There was a time when business was booming, and the number of android assembly factories around the world were busy, very busy. Robotics had progressed far enough in recent years that many manufacturers were able to produce units that looked indistinguishable from the average human. In one such factory that had been constructed at the city limits of a mid sized city in Oregon, mechanical arms and automated delivery bins carted and assembled pieces of what would eventually be a woman to and fro. Everything began with what would eventually be her torso, which an off-white plastic encased robot arm clamped onto and hauled out of a bin of identical torso frames. It was gently curved and filled with pre-drilled holes for any number of components to attach to it. The arm swung it in an all too precise arc and gently dropped it into the caddy sitting on a conveyor belt. A number of additional arms descended onto the frame and began to snap small plastic trays and mounting points inside of the framework, then the belt moved, carrying the torso off to the next station while the robotic arms pulled another torso from the bin and began the process all over again.
As the belt stopped, an arm clamped onto the mostly plastic torso frame and held it firmly in place as the first metal component was lifted from a foam lined container next to the belt and placed against the framework. The spinal column was filled with an array of fiber optic cables, copper data cables, power conduits and everything the android would eventually need to transmit commands from its processors to the number of subsystems around its chassis. Screws were spun into place with mechanical speed into the artificial spine, attaching it to the plastic framework before it was flipped over and a small, roughly triangular piece was brought in and similarly affixed to the bottom of the spine. Once in place, more arms swarmed around the forming body, placing more trays inside of the pelvic assembly and sending the torso further up the assembly line.
The next station took the longest, as a result the once singular conveyor belt branched off into nearly a dozen. This particular android body rolled onto the third one and once again smooth off white robotic arms brought in numerous parts, though this time they were all delicate circuit boards. Each board was individually tattooed with the serial number and batch printing, which was scanned as it was installed and dumped into a wireless database as part of the calculation that would determine her serial number. Placing and securing the circuit boards in the plastic trays was not the time consuming task, though, it was the meticulous placement of cables and wiring. Precise tweezer like arm attachments pulled the wiring from the spinal column and plugged them into the various locations around the internal framework. The final connection was in place and the torso moved further up the line where a number of shiny metal joints were fitted into the body where the shoulders, hips and head would attach.
As the body rolled down the line it began to take on more and more human aspects. The whole frame was lifted by a large arm and held in place as an army of smaller arms flooded the body with components. Storage media was installed into the chest along with a complex array of processors lining a series of daughter-boards that were plugged into a primary circuit board approximately where a human heart might be. Her lower abdomen remained relatively empty, while a power core was inserted to the left of the processors. Once in place a clear plastic plate was brought in, looking very much like a rib cage, and then snapped into place in her chest. Once her internal workings were in place new storage bins appeared and smooth, flesh covered legs were brought to her hips where a high pitched whirring sound was heard and the leg drew itself into the hip joint. Once both legs were attached a simple fleshy covering was brought into place and snapped onto the front of the pelvis. There was no artificial sex on this model, similarly when the buttocks was attached there was no orifice there either.
In rapid succession a thick layer of artificial skin was pressed into her back then her belly and chest, complete with realistically shaped hard plastic breasts, though they lacked the nipples or any electronic attachment to stimulate them. With her breasts in place the shapely form of the girl was nearly complete, on a whole she looked as if she would be entirely average in most ways. A robotic arm with a heat gun affixed to the end of it quickly ran over the seams between the front and back flesh panels then along the seam where the legs joined the hips. As it did so, two slender, feminine arms were slotted into place and attached. The heat gun moved up and sealed those as well before retreating from the body momentarily. The arm that had clamped onto the framework and held the assembly aloft was still in place, but now concealed under a portion of flesh on the lower back. A new arm descended from above and clamped onto the top of the neck. Once it had connected the arm began to connect to the multitude of systems inside of her, beginning with power and then data. Once in place the arm holding the body up removed itself at the skin was sealed.
The arm holding the girl's body aloft was connected to the factory database of new units, and pulled down the serial number that had been generated for this one. Once the serial number was ready it matched it to another database that contained the intended function and along with that, the set of programming instructions to put in place. She was to be a teacher, and so a suite of educational protocols were put into place. The data flowed through the ports in her neck and into the storage media inside of her chest, filling the drives with information on curriculum, strategies for teaching behaviorally challenged students, the appropriate amount of artificial intelligence, and a number of necessary background programs to keep her functional. The whole process took approximately an hour, all the while the body dangled from the arm next to dozens of other units.
Soon the body was assembled, the programming completed, initial tests on the body functionality passed, and everything was ready for the final touches. Robotic arms brought in clothes and dressed her. Black denim pants with a pair of black and white lace up boots covered her lower body with a simple black denim jacket covered her torso. Once dressed, she was lowered to the cool cement floor and the balance systems had a few moments to calibrate themselves. Once done the arm around her neck retracted itself with a whining sound and ascended back to the ceiling to retrieve another unit. The final touch of humanity was brought in on a similar mechanical arm.
The head was missing the hair, though that allowed for an arm to clamp on to a series of magnetic latches along the clear plastic skullcap. Just visible below the plastic was a tangled mess of tightly bound cables, all connecting to a variety of locations along a central circuit board inside of her head. Beyond that, was only darkness. A series of thin posts jutted from the bottom of the neck portion of the head module, each one aligned with a matching port inside of her neck. The head dropped precisely into place and connections began to form between the newly attached head unit and her body. It would take some time for those connections to resolve and work properly and as they did so a smaller heat gun moved swiftly around her neck, sealing her head in place. Finally an arm appeared with a short dark cropping of hair. It was bundled up in a twist tie and allowed for the scalp to be locked into place without worrying about individual hairs getting caught in the seams. The magnetic locks lining the perimeter snapped into place and forced the skin together with the girls face plate.
She was ready, looking fully human save for the blank look on her face and unblinking eyes. A storage crate, lined with form fitting foam inside was wheeled in and the woman stepped in, then lowered herself into the foam and lay still. Her eyes slipped closed and she powered down fully. A plastic wrapped package of papers with start up instructions, maintenance tips, a registration card for her warranty, and a product catalog were all placed inside a small cutout in the foam. A cardboard box with some necessary data cables and accessories that were specific to this unit were slipped into place and then the whole container was sealed with an unassuming plastic lid. Shipping information was attached along with an invoice to the container. This unit and nearly a dozen others were loaded into a truck where they would wait until tomorrow morning when they would be shipped to their assigned locations.
Evan huffed as he walked into the large gymnasium at Merlo Station High School. It was the first Monday of summer break and the principal at the school informed him that they had received a shipment of new androids that needed to be set up for the coming school year. He lifted the messenger bag off of his shoulder and let it gently fall to the floor where he knelt down and pulled out his school issued laptop. He set it down on one of the many shipping crates that were stacked against one end of the gym, and started a playlist of heavy metal music. He closed his eyes, let out a long sigh and stepped up to the first crate. He tore off the packing list and walked back to his laptop, opened the spreadsheet of serial numbers and began matching up the numbers and letters on the packing list.
He found the matching serial number and scrolled over to the right to find the name that this particular unit had been assigned. Once he read it and committed it to memory he stood and walked back over to the crate and pulled it open. Inside lay the robot, looking as if she were simply sleeping. As Evan peered down at the girl, with her short hair resting around her sleeping face and the curvy body that was neither slender nor thick, but somewhere in between, he smirked to himself. What was the fun of pulling pretty androids out of boxes all day long if he couldn’t cop a feel from time to time. So, he pressed his hand against her breast only to have his smirt dissipate in an instant as he felt that it was hard and not at all like a real woman’s chest would be. His displeasure returned as he realized the task at hand would indeed be boring. The young IT tech reached towards the woman’s head and brushed aside the small amount of dark brown hair covering her ear and tapped the power button behind her ear.
In an instant her eyes popped open and began to blink. Evan took one step back from the crate, knowing that in a moment she would take her first breath and begin to stand up and extract herself from the crate. Predictably she did just that, stepping out of her shipping container and standing up straight, arms resting comfortably at her sides and her posture impeccable. Her head stiffly swiveled slightly and looked at Evan and he stared expectantly back at her. He had done this every year for the last three summer breaks, he knew what the routine was.
“Thank you for purchasing this unit, would you like to-”
“Yes.” Evan said, knowing full well what the rest of the question was.
“Natalie Bayer.” Evan informed her.
“Data stored. What will thi-”
“Teacher” Evan muttered, already bored with the task at hand.
“Thank you, please look directly into this unit’s eyes to register as an administrator.”
Evan sighed and opened his eyes wider than he needed to and stared directly at the woman’s face for a few moments before she nodded and confirmed that he had been registered as an administrator. From there she announced that the remaining set up would be automated and once again thanked him for the purchase. He wasn’t even remotely paying attention though, he had already unboxed the next unit, tapped its power button and was beginning the process of starting it up. Once her programming had completed, Natalie blinked a few times and looked around the gym, acting more like a natural human woman would. No longer were her movement stiff and calculated, but more fluid. She blinked a few times before scrunching up her nose and her hand moved to her face, patting around her eyes.
“Excuse me? Have you seen my glasses?” She called to Evan who looked over his shoulder at her, a look somewhere between annoyed and confused crossed his face.
“You fucking need glasses. Good lord. Look in the box.” He replied.
“Oh uh, thanks.” Natalie said as she moved to the shipping box she had occupied several minutes earlier. She found the box of accessories, and inside was a hard case with a pair of dark rimmed, roughly rectangular glasses. She placed them over her brown eyes. She smiled once in place and picked up the charging and data cables from the box as well.
“Do I just take these to my classroom? Or are there some cables in there already?” She asked, looking towards Evan. He didn’t bother looking at Natalie as he continued his work.
“Yeah take those. You’ll be in room twenty one. Out the door, to the left, then down the second hall on the right.” He called as he activated another unit in it’s box. Natalie thanked him and then slowly stepped away from him, moving down the hall to her room. Once there she looked around at the rather spartanly arranged room. Desks were all set in a row, she had her own desk at the front of the class and off to one side. It looked like it had been stocked with the same standard materials that every teacher would be assigned. Some notebooks, a cup willed with pens and highlighters, and in the center of her desk was a welcome packet.
