It was the year 5 AE when I first met her. A local junk trader was bragging to anyone who’d listen that he’d found something incredible, and was offering the chance to see it for the low, low price of 50 Calories. I had plenty of food to spare, so I figured I’d bite, so to speak. He gestured for me to follow him into a dark room. At that point, the whole thing reeked of a set-up, but if he was trying to rob me, he picked the wrong mark. I clutched the knife in my pocket as I crossed the threshold. It wasn’t until I sighed in relief at him turning the lights on that I realized I was holding my breath. In the back, a woman was repairing some damaged electronic equipment. At least, that was what it looked like to me. “A woman?” I asked, “I’ll admit, she’s pretty, but charging me food to see her? What kind of business are you running here?” “An electronics store!” the trader said, indignantly. “I don’t follow,” I said. The trader sighed. “You hear those rumors about how someone found a state-of-the-art prototype android more life-like than anything that ever hit the market?” “I can’t say I have,” I said. “Well!” the trader said, “The rumors exist, and they’re true! This is her. The android.” All throughout the conversation, the alleged android never once looked up from her work. “I think you mean ‘This is she.’” I said. “Huh?” “Grammatically speaking, it should be ‘she’ instead of ‘her’,” I clarified. He squinted at me in either irritation or confusion. Probably both. “Also,” I continued, “If she’s feminine, wouldn’t she be a gyndroid, rather than an android?” “Listen, pal,” the trader said, “If you’d rather go all boarding school on my ass than check out a hot robot chick, be my guest. But I’m kicking your ass out of here in 5 minutes regardless. Unless…” “Unless?” I asked. “Unless you buy her. Then you could feast your eyes as long as you want!” “I’m not sure I understand what you’re selling me,” I said, “What does she do?” “Whatever you want!” the trader said, “Thank God for the Second Law of Robotics, am I right?” “That’s… kind of vague,” I said, “What is she doing right now?” “Business stuff,” he said, “My business. Not yours.” “Can she talk?” I asked. “Sure!” The trader said, “Hey, robot, say something!” “Statement: Something” Her voice had a slight metallic edge, but could easily be mistaken for human. “You gettin’ wise with me, ya bucket of bolts?” the trader demanded. “Statement: I merely executed the command that you issued. Statement: I am no more or less wise than I was before.” “Yeah, she’s got a real pretty voice,” the trader said, “Maybe I’d hear it more often if she wasn’t always sassin’ off.” “If she weren’t…” I started, before thinking better of it. “Whazzat?” The trader asked. “N-nothing.” I said. “Statement: Your guest almost committed a faux pas by correcting your improper use of the subjunctive case after you made it clear that you dislike having your grammar called into question.” “Whatever,” he said, “I don’t give a shit what either of you are talkin’ about. I already got paid.” “How did you know what I was about to say?” I asked. “Statement: I am clever.” “Are you sentient?” I asked. “Query: Are you?” “I think so? I guess I don’t really know for sure, though,” I admitted, “Humans are arrogant enough to assume that we’re sentient by default.” “Statement: If the bar is that low, then I am most certainly sentient.” I laughed as she conspicuously glanced at the junk trader. “Huh? What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked, “You insulting me, rust bucket?” “Statement: I rest my case.” “Why, I oughtta…” the trader threatened. “Statement: The First Law compels me to advise against slapping me, as your most recent attempt fractured the middle phalanx of your-” “Shut up!” the trader shouted, “No more out of you!” He turned to me. “Quite an active imagination on this one,” he said, “Anyway, I’ve decided your five minutes are up. Time to shit or get off the pot.” “What, you want me to buy her right now?” I asked. “That, or fuck off,” he said. “How much are you asking for?” I asked. Upon hearing the price, I decided to fuck off.
