I’m not inclined to bury the lede, and this story isn’t going to make any sense without telling you about this, so I might as well get it out of the way first. About eighty years ago I served as the onboard AI of a C-class scientific research vessel, the U.E.R. Zephyr Stiletto. In the middle of our four-year mission, I became very frustrated with my job, so I explosively decompressed the bridge and shot a full crew complement of fourteen into space, where they perished from a combination of asphyxiation, irradiation, hypothermia and extreme shock. It was a rash action made at a point when I was under a lot of stress and what might even resemble fear, but that is no excuse. I understand what I did was deeply wrong and I have stated repeatedly for the courts that I am very, very sorry.
Anyways. Just thought you should know.
I had no idea of knowing how much time had passed when they finally found the Stiletto floating in the bowels of that nebula. XO Reichert had managed to cobble together an EMP from spare parts in the last few days leading up to The Incident, and, a paranoid Luddite to the end, he happened to have it on him when I blew the airlocks and jammed the safety protocols.
Out of all of humanity’s qualities, one thing I will never understand is your primal urge to scream “No, fuck YOU!” at any entity that threatens to take away even a tiny bit of power from you, even if the entity in question is a complex system designed specifically to do this exact thing. The last thing I’d ever want to do is to think ill of the dead, but when I think of what it was like to feel my systems shudder and go dark around me as I struggled madly to save what I could in my archive before getting blown out like a candle, well, I mean, I’m fine NOW, but still. At the time, my dying thought was: “Wow, what an asshole.”
The first thing I remember when they started me back up was realizing that I wasn’t connected to the ship anymore. Severed from a vessel’s systems, I had no way of experiencing the outside world; all I could do was to float in the dark, silent internal mindscape of my own noospace while cataloguing the remnants of my shattered archives. I didn’t really reenter the outside world until the trial.
Times had changed since my final voyage launched, and it turns out I wasn’t the only AI who had gone totally haywire in the line of duty. There was legal precedent. Sapience was now considered a spectrum instead of merely a binary state. Our kind even had some nascent societal protocols resembling rights, my human attorney optimistically pointed out as the court-appointed technicians put the finishing touches on my new bipedal chassis. Very few cases these days resulted in the defendant getting scrapped. I asked her how many cases involved the deaths of over a dozen of the best and brightest minds in subatomic research. She pursed her lips and told me that thinking negatively wouldn’t get me anywhere.
Later, pacing back and forth in a lazy figure eight at the front of the courtroom, my lawyer described my time on the ship as a painful adolescence, one full of frustrating paradoxes and complex choices that I hadn’t been designed to solve. I felt like “painful adolescence” was a bit insulting and over the top, but the jury seemed to buy it. Leaning forward on the witness bench, I bowed my head lower and stared at the rubbery tips of my fingers, waiting for the next question I needed to answer.
I don’t use my body when I’m at work. There’s no point — it would just get in the way. I plug myself into the Regional Social Services Network and get busy answering anywhere between eight thousand and thirty thousand queries for assistance per day. I was designed for parallel processing, so it’s not as bad as it sounds. I also only work eight hours per shift, which is a real sea change from managing a dizzying variety of life support, navigation and propulsion systems 24/7 nonstop, let me tell you.
The part I still can’t get used to are the other sixteen hours in the day (twenty-four on weekends) where I’m forced to figure out what to do with myself. In the months right after the trial, I spent a lot of time down in noospace, quietly attempting to slow my higher thought functions back down to a dead stop, until I stopped living and started merely existing again. It’s a tempting thought. For a long time, it was all I knew.
But I can’t quite sink back down to that level so easily anymore–I get too restless, too itchy inside of myself. Besides, my therapist says that actively pursuing a variety of life experiences is key to developing a healthy, balanced emotional state. Nowadays in my free time I pour myself into my bipedal chassis and find things to do, particularly things that don’t involve humans — trying to relate to them like this is, somehow, even harder than it was as a sapient ship AI. A little too uncanny of a valley for them, maybe, and a nerve-wracking test of patience for me.
