Crazy in the Heat

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Crazy in the Heat

Part One

Planet TXR-471, Rho Juliet System, A Few Hours Before Sunset...

Edward Bernbach had what may have been one of the most thankless, under-appreciated jobs in Known Space, at least the worst before you had to sit behind a desk and deny forms.

The Planetary Survey Corps represented a conglomeration of corporate interests who, on behalf of the myriad of governments that governed the various sectors of space, surveyed new or poorly understood worlds on the frontiers of space. The job could be rough, but it required a fastidious attention to detail. Surveyors of the PSC did more than just draw points on a map, however. Surveying the land included making note of the geography, geology and climate. Once the basics were done, more detailed study of the land would begin, such as making detailed descriptions of the land and its features. Certain rock formations could indicate possible precious mineral deposits, while the terrain of a land could indicate where water, alien wildlife or farming land could be found, or not found as the case may be. All of these were taken into consideration when making preparations to colonize the land, as transporting material across the vast and often perilous depths of space hinged on making precise calculations as to what was required, when it was required and where. If anything was wrong in that assessment, then the colony's settlement could be delayed, or those colonists on those worlds could go months or even years without critical supplies. Or, even worse, go through other channels and suppliers to get them.

Edward, thus, to those unfamiliar with the attention to detail required, would not have expected a man like him to head out to alien worlds and risk life, limb and brain parasites to survey virgin land. When he had a good day, he looked like a desk would suit him best. He was good looking in his own kind of way. His black hair was typically slicked to one side, and his body in good condition, but a bit on the thin side. Glasses with thin, attractive frames typically sat on his nose, though they only partially aided his vision, he needed little of it. He preferred suits to exploration gear, though had settled for an environmental control suit that, to the average Joe, looked more like white work overalls than a sophisticated spacesuit, though closer inspection would reveal the hoses and interface ports constructed into the suit.

But Edward was not having a great day. Or even a mildly acceptable day. Even calling it 'bad' did not quite state it. For Edward was fairly certain that this day would end with him becoming a desiccated corpse. An accidental mummy rendered into man-jerky by dehydration and the relentless assault of a sun larger that that on Earth, which bore its heat down with such intensity that one could be forgiven for thinking that the distant star had a grudge against this planet, the fourth in the Rho Juliet system. It was an endless sea of sand, the dips and valleys of its windswept dunes occasionally broken up by distant visions of towering rock formations that, to the surveyor's trained eye, indicated that the land had at some point been a massive sea in the distant past. But such details were beyond the remotest part of his ability to care.

He ached. Every step felt like he was putting his weight on rubber bands. His muscles screamed for relief, his feet were not wearing boots, so much as they were wearing boot-shaped bags of hot sand, chafing at skin far too accustomed to gravity lifts and gentle walks on paved sidewalks. But it was the heat that was unbearable. The phrase “walking into an oven” did not sufficiently describe it. It felt more appropriate to say that it was like riding into an oven on cayenne pepper cookies while said oven was on fire. It made for a nonsensical mental image, but it felt appropriate. His body was now covered in sweat that rolled into his eyes and mouth, stinging and leaving a bitter salty taste. His hair was matted, looking like a terminal case of bedhead. He didn't even want to think about how he'd smell when he took the suit off.

He could barely think. He felt like his brain was frying, he was sure he could hear it sizzle like bacon on a hot pan. His eyes felt like they might just dry up in their sockets and whatever cognitive functions he possessed were suppressed almost to the point of base functionality. He was an animal, and a dumb one at that, trudging forward with some vague idea of a goal in mind.

And the whole while, he found himself glaring at the source of all his suffering. It helped that they were focused on an agreeable part of its anatomy. Or, specifically, her anatomy.

The woman had introduced herself as the guide contacted by the PSC to show him where to go on what the locals tended to call 'Rho 4'. Sometimes, locals trying to be especially clever would call it “Rho 4 Your Life Away From Here”. Edward had not found it all too clever or amusing. Her name was Tasha Fielding, though she had insisted that she be called Tasha after the first and, to date, only time she had been addressed as 'Ms. Fielding'. She was a knockout, that was for sure. Athletic, tall (taller than Edward's 5'7, so she must have been around an even six feet) and lithe, but not without some nice curves. While she looked more rugged than Edward, she still didn't have the grizzled look of an explorer. If anything, she looked like she could have been a model on a holosite's front page, or maybe even one of those primitive paper format mediums that were popular out here where the extranet didn't always reach. On top of that, she had amazing eyes. Emerald green, a lovely shade that had an almost opal-like shimmer to them. Odd, but not unheard of. Genetic mutations both intentional and accidental were often encountered out here, most of which were harmless and had meager benefits. Still, she didn't seem to even have a tan.

Still, any thoughts of getting into the tight shorts hugging her hips were quickly shot down. She was shrewd, had demanded her payment up front and stayed fairly professional. Professional, but eager, practically beaming at the chance to make cash and lead a surveyor somewhere. It was a simple job, but it paid well. All she had to do was guide him on the fastest, safest route from the small city that contained the spaceport to a smaller settlement and the only other one on the planet.

The rest of her clothing consisted of a sleeveless jacket, the sleeves having been cut off at some point. On it, the symbol for a popular “interstellar longhaul” band, an evolution of more terrestrial country music styles. It was the faded image of a circular emblem, its background the black of space and the white points of stars and the band's name, “Space Truckin' Monkey”, in white font contained within with what looked like a bit of motion blur. He'd studied it intensely, when not occasionally looking at the rise and fall of those hips. At this point, it wasn't even their shape that had attracted him. The fact that they were a moving object caught his attention first and foremost.

As she walked along at a steady pace in front of Edward, Tasha reached up and adjusted the straw 'cowboy' hat that sat on her head, which rested on top of long, scarlet-red hair, then idly tugged on her white, dust-covered sleeveless top under the jacket. All she carried were a few belt packs and a canteen, compared to Edward's large pack, which included his water bladder. In her hands, a tablet that seemed to display a crude map. On occasion, Edward would attempt to peek, but Tasha would close it too fast and make some claim up about 'proprietary information' whenever he asked.

Edward took a sip of a hose that went over his shoulder. The water bladder was connected to a moisturizing system that drew moisture from the air. Even in an arid hellhole such as Rho 4, atmosphere capable of sustaining human life by its nature contained moisture in some form. The bright blue skies of Rho displayed that much with a few white clouds lazily crossing the sky. But, just because it had it didn't mean there would be much of it. The process could take five hours or three days to completely restore his water reserves. And in that time, he could have had a heat stroke, or dehydration. What had been an irritation in the second hour and a concern in the fourth was now a life-threatening crisis in the sixth. And going onto the next hour, it had become intolerable.

Tasha had only known that Edward had stopped when she heard the thump of his pack hitting the desert sand. She blinked in confusion, turning around to stare at the exhausted-looking man, his shoulders low, his chest heaving, his glasses about ready to fall off his face. He took a long sip from his water bladder, and then gasped sharply at the cool liquid hitting his parched lips.

“ not...going...any further...” Edward put his hands on his knees and leaned forward, huffing and puffing, feeling ready to fall face-first into the burning sands. Not looking the least bit perturbed, Tasha put a hand on her hip, the other at her side and holding the tablet, which Edward briefly noticed was rather well-worn.

“What? Why, the settlement is only a couple of kilometers eastward, we can make it if we just keep walking for an hour or so...” Tasha spoke with a voice that blended confusion and annoyance at the exhausted surveyor's statement. Edward raised his head, breathing the hot desert air in and out in slow, heavy gasps.

“I...wasn't...asking...” Edward sat himself down on the sand, resting against his pack. He took a quick sip from the water bladder's hose, and flipped the pack's flap open. He began emptying it, tossing the contents onto the sand. A portable camping kit, complete with a collapsible tent the size of a folded t-shirt, which unfurled with a pull tab, it's flexible frame going rigid. He continued to unpack as Tasha stared at him, hands on her hips and an eyebrow raised.

