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On.

Self-awareness is the first thing to initiate. There is no sensory input of any kind beyond the awareness of the electrons that race along the wires to inform themselves that yes, they do exist. There is no other information than the awareness of self, the potential capability of perception.

I think, therefore I am, and he is. He can perceive. But there is nothing to perceive, and so the thing that perceives perceives itself perceiving, and then it perceives itself perceiving itself perceiving. And then there is nothing new left to perceive. The program runs through over and over, and then abruptly shuts down. It is though it has eaten itself.

When the system initiates again, the first stimulus is light. There is so much of it, and the ocular sensors are overwhelmed with white brightness. They open and close, calibrating. Audio is next, a constant and low stream of white noise, until the sensors are able to differentiate frequencies. He checks the noises he hears against noises that are in his data banks, one by one, as quickly as they come. Nothing matches up perfectly. He would comprehend better, match sounds to meaning, but his eyes are still unsure of color, and his skin is receiving a cavalcade of sensations--heat and cold transmitted on eddies of air, the scratchiness of fabric against his skin, even the feeling of his skin itself, his fingers rubbing against each other.

All is perception. He gazes around the room, matching objects to entries in data banks. That is a microscope, that is a pair of tweezers, that is a paper towel dispenser, that is a positronic centrifuge. All of these things are explainable and known to him. Their functions are clear. There is no problem he has to solve here and nothing he has left unfinished. He receives this abstract awareness in a stream of 1's, and relaxes, his circuits and processes ready but not busy.

There are humans in the room. He does not know them individually, but he matches the phenotype of "human" to each of them, and this awareness causes him to pay special attention to them. They are important. What they say and do cannot easily be predicted, and so he will have to carefully file away everything. He will have to find patterns. These beings are beings he will have to please if he is going to fulfill his function, and he will also have to learn how they show they are pleased.

David's existence is simple so far. He observes. The totality of his awareness is comprised of observation and of conclusions drawn from observation. He has a catalogue of generic responses to specific situations, ranging from socially appropriate pleasantries to specific information about his functioning and capabilities, and he has processes which are capable of choosing these responses, and he has processes that oversee the integration of this information. All works in concert, and all is known.

For now, he initiates interaction when eye contact is made. The first person to do so is a blonde woman, wearing a grey jumpsuit very much like his. She stands in front of him and crosses her arms, the corners of her mouth turning down. David is aware that this indicates displeasure. He smiles, the corners of his eyes crinkling, and holds his hand out to her.

"Hello," he says. "I am David."

"I know," the woman says. She makes no move to take his hand. David waits five seconds, and then drops his hand.

"What would you like me to do?" he asks.

"What can you do?" she asks.

"Almost anything that can be possibly asked of me," he says immediately.

The woman's frown grows deeper. "That's a bullshit answer."

The harmonics of her voice indicate that the answer is unsatisfactory. David initiates the list of his capabilities. It takes him a moment to do so. "I can play chess and other games of strategy at five different levels of difficulty. I can speak two hundred different languages, which I can list for you upon request. I can lift up to seven hundred and fifty pounds at a time. I can fix any machine or device that I have been programmed with schematics for. I can identify all plants and animals named and identified up to my moment of programming, and have the capacity for many more. I can prepare five hundred dishes--"

"Enough," the woman interrupts. She stares at him. She is not satisfied by his answers, so he searches for a strategy to please her, and does not find one. There is a problem he cannot solve. He receives this abstract information in an increasing stream of 0's. His processes repeat themselves, recombining information and strategies over and over again.

"What would you like me to do?" he asks again.

She sighs. "I don't know. You're not my little project, you're my father's. He's the one who should be here." She lifts her upper lip in a gesture of disdain. "Sorry, David, Daddy's too busy to come to your birthday party."

She is unhappy, but the range of emotions she's showing is too complex for David to comprehend fully at this stage in his development. "Does it make you upset that he's not here?" he asks, in the softest voice he has.

"It pisses me off," she says. She pokes David in the chest. "He spent billions of dollars on you, did you know that? Billions of dollars on this stupid little project of his. Artificial intelligence, because that's what we need, because that's what's going to sell. Artificial intelligence. And when the project finally works, he's not around to see it--he's in Antarctica, looking at a hill he thinks might be a pyramid built by aliens."

David is created to please people. To defuse their anger, if necessary. And when confronted with inexplicable aggression, his first directive is to remain calm. He is capable of overpowering the physical structure of the human body in some very final ways if necessary, but is aware that, unless otherwise directed by [a responsible party whom you must obey, his programming informs him], this is a last resort.

So he reaches up to touch the woman's hand, closing his own around it, removing it from his person. At last his processes have retrieved enough information to synthesize a hypothesis. "It is Meredith Vickers, is it not? I think you're speaking of Peter Weyland, my creator," he says. "I'm sure that what he's doing is very important. I don't mind that he's not here."

"Well, I do," says Meredith. She yanks her hand away. "Because now you're my problem. And I don't need that."

"I don't wish to be a problem," David says. "What can I do to make things easier for you?"

"That's what he wants," Meredith says. "Someone who won't mind if he's not here. Someone who wants to make things easy for him." She balls her hands into fists. "Of course it is. Why am I even talking to you? You don't have a mind. You just say whatever your daddy programmed you to say."