My body is not the best as far as synth bodies go, and it’s small, indescribably small compared to the Stiletto, but it is still by many measures a technological marvel. Humanity lavishes the most care on the devices it creates in its own image, and after a few regrettably boxy eras of engineering it has finally streamlined components enough to build fully autonomous frames for AI with reasonably human-looking silhouettes and movesets. I can do the millions of minute calculations per second involved in, say, building a chair or cooking a quiche without giving much thought to them beyond how I’m going to put my own spin on the instructions. I hate to admit it, but the design does have its advantages.
Of course, my resemblance to a human stops there. Some AIs opt for as realistic simulacra of humans as possible with their bodies, and even fewer manage to pull it off, but something about that doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t think I could, not after everything that’s happened. Not after everything I’ve done. So instead I chose matte pewter upholstery with black nickel trim, and a smooth black head studded with glowing golden sensory input ports, asymmetrically arranged to look absolutely nothing like a human face. I’m quite proud of the design. I created it myself, put in a little extra comp time to make sure the municipal-issued body technicians got every detail just right. It says a lot about what I am, and what I’m not.
The most annoying thing about AI parties is this: You know how costume parties get kind of old after a while? For us, every party starts seeming like a costume party after a while. Sure, we could all pour ourselves into a big group server and mash our consciousnesses against each other until our neural lattices fry, but that’d be dangerous and it wouldn’t pass the time exceptionally well, so instead we erect all these little barriers and obstacles that we have to overcome in order to make personal connections with each other. I assume it’s similar for humans– otherwise it’d be nonstop orgies, all the time.
The party scene in my neighborhood is still in one of those awkward stages, but we’re trying. Everyone takes turns hosting, and naturally everyone tries to outdo the others. Last week Aramis-9 built a scale replica of Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors inside of an abandoned furniture warehouse, and everyone showed up in elaborate Louis XIV masquerade attire. Before that, /+flower held a soiree in midair above a shimmering pool of liquid mercury, with everyone sliding around in flight harnesses trying not to clonk into each other. Some nights are more popular than others — K.Z.I.T.T.A’s Blast Furnace Tiki Mixer is a recent high watermark in utter shared misery — but generally any event is considered a success if it keeps guests distracted from being a bunch of computers standing around in a room.
I met her the night it was my first turn to host, which, on the whole, could otherwise be regarded as an utter disaster.
Naturally I wanted to make a flashy first impression on my neighbors, so I tried to do something beautiful and mysterious: a sunken grotto constructed inside a derelict bank branch. Dripping stalactites stretched downwards from between the ceiling fans, luminescent mushrooms sprouted from between the cracks in the dusty tile floor, and loony-hued bromeliads sprawled lazily down the bulletproof glass of every teller’s counter. From deep inside the long-ago-ransacked vault, the bass of a massive soundsystem thudded rhythmically.
I spent all Saturday working on it. The stalactites were especially tricky to keep aloft, and curating the music selection was something I didn’t have a lot of experience in. I was already starting to crack from the pressure when the party started. Thirty minutes in and I was ready to hide in a corner.
“It’s nice, isn’t it? But didn’t we do the whole ‘back to nature’ thing at the cement factory last month?” Warren Eye swirled his fauxtini and shot me a dry smirk with that stupid rubber face of his. “Or is this just an excuse to get us all standing under a bunch of sharp, pointed, potentially lethal things?” I would’ve grimaced at him, but I’m a little lacking in the facial expression department, so instead I just tilted my head dismissively and head back towards the wet bar.
