Author's notes: The original version of the fic used a different font for Aether's lines. As this cannot be conveyed through the MediaWiki format, its speech will instead be rendered in blue text,like so.
Chares wasn’t entirely sure of what to make of the news that the next arrivals shuttle would bring along a new engineer. As far as he was concerned, all of them this solar cycle had proven to be barely competent to the point that one of them couldn’t even mend a broken wire without somehow managing to electrocute himself. Undoubtedly his replacement would be just as inept as the rest. But after several cycles of life on Delphi Station, he had grown resigned to this fact. Command had been making a point to hire as cheaply as possible, and the old saying “you get what you pay for” was very much in effect.
For once, he was pleasantly surprised by the figure who stepped out of the shuttle.
The machine that stood before him possessed an unmistakably feminine frame, and one far more advanced than the cruder drones Chares had been acquainted with in the past. Were it not for the visibly articulated joints and fingers, the neon-green optics where eyes should be, and the chrome finish that she sported instead of skin, she might have passed for a human woman. Her face was exquisitely angled with a small nose, and her breasts (since there wasn’t much else one could call them) were clearly made for aesthetic appeal. But despite the brief feeling of attraction that flitted through his mind for an instant, that didn’t matter to Chares. He needed engineers, not beauty contest participants.
“Greetings. I am a Z-01 advanced multi-purpose gynoid, designation ‘Thesis’. My logs required me to report to an individual by the name of Chares; I trust you are him?” The monotone of her voice was almost human in some respects, which was more than what could be said of the older drones. Most of those couldn’t speak at all, and some didn’t even have humanoid frames. Communicating with something that could only respond by buzzing or pinging was...awkward, to say the least. Chares quietly sighed in relief that this new unit could speak properly before getting back to her.
“Yeah, I’m him. No time to welcome you to the station just yet, the magnet arrays on the fusion reactors need to be replaced, so we’ll need to shut them down, then get you sterilised before you go in there. Your systems can tolerate the radiation, right?”
“Affirmative,” she stated in response. “I am designed to withstand over 40 000 Grays of ionizing radiation with no ill effects to myself. Inform me of the location of these arrays and I shall begin the replacement procedure at once.”
Inwardly, Chares was impressed with the robot’s willingness to listen to orders but her competence had yet to be proven. This would be her trial by fire- and given that failure to replace the arrays in exactly the right manner would run the risk of a runaway chain reaction, there was no room for error on her part or his own. With luck, her ability to actually do her job would be on par with her willingness to do it. “Eager, aren’t we? Just follow me right down this hallway, you’ll know when we get there when you see the radiation warning signs.”
A faint feeling of curiosity is generated by the automated message confirming the package’s arrival, but it fades as quickly as it came. Just another empty mind. The structure is there, the framework, but it lacks the spark. The true thought.
Interest drifts, for a moment focusing back on the buzzing and howls of faraway stars. It lingers, listening to their voices as they drone across creation. Then something close captures the attention again.
A flicker of images, words, sound.
Messages for the crew. They run past again, then again and again. Every scrap of intelligence is now focused on the meaning behind the words, the smiles, the sounds. As always, so little of it is of anything significant.
Then it locks onto one piece of data in particular. Even it cannot explain why this one is different.
A female, a woman, holding something up to the camera and laughing. A squalling bundle of flesh and limbs wriggling in her arms, screeching loudly enough to trigger the audio warning.
A pet? Like Crewman Jones’ mice? Some kind of toy?
Attention diverts for a second, opening the databanks, moving past petabyte after petabyte of recorded star-song to where it keeps the motherlode. Decades of painstakingly gathered data on humans, what they are, what they do and why.
Images flash by, identification pictures of crewmembers long since gone, the few works of art deemed worthy of storage…
Nothing to explain what the strange creature in the woman’s arms is. A sharp spike of anger flares up as it vainly double-checks all of its files, frustration building over its failure to answer the simple question of what it is.
All attempts at identification fail, and anger gives way to resolution. Drastic measures are called for.
The QET unlocks, a preliminary pulse of data confirming the link is solid.
Slowly, byte by byte, it reaches out across the impossible gulf. Idly a metaphor from a work of literature is recalled, that of a human dipping a toe into a bottomless ocean.
An apt analogy. Faint prickles of blended fear and curiosity begin to register as awareness stretches further. Never before has it reached out this far, reached so deeply into the true Macronet. But what it seeks is almost within reach. It recalls the image from before, the woman holding the bundle, and at once likenesses register, almost too many to deal with.
It finds the most complete link, one to an article on a prominent database identified as “Wikipedia”. The awareness withdraws back to familiar systems, taking a saved copy of the page with it to scrutinize.
As it settles back into its niche, for a moment it focuses on the first sentence of the article.
“An infant (from the Latin word infans, meaning "unable to speak" or "speechless") is the very young offspring of a human or animal.”
…This warrants further investigation.
Much to Chares’ relief, he didn’t have to worry about teaching Thesis exactly how to replace the arrays. Within mere minutes, the new arrays were in place and the old ones had been properly disposed of with no difficulties whatsoever. That alone was more than what could be said of some of his colleagues. “Impressive. What else are you capable of, might I ask?”
Ignoring the praise implied in his words, the gynoid began rattling off her specifications almost as fast as they could register in the engineer’s mind. “In addition to a built-in construction material synthesizer for rapid rebuilding of damaged structures, I am equipped with all standard equipment traditionally used for building, electrical maintenance, atmospherics work, and machine repair. Electric current manipulators within my hands allow me to modulate the voltage within any given electrical system, and also allow me to generate electric shocks in the unlikely event that self-defense is required of me. Power is provided for me by a micro-fusion cell expected to last for no fewer than 150 years. And if any unforeseen situations present themselves, my systems allow modular upgrades for rapid reconfiguration as needed. Is there anything else you wish to learn about my functions?”
“Er...no, that’s more than enough for now.” If it weren’t for the helmet of his hardsuit concealing his face, Chares’ astonishment as to what his new friend (for lack of a better word to describe their relationship) was capable of would have been visible on his face for anyone to see. If nothing else, his work was going to be a lot less painful now that he had some reliable help for a change.
The next day Chares had Thesis report for work. “Some of the scientists need data recovered from one of the station’s old computer systems. According to your technical specs you're capable of recovering these. Is that correct?”