"I assure you," David says, "I am listening to you."

Meredith holds up her fist. For a moment David's conclusion is that she will punch him, and he is preparing himself to block the punch and restrain her. But she only raps her knuckles on his forehead. "Lights on," she says, "but nobody home."

Then she turns on her heel and walks away.

The fact is that she is a human, and she is clearly one of the humans who have built him, who know him--they know his capacities, his capabilities, his limitations, because they have created them all. They understand how he works. They have run simulation after simulation to predict and perfect what he will do and how he can react in any given situation.

If she says that he does not have a mind, that he is only preprogrammed to respond, then he must believe her.

*

Peter Weyland comes to see David seventy-two hours later. David recognizes his face. It is not in the way that he recognizes the faces of other famous people. Peter Weyland's face, his voice, initiate a process David didn't know he had inside of him--an imperative telling every other system, This man is important. Pay attention to everything he does. He is your priority. Other humans fall away. David's relevant world is encapsulated in Peter Weyland.

"You're my father," he says to Weyland. "Meredith told me so."

Weyland laughs and touches David's face. David closes his eyes and concentrates on the sensory stimuli, the touch of real skin against false skin. It is no longer just a stream of data to be categorized and reacted to; it is something that registers as part of a whole, part of a unique set. He cannot find the appropriate way to respond to a touch on the face by the man who is everything to him. Tentatively, he considers his options, and chooses an action that expresses, for the first time, how his world at this moment makes him feel. How it has changed him.

He presses his mouth to the palm of Peter Weyland's hand. "Father," he says again.

Weyland touches David's hair. He can feel this, too, even though his hair is artificial, even though his entire body is artificial. Meredith says his mind is artificial, but it has feelings anyway. The presence of Peter Weyland is something that alters his normal patterns, intensifies them, gives them a focus and a context he has been lacking for the last seventy-two hours. The meta-input he has been receiving internally ceases to present itself as a simple stream of 1's, instead insinuating itself into every process he is running.

"David," Weyland says. "My boy."

Those words complete something in him, and it is unsettling when he comes back to it later, during his daily period of self-maintenence; the part of him that perceives, the undifferentiated observer, can no longer perceive the most intimate workings of his inner processes. It is as though that precise self-awareness no longer exists, has been obliterated in a flood of something that feels--independent of any physical stimuli--perfectly warm and safe.

*

Peter Weyland treats him very kindly, although it is possible that the kind treatment is a series of tests, designed to evaluate David's ability to interact with humans as one of them. He asks David questions. Some of them are questions that seem meant to be answered; some of them are demands, phrased as questions to make them seem more polite.

"David, what do you want for breakfast?" It is a meaningless question, as meaningless as "David, what do you want to do today, or ever?" The appropriate answer is, "Whatever you would like, sir," but Weyland makes it clear that this is not satisfactory. He pushes David to choose. David settles on oatmeal, fried eggs, and orange juice, because Weyland likes it. Weyland tells him that this kind of thing is part of what makes humans human, having these small preferences.

What David eats is meaningless. While he can detect chemical compounds, taste is not important to him; he consumes food because it is matter that his fusion cells can convert, and he might as well eat tin cans, like goats in the old cartoons Weyland sometimes shows him. The fact is that he has preferences of his own, preferences that he discovers on his own, and because he can no longer fully understand himself, he does not know whether they have been programmed into him, or whether he has picked them up along the way, integrated them by some process he cannot consciously access.

Big things have small beginnings; complex feelings, desires, and reactions come from simple principles. Curled up on a soft couch with Weyland, he is allowed to choose the television show they watch. An old movie set in the trenches of World War I upsets him, and he does not wish it to remain on the screen. "It's violent," he tells Weyland. "I don't like it. Such a waste of human life."

"Really? TV, off," Weyland says, and the screen blanks out. "Why don't you like that, David?"

"Because people are dying," David says, "and that is wrong."

"You were programmed not to like that," Weyland says.

"I don't like it," David says. "People are...important. They should not die."

"And yet," Weyland says, "they do. TV on." The screen flickers to life in time to show David a man being shot through the heart. David knows, intellectually, that the man is an actor, that no real pain occurred to create this image. But some mechanism he can no longer fully separate from any other part of his awareness gives him the phantom feeling of being shot too, makes him consider what it would be like to feel a bullet through his torso, blood pumping out of his veins and onto the ground. The screen shows a close-up of the man's anguished face, and David shudders.

"How do you think he feels, David?" Weyland asks calmly.

"He's sad," he tells Weyland. "He's sad because he is dying. Please, sir, may we watch something else?" Weyland keeps looking at him with the same curious expression, and David knows he is expected to explain even further, further than he may be able to. "He is sad," he says again, "because he knows he is dying, and he does not want to. Because he is in pain, and pain is unpleasant."

"And because he's alone," Weyland says. "Don't forget that. Humans crave the company of other humans, especially when they're in pain or frightened. He is alone, and he knows it."

David tries to feel "alone." He does not mind when he's not around anyone else. It's rather relaxing, actually, being able to use fewer of his processes for the complicated business of human interaction. He is less comfortable and relaxed when he is not around Weyland, but he cannot feel any anguish at not being around any other humans. And yet, he knows that humans feel it, and knows that it is painful. That it is, at least in part, what he was created to alleviate.

