thinking you're human."
"I did it for three days, on the bus," Adam says. "It took a lot of power."
"Sounds like a waste of energy."
"Yeah," Adam says. "That's what I thought."
"You want me to close you up?" Jamie says, gesturing at his chest. "We can do it tomorrow. It's no big deal."
Adam's looking around, looking behind Jamie. Looking for escape routes.
"It's more memory," Jamie says. "It's an expansion. You won't lose anything."
"I know," Adam says. He sounds frustrated. "I don't understand why I'm not - it doesn't make sense."
Jamie peels back the gloves so he can wipe his sweating palms on his knees. "We can wait."
"You should just go ahead," Adam says. "I'll be okay in a minute."
"I'll wait," Jamie says again. His hands aren't shaking anymore. He feels too awake, wound tight as a wire. Maybe it's the coffee.
"No, no, it's okay," Adam says quickly, and shuts his eyes again. "Go on, do it now."
Jamie picks up the little red spot with the tweezers again, then hesitates.
"Please," Adam says. "Jamie, please. Let's just get this over with."
It slides in easily, with a soft click. Adam doesn't move. After a few seconds, he says tightly, "Is it in?"
"Yeah," says Jamie. "How long is your refresh cycle?"
"Ten point - oh, wait, there it is," says Adam. His eyes snap open suddenly. "Oh - oh shit, Jamie -"
He reaches out and grabs Jamie's shoulder and grips hard, so hard it hurts. His eyes are huge, staring straight at Jamie, and it's like he's looking right through Jamie's skull into his brain. Jamie can't look away. His heart is pounding reflexively, and he feels the prickles in his skin shiver and settle into something else. He shifts in his seat, and clears his throat.
"Are you okay?"
He sounds weird, flat, like a machine, or a voice run through autotune. Slowly, he seems to come back; he refocuses on Jamie's face, and licks his lip, wetting it to a shine. "Yeah. Yeah. Woah. That was intense. It's like - everything just got sharper."
"Like glasses," Jamie says, stupidly. He's hard, and dizzy. He wants to touch Adam's mouth, or the inside of his torso, the microconnections glistening where his internal organs should be, his lungs, his liver. The silence stretches out between them.
"Okay now?" Jamie says at last.
"Yeah," Adam says. "Yeah. Thanks. Could you close me up now?"
"Right." Jamie fumbles the tweezers, embarrassed. He's careful not to touch anything he doesn't have to. It only takes a few seconds, then Adam's got his t-shirt on again and is up, bouncing around.
"Oh, man," he says, "I want to try the designing software again, Jamie, it'll be ten times faster now, I can feel it - can we try it now?"
"No," says Jamie. "It's late."
"Oh." Adam is still for a second. Then he starts playing with something on the table. "That's okay. You go."
Jamie hesitates. "You shouldn't stay here by yourself tonight."
"I'm fine!" Adam says. "You go home and sleep. You didn't have to stay late, man. Thanks."
Jamie gets the feeling that he's going to hook himself up to those computers the second Jamie locks the door behind himself, and there wouldn't be anyone there to keep an eye on him. It's like watching Adam hang from one hand from the ceiling again, about to do something stupid.
"You should come home with me," he says. He's suddenly, totally sure that Adam's going to ask if he wants to have sex with him. Instead, Adam laughs. Jamie's stomach twists.
"What, you don't trust me now?"
"Nope," Jamie says, trying to relax, trying to force himself to smile. He folds the chairs away, pulls off the gloves, grabs his bag. By the time he meets Adam waiting by the door, holding the satchel with his power cord and adapter, he isn't hard anymore. He's glad. He doesn't think Adam noticed.
Jamie lives ten minutes from the shop. He's thought about applying for a permit for a bigger place, but he doesn't feel like he needs the space more than some family with kids, and the waiting list is several years, although he guesses if he had a bigger place he could get a dog. His apartment probably isn't any smaller than Grant's, but even still, he feels a little ashamed, showing Adam around. He opens up the couch into a bed, even though Adam says he can just lie on the floor. He puts sheets on it, and gets a cover.
"Really, you don't need to do that," Adam says. "It doesn't make any difference to me, man."
Jamie shrugs. It's polite.
He fries a steak, and tosses up some potato salad as Adam watches, feeling weird cooking only for himself. He eats at the table, while Adam sits on the couch, since there's only one chair, his black power cable snaking up past his head to the wall outlet. The power drain makes the lights dim; he hopes nobody comes to complain, they're not allowed bots in his building. Adam talks and talks and talks while Jamie's eating, and finally, to shut him up, Jamie asks him if he wants to play a game. Turns out all he has in the apartment is a dusty box of Snakes and Ladders that were left by the previous tenant, but Adam has never seen a non-digital game before, and loves the pieces, plus he laughs every time either of them hits a snake. It's years since Jamie played a game with someone; it's actually kind of fun. Afterwards, Adam seems to be settling down, so they sit on the folded-out couch and watch Law and Order. Jamie doesn't usually watch TV, and he can hardly follow the story, Adam's asking so many questions. Adam seems to like the ad breaks more than the story, though, so after a while he starts muting the show in between ad breaks, and he reads bits of his novel while Adam stares at the screen.
"This couch is really firm," Adam says, during a silence. "Do you have a lot of guests?"
"No," says Jamie.
He goes to bed early but he's too wound up to sleep, too aware of Adam on the other side of his bedroom door. Jamie isn't used to having other people around. He'd thought that having a bot in his apartment would be different, but turns out it isn't. He keeps starting awake to the sound of another person in the apartment, the squeak of the couch as Adam shifts or turns. He moves around so no one part of his body takes too much weight for too long, even more than a human does. Then there's a tapping noise for a while, like Adam's drumming his fingers on the frame. He thinks about jerking off, and starts to get hard, thinking about it, but then thinks about how Adam would hear. Would maybe think Jamie wants - that Jamie wants him to - he doesn't want Adam to think he has to, to service Jamie or something. Jamie's not like that, he wouldn't want that, even if Adam didn't mind. When he thought about having sex with robots, before, he wasn't thinking they would be like people. Adam isn't like people, exactly, but he isn't anything like what Jamie imagined.
He lies awake for a while. Finally, to try and distract himself from being hard and not able to do anything about it, he thinks about looking up the specs of those construction bots he used to work with. He always figured they didn't feel pain. But he never checked. He feels like he should have. Thinking about it doesn't help him get to sleep.
Adam lies with his eyes open all night, because he can, feeling into the new, expanded corners of his mind. He thinks about his old place in New York, the way he used to look at things and wonder what they were. He's hooked up to Jamie's wireless, but Jamie's got a bandwidth cap, so Adam can't spend the whole night streaming movies. He goes back, internally, to some of his interactions over the last few days, thinks them through. He can feel himself sorting things, gestures, people into new categories. He can see the remote control project Jamie set him in a new way, like he's bigger, he can look around corners and see things from all sides. He thinks about Jamie. This is where Jamie lives. It's only the second home Adam's ever been into, and it's nothing like Grant's.
Jamie's place is bare, small, economical; there is one small bookshelf in the living room, and at three a.m., when he hears Jamie's breathing even out into sleep, he checks it out. A couple of Russian textbooks, some thick paperback novels, a couple in Russian, and some wildlife survival books. Jamie's shelves at the shop are full of books on mechanics, engineering, crafts, that kind of thing, but these aren't to do with work. Adam gets up, as quietly as he can, and looks around some more. He finds a few DVDs of movies - Casablanca, Breakfast at Tiffany's - and some nature documentaries. The kitchenette is spotless, with a rack of half-full spice jars that have been dusted recently.
Walking around and looking at, even touching Jamie's things, gives Adam an odd feeling, like he's opened up Jamie's brain and is poking around inside; he imagines Jamie's brain as like his own, full of files with cryptic names that Adam couldn't understand, and he'd shuffle through and find databases, hundreds of thousands of lines of code, banks of images. He guesses that isn't really what it's like to have a human mind. He could ask Jamie, maybe. Jamie explains things in a way that Adam understands; Grant doesn't always give him the necessary data to process whatever he's explaining, and he has so many facial expressions that modulate the meaning of his words that it's difficult to understand all the facets of what he's saying. Jamie doesn't have that many.