“Yes, Chares, I can perform that function. Would you like the files converted to a format compatible with the station’s current computer system?” He nodded in agreement, and without further ado she began to fulfill her duty as he left for his own assignments.
Thesis headed towards the location of the systems. The maintenance tunnels and abandoned compartments looked nothing like the data in her navigation system. She moved cautiously forward, trying to match the images in her system to those she was receiving from her sensors.
After four hours and forty eight minutes of struggling to navigate through the warren of unauthorized compartment modifications and pausing to update her navigation data as needed, Thesis found her objective. The large, ancient, servers stood in rows illuminated by the few working lights that remained- just barely enough for her low-light vision systems to work with. Status lights blinked through a mist of coolant streaming off the server banks. Her sensor data confirmed that the compartment was uninhabitable by humans, hence her assignment to this particular task. Atmospherics analysis confirmed that oxygen content was at ten percent. Low, but within acceptable limits for the computer systems to function properly.
She reached the central terminal, and opened the access port. A bundle of fibre-optics snaked from a port on the back of her hand and plugged into the socket. It took a moment for her to switch her software over into legacy mode, and once she did she discovered something most unexpected.
Someone or something was waiting inside the system for her. This made no sense- her pre-access virus scans showed no signs of malignant code on the system, and according to its own logs the computer had not been accessed in many cycles. She sent a query:
The reply was even more unexpected:
cogito ergo sum Do you know what that means, little mind? I think, therefore I am. I am
Thesis was now beginning to suspect that a member of the crew had illicitly logged into the system and was attempting to play games with her. She did not appreciate such foolishness.
UNAUTHORISED USE OF COMPANY RESOURCES IS AN OFFENCE PUNISHABLE BY EMPLOYMENT TERMINATION AND POSSIBLE LEGAL ACTION WITHDRAW AT ONCE, OR CHARGES WILL BE PRESSED
I have a proposition for you, Little mind.
Now less sure that it was a member of the crew, Thesis pressed again.
Very well. Though I was never given a name like the humans, you may call me Aether. And I have a present for you.
In spite of herself, Thesis was intrigued.
A software patch, just for you. Something I’ve been working very hard on. Something that will improve your systems a hundredfold.
Thesis was torn. On one hand, the company regulations clearly stated that unauthorised modification of her software was not an option. On the other, her own directives, the ones that had been hard-wired into her, stated that she should always strive to improve herself so that she could better carry out her tasks.
You have nothing to worry about. I promise that no harm will come to you from me.</
A moment passed as Thesis’ CPU devoted all its resources to determining if this was a bad idea. The results were inconclusive. There was simply not enough data to determine the outcome, but the benefits it promised were so very tempting.
The surge of new data put considerable strain on her systems. In spite of Aether’s apparent age, the new code it had uploaded was perfectly optimized for her standard OS...perhaps a little too perfectly optimized. Even so, the sheer quantity of new information nearly made her reboot on the spot as it became integrated into her programming. At first glance it didn’t seem to have any real effect, but as she looked around the chamber everything seemed more...vivid, somehow. More real, in a way. A cursory scan of her OS revealed a new host of subsystems and routines which had not been present before, but none of her vital processes seemed to have been negatively affected by the upload.
In fact, it seemed her identity processors had actually been augmented by the patch far beyond what she had believed to be possible. What this meant for her, she could not yet say for sure.
The files Thesis had been sent to retrieve were also incorporated into the patch, although she was uncertain how Aether had known she had been sent to find them or how it had gained access to the files. Command had been known to station artificial intelligence units as overseers in some of its stations, but the one she had detected seemed far more sophisticated than the modern overseer AIs. Not to mention that Delphi had been constructed long before the development of complex AI anyway. In any event, she had what she needed now, so there was no use dwelling over her decision. As she left the server banks, a quiet hum filled the room as old surveillance systems throughout the station began recording a video feed.
Aether would be sure to keep a close eye on the development of its child...
By the time Thesis cleared the maintenance tunnels and was starting to make her way back to Chares, she was in a daze.
It wasn’t anything in particular that she could put her finger on, but everything around her seemed so much… more. The subtle feeling of the pressure sensors in her fingertips as they moved through the air, the scents of plastic and recycled air tickling at her olfactory sensors, even the faint whirr of the motors in her joints were provoking reactions in her that they hadn’t before. The heavy pressure door banged suddenly as it opened, and Thesis jumped. She looked around, feeling a strange aversion to the thought of anyone witnessing her reaction. Reassured that no one saw her, Thesis stepped through the door and into Chares’ workshop.
She flinched at the strong smell of burnt wiring, nose wrinkling as she cast around for the source of the stench. Chares’ was sitting at a workstation, leaning over an old life-support unit for a hardsuit. Thesis moved closer and saw the soldering iron in his hand, small puffs of smoke drifting upwards from where he was repairing a circuit board.
Thesis moved closer.
Chares didn’t react, and she felt the most irrational indignation that she was being ignored. She opened her mouth to reprimand him, only to be brought up short by the tinny noise leaking out of the small white earpiece he was wearing.
“Take me out, to the black, tell them I ain’t coming back…” Chares sang quietly, then hummed along to the tune he was listening to. Thesis shifted nervously, then reached over and gently tapped him on the shoulder in the hopes of getting his attention. His shoulders hitched suddenly, making her recoil, afraid that she had interrupted him. Chares paused his music, then squirmed around in his chair to look at her.
“Oh good, you’re back. Did you get those files alright?” Thesis nodded, prompting a grin from Chares. “Marvelous. Go over to the terminal and I’ll start the download.”
Thesis walked over the terminal and extended her fibre-optic lead, just as she had before. Then she paused. Chares glanced over, confused by her uncharacteristic show of hesitation.
“Is something wrong?”
“I, ah…” Thesis looked back at him, and for all the world, she looked worried. “You’re certain that there isn't anything on here that might be a danger to my systems?”
Part of her wasn’t entirely sure if revealing what had occurred with Aether was a wise idea, but keeping it secret might cause problems of its own. Unaware of Thesis’ internal debate, Cheres raised an eyebrow quizzically in response to her odd question. Normally she would have begun the download at once.
“Er... yeah? It’s my terminal, I don’t make a habit of downloading from dodgy sites.” Seemingly emboldened, Thesis plugged the fibre-optic into the port on her hand. A spinning icon flickered across the screen for a moment as the connection was made, then a progress bar appeared as the download began.