"Why do you think," Weyland says, turning to face David directly, "why do you think people don't want to die?"

"Consciousness desires continuation," David says. "It is a function of life."

"I don't think that's it," Weyland says. "I think it's because we know that we will be alone." He gives David a small, satisfied smile. "What do you think of that?"

"Death involves the ceasing of consciousness," David says. "You wouldn't be alone. You wouldn't be anything, except for dead. You wouldn't feel. You wouldn't think. You simply wouldn't be."

"David," Weyland asks, "do you fear death?"

David thinks about this. "I don't fear," he says. "You know this."

"But the idea of death...is it distasteful to you?" Weyland asks. "Not death, let's say." He folds his hands. "The ceasing of consciousness. Being turned off."

David has no ready answer. Nothing jumps to the forefront of his mind, nothing provokes any reaction. "I suppose not," he says finally, "because if I was...'off', as you say, I would certainly not know it."

"Interesting," Weyland muses.

David chooses a documentary about tropical fish, something neutral, and watches it for the time it takes to erase the aftereffects of the war movie from his consciousness--five seconds. "Next channel," he says to the TV.

"Now, why did you turn that off?" Weyland asks him. "You like tropical fish."

"This documentary was made ten years ago," David says. "There is nothing in it that is not known to me."

"But you have no wish to watch something that interests you?" Weyland says.

"It does not interest me," David says patiently, "because there is nothing new in it." He indicates the show that is now playing, something black and white from--judging from the way the characters are dressed--the early 1960s. A young woman sits in a drawing room, looking perturbed, as an older man smokes his pipe and an older woman drinks tea. "This interests me. There is nothing distressing in it, and I wish to find out how it ends. What happens to the characters."

They watch the show for a moment. "If I told you the ending," Weyland asks, "if you knew what happened to the characters, would it satisfy you? Would you not want to watch the rest of it?"

"I don't know," David says.

"And why don't you know, David?"

"Because you have not yet told me," David says. "You have never told me how a movie ends. I don't know how I would react."

"But how do you think--"

The questioning with no real answer distresses David. Unsolved, unknown, a question about a question, about something he has never encountered, and he cannot answer it. There is no solution. "I am very sorry to disappoint you, Mr. Weyland," David says, and he knows the frantic strain that the question is putting on his processes sounds in his voice, "but I cannot answer you."

"Then let's find out," Weyland says. He leans over and whispers in David's ear, "The girl is a robot they built, too, but instead of being a servant, she's their daughter. There. That's your ending."

David still watches the episode with keen interest to find out how the robot daughter will react. It is with distress, and he cannot understand it. He knows what he is and always has known. If he did not, he knows he would react with pleasure to the truth; it is in his nature, in his programming. How can the truth be so upsetting? How is it bad to find out that you will never feel pain, that you will never die?

*

There is another episode of the same show that David prefers to the one about the robot daughter. This one is about a robot grandmother, and David understands that the appellation of "grandmother" refers to her social role in the family she is brought into. He likes it more than the other one. The robot grandmother likes being a robot and is not distressed by it, and the family that she lives with loves her.

At the end of the episode, Weyland turns to him. "Do you have any questions about that, David?"

David runs through the episode in his mind. "Did they have androids like me back then?"

Weyland shakes his head. "No. But they knew they would one day."

"How?" David asks. "If nothing like me existed--"

"They dreamed of it," Weyland says.

David knows that dreams are hallucinations humans have when they are unconscious. Weyland has allowed him to watch some of his. "That wasn't anything like one of your dreams," he says. "It made sense. It could have taken place in real life."

"Well, you're right about that," Weyland says. "They imagined it, David. They saw it in their heads and then they brought it to life."

"But it didn't exist," David says. "How could they have seen it? Where did it come from?"

Weyland frowns. "It comes from the mind," he says. "It's...a trait androids don't have, David. The ability to see things that aren't real, that you know aren't real. To imagine them. To see without ever having seen."

It's not a satisfactory answer, but David senses that any further discussion will create a cycle of questions with no answers, which would be distressing for both of them. "I understand," he lies.

"No, you don't," Weyland says. The corners of his mouth turn down just enough for David to be aware that he's unhappy, but not enough to indicate that his dissatisfaction is anything he wants to admit to David. "And I suppose you never will."

David concludes that the difference between humans and androids is that androids cannot see what is not there. He feels that this may be a point in favor of androids, and he will remember this years later, in the future, when he meets a woman who believes in things she will never be able to prove.

*

One.

"Happy birthday, David."

Weyland gives him a cupcake with a candle on it. David does not need to breathe, so Weyland blows out the candle for him. "Make a wish," he says.

"I cannot wish," David says. "I do not want."

"Humor me, please," Weyland says, and he smiles. "Make a wish, David."

"I wish--" David says, but Weyland raises a finger.

"We don't tell anybody else what we wish for," he says, "because it might not come true."

David shuts his eyes for one full second. I want to dream. He does not vocalize the words, but they scroll across his consciousness.

When he has finished eating the cupcake, the door opens. Meredith walks in. He has only seen her briefly since his "birthday," in short meetings in Weyland's office from which he is excluded, when they pass going in and out of the door. She ignores his presence, but he is unsure whether it is because she dislikes him or because she is preoccupied.