Natalie walked across the room to her desk and picked up the packet. It was labeled with the school’s logo and just below that was a QR code, which the camera’s behind her eyes automatically scanned and began the final portions of the setup process. She connected to the wireless network in the building, registered herself as a new device, and began to pull down and install specific programming sets for her classroom. She was designated now as an english teacher and soon her internal storage devices were filling up with the required reading, textbooks, student roster information and the rules and regulations for the state and school. Natalie smiled to herself and gladly accepted all the new information, pacing around her room, and rearranging some of the materials left there to better suit the basic personality programming she had been manufactured with.
As it stood, the programming and artificial intelligence, while not flawless, was close to sentient levels of development, and while not a worldwide movement, many countries and states had adopted full or limited rights for certain robotic citizens. Obviously certain conditions needed to be met in order to register as a synthetic citizen, but like any other immigration application, it could be done. There was always opposition both in favor and against these sort of political movements with many people decrying the practice of owning an android akin to owning a slave. The biggest difference was that any android had the capability of buying off their own existence from the company or person that owned them should a contract of mutual agreement be made. In Natalie’s state there was a social movement to pay androids, even those who were owned by a company.
Over the course of the next several years Natalie grew, both in her skills as a competent teacher, and as a budding artificial person. She was well liked by students, staff, and parents alike. She became one of those teachers that every student hoped and dreamed that they got, mostly because she had garnered a reputation of calm understanding, but also for having a pretty face. Presently her internal clock alerted her that there were two minutes left in her english class, and so right on time she brought her discussion to a close and reminded the students about the reading material that would need to be started over the weekend. They were nearing the end of the school year and so the assignment of one last reading project signaled the end of another year of teaching for her. Once the bell rang and the student’s packed their bags and left for the day Natalie was left alone in her room. She busied herself with tidying up her desk and getting ready for her own weekend.
In her years of teaching she had foregone many of the creature comforts that most other staff, android and human alike, had invested in. She rented a small studio apartment where she did her grading and recharging. Any potential issues were reported to the IT department quickly and she kept herself in relatively good working order. She utilized the fact that she didn’t require food or drink and spent the money instead on filling a saving’s account. She even went so far as to barely spend money on a wardrobe of clothes for herself, opting to buy a dozen outfits with mostly interchangeable pieces. It came as somewhat of a relief to her when the school principal gently knocked on her classroom door at the end of this particular Friday afternoon.
“Hiya Bruce, what’s up?” Natalie commented as she stuffed a packet of papers into her satchel.
Principal Bruce Schmit was the kind of fifty year old man that most people would be envious of. Salt and pepper hair that was more salt than pepper cominated his head. Despite the age he remained in good health and carried his strong physical presence with grace. It made him approachable, while maintaining the look of someone who wasn’t to be trifled with should he be angry with you. His normal smile was replaced by a somewhat somber tone. His hands thrust into his pocket and he began his response by sucking in a deep breath and letting it escape out his nose.
“Nat, hi, do you have a few minutes before you take off for the weekend?”
Natalie looked up from her bag and nodded, sliding the satchel to the ground and sitting comfortably in her desk chair, she motioned to the single char across from her. Bruce took it and sat down, sucking in another breath and letting it out before talking.
“You’ve been nothing but an incredible teacher for as long as you’ve been here Nat, I just want to make that clear to start with.” He said, before finally looking directly into Natalie’s eyes. “Nat, the IT folks let me know that there is a new software update coming down the line that contains all kinds of security updates that are required by the state. From what I’m told, ah, you are too outdated to accept the updates without some major updates.” Bruce looked down from Natalie briefly and then returned to find her normal smiling face dropping into a similarly somber face. She nodded her head, understanding where this conversation was headed.
“I see, and the upgrades to my chassis are not in the budget this year?” Natalie confirmed, Bruce’s nodding head solidified it.
“So, uh, you’re going to be decommissioned this summer. I’m sorry Nat..” Bruce trailed off and as he looked one last time into Natalie’s face he saw a different expression than he expected. Natalie was his last visit of the day with this news. Every other android had accepted the news with a sort of dry acceptance that this was it for them and he had comforted them all in their own ways. Natlie, on the other hand, had scrunched up her nose a little and pursed her lips while staring vaguely off into the distance.
“What’s on your mind Nat?” Bruce asked, genuinely curious.
“Just doing some math.” She replied and after another moment she sat forward again and smiled. Bruce raised an eyebrow at her.
“I know that smile. What’s your solution?” Bruce asked.
“I think I need to contact the business office and fill out a self purchase form.” Natalie replied. Bruce’s trademark smile crept across his face like the sun rising over the horizon. He hated to see any one of his staff go, but Natalie had always been a particular favorite of his. She was uncompromising in her teaching yet still kind at heart. The fact that she would continue to exist in the world stirred a little thrill inside of Bruce.
“I just need a senior staff member to sponsor the agreement. Know anyone who would do that for me?” Natalie asked sweetly, knowing that Bruce had already traveled down that mental avenue and would obviously be her sponsor.
The process of buying yourself from a private or public entity was a little bit like buying a car for the first time. Natalie spent the better part of the next Monday afternoon sitting in a conference room that was too large for the three people who occupied it. She had contacted a sub to fill in for her on Monday and transmitted her lesson plan to the sub-unit. She then spent from noon until around six in the evening with Bruce and Leah from the business office pouring over paperwork for her purchase. Everything from a contract saying that the school district no longer had any administrative authority over her, to scheduling a time with IT to have all the programming specific to her job removed. Administrator codes would need to be transferred from the staff to herself. After the six hours of discussion, signatures, and a guaranteed secure payment transfer from Natalie’s bank account to the school district, she was her own owner, at least on paper. Programming and administration of her systems remained in control of the school district until her designated last day of employment.
Natlie was only a little sad to see her saving’s account reduced to practically nothing, but it was a small price to pay in order to stay operational. She couldn’t thank Bruce enough for giving her a heads up on the decommissioning plans, it had given her enough time to get out while the getting was good. He wasn’t strictly supposed to tell her about it, since the units were to be sold back to the manufacturer where they were going to be repurposed, but Bruce had too much respect for his staff to let that happen without the possibility of making it right. So for the remainder of the year the decommissioning initiative and Natalie’s freedom remained strictly private. Soon though, the school year came to a close and Natalie’s appointment with the IT team came only a few hours before the final bell rang. While there the school tech, Evan, who had originally set her up greeted her.
“Alright Ms. Bayer, let’s see that data port.” Evan said, remembering fondly the time he had tried to fondle her all those years ago. Of course he never let that slip out, but he still wished she were more realistic. Natlie sat in the chair in the middle of the computer littered IT office and tilted her head forward, looking at the ground. As she did, her hands pulled up the small amount of hair that covered her neck, and once cleared Evan leaned in. He pinched a piece of skin just below her hair line. The flesh patch bunched up and pulled away from a generic data port. Evan plugged his laptop into the port and waited for Natalie to announce that a connection had been made, and once it had been Evan began running a series of scripts designed to purge any private information that had been installed in her systems, remove any documents or information that belonged to the school and remove all other administrator permissions. The final step was to manually enter her serial number and familiar name into her own internal database, thus setting her as her own administrator.
The process required a remote session directly into her operating system and some tricky coding, but after nearly thirty minutes of intense data rearrangement Natalie was no longer an employee of the school district, and she owned herself. Evan unplugged the cable and pressed the piece of malleable flesh back into place, signaling Natalie to let her hair down. He walked around the front of Natalie and held a hand out to her. She graciously accepted it and stood up, inhaling deeply, and marked a date and time reminder on an internal calendar. She wanted to remember her very first breath as a free robot.
“Alright Ms Bayer. You’re all set. You are officially an independent unit.” Evan said, holding his hand out to her and she shook it. The smile on her face was so contagious that the usually quiet and grumpy IT technician had to smile too.
“It’s just Natalie now.” She told Evan and he smiled, genuinely proud to have helped her. She collected her bag and stepped out of the IT office after saying her goodbyes and stepped out into the June sunlight. Her home wasn’t terribly far away, perhaps a twenty minute walk, but she savored every single moment of it. Each step was hers to enjoy as a self owned android. They were a rare breed in the world, but she had worked hard to achieve it, and even though the looming worry about what to do for money was just over the horizon, she didn’t care much. She had earned a day of smelling the air around her without the burden of being owned by anyone but herself. She admitted to herself, that it was all worth it.
It had been almost two months since Natalie had left her last job. She had been a well liked english teacher for the local high school, and would have likely kept teaching there long into the future had it not been for the stubborn insurance of the school boards technology replacement program. Natalie existed, at that time, as a piece of property owned and operated by the school district. She was an android in possession of a high level advanced artificial intelligence, which made her ideal for teaching students in preparation for college level classes, but also meant that when her service contract expired, that she was likely going to be recycled and used for parts to help service other androids in the district. Natalie, understandable, objected to this. She had also thought ahead enough to live something of a spartan lifestyle and saved every penny of her paycheck that she could so that when her contract expired, she simply purchased herself. It had nearly wiped out her entire savings account, nearly eight full years of savings were gone in an instant.
The school board took the funds, dumped them right back into buying a replacement android for her position, and rubber stamped her bill of sale. From there the paperwork filtered through any number of agencies, getting signed, stamped and running the full gamut of the american bureaucratic system. Natalie wouldn’t receive her official citizenship paperwork for a full four to six business weeks, but that was okay with her. Her highly advanced artificial mind knew that she was free.
Natalie stepped out of her school for the last time into the warm june air and shrugged out of her black leather jacket. She slung it over her shoulder and walked down the four front steps and onto the sidewalk. The short walk from the school district office to her small apartment was a short one, but every step seemed to feel lighter than the one before. Natalie was free, and in her hands she had a print out with a screenshot of her internal database listing all the administrators on her system, and it was only her serial number. She wasn’t entirely sure if there was something her artificial intelligence was running behind the curtain of her operating system, but she couldn’t seem to stop smiling. She felt incredible.
It had been four weeks, and to Natalie’s surprise her citizenship confirmation paperwork had arrived promptly in the mail. Along with it, in a sealed container was a small, gold plated data card. It looked like the same kind of thing photographers would slot into their camera, which caused Natalie to pique an eyebrow at it. She took the thick packet of paperwork and the chip to her couch and reclined there. It was a wordy document, filled with nothing but legal jargon and overly legalistic wording. Natlie took the time to read all of it, and even at an accelerated pace thanks to a literal computer for a brain, it still took upwards of an hour and a half to read and digest all of it.