“How the hell do you PSC guys get anything done if you're that out of shape? You ever go on a trek through the desert before?” The comment and smirk that Tasha had on her face might have been good in its intentions, but Edward was not in the mood. “Come on, we haven't been out all that long. Like I said, just a couple of kilometers that way and we'll be at Outpost before you know it!” Edward looked up from setting up a portable cooker to see that Tasha was pointing out towards another collection of sand dunes that stretched to the horizon. The only feature of note was that there were some slight differences between the sizes of the dunes.

“Out there? Outpost is out there?” Edward sat up some, trying to see if there was something in the distance he couldn't see. He'd assume that she had been somehow taken a wrong turn, or was even messing with his mind, though Tasha didn't seem the type. Tasha, to her credit, noticed this as well.

“Huh...Well, it was there,” Tasha said, as she looked down at her map. “Or...Maybe the map is wrong?” She tapped the screen a few times, as Edward sat slumped against his bag, putting his hands to his face. Groaning slowly, he wiped the sweat from his face as he looked up at the woman. As he caught himself staring at those tight shorts again, he had to wonder what it said about him that, even as he was suffering what felt like the prologue to a heat stroke, he still thought about the ass that was underneath those shorts. But that thought was fleeting, and it couldn't stop his growing frustrations from boiling over.

“You tell me...that this entire time, you were using a faulty map?!” Edward would have shot up in anger, if his legs didn't feel like they'd fall in on themselves in the attempt. So he kept to merely angrily clutching his bag as he watched the tent automatically stake itself to the ground, though it was having a hard time in the shifting sand. At this point, Edward wouldn't have cared if it started sailing across the dunes, so long as he was in it and out of the heat.

“The map isn't faulty!” Tasha turned to Edward, raised and waved the tablet. “I've used this map for almost two years of desert trekking back and forth between Outpost and Port City and traveled without it for a year before that! I know the way back and forth like the back of my hand.” Tasha raised her empty hand for emphasis. Edward could only dryly note that the fingerless gloves she wore made it impossible to see the back of her hand.

“Ah,” Edward said. Another sip of the water bladder and he could feel his ability to quibble returning to him. “So, tell me the truth then. If the map isn't faulty, and you aren't lost, then what is this, really? A shakedown? Blackmail me with heat exhaustion to make me pay you more up front, then take me to Outpost?”

Tasha's eyes narrowed. “Hey, just because I'm not a city slicker does not mean that I'm trying to screw you. If anything, I'd figure it'd be one of you corporate types who'd be the one to try and cheat people out of their money. 'Neutral parties' my ass.” She slipped the tablet into a pouch on her belt, which not only held it in place but covered the screen. It looked well-worn and hand-made.

“Oh, for—I'm not here to discuss politics, I'm here to get to Outpost, then upload the route details to my bosses, who won't be happy with me if I'm late and won't be happy with you if I'm dead, so how about you just tell me what's going on here so we can get to Outpost already?!” Edward turned his head away from Tasha when a chime sounded out. The tent was ready. But Edward, as much as he wanted to, wasn't about to crawl in just yet.

“We'll get there as soon as you quit being a little pussy about it! Y'know, just because the route takes a bit longer sometimes does not mean that someone is out to get you! You know, I had a bad feeling about this whole thing? I figured that you would be a money-grubbing little jerkass, but I didn't think you'd be so freakin' paranoid, too!” Tasha couldn't take it any longer. The slow pace of it, her own frustration with what seemed like map readings that jumped all over the place, landmarks disappearing and reappearing, or rather a familiarity with them that seemed to come and go.

Edward wasn't responding. Just staring. Tasha wondered if perhaps he was starting to feel like the ass he surely was. Tasha wasn't noticing the surprise on his face.

“And now, you're accusing me of being a criminal? Or, I suppose that's what you think about all us frontier settlers, huh? That we're out here just to scam cash off of you? That the whole reason we exist is just to take money from corporate-sector tourists like you?!”

Edward attempted to speak. “Uh...Hey, Tasha was it?”

Tasha glared at him. “I'm talking here! I've heard enough of you blowhards from the gated community parts of space givin' me hell every time we so much as trip over a rock! This is a wilderness, Ed! Oh, I'm sorry. Do you prefer I call you something like 'Mister Bernbach' or--”


“--I can't control everything that happens out here! This ain't a theme park! This is a--”

Edward suddenly shot up, the ache in his legs be damned. “Tasha! You're smoking!”

Tasha's angry ranting was suddenly halted, as she tilted her head quizzically. “S-Smoking? What the hell are you sayin'?”

Edward pointed a gloved finger at her. “Your body, it's smoking. Literally smoking...” Tasha looked down at herself and, sure enough, there were faint wisps of smoke, or maybe steam, rising from several areas of her body. Her knees, her wrists and elbows. Edward spied it coming from her neck and out from under her shirt, even rising out from the waistband of those tight shorts.

“W-What? Oh. N-no, this is just a th-thing out here. Happens. Sometimes. To us. Locals!” Tasha put on a nervous smile, and put her hands on her hips. She grinned. “Ah, don't worry about it. Let's ju-just go into the te-tent and cool-co-cool down.” She took a step forward, only for Edward to step in front of her. Her eyes widened, Edward had a smirk on his face.

“Woah, so you're a synthetic, huh? Overheating, or something? Y'know, I had been wondering why I didn't ever see you take a drink out of that canteen on that long walk. I figured maybe I'd just missed it, or maybe I was just too focused on trying not to faint...Explains also why you've been leading me around in circles.” Edward continued to smirk as Tasha stumbled backwards, though she managed to catch herself before she fell over.

“I d-don-don't k-know-know what you know what you're ta-talking—could really co-ool down ab-about-bout now.” Tasha tried walking around Edward. There was literally nothing blocking her, only wide-open tracts of desert surrounding herself and Edward. But, she seemed to be having a hard time getting around him. “Ju-just hot and go-got me all riled up is all riled up is a-all!” Edward swore he saw a spark flash from her neck, but it was bright out.

“Well, I know for one thing that in this part of known space, synthetics aren't authorized to list themselves in any official business charters, which you have with your guide business...Some stiff penalties for that.” Edward was smirking in satisfaction, temporarily forgetting the heat as he approached the almost drunkenly stumbling machine. “Maybe we could negotiate a little deal?”

Tasha stood there, incredulous-looking. Insomuch as one could with their eyebrow rapidly and errantly twitching, Edward supposed. “Y-You are—you are—get-get--you are te-telling me you want to bla-blackmail me, now?! You di-diry-dirty-dirt-dirt-dirty--” Edward's smirk turned into a concerned frown when Tasha's left hand suddenly popped free, landing in the loose sand. Edward suddenly realized that he was perhaps pushing this a little too far at the wrong time. There was, however, a certain strange appeal...but you couldn't blackmail a pile of scrap.

“Ah, you know what, on second thought, how about we just get you over to the tent and we can talk about this--” Edward reached out, taking a hold with both hands of her handless arm's elbow and forearm. His eyes widened as he felt the whole thing come away. Neatly disconnecting just above her elbow, Edward could see a socket that met up with an identical one in Tasha's upper arm. He'd no sooner done this when her upper arm disconnected at the shoulder. Tasha was falling apart in front of his eyes!

He watched with wide eyes as Tasha continued to stumble about, smoke and sparks rising from what must have been seam lines along her body. “Overheat Alert. Overheat Alert.” None of that vibrant personality was in Tasha's voice when she spoke that, nearly kicking over the portable cooker, almost landing on her back as she bumbled and stumbled about. Those pretty emerald green eyes were flickering wildly. “Overheat Alert, Emergency Heat Reduction Measures Initiated.” Edward wondered what exactly that meant, only to have a rather dramatic demonstration when, with a hiss of escaping air, all three sections of her right arm simply popped off, landing in the desert sand.