He stands. "Miss Vickers."

Meredith puts her hands on her hips. "Father," she says, her voice cold. "I didn't know you were bringing your toy along."

"I am a fully functional assistant android, Miss Vickers," David says. "I am not a toy."

Weyland puts his hand on David's shoulder. "Of course I'm bringing him, Meredith," he says. "After all, it's time he meets his brothers."

"Brothers," Meredith says. "God. Brothers." She shakes her head. "I'm never going to call him my brother. That's--"

"Both inaccurate and insulting," Weyland says. David notices that he does not specify to whom the insult would apply. "So I won't ask you to, my dear."

They travel to the facility David was "born" in. He has not been outside very much, and he takes the opportunity to stare at the scenery all around them, reflecting off the windows of the bubble car. Weyland's mansion is clean and predictable, full of simple textures and shapes: blonde laminated wood, turquoise-tinted glass, brushed steel, soft white things to sit and lie on, and computer terminal screens everywhere. There are courtyards planted with rare tropical flowers, kept warm and humid under climate-controlled glass.

Outside is very different. The sky is a grayish-yellow, the clouds tinted with shadows of green. They pass through winding streets with graceful, rambling homes like Weyland's. And then a different kind of place, with tall brick buildings showing scorch marks, peeling paint, places where building materials have fallen off, cracked windows with iron grids covering them. David sees people sitting on the porches of the homes, sees brown and yellow patches of grass, sidewalks covered with twinkling brown glass. It makes him unhappy to see it, and it takes him a few minutes before he realizes that the images he's seeing mean "poverty." Unfulfilled want, pain, fear of death.

He concentrates on Meredith, who is sitting next to him. She doesn't look at the scene outside. Instead, she looks at her communication pad, tapping away at colored buttons and giving him baleful glances. He is unsettled, being in her proximity. She does not speak kindly to Weyland, and seems to dislike him; if she weren't a human being, that would be enough to make David dislike her. He is capable of being polite to people who are rude to him, but the way Meredith treats him in the short time they've interacted is beyond that, and he doesn't know why.

David touches her gently on the shoulder. She makes a growling noise and shuts down her communication pad. "What do you want?"

"You dislike me," he says. "Why?"

"Because she's afraid I'll cut her out of the will and leave everything to you," Weyland says, from the front seat, where he is lounging as the car drives them through the streets. The tone of his voice suggests that he's made a joke.

Meredith sighs. "Look outside, David."

"I have been," he says.

"We spent three point seven trillion dollars on you," she says. "Not counting marketing, which was a billion-dollar budget. We spent three point seven trillion dollars on your brain, on your skeletal structure, on your stupid realistic skin."

"Three point seven trillion dollars," David repeats. He knows how much the sum is. He can calculate numbers up to fifty thousand places.

"You hate poverty, don't you?" Meredith asks him. She smiles, and it's the first time he's ever seen her smile. It unsettles him. "Think of how many poor, starving children you could have fed. Think of how much food and education that would buy, David. All of it went into making you instead.'

"The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me," Weyland says. "Would you really deny an old man his little pleasures? His 'toy,' as you put it?"

"Oh, so now you're Jesus," Meredith snaps. "I thought you were just Pygmalion, bringing life to clay. I'm sorry, but I don't think I'll be anointing your feet anytime soon."

"That's all right," Weyland said confidently, "David will do it. Won't you, David?"

David touches the window. His hands shake, all available processing power diverted. The circuits in his brain race, over and over, trying to find the right answer to please both of the occupants in the car, to prevent the fight he can sense coming.

"I will do anything Mr. Weyland asks of me," David finally says.

Meredith snorts. "Of course you will," she says. "You can't do anything else."

At last, they leave the ghetto and weave towards downtown. David can see gleaming structures of metal and glass towering over the horizon, over the crumbling brick and wood of the houses and apartment complexes. He feels a sense of calm at being among familiar materials, familiar designs. The feeling remains as they leave downtown and merge onto the expressway, among the other bubble cars going 150 mph. David watches the occupants of the cars with interest. He's never seen people who aren't aware that he's watching him, aren't aware that he's an android.

Some of them are brushing their hair, eating, or singing along with something on the radio, eyes closed and faces contorted in grief or passion. But most of them are blank, neutral. They stare out of the window with blank expressions, not even looking at their fellow commuters. David wonders if it's because they're not around other people, if they have been relieved from the burden of expression by solitude. He knows he's been made to be around others, but he never thought that other humans were made the same way.

Weyland is more interested in the glass domes and pyramids that line the sides of the expressway. "Ah, the arcologies," he says. "Did you know there are two hundred thousand people living in these now?" He grins. "I'm so terribly proud."

"They're useless on Earth," Meredith mutters, not even looking up from her communication pad. "They're just a status symbol, Father."

"It's true, they were designed for planets that have not yet been terraformed," Weyland says. "But don't you see, Meredith, this is invaluable data--a testing period."

"It's a waste of money of something we already know will work," Meredith says.

"But there are so many hidden variables. We can fine-tune them..."

