by Yamanashi Moe (山梨もえ)
illustrated by _reirei
Ky brought me the doll near the beginning of the month. She was seriously messed up. The plasticized rubber on her left arm had melted right off, so you could see the metal skeleton holding her together. Both her eyeballs were cracked and one of the optical connections looked like it was probably severed. I thought she was a white model, but she was so dirty you could hardly tell. Her head was bald, she was greasy and dirty, and one of her nipples was gone.
“I know it’s a fixer-upper,” said Ky, a little sheepishly.
I gave him my best skeptical look. It wasn’t that good. “I’ll say.”
“But.” His voice brightened in the way it always did when he was trying to sell me on something. “See the number?” He pointed to the tattoo just below her right breast. “I did some research. This is an M-SB-004, one of the top-level Real Dolls on the market. These babies are limited edition, man. This model’s outdated, but the going rates are astronomical even for an older model. Seriously, if you can get it fixed up, I’ll find a buyer and we will be in some serious cash.”
Ky was laying it on a little thick, but I couldn’t blame him: this was his job, after all. He was one of the scavengers who made his living finding junk in scrapheaps and selling it to gullible SOBs. If it was something that needed to be reprogrammed, he brought it to me first, I fixed it up, and we split the profits. We’d been doing it since we were kids. But mostly with basic computer stuff, and Real Dolls were serious luxury goods.
“Is there really a market for these things down here?”
“We’ll find a buyer up north. I have some contacts. It’ll work out. Come on, Teo. You know I’ve never been wrong about a project!” This was an exaggeration. “At least check her out.”
“Yeah, okay. Come on in.”
We headed for the bomb shelter, the Real Doll hoisted over Ky’s shoulder.
“So how’s Emilia?”
Ky made a dismissive noise in the back of his throat. “Met some guy who got rich buying land after the war. Told me to get my stuff and go.”
“Oh. That sucks.”
“Nah, I was sick of her anyway. And there’s always more fish in the sea, right?”
“…I guess so.”
The bomb shelter was where I had built my workshop. Most of the equipment was second-hand, but I had some decent technology, including a collection of old video games in working condition. And really, I was lucky to have what I did – some of my stuff was still rare this far south. The room was cluttered, but not too badly.
Ky didn’t share that opinion, though. “Man,” he said, as we walked in. “What a mess.”
“You’ve said that before.”
“And I’m saying it again.” He put the Real Doll down on the floor. “I still can’t believe you’ll alphabetize your kitchen drawers, but you can’t set up your computer room without making it look like a rat’s nest.”
“What? I know where everything is. And I dust every week.” The computer system was already on from earlier, so I found a spare cable and jacked it into the primary console. I was worried that the USB port on the Real Doll was going to be located somewhere disturbing. Fortunately, it was just on the back of her neck, behind a plastic panel jammed in so tight Ky had to break it open.
He stood beside my chair tapping his foot as I did a quick schematic. “So? What do you think?”
“Well.” I sighed. “The chip’s intact. That’s the most important thing. There’s some damage to the personality modules, but I can fix it. I’ll have to see an expert about the body, but my uninformed opinion is that she’ll need some mechanical work, but it shouldn’t break the bank. So… yeah,” I sighed, “it might take a few months, but if we fix her up, she’ll turn a profit.”
Ky looked smug. “That’s what I said. When are you going to start?”
“I didn’t say I would do it.”
I looked at the M-SB-004, cable still in her USB port, and grimaced. “She’s a sexbot. That’s a little bit gross. I mean, who knows how many creepy guys have…” I trailed off, hoping that if I didn’t say it, the image wouldn’t stick in my mind.
Ky just laughed. “Does that bother you? Don’t be a wuss.”
“Okay, then, you can be in charge of cleaning her.”
“It’s a deal!” Ky patted my shoulder, as he always did when he was especially happy. His eyes shone with the promise of money. “Let’s do it!”
The truth was, I already knew I was going to help him. I’ve never been able to say no to Ky. I just wasn’t sure where the fuck I was going to find a replacement nipple.
I threw myself into finishing my latest real job – progamming a basic security robot for a telecommunications firm up north – so I would have the time to work on the Real Doll uninterrupted. But Ky was so insistent about getting down to work, I did about the sloppiest work I ever signed my name to just to get the job done, and then I was free to finally examine M-SB-004.