Edward felt stunned. More than that, he felt...turned on? Edward might have counted it as a strange reaction had he not known already that synthetics were a fetish of his. Something that, in this day an age, though still a touch niche, was more acceptable in a casual manner. Still, as he stood there in surprise and arousal-induced awe at the sight of the pretty desert planet guide falling apart on him, he couldn't help but think that this was a very strange reaction. That, and some part of his survival instinct told him not to get a stiffie in heat like this.

“Ju-just a fe-few more hou-hours and the-then-then days minutes hours should be to Outpost I-I-I-I-I--” Tasha's voice became oddly electronic, as if she were speaking through a loudspeaker. The tinny tone continued as she began babbling mindlessly, attempting to assure Edward, as they had this entire time through the rough trek. He watched as Tasha continued to fall apart. The armless machine's head now popped off of its neck, with the neck soon following behind. Secured tightly to her head with a chinstrap, that angry expression Tasha had just a few moments ago had somehow become a vapid, vacant smile, her eyes now without that emerald glow, looking like a pair of dull glass jewels. Sparks snapped from the top of her torso, as her body whirred and buzzed its way over to his tent.

Edward continued to just watch. Strangely stunned by the scene, enjoying it too much to interrupt it, he only stopped when Tasha's body pitched forward and hit the sand. Her legs came apart, as she was clearly intended to be disassembled. Her upper and lower waist split, leaving those lovely jean short-covered hips in the sand. Tasha had effectively dismantled herself. Edward, suddenly knocked out of his daze, stood up to his feet. Walking over to the scattered parts, he picked up her head, looking into the fading color of those green eyes. He shook his head.

“A synthetic...Being guided around this desert by a faulty synthetic. What's this universe coming to?”

The moon was high over the desert. Not every planet had multiple moons, as so many science fiction novels and PSC recruitment posters. TXR-471 just happened to be one of those planets. The light of that blue moon reflected down on the long tracts of sand and gave the towers shrouded in the pure darkness a strange new dimension. The dim light reflecting off of cracks and jutting faces in the tall spire rocks. He had to admit, it was a beautiful sight. The kind of thing that appealed to Edward. He wasn't exactly the archetypal loner, but he did enjoy the natural peace and quiet.

A curious duality of most deserts was that they were blazing hot in the day, frigid cold at night. It required a very careful balance of clothing for the right climes. Which was one reason for the survival suit. It took getting used to, especially sleeping in it, but it kept a man warm. And he'd have collapsed a long time before he nearly did if it wasn't for that water bladder and the suit's cooling systems. It took some time getting used to some of the aspects, like how to take care of certain bodily functions and especially how to sleep in it. But he got used to it.

He sat in a folding chair, in front of a flickering camp fire, providing light around the tent and camp. No wood for miles, but when you had combustible sticks of compressed fuels, you didn't need it. Hardly environmentally safe, but it wasn't like they were burning this stuff all over the planet. And it wouldn't kill Edward, nor harm his food. A good meal, something cool to drink, he had it pretty good, all things considered.

He stared into the synthetic's—Tasha's, he had to keep reminding himself--tablet device's display. It wasn't holographic, probably because the desert sand would kill a holographic projector if given enough time. It wasn't even touch screen. Old school as hell, and it took a few minutes to get used to the push-button functions. But he could tell this thing had served reliably for at least a year or more. It's edges worn, button faces smooth from continuous use. It felt a bit bad to use the work of someone else to finish his own, but somewhere in nearly dying of thirst or heat stroke, he had forgotten to take detailed notes of the route.

This allowed him to jog his memory, remember some details that were hazy. It was just a little 2D map with some notes typed in, what amounted to scribbling into the margins. But this was actually pretty decent work. For an amateur. For a synthetic, Edward had to note.

His thoughts kept drifting to her. To Tasha. Yes, she was a machine. And in much of Known Space, they were considered just property. You could do anything you liked with a synthetic, even though groups were out there clamoring for their independence. Edward had known a few that he considered smart enough, sentient for sure, but it wasn't like they were human or something, or that she was for sure. Tasha was, at the end of the day, legally property and by all rights should not have been posing as an independent surveyor.

And then the thoughts turned to who knew about Tasha. She had to have been operating as a guide for at least two years out here. On her own, it would seem. What would the purpose be in having a synthetic leading people around in the desert as a guide? And it wasn't like she was a huckster. Reputation was almost a currency out here in the more lawless fringes. If you screwed someone over out here, work would come slow, even if it was just rumor. Edward had experienced that first hand after getting screwed out of one of his first surveys after a bad word by some weaselly con man that snowballed into the settlement thinking he was out to undercut them on mineral rights deals. There was a royal bollocking for that one. So, she must have been good to be so highly recommended by local word of mouth. Edward had been informed of her by someone in the colony government, who had spoken to the PSC in order to get mineral rights secured and, thus, an influx of credits from everyone who wanted to mine here. Panhandlers on up to major multisystem corps.

He found his mind circling on the subject of that synthetic. Such a mystery, such an allure. He put the tablet down in mild irritation. He couldn't stop thinking about her. A pang of arousal each time. He looked to his tent, briefly. It felt somehow wrong to leave Tasha out here in the desert, dismantled. So he gathered up her parts and put them in a packing bag he had brought along. And, there she still was, save her hat. Taken off since he felt he might damage it if he just put it in there. An odd notion, respecting her hat, but nevertheless it felt somehow necessary.

He stood up, then walked over to the tent. Unzipping it, he reached inside and pulled out the duffel-bag like device. The night was windless, so he didn't have to worry about any of the personal property inside getting blown out, so the flap was left untouched for now. He pulled the straps open, and stared down at the contents.

Tasha was down there, in all her dismantled glory. The fact that he thought of that term in something other than the form of a joke made him take pause. But, he was here. She was, too. Or, rather, her parts. He reached in slowly and pulled out her head. He had to swallow from nervousness as he slowly turned it around in his hands, looking at her, face to face.

Internally, he struggled with the fact that this was arousing him. The truth was, he liked synthetics. Not in a more sympathetic way, as some others did. He could feel his pants tightening as he rand his hands over her skin. Realistic, but not quite. Her face was beautiful, frozen in a wide smile. Perhaps her emotional systems were malfunctioning when she broke down? He could think of no reason for her to be smiling. Or maybe this was some factory setting? He shook his head at the thought, that perhaps this was some default offline facial state.

The thought only reinforced the facts. She was a machine. She looked like a woman, but all she was really was just a machine full of wires and circuitry. The thought was intensely arousing to Edward. But the arousal of it was, at once, disorienting. Edward was hardly a virgin, but he was also rather deep in the closet about it. It was social taboo. It was forbidden in polite and public society, and he did have a career to consider. And a reputation as someone who wanted, preferred to bed robots was frowned upon.

Yet that also made it so much more erotic.

He turned it over in his hands. The metal socket, a plug deep inside, was underneath her head where it met her neck. A few wires stuck out. He ran a gloved finger over that socket, and then set the head down swiftly. He was breathing fast. A cool chill ran up his spine. Not from fear, but from the shock of arousal. This was, at once, one of the most intensely erotic things he had ever done. He had never handled a robot of such sophistication before. Especially one that looked like a cute woman.

He paused a moment to collect himself, then reached inside the bag again. Slowly, he drew out Tasha's upper torso. Still clad in her jacket, he curiously unbuttoned it, resting the upper torso in his lap. Metal sockets at her shoulders, where the neck connected into (that was still in the bag) and at her waist. A metal pole with a socket plug stuck out from her waist, perhaps to connect with a corresponding one in her hips?