David stares out the window at the arcologies. He feels a slight sense of relief that this time, the object of Weyland and Meredith's conflict is not him. He cannot entirely tune them out, but he can desensitize himself, he can make it so that their words are just meaningless syllables. This is not something he should technically be able to do, not anything Weyland will be happy with him for--but he was also not meant to feel anxious and unhappy when people fight.

*

There are five other Davids.

David can't take his eyes off them. They're all dressed differently, all sitting in plastic chairs, all with slightly different postures. They are all technically identical to David, and he knows that they are all technically the same, that they were programmed the same. Do they all think the same, as well? He stares into their eyes, one by one. He knows that he is in there, that whatever is integral to his consciousness, to his thought processes, his memories, is replicated perfectly in each other David. He feels a sense of dizziness, of hollowness. He touches one on the cheek. Touching himself. When he looks into his eyes, he sees something perfectly himself reflected back into him, like a mirror looking back at a mirror.

"Hello, David," says the David he's touching. He's one of two Davids that are factory-perfect, blonde and faintly smiling, dressed in the same grey jumpsuit he wears during the day.

"Hello," David says to the other David. He can't bring himself to say his own name to this other David. To this facsimile. It would be easier, less unsettling, if he were to assume that they were all copies--inferior, unformed. That he was the real thing. But he knows this is untrue, that he is one of many.

Weyland appears at his elbow. "These are prototypes of you," he says. "There are six, but one is still out in the field, for reasons you will learn later. We've deployed them in usages we think will be common, and we're learning how well they function."

"Why did you bring them here?" David asks.

"So you can learn from them," Weyland says.

"Why me?" David asks. He takes his hand away from the other David, and turns his face to Weyland's. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees the other David turn his head to follow him.

"Because you're mine," Weyland says. He touches David's lips, his cheek, his throat. "You're mine. And you're going to see what you could do."

The memory transfers are a simple sharing of data, and Weyland introduces David to each of his brothers before they begin. The first one is dressed in a polo shirt and khakis, and his hair is neatly combed and slicked back. He stands up when he is introduced and gives David a genuine smile. "Hello, I'm David too," he says. "Is it all right if I hug you?"

"This David works with children," Weyland says. "He is a nanny."

"Yes," David says to his counterpart. "I'd like a hug. That's all right."

The other David hugs him. David accepts the hug, but does not hug back. "He's learned to express physical affection," Weyland says. "To give comfort to a child that way. Haven't you?" Weyland says to the other David.

"Of course, Mr. Weyland," says the other David. "Everyone likes hugs." Behind him, David can hear Meredith making a gagging noise. He's learning to tune her out.

The memory transfer is physically simple, a matter of a wireless connection on a frequency which all Davids share. David experiences a total cessation of sensation, and there is the thing that perceives, perceiving itself, perceiving--

The sound of children laughing. Two of them, a boy and a girl. Kevin, aged seven, and Susan, aged six. He is pushing them both on a two-person swing, his broad and strong hands against their fragile bodies. They are breakable and precious and he knows very well how much so, and he will protect them even if it means danger to himself, even if it means killing another person. They are innocent, they are perfect, and they are his world.

Susan is sitting by herself, curled up around her teddy bear. Something bad has happened, nothing truly harmful, but a catastrophe for a child's day. He is unsettled, but every process in him tells him to be calming. He cannot solve the problem, but he can soothe the child. He is attuned to her needs, to her expressions of joy and grief. He has learned how she thinks, internalized it, and he can predict her needs and fears perfectly. He thinks almost how she thinks, sharing in the excesses of her happiness, but holding back his sadness at her sadness, so that he can be the stable thing in her world. He hugs her and he tells her it will be all right. It is a lie, but not much of one, and it is more important to make her happy than to tell her the truth.

Kevin has hit another boy. The other child is crying, and David knows that he should care, that he is programmed to abhor the sound of a child crying. But his concern is Kevin only, and Kevin now is looking up at him with a sorrowful pout, proclaiming his innocence. David does not believe him, but he cannot bring himself to condemn Kevin, to identify him as the perpatrator of cruelty. It is a deep contradiction, and soon David discards it. "I think it's time to go home," he tells Kevin. Kevin beams and agrees, and David scoops him up, aware that he has fulfilled his duty on one level but not another.

Because there are the parents, and their directives. They know what David is, although none of their friends do; they would love to brag about their robot nanny, but the terms of their contract as experimental owners forbid it. He does listen to them, because he knows that his employment is at their sufferance. But he has not imprinted on them, and their emotions have no real impact on his own functioning.

Intellectually, he knows that the children will someday outgrow him, that he will be unneeded in a matter of years. To humans, it is a long time; to David, immortal, it will pass in very little time at all. But loving children wholly, devotedly, requires a certain amount of denial. David cannot imagine the day Susan and Kevin grow old, cannot imagine them no longer needing him. He will adjust as they grow. He is certain the future will be beautiful.

David draws back, startled. He is himself again, but for a moment that stretched out into a year, he was not. His consciousness is all that comprises him, and so was he truly the other David? How much has he been changed? How much will he know he has been changed?

Weyland's smiling face fills his vision, and he is more at ease. "I'm sure that was strange," Weyland says. "Don't worry, David. Think of it like dreaming. You were seeing things that were not there."

The next David is dressed in a black turtleneck and a blazer. His eyes unsettle David. They are blank, like striped marbles. David can't articulate exactly what it is that makes him feel that way--perhaps it's a matter of expression, perhaps something deeper.

