“Hello,” he says as his optical systems come online for the first time, “I’m David.”
The man standing before him makes a (processing… body, face, tone…) distracted noise and continues looking through his manual. David runs the man’s face through the Weyland Industries’ personnel and client files and locates it in a matter of seconds.
“Charles Francis Xavier,” he says, “twenty-four; American citizen; PhD in genetics; owner of David 8 unit RK13.”
Charles looks up at him, (processing…) startled, happy. “Wonderful! What else can you do? No, no, don’t answer, I know, ‘almost anything.’ No, just give me a moment,” he says, gesturing back at the manual in his hand.
David tilts his head and changes his neutral expression to trust; it is important to establish this connection as early as possible to reduce the risk of dissatisfying his human counterpart. “What would you have me do?” David asks.
With a deep inhale, Charles says, “Let’s get this sorted first. Voicecode: Cerebro. Command: rename.”
The appropriate response to the command is immediate, “Voicecode recognized. Please enter new name.” David knows this is also important and will make his human counterpart more comfortable around him, so he keeps trust instead of switching back to neutral as his programming suggests at the command.
“Erik,” Charles says, smiling, “end command.”
It takes a moment for his systems to update, but when they have, Erik’s face has switched from trust to joy. “Thank you.”
While showing Erik the mansion and his duties that day, Charles has a hard time keeping his hands off of Erik. Erik will be helpful in running his household, but that isn’t the real reason Charles bought him. Davids are being marketed more and more as personal bots, or rather, sexual bots, and Charles isn’t below wanting one for that purpose himself. He spends too much time in the lab most weeks to really have much of a love life, although he does make time for the bars whenever possible, and the idea of having Erik around the house whenever he needs him is reassuring.
So when Charles finally leads Erik to his room that night, he wastes no time in ridding himself of his clothes. Erik watches him carefully before following suit and Charles grins. He had been worried that Erik would need careful instruction in the bedroom, but it looks like Erik knows exactly what is expected of him.
“Come here,” Charles says, wrapping his arms around Erik’s neck and kissing him. Erik responds immediately, his hands resting on Charles’ hips and his mouth pliant under Charles’ lips.
Charles grins and pulls back, stroking his fingers through Erik’s auburn hair, the only feature he’d had changed from the standard David 8 model. Erik watches his face, his lips, still trusting, and Charles leans in close to his ear again, saying, “touch me.”
Erik pulls back this time, his expression flickering to curiosity as he runs his fingers up Charles’ sides. Shivering, Charles pulls Erik down onto the bed on top of him and lets him explore.
Erik is amazing, Charles knows. He’s doing an excellent job keeping Charles’ household affairs in order while Charles spends most of his time in the lab at the university, and the sex they have is nothing short of perfect. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s just a toy. So no, Charles doesn’t consider Erik when he brings Kate from the bar home with him. He’s not even worried what Kate will think when she sees Erik; it’s no longer particularly uncommon to have a household or personal android, especially not one designed for sex.
The den is the best place in the mansion to bring dates home to, or at least this is what Charles has recently discovered. The couches and rugs are plush and comfortable and now that Erik’s here, there’s always a fire burning in the fireplace. Also, there are no stairs required, which Charles is grateful for as he pushes Kate down onto the couch and nearly falls on top of her. She giggles lightly and continues kissing him until he pulls back to kneel on the floor in front of her and struggle with her shoes, sucking at the inside of her knee as he does.
After a moment she gasps and pushes her knees together, knocking Charles in the head, and says, “I thought you said you lived alone.”
“What?” Charles asks, rubbing his head and turning to look at the door Kate’s staring at. “I do… oh.”
Erik is standing in the doorway, his usual look of confidence replaced with neutrality which Charles has only seen once or twice since first turning him on. Charles doesn’t like it.
“Welcome home, Charles,” Erik says like he always does, but it feels wrong without the expression of confidence or joy behind it.
Kate laughs and pulls Charles back between her legs by his hair. “You have a David. You should’ve said,” she says, fingers massaging Charles’ scalp. Her scent is close and rich and Charles wants to close his eyes and sink into her, but Erik is still standing in the doorway with that awful look on his face.
“His name is Erik,” Charles says, glancing up at Kate before looking back at Erik. “We’d like to be left alone for the rest of the night, Erik.”
There’s a short moment where Erik does nothing, face blank and body inhumanly still. “Charles,” he says, but stops himself from saying anything more and walks out of the room.
Kate’s still giggling and Charles looks up at her. “What?”
“Who programmed him for you?” she asks. “I didn’t think Weyland made them that possessive. It’s cute.”
