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.