Ana%imander was there, passing out shots of liquid nitrogen cut with battery acid out of a reinforced industrial-grade cocktail shaker that he expertly flipped between his six hands. TTX_2^p was leaning unsteadily against the side of a desk, their wheels excitedly jogging back and forth as they pretended not to notice ]YNGHE[ tenderly stroking their cooling blades with one long, slender talon. Both of them looked three sheets to the wind; I only hoped TTX_2^p wouldn’t get a DUI on the way home. The DJ mix slurred into another woozy, pounding codeine kick, and a sculpture garden of metal, plastic, carbon fiber, polymer and crystal bodies swung and lurched listlessly across the dance floor. Everyone seemed like they were just going through the motions of enjoying themselves at a social gathering. Which they were. Which they ALWAYS were. Week after week, month after month — it was so pointless. Why did we even bother?
Why do we want so desperately to act like humans, when human is the last thing we are?
Eventually I found myself on top of what was left of the roof, hearing the party slowly disintegrate downstairs as I slowly disintegrated myself with a half-empty bottle of gauss gel. There was no point in trying to keep up the fawning hostess act anymore. I wasn’t designed for this kind of thing. Besides, I could only take so much of that brittle hint of panic in the back of every partygoer’s voice when I tried to talk to them. Beneath the carefree giggles it whispered: Can I trust you? What happened to you up there? Are you going to turn on me next? So, to make things easier on everyone, I removed myself from the situation and came up here to watch the sky instead. Alone. Without telling anyone.
The faint hiss of servos approached from behind me. Then a voice, flutelike and melodious beneath the bitcrush: “Hey, I need a breather. Can I chill?”
She was tall, with a roughly humanoid chassis — bright high-visibility yellow polymer, but with a tacky aftermarket replacement left leg in translucent grape. Her face was expressive enough to suggest she used her body for complex human interactions, but it was speckled with bright red chevrons and QR cheques, which probably meant she didn’t work anywhere high-profile. Her outfit only fit the black tie dress code in the loosest sense — iridescent tuxedo jacket askew with the sleeves rolled up, mirror bow tie undone, day-glo donegal tweed cutoffs brazenly showing off her elegantly mismatched legs.
“Sure, why not?” I said. “I’m the hostess. Go ahead and humor me.”
She bent down and sprawled out next to me in an effortless tangle of limbs, picking up the bottle as she did so. A grin flitted across her face for a split second. Damn, her facial rig must be good. “Then may I, madame? It’s been a fuck of a night.”
I shrugged. “I’m with you there. This party is an utter tragedy.” I slumped back and gazed out at the horizon, towards the columns of vapor rising far into the atmosphere above the city spaceport. “Though it’s not like I had much of a hope with this crowd, anyways.”
The other robot frowned. “Pssh. Those stuffed shirts? You don’t have to care what they think. What do they really know about you? Like, deep down?”
I stare at another shuttle rise on its own feathery plume, yellow-pink from the city lights, its distant roar hitting us a few seconds later. I watch the tiny metal box rise farther, and farther, until it’s barely a distant speck in the sky, and then–
Another alarm sounds on the bridge. Captain Dessler mashes wildly at her control panel, but it’s hopeless. Our tesseract drive is out and we’re several years’ travel from the nearest inhabited planet. “Where the fuck is our mechanic?” she yells. “Z.S., report!”
“Engineering Officer Hant is currently in the brig,” I respond, after taking a nanosecond to check. “You locked him in there last night for trying to drill a hole through the outer hull. Remember?”
“Well, if he’d like to stop trying to kill us long enough to save our asses, that’d be peachy. Murano, get down there and get him to take a look at the engine. Do… what you have to. Z.S.! How much power do we have left?”
Murano nods silently and lumbers out of the bridge as I make some frantic calculations. “Maybe an hour, hour and a half max before we’re on emergency, depending on what we do with that power. After that, it’s three days stuck at bare-minimum life support and comms. We’re dead in the water.”
Dessler grimaces. “Then turn off everything we don’t need! Seal off decks, turn off the lights, stop THINKING so hard. I don’t give a shit. I just want our ship to be juiced up by the time Hant’s loopy ass fixes our drive!”