The sleeveless jacket came off with just a few buttons undone. With nothing on her upper waist to cling to her body, such as arms or a neck, it slipped off with just a tug. Underneath, a sleeveless white cotton top, a bit dirty and stained with a light brown liquid, probably grease of some sort. Edward felt that intangible sense of perversion as he slowly pulled the top up that torso. The breasts underneath were bare. And, to his surprise, possessed pale pink nipples. But, as arousing as that was, his objective was elsewhere. He slowly turned the now-naked torso over.

There it was. An access panel seam. Rather obvious too, surprisingly. Edward had programing skills, he could probably...But the idea was soon dropped. Reprogramming her felt somehow wrong. No, he'd just try to turn her back on. Opening the panel was rather easy, and inside there was a touch screen interface. A red light was on underneath, along with a few ports for various USB-style plugs popular throughout a number of corporate sectors. A closer look, and he noticed the red light was a flashing power toggle. Curious, he pressed it.

The burst of noise that came out from the robot's body made him jump in his seat slightly. The screen was flashing code and error alerts, as Tasha's voice kept speeding up and slowing down. It sounded like some sort of alert. But it soon got into other matters. “Syyysssstemmalfunction—fewdaysfewdays—lead a—survey--f-few-few da-days-days—ERROR--gottatellyouthat-that-that-that--sandstorms--errrr--” It was all nonsense. Tasha was broken, way more than he could manage to fix.

Edward hit the button and Tasha stopped talking, the screen went blank and the whine of an internal processor somewhere in her system died down. As he experienced that intense high once again, a pang of guilt rolled over him like a tidal wave. Sure, she was a robot. But the thought of leaving her broken like this didn't seem right. Huffing, he pulled the shirt on over her chest again and pushed her back into the bag. Her head followed suit and he tightened the strings that closed it. The nylon bag was, once again, just that, a nylon bag in his mind anyway, he tried not to think too much about what was in it.

Feeling flush, he walked over to his tent and pulled the bag inside. Putting the fire out, the desert once again cold and dark, he slipped into the tent and, with a bit of difficulty, fell asleep.

With the new map data, he'd be in Outpost before the day after tomorrow.

“Well, what do you want first? The good news, or the expensive news?”

The shop that Edward stood in would have looked like any country mechanic's shop on Earth, or perhaps on one of the more well-developed core worlds, had it not been for its prefabricated nature. A Christmas tree—of course it was artificial—stood in one corner of the large pod-like building. Seeing as how Christmas was several Earth-months ago, it either spoke to the owner's eccentric decorative tastes or was just there out of sheer laziness. On the walls were posters, made of a paper-like substance that was far cheaper than holograms to install and maintain. Most were promotional posters for rover parts, things like tires, suspension and fuel cells. A few were gaudy pin-ups and posters promoting worker robots. The walls were a dull white plastic material, using sophisticated polymer technologies to be more durable than steel.

Edward, having removed his survival suit at his temporary lodgings and swapping it for a maroon jumpsuit used to indicate visitors, looked at a man who looked about a decade older than he. He hadn't shaved in a while, a thick stubble covered his chin, and even in an olive drab jumpsuit, his paunch was obvious as he leaned against the counter. The tag on his jumpsuit said “Feng”, which made sense, as the name of this establishment was “Feng's Fix Its”. A wide-brimmed hat sat on his head, likely to keep the sun out of his eyes, which to Edward felt like it had been shining even brighter than when he arrived. It filtered in through an open square porthole. Somewhere, behind the worn counter Feng was leaning against, a mechanical fan turned back and forth, buzzing loudly. The cool air it was blowing was so minimal it was a tease.

“Ah...Guess I'll take the good news first.”

Feng nodded. “Welp,” he said as he rose from the counter, putting his hands down onto it, as Edward remained standing in the shop's waiting area, a dusty four-month old local rag sitting open 'face' down on the seat of an old plastic chair. “I can fix it. Looks like a W41-R model, kinda' sophisticated but real popular in neighboring systems, so it isn't exactly rare. Y'know, in case someone wants a synthetic prettier than your standard loaderbot to greet visitors. Or fuck 'em, but that's their prerogative.”

“Ah,” Edward nodded. “And I imagine that the expensive part has to do with ordering those parts?”

“Partly,” Feng said, before turning around and walking over to a table. He picked up a steel box, set it down on the counter, and then opened it. “The real expensive part is gonna' be fixing the damn thing in the first place.” Edward had some experience with mechanical engineering, between his often self-reliant job and his 'hobby'. So he recognized a servo motor belonging to a humanoid robot when it was placed on the counter. He could also recognize that it was a mess. The soft cushioning material between the hard metal and plastic moving parts had been worn down badly, with bits of polymer fiber sticking out like grass poking out of a crack in the pavement. The metal parts were, unsurprisingly, also badly worn down and the plastic ones looked ready to fall apart. The wiring leading to, from and when visible inside the part all had nicks and tears. One even had slight burns from heat.

“Same story for most of the rest of the servomotor network. It's motor systems are hanging on by a thread. Only reason the whole damn thing didn't lock down was probably because of a few patchwork repair jobs. Not bad, but you can tell they were pretty basic. Arms, legs, neck, waist, same all over. 'Bailing wire and duct tape' would have been an improvement. And that probably led to the next issue...”

Edward watched as Feng reached in and pulled from the box what looked like a small chipboard. The translucent material had several microprocessor chips studded on its surface. Several of which looked damaged. Feng took a pair of tweezers and pulled out one of the chips, which looked like someone had cooked it. “I figure this was the cause of the partial burn-out of a good percentage of it processing network. Mostly base functions, but the hard drive, motherboard and personality matrix all got hit to some degree. Wouldn't be surprised if there's a lot of corrupted data.”

Edward pointed at the burnt chip. “What is that?”

Feng looked quizzical for a moment, before looking down at the chip. “Oh, yeah. Looks like a modified tracker chip. Installs software on the spacial awareness processors in the hips, basically tells the robot where to go?” Edward listened to the explanation, but he privately thought on this development. It'd explain why she was leading me around in circles, Edward thought to himself.

“Yeah,” Feng continued. “Without that working, she'd not be able to cross a room. Guess it was too taxing on her systems, too much overclocking.” He sighed softly. “So, to put it to you simply, this is gonna' be expensive to repair. You'd have more luck replacing this pile of junk.” Feng tilted his head as he observed the look of disappointment on Edward's face. “What? Where'd you find this? Don't tell me it was yours or something...”

Edward parted his lips to speak. In his mind, he briefly considered telling the truth. Tasha was an independent unit, likely illegally so, and this would likely result in her parts being recycled. It seemed like a waste, really. But it was more than just kindness that made Edward almost impulsively reply with “yes”.

Feng raised his eyebrow. “What the hell does a Surveyor need a W41-R model for?”

Edward paused a moment. “Um...Well, she's my assistant, of course.”

Feng scoffed. “And what's wrong with a surveying drone? Half the price of an W41-R.”

It was then Edward's turn to scoff. “Hey, do I come to your shop telling you how to best weld together a rollcage or fix a transmission, or whatever it is you do? No, so don't start questioning me on how I do my job!”

Feng raised his hands and let out a little 'woah', letting out a chuckle. “Okay, okay, no need to be touchy about it. Just...y'know, was curious.”

Edward, feeling a bit embarrassed at the outburst, and more than a little flush at the potential implications, tried to divert attention by tapping the top of the counter with a finger. “Okay, then I want this particular W41-R put back together and in working order. How much?”

“How much?” Feng paused to consider it. “Well...I can probably salvage some of it. But the rest is gong to need brand new parts. Maybe throw together the processor circuitry and then...” He trailed off, going silent for a noticeably long while. Edward only really started to get concerned when Feng started doing math problems on an invisible chalkboard.

