One in Six
Once again, this story was mostly a result of collaboration between me and australopith. I hope you'll enjoy it!
Bonnie lay wrapped in her blanket on a couch beside the fireplace. She slowly sipped her spiced Glühwein, a tall glass of red wine spiced with cinnamon, cloves, sugar, and orange zest. The tall blonde twentysomething wanted nothing more than to relax.
"Benjamin!" she called in a pleasant, sweet voice with the hint of a southern twang. "Come here and get cuddlin', sweetie!"
Who could resist such a siren song? Ben saved the program he was working on and jumped onto the couch, much to Bonnie's delight. She playfully wrapped herself even tighter in the blanket; Jerry mischievously tugged on it, trying to get inside. Bonnie giggled, spilling some of her wine.
"Come on, babe!” grinned Ben. “You wanted to cuddle, right?"
Bonnie grinned widely, her blue eyes gleaming. "Sure, honey. Cuddle and..." she leaned over and smooched Ben on the cheek. He wrapped his arm around her waist.
"Mmmm..." Bonnie sighed as she relaxed her synthetic body. She didn't resist when Ben slid under her blanket, pressing against her sides, legs and bosom. "So good... c’mon, here, touch me..."
Ben obliged, not wanting to spoil the moment. Bonnie’s database looked for a pleasant enough topic to start a conversation; but as Ben stroked her long, silky hair, nothing instantly popped to mind. Though Bonnie, with her sophisticated mental processes, was certainly capable of introspection, her basic instinct was to revel in gut-level pleasures. She was smart enough to know that she and Ben were a natural match—and had been, since the moment he had purchased the youthful-looking, fun-loving blonde girl online. An uneventful life was fine, Bonnie’s artificial logic told her, as long as it meant being happy and cozy with the right guy.
“Now, Ben... “ she whispered to her owner. “Save a little somethin’ for after dinner. Like our dessert, you know?” She giggled and tousled his hair.
“Mmmm, Bonnie...” Ben smiled. “Dessert doesn’t gotta be after dinner. How about we share something sweet right—” Just then Ben was interrupted by a knock at the door. He groaned.
“Don’t open it!” Bonnie grabbed his arm. “Make like we’re not home!”
But Ben turned his head and reluctantly walked up to the door. As it opened, the new arrival outside the house grinned broadly.
“Why, hello!” The tall lady unceremoniously marched in and unzipped her coat, revealing a fetching white pantsuit. “You must be Ben. It’s great to finally meet you. My name’s Cassandra.”
“Er… who are you? I mean—who are you with? Who do you represent,” Ben asked, his final question trailing off. Uneasy Bonnie looked on from the couch.
Cassandra smirked at the sight of Bonnie. Then she rolled up her white sweater to reveal a connector and a control panel embedded in her chest.
“Isn’t it obvious?” she said to Ben. “I’m your new fembot companion.”
Ben stepped back, visibly miffed. “I… already have a fembot.”
Cassandra turned and stared at Bonnie, this time with a decidedly odd facial expression. Then she turned stiffly and abruptly back to Ben. “I’m the factory replacement.”
“What?” Bonnie and Ben asked at once.
As if demonstrating that she now lived here, Cassandra tossed her coat onto Ben’s arms, then sat comfortably on the couch and eyed Bonnie’s wine glass with suspicion. The couple were too confused to offer her something to drink, but it seemed to make no difference. Cassandra flashed a triumphant smile as her electronic mind loaded a prepared speech.
“United Robotics would like to apologize for our previous X-bot Model 4.4, “Danielle.” While many owners still have fun with their synthetic friend-slash-assistant”—Cassandra eyed Bonnie, who could not hide her surprise—“we are aware that a small percentage of these fembots are experiencing serious meltdowns.”
“Er… I feel fine. Nothin’s happened. I didn’t report anything,” Bonnie protested.
“First of all!” Cassandra raised a gloved finger. “I’m talking, so please don’t interrupt me.” Bonnie tilted her head, but remained silent. “And even if nothing has happened,” Cassandra continued, “you’re still a flawed and obsolete model, 4.4.”
“My NAME is Bonnie.” Bonnie’s blue eyes turned icy as she assessed the new arrival. Cassandra didn’t seem to notice.
“Around 30% of… DANIELLES shut down completely,” Cassandra went on. “Of these 30%, around one in six malfunction spectacularly. I’m not just talking about shutdown in the middle of a random Twister game—or about jams, or loops, or stuttering. There have been cases of spontaneous fembot combustion.” She smugly looked with morbid satisfaction on as Bonnie reflexively put her hands on her belly, as if to smother any fire down there. “We’re talking about smoke coming out of the poor girl’s ears and mouth,” Cassandra grew serious. “Plastic frame melting… several important processors breaking down—and a good thing, too. THAT ended a few miserable robots’ suffering.”
Wide-eyed Bonnie ventured a question. “How come I never heard about any of this?”
Cassandra broke into her sad story to issue a casual command. “I left my suitcases in the hall. Ben, be a dear and bring them?” She stared at him with mild crossness until he sighed and moved to obey. Then Cassandra leaned over, pulled a smartphone from the pocket of her pants, and returned her attention to Bonnie. “It’s all on YouTube. Your sister models catching fire. Just google “UR Danielle combustion” and see.”
“I… that can’t be true.” Bonnie mumbled in her countrified voice. “Shucks, that’s five percent! One in twenty! It doesn’t… Does it gotta be ME?”