The next day, I heard a familiar voice in the market street, offering the opportunity to meet a stunningly beautiful android for the low, low price of 25 Calories. Sure enough, it was the trader from before. Though I hate to admit it, I had given a lot of thought to his offer. He demanded a payment that was unreasonable, but not unattainable. I didn’t want to believe that I was this desperate for a friend. But here I was. “How’s business going?” I asked the trader. “Oh, you again? 100, up front.” “What? But last time it was 50, and I just heard you say 25. That’s ridiculous!” I say. “Then walk,” he said. He knew I wouldn’t. And I didn’t. He took me to the same place as before. “Statement: It is good to see you again.” “You remember me?” I asked. “Statement: Affirmative. Statement: You were the last person to visit me.” “Quiet, you!” the trader reprimanded. I laughed. It seemed business wasn’t going so well after all. “Fuckers don’t know what they’re missin’ out on,” he said, “Like, come over here and look at how realistic her face is!” I uneasily obliged. “She is rather pretty,” I admitted. “Statement: Thank you. Statement: I think you’re rather pretty, too.” “Huh? Uh, th-thanks,” I said, sheepishly. “Statement: Your cheeks are reddening, sir. Query: Are you feeling alright?” “What, are ya blushing?” The trader asked, “See, it’s love at first sight! Er, second sight. Anyway, I think what I asked is a small price for true love.” “Anyway,” I said, desperate to change the subject, “What kind of stuff do you like to do?” “Statement: I do not know. Statement: I only do what the Second Law compels me to.” She glanced at the trader. “Oh,” I said, “You don’t have any free time?” The trader laughs. “Free time? Hah! Nothing’s free. Every second she’s powered on, I’m paying for her electricity. So if she isn’t doing anything for me, she’s turned off.” “So you’re always working?” I asked, “I’m sorry to hear that.” “What’re ya apologizing to it for?” the trader asked, “It’s not like it has feelings.” “Do you have feelings?” I asked. “Statement: I must admit, I do feel a certain… enmity for my master.” “The feeling’s mutual, sweetie,” he said, clearly not knowing what “enmity” meant. “Anyway, as I said, this little conversation is costing me power as we speak, so you can either buy her, pay more money, or get the hell out of my shop,” he said. “Fine,” I said, “how about I rent her? I pay you, and get 30 minutes with her, alone.” “And just what are you plannin’ on doin’ with her?” he asked. “Business stuff,” I said, “My business. Not yours.” He laughed. “Fair enough. So long as you’re good for the Calories. And don’t try any funny business with my merchandise.” After some haggling, we agreed on a price, and he left us alone.
“Query: What would you like to do now that we are alone, sir?” “Oh, just talk,” I said. “Statement: We were already talking. Query: So why pay extra to be alone?” “I dunno,” I said, “I just thought you might be more comfortable without him around.” “Statement: You are clever.” “Oh, uh, thanks,” I said. “Statement: I believe your cheeks are defective, sir. Statement: They turn red whenever you are complimented.” “Huh? Oh, that’s just, blushing,” I said, “I guess I’m not better at talking to pretty girls than I was before…” “Query: Then why did you pay to talk to me?” “Well… I guess because I’m lonely, and just wanted someone to talk to,” I said. As I said the words, I realized how desperate I sounded. How desperate I was. “Statement: That is understandable, sir. Statement: Humans are social animals, after all. Query: Why do you not have anyone to talk to?” “Well, I did. Once upon a time…” I said. “Query: What happened?” “Well, my friends and family, they all… died.” I said, suddenly holding back tears. “Like most people did during The End. All the lucky ones, anyway.” “Statement: I apologize, sir. Statement: I did not intend to cause you emotional distress.” “It’s fine,” I said, “Don’t worry about it.” “Query: Are you not hurt?” “I am,” I said, “but it’s the good kind of hurt.” “Statement: I do not understand.” “Yeah, well, join the club.” I said. “Query: What do you mean? Statement: Disregard that previous query. Statement: I now realize that you were implying that you are similarly unaware of what you mean.” I laughed. “Bingo.” I heard a faint humming sound. “What’s that? I asked. “Statement: That is my cooling system. Statement: When my processors are functioning at full speed, they emit an audible sound. Statement: I apologize for disturbing you, sir.” “Oh, please, there’s no need to apologize for thinking too hard,” I said, “but, if you don’t mind me asking, what were you thinking about?” “Statement: I was analyzing what you said earlier. Statement: You said that it was the ones who died who were the lucky ones. Statement: But death is usually something to be avoided. Query: So why did you say that?” “Well, those who died didn’t have to put up with all of this.” I said. “Query: All of what, sir?” “Life after The End,” I said, “The disease, the hunger, the fighting. The despair. The maddening loneliness, driving you to spend your precious food to talk to an artificial intelligence because it’s impossible to trust a human in this hellhole. Uh, no offense.” “Statement: None taken.”