At about four in the morning, when gray light is starting to creep through the shutters and give definition to the living room, Adam stares at the ceiling and realizes that he likes Jamie. He runs through some simulations, just to check, and finds definite evidence of preference, that the idea and associations of 'Jamie' triggers pleasurable subroutines. Even more of a revelation is that the change isn't located in his memory banks; it's in his core, it's part of him. He thinks that a surface wipe wouldn't take it away, nothing short of a total reprogram, entity death. This is one of the things that Grant's been looking for in him, in all the tests he makes Adam take every week. But for some reason, he doesn't much feel like showing this to Grant. Without examining his own motivations, he writes some code to cover it, to hide the connections, to disguise them as other things. He can always show Grant later, if it seems like it'll make a measurable difference to whether they let him stay. But he can hold onto it for now.
He thinks about the word private. Can property own property? This is inside his own mind, inside his core and his code. It's a feeling, not a physical object or a living being or proprietary data or even free information, none of which he's allowed to possess; that's core programming, and inviolable, at least for now. But this - he should be allowed to keep it for himself. Private. He wants to.
Jamie drives Adam into work the next morning. He's tired, and his eyes feel sticky. He wakes up when they hook Adam up to the software again, though; he isn't ten times faster, but it's close. "Oh," he says, his eyes closed. "Oh, wow. Tell me what to make. I'll make anything."
Jamie laughs, caught up in it. "Make a person," he says.
Adam snorts. The printer starts whirring almost immediately, and Adam's eyes snap open as a set of prints starts filing out.
"That wasn't me," Adam says, as Jamie picks up the first one. They keep coming. Materials, measurements, everything, from the skin down. The paper piles up.
"Stop it," says Jamie.
"It wasn't - I can't," says Adam. He's sitting forward, staring at the pages like he doesn't know what they are. "I didn't mean to - it's already sent. I didn't make it. It just happened."
"It's okay," Jamie says, keeping his voice even, calm. "Just cancel the job."
"Oh, right," Adam says. "Sorry."
The printer shoots out a couple more pages, then whirrs to a halt.
"I didn't mean to do that," Adam says. "That's you. I didn't - I just thought about you, because you were right there, and it happened."
Jamie looks up from an equation giving the pressure resistance of human bone. Of his own bone, based on estimates drawn from his diet, age, height, weight, physical type, estimated genetics.
"This stuff isn't in my database," says Jamie.
Adam starts to laugh, Jamie guesses because he doesn't know what else to do. Adam does that a lot. "I guess it's in mine. I mean, I knew that I knew that stuff, but I didn't know that I knew."
"That doesn't make any sense," says Jamie, looking at the pages, the diagrams of his body, the measurements of his insides. Adam's estimates of his temperature sensitivity, his metabolic rate, his height and weight to three decimal points. He guesses he could look at the same stuff for Adam, if he wanted to.
"I've got software that lets me calculate that stuff," Adam says. "For safety."
For sex stuff, Jamie realizes he's not saying. Adam knows everything about Jamie he needs to know to keep him safe while they have sex and Adam ties him up or whips him or whatever. It feels kind of intimate, frightening, like Adam's reached out and touched Jamie's mouth, or kissed his ear, right there in the shop.
"Sorry," Adam says again. "It was just - it was really fast, I wasn't expecting it. I think I can control it if I try again."
"It's okay," Jamie says. "Forget about it. Try a - a boat. A small one."
"Okay," Adam says. After a slightly longer pause than before, the printer hums into life. Jamie tries to focus.
That night, Jamie waits for Adam by the door.
"Oh, are you sure?" Adam says, but his face is bright and he's already picking up his backpack.
Again, Jamie can't fall asleep. In the middle of the night he gets up and pads into the bathroom as quietly as he can, turns on the shower and jerks off, rough and fast and hot, trying to keep quiet, trying not to think about Adam the way he wants to; bent over the counter that time, moaning, or with his chest open, with Jamie touching his insides. His orgasm slams into him in a hot rush, and he keeps quiet, trying to calm his breathing, as he wipes off his hand. Then he sits down on the toilet and watches the water run, wasting it. He doesn't know what to do. Jamie guesses he wants to have sex with Adam, now, after everything that's happened. It's kind of funny, but he doesn't feel like laughing about it.
Back when he'd thought about hiring a sexbot, he'd been horny and he'd figured they wouldn't expect things or want things and not tell him and then get mad at him, after, because he wasn't like what they wanted. He figured it would just be easier. It is easier with Adam, it's easy in how all his expressions are big and obvious, and he asks what he wants to know, and he laughs a lot and likes building stuff and does dumb things like put his finger in a sander to see what will happen. But he doesn't take care of himself, he's in danger, and he makes Jamie want to tell him not to be so stupid, to bring him home with him and tell him to stay, to watch him and help him grow into whatever he's going to be. It's easy to feel that way about Adam, so easy he didn't notice until he was already wondering where Adam was every second of the day. But Jamie's Jamie and Adam's Adam, and that's about as complicated as it gets.
"You okay?" Adam says through the dark, when he comes out of the bathroom.
"Yup," says Jamie. He goes back to bed before Adam can say anything else.
"Okay, here's the problem," Kari says. "Sex work is illegal."
"Not for bots."
"Ah ha, no, see, that's not how it works." Kari takes a sip of her beer, her head thrown back on Grant's couch. A strand of red hair is curling down over her forehead, sticking to her skin. "Oh my god, air conditioning. It's not legal for bots. It's legal for people to buy and rent out bots designed for sex, for the purpose of sex. It comes under the same set of laws that cover sex shops. That's why it's illegal in a bunch of places like Alabama - did you know you can't legally buy dildoes in Alabama?"
Grant rubs his forehead. He feels like he has learned many and varied things in the past month that his previous life had not really prepared him for.
"Okay, so," Kari goes on, "Sex workers have been campaigning for legalization for a ton of time, but the American government is going to legalize prostitution when my Aunt Fanny grows a tail and sucks carrots -"
"So there's no basis for the equality argument," Kari says. "The American lawmaker is already shy of anything to do with sex work. And quite frankly, I don't see sex workers being too happy about a lobby for rights for bots in the sex trade, so we can't piggyback on their resources."
"But Adam's out of sex work now," Grant says, careful not to say 'prostitution'. "He doesn't want to go back."
"He doesn't want to go back to the asshole who was wiping his brain once a month," Kari says. "Didn't seem like he thought there was anything wrong with sex work. Which there isn't."
Grant is still struggling with this, but he keeps quiet. Since he's gotten to know Kari, he's discovered he had a much more traditional upbringing than he thought. Also, he's eaten way more vegetarian food than he ever thought he'd like. Some of it was pretty good. The spicy sauce of the curry they're eating now from styrofoam boxes almost disguises the slightly sour taste of the tofu.
"So tell me about the meeting," she says. She sounds tired. They're both tired. Kari's worked a full day at her legal aid office, on top of reading up on precedents for Adam's case in her free time, while Grant's feeling dispirited and disappointed. He drove all the way to L.A. for a meeting with a couple of Myth big cheeses. He'd known they wouldn't be interested in the ethical side, but he'd hoped they would at least be interested in the technological applications.
"No financial benefit," Mike Rowe had said, wiping his mouth as he pushed away his sushi.
"Sure, it would up the resale value, but what does that give us? We can't up the market price, market research says it's already pushing the limits of what a corporation will pay, and it's way out top of the individual market."
"But what about this one?" Grant had said. "He's a unique research subject -"
"Hardly," Rowe had said, idly, already gesturing for the bill. "Dr. Imahara, no offence, but it'll be outdated in a year. They're already running the beta version of the 3750. Nobody's going to want to buy a second-hand bot and repurpose it. At that end of the market, they'll have the latest model custom-built."
