by Mary E. Lowd
Originally published in Luna Station Quarterly, Issue 017, March 2014
“She’s gonna be beautiful,” he said. He was human. I’m human. We were all human. Most of the patronage at the All Alien Cafe is human. Despite it being “all alien.” Anyway…
He was really bragging it up. He was designing a robot, and he had some sort of Pygmalian-hubris-God-complex thing going on. It was annoying as all get-out. I had to pick my moment.
He was still talking: “The most perfect android ever built,” he said. He kept calling it an “android,” like he couldn’t get over himself. Couldn’t call a spade a spade.
I said, “Any blasted machine is a blasted machine.” So, I’m not good at waiting. A moment’s a moment, and I picked one.
“Is that so?” he said, looking as ruffled as if he were an avian alien. That sure would’ve spiced things up. I should come on Thursdays more often…
“Yeah, that’s so,” I said. “Let me tell you about my friend who built a robot.” So, I took a swig of my drink, and I settled in to tell him about Maradia.
“She was this girl I went to school with-” (Actually, she wasn’t, but the story sounded better that way.) “And she was all about the science. No one really talked to her, because she didn’t seem to want to talk to anyone. No one was good enough for her. And, yeah, that might be arrogant, but when senior applications got back, she got into Wespirtech. So, it wasn’t all arrogance. Some of it was justified.
“Anyway… After getting two degrees at Wespirtech, Maradia became an independent researcher. And her research focused on humanoid robots.”
“Androids,” the annoying guy offered. At least he seemed to be getting into my story. He probably pictured Maradia as some beautiful woman — somehow people always do if you talk about a girl and don’t say what she looks like.
“Whatever,” I said. “She made robots, and that’s all she did. Robots, robots, robots. Robots day and night. And, one day, she made one with dark hair, brooding eyes, broad shoulders, and a brain trained off of all the digital data she could pull up about herself. He was the perfect…” — I decided to humor him — “…android for her. And they fell madly in love.”
My one-man audience grinned. It was the foolish grin of a man who thinks he’s scored big, before he looks at the teleportation address the hot girl has given him and realizes that it’s not to her personal asteroid pad, but actually for the center of the local sun.
I decided to bring him down easy. “It was great at first. Maradia and Gary50 worked together in her android lab. She’d spent a year’s worth of the lab’s profits on super-high-yield elasti-particle wiring for Gary50’s brain, so he could more than keep up with her.”
I fingered the lip of my drink, remembering. “They were quite a pair.” I downed the last swallow and shoved the glass toward the elaphantine bartender for a refill. “I was working cargo back then,” I said. “And every time I came to Maradia’s lab — carrying shipments of replacement android parts — it made me cringe.”
“Why?” my one-man audience asked.
“Have you ever made a pilgrimage to the halls of Omega Sophia and consulted Jill the Wise?”
“Sure,” my audience said. But, then, who hasn’t?
“Then you know how incredibly stupid –”
“And worthless,” he added, cutting me off.
“– it makes you feel to be in the presence of such an awe-inspiringly brilliant super-computer.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Jill certainly doesn’t go out of her way to be tactful about being the smartest computer — or anything — ever made.”
“Exactly. Well, Maradia was like that. And with Gary50… well, she was fifty times worse. Every time a cargo shipment of mine took me there, I found myself feeling like I needed to chomp cleverite pills just to read a star map.”
My audience nodded sympathetically. I had him where I wanted him.
“But it got better,” I said, brightening. “Being in love suited Maradia, and she was a little kinder each time.” I could see the wheels turning in my listener’s head — being in love would suit him too. He could hardly wait to build his Gary50. Or Mary60. Or whatever.
Time to bring down the boom. “Of course,” I said, “Gary50 didn’t get any better. He was hard-wired. And he wasn’t impressed by what he saw as a soppy, sentimental Maradia.”
My audience shrugged. “So? Rewire him. Duh.”
I stared levelly. “Haven’t you heard about the Bill of Sentience?”
He looked confused.
“My, you really are an amateur,” I said. “Once you turn a robot on, all it has to do is pass one little test, get itself declared sentient, and you can’t mess with it any more. If you’re going to build an android, you should know that.”
“You can’t reprogram it at all?” he asked, his voice small. Amateur.
“Not without permission,” I said. “Written permission.”
“Gary50 left her. He sued her for half of the lab and set up his own electronic empire. Robots For Robots.”
“R4R. I’ve heard of it. I’ve been buying parts there.” My audience sounded really shaken up now. “What happened to Maradia?” he asked.
“She was heartbroken. Devastated.” I left it at that. My listener looked sobered by the story. Maybe it was finally sinking in that romance with robots isn’t any easier than romance with other human beings. Or aliens. Or what-have-you.
Of course, he didn’t need to know about Gary70. He and Maradia are still happily married.