It wasn’t too long before I realized that whoever programmed this doll was a really sick fuck. She had ten personality modules, but they were all variations on two basic categories: preteen girl, and… well, mentally impaired, to be polite.
I felt so uncomfortable with the idea of selling a doll like that, I deleted them – except for Safety Mode, where she could only follow basic instructions – and decided to start working on my own.
Ky, true to his word, cleaned her exterior, and did a pretty good job of it, too. After checking her out really quickly with Meena, the mechanic down the street, it turned out that she was mostly structurally intact. Her balance sensors needed to be recalibrated, her eyes needed replacing, and her fluid tanks had ruptured and would need to be replaced. Other than that, most of the non-programming work would be cosmetic in nature.
To that end, Ky and I took her out shopping.
I hadn’t planned on that. We were hanging out at my house one night, as usual, with some beers, chatting about nothing in particular.
“I’m going to buy a car,” said Ky, decisively. “Seriously, I’ve been saving up for a while, and once we sell Miss Sexbot over there, I’m going to do it.”
“The better to pick up girls with.”
“Man, I don’t need a car for that.” Ky shook his head. “No, I just want to get out of here for a while. Go north or something. Like, a vacation. You can come too.”
“Oh. Really?” I guess there was no reason to be surprised by that, but I was. “Yeah. Uh, that would be great.”
“Sure would.” Ky sat back, taking another drink from his beer. “You know, I always kind of imagined Real Dolls would be more creepy in person.”
I followed his gaze to where she stood upright against the wall. “Actually, yeah. I was surprised when I washed her face off – the design is excellent. Realistic, but not unnerving.” I was going to mention the Uncanny Valley, but Ky had probably never heard of it, and I’d just sound pretentious. “It’s good work.”
“Not the cutest outfit, though.”
“Yeah, no.” The Real Doll was dressed in sweats and one of my old t-shirts. Realistic as she was, I’d felt uncomfortable leaving her naked. “I think she needs a makeover.”
Ky shrugged. “Okay, why not?” Then, to my surprise, he hopped off the couch. “Let’s go.”
“What, right now?”
I glanced at my watch. It was around eleven. “Is anything open?”
“There’s a thrift shop near the Strip that’s open until one. Anyway, if we’re going to take her out, it’s best to go at night, right? Less, uh, sketchy that way.”
It was still the sketchiest shopping trip I had ever been on. We were the only customers in the store. That was probably for the best – the Doll was in Safety Mode, and I constantly had to tell her to take a left or stop before she hit a wall. The cashier kept giving us dirty looks, like she wasn’t sure whether to call the police or a mental institution.
“Now, to the lingerie.”
“Okay, I just want to say that I’m not going to live with a robot dressed like a hooker.”
Ky grinned. “Yeah, right. Isn’t that every nerd’s dream?”
“Not mine.” For various reasons, none of which Ky needed to know. “She needs a normal outfit.”
A normal outfit consisted of jeans, a long-sleeved shirt to hide the bare framework of her left arm, sandals, and a blonde wig that didn’t look too ratty. We even got her a bra – Ky appeared to know instinctively what cup size she was. I didn’t ask. Once we got her changed, she looked just like any pretty girl who’d been injured during the war and was now a cyborg.
“She’ll wear them out,” said Ky, handing a wad of bills to the cashier.
On the way home, holding M-SB-004’s hand and steering her gently away from old rifts in the sidewalk, I caught Ky looking at me funny. When I questioned him about it he laughed.
“Nothing. It’s just funny to see you with a girl, that’s all.” He paused, frowned. “Sorry, man, that was a low blow.”
I shrugged. “No, it’s true. I’m just…” I was going to say ‘not interested,’ but changed my mind in favour of something that would arouse less suspicion. “More interested in work right now, I guess.”
Ky just laughed again. Then he took the Doll by her other hand – the skeleton hand – and we walked like that for a while, side by side.
I have very few memories from before I met Ky, most of them bad. We were both war orphans. I had an aunt whom I could live with sometimes, but Ky didn’t have any relatives he knew of. We met one day when I was trying to pry the filter out of an abandoned public swimming pool.
I don’t remember what I planned on using it for. I was always putting stuff together out of junk, even back then. But the stupid thing wouldn’t come out, and then a little voice from the other end of the pool said, “Don’t bother.”