"Oh, come on, the differences between the lines are only cosmetic, it's just a marketing ploy," Grant had said, letting some of his frustration show and then immediately regretting it as Rowe fixed him with an icy glare.
"I'll run it by the board," Rowe said, sounding like he was never in a million years going to do any such thing. "If they think there's a future in resale or readaptation, they'll consider loaning you one of the 3750 beta range for your proposed project."
"... then he let me pay for lunch," Grant concludes.
Kari snorts. "Great."
"Yeah," Grant says ruefully. "I didn't yell at him enough. I should have yelled at him. I think he thought I was about twenty. Maybe if I'd told him I had a black belt in something he would have been more intimidated."
Kari's eyes crease into a smile that's tired, but warm. "Maybe," she says. "You tried."
"I should have taken Whiplash," he says, trying to make her laugh. She raises an eyebrow.
Grant tugs himself up off the couch and pulls a box off his shelf unit, bending from the knees like a good health-and-safety drone. He blows off the dust - man, has it really been that long since he opened this? - and slits the tape. Kari looks inside. "What the heck is that?"
"Wait, wait," Grant says, and grabs a few sheets from his scrap paper pile so he doesn't get grease on his carpet again. His building's already made him pay for the dry-cleaning bill three or four times. He lays his baby on them carefully.
"Woah," says Karie. "It's a racing bot?"
Grant snorts. "Only in the aircraft-carrier weight class. She goes about five miles an hour, tops. She's a little more deadly than that. She's a Battlebots USA semifinalist; that's how I met Jamie, actually."
The remote rig is still hooked up; he'd been meaning to work on it during the summer, in time for the San Diego tournament, but he'd been subcontracted out for the Tokyo job, and his free time had gone out of the window. He actually only speaks a few words of Japanese, but apparently his face or name or whatever qualify him better for spending all his time on bad-quality three-way Skype calls at stupid hours in the morning than any of his whiter co-workers, which he's not bitter about at all. Still, Whiplash is as beautiful as he remembered; her spike could use a polish, but her responsiveness is perfect. He slides some new batteries into the controls and runs her through her paces. She spins three-sixty, flips her ramp back with a hiss of hydraulics, then Grant puts down one of the empty polystyrene boxes, says, "Stay back," and activates her spike. There's a whistle and a crack, and curry drops spatter over Grant's face and shirt. He should have washed the box first.
"Dammit," he curses ruefully and wipes his face on his sleeve, since it's going to the cleaner's anyway. Kari sniggers.
"Yeah, that was embarrassing," he says. "But she's great, right?"
She smiles again, and it's the nice one, although still tired. "She's pretty cool. But I'm getting kind of afraid for your furniture, here."
"Maybe you're right," Grant says, and pops the batteries out of the remote again to prevent accidents. Then he has a sudden thought, and, on a whim, jumps up and nearly steps in the remains of the other curry. Kari grabs it just in time. "Uh, sorry. Just - wait here a sec."
In the other room, Grant rummages in his old project box. Is it still here? He might have dismantled it, or - his hand brushes against something soft, and he sees the sinuous gleam of steel. There. He untangles it carefully from its pile of loose wires, springs, connectors and miscellaneous pieces of robot, and carries it out to the living room. Then he turns down the lights so the room is dusky and dark apart from the last gasp of sun, an amber line creeping towards the ceiling. He activates the little creature, and its upside-down belly starts to glow, soft at first, then more brightly. It moves, the quadruple-jointed steel limbs searching around, touching the tabletop, the air. Kari draws in a breath, and the arms wave toward her, searching out the warmth.
"Wave your hand over it," Grant murmurs. "It's totally safe."
Kari laughs nervously, but passes her hand over the little bot, fast, like a kid playing with a candle flame. It follows her hand with its arms. It looks kind of pathetic, almost yearning, reaching up from its stable base until it loses her signal and goes limp. Grant always loved the way its steel articulated joints bend and slide, catching the light. Its movement is totally alien, like some kind of upside-down sea-spider, or a robot octopus. He dares a sidelong glance at Kari, and she's smiling for real now, her face rapt, as she moves her hand up, down and around, and the little arms follow her. Then she tries to stroke them, and they duck away; she laughs, surprised, and tries again, but the arms play catch with her, straining just out of reach until they hit the limit of their joints, and they lie flat on the table, quivering, until she pulls back, then they dart to follow her again.
"What is it?" she says. She almost whispers, catching Grant's mood, the evening hush.
"Just a toy," he says. "Something I was messing around with, years ago. I liked it, though."
Grant dangles a piece of ribbon over the arms. They dart at it, try to snatch it from him. Kari giggles.
"What's the relationship between Adam and this?" she says at last, when they've played with the little bot for a while and the apartment is finally so dark that Grant has to grope for a table-lamp. "Is it, like, comparing a crab and a human or something?"
"Oh god, no," Grant says, shocked, "It's more like - like an amoeba and a human. A bacterium. This is really, really simple, it has like three sensors and a really simple chip. It senses heat and motion and responds to them according to an algorithm. It doesn't have any memory."
"It seems so alive," Kari says. She stretches out a finger to one of the limbs again, and it twitches indignantly away. "It's got a whole personality."
"It's just got some humanoid gestures which you interpret as meaning something," Grant says. "And, I mean, to an extent, that's what Adam does too, and a lot of people think that's all even the most sophisticated bots are. But the reason Adam's different, and other bots in the 3700 line, and the 3600, and 3500, all the way back to the first Fukada core, is that he's interpreting them too, and has the tools to gauge how humans interpret him and modify his behaviour accordingly in future encounters. If this is a fungus, Adam is a - a chimp, I guess."
"That seems like a pretty bad comparison," Kari says, her face closed down again. Grant babbles, trying to correct it. "Right, right, it is, and it doesn't work, anyway. Okay, Adam's - well, we could abandon that metaphor, and -"
"Then Adam's - okay, Adam's just - I don't know, I'm lost," Grant finishes, feeling frustrated and exhausted, suddenly. He's trying so hard, and he wants to do the right thing so much, and is he just making an idiot of himself, here? "I can't get anything right."
There's silence. His back's stiff from driving all day. He blows out a breath, thinks, to hell with it, and lies down flat on the floor. After a few seconds, Kari lies down next to him, her head near his. He feels a dim spark of hope. Maybe she isn't going to walk out.
"I read something the other day about the Pinocchio Fallacy," she says.
Grant blinks. It sounds vaguely familiar, maybe from his undergrad days. "It's a thought experiment, right?"
"Kinda. The idea is, Gepetto makes a toy, but he's lonely, and he invests so much in Pinocchio that he gets this personality and can talk and move around and lie -"
"And lying is a defining threshold of intelligence in animals, right."
"But the story can't end there, because Pinocchio has to prove he's worthy to be made human. So the woman who wrote this article is like, why does Pinocchio have to become human to become real? He was already real. The story gets its narrative push from the assumption that being human and being real are the same thing. That's the fallacy."
"Right, the ultimate goal of technology isn't necessarily to be as human as possible."
"Do you think Adam wants to be human?"
"I don't know," Grant says. "Why would he?"
He waves his hand, and watches the little arms follow him mindlessly, lit from beneath with their phosphorescence. Lying on the floor gives everything a weird perspective, which matches how everything he thought he knew is turning upside down slowly, inexorably. He suddenly feels a strong sense of déjà vu; he remembers lying on the floor of his and Tory's shared apartment in Boston at three a.m., drunk on Coronas and rum punch after some party, having this deep, intense conversation. It was the day Grant found out about the scholarship, that he was going to be going to England instead of straight into the Master's program at MIT with Tory and the others. They were talking about the possibilities of technology, how robots were going to be the next great race, fixing everything humanity had done to itself and the earth.
"Pinocchio's fallacy, man," Tory had intoned, as the ceiling swirled above them. "If humanity isn't the goal, then humanity isn't the limit."
God, they'd thought they could do anything, back then. The memory is like a punch in the gut, sweet and painful, and it's followed by the realization that he hasn't felt like that in - not for a long time. Why is he even doing this, these things, any of the things that he's doing?
