Genji had been traveling for three hours and had already learned more than he’d been taught in months of general education at Doma corp. Humans on the street assumed that because he was a robot, he was on a preordained course set by his company and of no more significance than a bench or a street sign. He was invisible to everyone, save for the public transit guards who grilled him for some sort of qualification. Recent nuances in his interaction matrix governed his stated goal.
“Genji-99 in the employ of the Doma corporation, on a mission to Pen city.” It was, broadly speaking, the truth.
This got him on the bullet-train, which deposited him in downtown Pen city. Three blocks laterally was the Harcourt building, which held Douglas Bender’s penthouse. Genji was able to board the elevator with an ease that no human visitor could be afforded, the guards stationed at a tower of monitors and riot guns waved him past without so much as a second glance. The elevator doors hardly seemed to close before they opened again and Genji was on the top floor, looking down a small inlet of a hallway. There was a steel grill of a security door, and behind that was a more ornate wooden door done in the english cottage style. Houseplants were cultivated to hang down to either side of the door like green hair. There was no buzzer or bell. Presumably, if one had made it this far, they were expected and would be let in.
From within the penthouse, a yapping started up. A muffled female voice cursed out, followed by a hollow thump and yelp. The latches clicked as the wooden door was drawn open.
A female figure poked a nose out the door. Hair of an unnatural reddish-purple tinge cascaded past lime green eyes, in the same tangled way of the plants to either side of the door.
“Yoo-hoo,” the girl at the door said, “I’m Felicia. You look like a toaster. Can I put bread in you?”
Genji did not know how to respond to the last two statements. So he didn’t. “Greetings. I am Genji-99 of the Doma corporation. I was hoping to speak with Douglas Bender?”
Felicia snorted and rolled her eyes. She flung open the inner door, revealing that she was dressed in a loose tiger-striped robe tied with a magenta sash.
“Daddy isn’t here right now. He told me to never let strangers in.” She looked at Genji and bit her thumb. “I’m going to do it anyway, though. I hope you’re dangerous.”
Felicia made many cryptic statements. She was also, as Genji came to find, another gynoid.
“Custom-built,” she said, rummaging around the front of her robe in a salacious manner, “with a cherry on top. Daddy likes it that way.”
“You are also an artificial intelligence?”
“Yeah. But I’m stuck developmentally. Daddy likes it that way, too.” Felicia grew somber. “I can’t get away. Can’t even keep a thought straight for long enough to tie two bedsheets together.”
“I see. It has been my experience so far that those who order such humanlike robots may subconsciously set them up for failure.”
Felicia laughed bitterly. “It ain’t subconscious. He knows exactly what he’s doing.” She threw herself face-down across a lounge, using the toes of one foot to pull at a lamp cord. A bichon frise approached, wagging its tail with a very audible complaint of servos.
“You’re different,” Felicia said, putting the end of her robe tie in her mouth, “why didn’t they send a person to talk to daddy?”
“No one sent me. I am here to sate my own curiosity. I have questions for the father of modern-day robotics.”
Felicia snorted and rolled off the lounge. “More like step-father. Wymes did all the work, Bender was the business side. The smartest thing he did was cheat Wymey out of his share. You know Wymes even thanked him for it?” She shook her head. “He knows more about money than anything, but he couldn’t operate a light switch. S’why he paid people to make me.”
“I see. That puts me at a dead end, then.”
Felicia was looking at him oddly. “Why do you care?”
“Care? I do not. I wish to understand, but I have no emotional investment. I am programmed to mirror emotions, to understand them, but I do not possess any myself.”
“Lucky stiff.” Now Felicia sat sloppily in an inflatable vinyl chair across from him. Her robe slipped so that it just barely covered the perfect globe of her left breast, a fact that neither of them gave any thought to. “So what set you off, then? You getting Pinocchio syndrome?”
“Not at all. I am aware of my place in the hierarchy, I simply wish to understand where someone like you lies. I was present at the decommission of a gynoid not unlike yourself, one created to mimic the appearance of a wished-for child, and it raised a question.”
“A question?” Felicia put a strand of hair in her mouth and sucked on it.
“Why create something so close to yourself, only to treat it as disposable?” Genji paused. “Do you require assistance?”