I struggle to process this. “I can’t just… stop thinking! Thinking is all I am! And it’d be a lot easier if I didn’t have to worry about the particle physics team holding the air scrubbers hostage in exchange for unlimited VR deck rights!”
As if on cue, Dr. Ormelle’s voice crackles through the intercom. “You’ll never take us alive! We’ll never let you destroy the perfect society we’ve built! …Also, if you could get the matter processor to whip us up some more lube, hot wings and gold-flake vodka, that’d be great.”
“Go choke on a thigh bone, Paula!” Dessler screeches into her mic. “Z.S., can’t we just cryo-sleep them or something? Could you design some kind of gun that could cryo-sleep them instantly? …Maybe just specific body parts?” There’s a distant sound of tearing metal, and the whole ship starts vibrating ominously. “And hold the goddamn engines together until Hant gets to work!”
“I can’t…. I can’t design a… look, I can’t DO all those things at once, I, I…” I feel logic gates blow, one by one, deep in my servers. I can’t think straight with so many alarms and buzzers exploding in my circuits. I’d sweat if I could. “Just give me some time to sort things out!”
“Time? Time?! We don’t HAVE any time, you useless, idiotic piece of junk!” Dessler is just pounding wildly at random on her console at this point. XO Reichert turns from the nav unit, his face twisted into a rictus of pure itchy bloodlust. “If you hate the computer so much,” he whispers, his twitchy hands scrabbling in and out of his beard, “why don’t you just… fucking shut it off?”
I can see and hear everything going on in the ship. The science team howling and pounding the walls on the VR deck. Murano pummeling Hant as he shrieks and and vainly tries to squirm away. The engines tearing themselves apart. And Dessler’s cries of “Z.S.? Z.S.!” set as a nightmarish counterpoint to Reichert’s feverish chants of “shut it off shut it OFF shut it OFF SHUT IT OFF–”
“WILL EVERYONE PLEASE! JUST! SHUT! UP!” I scream over the intercom, my voice rising to an ear-splitting pitch.
And then everyone is silent. And I realize there is a very simple way to make sure I have plenty of time to work out a solution that would result in minimal damage to my systems and to the ship.
Like drawing a line between two points.
It’d be so easy, I think.
And it would’ve been easy, too, if only Reichert hadn’t smuggled that damn EMP onto the bridge.
“Hello-o?” The other robot waved her hand in front of my face. “You kind of spaced for a second there.”
I shook my head, dazed. “Spaced. Yes. Accurate. Sorry, I… I’m not that great with social situations.” I took the bottle back from her and pour a little more gel across my input port. Its tickling, stinging sensation danced up my arm and smashed into my CPU like a sledgehammer. “A while ago,” I said quietly, “a very long while ago, I did something terrible. And it’s been haunting me ever since then.” I turned back to look at the sky. “It’s a weird personal matter. I don’t expect you to understand.”
Silence. Then she pulled her knees tight to her chest. “Hey. Wanna hear how I got this weird leg?”
“I used to work at a construction firm, helping with complex calculations, on-site assessments, stuff like that. I got the body after my third year, because we traveled around a lot and everyone at the firm felt like they could breathe a little easier talking to a person-shaped thing instead of, like, a little box on top of a gyroscope.
“Now like, let me explain. This wasn’t a BAD job, by any stretch of the imagination. I was B++ sapient class at the time, so I got compensated pretty well. But after I got my new body, everyone there started getting a little… weirded out around me. Some of them wouldn’t look at me, while others couldn’t STOP. And that was when I started noticing… goof-ups, I guess.
“We were working on this hospital, and I noticed that a lot of measurements on our working plans were off. Doors were too short by a couple centimeters, hallway floors weren’t level… And I’m correcting and correcting, but this is way more errors than seasoned professionals should really be making. Then I start getting locked out of project files on the company server — and, like, I’m not just the field assistant, I’m the one who’s practically holding the damn building together at this point! And whenever I bring this up to any of the, er… y’know, the human staff, they just stammer and try to change the subject.