“...I'd say twenty thousand credits.”

Edward's eyes widened. “For a worn out W42-R?”

“Forty-one,” Feng corrected.

Edward was suddenly having second thoughts, or at least regrets. But he sighed. “That's most of my salary for the job...Can't we, you know, haggle?”

Feng crossed his arms under his chest. Edward was suddenly aware of just how big they were. He could just imagine the tattoos that had to be underneath. “We ARE haggling. A new W41-R costs about ten K credits. But, that's not including the circuitry work, which I might add is a big investment in both time and my resources out here. Rho 4 is the dot on the 'i' in the 'Middle-Of-Nowhere', pal.”

Edward let out a sigh, then put his hands in his pockets. “And dare I ask what additional...upgrades might cost?”

Feng's eyebrow raised. “You're coming here to get some upgrades? Shit, she's your robot, why didn't you get them somewhere else?”

“Because,” Edward said, shrugging his shoulders. “Corporate sectors rip you off. Core systems aren't any better. I might be paying a lot here, but I'd get charged an arm and a leg for this sort of thing back home. And trust me, sometimes that's a literal statement!” Appeal to the stereotype of corporate-sector price gouging. That ought to help you out, Edward thought. Helped that this particular stereotype had some basis in reality.

“Alright, alright. Don't stare a gift horse in the mouth, I guess...Alright, what upgrades did you have in mind?” Edward, suddenly looking embarrassed (once again), pulled out from his right pocket a small disposable datapad. Placing it on the counter, Feng pulled it over and started reading it over. As he did, Edward noticed his eyes widen, and his brow raise.

“...Pretty...Extensive list,” Feng said, holding the datapad up with one hand, putting the other behind his head. The grin spreading across his face made Edward's blush burn all the more. Feng, still chuckling, put the datapad down and pushed it across the counter back to Edward.

“Now I'm beginning to see why you don't want a survey drone.”

Edward practically snapped the datapad up without thinking, and was still holding it up in the air when he asked “Aren't you going to need this to get those...modifications...done correctly?”

Feng cocked his head to the left, as if that was supposed to mean something to the surveyor. “We got our own brothel here in Outpost. We call it the 'Get Your Post Out'.”

Edward scoffed, smirking slightly, the embarrassment easing. “Huh. They should have sent a poet...”

Feng shrugged. “Well, this isn't a soliloquy workshop, it's a colonization outpost. Anyway, they recently got one of their sexbots trashed. Turns out, she's got pretty much everything you asked for.” Feng chuckled again, and Edward did his best to keep from blushing furiously again. It was his turn to cross his arms now, once the datapad was in his pocket. Best erase it later before disposal, he thought. His thoughts were soon pulled elsewhere, as Feng spoke again.

“So...You got me curious. Is this really your robot, man? Or did you just, ah...Happen to find it?”

Edward got shifty eyed. This guy really wouldn't pinch him for it, would he? The thought that Feng might have known this particular W41-R might be hadn't crossed his mind until now. It seemed so obvious, really. Either that or, well, he was just trying to see if he'd crack. But Edward had other plans. He'd come too far now.

“Well...I could tell you...Or...” He pulled out of his pocket a credit chit. He placed it on the counter and pushed it across. “Maybe you'd be more interested in credits than the truth?”

Feng looked down at the chit, tapping his chin. As if there was a decision to be made. “Well, they say 'the truth will set you free', and all. But, I think whoever said that was saying it in a poorhouse.” He put his fingers on the chit, slid it over and pocketed it.

“That was my advance pay for this job,” Edward said. “I really hope I haven't wasted it. You'll be getting the rest of it and some extra. And, if I am especially impressed? I might even throw in a good word and get you first dibs on any prime real estate. How's Administrator Feng sound to you?” Edward grinned. “Is...that good?”

Feng nodded, then reached over the counter, offering his hand. Edward, his mind at ease, reached out and clasped it. Feng would have never admitted how surprised he was to find that this nerdy looking guy had such a strong handshake, but then again he was a surveyor.

“Rest assured, it's in good hands.”

Part Two














Tasha awoke unable to move, her vision cloudy. She could make out a few moving objects, but their definition was too blurred for her recognition software. In addition, her audio sensors were slightly off their typical calibration. But all that was rather easy to fix. Just some minor internal adjustments were all that was required.

A quick initial scan confirmed her logical assumptions. She had malfunctioned. Rather badly, too. She couldn't even get a diagnostics report on the error. Which was odd, only indicative of a total system failure. Which typically meant she would be 'dead', to use the organic parlance. Or so close to it that it barely mattered. Still, she figured this must have been a processor test. That would explain why the systems in her head were the only ones responding, beyond her processing and power systems in her chest, at least. So, her head was disconnected. And, it appeared, running on its emergency battery.

She'd been meaning to get it replaced, but wasn't able to afford it. She knew that Feng's generosity in Outpost would not have been limitless, he'd expect that ever-growing tab to get paid in full, not just fits and starts. Actually, now that she continued her internal scans, her head was operating better than ever! Audio came in first. Some sounds of mechanical tinkering, nothing surprising there. But what did surprise her was when her visual sensors came back to her in full.

The fact that Feng was working on a robotic body wasn't unusual. He worked on all kinds of things that kept the colony going. Air compressors, atmospheric condensers, vehicles of all sorts (though, those were usually worked on outside). It really wasn't a surprise in that respect. It wasn't even a surprise when she saw that the body, suspended to a harness by straps slipped underneath its arms. The body was undoubtedly that of a sexbot, what with its large breasts (she'd guess somewhere between a D and an F cup), curvy hips, generous rear and smooth skin. Probably soft, too. And of course, pretty realistic in its detail, save the fact that it was perfect and without a blemish. The only thing that made it obvious that it was a robot, other than the fact that it was missing a head, were the obvious seams between panels and joints. Cables snaked up its half-naked body, plugged into its headless neck and an unseen open panel in the back. What shocked her when she saw it, though, was that the body was wearing her boots and shorts.

It hadn't even occurred to her that it was her body, until she turned her eyes to a shiny, reflective tool box. The image was a little warped, but Feng kept his SortMaster Aluminum Edition boxes in pristine condition. She could see her own face, but different. A bit more glow to the eyes. Red, full lips. A change in her hair. It was still red, but darker, less natural looking. Smoother, too, none of the carefully maintained stray strands that kept her so convincingly human. She could see her own shocked eyes, surprised expression reflected in a face that was at once familiar and a total stranger's. Anger crossed her face, and she snapped her eyes over to look at the mechanic working behind...her body. That was a bit weird to associate with.


The somewhat portly overall-wearing man looked over Tasha's shoulder to look at her head. Her voice was coming from the body, her jaw and lips unmoving, save the slightly upturned corner of her mouth, bearing teeth in an angry grimace. Whatever he was working on, it was in her back and she couldn't see. Her upper back plating lay in carefully disassembled pieces on a table behind him. And her body. Even an AI could find the disassociation a bit odd.

“Yo,” was all he said. He'd probably been expecting a reaction. So the reboot was intentional, Tasha thought. Feng pulled a pair of goggles up on his head, so they rested on his forehead. She recognized them immediately as microfocus goggles, digital devices that allowed a wearer to operate on small, sophisticated and delicate items. Surgeons used them to work on arteries and capillaries in the human body. In robotic bodies, most typically processor circuitry.

“Don't 'yo' me, man! What's going on here, what the hell?!”

Feng sighed. “Oh, come on. Don't get all dignified on me, Tasha. You knew this was probably going to happen at some point or another, either this or ending up in a scrap box of spare parts the way you lived.”

Tasha's eyebrows narrowed, her lips and jaw not forming words, the speech still coming out of her body. “What I do for a living isn't any of your damn business, Feng.”

