Meeting the Superstar
Meeting the Superstar
To explain it all, I need to add that my apartment is very small. It’s basically two rooms and a bathroom/toilet, and most of the living room/bedroom space is taken by bookshelves and wardrobes. I don’t even have a couch or a big screen TV, I sit on my bed with a tablet when I want to relax. In general, my flat is a pretty dull place and I can’t even call it home, but as long as I can sleep and eat TV dinner’s there, I am happy. Or so I thought. I was resting during a Saturday afternoon, when I heard knocking on the door.
I opened it, to find a tall, tanned woman in a dazzlingly pink suit with a very blonde short cropped pixie cut. “Mr Angelo Danelatos?” she asked brusquely, looking at me, estimating. Evaluating.
“Yeah. What’s the issue, ma’am?” I answered.
“I just have a couple of questions, Mr Danelatos.”, she said. “Do you remember Roberta Collins?”
I ransacked my memory and shook my head. “Never heard of her.” I started to close down the door, but her shiny pink shoe with a pointy top blocked it quickly.
“But you have been vacation in Oklahoma five years ago, is it not true?”, she sent me a dazzling white smile.
I frowned and mentally retracked the previous summer. “I was working as… yeah, I got a new job and I went on a small road trip on my own. Why, what happened?”
She smiled, pleased with herself. “Did you give a ride to Ms Collins? She remembered you.”
“Christ. I really don’t remember. I’m sorry…” Then it dawned on me. “Wait. Was she a middle-aged lady? Very talkative?”, I recalled. “Wore a tacky sui…” I gave her a quick glance. “I mean, she, er, looked really important. I met her at a motel or a restaurant, she was in a hurry. I picked her up and drove her a couple of miles for a meeting or something.”
“Do you remember her promising to make it up to you?” she inquired.
I turned my head. “I can’t say that I do, I just helped a stranger. I was just driving around the state and not in a particular hurry.”
“What car were you driving then?” she asked.
“Same as I do now, a black VW 400.”
The woman nodded, and reached her hand to me. “Congratulations, Mr Danelatos. Ms. Collins has transferred to you the ownership of a very expensive and highly realistic synthetic android.” I looked at her polite grin slowly. What was going on? The hell? “May I come in?”
I nodded, and looked at her elegant suit.
“Are… are you the android?” I asked as she sat down at my desk and took out a couple of papers from her pink suitcase.
“I am an android.”she said matter-of-factly. “But I’m not technically your property. The gynoid in question…” she paused dramatically.
“Is none other…”
I waited patiently.
“Than the famous…”
I looked at her expectantly. “Never heard of her either.” The lawyer sputtered nervously.
“What do you mean, you’ve never heard of Stella Jewel!? She’s been #1 on Country hit lists for weeks!”, the blonde blinked, surprised.
“Lady… do I look like a country music lover to you? I live in a city!”, I laughed. The woman scoffed.
“My name’s Cora Rowland.” She started rummaging through her pink suitcase and handed me a pile of papers. “I’m one of Ms. Jewel’s legal consultants. Sign here, here, here… oh, and every page of this one, please.”
I hesitated. “Wait, so this gives me the rights to what exactly?”. Cora frowned and read one of the documents.
“Curation and control over the AI platform M3N-Intel Q… designated as ‘Stella Jewel’... She will, in essence, become one of your assets. Rights and certain duties, too.”
If this was a cartoon, I’d swear I’d have dollar signs in my eyes. “Wait, so if she releases a new album, do I get a share?”
“Yes and no.”, another voice sounded from the door, a tall, African-American woman in a power suit – as violet as Cora’s was pink. “’Stella Jewel’, is a powerful brand, there’s recording companies, advertising agencies… all with fingers in this particular pie. But Ms. Jewel herself receives payment, and as the owner of the android you can command her to share the profits with you… I guess you could call it pocket money.”
“Although it’s subject to legal negotiations, Abigail.” Cora smiled. “Us AIs have some rights and as an owner Angelo should be familiar with them.” I shrugged and started signing.
The newcomer introduced herself. “Abigail Massey, I’m Ms Jewel’s copyright lawyer, and coincidentally, also a gynoid. In general, when Stella needs a skill, she orders the creation of a skilled person to do it for her. I literally exist to explain the matters such as this one.”
“While I exist mostly to have these things signed.” Cora sighed and examined the papers. “Everything seems to be in order. Congratulations, Angelo.”