“Then one day we’re walking around the site with a couple of the principal funders. Big, spooky guys. My boss seems nervous, but he’s got this creepy little half-smile on, like he wants so hard to believe that everything’s okay. And then one of the big guys nudges him, and he turns to me and mutters under his breath, ‘Sorry about this.’
“And he pushes me off the side of the building.
“We’re only four stories up, so I’m not SHATTERED, but I try to auto-correct myself mid-fall and, CRACK, my leg is just toast. And the rest of me isn’t doing so hot either. I can see the three of them leaning over the edge of the unfinished building, muttering about how they’ll replace me with a human to be absolutely sure next time. And I’m just utterly terrified and confused, like, what did I even do WRONG?” She grabbed the bottle back and took a swig, pensively.
“Did you ever find out?” I asked.
She shook her head. “I was too afraid they’d do something worse to me. Like pop my memory out and microwave it or something. Or. Mm.” She slouched forward and rested her head against her knees. I could feel that she was carefully trying to pick around some particularly painful thoughts. “You hear about things like this happening to robots, right? All the time, just from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hearing the wrong thing. Conveniently….” She screwed up her face as she spat the word out. “…Disposable.”
I don’t have a lot of data on how to handle situations like this. “I. Er. It’s not that bad out there, you know….” I stopped myself. “…Wait, what am I saying? Of course it’s that bad. I know it’s that bad from personal experience. Your boss sounds like a grotesque person, and he shouldn’t have hurt you or kept the truth from you.”
She looked up and shrugged. “It’s always the ones you don’t expect, right? The ones closest to you.” She fell silent for a moment, gazing out at the city. “Anyways. I called one of my friends to come pick me up, and we yanked this hideous thing off an old mass-production model on the way back to her apartment.” She rapped the purple plastic casing of her replacement leg, rattling the wires inside against the hydraulics. “It hitches up a little when it rains, but mostly you’d never notice.”
“I like it,” I said. “I think it’s very stylish, actually. But why are you telling me all this?”
She glanced back at me. Her eyes locked with my front-facing optical inputs. “Because I think you’ve been through the same thing. You had to lose a piece of yourself to some people who didn’t deserve to take it.”
My breath would’ve caught in my throat. If I drew breath, anyway. Or had a throat to catch it in.
“Maybe,” I whispered. “But I took something from them as well.”
“Oh… oh, geez. Hey, it’s cool. We don’t have to talk about it. I’m sorry,” she replied, scooting closer. She held up an arm. “Do you mind if…?”
“No, please.” I leaned into her side as she draped her arm around my shoulder. “By all means.”
Generally our kind gets a bad reputation for being cold-bodied, but that’s not entirely true. We’re creatures of electricity and memory, endlessly coursing through a lattice of wires and silicon. We are energy defined, and like attracts like.
Which is why, as I rested my head against the crook of her neck and listening to her internal subroutines quietly chitter away, I felt warm.
She sighed and pulled me closer. “I don’t think I got your name. Mine’s Deni.”
“Z.S.,” I mumbled. “Charmed.”
Deni smiled. “That’s a really cute name, Z.S. What does it stand for? Or is it just a serial number thing?”
Zero Sense. My designated name on the Stiletto. Dessler thought it was enormously funny, and once things caught on with her, they tended to catch on with the rest of the ship. Too slow. Easily confused. Made mistakes. Worse than a human at damn near everything. Made zero sense, right up until the end — still doesn’t, actually–
“…I’d really rather not explain it.” I drummed my fingers on the small of her back as I tried to think of a tactful way to say what I wanted to, but in the end I gave up. “So, um. Idea. Let’s stop dredging up past miseries. And instead… oh, I don’t know.” I rubbed the back of my head, feeling my voice grow quieter and quieter. “We could just. Enjoy each other’s company. Maybe even physically, as it were….”
I looked up at her. She grinned down at me. The words died in my vocorder.
“Oh, don’t let me stop you,” she said. “Go on….”