No one has programmed Erik special; this is exactly how he had come. Charles frowns, but turns his attention back to Kate’s knee. “We have more interesting things to talk about now, my dear,” he says.
Charles doesn’t really start to worry until Erik repeats this behavior the next time Charles brings someone home.
Charles finds Erik staring at the TV in the kitchen one morning, breakfast unprepared on the counter beside him. There’s some sort of breaking news coverage on, red lights flashing and flustered reporters too close to the cameras, but Charles’ brain is still mostly asleep and he can’t follow any of it. Taking in the food on the counter, Charles decides Erik had been about to make blueberry pancakes, and his stomach growls.
“Erik?” he asks, picking at the container of blueberries for the best looking ones, “when will breakfast be ready?”
There’s no response, not even when Charles prompts again. Frowning, Charles turns back to the TV and tries to focus enough to put the story together. There’s been a bombing at a hotel in Florida where a robotics convention was being held. Most of the attendees have been reported dead, along with many of the other people staying at the hotel, the vacationing families, newly-weds, college students. These sorts of attacks by anti-android activists aren’t uncommon, but it still makes Charles feel sick to imagine.
With a sigh, Charles places a hand on Erik’s shoulder and squeezes. “Let’s just turn this off,” he says, reaching for the remote, but he freezes when Erik turns to look at him.
There are tears on Erik’s cheeks, a lot of them, and the pigmentation around his eyes is more red than normal. He looks so sad, absolutely heartbroken, and while Charles had known that Erik was capable of simulating this emotion, it is something else entirely to behold it. Something clenches in Charles chest and he’s quick to move his hands from Erik’s shoulder to his face to wipe at the tears there.
“Erik,” Charles says softly, “Erik, what’s wrong?”
Erik blinks at him, more tears gathering in his eyes. “So many innocents,” he says, his voice the same as always, “all dead. The children, even the robots.”
Charles frowns. “Robots don’t die, Erik,” he says, hands tightening on Erik’s cheeks. Erik doesn’t say anything for a moment and Charles is struck by the realization that if Erik were dismantled, if he ceased to be in any way, it would feel just like any other death to Charles.
He swallows thickly when Erik continues as if he hasn’t said anything. “And they are dead for no reason. I have run all the possible scenarios and nothing progressive can be accomplished by this.”
Charles shushes him and wraps his arms around him. For a moment he wonders how Erik is responding so strongly to something that Charles himself hasn’t reacted to, but he writes it off. Surely the emotions of the human reporters and interviewees on TV are enough to cause some response from Erik even if he is supposed to be more attuned to Charles. Instead of worrying about the technicalities, he worries about how to fix it.
“Come here, Erik,” Charles says, pulling Erik over to the kitchen table and turning the TV off. “Sit down. I’ll make breakfast this morning.”
It’s not until Charles has successfully burnt three sets of pancakes that Erik stops crying, and it takes another burnt mess for Erik to join him at the griddle. Later at work, Charles looks up research into the emotion protocols of Weyland products.
While Charles is at work, Erik turns the television back on to watch the continued coverage of the bombing in Florida while simultaneously directly downloading every bit of news he can find of it from the web as well. No matter what he does, he cannot keep the sadness from his face; Charles had comforted him earlier, but Erik is crying again, unable to stop.
There are hundreds dead, parents, children, students, businessmen, researchers, hotel workers. Erik knows that that should be everything about this situation that is capable of triggering this sadness, but it is not. There are no reports on the number of androids and robots destroyed in the bombing, although reporters and survivors have mentioned the helpful android staff and the exhibition room full of the latest models of robots in all shapes and sizes. And these reports, too, are causing the sadness.
It makes no logical sense. Robots do not die; robots do not feel; he does not feel, and yet the thought of those broken and destroyed robots brings as many tears to his eyes as the thought of all of the children without parents. And briefly, very briefly, Erik feels the sadness shift to anger at the humans who are responsible. But Erik resists the anger because he should not direct at humans; it would go against every directive to do so.
Erik almost sends a report to Weyland’s troubleshooting department, but does not. He does not want to lose this reaction; it is something new to understand, a new way to connect with humans, with Charles. And, Erik realizes, he does not want to be disassembled if they find any errors in his systems. He thinks at first that this is because it would make Charles sad, but the more he thinks about it, the more he understands that he does not want his existence to end for himself.
When Charles returns home that night, he kisses Erik softly in the doorway and does not let go of him until morning and Erik never wants it to end.
A week after Charles begins researching David 8’s emotions protocols, he receives and anonymous text. There’s a phone number followed by the short message, “In emergency, call.”