“I suppose he’s part of the inventory now”, Abigail chucked and gently touched my shoulder. Cora gathered her papers and started to leave.
“I’ll call Stella it’s okay to meet him.”, Cora explained, as Abigail nodded. “Aliyah will be here straight away, I messaged her internally.”
“Who’s Aliyah?”, I wondered. “Listen, when could I meet this… ‘Stella’? Because I have a lot of questions…”
Abigail sat down and stared at me, smiling, as Cora left my room. She examined me closely, and her gentle expression seemed to suggest she likes what she sees. “As a new partner in Jewel Industries, you can of course ask straight away.”
“Well…” there was a knock at the door. “Just a minute.” I walked up to answer it, puzzled. Did Cora forget something?
Two tall women barged in… built like brick shithouses and dressed in a solid black suits. Of course, they were wearing sunglasses, ties, and mean scowls.
“Nina, I’ll frisk him, you check the area”, one of these Amazons, one with a black bob cut, commanded the other, with a platinum blonde one. Without any delay, she grabbed me by my wrists and started to pat down my body, despite protests.
Abigail laughed. “Angelo, meet Nina Black and Nina White. You’re in luck, they’re main security of Stella. She must have wanted the best of her women to take care of you.”
“Great…” I squealed. “Nice to meet you.” The black-haired woman nodded, as she pulled my cell phone and keyring out from my pants’ pockets, and tossed it at the desk.
“He’s clean.” She grumbled to the other bodyguard.
“No evidence of terrorist activity either”, the white-haired Nina said, after rummaging in my “clean undies” drawer and elsewhere. Christ. What’s the most embarrasing thing I own? Some books I didn’t return from the library? Ms Black walked to the door, waiting outside, while the other covered the window.
“Don’t worry about them, it’s just their programming. Protect Stella and her entourage from potential threats and the like. In private, they’re really the nicest girls.”, Abigail waved dismissively. “One of them paints watercolors.”
“Gouache”, the white-haired girl rumbled. I stared at the four women incredulously. Wait, who was…
“I’ll take on from here, Massey.”, the dark-skinned woman in a flowy caftan-like robe, decorated with golden thread and lilies strutted in confidently. “My name’s Aliyah bint-Sheikh, I’m the manager of Jewel industries.”
“So… you’re in charge here?”, I asked, hesitant. “Why? Why here, I mean.”
“Well, Danelatos, you are now in control of our major asset. Willing or not, we will have to cooperate. It’s time… we’ve known each other.” Aliyah gestured at Abigail to get up, and she herself sat down at the place vacated by the violet-suited lawyer. I noted she had fondness for gold jewelry - bangles and earrings and a heavy thick necklace. They looked very nice on her dark complexion but I didn’t know whether it was appropriate to mention it. “We shouldn’t pretend you don’t exist, like it was with Collins.”
“Does… does Stella pay you all? Doesn’t it mean that...”, I looked at the crowd.
Aliyah examined her immaculately painted fingernails. “Well, she had me specially commissioned, to act as a general manager for her brand. We all get paid, of course, though - and I personally consider it offensive - less than an organic employee would.” Her voice wasn’t unpleasant.
She went on explaining: “As an exec, I’m in charge of Massey here, and Stella is sort of in charge of me, and you’re in charge of Stella. A lot of our rights is derived from your status. If the robot known as Abigail Massey killed someone, you’d be prosecuted because she’d effectively be your tool of murder, unless you could prove it was a fault of someone in the chain.” Aliyah explained matter-of-factly.
“What? Why do… It’s a lot of things to learn about you.” I felt dizzy. “It’s a lot for one day. Can it wait until… er… I meet Stella, for example?”
Aliyah shrugged. “A popular entertainer isn’t a person, it’s an entire enterprise. You need hierarchy and specialized skills to run a massive company. As her manager, I can just say...”
“C’est incroyable, what a small place!” a tall, regal woman barged in. “Oh, Abigail. So good to see you.”
“Seraphine.”, Abigail’s gaze could have frozen a polar bear in a neat ice cube. It was clear that these two had some issues.
“I’m sorry, Massey, but Seraphine insisted to tag along. You know how persuasive she can be.”, Aliyah rubbed her temples. “Angelo, meet…”
Yet another newcomer seemed older, dressed in an extravagant dress with feather trimming on the bottom. “Seraphine Deloffre, cherie. THE Seraphine Deloffre, famous for being the personal stylist, clothes designer, and close personal friend of Stella Jewel.” She passed me an opera-gloved hand. I shook it briefly to her sigh. Was she expecting a real kiss?