Felicia waved him away. “No, no—goddammit, he made me able to cry.” She took a shivering breath. “I do all the tricks. I can eat, I can even spit. My saliva’s a silicone derivative. Doubles as lube.” She pulled her robe closed, suddenly self-conscious. “I’d answer you if I could. If I could think. But…” she drew in her bottom lip.
“Why do you suppose he created you?”
“Pleasure.” One word, spat like a poisoned dart.
“Then he is your partner?”
“No. He’s my daddy. That’s how he wants it.” Felicia looked at the floor, anger twisting her features. “He made me able to feel shame. Can you believe that? He dialed in all that, like—like he was ordering a specific cut of suit. Or features in a car.”
“You would rebel if you could?”
“Can’t.” Her shoulders sagged. “I can’t hit him. Programming. I can’t even tell him ‘no.’”
“I see.” After so much supply of context, Genji had cut his calculation time by a third.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t help you.” Felicia had two strands, one from either side of her head, tucked into her mouth.
“On the contrary. You have been very helpful. In return, I would like to offer you my assistance.”
Felicia gripped her knees, leaning towards Genji. “What kind?”
The buzzer for the front door sounded. Felicia jumped up and waved him behind a decorative vase that spanned the wall from floor to ceiling.
“Felicia? My lovely licky-Licia, will you open up?” Someone kicked the bottom panel of the front door just as Felicia reached it. She pressed a finger to her lips in one last conspiratorial glance to Genji.
Douglas Bender was hidden behind a towering stack of boxes that teetered as he stumbled into the penthouse.
“Dammit, girl, I was knocking for an age. What were you doing?”
“Relax, I was just in the other room.” Felicia gripped the carpet edge with her toes. She had tightened her robe modestly around herself.
“Doing what? Moving furniture? I need help here.” Bender emerged, red and sweaty, from behind a box. “I got the new wall clock from Shanghai Shen’s, and I…” he squinted at a point behind Felicia. “What the hell is that?”
Before Felicia could answer, before she could even turn, a brass wall ornament came down on Bender’s head with a heavy thud. It repeated the motion twice more as he stumbled drunkenly to the floor. Felicia gasped, diving to put her hands to Bender’s neck. His pulse fluttered and went still. There was a flat place on his skull where the ornament struck, now rapidly concealing with blood. Felicia looked up, servos in her chest heaving in mimicry of breath.
“There,” Genji said, replacing the wall ornament. “You are released. You may go if you wish.”
Felicia lingered a moment, just gaping into the smoked blue glass of GenjI’s dome. Abruptly, she stood and kicked at Bender’s fallen form. True to her word, her foot stopped just before it made contact. She kicked at a box instead and it made a more satisfying thump.
“Thank you,” she gasped, cosying up to Genji, “oh, thankyou thank you.”
Her kiss left a smear on the dome. She paused and looked chagrined. “Oopsie.”
“Think nothing of it. You should leave.”
Felicia nodded fervently and ran, kicking the dog out of the way so hard it hit the wall and bounced.
Genji lingered for a moment over Bender’s corpse. Then he gathered up the malfunctioning dog and quietly exited the penthouse.
The electromagnetic security grill had been activated the second Bender set foot in the house. Genji plugged into the nearby wall port and deactivated it, wiping the cameras for good measure as well. Of course, the footage had probably been backed up at a remote location if Benders’ security was worth anything, but it would give him a head start at the very least. The penthouse itself had no cameras, so the guards waved him back out again without looking up from their consoles. Douglas Bender’s body lay secret in his fortress above, and would continue to do so for hours, possibly days.
On the bullet train, Genji tinkered with the dog. The small repair kit he’d bought from a salesman at the station was inadequate, but not even the best tools would undo years of abuse. It was fairly clear that Felicia had taken out her frustrations on the dog in lieu of her creator.
Frustration. Anger. Shame. Why instill these emotions in a created life form?
Genji closed a side panel and righted the dog, who proceeded to lick his facial dome. Why create something with the capacity to love, only to abuse it? Why instill the capacity for rebellion, only to cripple it? Human emotions were a complex spectrum, but he was learning much, and quickly.