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Karen By BA

In the six months I had known her I never twigged that Karen was a robot. We were pretty good friends by the time I found out so to say that I was surprised is quite an understatement! She is good company, I’d shopped with her last new year in the sales and we’d had a great time laughing at the “fashions” squeezed into by the rich, fat and old shoppers. She had a razor sharp wit when she wanted to and wielded sarcasm like a sword, not too many people, especially women, can get their heads around my cop humour, it can be a bit dark and a lot rude, but she was right on track.

I had met her through Bernie, my ex partner (at work – not in bed) and best buddy. He’d quit the force when he won the lottery (wouldn’t anyone?) and started on a life of leisure, leaving me to continue the fight with a string of one dickhead partner after another. Serious fraud isn’t exciting at the best of times but I was more thoroughly sick of it than ever that winter.

My funds had dwindled away (cop pay isn’t the best…) as I spent my spare time fighting battle after battle for what was mine from my cheating bastard of an ex-husband. I’ll win in the end so why he bothers to fight, if not just to piss me off, I really can’t understand. Anyway I had hit the rocks so bad that winter that the rent was too hard to find and Bernie had come to the rescue; inviting me to stay with Karen and him for a while.

Bernie’s new pad was smart and modern, a penthouse suite in a development near the leisure sector; a stones throw from all the delights the city had to offer. My journey to work was cut in half by moving here and the place was big enough that I had my own space and didn’t feel intrusive. Bernie was like a brother anyway so things were really good and since I’d moved in my spirits had started to rise a little.

He had got together with Karen pretty soon after his big win and things had moved quickly. So quickly in fact that I was certain she was a gold-digger and took an instant dislike to her. Only after several months, when she failed to marry him, murder him or run off with all his cash, did I let myself be won round and realize that she was the best thing that could have ever happened to Bernie. She wasn’t exactly beautiful, athletic and attractive certainly, but she had a vitality that was magnetic.

Anyway, the evening in question, a Friday, I got back to the flat about six, dumped my work bag in the hall and went through for some coffee,

“Hey guys, anyone home?”

Bernie has binned any semblance of routine in his new life so I never know weather he’s coming or going, obviously no one was in this evening, probably hitting the party scene already.

I grabbed my laptop and plonked down on the couch to work on my claim for my (our?) old house. Even with Mozart soothing in the background and an endless supply of coffee I hated having to trace back every transaction, pay packet and receipt. It was degrading, depressing and, on a Friday night I felt, eating into my chances of finding someone new. I’m not getting any younger at thirty three after all. If I blitzed through this quickly I might feel justified in getting down town later. There was always a hardened bunch of detectives ready to share a whinge about life and work over a few gallons of strong spirits and I felt like joining them.

I guess I’d spent a few hours dredging through past finances before my stomach rumbled and I just had to get out. I would grab a burger and catch up with the lads after a quick shower. I headed off to my room with my arms full of papers and laptop. The music followed me down the corridor as the house tracked my path; being the only person at home. My room was around the corner past the study, games room and two spare rooms… I wish I could win big too!

The doors stood ajar and as I passed the study I jumped out of my skin, laptop falling to the floor with an expensive crack.

“Christ girl, you scared the shit out of me!”

Karen was standing in the middle of the room, staring at me through the open door after I thought I’d been alone all evening.

“I didn’t know you were in mate, do you fancy coming down town?”

She just stared, standing a little awkwardly with her arms half raised as if in mid gesture. She didn’t react to me at all, and I just looked back for several seconds waiting for the word that looked poised on her lips. She wore a black gown and was all ready to step out for the evening but something about her stillness wasn’t natural.

“Are you okay?”

Nothing.... Silence…. No reaction at all; she simply stood there, posed and still like a perfect human statue, not blinking nor, as I noticed, breathing. Her eyes seemed fixed at a point in space without seeing. Empty.

I’ve obviously come across robots before; you can’t go into the bank or the supermarket without running up against a plastic Sharon or Traci with its cute little phrases and standard welcoming smile. We even had an executive unit at the office; “Alex” ran the archives and was tolerably good at it so long as you knew where her reset button was. At least she didn’t babble happy rubbish, she’d even been known to whinge in good cop fashion, usually about the quality of the government maintenance contract.