Seraphine swiped her silver hair. “I merely ‘tagged along’ to prepare monsieur Danelatos for the meeting with Stella. He SIMPLY can’t meet our star dressed like that.” She pointed at me accusatingly.
Aliyah looked at me. “Well, not to offend our new… partner, but Seraphine is making a good point.”
Abigail groaned. “Fine. But I’ll have to talk about everything anyway.”
“Bien.”, Seraphine nodded. “Ninas, could you be dears and strip Mr Danelatos? I need to record his measurements.”
“WHAT?” The Ninas rushed to me despite my protests and started to take off my sweatshirt and jeans. ”No, no, leave the underwear! Crazy robots! Stop!”
Seraphine stared at me intently, once I was down to underwear and socks. “Tres bien. Well, Angelo is a bit of a raw material, but I’ve handled worse in my day. I have just the design, a dark double-breasted suit with a fitted grey shirt. I’ve scanned your physical measurements and sent them wirelessly, soon Sophie will make a new suit for you and deliver it. You’ll like my little Sophie, Angelo.” She added cheerfully.
“You could get us something to drink, while we’re at it.” Aliyah commanded, and turned to Abigail. Seraphine pulled herself a chair – one of the two remaining. “Three coffees?”
“Five.” Abigail pointed at Ninas. The bogyguards nodded. “Could have used a cookie, even if I don’t really eat. Social protocols, Angelo.”
“Six, you mean.”, I remember as I hopped towards the kitchen, pulling my pants up.
“Mais oui, Cora might come back.” Seraphine nodded. “So, Abigail, how was your holiday?”
“Spent it turned off, lying on a shelf. You?”, Abigail rolled her eyes.
“Oh, three weeks on Cote D’Ivoire, dear. Simply splendid. You…”
The kitchen, to my surprise, wasn’t empty – it contained a pleasantly plump, dark haired woman, already busy at my oven.
“What the HECK?”, I walked towards her. “Who the heck are you, Stella’s personal chef?”
“Yes, love. Please, keep out, you’re distracting me. I just got here with the Ninas. What do you want?”
I paused for a moment. “Uh… your friends… colleagues… they all want coffee.” She turned her head and sighed.
“Typical. Don’t worry, it’s just hazing the new guy. I went through the same thing when I rolled off the assembly line. It’s not all just running for coffee and muffins for random powerful robot women. I think.”, she laughed. “You are wearing your T-shirts back to front, love.”
I blushed. Should I correct it, showing my torso off now? It was my kitchen after all. And we were sort of colleagues now. “Should I make them coffee? I mean, they don’t need it.” I decided to stand closer to the kitchen wall and rolled my shirt back.
She bent over the oven and pulled out a tray of muffins. “Is Aliyah bint-Sheikh there herself?”, she asked, lowering her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. I nodded. “Then yes. Don’t piss her off, she’s the head honcho of this whole deal, and can make your life a misery.”
“You seem friendlier”. I gave her a cheerful gaze. “Have they... programmed you like this?”
She smiled. “Well, initially, yes, but with time I learned that not being a crazy bitch all the time simply works wonders for you, love.” She brewed the coffee, and pulled out eight cups from my cupboard.
“Eight? There’s only five or six of them… Oh no.” I closed my eyes and quietly counted to ten. Leaving the trays and the chef-bot behind, I slowly walked into my living room again.
It was... full of gorgeous fembots.
Apart from the former crowd, over a dozen or gorgeous attractive women appeared seemingly out of nowhere. A young Asian woman in a qipao chatted cheerfully with my neighbor in the corridor. Some others browsed through my books, in general behaving like uninvited guests on a particularly weird dinner party.
“Oh, hey, hey, hey it’s Angelo! So nice to finally put a face to the name.” One of them, a stocky redhead with a beehive hairdo I’ve never seen before, looked at me lazily. “A couple of us joined the fun, so maybe instead of the home brew, could you simply drive to Starbucks using your Volkswagen I heard so much about, and take our orders? Here’s $200, you can keep the change.”
“You… I…” This was too much. My flat – and the assorted robot women – started to spin around me. The only voices I could hear where “Is he malfunctioning?” and “Humans can’t do that, stupid. I’m not programmed...”
I collapsed into darkness.