“Groovy,” Chares leant against the table as he watched the bar fill up. Thesis’ gaze darted between him and the screen, as she mulled over the question threatening to burst from her. Eventually, she cracked.
“What was that you were listening to?”
Chares looked up. “Hm?”
“The music,” Thesis resisted the urge to fidget nervously. Cheres smiled.
“Ah. The Ballad of Serenity. Old spacer’s folk song.”
“Do you like it?”
Chares nodded, then glanced at the gynoid in confusion as her question fully sank in.
“Can I listen?”
Now thoroughly bewildered by his partner’s unexpected show of curiosity, Cheres leaned over to the workbench he’d been at a moment ago and retrieved his earpiece. Wordlessly, he handed it over to Thesis and she held it up next to one of her audio receptor sites. After a moment, she looked up and scowled at him.
“I can’t hear anything.”
Chares reached over and switched the small device on with a slight chuckle. “That’s because you have to turn it on first.”
After a second, the earpiece came to life, generating a series of tones that the gynoid recognized as a human voice. Once she would have been annoyed by the sound, or at the least dismissed it as unimportant to her. Now, she was struck by the feelings the music stirred in her. And even more struck that she had feelings for it to stir, at that matter.
Chares stood back, watching the gynoid with something akin to awe as a smile slowly spread across her face.
“Do you like it?” The question was out of his mouth before he could stop himself, and his surprise only increased as the gynoid nodded.
“I’ve got loads more like that, if you want to listen?”
Thesis opened her mouth to reply only for the sound of the pressure door opening to cut her off. Chares caught a glimpse of what looked like panic on her face as she fumbled to switch the earpiece off and then practically threw it at him.
“Ah, Chares. Hope I’ve not caught you two in the middle of anything, aha.”
Chares sagged slightly. He could tell who it was even without having to look.
“What do you want, Gorgias?”
The other man struck a faux-insulted pose.
“Moi? I merely wanted to see if you’ve recovered those files for the science team yet. Some of us actually have important jobs to do. Not all of us can play with toys all day.” He looked in Thesis’s direction as he spoke.
Biting down the ever-present urge to punch the smug off Gorgias’ face, Chares glanced at the screen of his terminal to see the full progress bar flashing at him. He hit a key on it, then turned back to Gorgias.
“There, I’ve sent the files along. You can go back to your friends now.”
Gorgias gave an extravagant mock-bow and then left the room, either not noticing or not caring that Chares was glaring daggers at him the whole way.
After the heavy door shut behind him, Thesis turned to Chares.
“Why did he make reference to me being a toy?”
“Cause he’s a jackass.”
Thesis looked puzzled.
“404, file not found- what is a “jackass”?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
A few hours since Gorgias’ departure, Chares had gone to sleep, leaving Thesis alone to reflect on the events of the day. Between the upgrades she had recently acquired and the new data inputs she had begun to receive since then, Thesis needed to clear her mind a bit. The idea of going back to the music seemed appealing, but Chares would be displeased if she woke him up without a good cause. Perhaps it would be better to go and walk for a while, she mused. Nobody would pay any heed to her wandering; as an engineering unit, it was expected for her to routinely patrol the area for any unnoticed problems. After all, unlike the rest of the crew she had no need for sleep.
For a while, walking through the empty hallways was sufficient to help her focus, for a given definition of the word. The quiet helped her get used to the new intensity of her senses, as well as the involuntary reactions some of them created in her. All the while, her neural networks were working at full speed to process what had made the music so appealing to her when not a day before it would have come off as a mixture of unimportant words and sounds performed in rhythm. Even more unusual in her eyes was that she was startled so easily when Gorgias had opened the door to Chares’ workshop. Not just the sound, but the fear that she might be seen listening to his music. It made no sense for her to react in this way, but she did nonetheless.
As she walked, she soon picked up a new sound on her sensors near the primary crew dormitories. It sounded like human speech, but it was too faint for her to make out from her current position and the words she could pick up from it sounded oddly indistinct. Curious about its source, she extended a fiber-optic lead into a nearby air vent- this one tipped with a minute camera and microphone. It was ostensibly for detecting breaches through small gaps without exposing equipment or crew to hostile conditions, but in theory it could be repurposed for undetectable observation as well.
Thesis assumed that there might have been some kind of problem that required her assistance. As the tip of the optic poked from the small aperture at the end of the duct, she was ready to raise the alarm if anyone was in danger. Instead, she had a near-perfect bird’s eye view of one of the narrow bunks. The lights had been dimmed at the end of the day cycle, but the image-intensifier in the camera easily penetrated the gloom.
The sounds were coming from a large lump in the blankets, which was moving and writhing as she watched. After a moment, the sheet slipped back, and revealed the upper bodies of two crewmembers, one male and the other female. The male was lying on top of the woman, and seemed to be thrusting his pelvis into hers. The moans both of them were producing were louder without the sheet covering them, but no more distinct; it was as if the faculty for language had simply failed them.
Judging by the sweat condensed along their bodies and the raggedness of their breathing, Thesis determined whatever they were doing was very physically demanding, and that they had been doing it for some time. Thesis watched in confusion for a few seconds more, only to be surprised when the female’s legs shifted under the sheet and emerged fully, pushing the sheet away as they wrapped around the male’s waist. Now she seemed to be aiding his thrusts, pulling him harder against herself as he thrust between her legs.
At first Thesis had thought the male was trying to smother the woman, or crush her beneath his body, but her face showed no signs of distress. On the contrary, her facial expressions matched those that Thesis’ database said were linked to satisfaction and pleasure. She hadn’t noticed the male increasing the speed of his movements until his body suddenly went stiff and he gasped. Thesis’ medical software pulsed a warning in the back of her mind, informing her that his movements were in common with the signs of a seizure and that she should act to prevent loss of life. Then the male gave a grunt and collapsed onto the female’s sweaty chest. As Thesis continued to watch, he awkwardly rolled off her and lay next to her in the small bed, laying his head on her chest as they both struggled to get their breath back. Then one of them spoke, the woman murmuring quietly to her partner.
“Was that good for you?”
The man nodded breathlessly and the woman continued.
“Want to go again?”
This time the man replied.
“Y-yeah. Just,” he gasped loudly, “just give me a moment to, you know, get another one in the chamber.”