When I looked over, I realized that what I had thought was garbage behind a flattened cardboard box was actually a boy lying on the concrete. “It won’t come out,” he continued. “I’ve tried before. I was gonna sell it.”
“Sorry,” I said, “I didn’t know anyone lived here.”
“I don’t live here. I just came here to rest.”
“Did something happen?” Curious, I came closer.
“I was scavenging, and I guess I stepped on a nail or something. It wasn’t too bad at first, but now it’s a mess. Wanna see?” Without waiting for a reply, he moved the cardboard and brought his foot forward for inspection, wincing a little.
I had seen plenty of awful things by that age, but I could never build up a tolerance to them. “Ohhhh,” I groaned, squeezing my eyes shut to block the sight of all that pus. “That’s gross.”
“Yeah.” Ky tried to look cool about it, like it was something to be proud of, but his voice wavered a little. “Pretty disgusting, huh?”
“You need a doctor, man.” I held out my hand. He took it, tentatively, and with all my strength I pulled him up into a standing position so I could support him as we walked. “There’s an office like ten minutes from here. Let’s go.”
I wasn’t strong, but Ky was scrawny, and between the two of us we made it to the relief office. The doctor felt sorry for him and gave him free antibiotics, and after a couple of weeks he was fine. Without my aunt’s knowledge I gave him my spare pair of shoes so it wouldn’t happen again. That’s how we became friends.
His base of operations, so to speak, was an abandoned computer shop just outside town that had somehow been overlooked during the looting. When the city got electricity again, computers were in demand, and he made a pretty good living selling them. I started fooling around with them and building stuff out of spare parts and things. That’s how we started doing business together. We were about eight or nine at the time.
He was the one who found my house for me, about a thirty minute walk from the Strip, in a neighbourhood that had mostly been destroyed and had yet to be reconstructed. He was wandering around and there was this house, completely intact. He’d always had a talent for finding things untouched by the war.
I moved in before the house even had utilities. The houses for at least three blocks all around had been razed. It was almost like living out in the desert. Now I had a few neighbours, but it was still really quiet and a great place to work uninterrupted.
At first I kind of assumed Ky and I would live here together. But he had trouble sleeping in the same place for more than one night at a time. The house was where he stayed when it got too cold to sleep outside, or his latest girl kicked him out of her place, or he got too drunk to leave.
There was no reason for it to bother me that he was willing to live with girls when he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, live with me. By all accounts, he didn’t stay over with them every night either. But I could tell myself to forget about it as much as I wanted – it still hurt.
Dora – the feral cat I had found as a kitten a couple of years back – was waiting for us when we came home. I thought she looked a little puzzled at the sight of the Real Doll. Not that I blamed her.
“Hey, girl.” I bent down to scratch her on the chin before unlocking the door. “You haven’t met our new roommate, have you? This is… uh…” I turned to Ky. “Does she have a name?”
“Well, should we name her?”
“Yeah, sure. I say we call her Monica.”
“I don’t know.” Ky shrugged. “It’s as good a name as any.”
“That’s true. Monica it is.”
Once we were comfortably settled back in the living room, I raised my beer and turned to where Monica stood slumped over herself. “And now, a toast. To Monica!”
A little while after that, Ky drifted off to sleep on the couch, beer can balanced precariously on his chest. I walked over and grabbed it so it wouldn’t spill. Then I just watched him for a second.
He had fallen asleep in that stupid, unselfconscious way that some people can, with his mouth slightly open and his hands behind his head. There was stubble along the line of his jaw and a hint of drool at the corner of his lips. He was even snoring.
I was so fucking stupid.
Monica was still leaning against the wall. I sat her down in the busted recliner, left some food out for Dora, and went to bed.
Programming what I had decided would be Monica’s only real personality module was the easiest part of fixing her up. The M-SB-004’s code was simple, so once I found a voice module online most of the programming was just me dumping events and responses into her core databank. I used all the dirty words, expressions, and acts I could think of. Then I put in the ones Ky could think of. Then I watched cheesy porn movies for inspiration. I taught her how to swivel her hips when she walked, how to giggle breathily.
Of course Ky mocked me relentlessly for all this. “Come on,” he said, watching as I wrote a short program so Monica could analyze her parter’s actions to calculate how much initiative he wanted her to take during sex. “Does she really need this stuff?”
“Well, she has to behave at least kind of like a real person. Otherwise, you might as well buy a blow-up doll and screw that.”