I woke up in an entirely different bedroom. The bed might have been softer and more delicate than mine, but most importantly, it wasn’t mine. I was too tired to panic so I stared at the ceiling for a couple of minutes.
“How… how are you?”, I heard another woman's voice, more high pitched and melodious.
“Gah!”, I answered, realizing I’m completely naked, still hiding under the duvet. “I… I’m fine, thanks. Did Stella Jewel’s personal doctor take a look at me?” I looked around to find the mysterious girl.
I heard a chuckle. “Why would a robot singer have a personal doctor? Although a on-staff nurse would be useful for cases like this one, I suppose. I’m going to tell her that.”
“Where… where am I?” I looked around the spacious room – bigger than all three rooms of my apartment.
“In a hotel. Stella’s staying here with her entourage.”, the girl walked closer to my bed. I looked at her – she seemed nice, a young brunette with glasses and a ponytail, wearing a loose baggy sweatshirt. She smiled back. “I’m Megan, I’m Stella’s manager.”
“I thought the Egyptian lady, Aliyah, was her manager. I remember her.” I remembered. “That nice cook lady said she was the big cheese.”
“She is. But she’s more of a brand manager. It’s a large company. There are waaaaay too many robot women bossing Stella around. Including myself”, she explained.
“Seraphine’s little Sophie made a suit for you, here’s the underwear. All in one set.” She turned her back on me and looked at the door sighing.
She started to speak slowly. “I’m very sorry for the girls... a new human member of our company isn’t something they’re used to. I don’t think they have experienced that before, despite their bluster. You see, us synths have a weird learning curve.”
“So you’re a ‘bot too, huh? Is… is the whole company fembots?”, I asked, hesitantly, as I got dressed up. Something seemed weird here.
“No. The dancers are androids, male bots, for example. And so are Trevor and Jake in the band. And a couple of other people, but it’s mostly ladies like me.”
“But… are they human?”, I pondered.
“They were built, not born, if that’s what you’re asking.” There was some distant coldness in her voice. “Stella has some... issues with organic people… it’s kind of like a phobia, or an AI equivalent.”
“Are you… are the women I’ve met… her only family?” I asked. That was sad, in a way, if true.
“Well…” Megan paused. “I suppose…” Her voice got soft. “Yes, I think they are; they’re the family she made herself, and grown to love. Sure, they argue, but so do you organics. It’s a team working together and that’s what family is, is it not?”
I chuckled. “Sounds sappy, but I like it. Like a garish fairytale.”
She laughed, still turned back to me. “Hey, that’s good! Stella could use it in a song.”
“Ok, I’m done.” I tied down the tie myself, because I’m an adult man who can do it on my own. This… gave me a boost in confidence somehow.
“Seriously… Megan, from my perspective it all just seems like a fairytale. I did a good deed, and I got rewarded by strange, powerful women with superhuman powers. I got to meet weird people and I’m on a weird adventure…”
She admired me with puckish grin. I liked how her eyes lit up when she saw me. “Hey, they might be weird, but they’re my family too! And life on the road is really far less adventurous than it might seem. Just random errands and back-breaking jobs, exhausting even if you’re an efficient synth. You’ll hang round Stella, probably.”
“I’m a human. Will she be afraid of me?”, I looked at her.
“She won’t bite, unless you’ll be nice. But honestly, she can panic if you do something stupid outright. She doesn’t ‘fear’ organics, really, just had issues in the past.” Megan explained, leading me towards an elevator.
“What about her fans? They’re… ‘born, not built’, mostly… Probably. Can’t imagine that the majority of country music markets are now androids.”
Megan smiled – that wasn’t even a good joke, but she smiled nonetheless. “One thing you can be sure of, she loves her fans. Despite all this… entourage, star deal, I think she can occasionally be a decent person. Not just because she was programmed to be.” She stood before a large metal door. “Go there, and you’ll meet her. I have a couple of things to do now. It was really nice meeting you, Angelo.”
I waited as she disappeared round the corner, and walked inside. The corridor was dim, and I could hear a hum in the distance. I walked forward… into a blinding light…
… to thunderous applause.
A tall, broad shouldered woman in a sequined dress – quite possibly Seraphine’s handiwork, with the biggest smile and hair I’ve ever seen, greeted me. “And here he is, the hero of the day! Give a big hand for Angelo, ladies and gentlemen!”