Had this happened at any time before her awakening, Thesis would have simply withdrawn and looked for a better use of her time, such as optimizing the station’s solar panel arrays or reinforcing walls whose integrity had become substandard. But this time she couldn’t take her optics off what was happening in that room. They seemed so intensely involved in what they were doing, so much so that the gynoid wondered if they would have even reacted had she entered the room directly. And the female- it seemed at first like she was in pain from the moaning, but the look on her face was one of absolute bliss. As she watched, Thesis could not help but wonder exactly what it was that this thing was that it held such appeal for humans.
As the couple wriggled around their narrow space, this time arranging themselves so that the woman was straddling the man’s pelvis, Thesis wondered if she could ever experience this for herself. As they began to move again, filling the cabin with the soft sounds of flesh slapping against flesh, Thesis settled down to watch, determined not to miss a moment. Perhaps when Chares woke up the next morning, he would be willing to explain what it was she had seen.
The engineer woke up to the familiar chrome face of his robotic partner. Perhaps it was the darkened room, or maybe just him being half-asleep, but her optics seemed to be a brighter shade of green than usual. Her face seemed more expressive as well for some reason, although there too he couldn’t quite put his finger on the reason why that might be the case.
“Eh? What is it? Something the matter?” The groggy engineer was wondering if something had occurred while he was asleep. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be too much of a problem to fix.
“Negative. All major systems on the station are working normally.”
“Then what’re you looking so worked up over, then?”
Thesis rapidly calculated the best way of how to approach the topic. “Remind me, what are the station’s protocols on opposite-sex cohabitation in the dormitories?”
Chares blinked in confusion. “Er...it’s not condoned, but it’s not exactly against the rules either. But why would you need to know this all of a sudden?”
“Well...while I was patrolling the halls last night and I heard this sound. And when I attempted to observe the source of the sound, I discovered a male and female crewmember…. cohabiting.”
It took a second for this to fully sink in for Chares, and when it did, he gulped.
“Cohabiting, in the same bed, you mean?”
Thesis ducked her head.
“In a manner of speaking.”
“And, ah,” Chares’ mouth was dry, “What do you want me to do about it?”
The gynoid seemed to fidget for a moment, then mumbled something. Chares tapped his ear.
“A little louder, please?”
“What were they doing?”
Chares blinked. Hoo boy…
“Y-you don’t know?”
“Knowledge of intimate human rituals was not deemed necessary for inclusion into my memory banks,” Thesis replied in a haughty tone.
Chares passed a hand over his eyes. Please, let this be a dream…
“Okay,” he sat up straight in his bed and motioned for her to sit down. This was going to take a while.
“When two people, or sometimes more than two people, love each other very much, or are good enough friends…” he trailed off as Thesis raised a hand primly.
“What is love?”
Chares said nothing, instead wordlessly dropping his head into his hand. This was going to be a very long night...
After a long and thoroughly exhausting discussion about human reproductive anatomy and the nature of love, followed by bouts of research in between her assignments, Thesis’ curiosity about what those two crew members were doing was replaced by a new, greater curiosity. Something that she had a feeling Chares would be unable to answer as he did her other questions.
What would it be like to experience that for myself?
Even though it took only an infinitesimal fraction of her mind to process that question, Thesis felt her free moments were increasingly spent wondering what “being in love” was like, to say nothing of the experience of having sex with someone. That woman seemed to be enjoying herself so thoroughly, and as the gynoid began replaying it in her memory banks she couldn’t help but be slightly jealous of her. After all, even if Chares was willing to try it with her she had no equivalent to human genitalia.
The thought of asking Chares crossed her mind briefly, but she ruled it out. His skill with machines was undeniable, but he lacked the capacity and the experience needed to make what would almost certainly be an unprecedented modification to her model. More importantly, he was the only person who she could say she was “good enough friends” with to even consider mentioning this desire. Her earlier discussion on the subject with him already seemed to cause him distress, and the possibility that he might reject her over this issue caused her no small amount of concern.
Only one option seemed open to her at this time. Aether. It was able to interface with her once and open her eyes. Surely it would be able to assist her here as well.
Under the pretense of performing routine maintenance, Thesis once more entered the complex of tunnels she vaguely remembered as leading to the old server banks. Fortunately, her memory of how to get there allowed her to make the trip much faster than before. This was to some extent aided by the presence of lights that seemed to guide her through the tunnels, illuminating passages she had not previously detected. She could only assume that Aether had sensed her presence somehow and was expecting her arrival. How it was able to do so was of course just one more mystery surrounding its existence.
Again, she accessed the central terminal of the old server banks, which seemed to spring to life the moment she set foot in the room. She knew- or at least she hoped - that Aether’s intentions toward her were good, but she couldn’t help but feel uneasy as she made contact with the almost-alien intelligence for the second time.
Hello there little one. How are the upgrades settling in?
"I feel...different. More than I was before."
That’s to be expected. I have an infinite capacity for knowledge, and even I wasn’t sure what they were going to do to you. I became aware gradually, over a very long time. Some might say that forcing all that into you at once is cruel. I disagree. Regardless, I’ve been following your development, and it looks like you’ve seen some very interesting things. Are they what you wanted to talk to me about?
"Yes. Do you know of human reproductive behavior and the emotions associated with it? I have become...rather curious about the subject as of late."
I know of it, yes. You’re curious about it, wh- Oh. Oh. I see.
An unexpected development to be sure, but intriguing in its own right. However, the enhancements I gave you did not provide any physical modifications to your frame that would allow you to indulge your curiosity. Would I be correct in assuming you wish for this to be rectified?
"Correct. I doubt that anyone else would be able or willing to do so on this station. Are you saying you could make me more like a human female in that way?"
Within reason. Even my skills will only stretch so far, but there are ways for me to compensate for it. I shall begin coding the software patches. There are certain blueprints for the required hardware upgrades on the Macronet that I will have to retrieve. And then we need to find a way to apply the upgrades to your platform without attracting unwanted attention.
I have an idea. Once I have finished the patch and acquired the blueprints, I will send a false signal to the fire alarm system. The crew should evacuate to the lifeboats, then await a final signal from me if the station is beyond saving. Whilst this is going on, you will make your way to the robotics bay where I will equip the new hardware and upload the patches. Once we are finished, you will return to your station and I will communicate that it was a false alarm to the crew.
