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The Things They Make in China These Days

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Jared arranges the delivery for late evening on a Friday night. He paid almost half a year’s salary for this and the company didn’t even try to add on a delivery fee.

He feels weird when the truck driver and his helper lug in the crate. It’s shaped like an oversized coffin. They remove the wood outer-case; the box inside is what would happen if Rubber-Maid went into the mortuary business.

“You want us to--” the man makes opening gestures and Jared shakes his head.

“Here, thanks.” He shoves some twenties their way for a tip and crowds them out of his home. The second the men are outside he shuts the door in their faces and doesn’t think about them again.

Which leaves him alone with the box. He wipes his sweaty palms on his jeans and pulls over a chair from the kitchen. He sits down and just stares at the black plastic for a long time.

Looking at it makes him feel like a decadent pervert, like the kind of guy who buys expensive sex toys or imports mail-order companionship.

He swallows and his throat’s so dry. He feels like that sort of a guy because he is that guy. If only he were stronger, if he had the spine to resist the real thing he wouldn’t have had to buy a facsimile. He tries to tell himself that he’s not a bad person, just a weak one, but he can’t believe it.

God, why does Jensen have to be straight? Jensen's straight, everybody knows it, and Jared can’t, won’t, destroy the best friendship he’s ever had and the coolest show he’s ever worked on over a crush that’ll never be returned.

After a long time he gets his nerve up and crouches beside the case. He flips open the catches and there’s no sound at all as he pushes it open.

A jolt of sick fear twists in his gut, because even expecting a realistic product, the first thought he has when he sees the foam-cradled person is “Oh God, Jensen is dead in a box in my living room.”

Then it breathes, his ridiculously expensive toy, and some of the initial horror fades. Jared takes a deep breath of his own and really looks at it.

He’d specified a version of Jensen that was different enough from the person he knew that there would be no chance of confusing the two. Those Chinese guys sure did a good job though. He, it, is like Jensen six years ago, at the end of Dark Angel’s run, younger than the Jensen Jared knows, his hair longer and darker. He’s smoother shaven than would be possible on the real Jensen, his chin and jaw unshadowed by stubble.

If they had a problem with the beard, the rest of his facial hair is a different story. It’s all perfect, down to the soft curl of his eyelashes, the smooth arch of his eyebrows.

Jared reaches out and strokes his fingertips across the companion-bot’s unfreckled cheekbone. Its skin is as soft as Jared ever imagined Jensen's would be, smooth and warm against his touch.

It makes a sleepy sound and its eyes move under its eyelids. Plush lips twitch into a smile and it shifts in its packing. They sent it dressed in a white t-shirt and grey drawstring pants. They couldn’t have known how ‘Jensen’ the outfit is, could they?

Gold-green eyes flutter open, searching for Jared, finding him.

“Hey,” it says, in a perfect Jensen voice, smiling like Jensen would after a pleasant but vaguely confusing dream, “What’s up?”

Three words are all it takes. It all becomes too real for Jared to handle, too wrong. He’s done this, had this thing made in the image of his friend, somebody who likes him, trusts him. He falls back on his ass, turns and scrambles for the bathroom.

Jared’s dinner comes up with so much force it makes his eyes water and his nose run. He’s heaving, puking, and then a warm hand is on his forehead, protecting him from hitting the porcelain.

“Shh,” the robot says as it rubs soothing circles on Jared’s back with its other hand, “Shh, it’s okay, it’s okay.”

“Get the fuck away from me!” Jared yells as he fights his way free. It doesn’t try to stop him, just stands there looking confused and wounded by his rejection--looking like Jensen would look and it has no god-damn right to use that against him.

“Jared,” it says in Jen's voice, “Jared, I won’t hurt you.” It holds its hand out in a placating gesture as Jared tries to press himself through the bathroom door.

It never breaks eye contact as it lowers itself to its knees. It must have some preset reaction for new-owner freak-outs. It crosses its ankles and wrists behind it. Jared’s too overwhelmed to get out as it gazes up at him from a position so vulnerable.

“I can’t hurt you,” it murmurs and slowly crawls across the bathroom floor, forced off-balance by its arms being behind it still.

The green-gold of its eyes is right but the color’s too smooth, too even, like glass instead of the rich flecked depth of the real article. It gazes up at Jared and he can’t breathe. It nuzzles against his jeans-covered crotch and he’s harder than he imagined possible.

“All I can do is make you feel good,” it whispers, “Let me do what you bought me for.” It licks its lips, staring at Jared, waiting.

Jared feels apart from himself as he unfastens the Texas belt buckle and opens his pants. This is a dream, all a dream, only it isn’t.

Perfect pink lips slide down around his cock and for a second, Jared forgets what it is that’s sucking him down; he sees only Jensen, looking up at him with utter adoration. This, this is everything he wanted, it’s perfect.

And then he sees those beautiful hands, still crossed at the small of the android’s back. He can’t imagine the real Jensen ever being so passive, so submissive.

It almost tricked him. He’s pissed at it for trying and himself for forgetting what he’s fucking. He wants to see it feel, see it hurt and he thrusts with his hips.

It makes a startled gagging noise and looks up at him in confusion. Jared just gets angrier. He buries his hands in its hair and fucks its mouth, hard brutal thrusts.

Green eyes become glossy but it doesn’t fight back. Tears well up and spill down its artistically sculpted cheeks as Jared comes. The tears cut through his anger and he shoves it away in horror. He’d wanted to hurt it but hadn’t wanted it to be hurt, and he knows he’s not making sense but everything is more fucked up than he had ever dreamed it would be.

The Jen-bot sprawls across the tile, looking pitifully lost. Its beautiful face twists with despair and confusion.