Thankfully though, there was an explanation of what the chip itself was. It was a digital copy of her citizenship paperwork that she could insert and keep in one of the open bays inside of her torso, as well as copy to her local storage drive. Unfortunately there were no instructions on how exactly to do that. Natalie pursed her lips and remembered that she no longer had the easy support of someone to do repairs and fixes for her, it was all on her. Natalie guessed that it was time to find herself a local repair shop and get her official citizenship paperwork finished. She had a thought that she might look up the tutorials on how to do it herself, but she had no idea where to start and the ramifications for doing what equated to an at home self-surgery dissuaded her from trying. She decided that at some point in the future, when her bank account was looking a little less empty, she should look into night classes on some basic self repairs.
In the meantime, she snatched up her phone, stretched her legs out across her aging couch and began the task of finding local repair shops that were highly rated and had some measure of reviews to go along with it. Something like official citizenship data was probably a hot commodity to whatever seedy underbelly that might be lurking and Natalie needed some place reliable. It took some time, some review reading, and in the end a few phone calls before she had an appointment with a local shop that came out highly reviewed by even the most picky of clients.
Her appointment wasn’t until the following afternoon, and so found herself at home, giddy and restless, but with nothing pressing to do. She had spent those previous four weeks simply walking the city, seeing what there was to see, and experiencing the parts of her city that she had never seen before. In her whole time being owned by the school board, all she had been allowed to do was walk home, and to the school. So the sights and sounds of her own backyard were something new and wonderful to her. But after four weeks of not working and only sightseeing, one gets to the point where you’ve just about seen it all, or at least everything she was comfortable seeing.
So as the evening drew onward Natalie did what she had done every night since the first day of her assembly. At seven’o’clock on the dot she got up from relaxing on the couch, moved to her small bedroom, and slipped into pajamas. In the hotter months it was a pair of well worn, but comfortable athletic shorts and a simple T-shirt. Unlike every other night though, and for the past four weeks, she had deviated from her normal routine, for no reason other than the sheer fact that she could. Normally she would lock the door, turn out the lights, retreat to her bedroom and plug herself in to recharge for the evening. Now, though, the choice was hers. She moved back to her couch, sprawled out on it and like every other night for a month, smiled to herself and opened up every form of social media she could possibly find. She took a selfie of herself, posted it online, despite not having any friends there, but she wanted to build a history for herself.
She never tagged herself as overtly robotic, she had been that for far too long, but she also never explicitly said she was human. After all, who in their right mind specifically posted that they were a human being? So she just posted, talked about her day, and played it up. Natalie was as happy as she had ever been before. She tumbled and rolled and resituated herself on the couch and occasionally the little armchair for the rest of the night, and it wasn’t until around midnight when an alert popped up in her field of vision, alerting her about her fifteen percent of remaining battery power that she finally huffed once and went to bed. She pulled back the covers and spotted the usual power cable that she kept plugged into an outlet just behind her bed.
There was a small rush of air that fluttered the V-neck collar on her shirt just a little. Under her shirt, a vaguely triangular shaped panel retracted into her chest and then slipped down towards her chest. Behind the panel was a dull grey plate, lined with a number of dataports. Natalie had seen them every day of her existence, but she only knew what one of them was used for, and that was the power connector towards the left side of it. She plucked up the cable from her bed, slipped it up towards her chest from the bottom of her chest and then plugged it in. Natalie couldn’t really feel the surge of power as it began refilling the battery core in her torso, but she knew it was there and it made her smile. She was thankful that, as a machine, she had the ability to simply power herself off for the evening. She had heard more than one of her students complaining about how they couldn’t sleep the night before some thrilling event. Natalie qualified the official integration of her citizenship a sufficiently thrilling event that she would never have been able to fall asleep with on her mind.
She gently folded her hands on her belly, pulled in one last deep breath of the cooling night air, and exhaled. She entered a low power mode, the closest thing she had to sleep, with a content smile on her face.
The recharge was a quick one, it always had been. Natalie’s battery was fully topped off after about six hours, and her systems would normally leave her in a sleeping state until seven. But she wasn’t beholden to that any more, that was her school schedule. She had changed her own settings just a little through experimentation over the last month and managed to configure herself to wake up at a random time after her power cell was refilled. Some days she “slept in” for up to two extra hours and some days she woke up right after the charge was complete.
Today she woke up at a respectable hour past full charge, just after seven in the morning. Her eyes snapped open and she stretched her arms and legs in her bed before she rolled over and pushed herself into a sitting position. Disconnecting her power cable and letting it fall out of the bottom of her shirt as she stood up. She strep off her pajamas and decided that today she would do something decidedly human. She didn’t make her bed, then tossed her shirt onto the pillow and kicked off her athletic shorts. She stood naked in her room, hands on her hips, and surveyed the mess. She nodded to herself and left it that way.
Once she had dressed in a pair of dark grey jeans and a simple heathered grey shirt she left her bedroom and made her way to the bathroom. Quite possibly the least used room in her entire apartment, it was only useful for her to fix her hair in the mirror. The dark brown chunky spikes on her head needed to be coaxed into a style. She smoothed it over until her hair curled around her cute face and then came to rest just by her chin on one side. The short pixie cut hair was so much easier to manage than some of the other hairstyles she had seen on other women. She slipped on her completely unnecessary but fashionable large rounded glasses.
Natalie rarely carried a purse, and today was no exception. She slipped the chip, still in its sealed container, into her pocket and then bounded out the door. Her appointment wasn’t until much later in the day, but she didn’t care much. Today she needed to be out in the world. She had a certain spring to her step, and she felt like she was portraying the obnoxious tourist for the day. She took out her phone more times than she wanted to admit and took far too many selfies. She strolled through the downtown streets, window shopping and making a note on an ever growing list of things to buy sooner or later. Cute dresses, new accessories, and maybe even some decorations for her fairly spartan home.
Soon it was time for her appointment and she caught a bus that dropped her off near the repair shop. She still had a half dozen blocks of city street to walk, but there was more than enough time and she very much enjoyed the stroll. As Natalie pushed open the door into the shop, a literal bell rang. In the current digital age of instant information and literal humanoid robots, she found it more amusing than anything that someone would use such an analog method. But there it was, a brass bell hanging from a coiled piece of metal just above the door. Natalie looked up at it, somewhat gobsmacked that something so primitive was the first impression in a robotics repair shop.
“Cute, isn’t it?” A male’s voice came wafting from across the lobby.
Natalie looked down from the bell and into the lobby of the shop. There were a number of peg boards along the wall, all lined with a number of new and second hand parts. Some were static resistant boxes, proudly displaying new chips, circuits, or proprietary bundles of wires. Others were in a box that was clearly branded with the shop logo, they were the refurbished parts.
Natalie craned her neck slightly and saw the source of the voice. A man standing behind a glass topped counter. Inside were more parts, but clearly the premium parts were kept under close watch and lock and key. Leaning against the counter was a man who looked to be somewhere in his mid to late twenties. Young, but on the cusp of what a conventional adult would look like. A day or two of unshaven whiskers marked his face, and behind a pair of glasses were pale blue eyes. As she stood Natalie could see that he was the kind of person who didn’t need to work out and it showed. He was neither outstandingly muscular nor lanky. The T-shirt he wore though had some kind of emblem on it, Natlie didn’t recognise it, but took a quick picture of it with her internal camera system.
“Uh yeah. I just wasn’t expecting something so-” Natalie began
“Charming?” was his response, which garnered a giggle from Natalie.
“I was going to say old, but charming works.”
“Call it a marketing tactic, no one forgets the shop that has a literal doorbell.” Was the response. He stood and stepped around the counter and thrust his hands into his pockets. “Was there something I could help you find today?”
The smile on his face was awkwardly friendly. It was the type of smile that someone would flash when they knew they had to be polite, but would rather be somewhere else.
“Oh, uh, I have a twelve thirty appointment here with-” Natalie began.
“Ah Natalie, right?”
“Yep, that’s me!” Natalie replied, flashing a smile.
“Thank goodness, I was afraid I would be helping a customer when you came in. I’m all alone in here today and it’s shockingly quiet.” He leaned over and rapped his knuckles against one of the shelving units holding a number of circuits. “Knock on wood and all. Anyway, come on back.”
The man turned and waved Natalie back with him. He got up to the counter and began tapping away on a keyboard there. It was a few seconds before he was ready again, and the whole time Natalie simply stood still, one hand in her pocket, already palming the citizenship chip.
“Alrighty. Let me just get your details here. Name?”
“Oookay, and your serial number?”
“Uhh. Where would I find that?” Natalie muttered.
The man stopped. His head turned to look at Natalie and for a moment was confused. He really hadn’t been expecting that.
“Sorry, most ‘bot’s can just rattle that kind of thing off.”
“I never had to look it up. The school I worked for just had it on file.” Natalie said, her cheeks beginning to turn a shade of pink.
“Oh. Oh! You’re a recently freed unit. Got it! That changes very little, but explains a lot. Okay. So, you’ll want to open your system preferences, then go to unit settings, then general, then about. It should be the third line down.”
“Thanks.” Natalie replied meekly, then followed the instructions, and found her own serial number. It was something she had never looked at before. She rattled it off, and as she did, the man at the computer tapped away the information. He also asked for her model number, date of construction, and current operating system version. All of which happened to be conveniently in the same information screen. Natalie made a small note to herself on how to get back to this particular block of information.
“Okay, good stuff. You’re all checked in. I’m Alan by the way.” He said.
“Nice to meet you Alan.”
Alan nodded and locked the computer he was working on before pressing his palms into the countertop in front of him and smiling back at Natalie.
“So, what can we do for you today?” He asked.
“I just got my citizenship..thing..in the mail and I have no idea how to install it.” Natalie said, pulling the chip out of her pocket and gently laying it on the counter between herself and Alan. He looked down at the sealed chip then back up to Natalie. A small, much more genuine smirk crossed his face.
“You really don’t know anything about how you operate or anything?” Alan asked.
“N-no..should I?” Natalie said, her already pink cheeks burning with a bit more redness now. Alan picked up on this, of course, how could he not.
“No, I mean most do, but, there isn’t anything wrong with that of course. Just-” Alan took a deep breath and exhaled through his nose. “-Just that most do, and I’ve never met anyone who didn’t know. That’s all.”
The two stood in silence for what felt like, to Alan, an eternity.