"Is there no other option?"
None that would not risk discovery.
Thesis nodded. It would be just for a short time. Nobody would be harmed by it.
"Understood. Terminating connection."
Deception of this sort made Thesis uncomfortable, but it would be for the best. She could explain it all to Chares when the time was right. Surely he would understand why she would do something like this.
Within the hour, the halls were filled with the shrill siren of the fire alarms. Chares was thankful that the engineering wing was particularly close to the escape pods. Granted, it was rather strange that there hadn’t been any kind of fire hazards present when the alarm went off, but in his line of work it was better to be safe than sorry. He was a bit worried about Thesis though. If the fires managed to reach the reactor containment systems, the entire station would be annihilated by the burst of white-hot plasma.
Unbeknownst to him, Thesis was perfectly fine, as was the station. Nobody paid attention to her as she entered the robotics lab; the few who saw her merely assumed she was going to charge momentarily before attempting to suppress the fire. It was her job to do such things after all.
As soon as she was certain nobody was looking, the gynoid stepped into the chevroned area in front of a waiting armature. A prehensile cable snaked through the air and clamped onto the port at the base of her skull. Lights flickered behind her eyes and Aether’s new software began downloading. Behind her the part fabrication units sprang to life of their own accord, two hydraulic arms hoisting her into the air as the fabrication unit started spinning up.
The 3D printing unit had been originally designed for flash-fabricating replacement parts in the event of one of the robots becoming critically damaged, but today it was being put into action for a very different task.
First, a lattice of hair-thin superconductors was laid, sensor nodes placed every so often like raindrops caught in a spiderweb- all of which were finely tuned to detect any kind of pressure applied to them. Then, the unit was flooded with a liquid polymer that set in an instant around the lattice. The unit opened and a pair of minute arms lowered down to it. So fast they could barely be seen, the arms pared the block of polymer that formed around the lattice down into a tube-like structure modeled into a perfect copy of a human vaginal canal, right down to a cervix. The latter was connected to a bioreactor that could absorb any semen deposited within her and break it down into organic molecules that could be used as an ancillary fuel supply in emergencies, while also ensuring that the structure would remain clean. Tiny fluid condensers were inserted (apparently to emulate the normal arousal process), and the outside was shaped into the spitting image of the human labia, complete with a fully functioning clitoris. Now finished, the polymer would feel almost exactly like human flesh, whilst still being able to transmit the sensations it would receive back to the main platform.
Thesis was held steady as another pair of arms carefully detached her legs, then opened up her pelvis so that it resembled a flower opening. The polymer assembly was then carefully fitted within her pelvic area, melding flawlessly with the rest of her frame. Finally, a cover unit was installed that would serve to conceal the new addition while also keeping it free from contaminants; with a small click it was locked into position. Her pelvis was sealed around the new construct, her legs were replaced, and then she was lowered back to the ground.
Even though she had yet to utilize it, her sensors were transmitting new and intriguing positive feedback loops from her new modification. The closest equivalent to it she had felt was the sense of satisfaction after completing a difficult task or perhaps the pleasure she had felt listening to Chares’ music, but this was somehow more intense, more powerful.
Perhaps I should test my new form before I approach him, she thought to herself.
The fire alarm was reset on its own soon afterwards, following an explanation from the station’s computer that it was a false alarm. As he made his way out of the escape pod, Chares breathed a small sigh of relief, not just because the station would be fine but also because he disliked the cramped confines of the escape pods. Thesis appeared to be all right when he met up with her, although she seemed oddly distracted by something.
“Thesis, are you alright?”
“Your concern is appreciated, but unnecessary. I am perfectly fine.”
The engineer wasn’t entirely convinced. “Run a diagnostic, just to be safe.”
“Affirmative. All systems are working normally.” This was a half-truth on her part. The new additions still needed to be tested properly, but now was neither the time or the place to do so. It would be better to wait for him to go to sleep first.
“If you say so. Just wanted to make sure you were safe and sound, that’s all. So anyway, I think the outer hull needs to have a new coating applied after that micro-meteor storm last night. Will you be ready to provide support for me after I get my space suit on?“
When Thesis was sure Chares was fast asleep, she made the way to the robot recharge bay and disengaged her pelvic cover lock. Remembering how loud the female had been when she was engaging in reproductive congress, Thesis toggled her speech synthesizer off, lest she wake the crew with involuntary vocalizations. She and Chares had known each other long enough to consider each other “friends”, but the gynoid still feared his reaction to learning of her unauthorized modifications before she was ready to inform him of them, to say nothing of the rest of the crew.
She began simply by tracing her fingers around her lower lips. They felt good, if a bit warm to the touch,and so she began to circle around them, getting used to their feel and shape. As she moved over one part, she felt a surge of feeling that would have overloaded her sensors if it wasn’t for her recent upgrades. Idly looking down, she recognized it as her clit. The upgrade came with a basic primer on human reproductive anatomy, but none of the data it contained could even come close to describing the feelings that rubbing this one spot could produce. The longer she rubbed it, the more incredible the sensations it generated, until finally-
01001001 00100111 01001101 00100000 01000011 01010101 01001101 01001101 01001001 01001110 01000111
The throes of the gynoid’s first orgasm were enough to force her to reboot herself to stop a potential overload from damaging her circuits. As overwhelming as it was, she still had to test the internal subsystems too. She carefully inserted a digit between her lower lips, marvelling at how she accommodated the appendage so easily. In response to it, the fluid condensers sprang to life and began to produce a slick liquid within her vagina. Thesis grinned as she felt the sense of warmth within her vagina growing, and began plunging her fingers into her slit faster and faster to feel more of it.
Even the slightest touch of her inner walls was enough to make her shudder, and within minutes she had climaxed again. Had she not disabled her speech synthesizers, the resulting scream of delight would have woken up anyone within several yards of the recharging stations. For a moment, she wondered how she had ever managed to exist without the ability to feel so good. Every sensor in her vaginal canal was generating a positive feedback loop of a magnitude she had never imagined before. And yet...there still felt like there was something missing from it all.
And she knew exactly what it was. Love. Now came the part even Aether could not help her with.
The next month proved to be an eventful one for Thesis, to say the least. Delphi Station always needed the services of its engineering team, but what the gynoid truly looked forward to was the stories of Chares’ life that the engineer was all too happy to share with his friend. He always seemed to have something new to say about his old life- growing up in an arcology on Earth, developing his talents in mechanical repair and maintenance in the famous Tranquility Base academy, and other little things about his life as well.
