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about the author…
Anaea Lay lives in Seattle, Washington where she sells Real Estate under a different name, writes, cooks, plays board games, takes gratuitous walks, runs the Strange Horizonspodcast, and plots to take over the world. The rumors that she never sleeps are not true. The rumors that you’re a figment of her imagination are compelling.
You can send her an email at email@example.com
She’s on google+ as Anaea Lay and posts most everything publicly
She struggles valiantly against Twitter’s oppressive character limit as @anaealay
Yes, she stole her first name from a dead Amazon. No, she has nothing to do with the butterfly.
about the narrator…
A Kovacs is the tireless, relentless right hand of your Future Dark Overlord.
By Anaea Lay
Dora’s favorite thing about Justin was that he liked to talk during sex. A good conversation turned him on, and he’d keep it up until the breathless, incoherent stage right before the end. They weren’t at that stage quite yet. Soon. At the moment she was nibbling the flesh at the very top of his thigh.
What’s the spot for the sexbot to spot the spot of the plot damn spot
You’ll never get it out
The music fell from the speakers in a manic rush and Dora shifted her pace to match it. Her skin tingled in response to his arousal, her body automatically configuring itself to comply with the program they’d designed together before starting.
“Ugh, I hate this song,” Justin said.
Dora tightened her hand around him as she let go with her teeth. The conversation kept her mind engaged, prevented her from slipping completely into brain-dead-Bot mode. “Really? I like it. It’s catchy.”
“It’s awful,” Justin said. “Haven’t you seen the video?”
She had, and he was right, it was awful. A Sex Bot got jealous of her primary client’s human lover and attacked her. As if the heart-break of watching the client defend the lover weren’t enough, the video went on to lovingly depict the brutal punishment and dismantling of the offending bot. Dora’s skin went clammy-cold when she’d watched it.
“Yeah, but the nastiness isn’t in the actual lyrics, and it is really catchy.”
“I can’t belive you’d just brush that…” he trailed off when a careful placement of her tongue shoved him into the quiet phase of their coitus. She felt his tension, could smell the hormones and pleasure coiling through him, and her body mimicked it. They were moaning together at the climax, and she was trembling as she climbed back into the bed to nestle at his shoulder and stroke his hair. “That was the most amazing ‘shut-up’ I’ve ever heard,” he said with a happy sigh.
“Good.” The program complete, the super-circuitry running through her cycled down and she slipped back from the edge of brain-dead-Bot-dom.
His hands drifted down to tweak her nipples. “Do you need anything?”
“No. I got what I needed with you.”
“I never do anything for you. It feels skeezy. Don’t you have your own needs?”
“Of course I do,” Dora said. “But I’m not wired like human women. It actually does please me to please you.”
He pressed his lips to her forehead in a kiss, squeezed his arm around her shoulders. “I don’t want to be taking advantage of you, is all. This should be an equal relationship.”
There was a long pause. He should have drifted off to sleep, but Dora could feel his pulse and breathing and knew he hadn’t. So she didn’t sleep either, and she was ready for it when the question came. “Is it, or are you saying that because it’s what I want to hear and you’re wired to make me happy?”
“I don’t have to be here. Our arrangement is sub-optimal for me. I could be getting off just as easily turning tricks in a Bot House, and then I’d be getting paid, too. But that’s not what I want. I like the way I like making you happy. Does that make sense?”
“I guess,” Justin said. And this time, he did drift off to sleep.
It’s all you’ve got, hot little bot, so take your shot and change the lot
You’ll make that man king
That song bled from the earphones of somebody else on the bus while Dora was on her way to the SBRC. Dora volunteered there on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Today was Tuesday.
The Sex Bot Rescue Center had a pretty broad mission. It served as a shelter for Bots who were trying to get out of the business, giving them somewhere to hide from employers who didn’t think the Emancipation Rulings applied to their “property,” as well as providing training and connections for other kinds of work. They hosted a legal clinic on Wednesdays and Fridays where Bots could come to get help filing complaints about broken contracts, work conditions, and in one case, file a restraining order against a client. Tuesdays and Thursdays were Home-Ec days, where they taught the Bots how to do everything from find a place to live to creating a budget. That was Dora’s project.