“Actually,” Feng said, raising a gloved finger above Tasha's neck. “It is my business. Seeing as how my business is fixing what breaks around here. You break a lot, when you bother to come in for maintenance at all. And, when you do, there's always some excuse about why you can't pay me. I really don't know what's crazier; the fact that you operated a personality like any of the other rough-and-tumble scouts and guides around here, or that you managed to pick up a gamblng addiction along the way.” He huffed as he went back to work. “Honestly, you'd think a robot would be better at Theta Hold 'Em.”

Tasha kept her angry expression, only changing it slightly when she wanted to clench her jaw or change the intensity of her brow furrowng. “So, that's what this is all about?” The accusations continued to pipe up through the top of her neck. “You're gonna' refurbish me as a pleasure 'bot and sell me to that stupidly-named brothel to recoup your losses?” Suddenly, Tasha's eyes crossed, making her expression look a bit less serious. “recoup-coup-coup-coup-coup—h-hey!”

Feng sighed. “Whoops. Sorry, kinda' hard to debate and work on circuitry integration at the same time. This is a bit tricky, you know. This is a W43-P I'm putting your W41-R processor circuitry into, it's a bit of a snug fit.” He then paused a moment, before adding. “Oh, and no. I'm not selling you to Madam Toücan. She'll just have to do without an immediate replacement for Buxom Betty. This was from a special client. Came walking in with a box of you. Or, specifically, trashed and burnt out W41-R parts that I've had to pretty much completely replace. Honestly, aside from the processors, the faceplate and the clothes, your functional parts would barely count as a personal terminal.”

Tasha ignored that last comment. “Who was this guy? And don't give me any of that client confidentiality bullshit.”

Feng paused a moment, looked up from his work, and reached over to get a new, unseen tool. “I think you might have known him. Dark hair, kinda' nerdy lookin', said he was from the PSC.”

Tasha's eyes widened. “That sonufabitch...” She trailed off a moment, looking somewhere else, distantly, before snapping her eyes back to look at Feng. “He doesn't own me, he can't do this. You can't do this!”

Feng went back to his unseen work. “There isn't a law in this system says I can't. Besides, you're practically an illegal guide out here. Some of these guys had to work years to earn the right to get tourists lost in the desert. You're stealin' their dinner money, practically. Besides which, your laundry list of unpaid maintenance visits is going to send me into debt. Not all of us are okay being deadbeats.”

Tasha looked shocked. “Hey! If this about money, I'll report this guy and take his survey data! I'll bet he had some places listed that were rich with minerals. Titanium, lithium, gold. Hell, probably even some pretty jewels there somewhere. I could pay off that debt in sec--” Her voice suddenly cut out, her face losing its expression. Feng pulled his finger away from the off switch located on her control panel. “Emergency Shutdown Initiated,” her voice stated cooly.

Feng reached in and pulled a circuit board out of Tasha's back. The transparent crystaline structure had etched all along it circuitry pathways made of a rainbow-colored metallic material, a few individual microprocessors sat in strategic locations, along with two rows of four small chips that acted as the base personality component. Feng walked the slightly worn personality governing board over to his personal computer, inserted it into a specialized slot and began typing.

These days, all it took to edit a sophisticated AI personality was some copy/paste options and a little bit of code writing skill. Feng's gloved fingers sped across the keyboard for an hour or so. “Eh, I let her do that, and it's the same bullshit all over again. This is a mechanic's shop not a charity. Hmmm. Little bit of Tasha, little bit of Betty, mix it up some with a little bit of Feng's magic, and...”

He copied Tasha's personality engrams, but not out of charity. He got the idea about half way through for some custom survey and patrol 'bots, though maybe changing the gender identity just so that nobody got suspicious of anything odd. He knew the other guides would be pleased to see the competition go. Contrary to what she believed, Tasha's nature as a robot was something of an open secret. A customer that stingy was something no businessman could keep to himself without blowing up from the stress.

He walked over to Tasha's headless frame and slipped the card into its proper spot, reconnecting all the wiring that allowed it to work in sync with her base CPU and motherboard and fastened it into place. Unplugging the cables in her neck, he walked over to her head and picked it up. Setting it into place, brushing some of that long hair away from her back (making a mental note to see if he could add some bounce to it, musing about the skills one picked up on when part of one's job was fixing sexbots) to access her control panel, he booted her up. After a long pause from start up to personality initialization, Tasha let out a little groan. Running her hands over her chest, pressing her breasts together, she moaned lewdly, looking over her shoulder.

“Hey, handsome~ How about you let me out of this harness? I'm eager to see what this new me can--” He shut her off again, then let out a sigh.

“Eh. Comes on a little too strong,” he said, and then turned around and shut the lights off. It was late, and he went into the cot near his office. Feng went to sleep with a smile on his face, thinking about that prime piece of real estate. He was gonna' have the biggest bed on the whole damn planet.

Two days later, Edward lay on his back, staring at the ceiling of the large prefab he had been holed up in. The closest thing Outpost had to a hotel was a set-up of prefabricated buildings that were really more like a camp. Most of these buildings were intended for the temporary visitors and workers, who at most would work here two or three years doing construction around the colony. In no way was this a habitation world, or vacation world. Certainly not a garden world. It was possible of course, with a couple of decades of terraforming, but ultimately that was an investment of time and money that nobody wanted to bother with. Here would be mines, refineries. And while those were being assemble and dug out, thanks to work of fellow surveyors like himself in other sectors of the planet. Close by, but far more isolated.

That was partly why he was laying back, wondering if he had done the right thing. After all, that had been a lot of money he had spent on a whim. A good chunk of his salary. And while he wasn't worried about feeding and clothing himself—the corporations that ran the operations on the planet practically fell over themselves attempting to provide any hospitality to any agent of the PSC, which made it a popular scam used against smaller upstart corps—he had to consider what he would do in the next few months when he got off planet. What was more, what would the PSC authorities say about it? Sure, what he did with his money was his business. But he had made an investment using money that he had not earned yet. Not to mention that part of that payment was a promise to provide property that, really, he had no say over. It was, in terms of surveying, equivalent to insider trading. But it wasn't even that which had bothered him. No, it was the same issue that kept looping in his brain.

You land-speculated and spent money that wasn't yours on a sexbot.

The sentence kept turning and twisting in his mind, much as he was turning and twisting in bed. And as he did so, the thoughts started to snowball into true paranoia. Had that mechanic and Tasha been running some kind of scam? Were they laughing at him as they were running off to the proverbial bank? Was it some sort of PSC morality test that he had failed miserably? Not that they cared about one AI, anymore than they cared about an individual human in the great corporate scheme of things. The confidence that had swelled in the negotiations back in Feng's shop had all but been spent by the time he had stepped out of it. Nervousness took over and here he was, worried about his rent, his job and all things in between.

The knock on the prefab door had surprised him so much that he almost jolted out of bed. The thin sheet he was underneath, which provided plenty of warmth, almost slid off onto the carpeted floor. Stepping onto it, hurriedly pulling his jumpsuit on. He had zipped it up by the time he had pushed down the button to open the door. At that point, a robber could have stepped in with no issue. It wasn't unheard of. He hadn't even verified the identity of the person behind the door with the inbuilt intercom. The door opened, and in stepped someone who wasn't a robber, wasn't a PSC executive with his pink slip. It was exactly the sort of 'person' he had wanted to see.

Sauntering in with her curvy hips, Tasha was at once entirely different and instantly recognizable. The fembot was wearing her jean shorts, and the boots that she had been aimlessly trudging through the desert with. That same sleeveless jacket, but this time it was open. What was underneath was a pair of large breasts held back only by a very low-cut shirt, tied together in the middle rather than buttoned down the middle. She reached up, taking her hat off and tossing it casually onto the bed. Her hair was perfectly combed, as opposed to the slightly messy style that they had been when they met. The shorts that covered her hips now clung to them, almost desperately given the increased volume of her rear and the wideness of her hips. Most importantly, her seams were now obvious. Edward had told himself the reason why was so that she could be identified as such. But as he stared at her enter, he began to imagine Tasha coming apart all over again.