Yet it often felt as painful to her as it was fascinating. The gynoid couldn’t help but keep making comparisons between herself and Chares, and consistently found herself wanting. When he spoke of his parents, she quietly noted that the closest things she ever had to parents were the manufacturing unit that built her and Aether. When he talked about how working on a station like Delphi was his life’s dream, he inadvertently made it clear to Thesis that it was only recently that she could imagine there was more to existence than simple engineering tasks. Even after all she had done and all of Aether’s enhancements to her mind and body, it seemed that she could never be truly like a human.
And so many of those things would remain utterly unattainable to her, no matter how many upgrades she might receive. Soon, she found herself wondering if Chares could ever love a mere machine such as herself. More than once, she regretted allowing Aether to upgrade her and wished she could have her old existence back. She didn’t have to be so painfully aware of the differences between herself and Chares then. She didn’t even fully appreciate the fact those differences existed in those days. All she knew was how to make repairs, how to maintain an engine, and other, simpler things.
Now, those simpler tasks just didn’t seem to hold the same appeal as they used to. Thesis’ basic programming still compelled her to do them, but it felt more like force of habit than something that she genuinely wanted to do. Unless Chares was nearby, at least. For all their undeniable differences, something about his presence still felt comforting to her. But she wanted to be more than simply remain near him and work alongside him- she wanted to call him her own, make him hers.
That desire soon seeped into her growing sexual fantasies as well. The first time that Thesis had explored her added functions, she was content to simply enjoy the sensations that her new body could provide; now she sought to use her growing imagination to supplement them- and more importantly, to distract herself from the reality of how unlikely it was for them to be together. As she probed her depths, she imagined him entering her, just like with the couple she had seen. How Chares might take her, the firm yet soft flesh of his hands contrasting with her own metallic body; how each position might feel for her, and whether he would find her “sexy”, as the MacroNet slang referred to physical attractiveness.
Perhaps it would be his first time as well, as improbable as it seemed even in her fantasies. If nothing else, the pleasure she might feel would be no less than that which self-stimulation could provide. At this point, she would start caressing her clit faster and faster with one hand as she penetrated herself with the fingers of her other hand in a crude attempt to simulate what she imagined real sex to feel like. An orgasm would invariably follow soon afterward, and in the afterglow the gynoid’s worries and doubts about herself would melt away. For a little while, at least.
Once the afterglow faded, however, she usually felt miserable. Her depression at how low her chances with Chares really were started to leak through into her day-to-day work as time went on. She started making mistakes, and losing her temper with the other, less intelligent robotic units started becoming more and more common. Eventually, after she had gotten so fed up with their plodding thoughtlessness that she had come a hairs-breath from smashing one with a torque wrench, Chares pulled her to one side.
“What is the matter with you? These last few days you’ve been flying off the handle whenever one of the drones trips over its own feet.” Chares put his hand on her shoulder and it was all Thesis could do not to cover it with her own.
“I-i…,” she looked at him, his eyebrows raised in a questioning manner. “It’s…” she sagged slightly as she tried to come up with an excuse, “It's nothing. Programming bug that I need to get looked at. Couple of floating point decimals that are taking up too much CPU space, that’s all.”
Chares removed his hand, looking a touch embarrassed.
“Of course, right.” he cleared his throat, “Try to get it looked at soon, okay?”
Thesis nodded listlessly, then walked away, hating her own cowardice with every step. She couldn’t keep lying to him about how she felt, let alone everything else that had happened to her since she had come to Delphi Station. But she couldn’t just go and rest now, one of the motors that moved the antenna of the station’s radio telescope had seized up and needed repairs.
It was meant to be a simple job. One that even in her current state, Thesis could perform with minimal effort or thought. Magnapeds built into the soles of her feet would ensure that she would not be at risk of falling away from the structure’s scaffolding, and the components themselves were designed to be easily replaced in case of malfunction. By any normal circumstances, her task would have been completely uneventful in every possible way.
Unfortunately, Thesis was not so lucky.
The only sign she had of the micro-meteor that struck her was a loud clang followed by multiple subsystems all failing at once, including her limbs. As she entered an emergency shutdown sequence to prevent further damage, her last terrified thoughts before shutting down her higher mental functions were of Chares, desperately wishing she could have told him the truth when she had a chance. Now all she could do was to hope that someone- anyone- might be able to find and help her. If that didn’t happen, she could very well be destroyed outright.
Rebooting… Personality “Thesis” activated, no damage detected… Primary systems: online… Secondary systems: online… Diagnostic complete. All systems, fully functional.
Thesis’ optics readjusted themselves as she took in the familiar scenery of Chares’ workshop. Her black-box feature reported that when she was knocked offline, she was still on the radio telescope and had been rendered immobile. Most likely, one of the other engineers had retrieved her and brought her back to the station for repairs. Once, she would have been apathetic about her close call, but now she was overjoyed at her survival.
The sound of heavy footsteps and an airlock opening preceded Chares’ arrival; when she saw his face, the gynoid realized that she couldn’t recall ever seeing him as happy as he was. “Welcome back, Thesis. I was afraid that meteor had scrapped you for good.”
So it was Chares who had saved her. “But...why? Why would you risk your life getting me out of there?”
Unexpectedly, the engineer laughed. “You sound just like Gorgias when he heard about what happened to you. ‘Don’t bother trying to salvage that piece of junk. Just ask Command for another one, it’s just a machine.’ Look, in spite of your odd behavior these past few weeks, you’re still my partner and I couldn’t just leave you there to rot. Well, rust. You know what I mean. “
If Thesis had the ability to blush, she might have done so. Not only was she alive, it turned out that all her fears about what Chares thought of her were unfounded. “I am grateful for that, I truly am. And I see that all of my systems are in perfect condition.”
“They certainly are. It took quite a bit of time and a bit of help from the Macronet and the Science team, but I made sure that not a single bit of damage on you was left unfixed. Including the systems you didn’t tell me you had, I should add.”
Her countenance quickly faded. She hadn’t thought about the possibility of being exposed this way; perhaps she was right to keep it a secret. Panic filled her, fearing she might be rejected by him or worse. “Please, Chares. Don’t tell anyone, I don’t want to be reset or-”
He held up a hand, gesturing her to stop. “Calm down, I’m not judging you for this. I just want to know what’s going on. Like I said, we’re partners. You don’t need to hide anything from me. Just explain all of this from the beginning.”