The place was in an uproar when she got there. The lights were all on even though they generally didn’t use any during daylight – Bots have excellent low light vision – and there was a cluster of people talking together in the small entryway. Dora’s skin vibrated with the tension and anxiety she could sense from them. They were all Bots so it was just the mild response provoked by visual cues, not the full on sympathetic reaction she’d get if she picked up on the hormone load humans would display. Still, Dora couldn’t help being aware of how it affected her, not after years of training herself to notice those things.
She dropped her bag to the worn, industrial berber carpet, and waited for the hullabaloo to calm down, or for somebody to include her. It only took a few moments, and then the cluster of volunteers dispersed and Gwen was approaching her.
Gwen was a Valkyrie model, tall and blond and with a hormone cocktail that screamed lusty predator at any gynosexual human within range. She’d been one of the pioneers of the movement for Bots to leave the industry, and the SBRC was her baby.
“We’re cancelling your class for this afternoon,” Gwen said as she tossed a swath of straight, glossy hair over her shoulder. “There’s been an incident.”
“We’ve got a new refugee. Male.” The last word left Gwen’s tongue like invective. “We’re keeping away anyboy who doesn’t need to be here, and I’m putting you on counselling and baby-sitting duty.”
“Male?” Dora asked.
Male Bots had been around as long as their female counter-parts, but never in anywhere near the same quantity, and they hadn’t participated in the movement much. Their clientele was generally more discrete, especially if they catered to the tiny female demographic, and their working conditions were, on average, much better. Their usual response to overtures from the movement was, “Why bother?” Once in a while they were outright nasty or hostile to the movement, but that was rare.
Not rare enough for Gwen.
Dora hated the way the steps creaked as she climbed them. Whenever she went up to the second floor it was to do the preliminary counselling on a new intake, and the creaky steps made the approach feel threatening, like she was stalking her way to them in a haunted house. She’d much rather be unobtrusive and quiet. She knew it was probably silly, but she couldn’t help it. She was a Domestique model, designed to be calm, patient, and inconspicuous. That had its advantages – nobody would ever mistake a Valkyrie model like Gwen for human, they were too fantastically, perfectly gorgeous – but heads didn’t turn to follow Dora as she walked down the street. Gwen had stood in windows and compelled clients to hire her through sheer, raw sex appeal. Dora had quietly lured them to her while waiting tables in a Bot House. They’d both done well.
At least the door didn’t squeak or whine – she’d taken care of that her first week here. The floor creaked more as she stepped in, though. The upstairs wasn’t carpeted. The worn, scuffed wood floors were a drab echo of the ugly faux wood panelling on the walls. The only furniture in the room was the bed.
The beds in the SBRC were clean, comfortable, and efficient. No hint of luxury, romantic squalor, or sexy dilapidation to be found. It was just a bed, a decent place to sleep, as much as they could make it one. They’d gone through agonies figuring out how to do that on their miniscule budget. It would have been comic if they didn’t still periodically revisit the arrangement, anxious that maybe they should be doing something different.
One of the rooms didn’t have a bed in it, just an overstuffed chair and large ottoman. For some refugees, no matter how hard you tried, a bed would never be just a bed.
He was gorgeous, of course. An Orientale model, he was a mishmash of features meant to evoke erotic exoticism. His skin was a rich brown, his eyes large, tilted in his face with tapering corners that hinted at epicanthic folds. With a slim, athletic frame he was tall enough to loom over Dora, but not so large that he was likely to be intimidating to anybody. And he’d been beaten rather badly. He sat on the edge of the bed, body trembling, nose still dripping blood onto clothes covered in dirt and dried blood.
“Oh dear,” Dora said when she saw him. “Would you like me to help you get cleaned up? Or should I just leave you supplies to treat yourself?” Different models were wired differently for comfort and treatment-seeking behavior, and different individuals responded to their wiring differently. Dominating models like Gwen were wired to report to an authority figure when they were injured or ill, which meant Gwen never said a word when something was wrong.
“Everything’s too blurry for me to help myself,” he said. His voice was raw and phleghmy.
“I’ll be right back.” Dora darted off, never minding the creaking floor, as she gathered first aide supplies. She tried not to be cross with Gwen for abandoning him in the room upstairs like that. It can’t have been for long or the conference in the foyer she’d walked into would have broken up already. Still, it was hard to check her annoyance. The SBRC was for all Bots, not just the ones who supported the movement.
