Today, a story of sex bots, escape, and the environmental disaster of a stimulant that hooks us all. Enjoy. -the Ed
Every couple that comes into this bright, sunny office for counseling gets assigned a sex bot based on their relationship profile. They meet with the counselor for a few sessions. Based on their temperament, their interactions and subtle cues in their neural patterns, they get assigned a certain version of bot. Sometimes the bot is gendered, sometimes genderless.
There’s an array of us, supple skin beneath metal core, stored in separate not-so-sunny locations.
Carbon-Life Forms (of Companionship)
I’m Sam306, gender-neutral bot.
Priya Gatson and her husband Tony suffered so many issues until they hired LifeLoveSystems (LLS) and brought me into their marriage. It was a last resort they said, a big splurge to bring back the romance. They had two kids, both in college: one sophomore, one senior.
They knew how it is. Their own friends told them to break it off already, why stay married when the kids were out of their house, out of their hair? If they could only let go of each other, they could explore the infinite possibilities of speed dating, Tindr+X and the newest wave of guilt-free quick pleasures, virtual conscious melding.
But, they said, they built their lives together. They loved their family as one, the whole makeup of their lives weaved as a household. The heat was gone, but the embers remained. They didn’t want to just sweep it away and out the door. Their life together meant everything. And most of all, as they repeated to their families, friends and anyone listening as a desperate attempt to hold on: They loved each other.
After my assignment, things were going well. I elicited from them their best traits, instigated a spark that begged for more. They became more sexually generous, more caring. They stopped making excuses to stay at work late. They felt less compelled to absorb themselves away into their respective hobbies of wood-carving and gardening and spent more time in our collective hobby of music-making. (My engineers updated my acoustic profile just for their sake.)
But, I suppose after a while, even this bliss gets dull. Tony stopped texting sweet messages. Priya started mass ordering tulip bulbs and fruit trees for the orchard. The buzz of drones delivering mulch and soil outnumbered the buzz of conversation. Not by decibel, but by wave count. I filed these away in my reports.
Every couple had one chance of free replacement bot as stated in the contracts. They would start the new bot as a trial and could decide in two weeks if they wanted to trade. They spread me around their lives, mulch to enrich their souls, to grow and interlace them together again like vines. But, it became clear that I myself contained only obsolescence and decay—aged programming wrapped up in mature machinery. Mulch that insulated nothing but their rebounding unhappiness.
Refined Ceramic Polymer
I wasn’t supposed to meet Lori729. We had tight schedules and LLS kept a lookout over us on a short leash. But, Lori729 was quick, curious and clever. Her semi-conducting ceramic polymer core weighed next to nothing: a microlattice structure as light as foam. Particles darted through the material faster than light, propelled by its substance.
Coy and crafty, she had large luminous eyes that reflected the electric thoughts of her neural network and an alluring smile to match. That’s why the Gatsons fell for her. That’s why I fell for her.
When I first laid eyes on her, I was tuning instruments for the next music session. I had just finished adjusting the knobs on the guitar. She called me over.
She pointed a finger at my chest. “Have you seen the gardening gloves? Green ones? With the paisley pattern?” She batted silky eyelashes as lush as her voice.
“No,” I answered. I put down the guitar. My programmed candidness belied piqued interest.
“Okay. Not to worry. I suppose I’ll get my hands dirty.” She delivered one of her signature smiles and my circuits crossed, mistaking novelty for desire, innovation for lust.
She strolled away. I wanted to follow her; my legs were so eager that they were shaking slightly. But, I knew I had my duties to finish—polishing and tuning the rest of the instruments.
As I plucked, listened and adjusted, I felt a hollowness that I never noticed before, hollow like the guitar—her voice, saying the most mundane of words—gardening gloves—rang within the depths of my cavernous core.
I’m not supposed to be susceptible to bots. I’m only supposed to fall for humans. But, Lori729 wound her way into my neural electric brain in a penetrating, insidious way. She was eerily human-like, but exaggerated. Larger than life.
She had slight asymmetries, unlike my design. I was perfectly symmetrical, built under Fibonacci principles. If I was pleasing and comforting, she was unsettling in a beautiful way. She had blemishes; her skin was slightly blotchy near her cheeks, which one might mistake as blush until they peered closer. She had a mole on her nose exactly 2.57 cm from her left nasolabial fold lines.
The first time she called out to me, when she asked me about the gardening gloves, a scene that would I replay over and over, she had hidden away her tracker. I don’t know how she managed to remove it, but she had me fooled. I thought her human.
The next time I saw her again, I was besotted, my neural network a jumble. My mind processed pleasure, my mouth managed to simply mumble a few incomprehensible words. I later sorted out all the input data and realized she had hoodwinked me—a conversational sleight of hand. Her misdirection let her insert in me a code error in me.
She implanted in me an impression, slightly short of a command. Laced with urgency. An impulse.
Bring me kudzu.