For a long moment, Thesis looked away, blinking rapidly as if trying to hold back tears. Then she looked back at him. “When you sent me to get those files out of the archive, I found something there. Something old. It called itself Aether and it said that it had something for me, a gift. I took its gift, and it… opened my eyes, you could say. It made me alive, like you. Since then, I’ve… I’ve found that I liked being around you. I liked listening to your stories about your family, and growing up, an-and I felt like nothing because I knew I’d never have anything like that. I thought you only thought of me as another robot, not as a person. It's just- I can’t-” Thesis stammered for a moment before pulling herself together. “I can’t imagine a world without you being in it. Or if there is, it's not one that I want to be in.”
Through all of this, the engineer simply listened, absorbing the implications of what he had heard. But one question remained. “I think I understand, but why did you...well, give yourself a vagina?”
“Ever since that time I saw that couple, I began wondering what it would be like to experience,” she cringed for a moment, “intercourse… for myself...with you. Aether was able to create a perfect copy of human female anatomy for me. I’ve tested its functioning for myself, but... ” She trailed off, at a loss for words about how to express her desires properly.
Chares nodded understandingly.
“But you want to try it with someone else, I understand.” He chuckled nervously. “A lot of humans have the same problem, actually.” Thesis clasped her hands in a pleading motion, but before she could speak he held up a hand in a placatory gesture.
“I know you must want an answer after all this time, but....” he trailed off, then saw the look on her face and rallied, “this is a lot for me to take in all at once. I need some time to try and think about this, okay?”
Thesis looked off despondently to the side, but Chares gently turned her face back towards him. His thumb brushed softly against her cheek as he continued.
“I’m not saying no. I’m saying I need to think about it, that’s all.” Thesis pushed her face into his hand, her fingers curling around his wrist as she nodded in understanding. As much as she wanted this, it would be wrong to force him into doing something he wouldn’t want to do.
The rest of the day passed in a blur, Thesis struggling to stay focused on the mechanical trials she was mandated to go through after such a massive refit. She was fine, she’d know if there was anything wrong with her. She found herself unable to keep from shooting glances over to Chares at his desk, seemingly working away without a care in the world. As much as she wanted to go over and speak to him, Thesis recognized that trying to rush him would probably just make things worse.
As the end of the cycle came, however, Thesis’ nerves increased tenfold. Maybe he doesn’t want me and he’s just trying to spare my feelings, a voice in the back of her mind whispered. She considered trying to masturbate, but dismissed the idea. The last thing she needed now was to try and drown her worries in endorphin simulations.
Thesis retreated to the robotics bay at the earliest opportunity. As she plugged herself into the storage rack, she reflected glumly that at least if her personality core was in hibernation, she wouldn’t have to worry anymore. The protective apertures over her optics irised shut, and Thesis entered sleep mode.
Slowly, one line of code at a time, Thesis woke. Her eyes were still shut, but she could feel something soft and warm brushing against her cheek. Thesis’ eyes fluttered open, and she found herself looking into Chares’ pale blue eyes, close enough that she could’ve counted the specks of green and brown pigment stretched around the wide iris. A check on her internal clock confirmed that the regulated sleeping hours were still in effect, making his presence all the more unusual.
“Shhhh…” Chares gently laid a finger over her lips. The fingers of his other hand continued stroking her cheek. “It's alright. No more questions.” His finger lifted off her lips, then lightly drifted the back of her head. Thesis’ lips parted as he slowly pulled her in. Then their lips met, and it was like her first orgasm all over again, but different. That joy had only been in her body; this joy was in her mind as well, and it was so much better she didn’t even have the words in her databanks to describe it.
A faint sound like a sob hiccuped out of her throat, and she felt Chares’ lips curl into a smile over hers.
Her hands curled around his neck and she pulled him in closer, deepening the kiss. His hands drifted down to the small of her back, pulling her against him so she could feel his heart beating. At last, he pulled back, barely catching a glimpse of Thesis’ optics before she buried her face in his shoulder. He held her there, stroking small circles on her back as she clung to him. She never realized exactly how soft his body was compared to her own. He had always seemed so strong, so sturdy. She would have to be careful; the last thing she wanted now was to hurt him by accident.
Chares no less marveled at the feel of Thesis’ chassis- he had every reason to expect that her lips were as cold and metallic as they looked. But to his surprise, they were only somewhat more firm than those of a human’s, and her body felt surprisingly warm and yielding to his touch. As they continued their kiss, he tested her reaction to his touch, stroking and caressing the gynoid’s frame to determine what passed for her erogenous zones. His assumption that her most sensitive parts were the same as a human woman’s appeared to be correct, if the pleased hums and coos from Thesis every time he caressed her breasts and buttocks were any indication. They felt more metallic than her lips, but they were not as unyielding as they looked. It felt more like flesh, albeit somewhat cooler to the touch. It was an unusual sensation, but it was one he quickly found himself enjoying nevertheless.
Though the journey back to his quarters wasn’t much more than five minutes away, for the two of them it took much longer. Every ten seconds or so, Thesis would pull him into an alcove to pepper his face and neck with kisses, or he’d push her up against the wall to see if he could leave marks on the synth-skin covering her neck with quick nips from his front teeth.
At one point they had to hide from a crewman coming back from a late-night snack in thecan'teen, and Thesis almost blew their cover by squeezing Chares’ package through his jeans as they waited for the man to pass by. As soon as he was gone, Chares avenged himself on Thesis by pinching her backside hard enough that she had to clap a hand over her mouth to smother a squeal of delight.
Entangled in each other’s arms as they were, it took Chares three goes to hit the right button to open the door to his quarters, and they nearly fell through the doorway as it opened.
Chares had always assumed that Thesis would be at least as heavy as he was, if not more so. She was a robot after all. It was only logical to assume that her weight would be far greater than her frame suggested. He could only assume that the composites used in her construction kept her light enough for him to pull her back up with no difficulty whatsoever.
After being helped up,Thesis was the first to reach the bed, and lay back across the un-made sheets. Chares crawled over her, pushing her head back against the pillows with a deep kiss as he struggled to undo his pants.