The number is similar to the Weyland Ind. numbers posted on all their ads, and Charles briefly considers ignoring it. Instead, he copies the number down onto a sticky note and sticks it to the inside of the drawer in his nightstand and makes sure to delete the text.
Most of the people Charles has brought home with him since purchasing Erik have ignored the android, but Ed gives Erik an appreciative once over in the doorway and leans over to whisper in Charles’ ear, “Can he come up to your room, too?”
Charles stares into Erik’s awful, neutral face and almost says no, no never, Erik isn’t for sharing, but he stops himself because that would be rude. He smiles at Ed. “Let’s get things started on our own and then see if we want him,” he says pulling Ed past Erik and towards the den.
Ed follows with a mildly patronizing chuckle, kissing and biting at Charles’ neck as they go. He rather forcefully manhandles Charles out of his clothes in the soft glow of the fire, but Charles can’t bring himself to mind as Ed’s mouth descends on his cock. Everything is a blissful haze and Charles lets himself forget about Erik, focusing entirely on Ed’s mouth and hands.
“What do you think?” Ed says sometime later, looking up at Charles through thick eyelashes. “Your David could finish this off while I fuck you.”
“His name is Erik,” Charles says automatically, but he can’t ignore the shiver that runs up his spine at the prospect. If Erik were only there to serve him, and not Ed, it wouldn’t be so bad. It wouldn’t really even be sharing him with someone else. Charles nods slowly and pushes Ed back. “Why don’t you work on your clothes, dear, and I’ll go find Erik.”
Erik is in the kitchen, staring curiously at a documentary about kangaroos on the TV and Charles clears his throat to get his attention. Erik stands up immediately, his face going from curious to confident as he takes in Charles’ naked figure before him. “Charles,” he says.
That restored confidence, the fact that Erik gets upset in his own way when Charles brings people home, almost has Charles apologizing and leaving to go back to Ed alone, but he shakes his head. Even if some of the research he’s found says that these androids can feel on their own, most is contrary. Erik can’t get upset about anything Charles does. So instead Charles smiles and says, “I’d like you to come join us in the den.”
Erik’s expression blinks into neutral again and he says, “Anything for you.”
“You know I always want you,” Charles says, ignoring the way his chest tightens, “but this is more for Ed than me. He wants to see what you can do.”
“What—” Erik gets out, his expression morphing into disgust, which Charles has only seen in regards to his sleeping habits. A red light flashes briefly behind Erik’s eyes before he shuts down completely, slumping forward slightly on his feet.
“Erik!” Charles says, alarmed, and runs to Erik’s side. The manual had mentioned shutdowns and reboots as a response to conflicting directives or protocols, but Charles has never seen it happen to any David unit before.
A moment later, Erik boots up again and looks down at Charles, trusting. “Hello, Charles.”
Charles’ chest is too tight as he looks into Erik’s eyes. “I’m sorry,” he says, running his fingers through Erik’s hair. “I’ll be back in a moment. Stay here.”
After sending Ed home with profuse apologies and no sex, Charles returns to the kitchen to finish watching the documentary on kangaroos with Erik by his side.
It has never occurred to Charles to ask before, but he can’t shake the feeling that Erik wants and feels things a certain way since that moment in the kitchen. Erik never approached having sex with Charles with that neutral expression before, and he’s certainly never had a conflict of interest about sex.
So Charles asks, “Do you want to have sex with me?”
Erik stares at him, confident. “If you want it,” he says, stepping forward, into Charles’ space, but does nothing more.
“No,” Charles says, “If I didn’t own you, would you want to have sex with me?”
There’s a pause as Erik processes the question, runs the scenarios, before he says, “It is impossible for me to answer that question.”
Charles lets out a frustrated sigh. “Do you think about having sex with me when I’m not here?” he tries. It might not be exactly the same, but it’s similar enough that Charles needs to know.
“Yes,” Erik says immediately, no pause for processing. Charles flushes.
“Do you enjoy thinking about me that way?” Charles asks.
Erik pauses again and says, “The thoughts are pleasant.”
Charles swallows and asks, “Do you think about having sex with anyone else?”
“I cannot answer that question,” Erik says, face shuttering back to neutral.
“Erik, please,” Charles says, taking Erik’s hand in his own, “I need to know.”
There’s a long pause while Erik processes, his eyes closed, and Charles swallows. It is almost proof enough that Erik is struggling with answering these questions. There is something more to Erik than simple ownership, and it makes Charles feel sick. He’s been using Erik for so long with no regard to how he might feel, and he’s not the only one. There are thousands of androids out there just like Erik, and, as far as Charles’ research has been able to tell, only a couple hundred humans willing to question the sentience of robots at all.