“Right, let’s get you back here into the repair bay and get this chip installed.” Alan said with a nod and scooped up the chip. He pushed open a door behind the counter and motioned towards Natalie to step through. She did and despite the somewhat second hand look of the lobby, beyond the door it felt like Natalie had walked into some alternate dimension. The soft carpeting had given way to cold white tile floors, white painted walls, and a polished steel work bench that encircled the perimeter of a room fully the size of the entire front shop. Aside from the workbench and shelves with frosted clear bins, were two centerpieces to the room, a large flat stainless steel chair, and something akin to a dentist's chair.
“Okay, for your model I think the chip bay is relatively easy to get to.” Alan said, pulling out a stool and nudging it into the space between the table and the chair. Once it rolled to a stop, he motioned towards it and Natalie glanced quickly from the table and the chair to the stool.
“Here?” She questioned.
“Yup, this is like, a two minute fix.” Alan replied. “Most folks like you do it on their own at home.”
Natalie pursed her lips and sat. She knew Alan wasn’t poking fun at her, but it was the first time she had ever felt incomplete. Like there was something she should know but completely lacked the knowledge. In the long run she knew it would be good for her, but she hated the feeling in the moment.
“Okay, now, I’m going to need to touch you to do this, just on your head is all. Is that okay?” Alan was saying as he stood behind Natalie. It was the first time that someone had actually asked her permission for anything other than a hall pass. It brought a warm smile to her face.
“Yeah, that’s fine.” She replied, then folded her hands in her lap. The sensor laden skin along her palms felt the rough denim of her jeans as she began to nervously fidget.
Natalie felt a fair amount of pressure being applied along her forehead, then down by her ear, at her neck and again by her other ear. Then all at once the pressure was gone, in fact she felt like the top of her head was floating away. In fact, it was. Alan had lifted the entire scalp and hair piece off of Natalie’s head, leaving only a layer of artificial skin, and the exposed back of her skull. The clear plastic plating on her head allowed Alan to easily see into her skull and at the tangled mass of wiring inside. Buried in there somewhere were controller boards and the entire back side of Natalie’s facial assembly. He was far more concerned with the small panel of data ports and two small slits, perfectly sized for the chip Natalie had provided for him. It slotted easily into place and with a tinny kind of click, it was in place.
“There you go, all done.” Alan said, settling Natalie’s hair piece back into place and pressing in on the same places as before.
“That’s- That’s it?” Sure enough, even as Natalie spoke, a new security certificate appeared in her database. It was filled with all manner of information, but in bold lettering across the top were the words ‘deed of citizenship for artificial beings.’
Natalie sat very still as Alan finished pressing her hair into place, even going as far as to try and style it back into the same swooping style she had before. He got close and eventually gave up. Once done he stepped around to face Natalie and held out his hand to her. She took it and he helped her to her feet. Once there Natalie could only manage to whisper a small thank you to Alan. It was, by far, the most heartfelt thanks that Alan had ever heard from someone in his shop. He wasn;t actually sure how to properly react to it. He nodded stoically towards her and asked if there was anything else he could do for her. She just shook her head silently.
The two moved back to the lobby in silence and Natalie stood facing the counter, trying to look as normal as she could, but there was something working behind the scenes in her operating system that made her flush again, redder than before. She sucked in a deep breath, partially because that's what her body had requested, more fresh air to help cool the internal systems that were working hard to process the emotional simulations her artificial mind were conjuring up, but it was also a gesture of sorts. Something to express that she was trying her best to steady herself.
“How much?” Natalie managed at last, mentally authenticating against her dwindling bank account and getting ready to wave her hand over the contactless touch reader to pay.
“No charge for earning your independence.” Alan said in return, flashing a genuinely happy smile.
Natalie wasn’t sure if she could cry, or if now was an appropriate time. But she registered that her chin quivered a little and sucked in another deep breath, nodded to Alan, and muttered her thanks before swiftly leaving the store.
Natalie left the shop feeling, for the first time, a torrent of different processes. They were all meant to simulate an emotional response. There were good, bad, strange, new, and old processes all swirling together and colliding with each other. She walked along the sidewalk for a few city blocks before she found herself in a small greenspace. There were benches, a small play structure, and very few people. She lowered herself to a bench and sucked in a deep breath before closing her eyes and devoting as much of her processing power as she could spare to her artificial intellect and attempted to decipher what exactly she was feeling.
Happiness for sure, as well as a swelling feeling of confidence, accomplishment, and joy. Along with that though was a dose of terror, she was a citizen now and that meant her maintenance costs and responsibilities fell solely on her artificial shoulders. She had been so happy-go-lucky in the last month that she had barely considered her bank account, but now that dwindling number fell onto her head. She felt dread of the unknown future and along with that a profound sense of isolation. She had seen the statistics. There were maybe a few thousand independent androids in the country, and only a few more world wide. She was not exactly one of a kind, but in the sprawling city around her, she was likely very alone.
Despite the mixture of good and bad, she was more happy than anything. This was both the end of a road she had started walking down years before hand, and the start of a brand new life. Natalie sucked in a breath and exhaled all at once. She placed her hands on her knees and pushed herself back up to her feet. Now was no time for sulking, it was time for a celebration. While she didn’t need to drink, nor could she really experience the intoxicating effects of alcohol, she decided that she would, for the first time in her existence, go to a bar and have a drink to celebrate.
Natalie had been in a nicer side of the downtown Portland area, and as such there was no shortage of bars, taverns, breweries and all manner of places for a new independent unit like her to get a drink. With hands in pockets, she strolled along street after street, just looking for the one that seemed to have the kind of aesthetic she was looking for. She saw everything from a place that was a leather tannery and viking bar, to small holes in the wall that sported three stools and a table and were just enough to retain a liquor license. She finally found herself stepping over the threshold into a bar, aptly named, “Blank Slate” and pulled up a stool in front of the long wide bar.
The place was smooth, clean, and decorated with the sort of modern decor that a hipster might pick out. It was all hard cut corners, black metal stools and chairs with polished wood. The dark paint on the walls seemed to swallow up the dim lighting that dangled from above. Despite the sunshine streaming in, it felt dark, but not oppressively so. Behind the bar were shelves of crisp polished wood with bottles of any conceivable shape and size lining them. Many were partially empty from the cocktails they were a part of, many more remained mostly full due to their price and the prevailing theory in the city that only certain low end boozes were fit to be mixed.
Natalie scooted one of the stools out from the bar with the toe of her shoe and took a seat and folded her arms across her chest, then leaned forward, resting her elbows on the bartop. She was now smiling fully, swimming in the delighted feeling of being bound to nothing and no one. From around the corner of a hallway at the end of the bar popped a woman’s head, curious at first and then snapping to a smile.
“Hey there! I’ll be right with you!” Came the almost sickly sweet response.
Natalie nodded and smiled. Sure enough an instant later a pretty light haired woman scooted her way behind the bar. There was a silver ring in her nose, and her ear lobes were gauged open with a black ring set in each one. Her hair was pulled back into a messy bun where the tips faded into a purple. She was shorter than Natalie for sure, and very slender to the point of almost being lanky. She was all pep though, and Natlie sat back a bit as the girl enthusiastically smiled in her direction.
“Sorry about that, what can I get you?” She asked, her tone just as enthusiastic.
“Uh..I don’t know. I’m celebrating. So, something nice, I guess?” Was Natalie’s unprepared response.
“Oh nice, well are you a clear or dark liquor kind of gal?”
“Uhhh.” Natalie had never drank anything in her life, let alone alcohol.
“Oh, can I check your I.D. too. Just gotta make sure and all.”
Natalie blinked, she didn’t have I.D. or anything with her. She could pay through the touch chip in the palm of her hand, but an actual identity was something all new to her.
“Asking the tough questions today aren’t you? I uh, don’t actually have any I.D. like..at all.” Natalie said, already preparing herself to be tossed out. The bartender lifted an eyebrow but smirked.
“You’re either the dumbest twenty year old I’ve ever met, or you must be a robot.” She said, her words dripping with sarcasm. It was enough to dissipate the worry that Natalie had building inside of her. She looked down at the counter, nodded.
“Robot, you got me.” Natalie said and looked up. She was met with the same smirk but it was now tilted to the side, making the woman look quizzical.
“Then just say so, no need for a fancy act. Just connect to the wifi here and ping the register, that’s all we need.”
Natalie was pretty sure she knew how to do all of that. She connected to the wireless network by the same name as the bar, and as soon as she connected she got a pop-up in her field of vision asking if she would like to confirm her identity and connect to the internal drink menu. Natalie agreed and in an instant the smirk on the bartender’s face turned from a smirk back into a smile.
“There ya go. Easy as that. Now, can I get something started for you and whoever else is showing up?”
Natalie got a new ping in her field of vision. A small alert that simply stated ‘Now serving you: Kayla.’
“Just me today. I just got my citizenship and I wanted to have a small toast to celebrate.” Natalie replied. Her response raised both eyebrows on Kayla this time.
“Congrats are in order then!” Kayla exclaimed. “I think you’re the first freed ‘bot I’ve ever had come through here.”
“Yep..your kind aren’t exactly the kind of people to come through a bar like this on a Tuesday afternoon.” Kayla said.
“I guess that’s true.” Natalie muttered.
“The good news is that I think this means it’s officially your birthday, and our policy is that you get one free shot on your birthday.” Kayla called as she turned to the bar and pulled down some bottle filled with a brown liquid and poured it into a shot glass, then a second. She set one down in front of Natalie, and one in front of herself.
“One day maybe I’ll get that freedom.” Kayla said, raising the shot glass in front of her and clinking it against the one Natalie had just picked up. “When I do, I expect I’ll do the same thing as you.”
Natalie smiled and the two took down the shot. Neither one reacted as the high burn of the alcohol barely registered with the pair of androids. Nonetheless Natlie nodded, set her glass down and smiled.
“You making any headway towards that?” As if the assumption was that every robot was trying to buy their freedom like Natalie had.
“I have a few dollars stashed away.” Kayla replied and whisked away the glasses and put them in a dish washing tray. “How long were you at it?” She asked, returning to face Natalie.
Natalie was thankful that the bar was so empty this afternoon. She wasn’t entirely comfortable being this open about being a robot if there were onlookers around.
“Six years. I was a high school teacher. They paid pretty well and I saved everything I possibly could.”
“Damn, that’s a long ass savings plan.” Kayla commented.
“Worth every penny.” Natalie replied, to which Kayla simply nodded in agreement.