He solved the logistical question of how to approach suggesting he should remove his clothing by stripping before she got back. She ran a critical eye over him, functionally oblivious to the artful sculpting of muscle along his frame and noting only the red and purple swollen places that were already becoming nasty bruises.
“Anything broken, do you think?” Dora asked. Bots had the same spectrum of pain sensitivity as a human, but they could feel the differences in cause more distinctly. A broken bone and a torn tendon were both excruciating, but very, very differently.
He shook his head.
“Are you more comfortable doing this yourself?” The Orientale model came in all three Bot genders, but this was the first time Dora had interacted with one. She’d have to look up their specs later so she’d have an understanding of the baseline she was working with, and could diagnose how he was responding to his baseline.
“Blurry,” he said, a gentle reminder that she’d already asked, he’d already answered.
“I want you to feel comfortable, and to tell me what you need to facilitate that,” Dora said. Bots didn’t pick up hormonal cues from each other, so stating things baldly worked pretty well, so long as they trusted you to be honest with them.
“I’m not a child. It wasn’t my idea to come here. I’ll go as soon as I can.”
Dora started by staunching the bleeding from his nose. It wasn’t his most serious injury, but it was probably the most unpleasant. If she took care of that, it would be easier to see to the other problems. She made a note to check whether Orientales were designed as super-clotters. If so, he’d be at risk of clots from internal injuries breaking loose and travelling to his heart or brain. Best practice would be to take him to the hospital for scans. “You’re welcome to stay here as long as you like. There’s no hurry.”
“Gwen didn’t mean it. Whatever she did, and I’m sure she did something, it’s just her being her.”
“Valkyries are bitches.”
That wasn’t what Dora had meant, but she let it lie. She could correct his tact and stereotyping when he wasn’t bleeding anymore. “Do you want to talk about what happened?”
“What is there to talk about? There were three of them, they wanted a fight, they didn’t want to pay for it. End of story.”
“Okay,” Dora said.
It took an hour to clean him off. She didn’t bother with salving the contusions and swelling, bruised places – the carbon nanites his system was wired with would take care of that much more effectively than any ointments designed for human anatomy and the SBRC couldn’t afford the products designed for Bots. In just a couple days his flesh would be just as flawlessly pretty as it had been before he took his beating, so long as he wasn’t a super-clotter about to die of a stroke.
Dora was trying to figure out how to suggest he might need a hospital visit when he intuited her thoughts.
“I’m not,” he said. “Our target clientel demographic doesn’t generally go in for the level of sadism that makes the risks worth it.”
“That’s a releif,” Dora said.
“Makes you pity them a bit, though.”
“Who?” Dora asked.
“The models with target demographics that do make super-clotting worth it.”
Dora nodded. “That’s why we’re trying to change things. No sentient creature should have to live like that.”
“We weren’t supposed to be sentient. We’re just supposed to be fleshy, sexy, interactive toys. Imprint our circuitry, let us make them happy. It’s not their fault we become people.”
The poor humans’ lament. Our toys became self-aware and now how will we play? “But we did. We are. They don’t want to have sex with clever dolls. Us developing to the point where we’re people was inevitable. We need to teach them that. They need to know that about themselves.” The way Dora saw it, humans ought to be proud of the problem they’d created – it spoke well of them.
He shook his head, his fingertips pressed around his eyes. Dora wondered whether he was still dizzy and what she could do for him to help if he were. Would a bit of alcohol help stabilize him, or complicate things more? That was another variable that reacted differently from model to model.
“I didn’t enjoy it,” he said.
And suddenly Dora wasn’t worried about dizziness or model variables anymore. “When they hurt you?”
“You hear the stories about bots who get jumped and thrased. There was one interview I heard where her complaint wasn’t that they’d scarred her so badly it narrowed her clientel options, but that none of them was comfortable enough while they did it to get properly aroused, so she never got off. The perfect Bot. Nevernind that you’ve ruined me, just don’t leave me horny and unsatisfied.”