Karen was a different matter entirely. She was a friend, a laugh, my buddy’s lover, as good a piss-taker as I’ve ever met… a real person who I knew; not a robot!

She stayed still as a statue as I drifted into the room in a daze, my things forgotten on the floor. I walked up to her,

“Karen… Karen, are you okay?”

Nothing. Her eyes now looked past me into the distance as I moved around her. I felt a sensation building in my guts, not fear exactly but a mix of wonder and shock and, I confess, a little excitement. I knew Karen well but I’d never studied her closely before. You don’t with real people, the image you have is built up from seeing them over and over again but you can’t stare right at them. Karen was there, inches from me, frozen and still and I did stare: long and hard.

I almost expected her to throw out a sarky remark, put me in my place, to be her confident self and take the piss out of my fascination with her frozen face. She stayed motionless, switched off, utterly lifeless. I gazed at her face, the character written in her expression, her fair skin, tiny hairs, the shape of her nose, the way her eyebrows grew from her skin. She was flawlessly human, I could not grasp that she was anything but a real woman, though the evidence left no doubt that she must be a machine.

I felt emotions surging through me in a confusion of doubt and deep but unclear feelings. I was, for once, in control, in power over this strong personality. She was switched off, helpless. If only I knew how, I could re-program her to think and feel whatever I wanted her to. I could smell her perfume as my breath stirred her hair.

I reached out and drew my fingers slowly along her arm, a loving caress that I would have never dared to try until this moment. Her skin was cool and soft, as if she had just come in from the cold.

“…Oh… My… God…”

My whispered voice caught in my throat, excited butterflies in my guts bursting downwards. I knew I was turned on now, in a way I could never have expected. Long admired from afar, I now had Karen right here and could not resist her. I stroked her cool arms and face, moving my hands down over her breasts, feeling the nipples under the velvet dress, down over her taught stomach and hard thighs; then back up to press against the soft pad of her pubic hair.

I moaned gently, feeling the closeness of her face to mine, and pressed at my own crotch with urgent fingers.

I trailed a hand across Karen’s poised neck and shoulder as I walked around her. The back of her dress was open, the zip undone all the way down her toned white back revealing, at the base of her spine; just to one side, a small square of flesh hinged open. As I knelt to peer inside at the shiny steel panel set an inch into Karen’s back I could see a red switch labelled “POWER, 1/0”, below it a blue one with “CONTROL: INT/EXT” and another: “RESET”. At the bottom of the panel was a fibre optic data port, just like the high speed link on my laptop and a standard power socket. The LEDs by the switches were all dark.

I swore quietly to myself as I gazed inside the robot’s body. My hand had wandered under my belt and was busy pressing away while my mind still tried to work around the idea of my friend, my hidden fantasy, being a machine turned off on a whim, a mere possession.

I stroked down Karen’s back with my free hand and gently pushed the panel back to cover her controls. It was slightly stiff and as it moved the flesh around the hinge contracted back like smooth elastic. It closed with a quiet but firm click, like an expensive stereo door and left the barest trace of an outline. Like the rest of her back, the panel was detailed to the tiniest little hair and freckle.

I reached the point of no return kneeling behind Karen’s pert buttocks, my fingers tracing the outline of the closed panel, straying down over her bum. A machine, a sham with character, how long did her batteries last? Had she run out of power? Did she stand still like this every day, plugged in to the wall? How much of her was a real person and how much a cunning program, simulating a personality? How far could she be reprogrammed?

“Ahh…ah.. oh god!!”

I shuddered hard, grasping around her waist and pressing my face against her cool back as I came, harder than had I expected, turned on by her body, her helpless situation, her revealed secret. She toppled forward a little, remaining stiffly posed, until I steadied her with a firm grip on her arm. Shaken and confused, I kissed the shutdown robot tenderly on her lifeless lips and went to my room to get my head straight.

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