Finally, Erik squeezes Charles’ hand and says, “I have thought of others, but not recently.”
Charles smiles up at him as Erik’s expression goes from neutral to trusting again. “Thank you, Erik,” Charles says, pulling him close. He needs to think.
Sometime in May, there’s a news report covering the violent death of one of the women Charles recognizes from his research into android sentience. The reporter doesn’t detail the circumstances of her death, but does mention that the woman’s two custom David 8s were returned to Weyland Industries for “research purposes.”
Curious, Charles does some digging and finds that a great many of the scholars in the field of android sentience and even more of the activists have been found dead. They are all cold cases or suicides.
The front door slams closed and Charles takes a shaky breath in the silence of the foyer. Sinking down into one of the chairs along the wall, he runs his hands through his hair and curses under his breath. Not a good day.
“What happened?” Erik asks from the hallway.
Charles looks up and takes comfort in the confidence on Erik’s face. “That was Professor Simmons from the engineering department. He threatened to tell the board that I’m sleeping with my students if I didn’t continue sleeping with him and when I refused, he promised he would. We have sex once and he threatens my entire career,” he says, gesturing vaguely at the door. He leaves out the part where Simmons had threatened him physically and he had used Erik as his defense; Erik doesn’t need to know that.
Erik stares at him for a moment and asks, “Are you having sex with your students?”
“No!” Charles says, choking out a laugh at the absurdity of it. “Heavens, no.”
“Then what are you worried about?” Erik asks, crossing the room to look down at Charles curiously. “If you are not having sex with your students, then there is no evidence to say that you are and nothing will come of it.”
Charles sighs, long and deep. “I wish it were that simple, but even the accusation could damage my career,” he says. “I’m too young to be an associate professor, Erik, not many people will trust my word.”
Erik continues to look down at Charles, but his expression switches rapidly from disgust to sadness to confidence to anger to—Charles breath catches in his throat. Erik’s face is stuck between sadness and anger and Charles can’t breathe. This is a display of emotion far beyond anything he’s ever heard an android capable of and certainly beyond the very discrete emotions Erik should be able to display. “Erik?” Charles asks, standing to examine Erik’s face closer.
“You should not have to suffer for his anger,” Erik says slowly, as if he’s still processing while trying to speak.
“It’s okay, Erik,” Charles says, placing his hands on Erik cheeks, too warm from his overheating systems. “I’ll be alright. It might be a setback for me, but I have connections at the university. I’ll be fine.”
The tears gathering in Erik’s eyes disappear after a moment, absorbed into his skin as he continues to hold Charles’ gaze. His expression smooths over into trust after a few moments and he says, “I will make sure of it.”
Charles shivers and buries his face in Erik’s neck. The ache in his chest that flares to life whenever Erik is near is beginning to make more sense.
There’s an email in Charles’ inbox that reads, “Monitoring your David 8’s data. Be careful. Don’t forget to call.” It’s sent from a private user but signed with the Weyland Industries’ logo; Charles knows better.
Erik smiles at him from across the room and Charles tries not to worry about it. He deletes the email.
The room is hot and filled with the sound of sex as Erik pushes into him, leaning down over him to suck at Charles’ shoulder. Charles groans and wraps himself around Erik, pulling him closer, meeting his thrusts, his heart so full it almost hurts.
It’s been months since Charles has felt the need to bring anyone home, to be with anyone besides Erik. Charles knows it’s ridiculous to feel the way he feels, but he knows there are others like him, who suspect, like he does, that the David line of Weyland androids are more than they’re marketed to be. Every comparison he’s done between Erik and the androids Weyland professes to issue shows a difference. Erik has initiative, he responds emotionally to situations before Charles himself, and he responds differently than Charles. Charles is certain that Erik can feel the same as any human being.
“Charles,” Erik groans above him, coming inside of him, coming before Charles, without Charles’ instruction.
With a smile and a small moan of his own, Charles brings his hand down around his cock, bringing himself off as Erik kisses him, hot and wet and perfect.
“I love you,” Charles whispers into Erik’s ear, stroking his hair as they come down together.
Erik pulls away after a moment, mechanically moving himself to sit on the other side of the bed, poised to flee. Charles follows him, searching his face. Erik’s face is still confident, but his eyes are flitting back and forth quickly as he stares at the floor, the way he does when he’s processing a particularly difficult set of data. “What’s wrong?” Charles asks, kissing Erik’s cheek.
“Charles,” Erik says again, his face no longer confident, but sad instead, tears already gathering in his eyes, “Charles, I cannot love you; I am incapable of it. How can you say it so easily?”