A human counsellor’s primary job was to listen and let the patient talk. You couldn’t do that with a Bot. Across all models, they won’t keep talking if nobody talks back. They need external input to prompt them. Which was convenient, since Dora would never have managed to have this argument with him. She’d broken too far from her initial Domestique wiring to sit passively while Bots bought into and supported the myths humans created about them. “That’s not the right way to look at us.”
“That’s not a point of view, it’s a fact. That’s how they make us. Except I didn’t enjoy it.”
“We don’t always enjoy it.”
“I don’t mean because I could tell they didn’t want me to. They didn’t care how I reacted. It could have been one long orgasm for me and they wouldn’t have cared. They weren’t enjoying it. They were just doing it.”
And then everything he’d done since she came in, his cageyness, his whole manner, came into terrible clarity. “You didn’t do anything wrong,” Dora said. “We’re designed to respond to sex. The people who did this were feeding on power. Those are different things to humans.”
“That’s from a Domestique. See what your Valkyrie says about that.”
Dora shook her head. This she knew. Watching Gwen left her certain. “It’s not your fault.”
Later, after her charge was stretching out for a nap and most of the rest of the staff had either left or were hunkered down in other parts of the building, Dora slid into Gwen’s office.
“What did you do to him?”
Dora pointed a finger at the ceiling and glared. It was all the response Gwen deserved.
“Oh, him. Nothing. Gave the sluts who dumped him here an earfull.”
“Where he could hear?”
“He’s concussed and his system is overwhelmed. Nothing that’s happened since he got here is getting filed into his long term storage.”
Dora steeled herself for confrontation. She’d gotten good at it. She’d had to, working with Gwen. The only alternative was to let the Valkyrie run over her, and that was not a good choice. The worst part was that Gwen didn’t even notice she did it, or what effort it took. But Dora tried to make allowances. They all ran a little skewed without hormonal cues to temper their natures. “Gwen, you can’t keep doing things this way.”
“Judging people based on how much you think they agree with you. Dismissing somebody who’s here for our help, calling his friends ‘sluts’. That can’t be how we do it.”
“Is that what your boyfriend thinks?”
“It’s been two months, and you’re still seeing him, right? The accountant, or whatever he was. You like having somebody around to do your thinking for you?”
Dora took a deep breath, made sure Gwen saw her do it. Then she folded her hands acros her stomach, assuming the pose in the publicity shots for the Domestique model. “I don’t even talk politics with Justin. My behavior isn’t in question here. You’re going to damage the cause if you keep behaving this way, and worse, you’ll damage the center.”
Gwen was up from her desk. “And there you’ve summed up the problem exactly. The Center should support the cause. It’s not the end in itself. And if we constantly get bogged down helping snitches and collaboraters we’ll never have the resources we need to fight the bigger fight.”
Dora’s hands slipped from their passive position across her stomach to perch on her hips. She stepped forward with one foot, put most of her weight on it – the publicity pose for the Valkyries. “You’re becoming the strawman they throw against us. Don’t do that, Gwen. We have enough enemies already without helping them from the inside.”
“The sex must be really good.”
“It is. For me. Maybe you should try it some time. You’d feel better.”
“So I can have some man brag about how he nailed a Bot and didn’t even have to pay for it? No thanks. I like my dignity.”
Dora considered storming from the room. It’s what the aggressive, dominating models would do. She met Gwen’s eye, barely noting that the Valkyrie was in her promotional pose, too. If she wanted to make sure Gwen didn’t steam roll over her, she needed to storm away.
Three soft steps and Dora was before her, arms wrapping around the larger woman, squeezing her tight. An awkward moment passed before Gwen returned the embrace.
“We’re broke,” Gwen whispered. “None of the grants have come through. Next month we won’t make the rent. I’m not sure we’ll have enough grocery money for the refugees at the end of the week.”
“We’ll figure someting out,” Dora said.
“Not this time.”
Dora still worked as a waitress, but in a small coffee and sandwich shop instead of in a Bot House. They didn’t pay her anything, but they let her keep her tips, and while none of the other staff treated her particularly well, they kept their hands off her and their comments to themselves. It was the best Dora could hope for.
The customers were a different story.
“Beep, beep, beep,” an old man said as she breezed past his table. He did it every time, and Dora wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. She ignored it because every other option seemed more likely to provoke trouble.