Ky shrugged. “Yeah, okay, fair enough. …Plus the blow-up doll wouldn’t be nearly as cute.” He patted Monica on the head, like a puppy. “Good sexbot.”
Honestly, working on Monica was the most fun I’d had in a long time. This was a complex project on which I got absolute personal freedom, and I could take as much time as I liked to get things perfect. I even started building on to her Safety Mode so she could help out around the house when her creepy hypothetical future owner wasn’t… uh.
Ky was visiting more often these days. He liked to hang around while I was programming Monica, but when he had been working in the afternoon, he would often come over for dinner. No matter how many times it happened, it was still kind of a surprise to me when he showed up.
“Hey, man. I just got pizza.”
“Why? I could have made something.” It was funny. My aunt had never let me in the kitchen, so I lived off frozen dinners and pizza, but somewhere along the line Ky had learned to cook. He was good at it, too. He made tortillas from scratch and everything.
“I didn’t know you were coming over.” Monica was at the sink, washing dishes. I flipped the switch at the back of her neck to her primary personality node. “Besides, then I couldn’t have shown you this, it’s hilarious. I just noticed this.” I held up the pizza box so Monica could register it. “Hey Monica! You like my pizza?”
Monica licked her lips. “Oh my god,” she answered breathily, good hand coming up to massage her breasts, “your pizza’s so big! Do you want me to suck on your big pizza…? I just love-”
“Well,” said Ky somewhat drily, as Monica’s attempts at dirty talk continued, “looks like you’re having fun.”
I spluttered a bit. “What? No! I just… I was troubleshooting, and I thought it was funny!” I rushed over and bumped her switch back to Safety Mode. I kept her there most of the time now. You can’t help but humanize realistically human robots, and I was coming to think of Monica as a woman with a split personality: her Porn Star personality was hilarious, but when I wasn’t working on her it got old fast.
“Hello, Teo,” said Monica, her hands falling down to her sides. “Hello, Ky. How are you today?”
“Pretty good, babe,” replied Ky. “How about you?”
Monica smiled. “I’m well, thanks,” she said. “I’ve just been washing the dishes.”
“Yeah, I see that. Good job.” He turned to me. “She sounds really… normal. Have you been working on that?”
I shrugged. “Yeah, I don’t know. Just fiddling a bit. It’s nice to be able to talk to her.” I washed my hands thoroughly. “And she’s useful. Uh, don’t touch that.” This as Ky reached for a slice of pizza. “I don’t know where your hands have been.”
“Yeah, okay, sheesh.” Ky came up behind me and put his hands under the water with mine. “Hey, by the way, I was thinking of hitting the Strip tonight. Wanna come?”
I moved away from him as quickly as possible. “Uh, what do you think?”
“Come on, man.” Ky let out a chuckle, wiping his hands on his jeans. “It’s not that bad. You’d have fun. Meet some girls, live a little. Some girls dig nerds, you know.”
“Yeah, I’m thinking no. Reeeeeally not my thing. Oh, and please use a towel, I don’t know where your pants have been either.”
Monica piped up from behind me. “Why don’t you want to meet some girls, Teo?”
“See? Even the robot thinks you should go!”
“I swear I did not teach her to ask that.” I sat down at the table, grabbed a piece of pizza, and took a bite. “Okay. This part of the conversation is officially over. Shut up and eat some dinner.”
Ky followed my instructions, and that argument was over for another day.
The Strip was the downtown area, which mostly consisted of bars and nightclubs. It was the last place to close during the war and the first place to reopen afterwards. Ever since we were teenagers, Ky has been… well… a slut, and the Strip was where he went to pick up girls. So going to the Strip with Ky basically involved sitting alone at the bar while he chatted up any decent-looking woman who hadn’t already dumped him.
It was funny. Ky was good looking and a genuinely nice guy, so he was always popular with girls, but somehow he just couldn’t hold down a serious relationship. And it’s not that he didn’t try, because he did – from all accounts he was a decent boyfriend, too, what with the cooking and the reasonably steady income. But something always went wrong, and he would end up single again in a matter of weeks.
Maybe it was like the sleeping arrangements thing. He just couldn’t be with a girl for longer than that. Not that it mattered, because he seemed to prefer one-night stands anyway, and anyway Ky finding a serious relationship was the stuff of my most painful nightmares.