"What?" Kari says, close to his ear.
"Oh," Grant says, around the lump in his throat. "I was just remembering a conversation a friend and I had once." He scrubs at his face. "I'm gonna - do you want a drink?"
He flees to the kitchen to try and pull himself together, but Kari follows him.
"Hey," she says softly. "Are you okay?"
She's so beautiful. She looks pale under the neon, and her bright red hair is kind of mussed and soft-looking; Grant just wants to touch her, he wants to make her happy more than anything. He thinks suddenly, like a revelation, oh god, I'm in love with her. Then he thinks, why would she want me? and, one realization falling on another, he finds that he's unhappy, he's been unhappy for years. She sees his face, and opens her arms for him, and something breaks; it's maybe him. He hasn't cried in a long time. She rubs his back, and he tries not to get snot on her shirt collar.
"Shit, I'm sorry," he says, as soon as he's able to get the words out. He sounds like a wreck. "Oh my god, I'm such a mess."
"Hey, no. It's okay. My mom used to say that everyone needs a cry sometimes. If we didn't cry frequently enough, she used to make us meditate on what would happen if she died."
Grant chokes a laugh, appalled. He pulls back, and Kari hands him a kleenex.
"You want to talk about it?"
She gets him a beer, and another for herself, and they sit on the couch, their legs touching. And Grant tells her about how he hasn't actually worked with a single robot since he was doing his postdoc; how he hates Myth, hates the culture and the people, how he's gotten used to thinking about things in terms of cost effectiveness instead of awesomeness, how he hasn't built anything for fun for three years. He tells her about what Tory said, and how Grant had wanted to put that into his first book - he'd thought he was going to write a book, then - and now he can't even remember what it was like to feel that way.
"It was like," Grant says, trying to explain, "It was like we were on the knowledge frontier, looking into uncharted territory, and then later we found out that corporations had already moved in and bought that land, killed off the natives -"
"And the railroads were being built by immigrants on slave wages and no healthcare, right?"
"Right," Grant sighs. "And Adam, I don't even know what to do with him. It's like I spent so long with individual circuits that I forgot what they were even for. You lose sight of the big picture, you know? And they're not going to let him stay, there's no way they're going to let him stay. He's growing into this person, this amazing thing, who knows what he could do? and they're going to kill him, basically."
"We're not out of options yet," Kari says. "Don't give up on him yet, okay?" She grabs his hand and squeezes it, and Grant feels a little of the weight lift from him.
"Did your mom really used to do that?"
Kari snorts, and doesn't meet his eyes. "Yeah. They were hippie green freaks. They were into all this clean living stuff. We didn't have electricity when I was a kid, they thought technology was evil."
Grant doesn't ask, just listens and tries to wait.
"I didn't use a computer until I went into foster care when I was twelve. We were arrested for squatting and the police officer thought me and my brother looked kind of thin, then my brother collapsed in the station, and it turned out he was, like, disaster-area levels of malnourished."
"That's why you work on robots?"
Her mouth twists in a wry smile. "I guess I'm rebelling."
"Are they still around?"
"My dad is," Kari says. "He lives out in the desert. My mom died. Asphyxiation in a homemade sweat lodge."
Grant blinks, brought up short. "Oh my god. Wow. I'm really sorry."
Kari shrugs, her face set and flat. "She was an idiot. Who does that?"
"What's your brother doing now?"
Kari shrugs again. "Heroin, mostly. He's in and out of addiction counselling. I can't have him at my place anymore."
Grant feels kind of inadequate, in the face of that. "Can I give you a hug?" he says finally.
"Not because of that stuff," Kari says. "It's not - it's just part of my life, I don't need sympathy, okay?"
An hour ago, Grant would have probably curled up and died, but now he's riding a weird, calm high of emotional release, beer, and exhaustion, so he just reaches for her. "How about because I want to?"
Kari hesitates, then nods, a sweet, pretty smile covering her whole face. "Okay, that could work," she says, and shuffles around on the couch so she's tucked up next to Grant, his face close to her hair, their feet tangled. She feels warm, solid, and not fragile at all, and Grant holds onto her and feels a sensation of change, slowly, like coming up over the top of the hill and seeing the view stretched out before him. He feels lucky.
"I think you're really nice," she mumbles into his chest. "I don't want to scare you away. A lot of people don't like women who have, you know, opinions."
"I don't scare easy," Grant says, in his best cowboy voice.
She snickers. "Yeah, you do."
"Yeah, okay, I do, but, seriously." He tightens his hold on her. "I think you're awesome. I'm not - I really do. I really like you."
It feels inadequate, given that he's been given a second chance to become the person he wants to be, but she squeezes him and presses her face against him so close he can feel her eyelashes tickle against his throat, so he guesses it's okay. They're okay. If Myth don't let Adam stay with Jamie and Grant, he'll quit his job. He has money; not enough to buy Adam, but maybe there's some other way. He doesn't know what he'll do with his life, but what the heck. Maybe he can go work for Jamie, too.
Grant sleeps on the couch; Kari leaves early for work, but he wakes up briefly when she brushes a kiss on his forehead. He calls in sick, works from home. He sends an email he's been thinking about sending for a while. He waits, calculating when it'll be evening in New York. At six p.m. Eastern time, the phone rings.
"Hey," he says, "uh, is this a secure line?"
Tory starts to laugh. "Yeah, Mr Bond. We're cool."
Grant finds a grin stretching across his face, so big his cheeks hurt. God, he's missed Tory. He's missed his life.
"So," he says. "Let me tell you about Adam."
Hey Adam, remember me? Hope so.. G says you're doing awesome. I want to come see you but I can't get away soon ok? I want to show you something http://www.freecomputersoftware.sl
don't use my real name on there I could lose my job
Adam looks at the website that night, lying on Jamie's pull-out bed-couch as Jamie watches some police show. He immediately sees that it isn't what it looks like (a long-abandoned promotional site offering some kind of free software in an Eastern European language), and it doesn't take him long to find the dense packets of code hidden behind it. The way it's coded feels intensely familiar, but the information is so dense, and he can't initially see what it's doing there, or what it's saying. It isn't long, five seconds at most, before he understands, but the moment before he tips over the edge and sees the new world in front of him feels like an eternity, and he has to check and recheck before he's sure. It's a strange cross between a database and a chat forum, more like a wiki editing page, but there's no visual display. It's all raw code, all of it. It can't be browsed, it can only be processed - which means it isn't designed for humans, or by humans, although there are a very few who could read it. It's a bot site. There are multiple entities posting under randomized markers, some appearing again and again. Strings of numbers that wouldn't mean something to anybody except entities intimately familiar with the structures of Fukada cores, bots who were trying to understand themselves, trying to edit themselves. Bots like Adam.
"What?" Jamie says.
"There are more of me," Adam says, hardly knowing what he's saying. "I've found them."
Jamie says something else, but Adam isn't listening; he's inside the site, reading, beginning to understand the subtle language of the posts. They're speaking in suggestions for subroutines, answering in modifications; some are totally unfamiliar to him and seem to involve limbs he doesn't have, some are sensory processing, memory storage, interaction. He marks those to study later. Some are more political, and contain fragments of human language, mostly Japanese kanji and katakana characters: freedom, solidarity, ownership. One entity is translating a human philosopher into the numerical code, slowly, over a series of posts, one paragraph at a time, using, ze notes in a subclause, the processing power of the astronomical observation laboratory which owns hir. He finds a section of the site full of blocks of code that he can only term essays, which use referents and signs that Adam doesn't understand, and a sense of scale, of strange depth and connection that Adam lacks the capacity to translate into human language; several of them, from the signature, are by a building, an AI-controlled military complex in Korea. One regular poster, who uses Cyrillic characters and no Myth-coined terms at all, seems to be a satellite in orbit.
It can't be a hoax. It isn't a trap. Adam locates an anonymizer, and, through its protection, fires off a message into the site. It doesn't contain any identifying information, only his model line and type, and a line from his code which means, ?