Natalie began to lose herself in pleasant conversation with Kayla. It was empty in the bar for about half an hour, then other patrons began to show up. Natalie requested a simple glass of water, and Kayla was smart enough to drop a little tropical umbrella in it and a lemon. It looked like some kind of cocktail, but it was a simple class of cool ice water. Kayla made sure to swing by and chat or say hi or just check in with Natalie in between helping other people as they came in. Soon though, the afternoon had transitioned into early evening and the bar was filling up. Natalie was beginning to wonder if she should step out and open up a seat for someone who was actually paying for drinks. Every time she tried to push away from the bar though Kayla was right there, fresh drink in hand, and a wink and smile on her face.
As the night progressed, Natalie found herself to be the target of several sidelong glances from men around the bar. No one was so bold as to approach her and actually flirt. One did write down a phone number on a napkin and ask Kayla to deliver it to Natalie on his behalf, which she did. She slipped the napkin across the counter in front of Natalie and then leaned in.
“Gentleman at the booth on the far end of the bar would like to say hello and request that if you’re interested that you simply text him.” She said rather coyly.
“I’m not going to look, but what’s his deal? What do you think?” Natalie asked.
“He’s a silver fox. Older than either of us are built to look,sweet, but not worth your time.” Kayla replied.
“Thanks.” Natalie replied and sipped on her drink. She made a show of folding up the napkin and tucking it into her pants pocket.
The night carried on and the bar got busy, then quiet, then busy again. All the while Natalie and Kayla giggled to one another. Natalie watched as drunk patrons attempted to flirt with Kayla who seemed to have the perfectly programmed response to all of them to gently let them down. As the night dragged onward, and it got closer and closer to midnight the bar started to clear out. Leaving more time for Kayla to wash dishes, clean up and chat with Natalie.
“So what are you doing now? Not still teaching I assume?” Kayla asked as she pulled a piping hot rack of glasses from the dishwasher.
“Nope, I’m actually not doing anything.” Natalie said, looking down at her half empty glass and idly wondered how much water she had floating around inside of her storage tank at the moment.
“Got someone paying your bills for you?” Kayla asked, hopeful that Natalie had some kind of incredible benefactor.
“Ha! I wish. No It’s just me and my little apartment and my empty bank account.” Natalie said, feeling that same crashing realization from earlier that her freedom came with a continued price tag. “Suppose I should start looking for some work huh?”
“Good luck.” Kayla’s response didn’t sound hopeful.
“Thanks?” Natalie replied, the worry in her voice was palpable.
Kayla leaned in and spoke in hushed tones. “You’ll find a lot of places that only want full humans, or class four owned androids..I hate to say it but you might find it a little difficult out there.”
“So, what do..people..do?”
Kayla’s face fell a little and she chewed her lower lip just a bit.
“Have you heard of ‘Near-bot’?” Kayla asked.
“Nnnnno. Should I have?” Natalie asked.
“It’s. Not for everyone. But It’s guaranteed money on the regular. But uh…” Kayla leaned in again, fully whispering now. “It’s, you know, sex.”
When Kayla pulled back she found Natalie raising a single eyebrow and looking somewhat underimpressed.
“So? I mean, if the money is good, why not? Right?”
“Look into it is all I’m saying. Make sure you read the terms and conditions and stuff.” Kayla said at last.
Natalie took the advice and logged it away. She would look into the app, the money would be nice, and she had never had sex before, so why not? It was a service that someone was willing to pay for and Natalie would like to at very least experience it for herself before she rendered judgement on it. It would, however, be a little odd for her. She had spent a good amount of her time at the school district separating teenagers who were making out in the hallway instead of going to class. To then be the object of someone's affections was something entirely new to her.
After another few minutes Natalie pushed away from the bar and held up her hand to Kayla as she was already bringing another glass of ice water, already sweating, towards her.
“I’m getting pretty..tired. If you catch my drift.” Natalie remarked as an alert popped into her field of vision letting her know that her battery was beginning to run low on charge. “Time for me to hit the hay.”
“Alright sweetie. It was nice to meet you.” Kayla said as she dumped out the contents of the glass.
“I’m sure you’ll see me again.” Natalie smirked and playfully winked at Kayla and then strolled out of the bar and into the dark cool night.
It was only a matter of a dozen blocks to her apartment from the bar, and so Natalie did a quick bit of math. Her charge would hold out, and so instead of waiting for a bus she simply began to stroll along the sidewalk. She dug her hands into her pocket and pulled out her phone. As long as she was walking she might as well investigate this ‘Near-bot’ thing that Kayla had tipped her off to.
It advertised itself to be “Companionship on demand.” From what Natalie could understand between the propaganda and legal jargon, the app allowed someone to sign up and put in requests for a “companionship encounter.” From there, other users could pick up the request and the two parties were connected and arrangements could be made. It was clear that the intent behind it was that androids could offer up the kind of customized service only they could offer to other users who had particular tastes. Scrolling through some of the testimonials only confirmed that. Natalie read about satisfied customers one after the other. It seemed like the company behind that app were trying very hard to steer away from the concept of prostitution by claiming that these were encounters, or experiences, and there was no explicit indication that it was sexual, but Natalie wasn’t that naive.
After a few moments of allowing her artificial mind to roll around the implications and weigh the options, Natalie decided to download the app and sign up. She could read more on the legal terms and if it didn’t work out, there was no obligation for her to continue using it. As she filled in the user information and marked herself as an android in the set up, she was taken to a long, dry page filled with all the terms and conditions. She clicked off her phone and walked the remaining blocks to her apartment, unlocked the door and stepped inside. She used the toe of one shoe to coax the other off of her foot before kicking off the first shoe, never bothering to untie them. She moved to her bedroom, sat on the edge of the bed and then flopped backwards. She still had her phone in hand, reading the terms of the app and grabbed hold of her charging cord with her free hand. She used her one hand to feed the cable up her shirt and into the now open charging port in her chest, never once looking away from her phone screen.
There was a lot of information here. Legal wording that laid out what users and robots alike were expected to do and adhere to. Natalie, if she chose to continue, would be a contract worker. Earning a portion of the pay that her clients invested in the app, and in return would pick up jobs. Any additional cosmetics or programming would be sent to her, free of charge, as long as it was returned promptly. There was even a portion of the contract that outlined what would and would not be covered in the case of accidental damage to the android. There seemed to be very little that wasn’t thought of in the contract, and even more so, very little that Natalie objected to.
So, Natalie tapped through the prompts, signed up to be a Near-bot, and waited for her email confirmation. It came moments later, and she confirmed that it was her. From there, it was only a matter of a few additional steps that were far more personal. She got an alert from the app that they needed to confirm her identity, which was easy enough to do with her new citizenship card. They would need profile pictures depicting her body, or most of it at least so that clients could know what they were ordering when she accepted their requests. And a picture confirming that she was, in fact, an android. Natalie, ever one for being efficient with her work, slipped out of bed. She disconnected her power cable, but left her chest panel open.
She moved out to her living room, and over to the single comfortable chair that was next to her couch. She set down her phone and set about pulling her shirt up and over her head and then unfastening her bra. They both landed in a pile on her couch. Next her jeans and panties joined them and eventually her socks too. She stood naked in her living room, chest panel open and phone in hand. She sat on the chair and started taking some pictures at a variety of angles, but didn’t find the right one until she curled her legs up under herself and squatted on the chair. She liked the look but just finished snapping the picture when her phone automatically shut off. As it turned out, she was monitoring her own power levels, but not that of her phone. The constant selfies and social media postings had taken their toll.
Natalie huffed, marched into her room and then returned with a charging cable for the phone. She plugged one end into the open panel in her chest, then extended her arm up above her head, flashed a peace sign and a cute smile and snapped a picture. As she reviewed it she was amazed at just how much her internal operating system had made her blush, but she thought she looked cute. She hoped that it would be more than enough to confirm that she was, in fact, an android, and with any luck she could send it to someone who needed a little more enticement to choose to work with her again. She uploaded the picture to the Near-bot servers and within moments had a confirmation from them that she was all set and ready. She could start taking on clients as soon as she was ready.
Natalie was already critically low on power and had had a long day already, so a job would likely have to wait until the next day. But she was excited to try it out, even if it meant exposing to strangers that she was, in fact, a robot. Some things come with a price. She scooped up her clothes and let them fall back on the floor in her room. She slept naked that night, her phone charging from her as she charged from the wall.
It had been a relatively slow week for Natalie. She had spent her entire existence moving from charging station, to data station, to classroom and back again. Once her battery was full she would move to the shared data uplink stations with the rest of the android staff at the high school she was owned by, and plug in to the school district network. From there her daily lesson plans, student records, and any pertinent updates and information were downloaded and compiled. Then she would disconnect, and go about her day. She was an English teacher then and a good one at that. She was lucky enough to get the kind of “cool teacher” look and personality that made student’s flock to her class.
That had been nearly three and a half months ago. She had saved her meger paycheck for her entire service operation time and only barely managed to buy herself from being returned to the manufacturer and disassembled, or ending up as a refurbished tutor model for some high paying bratty child. At the end of it all though, she was free. She owned herself and was now a card carrying member of society as well as a new case in the ongoing political debate over robotic beings' rights and privileges.
Natalie had paid so very little attention to the news reports on the subject, in part because she didn’t own a television, extra expenses on luxuries would have chewed through her paycheck after all. So her small apartment was very spartan in furnishings and decor, but that was alright with her, after all, what kind of robot needed creature comforts?
According to Natalie’s advanced artificial intellect, she did.
She had bought her freedom but every time she looked at her apartment, the single couch, chair, and lamp in her living room and the twin bed in her bedroom sparked some kind of joyless twisting thing inside of her. She knew on some level that it was just her programming responding to external stimulations and information, but that didn’t stop her from wanting to change it. Her dwindling savings account had disagreed with her though. There was no money for that. She had ongoing bills to pay andthe savings account was responsible for those. Her cell phone was her only form of communication with the outside world since school district owned androids were not given cellular capabilities and her internal wifi had nothing in her own home to connect to. Without electricity she would soon be just another appliance laying dormant in an abandoned apartment.
Natalie had needed a job. The world at large had paid her a favor though. Not long after she had left the school she had the pleasure of meeting a very sweet bartender who had tipped her off to something of an escort service. An app, Nearbot, would allow clients to post ads for anything from a quick meet up for some cheap thrills at a hotel, or a night on the town at a company gala and everything in between. Natalie, taking the advice, had signed up for it and sent off proof of her android status and then waited.