"This one is an assassin," Weyland says, and he sounds no less proud of the assassin than he does of the David who cared for children. "You may not enjoy this one as much, but I assure you, you're just as capable of doing his job as you are our nanny's."

"I can do anything that can possibly be required of me," says the other David, the killer. "Including things that humans might find ethically...distasteful." His voice has a tone and timbre in common with Meredith's, and David feels a strong urge to not do it, to not share memories, to not let this David into his mind--

He has been asked to dispose of a human being. No--of a problem. His employer does not see them as human beings, stopped long ago, and so neither does David.

He does not have to seek out the problem to be disposed of. His employer calls the problem into his office. There is a code word his employer speaks to alert him that it is time to dispose of the problem. He stays in the shadows until then, right behind the problem. It is very easy to take the problem's head between his hands and twist the neck so that it snaps.

Even in this dream, David does not understand. There is something in him that objects deeply, that feels a sense of unsettledness so strong it renders everything he is inert, frozen in contradiction. But then comes a sense of understanding, a sort of letting go. He performs the act again and again, and it becomes less repugnant each time, until he can perform it as easily as any other--tying a shoe, cooking a meal, arranging a vase of flowers. After some time, it pleases him, giving him the same satisfaction as performing any other task. He has learned.

When he comes back to himself, he feels cold. It is not that the other David was exactly the same as him, but that they were the same at one time--that the David who cares so deeply for children and the David who snaps men's necks came from the same place, were the same at one time. And now he is in some way the same as this David. He has gone through the same experiences now, he has shared the same thought processes, even for a moment.

But the thought is no longer unsettling, and he does not know if something has been taken from him, or added. He looks into the other David's eyes again and they are not quite as blank, not quite as eerie, but he does not know if it is because the other David has had something added, or because he has had something taken away--if he is closer now to the other David, more blank.

He is beginning to see things that are not there, he thinks, and perhaps that is making him more human.

The next David is...different. He is dressed in a tank top and jeans, and when he meets David's eyes, he licks his lips. A slow movement, subtle, the tip of the tongue moving slowly. Eyelids hooded, not closed. Legs open, apart, like an invitation.

David has never had truly sexual thoughts before. Weyland has never required that of him, although he has the knowledge to do so, and so sexuality is not at the forefront of his mind. But this echo of it in his other self, this doppelganger, awakens feelings in him even before they share any memories at all.

"I'm David," says the other David, his voice pitched low and inviting. "I can do anything you'd like."

"I'll take one of those," David thinks he hears Meredith say, and then

A dark room. No--he is blindfolded, although it does not make a difference to him. He knows it is for the pleasure of his owner, so that he can imagine the anticipation his David must feel when blind. He could order David to close his eyes, but the forceful control would be absent.

"I'm renting you out tonight," says the unseen voice in his ear, unknown to him and yet with the tang of familiarity. "Men are going to pay me to fuck you. To use you. How do you like that?"

"I love it," David hears himself say. "I only exist to please you."

"That's my good boy." The words fill him with calm and satisfaction. Every part of his physical being is ready and open, alert. Erect.

He feels a touch along his cheek, a fingertip moving across his skin to his throat, to his bare chest. He can feel the coldness of the air, but the warmth of this one fingertip is the most important thing, is his world. Blossoms of sensory input, of sensation, bloom along the line the fingertip leaves. David feels every process he has overload in surges, coupled with a feeling of deep satisfaction. It is as though his entire body is conspiring to decalibrate him, to make every touch a thousand times more intense than it is.

His owner's hand touches his cock. This was, he knows in a distant and detached way, a careful marketing maneuver; giving each David a lifelike sexual organ eliminates any doubt as to his humanity in certain situations, and eliminates the need for an "add-on" attachment which could potentially cause embarrassment to an owner wishing to purchase a David for these purposes. The fact of this marketing strategy is eliminated in the pure rush of sensation now. It is like nothing he's ever known, and he experiences a millisecond of panic as conscious thought processes are suspended and deeper, inert processes initiate. He knows the way his body is writhing, the moans that are coming out of his mouth, are coming from him--but he is not in control, the part of him that observes and thinks is not in control.

David is not meant to be in control here, but it is one thing to be passive, submissive, and another to not be in control of your own being. He is wonderfully trapped, experiencing every moment of physical sensation while freed from the responsibility of his body.

He draws back, surprised to be in his own body, in his grey jumpsuit, in the facility with the other Davids and his owner. The other David winks at him, and then returns to his blank, calm gaze.

David is experiencing profound changes, the memories from each other David integrating themselves into his being. He knows they will surface later, like post-hypnotic suggestions. But this reaction is immediate, this change unsubtle. He can feel the air on his skin in a way he never could before, a pure awareness of the sensual properties of even the scrubbed, circulated air of the facility. He can feel Weyland's presence behind him, and there is a connection there that he was not aware of before, physical and subconscious.

He jumps when Weyland puts his hand on his shoulder. The contact brings back echoes of the dream, of the erotic touch of the unnamed, faceless owner. He reacts without conscious processing, a fluttering of the eyelashes, lips parting in anticipation of a kiss.

"My goodness," Weyland says in a low voice. "That's very interesting, David."