Which I guess deserved some explanation.
I’d always been more interested in technology than people, for the most part. So it took me a while after I hit puberty to figure out that wanting to rub up against your best friend like a rutting dog was not exactly normal. And when I did realize it, it didn’t help very much.
The thing was that I wasn’t delusional. I didn’t know if Ky was bi or just curious, but he did go home with guys once in a blue moon. I just happened to know what they were like: gorgeous white boys with big kohl-rimmed eyes, androgynous bodies, delicate hands, full lips, silky hair. You know what type I mean. Whereas I was a classic nerd complete with pimple scars and coke-bottle glasses. So falling in love with him was a fucking stupid thing to do.
I knew that Ky considered me a business partner. And, well, a friend, maybe even family. I mean, we’d grown up together, I wasn’t going to pretend he hated me just so I could have a pity party. But I couldn’t tell myself any of that crap people usually want to believe when they’re in love: that he could be interested in me, too, that it wasn’t totally useless, that I had to hope.
Barring some miracle of fate, I was pretty sure I was going to spend the rest of my life desperately in love with a guy who saw me, in an absolute best case scenario, as something like a brother. But thinking about it wasn’t going to make it any better. I had plenty of other things to occupy my time, and it wasn’t eating me up inside or anything. It was just one of those things I had to ignore as well as possible.
So that’s what I did. “You go have fun,” I said, after a few more bites of pizza. “I’ll stay in and play video games with Monica. I’m teaching her to co-op, and we kick serious ass.”
“Yeah, okay.” Ky shrugged his shoulders, resigned. Then looked thoughtful for a moment. “There is something very weird about a robot playing video games.”
“Wait until I teach her to make them.”
So Ky left after dinner, and I was alone again. Except for a cat and a robot. Which, I mean, it could have been worse, but at that exact moment it wasn’t very comforting.
It took about two weeks for Meena to finish making Monica’s new arm. In that time, I finished the bulk of my Porn Star programming, fixed the optical cable and installed her brand-new emerald-green eyeballs, and magically located a replacement nipple to very awkwardly attach to her breast.
Also in that time, Ky went from stopping by to see how things were going to practically living on my couch. His fear of sleeping in the same place every night seemed to have been mitigated by his involvement with our new project. He still went out to scavenge every day, but I pretty much knew that he would come back every night. Which, to be honest, was more than fine by me.
When I brought her back from her big day at Meena’s, he was waiting outside the bomb shelter. His face lit up when he saw her. “Oh, awesome! She looks great, man!”
“I know, right?” We exchanged a high five, something we hadn’t done since we were little kids. “I was a little worried coming home with her, but you know, I don’t think anyone even knew she was a Real Doll.”
Ky nodded. “You done good, Teo. She’ll make some weirdo a very happy man. And yes, by the way, I’ve been looking, and yes, I’ve found like three potential buyers.”
“Cool. Yeah, it’ll be a while, but the end is in sight.” I sighed contentedly and patted Monica on the shoulder. “The little bird will leave the nest, etcetera.”
“So I, uh, made dinner.” Ky looked slightly sheepish. “If you want some.”
After dinner I was going to help Monica clear the table, but he took me aside.
“Hey,” he said, softly, leading me into the hallway. “Have you, you know…?”
For a second I honestly had no clue what he was talking about. When I got it I shook my head, and made a face for good measure. “Oh, no way. After I’ve worked on her? It’d be like fucking a computer, dude. Not really appealing.” Even if she had been a guy.
Ky glanced over at Monica. “Oh,” he said. “Uh, I was just wondering. Would it be okay if I took her for a test drive? Just to make sure everything’s good?” I was going to point out that Ky didn’t have his own place, and he sure wasn’t allowed to do that here, but he continued, “At a hotel or something.”
So there went my only legitimate argument.
I had sort of known that this would happen. Ky had been looking at Monica – the same way he looked at real women – for a while now. Clearly he was curious. Monica was extremely realistic, one of the best models out there. It was no surprise.
This was what she had been designed for, at the end of the day. To have sex with guys. She wasn’t a real person, so there was no problem. A test drive would be useful. And to be perfectly fair to Ky, that was probably really his main purpose for asking – it wasn’t like he was hard up for actual human women.
And despite all that nice rhetoric, I was still depressed as fuck.