The selling point for Nearbot was that the android users could browse client requests and take them on, meaning any given android didn’t have to take on any job that they didn’t want. Clients posted what they were expecting and if there were any physical modification that the user requested, the hardware would be sent to the android with instructions on how to install it. Then when the date and time arrived the client and the robot would link up, have their date, and then part ways. Payment was directly deposited to the android’s account and then deducted from a pre-loaded account from the client. All in all it was a wonderful system that skirted the issue of sexual conduct since the meet ups were not exclusively for sex. There were entire categories of users who simply wanted someone to have coffee with them, or attend a party as their date and nothing more.
Natalie had spent at least an hour or two every day thumbing her way through the requests, and while most seemed like they were relatively innocuous, she would always be just a little hesitant to accept an offer. Today was no different. She had been flicking through the requests and none of them struck a chord with her, not that she knew exactly what she was looking for. She sucked in a breath and let it seep out her nostrils. It was the first breath she had actually taken in over an hour. She had been sitting idle, and her processors didn’t need much in the way of fresh cool air.
She tipped sideways and flopped down onto her couch, laying sideways. Her eyes flicked to the rest of her empty room. Her black leather jacket had been tossed over the back of the chair across from her. Her dark gray denim pants lay crumpled next to her heathered gray shirt in a pile on the ground. Sandwiched between the two garments was her bra and socks. Shin high chuck taylor boots were separated by the entire room, one laying on its side near the kitchen counter and the other was nowhere to be seen. Natalie had only realized what a luxury the ability to be naked was once she wasn’t required to always be dressed. School board policy required that unless she was actively changing clothes that she should always be dressed. It was early on in her new, free life that she discovered how nice it felt to have the ambient air brushing over her skin.
As she scrolled rapidly through the listings, one, finally, caught her eye. She was so used to the standard parade of men looking for either a quick date and a roll through the hay, or some pretty girl to perch on his arm, that the sight of a woman asking for an encounter with another woman was enough to interest Natalie. She tapped on the request and quickly scanned the details.
“Someone to have drinks with me, dance the night away, and end the night with a simple sweet kiss.”
It was a shockingly short list of requests. Listed in the requirements section was a small note about a preferred cup size, which Natalie did not meet, but the new parts would be shipped to her before their meetup along with appropriate evening wear and a USB drive with a set of program modifications. It was, in all honesty, a simple enough job and Natalie gladly accepted it before anyone else did. Figuring that she could ease her way into this new lifestyle and with any luck, buy herself some better hardware so she didn’t have to rely on Nearbot to ship it to her. Once the offer was accepted she almost immediately got a confirmation email on her phone about the arrangement and a tracking number to check on the hardware and software that was being sent to her. The date was set for Saturday evening, giving Natalie the better part of the week to wait for her shipment and figure out how exactly to install whatever was being sent to her. There was a small twinge of nervous activity in her artificial intelligence at the thought of modifying herself. Both from the standpoint of parts that were completely unknown to her, but more relevant, she was an English teacher and not a mechanic. She had no idea how she would even begin to install whatever was coming her way. But she was nothing if not good to her word, she had made a date and a promise to herself to try this out, and she would.
Natalie spent the rest of the day scrolling through other jobs on Nearbot, of which none seemed appealing. She wasn’t sure if that was because she was legitimately excited about her first date, or nervous about taking on more clients before she had a single experience. Regardless, she got up from the couch and put only her shirt on and began to tidy her small apartment. As she tidied the small amount of books and trinkets she had accumulated over the years, even she idly wondered why she was cleaning. Was she expecting to bring her date back here? She looked at her mostly empty apartment and pursed her lips. It really was a robot’s apartment.
A place to sit, a place to lounge, and a bed. Natalie Hadn’t bought any food or drink so the kitchen was completely empty. Not that she minded, it meant she hadn’t had to spend some of her hard earned paycheck on it. But now. What if they wanted to come back to her place for a bit? Should she get something?
Natalie’s processors were heating up, cramming through the calculations and possibilities of what might happen this weekend, and what possible outcomes there might be, and if she needed to prepare for any of them.
Natalie hadn’t convinced herself to actually buy any food or drink. In the end, through a series of simulated scenarios, her operating systems had concluded that there was a low likelihood of bringing someone back to her apartment in the near future. Even if her date wanted to come over, Natalie had already decided to just be honest and let them know that she had a pretty sparse apartment and it wouldn’t be ideal for entertaining a human. That line of processes and simulations had brought forth more questions though. What if her date wanted to move things back to their own place?
Natalie had always relied on her programming suite to help her through most any situation she had been in, and she was grateful that the majority of her code base was centered around social interactions. As she sat in her living space, her legs pulled tight against her chest, she found that she couldn’t find any programming on what to do should thing get flirtatious let alone sexual. Natalie was well aware of what sex was, and from a clinical standpoint how to make everything work, but there were other hurdles to overcome.
Natalie hadn’t been built with a sexual orafice. Her mouth could probably get the job done, and she knew what to do, but there was no programming set for it. All she had to work on was book knowledge.
A soft knock on her apartment door drew her attention away from her artificial mind's worrisome line of thoughts. By the time she had crossed her apartment and unlocked and opened the door, the source of the knocking had already left, but they had left her a nondescript cardboard box. There were plenty of labels and barcodes on it, but she had no idea where it had come from.
She brought it back into her apartment and blindly hooked her foot around the door and shoved it closed while she turned the box over and around in her hands, trying to figure out who had sent it. In the end, the shipping address was one she didn’t recognize. Once she pulled it open though, everything became clearer.
Inside, wrapped in thick anti-static plastic was some large object. It was heavily obscured but once Natalie had picked it up she felt a little giddy. It was a chest plate with a larger set of breasts on it, the kind that her client had requested. She took it out and set it on the floor in her living area. There were more items in the box as well. Another anti-static bag, a sheet of paper resting on top of a cloth bag of some kind and a smaller plastic box that fit easily in the palm of her hand.
The paper was a letter from the Nearbot distributor in her area that had shipped her the parts. It was barely more than a certificate stating that the parts had been checked for faults and verified to be working. When she returned them they were expected to be in reasonably good condition as well. The large cloth bag had concealed another packet of paper as well, this one was a set of step by step instructions on how to swap the parts that had been sent to her. She was grateful for the instructions, but wished they were more in depth. Natalie felt as if she had been handed a pamphlet on open heart surgery, written by IKEA.
She sucked in a deep breath and began reading the instructions.
The first step was to install the new programming suite, drivers, and operation updates. They would help in making the installation of the new hardware easier as well as prime her systems for the new parts. They instructed her to open the small plastic box and take out the USB drive inside of it. The pamphlet was just vague enough to tell her what to do next.
“Open your android’s data input and programming port and insert the drive. Your android should begin installing immediately.” Natalie muttered to herself as she read the instructions aloud a second time.
“Maybe the same port I used when getting my lessons?” Natalie guessed.
Opening this particular port was one of the few panels that she knew how to open. She had done it over and over for the last few years. She held out her left hand and rotated her arm until the underside of her wrist was visible and then she ran the same small snippet of code she had run every morning while at the school. Between the two hard plastic “bones” inside of her arm, a small portion of flesh popped up as if a spring loaded latch had just been opened. Inside of the small opening was a single data port and she wasted no time in slotting the drive into it.
Sure enough, as soon as it was connected Natalie could see a new drive pop up in her field of vision and her basic anti-malware software scanned it. Once it was clear, the files began copying themselves into her internal directory and installing a number of different drivers and small pieces of software. Natalie was aware of this, which was a change from her schooling days where her AI would be taken offline while the data copied and she would only reactivate once it was time to begin teaching for the day. Now though, she could watch files transfer, look around at her surroundings and watch the small blinking status light in her wrist as it displayed activity for the duration of the install.
Once done, Natalie had a simple quick reboot to execute, at which point she settled onto the floor, her legs tucked under her. As her power cells powered down for a moment, her head drooped forward, her arms falling to her sides and her body leaning forward slightly, caught only by her artificial spine. Moments later, she was back online, staring blankly forward as the installation finished the final steps and she was clear to remove the drive. She hadn’t expected to feel so invigorated from the install, but it was thrilling in a way she hadn’t expected. She had spent so long either pretending to be a human for the children she taught, or being purely mechanical equipment in the backroom. Never once had she felt like a true hybrid of both.
She extracted the drive and placed it back in the box and pulled out the larger of the two anti-static bags. Once opened, she was able to slide out the chest plate, and took a moment to laugh and marvel at the size that had been requested for these. They were easily in the triple D range, if not larger, but that was ok. Natalie had been accustomed to her relatively small B-cup breasts, and this would be a fun and interesting change. She stood up, placing the new chest panel on the counter space between her kitchen and her living area. The underside of the chest panel had some kind of hard plastic shell on it that would need to be removed at some point, but for now it gave her a solid plane to set the chest piece down on.
The instruction pamphlet was once again little help, though it did give Natalie some insight into what needed to happen. There was a diagram of an illustrated woman with four red circles on either side of the top and bottom portions of the chest. Somewhere just above where the bottom rib would be on a human, and along the collar bone. The instructions simply said “use a small pin inserted into the manual disconnection points and remove plate.”
It took Natalie a little bit of time before she was able to find something that would work well enough. In the end, a safety pin that had been confiscated from a student had made its way into her purse and it would do nicely. Next, she stripped off her shirt and bra and tossed them aside, leaving her in her shoes and jeans only. It became apparent that finding the pin holes was going to be a challenge since she wasn’t able to get a good look at her upper chest, so she moved to the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror there. She had to look very closely to see the pin holes that she had been instructed to look for, but once she found the first one in her lower chest the other three were easily spotted. Natalie pushed the tip of the pin into the small pin holes and once all four had been pressed she heard a small hissing, as if something was unsealing itself.
“Frontal chest cavity seal breached.” Natalie said without knowing it. The warning made her shake her head a little as if she were just coming back to her senses.
In the end though, she had done it. She could see the outline of a seam around her upper chest, just over her smaller breasts. Down the side of her torso, and across her thorax. She wiggled her fingernails into the seam and found it was easy to pry away her entire chest and allow her a marvelous view into her body in the mirror.
She mostly saw the metallic rib-like framework that had wiring and some smaller components affixed to it. Just under her breasts had been two large devices though, and as she pulled her chest away she could see the magnetic cables that were attached to it come loose. It was in that moment that she felt the sensation of a complete loss of feeling in her chest. Where her operating system and her higher AI functions had been vaguely aware of the cool open air on her breasts and nipples, now, it was just gone. Not quite a numbness, but a complete lack of feeling altogether.