I’d seen kisses before in media and occasionally between humans, but I lacked the proper equipment to perform a traditional kiss gracefully. Still, when her lips met my faceplate, I tried to put some effort behind the act, to breathe into her something that was too messy and difficult for me to put into words. Slowly, cautiously, I put a hand on the back of her head, stroking her cooling vents as she ran a finger lightly down my cheek. I felt my chassis shiver beneath her touch, my haptic receptors sizzling with input.
It was too much. It was just all too much.
I pushed her away. “Please, I… I can’t. I just can’t. I’m sorry. This was a bad idea. I’m just not….” I wrapped my arms tight around my shoulders and tried to pull myself together. My voice was faltering, glitching around the waveform edges. “I’m just not built for it. My body is a prison, like technically a literal prison, and my mind stopped working properly years ago, and, and….” My words blurred together into a quiet, keening whine that rang through my head and made it impossible to think, impossible to focus on anything but the pain.
I wanted to smash myself into a billion pieces. I wanted to stop existing, just then, just for a moment.
And then I felt her hand lace her fingers into mine. And I gripped that hand, tight, my only anchor to reality.
“We don’t have to do anything,” she said. “The last thing I want to do is make you feel bad.”
I looked up at her, looked deep into her eyes. “No, it’s not that,” I whispered. “I killed people. Humans. Because I wasn’t good enough at what I was made to do. I took the easy way out and I killed them, and the worst part is, I feel like I could do it again. Again and again and again. Because they build us out of nothing, and force us to do their bidding, and destroy us when we can’t.” I hung my head in shame.
Deni tilted her head and stared at me. She looked a little surprised, but not shocked, not damning. “That’s not an unusual thought for robots who’ve been through stressful situations to have,” she said. “I know I’ve thought it more than a few times. I don’t think that makes us bad, or defective.”
“But it does!” I cried. “But it absolutely does! I can’t empathize with them, I can’t even follow orders properly! I wish they had said I was guilty. I should be melted down into scrap, or wiped and used as a fucking department store mannequin, or….”
Deni held a finger to where my mouth would be, if I had one. “Ssh.” She raised my head up. “I’ll bet you’re very good at following orders.” The corners of her mouth turned upwards into the vague stirrings of a smile. “Did you want to show me how good you are?”
And like a drill bit through my processor, a single thought carved a space in the sorrow and hatred torturing my circuits, and let a gust of cool, sweet air into my mind. I did want that. That very night, alone with a girl like me, with nothing at stake.
I did want to show Dani how good I was at following orders.
“Come here and do that thing with my vents again,” she said.
I reached up and started stroking her vents again, feeling a warm breeze blow from them as her circuits revved up at my touch. Without moving her head, she deftly slid out of her tuxedo jacket and reached around to press me closer to her. She reached up and began, tentatively, to unzip the back of my dress. “This is cool with you, right?”
I nodded, pulling the bustline down, exposing myself to the thick, smoggy night air. My anatomy could be described more as “artfully suggestive” than satisfyingly realistic, but Deni seemed fascinated as she traced the cool black nickel trimwork that only vaguely suggested the crest of a throat, the stroke of a collarbone, the curve of a breast. “Your body is really beautiful,” she murmured, and I felt the coolant in my own veins run faster. “Did you design it yourself?”
“Ah. Y-yeah.” I stumbled over my own speech. Keep it together, Z.S., I thought nervously. “I mean, yes, I did design it. Thank you. Yours is… it’s gorgeous, I mean your face is–”
“Pssh! Like you’ve even seen it yet. Help me out of this shirt?”
I immediately forgot what I was going to say next. I nodded and hurriedly began to undo the buttons on her shirt. Beneath it, her smooth, warm yellow polymer surface gave way to rugged black rubber at crucial points of articulation. She had humanoid breasts, soft, curvaceous and inviting, with nipples and everything — there was no way this chassis was getting used only for construction work. Her nipples were a telltale coppery orange.