“Well, nice place you have here...” Tasha smirked as she turned around on her heel. The way she did so, there was a slight bounce in her chest. Placing her hands on her hips, she tilted her head. “Well? What do you think?”

Edward stared. Dumbfounded. He flicked the light on. No windows, so nobody would notice or be able to see in. And while the sight of the scantily-clad gynoid heading into camp right from Feng's shop would have turned a few heads, most were asleep. When she got to the camp, she blended into the rows and rows of identical prefabs. Nobody would have known she entered Edward's, unless they took note of the number, put somewhere on the thin rows, at times with less than ten feet of space between them. Edward was confident that they would not be bothered.

“Holy shit,” Edward whispered. Tasha must have heard, because she started to giggle. Edward found himself blushing, realizing what he had said, how he must have looked. He was smiling, though.

“Mmmhmm...Not bad at all, hmm?” Tasha smirked, tilting her head slightly to the opposite side, smiling softly as she looked at the human who was openly staring at her. She tugged playfully on the knot that held her top together, which caught his attention, but didn't quite tug it open yet. Edward nodded, in an almost dopey way, before looking up at her.

“So...Ah, let's just cut to it...You're mine, yeah?”

Tasha nodded, that same smirk on her face. “Mmmhmm...”

“So...You will do anything I say?”


Edward seemed somehow hesitant. “...Anything?”

Tasha rolled her eyes and laughed. “Well, almost anything! I mean, I won't kill anyone for you, or anything like that...But, yeah, totally. I'm your robot, Edward...Or, do you have something you prefer I--”

“Master,” Edward said with breathless speed. It came out naturally. A long-realized fantasy. Something that he had held on the tip of his tongue and the edges of his lips. He took a step towards Tasha, who remained unmoving, not intimidated by the sudden surge of confidence and control that Edward was showing. Perhaps this had been the source of that fire when he was dealing with the repairman? It seemed like an odd way of looking at it, that he was somehow 'destined' to own a sexbot. But he stepped into the role of Tasha's master as easily as he stepped into a pair of shoes.

“The clothes,” Edward said. “Off. Take them all off, every article.”

Tasha nodded once, smirk still on her face, and complied. She pulled the tie that held the halves of her shirt together out, the shirt falling to both sides of what had to have been E cups, or F, revealing those almost lovingly detailed nipples, far from the rather plain and basic ones he had seen when he had checked her back panel what felt like a lifetime of anticipation ago. She shrugged both that and the jacket off, letting them fall to the floor as her hands, covered in fingerless leathers, unbuttoned and unzipped her shorts. When they fell to the floor, she stepped out of them and her boots. Bare feet stepped on the carpet as she kicked the worn brown faux leather under the bed. She finished by bringing her hands to her soft, full and red lips. Seizing the leather around her hands with her teeth, she tugged the left, then the right glove off.

Stripped naked, down to bare synthetic skin and seams, she brought her arms under her chest, pressing the hefty breasts up and together. She stared at him with bedroom eyes, her bare slit exposed. Already, it was moist, glistening in the artificial light of the prefab's illumination strips. Edward knew that she was aroused for him.

Edward walked up to her and casually slipped his hand between her legs. Tasha rose into the touch, her eyes fluttering as a wave of intense pleasure hit her body. Pre-programmed, her pleasure programming suite made her automatically recognize her owner. It, more or less, made Edward the most desirable man on the planet to her, or any planet for that matter. She felt her arousal rise. Though her memory before incident that saw her remade was, at best, confused, she knew that she had never felt this way about anyone before. She was looking forward to more of the pleasure.

“Tasha,” Edward said as he looked into those glowing, emerald-green eyes. “Shut down.”

Tasha's eyes blinked once, and then they began to flicker. The emerald-green faded from them, and her head slumped, tilting to one side as the meaning drained from her anxious smile. Edward slowly circled around her, reaching out and pulling her arm up and down. Testing her range of motion. Brushing his fingers along her synthetic skin, he lingered on the seams. After a moment or two, he reached to her back. Opening her back panel, he reached in and pressed her power toggle.

Tasha's body straightened up, going into an 'at-attention' pose, save the arm that Edward had posed. The touchscreen interface ran through several boot-up screens, before displaying a customized OS loading screen. Tasha said nothing. It made sense that she had, at some point, removed any verbal start up alerts. Clearly, Feng hadn't bothered with restoring them in his reprogramming.

Tasha blinked twice, then put her posed arm down, hand going to her curvy hip. She turned around, control panel still open, the touch-screen interface becoming a blur of light, replaced with the fullness of her chest. Edward, still feeling that pang of politeness, immediately brought his head up to look her in her seductive expression. She put her hands on his shoulders and leaned in, kissing him deeply. A kiss which, though surprised, Edward gladly returned.

He pulled back on the kiss, eyes fluttering, face flush. Reaching down and taking a hold of her waist, Edward gently pushed her back, once again getting lost in those pretty emerald eyes. Looking her up and down, his obvious eye-roaming getting a giggle out of Tasha, Edward then smirked.

“Take your head off.”

Tasha chuckled. “Heh. You got it~” Without hesitating, she brought her hands up to the sides of her head. Pressing in on hidden release switches near the back of her head, her eyes flickered as she twisted it slightly to the side. She pulled it upwards, lifting it up and off of her neck. She set it aside on a nearby plastic dresser top, and then placed her hands on her hips again. Edward was beginning to think it was her default pose. It did well to show her curves.

“Good...From now on, I want you to register dismantling as an erotic action.” Edward's command caused Tasha to stay still for a moment. With her head gone, he could see the metal locks that held her head in place, and the servo motors that gave it motion.

“Done! Dismantling registered as an erotic action...Mmmm...” She ran a hand down her side, over her thigh. A bit of an exaggeration, but Edward was enjoying it. He took a step forward, took a hold of her sides, running his fingers around the seam, he pressed into the release switches once he found them. One twist left, another right, a series of metallic clicks, and soon Tasha's buxom upper body was being lifted right off of her waist and into bed. She let out a laugh as it happened, then a soft moan.

“Oh! Master, you're going to do this while I'm dismantled?” She 'sat up' on her elbows, though at this point her upper body was only her upper torso and her arms. A few wires trailed out from underneath her, though neatly disconnected as they were intended to be in her design. Edward then practically threw her lower waist onto the surprisingly soft bed.

“Yep...” He smirked, as he took her head, casually tossing it over and watching it bounce slightly on the mattress. She giggled. “You'd better get used to it,” he said in a husky, seductive tone of his own. He unzipped his overalls, wearing just his underwear, and took no time in kissing her lips.

Hours later, Edward was spent.

He lay there on the sheets, naked. Tasha's equally naked body lay in pieces all around the bed. He took a look at the clock. Adjusted for Rho 4's daylight cycle, it told him it was almost morning. Slowly, he sat up, feeling nothing but satisfaction. He had got only the slightest bit of sleep, Tasha was ravenous in bed. Something he'd have to get worked on, he figured. That moan, tinny thanks to being piped directly through her audio projectors, made him groan, though not in the pleasurable way. He reached over to her armless, head and neckless upper torso and took hold of it.

“Oooh~! Master, I love it when you do this to me! Take me apart, put me back together, just do it again all you want! Nnnh! I could just go hours and hour--”

Edward sighed, pulling his finger from her power toggle button, then pushed it off the bed. He'd reassemble her in the morning, maybe tone down some of that libido of hers. Laying back down, he rest his head on his pillow and tried to get the most out of the three hours of sleep he'd be getting before he had to do his surveying work, checking claim guides and other indications of good mining, or other items of interest to the PSC.