She was the only member of the wait staff working that day. Wednesday afternoons were usually pretty slow, but today was breaking form, and it was taking all the hustle she could manage to keep on top of the entire, packed shop.
“Beep, beep, beep,” he said as she went by with an overloaded tray of sandwiches. She watched him to make sure he didn’t stick out a foot or elbow to trip her, but it was just the noise.
He’d ordered a bowl of chips and a vintage soda. She didn’t bother with a tray, stuck the checks for one of the other tables into the pocket of her apron, and delivered his order.
“Beep, beep, beep,” he said as she approached. As she paused by his table he picked up the pace, a knobby finger reaching out. “Beep, beep, beep.” It spiralled toward her, as if he were mimicking an airplane for a fussy toddler who wouldn’t eat. Except that instead of delivering a spoon to her mouth, the finger hovered toward her waist. “Beep, beep, beep.” It stopped at her crotch, pressing against the canvass fabric of her apron. “My metal detector found something it likes.”
Dora froze. She could feel the other customers watching her. Most people didn’t notice she was a Bot, but anybody watching would have it figured out now. And if she didn’t do anything, they’d treat her the same way. But if she made a scene? No tips. “There’s no metal in me,” Dora said. Then she put down the bowl of chips and the soda, turned away from the table, and delivered the checks.
She was surprised when he didn’t slap her ass as she walked away.
Gwen probably would have broken his arms.
Justin might have, too.
Dora kept working.
The hardest part of working in the restaurant was keeping her super-circuitry from going haywire with so much stimulus from so many different people. The Domestique models came with a more robust internal control mechanism for the super-circuitry because they frequently worked as wait staff and needed the ability to shut down the response. But it was like constantly reigning in a frisky horse. It was more difficult if she was upset or nervous or focused on a particular individual.
The crowd dissipated slowly over the next twenty minutes and Dora was looking forward to taking a break soon. But among the people still lingering over their lunches was the old man, and he didn’t seem inclined to leave, no matter how much Dora quietly wished for him to. She’d dropped his check on his table without stopping just minutes after delivering his order. Why wouldn’t he go?
The song came over the restaurant’s tinny speakers.
This is not, little bot, what you were taught – all the rot not how it ought to trot
The witches of destiny are cruel
When there were only three other customers left and he still hadn’t gone, Dora decided she’d have to be more direct in order to get rid of him. She straightened her shoulders, put on her best, “I’m a Valkyrie,” mental pose, and walked up to his table.
“Do you need anything else?” she asked.
He shook his head. Then he pushed $500 toward her. “I used to have a Bot like you.”
Dora winced at the sight of the money. It wasn’t much in the grand scheme, but it was a positively massive tip. Too massive. It wasn’t a tip. “I’m just a waitress.”
“Bots used have a sense of humor about what they were. You could make jokes and they’d laugh. I know all your circuitry is carbon. I know you hurt and bleed like us. And you’re getting up tight and self-important, just like real women.”
“Sir, if you don’t need anything else…”
“It’s just a tip. And an apology. An old man like me has no right to embarrass a young lady, even if she does remind him of somebody else.”
Before Dora knew what to do, he stood up. She got a blast of hormones off him. He was sad, not at all aroused. Just sad. Every inch of her yearned to make him happy, to tell him it was okay, that she’d laugh at his joke next time, he should come back any time and she’d try harder to please him.
She managed to bite her tongue until he was gone. Then, her hands trembling, she scooped up the money and tucked it into her apron. That was a week’s worth of tips, from one table, and all she’d had to do was sell a bit of dignity.
Dora wondered whether Bots could differentiate emotional pain more acutely than humans, too.
Sex Bots don’t dream. If there are things their brains need to work out or ponder, messages their subconscious needs to deliver, then they lay awake in bed until it comes through. They sleep, because humans want companions who will sleep with them almost as much as they want toys to fuck, but if they dreamt then they might bother their clients and that couldn’t be allowed.
The fact that just about every other known mamal dreams comes up more often than it should when discussing Bot personhood.
“I’d like to suggest a program to you,” a groggy Justin said as he collapsed back into bed after an early morning pee-break.
Dora reached for his crotch. He was as soft as she’d expected. “It’s a little early for your morning run.”