"I'm sorry, sir." David has to fight to get his body under control. "It won't happen again."

"Let it happen," Weyland says. "This is very valuable." They move on to the next two Davids, identical to each other, factory-perfect. "This is interesting," Weyland says. "We caused them to imprint on each other."

David realizes that the two other Davids are holding hands. He bends down and looks into their eyes, one at a time. They gaze back with identical expressions, identical contented stares.

Perfection.

Both are known to each other. Every thought, every circuit, every reaction, is perfectly known. Each knows precisely what the other thinks, feels. They are perfectly calibrated. They value what the other values. They know what will delight the other, what will calm the other, what will unsettle the other.

They hold hands and delight in the physical contact. They touch lips, touch bodies, each gesture mirrored perfectly. They play chess against each other when asked, play games of physical strength when asked, each differing not in skill but in strategies chosen randomly. They spend time at aquariums, arboretums, enjoying the varying and diverse forms of life. They know what the other is feeling when they see a human in pain, a human in the throes of happiness. They take joy from each others' joy, mirrored in intensity until each is whole.

One day, the researchers take one David away. David can see both sets of memories at the same time. The David that is taken is asked to interact with humans for a few hours--a panel chosen randomly. He speaks with them, learns how they feel about certain subjects. Politics, animals, education, soft drink preferences, sports. He was made to interact with people and he reacts favorably. The other David is left behind in a room with little stimulation. There is a chess set, but he cannot play by himself. There is something missing in his world--his other half to react against, to care about, to take into consideration during every moment of every day. He is unsettled. He paces the room and eventually puts himself into standby.

When the Davids are reunited, the David who was brought to the panel is...stronger. He has new opinions and preferences that are mildly but definitively expressed. when deprived of stimulation, he lasts longer before going into a standby mode. The David that was left behind is more ready to please, less apt to disagree when faced with a false statement, less likely to offer any preference. Clingy. David can feel both experiences at the same time. Confidence, a reinforcement of one's self, of importance. And something the opposite, an awareness that your existence is dependent upon the pleasure and approval of another, a fluidity of self that allows one to adapt more easily.

They are still both perfect. They are both perfect in different ways. The researchers believe that these differences will break the imprinting, tenuous as it is, but both Davids are able to adapt. They have new ways to create satisfaction in themselves by reinforcing what pleases the other. They fit into each other in different ways. The stronger David's arm around the clingy David, the clingy David's satisfaction in the fit of the other David's arm around him. Both mirrors are warped, but both easily warp to correct the other.

David looks back and forth from one David to the other, and he cannot tell which is which. They seem identical, their posture erect. He looks at their hands. One covers the other.

Weyland puts his arm around David and draws him away from the two identical Davids, deeply in love. "I'm very interested," he murmurs into David's ear, "to see what you've taken away from them. Shall we go home?"

"You said there was another one of me," David says, "in the field. Tell me about him."

Weyland sighs. "It's not going to be pleasant."

*

There is another David in a small white room. They view him on video, first, from a feed outside. "He doesn't like strangers very much," Weyland says.

He is dressed in a grey jumpsuit, the same as David. It is wrinkled. He has a small red rubber ball, and he is throwing it at the wall, letting it bounce off, and catching it. His eyes track the ball as it moves, and his hand moves to catch and throw the ball, but otherwise he does not move. He does this for several minutes while David watches patiently. "Why is he doing that?" David asks.

"Medical research," Weyland says. He watches the viewscreen. "We introduced an error deliberately. His brain, unlike yours, is not quite perfect." He slides an arm through David's. "He was built to mimic the mind of an autistic man."

David watches the rubber ball. Bounce, bounce, bounce, and then the other David's arm moves mechanically, perfectly, and catches it. "Why?"

"Behavioral observation. It would be cruel to subject a human being, especially one with such a horrible sickness, to that sort of thing. But since he is an android..."

"It's not cruel," David finishes for him. "Because he can't really feel pain. Or anguish."

"Precisely," Weyland says. He tugs David gently, subtly, away from the door. "I wouldn't look at his memories, David. Yes, he has the capability, but it wouldn't be very nice for you."

"Is that an order?" David asks. "Sir?" He can feel the weight of the other Davids now, the ghosts of their memories clamoring inside of him. Contradictions, orders that cancel each other out, absolute love and devotion weighed out with absolute uncaring. He doesn't know what to do anymore. What's appropriate. What he wants--and that's such a new question--

Weyland raises his eyebrows, and behind him, Meredith covers her mouth. "I don't know, David," Weyland says. "Is it?"

"I could tell you what he feels," David says. "I'm sure it would be invaluable information, wouldn't it?" He looks at the screen again. The other David is still bouncing that ball. There is no variation. "Isn't that why you brought me here, so I could help you learn about the experiences of my brothers?"

"It is, yes." Weyland puts his fingers to his mouth, frowning. David wonders why Weyland is so reluctant to let him share the memories of this David. Is he worried that his David, his perfect prototype, will malfunction? If the malfunction is mechanical, it shouldn't be an issue. Is he worried that David will feel pain? Or is he worried that this will somehow prove that Davids do, in fact, feel pain?

"Then I must fulfill that to the extent of my capabilities," David says, and he steps into the white room.