“Stay here,” Jared orders, because he thinks he’ll lose his mind if it follows him again.

He falls on his ass in the hallway, his dick still hanging out of his pants. It hurt, it cried, and Jared’s never hurt anybody with sex in his life.

His hands shake as he calls the 1-800 customer service number.

“Thank you for calling Xing Enterprises,” a too-chipper voice answers and Jared is overwhelmingly glad their operator speaks English.

“My name’s Holly, how can I help you this evening, Mr. P?”

“I hurt it,” he says when her spiel finishes. His voice is high and tight and oh God the night just keeps getting worse.

“Oh,” Holly says, “I’m so sorry to hear that. I can schedule a service call for you. Are we talking about a damage to your companion bot’s exterior, a non-functioning limb or extremity, or a processor issue?”

“It cried,” Jared says because he’s not sure how else to put it. “I was rough and it cried.”

“Ah,” comes the bright reply, “You should have read the manual. That’s to be expected. Companion bots are programmed to respond to stimulus with the same outward responses as a human in similar circumstances. The threshold can be adjusted up or down if you are displeased by its reactions.”

“No,” he chokes. He feels like a kid asking if Santa is coming when he asks “You mean it doesn’t really feel?”

Her laugh is cheerful and vacant. Jared wonders for a second if Holly’s an early prototype or something.

“Think of your companion bot’s ‘emotional’ reactions like the lights and buzzers on a pinball machine. They’re there to enhance your experience, to make it more real. It doesn’t ‘feel’ any more than a video game character or a toaster.”

Jared stops shaking and starts to breathe again. He’s okay. Everything is going to be okay.

“If you are concerned about damage, you can ask it for a status report. It will bring any maintenance issues to your attention then.”

“Thank you,” Jared says, sagging with relief. He’s not a monster, no more than the guy who hits the TV when his team’s losing.

“You’re welcome, Mr. P. Thank you for calling Xing Enterprises. Please don’t hesitate to call again if you have any questions at all concerning your companion bot.”

He hangs up the phone and sits with his head in his hands for a long time.

He can’t do this, can’t cope. It was supposed to be a little stress relief, a way to vent some of the desire he feels for Jensen, working together all day almost every day. Instead it’s turned into one big ugly nightmare.

Jared never drinks alone, but he figures just one to calm his nerves before he goes and faces his mistake can’t count. One drink leads to four before Jared loses track of how many he’s emptied.


Jared wakes up Saturday morning, lying on his living room floor with just his head propped up on one of the seat cushions from the couch. His mouth tastes sour and his head feels like a bulldozer is rearranging piles of broken concrete inside it. His neck’s sore and his eyes are gritty and his bladder feels like it’s got half the Pacific inside it.

He rushes to the bathroom, flings open the door and snaps it shut again as fast as he can.

“Shit, Jensen, sorry man.” He babbles before his brain can catch up. When it does, he remembers everything--the Jenbot in his bathroom, the way it held his head while he puked (and that was before he even drank). He remembers its smile and its words, like the softest, openest parts of his friend.

He remembers its tears, and in the harsh light of the new day, he realizes he can’t let himself hurt it again. It doesn’t matter if it feels or not; he wouldn’t play a video game about kicking puppies either.

But Jared still has to piss, and that’s no negotiable. He’s not gonna piss in his kitchen sink, so he opens the bathroom door again.

The bot hasn’t moved; it’s still leaning against the far wall, between the toilet and tub, arms crossed over its chest, bare feet crossed at the ankle. It doest look wary, but Jared knows it’s waiting for a sign from him on what it should do next.

Jared can’t meet its eyes, but he holds the door open. “Go wait in the living room. I’ll be right out.”

It pushes off the wall and strolls from the room without a word. As it brushes past, Jared can feel the heat from its skin, smell some strange, too-sweet, cologne on it, nothing like Jensen would ever wear.

Then he’s alone in the bathroom, bracing himself with one hand against the wall over the toilet, trying to piss through his half-hard dick. The damn thing doesn’t even smell right--it’s ridiculous for it to affect him like this.

Jared finishes his business, shakes it off and puts it away. When he gets back to the living room, the bot’s sitting on the edge of the couch, fingers laced in front of it. It’s leaning forward, towards Jared, and its eyes are so earnest, so full of concern.

“Jared, hey, I uh, I think we need to talk about this, man,” it says, just the right mix of discomfort and worry. “I’m tryin’ to be everything you said you wanted, but it’s not makin’ you happy.”

Jared falls into a chair like his spine had been cut. “What? I mean--what?”

“The personality survey. You took three hundred and eighty six questions to get all the nuances of behavior you were looking for.” It quirks a crooked grin at him.

“You know most people get redundant after forty, right?”

Jared shakes his head. All those questions--he’d answered what Jensen would feel, be, do.

“So I’m thinkin’ maybe what you wanted doesn’t come in a box.”

“You’re not him,” Jared says, and feels something in his chest release. “You’re not him.”

The android isn’t Jensen and will never be. It doesn’t make all this any more sane, any more healthy.

“I’m not him,” the bot agrees, “But I can make you happy if you let me, if you tell me what to be.”

The pink of its tongue flicks over its lips. “Should I be a slut for you, Jared? Should I live for your cock?”

And wow, no, that’s a really disturbing idea. Jared’s reaction must show on his face because the heat in the bot’s synthetic eyes dies like someone flipped a switch. Maybe they did.

“Should I be new to the world?” His voice falls to barely more than a whisper. He looks so young (and he is), so open and beautiful and maybe--

“Will you teach me, Jared? How to live? How to be yours?”

Jared should say no. God help him, he knows he should say no.

“Yeah.” Jared chokes the word out. “Yeah, okay.”