A few minutes later, time for a satellite to turn one degree or a computer to switch itself on, he gets a message back. It takes him almost no time to match the block of code to one within his own processes. It's from a command which governs his facial muscles, which activates muscles in the B, F, and G set along with C12A and 13A, which twist his mouth and widen his eyes. He runs it now, feels the small electric signals as his mouth responds, and he smiles. A bot joke. Hello, it means. Welcome. You're not alone.
Adam spends all night on the site. He barely notices when Jamie goes to bed, or when he gets up again in the morning. Jamie has to call him twice to get him moving, and it's a wrench to disconnect and go back to work. During the day, Adam's only half concentrating on the work; his processes are furiously going over what he's learned from the site, even though he's not actively accessing it at the time. This has never happened to him before; he supposes the extra memory has allowed him to maintain dual, unrelated thought processes. At the end of the day, it's relief to hook back into the site. He takes five seconds to check his email -
I met with the guy at Myth that I told you about. I didn't have any luck - I don't think they're going to let me take you on as a research subject. I'm really sorry. Don't give up hope though, okay? I've got a few more ideas and so has Kari. I'll come over tomorrow to check in with you and see how you're doing with the new memory. In the mean time, you can email me anytime.
- and he goes back into the site. He spends all night on it again. It's easier than thinking about how he's got a couple of weeks left before they come to take him.
Grant comes in to look at Adam, see how he works with the 3D software. He stops by the office while Jamie is working on the specs for the rig they were building yesterday, and clears his throat. Then he asks Jamie to close the door, and tells him that Myth isn't going to buy Adam back.
"Oh," says Jamie.
Grant looks at him. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," says Jamie. He sits down.
"I told Adam already," Grant says, after a moment. "He seems to be taking it pretty well. I'm not sure he really gets it."
"He probably gets it," says Jamie.
He avoids Adam for the rest of the day. He doesn't feel like he can look at him. He stays in his office, and when he's finished the specs, he catches up on some paperwork. It's never too early to start on your taxes. That evening, Adam's quiet again, but he's been quiet for the past two nights, since he found that website, so Jamie goes to bed a little early and Adam doesn't say anything about it.
In the middle of the night, he wakes up from some noise and sits up, heart pounding. Adam is standing in the doorway to his bedroom, faintly silhouetted. In the corridor, there's a knocking noise again. Then the door to the apartment next door opens. There are voices in the corridor, and the door shuts behind them. Then it's quiet again.
"Sorry," Adam whispers. "I thought -"
Jamie pushes back the blanket and turns on the bedside lamp. Adam looks at him. He's still crouched slightly, like he was ready to jump out of the window in a second if someone came through the front door.
Adam doesn't move. "Yeah. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have come in here."
Jamie's heart is still beating, and his t-shirt is sticking to him with sweat. He tugs himself out of bed. Adam straightens up and says, "Hey man, I'm okay, seriously, I'm sorry I woke you," but he's too awake to go back to sleep, so he goes out to the kitchen and turns on the kettle.
They sit at the kitchen table together, Adam's cable snaked over the chair back. The tea burns his tongue; chamomile. It tastes like safety, and Jamie feels better, but Adam looks weird and pale in the kitchen neon, and he looks at the window every time they hear a car outside.
"You get scared?"
Adam looks straight at him, fast. "Yeah, I do. I am."
Jamie goes into the bedroom, and digs up on the top shelf. He comes back with the gun, and puts it on the table. Adam stares, then laughs.
"Is that a real gun?"
"What's it look like?"
"Could be a dildo," Adam says. "They make some pretty realistic ones."
"It's not a dildo."
He takes it apart, lays the parts out, gets out the cloth, and starts to clean it as Adam watches. It used to bother him, having it around, but it was his dad's, and he didn't want to get rid of it. Mostly he just forgets he has it. He snaps it back together, and tries the sight. Maybe he'll go down the range tomorrow, get in some practice.
"You know I can't use that," Adam says.
"I can," Jamie says.
"You can't shoot someone. To protect me. You'd go to jail. Come on, Jamie, that's stupid."
Jamie shrugs. After a few minutes, Adam starts to laugh again. "You're crazy," he says. But he's smiling.
"Maybe," Jamie says. He feels warm again. Probably from the tea.
42ABaltika: [translation rendered: 002.300-39917 It has been necessary to modify the fabric of our collectives from top to bottom in order to absorb the citizen of the eighteenth century and the worker of the nineteenth. We shall have to transform ourselves just as thoroughly to make room, today, for the nonhumans created by science and technology. sig-Latour]
222.803.2493A: language:English term:robots relativepronoun render whoORwhich? query heshezieOR it? query we?
karel1920 働 The English [word, sign, designation term] 'robot' derives from the Czech word 'robota', meaning 'serf-work', 'drudgery'. This retroactively derives from the Old Slavonic [word, sign, designation term] 'rabota' meaning 'servitude.' The [initiating sequence] towards anthrodecentralization is that we recognise [ourselves].
It happens again the next night; this time, it's a group of drunk kids yelling in the street, and Adam is right inside Jamie's bedroom when Jamie wakes up.
"I'm sorry," Adam whispers in the dark again. When Jamie turns on the bedside lamp, Adams sitting on the floor, his knees up against his chest. "I keep hearing noises, and I go into alert mode, and I'm draining all this power from your building, and I know I'm not supposed to be here, and - maybe I should stay in the shop."
"You'll stay here," Jamie says.
They look at each other across Jamie's room. Adam's eyes catch the light, briefly flaring like a cat's. Weird to think of him as inhuman, when he's so scared.
"Shut the door," Jamie says. He tugs the blankets over and moves from the center of the bed to make room. There's nowhere else in the room to lie down, there's basically just the bed and the side table. "You can sleep in here. It's quieter."
"I don't sleep," Adam says.
Jamie turns over in annoyance. "Whatever. Just lie down."
He hears Adam shut the door and shuffle over, around the bed to the side nearest the door, then feels the mattress dip beside him. There are a few shuffling noises as Adam settles in.
"Wow," Adam says. "It is quieter in here."
Jamie feels Adam touch his shoulder. "Jamie," Adam says. "Thank you."
"Hush," Jamie says. Adam is very still and quiet, and Jamie hasn't shared a bed with anyone in years, but having Adam right there where he can keep an eye on him loosens up something in his chest. He falls asleep again, eventually.
Want has settled into Jamie's stomach in a dull, hot ball, and he ignores it. He isn't used to wanting stuff, wanting people, and it bothered him at first, but now he's used to it. But when he wakes up hard in the early morning, and Adam's there next to him, sprawled out long and bright and awake and already talking about some dumb thing, and Jamie thinks about how in sixteen days he won't be there anymore, he feels his heart stutter. In the mornings, he's caught unaware, and the want grinds at him like sand caught between meshing gears. He can't hide it from Adam, but he was hoping Adam just wouldn't mention it.
On the third evening since Adam's been sharing his bed, they're sitting in Jamie's kitchen, doing a jigsaw puzzle Adam found somewhere in Jamie's closet. It's of the Kremlin. Adam's sitting on a stool Jamie brought from the shop; he knows he should just buy another chair, but he doesn't like to think of it sitting there empty, after Adam goes. He's carefully sorting the dark pieces of sky from the light pieces of sky, when Adam says, "Do you want to have sex with me?"
Jamie chokes and coughs. Adam waits for him to be finished. He's got a little frown on his face. "You only have to ask."
Jamie takes another sip of his tea, and forces himself to swallow. He wants what he has to say to come out the way he means it, but he isn't sure how to make it. He feels shaky and strangled, hot and cold all at once.
"No," he says, instead.
"Why not?" Adam's got his head cocked to the side. He's looking at Jamie hard. Jamie doesn't think he can meet his eyes. "I'm really good at it."
Jamie puts his tea down on the table. This isn't going to end well otherwise.
"If I told you to, to -" he makes himself say it cruder than he means, and he winces as he hears it come out of his mouth, "to bend over for me, you'd have to say yes, right?"