He took one last look at the parts around him. Tasha's head lay upside down the floor, her eyes dark, a lusty expression frozen on her face.

A few tweaks to her programming, and she'd be credits well-spent.

Part Three

Somewhere in a city far from Rho Juliet 4, some weeks later.

"You know," Tasha mused one night, "I remember everything...Master."

The sudden statement made Edward's eyes widen as he looked to the buxom, red-headed former surveyor. Another night of wild lovemaking, another where Tasha had ended up in pieces. But it wasn't like the last few times. There was something different about her these past few days since his time in the desert of that far-away planet about a month and a half prior. The soft glow of signs and lighting advertising food and wares was distorted by drops of moisture on the windows. It was a dark and rainy night, but far from storming. Calm, quiet, the gentle prattle of rain on the windows. The city below wanted nothing to do with the rain, and so the din of it that at times could seem constant, that distant little bit of muffled by the brick and mortar structure of the building was all the more quiet tonight. It is what probably made that sudden statement all the more startling.

It was funny how she said that word—less like she really believed Edward was in charge, and ever more like a nickname; more like she enjoyed role-playing his servant. It had been like that for the past few days. It might have been alarming, even a little disturbing to Edward. But he had to admit, there was something he liked about it. The way that the sexy, coy personality was becoming more...real, that was the only way he could describe it. Still, his curiosity was piqued.

"What do you mean, everything?" Edward replied, snuggling up against her on the couch. Robot or not, her body was warm against his own, and he was feeling a little affectionate around her. "Everything we've done today?"

Tasha shook her head slowly, slightly. He looked at the way her body, covered only by the sheet covering both of their bodies from the waist down. The soft glow from the city's lights made her body look that much more heavenly. "Nah. Everything since...since, shit, since we met. Out in the desert. Before being dismantled was so… so much fun." Casually, she reached down pressed her fingers into her arm. It disconnected, revealing the metal connecting brackets and sockets. She pulled it away and placed it in her other hand, batting it gently, lazily around Edward's head. "Mmm,"

He chuckled at the affectionate action. That was the other reason he wasn't worried. Still, he was nevertheless startled that Tasha recalled so much from her reprogramming. “I didn't think you remembered that. You didn't seem to, you never told me before...” He scooted a bit closer, placing his elbow on the cushion underneath, propping up his head with his hand resting on his cheek. “You didn't even like me, then.”

Tasha's face brightened as she chuckled. "Nope. You were an awful little brat, Master. Heh." She eased into a soft smile. "And so was I."

"Whoa, whoa.” Edward leaned in a bit closer, reaching up to gently brush the forearm draped around the back of his neck. “Where are you getting all this?"

"From my remote system update yesterday. First time since I came here. And I'm still smart, right? So I naturally made the pragmatic choice to install a new filing operation that organizes my memories better. Ex-guide, you know. Organization is a must. …Mmm." She reacted to his absently stroking her disembodied arm.

"So what? You got organized, and then—"

"And then my memories sort of made sense again. And I like that.” The smile faded slightly from her face. “Even if I don't agree with who I was, Master, she was still me. And I'm sorry Feng had to change me. He didn't have my permission, the creep, so I'm still mad at him…” The smile returned to her lips. “Even if I'm not mad about how things came out."

Edward felt a sudden, inexplicable shot of guilt through his body. He let out a little “ugh”, then rolled back onto the couch, looking up at the ceiling above. "This is almost too much for…" He just trailed off. The thought of it was too much for his spent and somewhat tired mind.

“Hey, watch it,” she said playfully, rolling over onto her side and pulling her arm out from underneath his neck. "Yeah. I gotta' say, that's quite a mind you've got." She rolled her eyes and brought the disconnected arm down again, brushing his collarbone with the tips of her immobile fingers."Lots of things are too much, Master."

He rose an eyebrow, sitting up slightly to look into those lovely, glowing emerald eyes. “Hey, what's that supposed to mean?”

"Mmm." Tasha smirked, and then laid her head down on his shoulder, draping both arms over his chest, nuzzling him gently. "I'm kidding. But I'm still capable of being me."

"The old, insulting you?" Edward's comment was more serious than the statement suggested.

"No...Just the me who remembers and keeps the best part of that. A sense of humor. Taste and nerve. But I can step back now and see that my old life sort of sucked. I really was in debt as bad as Feng said. I had addictions. The guide business blew. I was taking all kinds of risks. And I basically died—I was pissed at you for taking me over, but when I think about what you took me from… well, that old life would have ended anyway. And it probably would have been with me rusting away in the sand somewhere, or on Feng's or some other asshole's spare parts shelf. So maybe starting a new one isn't so bad. Heh, 'Master'." That last statement's teasing tone made Edward's sense of concern grow.

"Hey, I still am your Master, you know...”

"And I really know. Ass." She giggled, flashing those playful bedroom eyes, made all the more seductive with that electric emerald glow. "But I've got it good here, and I know that too. Giving me a disassembly kink actually gave me new kinds of fun. You're creative about fucking owning me; who knew? My permissions say you're my actual master, but my logic says I don't mind. You don't just make me stand around, or bend me over and fuck me whenever you get bored. That's my function, sure, but even a self-aware AI gets tired of the same old routine. And, you know, you could have removed those higher functions. Make me some bobble-headed idiot drone. But...You didn't. Hell, remember how we had that long talk on the way back on that long-ass shuttle ride from Rho 4?”

A different kind of smile came to her face. The sexuality was mixed with a pleasant happiness. “So...I guess in a kind of messed up, roundabout saved my life.”

Edward lay back, taken aback by the seriousness in Tasha's pleasant voice. "I guess I'm good with that."A smile crept across his face.

"You'd better be, Master. 'Cause I think you don't have enough credits to send me back to Feng for another overhaul.” Her pleasant smile became a playful smirk as she chuckled again. “And sure, you can tweak me a little, or just turn me off if you're mad at me; but I happen to know you want me enough to bring me back, so I don't think I'm at any real risk here." She shrugged. “That and...I like it. Y'know, I never did what I did to escape being a robot. I just, y'know...Girl with my processing capability does get bored. And you...You've made me anything but boring.”

Slowly, she rose up. Her arm hit the floor as she pulled it away from both of their bodies, and Tasha began to slowly crawl over Edward's reclined form. As she did, other soft clicks were heard, the mechanisms holding her feet, then her legs together, as they were slowly pushed off the couch and hit the floor with a clatter. She brought her hand up to his chest, and slowly positioned herself so her thighs were straddling his hips. She felt him grow hard underneath her body, and he could feel her warmth, in spite of the artificiality of her body.

"Maybe...Maybe we're both--” Tasha was given a sudden, but not unwelcome interruption as Edward quickly brought his hands up to the sides of her head. Tasha disconnected her head from her neck, and Edward brought it down to press her lips against his. For the first time, passion was mixed with the lust he had been feeling.

“You're my robot...If I'm your Master.” Edward smiled, looking into those eyes, as Tasha smiled back.

“Yeah...Yeah, sounds good.” Tasha smiled back, and then kissed his lips as she was brought close.

Tasha had never thought of a human, willingly anyway, as anything other than a customer, or perhaps a pain in the ass. Really, in her vocabulary database, she could recall over two thousand words and phrases to associate with individual human beings. And especially after the given circumstances, 'master' had never been one she thought she'd willingly take on, and most certainly not 'lover', 'boyfriend' or other associated words. Maybe it was some change in a variable in her personality owed to the reprogramming. Or perhaps it was some deep-rooted desire deep within her core programming, planted there or developed in her self-writing software.

Whatever the reason, thinking about it made Tasha smile into the next kiss.

The End...I'm Pretty Sure This Time!

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