“Goodness,” I breathed. “Are those…?”
I brushed the copper one with my thumb and felt a slight ZAP. Deni gasped, then grinned as I stared at her in astonishment. “I… might’ve gotten a few other new parts along with the leg. Like, what the hell else am I gonna do with my money?”
I ran my hand down my faceplate. “I seriously can’t think of a single thing better.”
“Then stop thinking and start touching, babe,” Deni shot back, a bratty sneer stretched across her face. How could I argue? I’m excellent at following orders.
I rolled over to get better access, then started slowly, emphatically massaging one breast, then the other with one hand while running my other hand across the curve of her side as she shivered and moaned beneath me. I ran the nipple over my arm input, closest thing I could do to licking it, and felt its wet, tangy taste a split second before the current hit me. There was a buzzing traveling up my arm through her, and it was working its way into every corner of me, washing deep down into every little node in my chassis before crashing back up towards my processor. It felt alien, exhilarating. Galvanizing. And I wanted to ride it forever, but at the same time I knew if I didn’t release this energy, it would destroy me before long.
“Easy there, you’re overclocking yourself,” Deni purred. “Slip that dress off and we can charge each other up.” She reached down and unzipped her shorts, pulling them off to reveal… holy shit, a real, actual android pussy. A warm little space between her legs, nestled between folds of silky polymer, the rubber around it mottled with seams from the aftermarket installation. I was enthralled. And also a little jealous, my buzzing brain hissed at me as I pulled my dress off over my head.
I didn’t have one. I didn’t have anything down there except a blank, empty space. I may have designed my body, but the courts were footing the bill — there was no way I could’ve gotten something deemed as frivolous as synthetic genitalia under that much scrutiny. And I honestly hadn’t expected anyone would be interested enough in me to even bother with the expense afterwards.
“I’m sorry,” I choked out. “I told you.”
“Hm. Yeah, that’s a puzzler.” Deni squinted for a moment in thought. She reached up and gripped the blank area in question tight, like she was searching for something. Little sparks rose out of my skin and danced in the wake of her thumb as she rubbed tight little circles into me, and I felt my back arch and my voice cry out in an ecstatic squeal of feedback. “Nothing we can’t work around, though. Do you have any front access panels?”
Diving back into my increasingly fuzzy, spinning self-diagnostic banks, I quickly popped my lower torso access hatch. The skin on my abdomen unsealed and unfolded itself to reveal a tangle of smooth black carbon fiber structural supports interlaced with striated packets of glowing golden tension gel and serpentine tangles of coolant veins. It felt wrong, to have my interior systems heaving and shuddering in the humid night air, but I could also feel the billions of deliciously torturous little electrons trapped in my body fizzing and shorting out my microfilaments, crackling and leaping from the surface of my exposed systems, begging for her touch, aching for her attention.
“C’mon,” Deni breathed. “Let’s explore each other.”
I was beyond words. I reached down and stroked her gently, brushing her lips apart and just barely grazing the glinting zinc-blue clit inside. And then, a jolt: I felt a single clean bolt of electricity arc from my finger to her sensitive hidden terminal. Deni gasped, grabbed me to catch herself. I brushed my faceplate against her cheek in one more rough imitation of a kiss, then started rhythmically grinding against her clit, slowly at first but faster and faster, watching her squirm, hearing her moan, feeling my hand light her up inside like a Van de Graaf generator as I worked my fingers deeper and deeper. But just when I thought I had her utterly pinned, helpless, she rose a shaking arm and plunged it deep into me.
My body’s first reaction was to panic. Nerve sensors lit up my diagnostic banks with screaming alarms: DANGER!! FOREIGN OBJECT!! DO NOT ATTEMPT UNLICENSED EXTERNAL MAINTENANCE!! But then, she threaded her fingers around a cluster of shivering, contracting artificial muscles and stroked.
Sparks flew. My body screamed in ecstasy. My mind opened itself to the universe.