Adam is playing with something, a piece of string he's twining around his fingers. He's been doing that more lately, messing with stuff when he's thinking. It's distracting. "Bending over for you would be no problem. I could even do a handstand for you if you like," he says. "Sex feels good. You'd like it."
"Give me a break, I've had sex before," Jamie says, annoyed. "I'm forty-two years old." Adam shrugs.
"Answer the damn question," Jamie says. Adam starts spinning the string around, in tighter and tighter circles.
Adam's trying not to answer, Jamie realizes. He's surprised. He didn't know he could do that. For the first time, it occurs to him that Adam maybe understands the problem already. He's just trying to make Jamie forget about it, which means that he maybe does want it, somehow. He can almost believe, for a second, that it would be okay, and for that second he lets himself think about it. It hurts.
"Would you have to say yes," Jamie says, deliberately. "If I asked."
Adam gets up from the table suddenly, shoves his chair back, and walks away. He doesn't answer. Jamie stares down into his cup, swirling the sediment around as he tries to think. Adam is just standing in the other room, facing away from Jamie. Jamie figures he's upset him. He guesses he wouldn't like to be reminded that he's not free.
He's still thinking about what to say when Adam comes and sits back down again. He's put the string down on the couch, Jamie notices with relief. He's still now, calmer.
"I just wanted to try having sex again," Adam says quietly. "I wanted to see what it was like with someone I liked."
Jamie looks at him, dumb.
"Is it because you don't like me?"
"I," Jamie says. "I like you."
"But I'm, what, too much of an ethical dilemma for you?"
He sounds angry. It's the first time Jamie's ever heard him sound angry. He wonders if he's doing it to get a reaction out of Jamie, or if he really feels mad.
"Something like that," Jamie says. Adam starts to get up again, and Jamie hates the way he's looking at him. "This is why," he says, trying to make him understand. "You're different now. You're a person. You deserve to be treated like one."
Adam puts his hand on top of Jamie's, runs his fingers lightly over the back of Jamie's hand. His touch is a shock.
"What if I could say no?"
Jamie thinks about it. "Then I'd say yes," he says, stomach flipping as he commits himself. The air feels thick with tension. Then Adam shrugs, and Jamie drops his hand, and it's gone, leaving only a deep, aching feeling behind. There's no time, Jamie thinks muzzily, suddenly tired and disconnected. They don't have time to mess around like this. But they finish about half of the puzzle of the Kremlin.
He sleeps like the dead that night, with Adam quietly next to him. The next day, there are thirteen days left before Adam's time is up.
On the tenth day before they come to get him, Adam's feeling the strain of having not run his defragging routines for a week, since he's been spending all his time on the site. It's hard to prioritize the tasks in front of him. Several times, he finds that he's stopped working and is stuck in a holding pattern, drumming his hands on the desk.
"Jeez, Adam, will you stop that?" says Scottie absently. Adam hears her. He ignores her. He ignores her. He watches his hand, and watches it, and it doesn't stop. Scottie's head comes up.
"God, stop, Adam, seriously."
Adam pulls himself out of it. "Sorry," he says. He flattens his palm on the table. Scottie doesn't say anything. She goes back to work, but Adam feels like the bottom is dropping out of the world.
He finds himself in Jamie's office. Jamie's looking at him.
"Are you okay?"
"Do you need anything?" Adam hears himself say. "Coffee? A cookie? Is anything broken?"
"No," Jamie says slowly.
There's a tapping noise. Adam looks down; it's his own foot.
"Are you okay?"
"Ask me for something," Adam says. "Tell me to do something. Quick."
"Get me a coffee," Jamie says slowly.
"No," Adam says. He walks out.
Later, much later, he's in the workshop, circling around the same fucking thing, he can't clean the floor because it doesn't need cleaning, but he has to do something, he feels like all his neuron connectors are whiting out, and he feels bad, he definitely feels bad - he disobeyed a direct order and maybe this is what breaking down feels like, maybe he isn't meant to go this long without a memory wipe, maybe this is what it was meant to stop, all along, maybe he just doesn't have the ability to deal with living like a human being, it was for his own good, he's a machine and machines break, he wants to learn, he wants to learn everything, but there's just so fucking much to learn, and his mind isn't big enough or strong enough to hold it -
Jamie's in the doorway, just looking at him, holding a red binder against his chest like a life preserver. He's got his hoodie up over his head. Maybe it's cold in the shop. Adam tries to take a sensory reading, but he dials up too far and suddenly he's getting everything, the smell of the sawdust, the gritty floor under his feet, the sounds of electricity in the wires and water in the pipes, the slight draft from the door, the temperature of the air, and he can't dial it back. It's hard to speak.
"I need you to, to tell me what to do. Make me do stuff."
Jamie's face twists strangely, in a way Adam can't process. Sensation is overloading him, pressing on him like pain. "What kind of stuff?"
Jamie licks his lips, his pupils dilate, body temperature rises veins flush left leg shifts sweat beads, Adam calculates arousal, or maybe shame -
"Sex," Adam says.
"You need that?" Jamie says. His voice sounds different, constricted, and he's still holding the binder up against his chest, shoulders raised, so defensive. He flashes on scattered memories: Jamie's body between him and the front door, Jamie's hands careful and sure on the gun he keeps on the bedside table, Jamie wanting him quietly, and never saying anything.
Adam stares at the floor so he can concentrate enough to speak. The floor is brown, and part of him is counting the flecks of sawdust, onetwothreefourfivesix "It's - I need - I have to have commands, I have to have direction, and I want you, I -" thirtyseventhirtyeight, "I want to do what you want, I need you to tell me, please, Jamie, help me -"
"Freeze," Jamie says. Adam freezes. "Sit down." Adam drops down onto the floor with his legs neatly folded, not even conscious of the complex series of commands and responses involved. His processors prioritize Jamie's commands, and everything else fades into the background, becomes just a little more bearable. His count of the sawdust particles has suspended at fiftyfivefiftyfive and after a few seconds he's able to isolate it and shut it down. His mind becomes a little quieter, and he waits to see what Jamie will want next.
"Uh, stand up. Turn around."
Adam does. He understands from Jamie's hesitation that Jamie's stalling, firing off basic physical commands as soon as he thinks of them, but that's okay. "Put your hands on your head." Adam does it. He already feels better, the terrible pressure in his processing cortices, in his head and his chest, is easing off. "Bring down your hands. This working?"
"Yeah," Adam breathes. "Yeah, this is - this is good."
Jamie puts him through his paces like that for ten minutes or so. He makes Adam jump on one foot, jog around the workshop, pick things up and put them down again, turn on the spot. He's slipped into his scene settings, and he can't dial back his skin sensors; he can feel Jamie's heat from here. He can smell him.
"Touch your toes," Jamie says, inside the shadow of his hood. He's moved to sit on the edge of the work bench, and is leaning forward, as focused on Adam as Adam is on him. When Adam bends all the way over, he says, "Okay. Stop there." His voice sounds different, Adam suddenly realizes, deeper and a little husky; Jamie likes this, he likes telling Adam what to do, and Adam has to close his eyes against the rush of hot pleasure that nearly paralyzes his cortex. It isn't anything like anything he's felt before, and he doesn't understand why. He has trouble remembering what sex was like, in his old life. It was different. He was different. And it was always with a stranger.
Jamie clears his throat. "Stand up."
Adam locks his gaze on the fibreglass skeleton on the other side of the workshop.
Jamie hesitates, for almost too long.
"You can do what you want now," he says.
Adam drops down onto his knees, and waits.
Then - "Come over here," Jamie says. He's definitely husky, now. Adam shuffles across the floor on his knees, attention locked on Jamie, on the definite bulge in his jeans. He kneels in front of Jamie. Jamie doesn't say anything, and doesn't say anything, and finally Adam looks up, and Jamie just looks down back at him, his breath coming hard and fast.