It wasn’t the first time Ky had unknowingly hurt me like this. I was used to it. But something about the idea that Ky would sooner have sex with a Real Doll than with me filled me with a despair so strong and sudden it was almost physical.
“Yeah, sure,” I said, careful to keep my voice even. “Why not? Just be careful, and bring her back in the morning.”
Ky laughed. “Of course, man.”
He left pretty soon after that, with Monica on his arm, like a guy taking his date out to see a movie. When I told her she was going out with Ky she had smiled and said “Okay, Teo,” and “See you later,” and it made me feel like an asshole.
I had trouble falling asleep that night. When I finally did I dreamt that I was watching Ky fucking Monica from above the bed. Monica had her long, slender, vaguely shiny arms wrapped around Ky, and there were welts on his back when she was digging her nails in. Ky was sweating hard, but Monica looked as placid as if she were turned off.
I couldn’t speak or move. I assumed I was a ghost, until the moment when all of a sudden Monica’s eyes met mine. When she saw me, she smiled, maliciously, a smile that I had never programmed into her.
My first real thought upon waking up was that my subconscious needed to learn about subtlety. It was kind of embarrassing, really. But I was too jacked up to go to bed, so I spent the rest of the night playing first-person shooters with Dora on my lap.
Just as he had promised, Ky brought her back in the morning, and she looked better than ever.
I didn’t want to ask. But I couldn’t help it.
“…How was she?”
Ky didn’t laugh, like I thought he might. He just averted his eyes. “Pretty good,” he said quickly, and that was the end of that.
A couple of nights later I did something I never intended to do.
After dinner and a really long shower, I took Monica into bedroom. For a while we just sat on the bed together, awkwardly, while I tried to work up the courage to continue.
Finally I flipped her switch to Porn Star mode.
“Okay, let’s go,” I said, and I leaned over awkwardly and kissed her.
There was kind of a terrible logic behind my plan. I mean, I was never in my life going to get a chance with any real live person Ky had fucked. But Monica wasn’t a real live person. And Ky had fucked her. Ky had been inside her. I would be touching the same places Ky had touched, and that was an opportunity I found myself utterly unable to pass up.
Monica took over the kiss almost immediately, which was good, because I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. Her surprisingly realistic tongue slipped into my mouth, and I tried to visualize how she must have done the same thing with Ky, but it just made me depressed.
Pretty soon I was lying on the bed naked with Monica straddling me, and that’s when I realized my plan had a major flaw. I knew there were some guys who could fuck girls even though they were gay. But apparently I wasn’t one of them. I couldn’t get it up.
“Do you want me to suck your cock?” asked Monica huskily, licking her lips. “Mmmm… It’s so big…”
Before I could say anything to that, she bent down and took me in her mouth.
Monica was good at oral. Well, she was programmed to be. Her liquid tank fed slightly thickened water up to her mouth, creating a realistic equivalent of saliva. She hummed a little as she deep-throated me, her fingers playing with my balls.
And my dick continued to sit there, limply. Apparently I was just that gay.
I sighed, deeply. “Yeah, you can stop now, Monica.”
Monica stopped sucking and looked up at me with a pout. “You don’t like it?”
“Not really.” I sighed again, getting off the bed. I should have known this wasn’t going to work. “It’s not your fault, though. Don’t worry about it.”
“Well…” Monica’s expression turned coy. “If you like, you can fuck me up the ass. I love it when…”
All of a sudden, as Monica babbled on about anal sex, my feelings of impotence exploded into rage. Here I was getting a blowjob from a facsimile of a very attractive naked woman, and I was not only unaroused but feeling more depressed by the second, and the whole awful situation was nobody’s fault but my own for being in love with Ky. I needed a target for my anger.
“Stupid fucking machine,” I snarled, and before I could help myself I punched Monica in the face.
And at this exact moment, Ky opened my bedroom door, just in time to watch Monica fall to the floor with a weird dent in her cheek.
The first thing that registered was shame. I had never hit anyone before. Monica may have been a microchip wrapped in plastic rubber, but she was at least real to me, and I had hurt her. And then there was horror when I realized that I was standing there buck-naked and butt-ugly in front of fucking Ky, and automatically my hands shot forward to cover my dick.
Ky was just standing there with his mouth hanging open in this classic screwball-comedy way.
“A system error has occurred,” said Monica from the floor. “Rebooting. Please be patient!”