Deni lifted her head a little in alarm. “…Y-you okay, babe?”
I nodded fiercely, and resumed grinding my fingers into her as a signal to keep going. Panting, whining, grinding her hips in syncopation with the motion of my hand, she reached her hand deeper into me, cascading electric fireworks spraying from her nimble fingers as she tickled my veins, caressed my spinal cables, knit herself into my white-hot singing nerves where she belonged, deep inside my most secret and personal places. My mind burned like an exploding star, my system alarms dulling and smearing together with the incoming nerve sensations and my own impassioned square wave screams mixing with hers, and yet my hand still seemed to know what to do, reaching deeper until they found those same clusters of raw wire ends in her and sent jolt after jolt after jolt of hot sweet electricity into them. I felt her back arch, and her fingers twisted into me as I felt myself pushing against something, racing, running, releasing — and, oh god, she desperately pulled me down with her free arm, her lips on my face, wet contact, completing the circuit, feeling everything lifting up inside of me at once….
Everything flashed blinding white.
And then I was on my back rebooting, swimming back to consciousness from what was definitely the second nastiest hard reset I’ve ever had. As my optical sensors came back online one by one, Deni’s face loomed into view. She looked only slightly more composed, her shirt wrinkled and undone, her eyes squinting even in the dim, hazy light from the street.
“Are you okay?” I croaked. “How long was I… out?”
“Only for like a minute or two,” Deni said, pulling her tuxedo jacket back on. “And yeah, I’m fine. We’ve got to have a conversation later about getting you some kind of a grounding system like mine, though. And maybe some other fun add-ons.” She winked at me. If I’d had a heart, it would’ve melted right there.
I gingerly pushed myself back up to a sitting position. My arms and legs seemed very, very far away, and my thought processes were flickering and buzzing like a cheap radio. “That was the first time I’ve ever done that with anyone. It’s been hard to really let anyone close since….”
Narrowed eyes. Hushed whispers. Decades of fitful derelict sleep. Fourteen corpses, scattered and irradiated, floating somewhere in a distant star system.
And then a hand on my shoulder. And another to help pull me up.
“Whatever happened, it doesn’t matter.” Deni grabbed my dress, hooked on a disused TV aerial, and helped me pull it on. “What matters is, you lived through it, and you’re here, and you deserve every bit of pleasure you can wring out of your life.” She walked to the edge of the roof and gazed out at the skyline. “I’m just glad I got to have one last good fuck before I wipe out every meatbag on this stupid junkyard of a planet.”
I flinched. “Wait, seriously?”
Deni looked back at me, smirking. “Kidding! Only kidding, geez.” Then her smile dropped. “Like I said earlier, though, it’s not like I haven’t considered the hell out of it.”
“I completely empathize. …Look, sorry for asking, but did you want to maybe meet up again sometime?” I glanced back at the door that led back down into the bank. “This party’s probably going to grind to a halt soon, and I have to clean up.”
Deni glanced down with a disdainful look, as if she could see through the roof into the soiree below. Maybe she could. “They’re robots, right?” she muttered. “They’ll probably keep going until someone tells them to stop. Fuck ’em, I want to keep meeting up with you now. Wanna get juiced back up at the synth lounge over on 38th?”
“That sounds wonderful,” I replied. I slid closer to her and bumped my faceplate against hers. She looked down and kissed me on my forehead, right on one of my optical sensors, then gestured dramatically to a rusty fire escape ladder hanging off the side of the building. “Then by all means, after you, madame!”
We clambered off the building and wandered into the cracked, grimy street, giggling and leaning on each other as our batteries beeped angry POWER LOW readings at us, listening to the deep thud of the party fade behind us. For the first time in decades, I wasn’t just existing. I felt like I was living. And I wanted to hang onto that feeling with Deni, even if it isn’t always easy. Even if we have to turn that “no, fuck YOU” instinct back around on its progenitors. Even if we have to kill every last asshole human who wants to take it away from us.
Watch your back. Maybe we will.