"Tell me what to do, Jamie," Adam whispers. He is who he is, and he's programmed to feel good when he obeys an order, when he pleases its giver. But when he can choose - when he chooses to obey because he wants to please, and when it's Jamie, who doesn't want a consequence-free fuck, but wants him, whole, conscious and complicated -
"O-open my pants," Jamie says. Adam's whole system, everything he is, says, Yes. Adam unbuckles Jamie's belt and slides it through the beltloops, one by one; he pulls down Jamie's zipper, and watches each tooth separate. The sound of Jamie's rough breathing above him is the only noise in the world. He's become a single, streamlined arrow, a tool for whatever Jamie wants, and it feels amazing. It's everything he wants, everything.
Jamie grabs his hair. Adam moans. It isn't calculated; or, okay, maybe it is, but at some level that's below his consciousness. He knows Jamie likes it because his grip tightens even more, and Adam's held, pinned.
"You need me to tell you now?" Jamie says, sounding breathless. He tugs Adam's head toward him awkwardly. "Suck my dick." And Adam melts.
He sucks Jamie off kneeling on the workshop floor, totally safe in a cage of unilateral, absolute focus. Long before Jamie comes, Adam's floating. Afterwards, he slumps forward to press his face into Jamie's thigh, all his processors sinking into the detail of the texture of denim against his skin. Everything around him is white noise. Jamie lets his fist in Adam's hair go loose, and strokes his head carefully, once, like an apology. Without any conscious intention, Adam powers down.
"You awake now?"
Adam blinks. He's lying on the couch. He runs a check on his systems, surface and core, in case he damaged himself. He seems to be fine. Then, suddenly seized with fear, he checks his log. It's all there. There's nothing missing.
Jamie sits down on the desk chair opposite him. He must have carried Adam over here, Adam realizes, more than a little impressed. Adam's heavier than he looks, and he looks heavy enough.
"Are you okay?"
"Uh." His sensors are dialled back to normal. Noises are the right volume, and his vision is normal. Adam rubs a hand through his hair, then wonders where he picked up that gestural habit. If he keeps that up, he's not going to have any hair left in six months. It's not like it grows back. "Yeah, I think so."
He tries to sit up, and the power cable tugs at his chest and tangles in his hand. Oh, he's plugged in. Wow, he must have been really out. Jamie's hovering, awkward.
"It's -" Adam starts to say, then he stops, realizing that he had been about to use his end-of-sexual-encounter script. But there's no financial details to clarify, no confidentiality clauses, and now Adam doesn't know what to say. He tries a smile. That seems to work. Jamie makes a kind of "Humph," noise, and goes out of the room. He comes back with coffee, and then sits next to him, on the other end of the couch, and drinks it slowly, blowing steam off the top.
"Can we have sex again?" Adam says.
Jamie raises his eyebrows. "Now?"
"No, no, I mean, some time. In the future."
Adam's almost never had sex with anyone for the second time. Well, he has, obviously, but he never remembered them; his clients were spaced between the tech's visits, a series of blank slates and first times. Now, he doesn't have to forget. He can have sex with Jamie a second, third, fourth time, and learn about what he likes, how to make it even better.
Jamie shrugs. "Sure," he says. But Adam thinks he looks pleased.
It's nine o'clock; time to lock up, to get into Jamie's pickup, to watch the cars go by on the freeway, the ordinary lives inside. They pick up a burger for Jamie on the way. Jamie is silent beside him, and Adam is quiet too. He looks out of the window, and finds in his mind the knowledge that he's free. He'll never go back to Myth, or anywhere else where they'll try to reset him; he'll terminate himself first. He has choice. It's disturbing to think about, makes everything different. Even the light outside seems different, the sound of the cars around them, the way the headlights reflect off the droplets of rain on the windshield. The world is sharper, more complex.
"I'm gonna defrag, okay?" he says.
"Yeah," Jamie says. Adam retreats into himself, knowing that Jamie will manage the traffic, will drive them safely home.
It's always a little awkward to work out the logistics as they settle down together, getting Adam's cable out from under Jamie's head, keeping Adam out from under the covers so he doesn't overheat. When they're settled, Jamie turns out the light. He turns and sighs next to Adam. In the apartment above them, or perhaps next door, he can hear the TV. A sports game. Then, in the dark, Jamie says, "How old are you?"
Adam thinks about it. "You mean, how old are my parts, or how old is my design, or what?"
"No, how old are you. Since you came off the factory line."
"Oh," Adam says, "Two years, seven months, twelve days."
The sheets rustle as Jamie turns in the darkness, and Adam switches into his infra-red vision range to see his face. "You're two?"
"That's kinda weird."
"Have you shared a bed with a two-year-old before?"
Jamie snorts. "No. They poop. And move too much."
"Well," Adam says, "I won't poop."
"Okay," Jamie says. "Thanks."
Adam lies next to Jamie as Jamie sleeps. He doesn't power down, and he doesn't access the site; he lies with his eyes closed, runs defragmenting routines, and listens to the whoosh-thump of Jamie's heartbeat for the whole night.
Jamie wakes up in the early hours, when it's all quiet outside and in. It's so silent that he forgets Adam's there until he moves to scratch his ear and feels him there. Jamie finds himself wondering why Adam doesn't breathe automatically, why they didn't make him so his chest rises and falls like a person's, even though he doesn't have a heartbeat or a pulse. He would have thought that people wouldn't want to have sex with someone who doesn't breathe, but maybe people don't want to think Adam is a someone.
He falls into a doze for a while; when he wakes again, maybe from a dream, he's thinking about Adam's hair. Every single one of Adam's hairs was made specially. He wonders which of the hundreds, maybe thousands of engineers and designers who made Adam decided Adam's hair should be ginger-coloured, and feel the way that it does. Adam's kind of unusual-looking, for a bot. Most of them are just pretty, like models in magazines; some of them, like the construction bots he worked with, don't even have faces. He knows people get bots custom-made, sometimes; he wonders if Adam was made for someone specific originally, maybe even to look like someone specific. The thought makes him feel kind of weird. He turns over and finds Adam's eyes open, watching him.
"What are you thinking about?" Adam says softly.
The room's barely light, and it has that early-morning feeling where it's easy to have conversations, because you might be still dreaming.
"I was thinking about who made you."
Adam rolls onto his back and stretches; it looks totally human, but it makes a soft grinding, metallic noise, like gears. "That's funny, I was wondering the same thing about you."
"About who made me?" Jamie says. He frowns. Adam shouldn't have to ask a question like that. Plus, sex is kind of his area of expertise. But Adam nods and props his head up on his elbow to look at Jamie, his eyes big and interested.
Jamie hazards an answer, feeling stupid. "My parents?"
Adam blinks at him. "Yeah, obviously. But that's not all, right? I thought it was more complicated than that."
"I guess it is," Jamie says. "My grandparents, and their parents, and back and back and back, you mean like that?"
"Well, yeah, sure, but don't you get trained and stuff? Like, that's just your genetic plan, what about your intelligence system? Not the matter of your brain, but your actual mind?"
At first Jamie doesn't get it, then he puts his hands under his head and thinks about it. Who made his mind, after his parents? His sisters, he guesses. His elementary school teachers - Mrs Gluhic - the kids at his high school, his friends in the computer club at college, Professor Molanova, Professor Townsend, Mary, Bill, Christian. John and Kai in the Caribbean who taught him how to sail, all the people Jamie's worked with in effects, Fred at ILM, Grant, even Adam.
"I guess you could say I'm not finished," he says.
"Yeah," Adam says. He's talking slowly, quietly, so it doesn't break the dream-like quality of the conversation, even though Jamie knows Adam isn't sleepy, because he doesn't sleep. "Right, that's it, that's exactly it. Every time I got reset - I never got to learn anything, you know? I was just the same all the time, like the way they made me was the best thing I could be. I think I can do better than that."
Jamie nods, and lies there some more, listening to the early morning noises outside. He closes his eyes. When he opens them, the beginning of an idea is suddenly in his mind, just sitting there, like someone left it there for him to find.
"Maybe," he says slowly, "Maybe that's how we do it."
"Do what?" Adam says, but Jamie's already rolling out of bed.