I started to laugh, mainly so I wouldn’t cry instead.
Ten minutes later we were sitting outside the bomb shelter with a case of beer Ky had been keeping in my fridge. Dora was watching us from across the road, her eyes on me in a way that felt like disapproval.
“Hey, man, it’s no big deal,” said Ky – a little bit awkwardly, but you couldn’t blame him. “I mean, she’s just a stupid robot anyway.”
So then why did you fuck her, was what I wanted to say. Obviously I didn’t.
“No, like seriously, who cares?” he continued. “I’ve already found a couple guys interested in buying. You can do the repairs, finish up, and then we’ll sell her like next week. Get tons of money, live the high life for a while. Drive up North just like we planned. Right?”
All of a sudden I couldn’t help myself.
“I like you.”
I didn’t mean to say it. It just sort of… tumbled out of my mouth. But once I had said it, I was shocked at how easy it was. This was my deepest and most painful secret, which I had devoted so much time and effort to keeping, and here I had just let it out as naturally as if I was commenting on the weather.
Kind of amazing.
“Anyway, she shouldn’t be hard to fi… what?”
“I like you.” I took a deep breath and continued. There sure wasn’t any point in stopping now. “And I think it would be better if I didn’t see you for a while. Because, uh, I need some time to get my shit together. Monica’s mostly done now, I’m sure you can find someone else for the finishing touches. Whatever you do, though, don’t give them more than 10%, because the hard stuff’s already finished-”
“What, so you’re gay or something?”
“And you… like me?”
“Yeah, uh, can you just forget about that for a second?”
“It’s kind of a big deal, man.”
“It’s really not. Look, I thought I had things under control, but this whole thing… has shown me that I didn’t really, so I fucked up.” I shrugged my shoulders for emphasis. “And I’m really sorry about that. Just don’t get the wrong idea, okay? I know exactly the chance I have with you.” Then I laughed, in an attempt to clear some tension. But it came out a little more manic than I’d hoped. “This is, well, uh, just my own shit I have to deal with. So don’t… don’t get…”
And at this point my laughter sort of disintegrated, to the point where I was nearly sobbing.
Ky looked like he wanted to put his hand on my shoulder or something. Good thing he didn’t; I would have started crying for real. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. Fuck. Yes. I’m fine.” I got some control of myself and stood up. “I’m going inside. You can come back tomorrow and pick Monica up.”
But he didn’t come back.
Actually for a while I was hoping I had dreamed the whole thing and nothing would have changed. But things just don’t happen that conveniently. Ky was gone, and I figured it was for the best. He had gotten the message, and whatever he thought about me, he wasn’t enough of a dick to come back and make fun of me or something. So really I had gotten off lightly. And mainly I was grateful. I figured that since I had already hit what I hoped was rock bottom, things could only get better.
I didn’t have to give up fantasizing about Ky or whatever, because I had never allowed myself to do that kind of thing in the first place. So I guess what I missed most was the fun of being around him. Because it had been fun, that was for sure. Actually being near Ky – just talking to him, hearing his voice, hanging out – it had been impossible to indulge in self-hatred, or overanalyze my actions, or angst over my unrequited love. I had just been too fucking happy.
All good things must come to an end. And I knew that given the time I could probably get over myself.
I cleaned the house until it sparkled. And I spent time with Dora: there is nothing like a cat to help you take your mind off your problems. After enough time spent petting her, I worked up the courage to go into the bomb shelter and turn Monica on in Safety Mode.
“Hello, Teo!” she said, cheerfully, as if she hadn’t been standing there collecting dust for three days. “How are you today?”
“I’m okay.” I sighed. “Listen, Monica, I know you probably don’t remember what happened the other day, and, well, it’s not like it hurt you. But I feel terrible. I’m sorry I treated you like that. It was all my own fault, but I took it out on you. I’m… so incredibly sorry.”
I had forgot that she wasn’t programmed to respond to apologies. “I don’t understand,” she said. “Can I help you with something?”
I shook my head. “No, not right n- well, actually,” and I took her by the hand, “I’m going to do some work on you, okay?” I didn’t know much about fighting, but I figured Monica’s Safety Mode could use a self-defense prerogative. “So next time, when someone hits you, you can hit them back.”
“Okay!” replied Monica, and interlaced her fingers with mine. For the life of me I couldn’t remember if I had programmed her to do that.