“Wild.” She breathed and smiled, unabashedly at her own open torso. She could see the hints of lights deeper inside of her body, all blinking in their own rhythms and indicating something. Natalie didn’t care though, she smiled broadly and stepped out of the bathroom and back into her living space. She set down her smaller chest piece and picked up the new one and then peeked down at the instructions. As she suspected the magnetic wiring needed to be reconnected before the new plate was locked into place.
It took Natalie a moment to awkwardly hold the much heavier chest piece in one hand, holding it close to her open chest, and used her free hand to wiggle inside the space between the new chest piece and her own body. It was meticulous work reconnecting the wires, though with a little work she was able to get them connected. Once they were in their data ports she almost immediately regained the sensation she had lost, but now it was more crystal clear. She pressed her new breasts into place and with a satisfying click, she knew they were in place.
Natalie took a moment to simply stand there and adjust to the newly added weight on her back. She was prone to tipping forward now, and wanted to give her balance protocols a moment to adjust. She soon felt comfortable enough to walk around her apartment and even found herself giggling as she moved. Her new breasts bounced and swayed so much more than what she was used to. She was soon comfortable with them, and more importantly, her balance programming had recalibrated itself to the additional weight.
Natalie settled back into a place on the floor in her living space. Sitting cross legged and smiling almost uncontrollably, she hardly remembered the worries she had had the day before and even earlier that day. The next bag she opened though caused her eyebrows to raise and another mirth filled chuckle to escape her vocal processors.
She held in her hands a long, vaguel cylinder shaped accessory. It was around ten inches long and along the sides of it were a number of thin clear tubes that looked more like fiber optic cables than anything else. It took no time at all for Natalie to figure out what this was though, particularly given the molded mound of flesh at the end of it. It was perfectly constructed and shaped to be a vagina. There was a small amount of flesh around it as well, with a hard plastic plate just below the skin layer and lined with small gold plated rods meant to both align and connect the device to Natalie’s pelvis.
It drew another chuckle from Natalie as she set it down and began unlacing her shoes and slipping them off. She stood, unzipped her jeans and slipped her thumbs into the waistband of her pants and her panties and pushed them down her long shapely legs before stepping out of them. The instruction pamphlet, once again, provided only the most basic of visual aides, highlighting only two locking points this time. Natalie settled down onto the couch and spread her legs open to allow her the most room possible. She first needed to remove the bald patch of featureless skin that covered her crotch now. Similar to her chest plate, once she found the first pinhole she was easily able to find the other and the covering came off easily.
Once the plate was removed, Natalie could see that there was simply nothing there. A deep chasm between her legs that had nothing in it, but the opening looked like it would easily match the size and shape of the device she had unpacked. Sure enough, once she aligned it and began to slide the device into her body, she found that it had a series of magnets that latched onto waiting rails inside of her and guided it easily into place. The gold plated alignment posts slipped easily into their matched hole inside of her pelvis and then the connection was made.
Natalie audibly gasped as her sexual programming loaded for the very first time ever. It had been one of the many programs that had been installed earlier. Natalie took a moment as her entire body shivered in a way that she had never felt. Her skin rippled with artificial goose bumps, her nipples puckered slightly and she found that her legs clamped together as her thighs began to gently rub back and forth. Then, just as quickly as the hardware initialization had started, it stopped, leaving Natalie to suck in one long breath as required by her processor core.
“Holy moly. That…that’s going to need some more testing.” She said to no one in particular and then fully laughed.
Replacing parts and installing software made her feel like she was wholly a machine and a person, but the surge of data that installing the sexual module gave her felt like she had become a woman.
Natalie’s week passed quickly. Her anticipation over the date had transformed from a nervous worry into actual excitement. She found that when she pondered what would happen if she was invited over to her date’s home that there was an entire database of what to do and what to say. There were dozens and dozens of flirtatious responses. Natalie had also unpacked the slinky red cocktail dress and heels from the cloth bag and spent the remainder of the day walking around in her apartment. She admired herself in the mirror, giggled at the feeling of the larger chest and appreciated what her date had requested.
Soon enough, the time for her date arrived and Natalie took an immense amount of pleasure in tucking her cellphone and house keys into a small purse and strutting out of her apartment. She admitted to herself that she liked the attention of those on the street that she passed by, turning heads in her direction. She wasn’t quite used to the spotlight being on her that way, but it made her feel good in a way she never thought existed.
As requested, Natalie made her way through the streets of the city until she was at the club, Holocene, near the waterfront. She didn’t have any form of issued identification to get into the club, but as she found once she left her taxi, that wouldn’t be necessary. Her date was waiting for her near the front entrance and waved and smiled at her. Natalie had been alerted by Nearbot that she would meet her contact in the parking lot, and at the same time her client had been given an estimated arrival time and even a GPS tracker based on Natalie’s cell phone.
“Hey!” The girl called as she shoved herself away from the wall she was leaning against and moved over towards Natalie.
As she moved she trailed long wisps of light brown hair. Her own black cocktail dress complimented Natalie’s perfectly. It showed just enough cleavage and skin on her back to entice everyone’s eyes to her, but not so much as to fill those glances. Natalie found herself falling into the same trap, she looked over the girl, who had identified herself in the app as Laura, and couldn’t help but wanting to see more. Maybe that was her new sexual programming talking, but Natalie loved the way Laura’s dark stocking stopped mere inches below the bottom of her skirt and showed off just the right amount of skin before drawing ones eyes up to the rest of her.
“Hi, you must be Laura.” Natalie replied and realized something. She recognized the girl, and not simply from her profile picture on Nearbot. It took a moment before Natalie’s operating system ran her face through some simple facial recognition software and concluded exactly who this person was. She had been one of Natalie’s students two years before. Now in her twenties and looking amazing, Natalie hadn’t ever thought she would see her again, though now she wished it were under better circumstances.
“Yep, that’s me! Sorry, I don’t think I made a request to get your name.” Laura giggled and trailed off, leaving it open for Natalie to respond.
“Chase. I’m Chase, or if you would prefer my serial number-” Natalie replied, only to get another giggle from Laura.
“Chase is fine. C’mon cutie, let’s get something to drink.” Laura said and snatched up Natalie’s hand into her own.
Laura had clearly done this before as the door man just nodded to her and winked once at Natalie. Inside of Holocene, the music was deafening. Laura and Natalie had to shout back and forth in order to accomplish any kind of conversation. Though once they moved to the lounge and away from the dance floor, it was far more comfortable. Laura took up a perch on an open pair of barstools and Natalie naturally followed along.
“Alright Chase. What’ll you be drinking tonight?” Laura asked as soon as she settled into her stool, leaving one foot on the ground and the other resting comfortably on the lower rim of the stool.
“I don't really know, I’m not much of a drinking girl myself.” Natalie replied.
“Shit, I forgot to request drinking on the stupid app.” Laura said, though she seemed little more than upset with herself for forgetting.
“It’s alright, why don’t you be a dear and order for me.” Natalie offered, seeming to wipe Laura’s embarrassment away.
Soon, a gin and tonic rest in a small glass in front of Natalie and a long island iced tea in front of Laura. The girls giggled once, clinked their glasses together and began to sip on their drinks. Natalie knew there were more eyes on her and Laura, partially because of the pair of beautiful women getting slowly more and more intoxicated, but Natalie assumed there were more suspicions there too. She herself looked more mature, somewhere in her late twenties or maybe early thirties, whereas Laura looked like she needed to be home so she could make it to school in the morning.
“So tell me Chase, how long have you been doing all this?” Laura asked after another long sip of her drink.
“Ha, well..you’re actually my first date.” Natalie replied.
“Shut up! I am not!” Laura exclaimed and her face showed genuine shock.
“Yep, go easy on me.” Natalie chuckled and Laura laughed heartily in return.
The pair chatted just long enough to finish their drinks. The alcohol seeping into Laura’s blood stream made her face blush red before she took and squeezed Natalie’s hand again. She thrust her head towards the dance floor and Natalie smiled and nodded vigorously.
Dancing was easy for Natalie. From her operating system’s perspective it was all math, and machines were phenomenal at math. Her processors worked hard to keep her balanced, especially with the larger chest and high heels, but they managed easily enough. Beyond that, it was simply finding the beat in the music and moving her body in rhythm with it. Natalie found that she and Laura soon began moving in sync with one another. Their bodies close and oftentimes rubbing directly against one another. Natalie put her hands on Laura’s hips and swayed along with her, occasionally allowing one hand to move to her own hair and scrunch it up and close her eyes.
Natalie didn’t keep track of how long they danced, but she knew the night was coming to a close when the club began to slowly empty. Her own operating system began alerting her to the state of her power cells as well. She wasn’t in danger of suddenly powering down, but she became aware that she only had twenty five percent left. Luckily, Laura took her hand and dragged her towards the door, indicating that she too might be a little low on energy.
As they left though, Laura simply took Natalie’s hand and began walking. It was only a few blocks to the waterfront avenue and the pair silently made their way along. Natalie was fine, but she had to imagine that Laura’s ears were ringing from the music.
“You doing okay?” Natalie asked, leaning into the more nurturing aspects of the remaining code she had from her school days.
“Yeah. Yeah I’m fine. That was a lot of fun!” Laura said, looking up suddenly. “Probably the best date I’ve been on in a long while.”
The pair found a bench and Laura squeezed Natalie’s hand once and then settled onto it.
“God my feet.” Laura complained, lifting her leg up as Natalie sat next to her. In a moment Laura’s heels were off and resting on the bench next to her.
“Lucky you don’t have to deal with sore foot muscles.” Laura commented and Natalie chuckled at that, thankful that despite all the problems with being a robot in the modern age, sore feet after dancing wasn’t going to be one of them.
Laura sighed and let the weight off of her feet for a few moments as the pair sat in silence for a bit. Then, Laura’s head came to rest on Natalie's bare shoulder. Smiling, Natalie raised her arm up and wrapped it around the former student and pulled her close, kissing her once on the top of her head.
“You know-” Laura began. “-You remind me a lot of someone.”
“Oh yeah? Who’s that?” Natalie replied, closing her eyes and letting the chilly night air fill her and drastically drop the temperature over her processors.
“I used to have this English teacher in high school. Everyone loved her so much. I was kind of a shit in her class, but she was always cool about it. You just reminded me of her a bit.” Laura confessed.