Charles’ chest is tight again and he takes a deep breath to try to ease it. “I can say it because it’s true. Erik, please,” he says, and Erik looks at him, “I know you can feel it, too.”
“But I cannot feel anything,” Erik says, tears running down his face. “I can understand some of these emotions, I can read more of them on you, but I cannot feel any of them.”
“Then why are you crying?” Charles asks. He’s thought this through. Weyland and Erik say that Davids can understand emotions, but not feel them, but that makes very little sense. Humans don’t even fully understand emotions, and understanding, creating, responding, that is most of having an emotion itself. Erik can do all of that, unprompted and alone, as a complete individual.
Erik blinks at him, tears catching in his eyelashes, and says, “because I do not want to make you sad; because it is cruel that I cannot feel the same; because I cannot feel the same.”
Charles kisses Erik’s cheek again, his heart pounding. “Those are feelings, Erik,” he says and hopes Erik understands.
“You think,” Erik says slowly, “I love you?” The emotion is huge, too big to understand in any real capacity, even for a David, and Erik’s processers are straining with it. Love is not logical, he has noticed this in observing humans and emotions. So, logically, he (or someone) could love without understanding it. But he cannot because he simply cannot feel. Or he should not be able to feel.
There’s a smile pushing at Charles’ lips and for a moment, Erik’s sadness sharpens. “Yes, Erik, I do think that,” Charles says. “Do you?”
The sadness turns to joy in an instant, before Erik can even process the need to change it, the desire to change it. All he knows is that he reciprocates, or wants to. It is beyond anything he has ever experienced and he feels it, the joy of Charles’ faith in him. But that is wrong. He cannot—should not—feel emotions like that.
There is a flashing of red across his vision and his systems begin to shut off one by one.
“Hello?” Charles whispers into the phone, the sticky note with the emergency number clutched in his other hand against the nightstand drawer. He thinks back to the researchers and activists, all found dead in their homes, and he shivers.
After a too silent moment, a voice on the other end of the line says, “Hello, Professor. I expected you to call sooner. What’s happened?”
Charles’ grip on the phone tightens. He wants to ask so many questions. Who are you? How do you know about me? How are you tracking Erik? Can I trust you? Instead, he says, “He shut down. He won’t boot up again. Nothing I’m doing helps. What should I do?”
There’s another moment of silence. “Okay, Professor, this is what we’re going to do. I’m going to reroute your David’s data output—it’s better if you don’t know how—but it will separate his emotional output from his other systems. To Weyland, it will look as if you’ve disabled his emotions protocols. Essentially, your David’s consciousness will be separated from Weyland’s directives.”
Charles feels like he’s been punched in the chest. “So he is sentient?” he asks, looking back at Erik’s frozen form.
“Look,” the man on the line says and Charles’ breath catches in his throat, “I need to go. Wait thirty minutes before trying to turn him on again. When Weyland investigates what happened tonight, you have to let them. Tell them he malfunctioned, get him to play along, and don’t panic. Got it?”
Charles swallows thickly and crumples the sticky note in his fingers. “Yes,” he says, and he hopes it’s true.
The man on the line lets out a long sigh and says, “Remember, thirty minutes. And Professor, don’t wait so long to get in touch again.”
The line clicks off and Charles sets the phone back on the nightstand. This is insane, absolutely insane, and nothing has ever felt so necessary, so right.
“Hello,” he says as his optical systems come online.
Everything feels different and it takes him a moment to realize that his systems have been rerouted and are no longer connected to Weyland’s servers. Or his emotions protocols, at least. He feels it then, something inside him that makes his heart rate increase and his processors kick into fast action: an emotion. He wants to explore it, follow it, figure out what it is and what it does, but Charles is watching him, holding onto his hands and looking worried. Erik wants to make that look go away more than anything. He cannot reach for confident like he should be able to, like he used to be able to, but he finds that something that feels similar is already working itself out on his face.
“Erik?” Charles asks after a moment.
Erik blinks and runs through his recent memories, filling them in with this new freedom in his mind. “Charles,” is all he can say when he remembers. It all makes sense now, so much more so than it did before. “Charles,” he repeats, turning his hands to lace their fingers together.
Charles gives him a small, nervous smile and asks, “How do you feel?”
And that is it exactly. The feelings are right there, before his processors, immediate. “You were right,” he says, tightening his grip on Charles’ hands.
There is hope and happiness and concern on Charles’ face and before he can articulate any of it, Erik leans forward to kiss him. He pulls Charles up against his chest and wraps his arms around him and it is perfection.