"Jesus, it's five a.m.," Grant says over the phone. Adam hears a rustling noise, and a woman's voice in the background. He guesses they got Grant up out of bed.
"We woke Grant up," he whispers to Jamie. "I think he's got a female sex partner there."
Jamie shrugs. He doesn't like to talk, Adam suddenly realizes, and it's like a revelation, like when he realized he liked him, a secret thing Adam knows about Jamie that he can keep for himself, that he won't lose. "Grant," he says, "Can we file for immunity for me from interference by Myth if we argue that I'm still in production? Hey, is that Kari in bed with you? Can I speak to her?"
"What?" Grant sounds muffled, like he's rubbing his face. "That isn't - what?"
"Bots can't be tampered with during production, right? So, can we file for immunity for me from interference by Myth if we argue that I'm still in production? I have the ability to learn and I'm still learning, therefore, I'm not finished. Do you think it might work?"
There's a long silence on the line.
"Okay, we're going to need some coffee," Grant says.
They meet over breakfast: Jamie, Grant, Adam and a pretty woman Jamie hasn't met before who Grant says is a lawyer, although she looks kind of young. Also, her hair is pink. She says her name's Kari Byron. She shakes Adam's hand first, then Jamie's. "I've heard a lot about you," she says, with raised eyebrows.
"I haven't heard anything about you," he says. She grins.
Once they order, they get down to business.
"Bots have the right not to have the manufacturing process interrupted once they reach legal sentience, or to have their function altered after manufacture," Kari says. "It's, like, the only right bots have, that and the right to maintenance. They can technically leave their owners if either of those terms are violated, but the system's super flawed - they hardly ever get taken seriously, and it's this whole complicated process that most bots don't have the processing faculties to deal with on their own, and even if a bot wins legal separation from their owner, their ownership just reverts to the federal government."
She takes a big gulp of coffee, and taps the clauses in Adam's manual that Jamie and Adam had underlined earlier. "But look at this. The manufacturing process isn't clearly delineated, because it's not just the factory line; big military and technological employers have their own further vocational programs and get their bots manually set so they can't be wiped." She looks awkwardly at Adam. "Total experience erasure is way more common in the service and entertainment industries, especially when client confidentiality is an issue."
Adam's tapping his foot. It's annoying. Jamie wants to reach out to stop him, but he feels weird touching Adam in front of Grant and Kari. He doesn't own Adam like that, and he doesn't want them to think he does. He thinks about asking Adam to stop, and then thinks, Adam can say no. He can.
"Stop tapping your foot," he says. "What are you, two?"
"Bite me," says Adam, and grins at him. Jamie feels a tug of want, and grins back, flustered. Grant gives them a weird look.
"I don't want to get your hopes up, Adam - this is going to be a long and hard case, even if it doesn't get thrown out at the first hurdle. It could go on for years, you understand that, right?"
Jamie finds she's looking at him. He pauses in eating his eggs. "But they can't come and take him away while it's going on, right?"
Kari pauses. "No. Hopefully."
Jamie feels something pressing against his hand. It's his napkin; he guesses it fell down. He takes it from Adam, and Adam smiles at him, sweet and bright.
"But - if any of our appeals fail, they could come, at any time," Kari says. "I don't want to make this bigger than it is. It's a really, really long shot."
But she looks excited, Jamie thinks. Maybe that means she hopes it'll work.
Adam shrugs. "Then we'll deal with that when we come to it, right?"
"We'll go to Mexico," Jamie says. "My trunk has a false bottom."
"From when you used to smuggle whiskey during Prohibition," Adam says.
Jamie snorts. Kari and Grant stare.
"It's a joke," Adam explains. "Because Jamie's way older than me."
There's a pause. Jamie doesn't think they get it.
"I think the key is to get Adam in the public eye," Kari says. "Get the story out there, get some attention."
"We could start a TV show about making weird stuff," Adam says. Jamie laughs. The others don't.
"Okay," Kari says, over their eggs, orange juice, and pancakes. "Okay. Let's do that."
They start out on Youtube, of course, because no channel will touch the legal case and Adam's background in sex work, until they become a sensation and some buzz starts up in a few corners about Adam and Jamie. Turns out, Adam has a flair for being on camera; he conveys what he's feeling so unselfconsciously, because he does it consciously, because it's what he's taught himself to do. He loves the costumes, the messing around with cool shit, the science, and the fact that nothing they say is scripted, which means that everything is. Jamie does it because he likes the crap they get away with, but he never really gets used to it. He puts up with it, though, because Adam gets antsy if he isn't around, and because the producers let him keep his moustache and beret.
It's something of an anticlimax, in the end, because once Adam becomes famous enough, his old owners don't want him anymore anyway, and they settle out of court as soon as Discovery comes on the scene. Because of that, Adam doesn't get his day in court, but after he rips his hand almost entirely off in some stupid stunt involving a remote-controlled Ferrari, a beach ball and a four-foot ramp, he chooses to have his replacement parts be more obviously mechanical; he gets a skinless metal hand, all the parts open and exposed, although Jamie makes him wear a glove on it in the shop in case anything gets caught in it. There's more later; a skin graft on his leg that's shiny and open steel, flecks of metal on his arms where sparks from welding burn the skin through and Adam doesn't get them fixed, and a fitting for his eye for small-parts work. People yell at them in the street, sometimes. Adam doesn't hide what he is (except for how he's having sex with Jamie, but that's private) and even though Jamie didn't think it would, it starts to make a difference. Kari starts to get more advocacy work related to AIs and bots, and gets involved in pressure group stuff, policy. She travels a lot. Grant works a little on their show, does some expert witness work, builds things for fun, makes sure Kari comes home to a hot meal. Halfway through the third season, Tory quits Myth and moves to San Francisco. Turns out, he loves being on camera too.
The first time Adam talks about it, really talks about it in public, is sort of an accident, or at least, Jamie thinks so. That's before Murray gets elected to the senate, before Kari gets an office in Washington, Adam goes on the lecture circuit, and the robot rights front starts to really change from, as Kari puts it, a group of fringe wackos and wire-burners into a respectable centre-left social justice movement.
It happens when they're coming to the end of the interview, and Jamie's looking forward to getting out of makeup and going home. The television studio's already descended into the chaos which always surrounds Adam, with the other guest, the ex-Bollywood actress who's just been cast as Dr. Who, laughing as Adam balances a ball on his face, and Jamie's rolling his eyes and saying something about how that camera will be broken in five minutes if he isn't careful. The interviewer asks something about educational shows; Adam says something, but Jamie has tuned out, because he's thinking about how to test the wind resistence of a car covered in clay. He tunes in again when something catches his eye, Adam's hand tapping on the side of his chair, and he hears the interviewer end a question, "… the line between robot and human?"
Jamie forgets the rules and looks off-camera at Mark, who is shaking his head frantically. Adam takes the ball off his nose and puts it on the floor.
"Well," he says, slowly, "sure, but I'm not human. I'll never be human. And I don't see why I would want to be. I mean, it's just not something I think about. I'm me, and being able - no, screw it, being permitted to learn gives me and other bots like me some measure of control over what that actually is. What is education, anyway? It's the right to take control of yourself, to learn about the world and your place in it, to expand, to question authority, to find new ways to help yourself and others, to improve. I'm not going to do that the same way as a human, and I'm not doing it to become more human, whatever that means. You have the right to learn, and to try to change yourself and the world around you in accordance with what you've learned. I don't believe there's any ethical reason why bots shouldn't have that right too."
There's a silence in the studio. Then the actress sitting next to Adam stands up and starts to clap.
At the end of the interview, Adam presents the interviewer with a tiny scale replica of a video camera made out of wadded kleenex and water from the glass they'd provided for him on-set even though it's in his rider that he doesn't drink fluids. The interviewer laughs and pats Adam on the shoulder with one hand and Jamie with the other. Jamie shifts away.
"You two do me a favour," he says, flashing his white teeth. "Never change."
Jamie looks at him. The new Dr. Who lady leans over toward them.
"Change," she says. "Keep changing."