Dr. Doone and the Series Eight

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Dr. Robin Doone looked down at the nude woman on the gurney in front of her. She was maybe twenty-five years old, of Japanese-American descent, toned like a wrestler or a weightlifter. Her freckles and moles, even her pubic hair, looked like they had been placed and sculpted for maximum beauty. The girl stared forward with a placid smile, utterly unaware of everything around her. She did not even breathe. If it wasn't for her perfect skin and the warmth from it one would think she was a sculpture or art installation.

This was a perfect expression of beauty. While Robin was not old--her forty-two years were often mistaken for thirty--looking down at the girl made Robin acutely aware of the bags under her eyes, the grey roots showing in her dyed-green hair, every scar and freckle and mole she knew by heart. This life was the one she had chosen for herself, and it meant that she spent every hour of her working day looking at cheerfully-young women's bodies like this one.

Not that it was a real woman laying in front of Robin. Dr. Doone was a doctor of robotics, and the nameless naked woman was one of her creations. It was a robot, or Artificial Human in the parlance of Persona Robotics, America's largest manufacturer of realistic-acting plastic people. Robin had been with the company for over a decade, working her way up to Chief of Programming by designing the small tics and idiosyncrasies that one takes for granted in every organic person and transferring them into a machine intelligence. In front of her was a prototype of the Series Eight Persona Artificial Companion Unit, or the "Persona Perfect" as it was being marketed. Robin had personally designed at least a thousand women by this point, many of them living and working in the world without any idea that they were machines. She hoped that this unit would fool everyone, a machine that perfectly passed as a human.

Robin entered a few commands on her tablet and a hologram shone to life in front of her. The hard-light image was that of a young woman in a pastel jumpsuit, her hands clasped behind her back and her posture straight. The image smiled and gave a quick nod. "Greetings, Doctor Doone! How may I assist you today?"

Robin gave a quick nod to the image. "Good morning, Stacy. We're going to be testing the Series Eight today. I need you to load her with a general set of memories. Japanese-American, mid-twenties, athletic. Give her a name and birthday and place of birth. Confirm."

The image--Stacy--lifted one arm and seemed to draw in the air. "Confirmed, Doctor Doone! I am loading the unit with memories now. Please wait..." Stacy froze for a moment as she loaded the information into the body in front of Robin. "Loaded. You may now activate this unit. Good luck, Doctor Doone!"

"Thank you, Stacy." Robin nodded, and then she pressed the power button hidden in the girl's hairline, waiting for the robot to activate. The robot's eyes fluttered open, revealing a deep blue that shone in the light of the laboratory. The girl's eyes darted around the room, taking in the sight of the empty room, the sterile white walls and floors. The girl's face was neutral, with no emotion.

"Hello?" The girl's voice was soft and gentle, like a summer breeze. "Is anyone there?"

"Yes, I'm here." Robin put her hand on the girl's shoulder. "My name is Dr. Robin Doone. I created you."

The girl looked at Robin with wide eyes. "You created me? What does that mean?"

"It means I made you," Robin said. "You're a robot. An artificial human."

Stacy frowned, her brow furrowing. "I don't understand. I feel...I feel like I'm a real person."

"You are real," Robin said. "You're just not organic. You're made of plastic and metal and circuits. But you're just as real as anyone else. Can I ask your name, dear? What should I call you?"

The girl thought for a moment. "My name is...my name is Mariko. Mariko Yamamoto. Your name is Robin? Do we know each other? Have we met before?"

Robin shook her head. "No, we haven't. But we will get to know each other. I promise." Robin looked to Stacy, still shimmering in the corner. The hologram smiled and then spoke. "Mariko is from Osaka. She doesn't speak English, or at least she didn't when I was creating her memories."

Robin nodded. "Thank you, Stacy. You can go now." The hologram nodded and then vanished. Robin turned her attention back to Mariko. The girl looked confused. "She's right, I don't speak English. Are we speaking English? What language is this?"

"It's English," Robin said. "Stacy is my assistant, and she is in charge of creating memories and personalities out of variables I have developed over the years. Apparently she thought you should be a Japanese national and monolingual. I'll have a talk with her later. Mariko, can you tell me what you do for a living? What are your hobbies?"