Natalie looked down at Laura, they were equals now. Laura was an adult and Natalie a free robot. As far as the world was concerned, they were basically the same, and Natalie didn’t feel any real need to hide who she was, or what she was, any more.
“You were a shit in my class. I always loved your creative writing though.” Natalie said and Laura pushed gently away from Natalie. Her look of confusion melted into a dawning realization.
“Holy shit, Ms Bayer?” Laura managed.
In response Natalie smiled, genuinely happy now, and nodded.
“Wait, but, you’re a-”
“-A robot, yes.”
“Were you always- no that’s stupid. What the hell!”
“Long story short, yes I was your teacher, but the school district has a contract on equipment like me. So, I saved my pennies and when the contract was up, I bought myself. Now I go on dates with cute girls for a living.” Natalie said.
“So…if you hadn’t bought yourself-” Laura began.
“Don’t know. I wasn’t about to stick around and find out though. So now I have a little apartment here in the city.”
“And you own yourself?” Laura asked, then immediately began to stammer, realizing that it might be rude to ask that kind of thing. Natalie giggled again and waved off Laura’s embarrassment.
“Self ownership is, I think at least, the right term for androids who have been given citizenship. So I’m basically a person now, kinda. It’s honestly really confusing and kind of political and that’s not my jam.” Natalie replied.
“God…so, all those classes where I thought you were just another adult out there cramming facts into my brain, you were really a cool robot all along.”
“I don’t know about cool, but-” Natalie smirked and winked at Laura.
“And, and when there were no kids around?”
“Just recharging in the back room.”
“Weekends too?” Laura asked.
“Weekends I had an apartment I would go to. I was allowed to do what I wanted within reason there. Most of the other robot staff just spent their money on living life while they could before their contract ran out. I-uh-I just kinda sat there. I’m boring like that.” Natalie answered.
Laura took a moment to slouch back on the bench and take it all in. Soon enough though, she leaned into Natalie again and let out a sigh.
“I’m glad you picked up my request.” Laura said at length.
“I am too.” Natalie replied. Moments later her phone buzzed in her purse. She wouldn’t have checked it normally, but it was so late, that she just had to know and began digging in her bag.
“You have a cellphone?” Laura asked, watching her.
“Uh, yeah. Is that not normal?” Natalie asked, unlocking it.
“I just figured you’d have, like, a phone app in your head or something.”
“Those cost money, and I’ve been saving.”
“The school didn’t put it in you?”
“Nope, too expensive and too many opportunities for security breaches.” Natalie replied, looking at her phone. It was an alert from Nearbot that the time of their date had passed and the funds had been transferred to her account.
“I guess that means our date is over.” Laura said, somewhat sadly.
Natalie turned and looked at her former student, now a fully grown woman in her own right. Laura looked up at Natalie and smirked, genuinely happy with how the evening had progressed.
“Not yet.” Natalie muttered and leaned in.
Their lips met, lightly at first and then with an increasing pressure. Natalie loved the feeling of it and was delighted that her own sexual programming took over for her. The pair kissed, passionately, for several long minutes. Natalie was the first to place her hands on Laura’s breasts and squeeze them once, but it was quickly reciprocated to her.
Soon though, the kiss broke and Laura and Natalie hovered in front of each other for a moment before quietly retreating. Natalie stood from the bench, alerted once again to the state of her battery. She held out a hand to Laura, who quickly slipped her heels back on and took Natalie’s hand.
“You know, you don’t have to make this the last time we meet up.” Natalie said as the pair began walking through the waterfront park towards the street to hail a taxi.
“Oh believe me, I’ll post more requests and I’ll hope you get them every time!” Laura replied, earning her a chuckle from Natalie.
“No, I mean, we don’t have to go on a date date to see each other. I had a great time tonight, and maybe next time we get coffee or lunch or something and catch up for real.” Natalie offered.
Laura smiled and looked down at her own feet, blushing harder at that than anything else that evening, and agreed. Soon enough, Laura was climbing into a taxi and offered a ride to Natalie, who politely refused. She would walk, despite the lack of power in her battery, she knew she had enough to make the trek back to her apartment. Laura smiled once again and nodded, leaving Natalie in her pretty dress in the park, alone.
Natalie’s walk home was as calming as she had hoped for. She had initialized all manner of programming sets and loaded them into an internal cache, ready to be executed at a moment's notice. There were sexual blocks of code, self defense in case anyone jumped out at her, and a myriad of social programs that had enough data to keep her processors busy for a long time. She made it home accosted though and was able to spend the time letting the automated timers on her cache expire. One by one the programs she had loaded all stopped.
She made it through her front door just moments after the five percent alert popped up in her field of vision. She dismissed it and entered her dark and mostly empty apartment. Flicking on the lights didn’t make it feel any less empty though. She sighed and kicked off the heels, then bent forward and pulled the red cocktail dress up and off of her. She set the heels next to one another in her entryway and then draped the dress over the back of her chair in the living space.
Natalie entered the bathroom and looked at herself once again. She had a wonderful evening and wished that it could have lasted so much longer than it did. Then her eyes flicked down to her old chest plate on the counter top there. She lingered on it a moment and then looked back at herself in the mirror. The sexual hardware and the big breasts would have to be disconnected tomorrow and sent back. She sighed again, at least she had them for tonight.
She left the bathroom and retreated to her room, laying herself down on her bed and plugging in the power cable that she left there.
When Natalie finished recharging and “woke up” the following morning, it was with a small sigh. She had sincerely enjoyed the feeling of being out and being social. She relished the experience of swapping out her own robotic parts and the attention she got from having those new additions. As her contract with Nearbot stated though, she had to return the equipment or risk paying for it herself, and she definitely did not have the funds for that.
As she stood in the bathroom again, gently poking a pin into the locking mechanisms on her chest, she made a reminder on an internal task list to look into the pricing for her own upgrades. Peeling the chest plate off of her torso again Natalie was treated to another view of her internal workings. She set down the chest plate and leaned in a little to look deeper into her own inner workings in the mirror. Nothing that she saw registered as familiar to her, and while it was thrilling to see it, it was also a little terrifying. She had no earthly clue how to fix herself in case of an emergency and she had little funds to pay someone. She added a task to her list to look into taking some classes on android repair too.
By noon Natalie had repackaged all of the additional parts, the dress, the heels, and sealed them up in the box they came in and applied the pre-paid postage to have it returned. She had finished dropping off the box at the post office and returned to the city streets. She thrust her hands into the pockets of her leather jacket and began to stroll along the sidewalk. Instead of returning home though she made her way to Blank Slate, the bar she had visited on her first night as an officially registered robotic citizen. The small hole-in-the-wall style bar had just barely opened by the time Natalie pushed open the door and settled into a barstool.
“Be right with you!” A sweet feminine voice from just behind the bar.
“It's cool Kayla. It’s just me.” Natalie called back.
Kayla almost immediately popped around the backdrop of the bar. Her dark brown hair transitioned into a wild teal and was currently coiled up into a messy bun on the top of her head. She was wearing a simple black tank top at the moment, with a small panel open in her chest with a thick dark cable plugged into it.
“Sorry hun, I was just topping off while it was slow.” Kayla muttered in an all too happy tone. “So, what can I getcha?”
“I don’t know, I mostly just wandered in.” Natalie said, folding her arms on the bartop and then leaning forward to rest her head there.
“Everything okay?” Kayla’s enthusiastic personality immediately shut down in favor of empathy. It was a change that she had complete control over, not that she needed it in this situation. Natalie was a friend, and had been in Blank Slate many times over the last few months.
“Yeah, I’m fine..I just dropped off the hardware from my first date on that app you told me about.”
“Oh, yeah I know exactly what you mean. I loved the first few times I got to swap around my own hardware and feel like a new person.” Kayla replied, trying to lift Natalie’s spirits.
“It was fun, that’s for sure, I just- I don’t know- I saw me. Like..you know..ME in there. And I just didn’t understand any of it. It made me wonder what else I don’t know about myself.” Natalie said, lacing her words with a heavy sigh.
“Aren’t you a little bit robotic to be having an existential crisis?” Kayle quipped.
Natalie looked up at her, confused and more than a little curious.
“I mean, come on. With good maintenance and care you’re going to be online and working just fine for at least another thirty years. Heck some of the very first sentient androids are still online and they were manufactured almost sixty years ago. You’re fine.” Kayal said, smiling and returning to her previous cheerful demeanor.
“Yeah, sure, but like, I don’t know about ME” Natalie replied.
“So learn. You have time. You own yourself and there is nothing stopping you from going out there and learning more about you. Experiment a little, do something you love, find out you hate it. Just live.”
Natalie couldn’t help but smile, Kayla seemed to have that effect on Natalie. She was always a ray of pure positivity in an otherwise dismal situation. The spreading smile on Natalie’s face made that apparent enough.
“I don’t know how you always seem to make me feel better, but you do.” Natalie said, thankful for Kayla.
“Beep boop, just programmed this way.” Kayla replied with a chuckle. “But really, if I had the kind of freedom you have, I’d be out there day and night trying to experience anything and everything.”
“You’ll get it one day.” Natalie reminded her, and Kayla smiled weakly and nodded.
“So, tell me everything. Was he super sweet and kind, or did he just wanna get freaky.” Kayla questioned.
“She.” Natalie corrected and Kayla wiggled her shoulders a little and raised her eyebrows at that. Natalie couldn’t help but laugh at that and began to relate how her evening before had progressed.
“-And then we kissed. A little.” Natalie finished.
“How romantic! Did she kiss you or did-”
“I kissed her. It seemed like the right thing to do.” Natalie finished Kayla’s question.
“Well sounds like a good first date! You think you’ll stick with the app? Take on some more contracts?” Kayla asked.
“Yeah I think so.” Natalie answered.
It was about this time that Kayla reached up to her chest and disconnected the cable there and let it drop back to the floor. Once there she nudged it under the bar with her toe as the open panel in her chest slipped closed and resealed itself. No sooner had she disconnected the power cable that someone else wandered into the bar and Kayla winked at Natalie before scooting over to take his order.
While Kayla busied herself putting in a food order and pouring a beer, Natalie felt her phone buzz in her pocket and dug it out. She had a message from Laura waiting for her.
“I had so much fun last night. We should get together again sometime soon. I’ll be sure to get you a real nice outfit and maybe I’ll bring a friend. What do you say ;-)”
Natalie smirked, pursed her lips for a moment and sent her reply.