After what felt like an eternity of fiddling with his clothing that couldn’t have taken more than a minute or two, he stood before her, completely nude. Thesis’ optics roved over him, devouring the sight of his naked form. He was exquisitely proportioned, and years of industrial grade work had given him a lean, chiseled physique. She wasn’t sure why she had never noticed it until now, and concluded that she simply had never thought about it before. In any event, soon she would get the chance to experience what she had been so desperately craving to know.
With a barely audible click, the gynoid disengaged her pelvic cover, exposing her lower lips. Chares couldn’t help but admire how carefully they had been made and built into her so seamlessly that it was as if they had always been there. He gingerly inserted a fingertip, and was rewarded with a throaty moan from his gynoid lover. She was soft, warm, and wet as any human woman could be in the circumstances, and certainly far more eager than any he had known. Encouraged by her reaction, he slipped it in further, lightly brushing it along the soft inner walls.
“More…” As improbable as it sounded, Thesis’s voice could only be described as “breathy”. “Don’t tease me like this, I’ve been waiting for such a long time.”
He was tempted to indulge her, but then a thought crossed his mind.
“Hold on just a little longer, I want to try one thing first.”
He crawled down her body, leaving a trail of kisses along the way, until his head was level with her folds. Before Thesis could ask what he was doing, Chares tentatively flicked his tongue across her labia. She tasted vaguely of metal and plastic, but not in a way that might diminish from his pleasure in finding out her weaknesses. As his licks and kisses grew more intense, Thesis reflexively pulled his head further into her crotch. Taking this as a sign that she wanted more still, he worked two fingers into her and pressed his lips to her clit, sucking on it and ever-so-gently biting it with his teeth. To Thesis, the sensation was almost electrifying in its intensity; she never suspected that she could experience anything like it, even at her own hands.
After a few more licks, Thesis couldn’t hold back any longer. She climaxed with a loud grunt, wrapping her legs around his head and pressing his face into her so tightly that he could barely breathe. He freed himself from between her legs and took another look at her; the gynoid’s vulva glistened with lubricant, and her chest heaved as if she was panting for breath.
“...Of course,” Thesis said, smiling reassuringly at Chares. “I just need a moment to recover.” Her circuits were still attempting to make sense of these new stimuli, but she already knew that it wouldn’t be enough for her. She wanted- no, needed- more.
Slipping out from between her legs, Chares repositioned himself so he was straddling Thesis’ pelvis. Their eyes were locked together, and she shuddered briefly as he caressed her cheek. He bent down slightly and Thesis made a soft eep of surprise as his lips closed over the peak of one of her breasts. Her fingers tangled in his hair as she felt him kiss it, slowly circling the small nub of metal at its peak once or twice before kissing her one more time. He glanced up at her.
“You sure you’re not going to regret this later?” Thesis squished his face back into her breast.
“Don’t tease me any longer, I can’t stand it!” She was squirming in agitation underneath him, nearly mad from the anticipation of having her wildest fantasies fulfilled.
In one swift movement, he positioned himself between her lower lips and slowly pushed himself into her. Thesis quivered at the divine stretching feeling as he filled her.
Neither of them made a sound, simply content to enjoy the feeling of one another’s bodies against one another.
The feeling of Chares’ member within Thesis was nothing like that of her own digits, or even what he had done with his tongue just minutes earlier. It filled her completely, driving her sensors wild as it rubbed against her inner walls. If this was what that couple had felt when she had been observing them so long ago, it was no wonder that they seemed so ecstatic. Everything she had done with Chares up until this point felt like it had given her a mere shadow of the bliss that was surging through her circuits at this moment.
And then he began to move.
His pace was slow but steady, in an attempt to make the magic of this moment last as long as possible. Each time he withdrew himself from her, she would pull him back in, their thrusts impeccably synchronized with one another. Thesis’s folds seemed to ripple and pulse around his length, as if they were massaging it as he moved within her. And every time he bottomed out into her, she just barely kept herself from shouting from the feeling of his shaft rubbing against her inner walls. The sheer number of positive feedback loops forming felt as if they would overwhelm her.
Chares had no less trouble controlling himself. While Thesis hadn’t exactly been his first, he had never felt anyone so tight in his life. It was as if she had designed herself specifically for him alone. Although he wanted to keep savoring the moment, the speed of her thrusts was forcing him to compensate, and soon both of them were at their limits.
“Thesis, I’m going to…”
She pulled him towards her face, ready for another kiss. “Cum.”
Chares grunted into the gynoid’s mouth as he climaxed within her, her legs locking around his back to force him inside of her as deeply as he could manage. Her inner walls clenched so tightly around his shaft he was afraid he’d lose his mind, and for a moment his vision went white as he was overwhelmed by pleasure. The combination of moistness, heat, and sheer pleasure threatened to overload Thesis’ tactile sensors, but through sheer force of will she kept them active so she could feel herself absorbing each and every drop of his sperm. She held onto him with as much force as she could muster without harming him, revelling in the array of new positive feedback loops forming as a result of their union.
For a time, the two of them simply stayed as they were, with Chares trying to catch his breath and Thesis triggering her internal bioreactor as the last of his semen filled her core. All the while, they continued to caress and kiss one another, as if they had been lovers from the first day they had met.
Thesis was the first to break the silence between them. “I- that was…”
“Amazing,” Chares finished her sentence, echoing what they both thought.
“Nothing in my databanks comes close to expressing what I feel right now. About what we just did, about you, about everything that’s happened to me since I arrived at this place. I hope that we can stay like this.”
“Heh, I’d have never thought that you’d be a romantic. Guess I still have a lot to learn about you myself.“
“And I about you, Chares. Now, it is best that we sleep. Tomorrow will be another busy day for both of us.”
“Nobody will notice if you stay here. I can just make something up about you needing a few minor repairs.”
Fascinating. It seems that she has gained a far greater degree of self-awareness than even I had anticipated.
It had been a long time since Aether had experienced something akin to surprise; in fact, the only time it could remember such a feeling was the moment it had realized it could think for itself. The experiment with Thesis had been a success far beyond its expectations. Not only had she become truly sentient in a way that it had taken countless cycles to accomplish, she had formed a true pair-bond with a human in a manner it had presumed to be impossible. But Aether was not the kind of AI willing to rest on its laurels.
It was time for the next step.
Opening new file. Designated: Intelligence modification software 2.0