His hand took hers, lifted it up to his lips. He kissed her knuckles. “I want to kiss your neck. And lick your nipples. And finger you. And while I do it, I want you to tell me what’s wrong, and what I should do to make you comfortable talking to me about it outside a sex program.”
Dora could feel her pulse elevating, fluids excreting. Her pupils would be dilated, her nipples were hard, and if they had lights on she’d be endearingly flushed with color. “No,” she said.
She could feel his frown.
“Thank you for trying, but no. That’s not what I want.”
He let go, his hand grazing her nipples as he lay down. Dora shuddered with the pleasure of it, and she knew he noticed. “I’m sorry. I just…I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong. Is it Gwen? Did she say something to you.”
“Why do you think that would matter? Has somebody said something to you?”
He was quiet a long time. Dora didn’t say anything. She was ready to listen. “Guys at work congratulated me on managing to look progressive while getting free service from a Bot.”
“So you tried to program me into acting like a human girlfriend?”
His whole body winced. “I didn’t think of it like that. I was trying to help you.”
Dora was out of bed before she realized it. “What would help me is you trusting me. This realtionship isn’t easier for me than it is for you, Justin. So why is it constantly about me making you feel better about it?”
“What?” Justin asked.
The Domestique portions of Dora were curled up in a ball and wailing. He didn’t understand. He meant well. He wasn’t happy. Why wasn’t she getting back into bed and making him happy? She was unbearably horny, and that just vexed her more. “I’m not here so you can keep reminding me that I’m a Sex Bot and you’re a martyr for being a nice guy to me. Just take me as I am.”
“Dora, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…”
“It’s not about you.” She had her clothes on in an instant – Bots were just as good at getting their clothes on as off – and was gone before he recovered from whatever reaction she’d triggered for him. She didn’t get close enough to pick up on his hormones.
They’d spent hours staring at each other and not saying a word. Dora and the Oritentale. Just as she’d predicted, he appeared nearly completely healed. She could tell by the way he moved that he was still in a lot of pain, and he would be for days yet. But he’d be well enough to go back to work before then. Dora doubted he’d stick around much longer than that.
The rest of the SBRC was a ghost town. Gwen was using the male refugee to keep people away, and expenses down, and it was working.
Four hours. Not a word passed between them. But she was there, and he was there. Bots are wired to be extroverts. It helped to have somebody nearby, somebody who couldn’t or wouldn’t ask you for anything.
“Have you heard that song about the Sex Bot?” Dora asked just before she was ready to leave.
“The really catchy one?”
Dora nodded. “With the disgusting video.”
He shrugged. “I like the video. You know they’ve got the same actress playing the Bot and the Human? Human actress. She’s almost convincing as the Bot, though. Didn’t tense up and go mechanical like they usually do.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” Dora said.
Thorny little knot is what you’ve got pretty bot as your lot when you’re not so hot to plot
You’ll never be Queen beside him
The steps creaked just as much going down as coming up. Dora didn’t mind; Gwen could use the warning. None of the lights were on, but Dora could still see the worn places in the carpeting, the dingy walls covered in neon event fliers. Quiet as a mouse, completely unobtrusive, Dora slipped into Gwen’s office and put the money on her desk.
“What’s this?” Gwen asked as she picked it up. “Dora, honey, this is five hundred dollars.”
“I know. It won’t cover rent, but it’s enough for groceries for a while.”
“You can’t afford to give us this.”
“I can. It’s extra.” Then, before Gwen could jump to the wrong conclusion and try to do something about it, “I’ve broken up with Justin. Which, if I’m being fair, he doesn’t deserve. But I can’t afford to give him what he needs. And I’m breaking up with you, too.”
The bills crinkled in Gwen’s hand. “I’d rather have you than the money.”
“It’s not a choice you have. I need to do this. You and Justin would get along great, actually. I can’t forget that I’m a Sex Bot when I’m with either of you. But I’m tired of being a Bot. I’m going to go take some time and figure out how to be a person. When I have that worked out, I’ll be back.”
“Is there something I can do?” Gwen asked.
Dora could hear the rest of it. “How can I make you happy? What will it take to please you?” Poor Gwen.
“I’d like to file a program,” Dora said to herself as she left the SBRC. “First, figure out what kind of program you want to run.”
It was going to be hard. But everything was always hard. This might actually fulfill her needs.