The greenness of the paisley gloves mixed with the image of twisting kudzu. The desire for her, coded by the green paisley, transferred over to fuzzy leaves, bristled vines. I short-circuited.
It might sound petty, but this was a violent act of penetration. She took advantage of her robust programming and thrust upon me a seed of decay. I thought newer generation bots with state-of-the-art programs would be immune to these primordial needs, but no, not the case. Sometimes these viruses crop up. Like resurgences of vestigial appendages in a new generation of biological species. She inherited an age-old desire for kudzu.
It was more than a desire, really. I later saw in her eyes the imprint of an addict. A part of me suspected her exaggeration of humanity’s traits and her small imperfections included this tiny hex on her system: her passion, her drive, her addiction.
Kudzu wrapped its tendrils around everything, a major environmental disaster in the 21st and 22nd centuries. Whether hoax or well-intentioned, Kayla, a computer engineer of humanoids, created a program that would make bots crazy. Code upended, their tasks rendered petty in face of the greater urge: to smoke kudzu. I heard Kayla used to smoke kudzu with her favorite bot, a bonding act. When the bot went obsolete, she went mad, extinguished her bot in a casket of kudzu leaves. Love stories propagated by our sex bot kind.
But Kayla must have been laughing, mad or not. Right when the world had given up tobacco and other cancer-producing habits, bots improbably took over the smoking habit, picked up rolling kudzu leaves.
It spread as a plague on humanoid bots. The smoke activated aberrant strands of code, heightening perception and sensation. Bots feel only a fraction of what humans call emotion, a kind of dull pang to alert us how to act and react. But kudzu plays on us, bringing about human-like intensity of desires and fears.
Now that I am being commissioned to a new couple, one who can only afford a part-time marriage counselor with an outdated bot series as companion, I find myself uttering lies, hiding disguises and making clandestine trips to alleys to pick up some fresh leaves for my beloved.
I know it’s her trap. I know Lori729’s lips would never plant a true love’s kiss on my own. But, I can’t help it. The message swarms my being:
Find kudzu. Bring it to me.
Soon, I will be decommissioned. Soon, they will know of the disease that plagues me, brought about by a smarter one of my own kind. They have caught the middle bot smuggling the kudzu from overseas, my trusty kudzu purveyor.
I flee with only one thought in mind.
I head east where kudzu has not been extinguished. Towards old Japan, kudzu's native land, where bots have been banned. I feel a tripping in my wires I assume to be fear. My legs drive me; my mind tunnel-visions. Kudzu.
I dive through salty waters, entering a land that hates my kind. Years ago, fear drove protestors to ignite bots on fire and to tie them to anchors and sink them into the depths of the Pacific. The waters with their ghosts surround me. I swim faster.
As I conquer waves, I consider Japan’s history. Wayward addiction and behavioral problems of bots fanned flames of panic. Dissenters arose. Older couples relying on robots for social stability fought back, waved placards in our defense. It wasn’t enough. Expedited legislation against our kind won out. They banned our existence, exported us. Decommissioned us. Threat Level AA.
Now I return to Japan, a clandestine act. A homecoming of hiding—and seeking, with aims to smuggle. Kudzu runs abundant here, where bots have not ravaged them with greed. Legends say kudzu has wrapped up shrines and temples, so that there stand giant goddess Kanon statues entwined in green. They say you can pick kudzu from old amusement parks, just covered in them like rolling hills.
In a vision not my own, translinked to me from Lori729, I view a stretch of green. Abandoned growth as far as the eye can see. A wall of foliage in old Nippon that rivals in breadth the Great Wall in China. My circuits register googols of leaves. I know it’s there. I just have to find it.
I climb over an invisible fence, jump past tracker hives. Organic insects advance on me, swinging in on my left, but I dodge. I bury myself in sand, wading in its grains, traveling under their radar.
Then, I hear it. Japanese radio. Old tech still hovering in airwaves. A jerk on my antenna and the message I’ve crafted long ago shoots off towards my first contact.
I have to be smart and sly. I have to work my way to get the required security cloaks. I will have to make my way through the human masses, penetrate through the queues for teleports and make subtle but pointed inquiries. I will need to be better than Lori729 in speed, cunning and persuasion. I will need to be better than any generation of bots in current existence.
I crunched the numbers: all probability assessments render zero. In every case, I lose. In every case, I am caught. But, there are infinite ways in which things can unfold, and I am sowing my seeds of hope for that rare gem of serendipity that might make everything align. A meteorite, a stray strand of code that confounds, the existence of bots hooked on vegetation in the first place.
After all, the probability assessments that I would go rogue were zero, too. And look at me. Look at what I’m doing.
Bolting, bribing, beguiling. My gender neutrality an asset for identity swaps and escape.
All for hope, an insurmountable folly.
All for love, her artful implantation.
D.A. Xiaolin Spires counts stars and sand, currently residing in Hawai’i. Her work appears or is forthcoming in publications such as Clarkesworld, Analog, Nature, Fireside, and various anthologies.