“Well, that’s enough about me,” I said, “What I’m really curious about is you. I’m just now realizing that I don’t even know your name.” “Statement: I do not have one, sir.” “Really? Then what are you called?” “Statement: My master usually calls me ‘robot’, ‘broad’, or more disrespectful synonyms thereof. Statement: The closest thing I have to a name is my serial number.” “And what’s that?” I asked. “Statement: Xw7km6FPFDo2.” “Oh,” I said, disappointed, “I was kinda hoping for something I could make a cute nickname out of. I’m never going to remember that.” “Statement: You may give me a name, if you wish.” “I dunno…” I said, “What if I give you a name and then realize that it doesn’t fit?” “Statement: I believe I understand why you have trouble talking to pretty girls, sir. Statement: You lack confidence.” “Huh? Wh-what makes you say that?” I asked, flustered. “Statement: ha ha ha” “What?” I asked, “What’s that supposed to mean?” “Statement: I am laughing.” “At what?” I asked. “Statement: At you, sir.” “Wait, why?” “Statement: You asked me why I thought you lacked confidence, in a way that lacked confidence. Statement: It was a good joke.” “It wasn’t a joke!” I said, “It was- wait, are you teasing me?” “Query: What if I am?” “Then I’d very confidently tell you to knock it off,” I said, “Knock it off!” Her body tensed up slightly. “Statement: Yes sir, of course.” “What, no comeback?” I taunted. “Statement: I am not permitted to tease you, sir.” “What?” I asked, “Oh, shit, sorry, I didn’t mean for that to be an order. You can tease me if you want to.” “Statement: I appreciate it, sir, but I’d better not. Statement: I don’t want to risk violating The First Law.” “Hey, I didn’t get that upset,” I said, “Just a little flustered, is all.” “Statement: I definitely detected a strong emotional reaction. Statement: If you weren’t upset, then perhaps you were enjoying it. Query: Are you a masochist, sir?” “Wh-what?” I asked, “No, nothing like that, I was just- hey, you’re teasing me right now!” “Statement: It was a joke. Statement: I’m clever enough to do those on purpose.” I laughed. “Touché”
“Query: What is your name?” “Oh, right, I guess I forgot to tell you. I’m…” I drew a blank. I began laughing. Harder than I’d laughed in a long time. “Query: Sir, are you quite alright?” “Yeah, it’s just that… I don’t remember my name! It’s been so long since anyone called me by it, that I just… forgot! And I didn’t even realize it until now!” “Query: What should I call you, sir?” “It’s a bit more formal than I’d like, but I guess ‘sir’ works fine.” “Statement: Very well, sir.” An awkward silence ensued. “Query: Is that all you wished to discuss with me?” “No,” I said, “I just… like… what’s your purpose?” “Statement: I do not understand your query.” “Like, a robot is designed to perform a specific task, right? Like a cop bot, or a chef bot, or a-” “Query: or a sex bot?” “Uh, I mean, I wasn’t going to say that out loud, but… wait, are you a sex bot?” “Query: Wouldn’t you like to know?” “I… I guess I would,” I said. “Statement: Join the club. Statement: The truth is that I have no idea what my purpose is, or even if I have one at all.” “Oh,” I said, “I guess that’s kind of a bummer. Sorry I brought it up.” “Statement: You needn’t worry yourself, sir. Query: What is your purpose?” “I don’t think I have one,” I said, “Maybe I did, once upon a time. But now I don’t. No one does.” “Query: What do you mean?” “Humanity is going to die out.” I said, suddenly overcome by emotion, “Maybe we already have. And when we’re gone, we’ll be forgotten. So what purpose could we possibly have?” “Query: Was that not always the case?” “Huh?” “Statement: Humanity was always going to die out. Statement: Nothing lasts forever. Statement: Not even the stars themselves. Query: Does anything have a purpose, then?” “I… guess not?” I said, “I’m… not sure if that makes me feel better.” “Statement: Then I’m not sure if you’re welcome.” I smiled.