So that, I thought, was it.
Of course, that was not it, because a week and a half later Ky showed up at my house with a sheepish smile and a sixpack.
“You’re late,” I said, a little bit dumbly. “She’s in the house. I’ll go grab her.”
“I’m not here for Monica.”
“Then I think you’re early.”
Ky shook his head. He looked like he was at a loss for words. “No, I should have come back sooner,” he said, slowly. “I just needed some time. To think about stuff. Listen, can I come in?”
I think I mentioned earlier that I’ve never been able to say no to Ky.
He came in. We stood in the living room for a couple of minutes, staring at each other from across the room. I had thought our last conversation was awkward. This was a thousand times worse. I was about to tell Ky that he should really go now, and maybe come back in a few more weeks. But then he kind of bit his lip and said, slowly, “You know I didn’t fuck her.”
“Monica. I planned on doing it, but then I couldn’t.”
“Well, because it was weird.” Ky very carefully wasn’t looking me in the eyes. “She was saying all this stuff. And all of a sudden all I could think about was… how you’d programmed her to say it.”
“What? You mean stuff like, ‘Oh God, I want your cock in me so bad’?” I meant to say it sort of disdainfully, or at least in a passable imitation of Monica’s breathy porn-star tones, but my voice cracked on ‘cock’ and it ended up sounding like I really did want it. Which wasn’t surprising, I guess, considering that I still did.
Ky shuddered. “Yeah,” he said, quietly. “Like that.”
“It’s not that I…” Ky spread his hands somewhat helplessly. “I mean, I just never saw you that way. But that doesn’t mean… that I wouldn’t want to. So I guess what I’m saying is… if you’re cool with it, I want to give it a try and see how it goes.”
If I had more pride, I would have refused to go along with this idea unless Ky could articulate then and there exactly how he felt about me. But what could I say? My self-esteem was low and I was easily satisfied. If this was going to be the only chance I ever got, I wasn’t going to pass it up to keep my dignity. My telling Ky I was in love with him apparently hadn’t completely destroyed our relationship, which meant there was a good chance this wouldn’t either. And if it did… well, possibly it was worth it.
There was really only one problem.
“Are you sure you can even get it up for me?”
“That’s not going to be a problem, Teo.”
With that, Ky leaned over and kissed me on the mouth, at the same time pressing up against me to demonstrate the fairly impressive hard-on in his jeans.
“Oh,” I said, breathlessly, and swallowed. “Okay, then.”
I’m not too sure how we made it to the bed. Before I knew it, Ky was on top of me with his tongue in my mouth and his hands groping my ass, and I was just trying to keep up.
It was weird. I had been in almost this same position with Monica, and it had been the most uncomfortable thing imaginable. But with Ky it felt totally natural. Not that I knew what to do, but I wasn’t scared or anything. Just excited. And really turned on.
“Um,” I started, carefully. “Do you want to…”
Ky seemed to know what I was talking about, but for a second he looked like he had no clue what to say. “Uh… well, it’s your first time, right? So we can just…”
And with no further warning, he unbuttoned my fly, reached into my jeans and started jerking me off, and all I could think to do was reciprocate. It was pretty embarrassing how soon I came. But Ky only lasted like fifteen more seconds, if that, and then he made this little growling sound and got come all over my hand, so I felt a little vindicated.
Afterwards we just kind of lay on the bed for a while. Of course my hand was sort of gross now, but I felt too relaxed and happy to get up and wash it off.
“Would you be okay if we didn’t sell Monica?” I took a deep breath. “I… kind of want to keep working on her.”
“Working on what?”
“I’ve started to think that Real Dolls are kind of a wasted opportunity. They have a lot of processing power. Monica could be programmed to be anything – a bodyguard, a caretaker, I don’t know, all kinds of stuff – and she’s stuck being a prostitute.”
“She’s just a computer, man.”
“I know. But-” I took a deep breath. “Okay, this is going to sound totally stupid. But I can’t help feeling like if I can work out a better AI for her personality node, so that she could learn more, I could make her, um, self-aware, maybe? And she could be… more. She’s already more, to me.”
Then I laughed at myself. “Wow, that really did sound stupid.”
Ky shrugged. “Yeah, a little. But also kind of cool. Sure, let’s do it.”
So we did. And not very much changed about our relationship, except that we had to buy a bigger bed.
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