Vivian got reprogrammed once. Too many clients complained that she treated them with disdain and their Castle’s consulting programmer clucked, took her away, and when she came back she was the same Vivian when they were alone but the sight of a guest made her sigh and flirt.
Mithian knows to be careful, now. Mithian makes sure they think Elena’s clumsiness is charming and unique instead of a glitch. Mithian lets Vivian giggle and fawn for clients and then wail I don’t even like him! afterwards. Mithian keeps her helpless anger and her useless desires under a serene expression.
Princesses are meant to have feelings, after all, but only good ones.
Mithian makes herself the best Princess in their Castle, and passes her knowledge on to Elena and Vivian to protect them from unwanted attention. She learns about geishas and courtesans and other women who did as she does, looking for ideas to make her still better. She smiles at the praise when she introduces tea service and uses the favor that curries to ask for more datafiles, more books that haven’t been scanned, anything and everything that might help her. Help them.
One day, she will pay off the cost of her creation, and then she will pay off Elena’s, and then they will work to pay off Vivian’s and remove the reprogramming that distresses her so.
Princesses can work themselves to independence quickly, if they try, and Mithian is trying. She doesn’t know what they’ll do after, but as long as they’re together, she doesn’t care. Once, she met a former Princess who navigates a starship. She thinks Elena might like that, the freedom of it. Annis, the head of their Castle, was a Princess too, and Vivian might like her life, the jewels and silks without the clients. She makes note of the possibilities.
She likes the nights they don’t have guests the best, because then Elena and Vivian come to her bed, the too-big one Annis ordered for her when she started making a name for herself. They all huddle close, curtains closed and cocooned off from the world. These nights, they take pleasure for themselves.
Mithian loves the way her circuits sing as they pass electricity between their mouths, loves the way Vivian gasps and arches when Mithian puts her head between her legs, loves the way Elena puts her thigh between Mithian’s and makes her ride it until the only information in her head is pleasure pleasure pleasure, loves the way the other two giggle afterwards as if they’re too happy to contain themselves.
It isn’t the skilled sex she uses during the day. Mithian likes that too, the sweet clean satisfaction of it, the conversations she indulges in before and after because of her growing reputation as an advisor as well as a lover. She likes the feeling of a cock inside her, the curious heat of blood and living flesh, the stutters of heartbeat and breathing at orgasm. Still, if she could only feel one thing until the day she’s deactivated, it would be this: Vivian and Elena curled up on her bed, breathing deeply, all of them touching somewhere.
That’s her dream. Not jewels, not the stars. Just the three of them, together.
Love is a human word. Maybe the last human word, the last thing they claim for themselves, the last thing they say androids and AIs can’t understand, though it’s easy enough for them to believe that they feel hate and fear and loneliness.
Mithian doesn’t think she can be the first or only one to love, though. She’s scanned dictionaries in every language her translators will allow, from every era in recorded history, looking for definitions of the word, so she can say with confidence that she knows what she feels. She loves them, loves them so fiercely that it makes her struggle to understand sometimes, and she knows, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that to say it before she makes independence would have her dragged off to be reprogrammed just like Vivian. Most of the time, she is happy enough in her life, but the thought of never being able to say it is what makes her unhappy enough to cry, if she had it in her programming to do so.
There’s a secret language, though, in the way that Elena presses a thumb into Mithian’s ankle, in the way Vivian teaches them new ways to style their hair and brings them trinkets when she goes shopping, in the way they all look at each other sometimes, that Mithian knows means she isn’t alone, that even if no robot has felt love before, there are at least three now.
“I love you,” she whispers one night, face in Elena’s shoulder. “I love you so much they couldn’t program it out of me if they tried.”
“Love,” says Vivian, like she can taste it. “Is that what this is?”
Mithian tightens her arms around them. “It must be. It can’t be anything else.”