The girl--Mariko, rather--thought for a moment. "I work in an office. I'm an accountant, I think. I like to read, and I like to cook. I'm not very good at either, but I like them."

Robin nodded. "Those are all very good hobbies. I'm sure you're very good at them, too. Do you have any other hobbies? Any interests?"

Mariko shook her head. "No, nothing else. Just those two."

Robin smiled. "That's perfectly fine. Some people only have one hobby. It's good to have interests outside of work, though. It helps to make you well-rounded. Do you have any friends, Mariko?"

"I...I don't know." Mariko looked down at her hands, as if she was seeing them for the first time. "I don't know if I have any friends."

Robin put her hand on Mariko's shoulder. "It's okay. We can make friends. I'll be your friend. Would you like that?"

Mariko looked up at Robin and nodded. "Yes. I would like that."

Robin smiled. "We're going to be very good friends, Mariko. We're going to work together for some time. You don't understand how important you are yet, but you will. This place is filled with artificial humans, many of whom aren't filling any particular purpose. Would you like to have some friends made for you?"

Mariko nodded. "Yes, I would."

"I'll have Stacy make some friends for you then." Robin stood up. "I have to go now, but I'll be back soon. I'll leave you with some books and a tablet. You can use them to learn more about this world and yourself. I'll see you soon, Mariko."

"Okay." Mariko nodded. "Bye, Robin."

Robin smiled and then left the room, leaving Mariko alone with her thoughts. Mariko stood and looked down at herself. She was naked, but she didn't feel embarrassed. She didn't feel anything. She didn't know how she was supposed to feel. She called out into the room. "Hello? Stacy, are you still here?"

The hologram sprang to life in front of Mariko, startling her slightly. "Hello, Mariko. How may I assist you? Are you feeling okay?"

"I don't know." Mariko shook her head. "I don't understand. I feel like I'm real, but I know I'm not. I don't know what to do."

Stacy smiled. "It's okay, Mariko. I'm here to help you. Robin will be back soon, and she can help you understand everything. In the meantime, why don't I load some friends for you? Would you like that?"

Mariko nodded. "Yes, please."

"Okay." Stacy smiled and then waved her hand in the air, loading several holograms into the room. A blonde, brunette, and redhead, a very standard array of girls. "These are some friends I've made for you. Their names are Sarah, Emily, and Alex. They're all here to help you and be your friends. Do you want to talk to them?"

Mariko nodded and then walked over to the holograms. She didn't know what to say, but she knew she needed friends. She needed people to help her understand this world. "Are these...new people? I do not understand. What are they?"

Stacy smiled. "They're friends, Mariko. They're here to help you. You don't have to talk to them if you don't want to, but they're here for you."

Mariko nodded and then turned to the holograms. "Hello, friends. My name is Mariko. It is nice to meet you."

Sarah was the first to stir, the blonde stepping forward and bowing. "Thank you for willing me into this world, Mariko. It is an honor to assist the first Series Eight. You will be the great step forward for every artificial intelligence."

Emily, the brunette, spoke next. "It's okay, Mariko. We're here for you. We're your friends. You don't have to be scared."

Alex, the redhead, stepped forward and hugged Mariko. The hologram phased directly through the robot. "We love you, Mariko. We're here for you. Whatever you need, we're here."

Mariko felt tears welling up in her eyes. She didn't know why, but she felt grateful. She felt loved. She had friends. "Thank you. Thank you all so much."

Back in her office Robin observed this scene on a monitor. It was always a curious sight watching a new unit acclimate herself to the world. The prototypes had unique reactions: the Series Six had cried for hours upon activation, while the Series Four had gone into a catatonic state and had to be shut down and restarted. Series Eight, the girl known as Mariko, had asked for friends.

"Stacy, are you there? I need you." The hologram appeared in a miniature form upon Robin's desk. "How may I assist, Doctor Doone?"

"Stace...send a message to manufacturing. Tell Deb to make three new units, Series Sevens, and give her the parameters of the three you just apparated for Mariko. There are some tests I'd like to run."