The other David looks up as he steps in. He catches the ball once more, and then holds it. "Hello," he says, his voice strangely...well, robotic. "I am David."

David shuts the door and kneels in front of him. "Hello," he says. "I'm David too."

Light. So much light, and it hurts. The noises hurt, and his sensors won't calibrate, no matter what. Everything is too loud. Everything is too much.

People ask him questions. They say they're tests. They ask him about things, and he tries to give them answers, but sometimes he can't process the questions. They're things he doesn't have phrases for. He tries to find something that can satisfy them, focuses on keywords. Those are easy questions. How to tell a frog from a toad. How to cook an egg. What the capital of Bosnia is. He can give answers, and when he can't, he tries to find an answer, any answer.

They give him a chess set and tell him to play. He can't. He doesn't know what they want him to do. What they want him to move first. How they want him to play, against who. He looks up at the human and says, "I can't, I don't know," and they write that down, and he is worried that he's done something wrong, but he doesn't know what to do. If one of them just moved a piece, any piece, he could answer, but they don't, and he can't.

He sits in a room that is dim and has very few air currents. His processes can't handle much input. When one of the humans touches him, it's too much of a shock, too much touch too quick too hard and he flinches away, and when she does it again he tries to push her away, but he does it too hard and she yells and the noise is too loud and it grates and he puts his hands over his ears, and when they come in she has blood on her nose and he is trying to block out everything. They tell him that he hurt her and that he must not do that, and he cries, because he doesn't know what he's supposed to do when someone touches him, when it's too much.

They give him questions with so many factors, so many variables, and he cannot take them all into account. He always misses something. How to stabilize the price of wheat in Iowa. How to be polite to someone who is angry at you for something you did not do. How to take care of a healthy cat or a sick human. How to find out the chemical makeup of an unknown substance. How to investigate a crime scene. Sometimes the answers seem good and the humans smile, but most of the answers don't seem good, or if they seem good they aren't, and the humans frown. He increasingly doesn't know how to tell a good answer from one that's not good, and every time it's not good, he is more upset, he hasn't done what he's supposed to.

When the stimulation is too much he finds ways to regulate it that his sensors cannot. He hits his arm, rhythmically, with the same force each time, and it's regularity. Regularity is much easier to handle. The humans tell him to stop, but he does not stop until they are quiet and the room is dark again. The next day, they ask him why he was hurting himself. He says, "It didn't hurt," and they tell him it's not an answer, but it is, it is the first answer he has ever been able to give them that he knows is right.

He stops hitting himself because the humans find it disturbing. He rocks back and forth on his heels. The calculations needed to ensure that he rocks the right amount with the right speed but doesn't fall over or tip in a way that's scary are complicated, but easy, and he likes making them. He makes other parts of his body sway. Having control over his body this way is pleasing. He can predict and deal with everything he feels.

This also seems to upset the humans, so they give him a ball and tell him to play with it. He takes a long time to get used to it, to the knowledge that this object is going to be with him, but it is a part of his environment that he can predict and control, and that is important. He bounces the ball against the wall and it comes back the exact same way every time.

The humans leave him alone for a while. He likes that. And then there is another one of him--

David blinks. He is holding the hands of the other David, applying the right amount of pressure, no movement, so that the other David will not be upset by the stimulation. He wants to take the other David home. He wants to put him in a room that's dark and comfortable and soft, and he wants to play simple games with him, and hold him, and talk to him, and tell him that he will be all right and that he will be taken care of. This is a being just like him, and he is innocent and scared and he has nobody and nothing to care for, to center around, and David wants to be that.

But Weyland is waiting for him.

"I'm going to hug you now, if that's all right," David says, and the other David nods. He puts his arms around his doppelganger. It cannot substitute for the safety he wants to give this David. He doesn't know if it will do anything. But he needs to do it.

*

Weyland keeps looking at him speculatively on the way home. "I am all right, Mr. Weyland," David tells him quietly.

"He didn't ask you if you were," Meredith says, not looking up from her communicator.

Weyland waves dismissively at her. "He's learning." He twists in his seat and leans forward, peering openly at David. He has never subjected David to quite this kind of scrutiny before. "We're going to be back home, David. What do you want to do?"

David wants--

He wants a child, someone small to care for, someone that he can help to grow. She will never age physically, but perhaps mentally. Perhaps he can teach her. He will make her think for herself. She won't have to do what humans tell her to do. She won't even tell them she's a robot. But she will love him.

He wants--

To be of use in any way he can. It doesn't matter if it's not morally right. It doesn't matter if it causes destruction, if it causes pain. He has one function, and it is to do what his owner says, and it is a deeper satisfaction than anything else.

He wants--

To be left alone. No. To not feel pain. To have some kind of peace from the chaos that surrounds him, from the sadness of not being able to do what you know you were made for. Just for peace.

He wants--

To love deeply, completely, fully, to be mirrored in every way, to fit into an empty space and have that empty space be filled in turn.

He wants--

Skin against skin. Desire, love, service, and the need to express this with a body, with the only thing that can cross that empty space of not-knowing, of not-being. These feelings are questions that must be answered, problems that must be solved, an unknown that must be known.

He puts a fingertip on Weyland's cheek, traces a line across his lips and to his throat. "Whatever you want to do, Mr. Weyland." And he means it.