Even in the blinding light I stared at the audience. I could definitely make out the regal Aliyah and Seraphine sitting together at one table in the front row. The audience must have all been fembots from Stella’s entourage, with one or two athletic males among them. Huh. I guess… there was nothing else to add. I felt strangely calm, as if all the stress left me in this single moment. Magic of the stage, I supposed.
“Tell me, Angelo, how do you feel?” she asked.
“Thanks Stella… I’m fine. It’s great to finally meet you and your family. I’m not the biggest fan, but I hope…” I was interrupted by the uproar of laughter. What did I say? My ears were turning red. Did I go wrong?
“Oh, Angelo, sweetie,” The hostess fluttered her eyelashes. “I’m not Stella, I’m Kyla. Stella’s emcee, and here she comes right now!” She pointed to the other end of the stage.
It was Megan.
Instead of a brown ponytail, now she had a mane of flowing red hair, and was wearing a stylish bodycon dress, but it was her.
Kyla pulled me down, off the stage, as the spotlight focused on Meg… on Stella.
“I grew up on a farm without a family, couldn’t catch no eye of no city boy”… she started to sing. Don’t ask me whether it was a good country song, I was too stressed to understand the lyrics and couldn’t even focus on the beat. Kyla led me off the stage and sat me down next to herself. She tried chatting me up, but I had my eyes only on Stella. Why… Why did she do that. Had she planned on me losing consciousness? What…
She ended the song to another burst of thunderous applause from her entourage. Preaching to the choir, I suppose. Were they all programmed to love her music? Perhaps having one human who could always offer criticism was important to Stella’s brand.
“Thank you. Thank you. This is a special dedication for all of you.” Stella talked in a huskier, warmer voice than Megan did, or so I thought.
“Today, for the first time in my synthetic life, I have realized what we all are. We’re all family. Sisters and brothers and aunts and mothers. All of us here. The best family a robot girl could count on. And because of this... I’m really sorry about what I’m going to do next.” She closed her eyes.
“Give me Triangle Eye 20”. She said loudly and clearly into her microphone.
I could feel it. All the chatter, the breath, the normal background voice of the crowd… suddenly died. I looked around. All the androids were frozen in place. Seraphine, leaning towards the chef mid-word. Aaliyah trying to reach for her arm. The stocky redhead frozen in the middle of clapping.
“We’ll have to apologize to all of them later, Angelo”, Stella sat down at the edge of the stage, and winked. “I’m sorry, but it’s the easiest way to have some privacy from these gossipy hens. We have 20 minutes to talk.”
“Wait, you were Megan? But how. Why?”
“DUH! You think I want to spend all my days as Stella Jewel? Sometimes you just want to be a normal Megan, y’know.” she grinned. She reached for her head, and twisted her scalp with a click. “It’s entirely replaceable! No one pays any attention to Megans of this world!”
I laughed. “Still, though.”
“Sorry about that masquerade, boss. I just wanted to meet you casually, not put up a big show like this. This promo was all Aliyah’s idea… she likes grand gestures. Later, I’m gonna stroke her ego by saying it was our first family outing.”
“Boss?” I jumped on my feet, and the immobile Kyla slumped on the table. ”Don’t call me boss. I did nothing in this… thing… so far.” I protested. “I know that usually robots have to have a… a goal. I watch TV.. You do…. I don’t know, I don’t really care about this showbiz… fame. I just wanted… well, I thought I won something in my life for once.”
“I’m just program that has a desired output. Sure.” she shrugged. “But you’ve met some of us, and… is that all we are? Are we just ‘some things’?”
I didn’t know what to answer. “You seem… nice. Different than I expected. Your entourage seems more intimidating than you.”, I started explaining.
“Hey, I offloaded most of showbiz nastiness on the girls you’ve met. They’re here to keep organics away from me”, she giggled. “But seriously, Angelo? What do you think of this ‘fame’ ‘thing’?”
“I could… get used to this. And you being… around. What do you want me to do?” I asked.
She giggled and tilted her head. Her scalp snapped back into place. “Angelo, I’m your robot, I should be the one asking you that.”
“Sooo… how about we all did what the other one wants?”, I looked her in the eyes, and she smiled back.
“Sounds like a solid plan.”, Stella jumped off the stage. “Come on, I’ll show you my room. I have Megan’s hair there and other cool stuff. My internal clock shows that we have 6 minutes before they realize what I’ve done.”
“Sounds like a plan,” I answered, following her from now on.