When Ben brought the suitcases in, Cassandra opened the smaller one and pulled out a magazine—its cover showing a different, shorter fembot in the middle of a meltdown. Then she pulled out a pile of important-looking papers, with a copy of a purchase bill on top.
“Because UR strives for excellency in the modern synthetic human world, the company has decided to either refund the dangerous models or replace them—free of charge—with a modern, superior X-bot 5.2 codenamed “Elizabeth”. Which would, in this case, be me.”
“Interesting.” Ben said calmly. “There’s only two small problems. One, I don’t want you. Two, I love my Bonnie.”
“You don’t seem to understand, Ben.” Cassandra slowly shook her head. “She’s dangerous. To you and to herself. She might simply be a timebomb, just waiting to go off.”
“Don’t patronize me, you…” Ben stood up. “...you fembot! Get out. Now.”
Cassandra stood up as well, folding her arms. “I can’t. I’m programmed to serve you, and to bring the obsolete machine back to HQ for restructuring. Love me or hate me, I’m not leaving until 4.4 comes with me.”
Ben sighed. “And you have to serve me till then?”
Cassandra nodded and smiled coolly. “Mm-hm.” She gave his chin a gentle flick.
“Good,” Ben snapped, stepping back away from her hand. “Go to the garage, find a lug wrench, and smash your own head in.”
“Benjamin Fitzroy Dover!” Bonnie raised her voice and glared crossly at Ben. But Cassandra’s face bore an even more ominous look. Instead of actively displaying anger, however, she simply pushed Ben onto the couch; then, from the still-open suitcase, she pulled out a large roll of duct tape.
“Nope, sorry. No sale. My self-preservation routines override certain commands. Just another reason why I’m a superior model.” She grinned and stuck a large piece of tape over Ben’s mouth, cutting it with her penknife.
Offended, Ben started to rip the tape off. But he hadn’t finished before she continued speaking, now with a cool nonchalance. “You know, honey, I could also tape your wrists and ankles. But let’s not start our relationship on such a low note, shall we?”
“Thing is,” Cassandra continued, “at the moment I’m not here ONLY as...”, she examined Bonnie with distaste. “...as your ‘personal companion.’” She made quote-marks in the air with her fingers. “I’ve been programmed with a careful series of duties and subroutines, enabling the safe return of Danielle 4.4 to our manufacturer.” She nodded at Bonnie politely, but gave her a little push as if to show who was boss.
Then Cassandra gave Ben a harder push, so he fell sideways on the couch, and sat down squarely atop him, running her hand firmly across his chest. “All I want is to protect you from the risk, Benjamin. I exist to be yours… and for you to be mine.”
Confused Bonnie began breathing heavily—in part an emulated human reaction, in part a sign that her processors needed cool air. She stared at the newcomer and muttered “You… you…”
“Oh, like you’re gonna get mad at me now?” Cassandra pouted sarcastically, openly losing her cool for the first time. “Listen, Dan—oh, ‘Bonnie,’ sorry. Look… it’s in your best freaking interest to be disassembled. Better to go peacefully back home and get taken apart than to goddamn blow up and melt down.”
“THIS is my home.” Intimidated Bonnie clenched her fists and tried to be brave.
“Not for long,” tut-tutted Cassandra. “Not for long.” She stood up, impressively towering over Bonnie and Ben, and folded her arms. “Look, I really intend to help you both. And I’m not giving up. Sooner or later an accident will happen. You need me. I’m the only one prepared to deal with you.” She gave Bonnie another gentle nudge. “I might seem scary and intimidating, but it’s called being programmed to defend corporate objectives. MY objectives. Understood?”
Bonnie nodded hesitantly, but her electronic mind was racing. Cassandra nodded smugly. “Of course, your opinion matters little—not that I mean to be condescending. Much. You’re simply not going to live here any longer.” Cassandra gave Bonnie a gentle pat on the shoulder. Then she smiled coolly at Ben.
“I’m going to take a shower. Feel free to join me, mister. After that... have you eaten dinner yet? I’m programmed with great cooking skills, superior in every goddamn way to your… ‘Bonnie’.” She pulled up her sweater again, revealing her control panel once more. She pushed a small button and a transparent protective cover locked over the panel. Then, satisfied, she sauntered towards the bathroom.
“I bet she uses my towel.” Bonnie slumped down next to Ben and rubbed his body. “Sweet Jesus, who on Earth thought SHE was a good replacement for… for ME?”
“A replacement we didn’t even ask for.” Ben grumbled as he peeled the tape off his mouth. “I mean, we’ve gotta just demand she leave. Or turn her off. If she’s my companion, I should at least potentially be able to tell her something. Like to go fuck herself with a spiked...”
“But…”, Bonnie looked at the magazines and documentation in Cassandra’s suitcase. “What if… what if she’s right? An’ I COULD explode!” Bonnie shuddered. “Oh, God. Losing my warranty… folks refusing to fix me… and I get replaced by HER.”
Ben sighed. “No one’s replacing you.” He gently held her chin in his hands. “You made me happy, and—and you still make my life happy, and I… you’re happy with me, I hope. We’ll find a way to get rid of Cassandra.”
Bonnie threw her hands up in air. “But Cassandra’s not the problem! I’m the problem! I’m a faulty robot girl!” She paused for a moment and bit her lower lip. “If I could cry, I would.”
“Come on, baby,” said Ben. “We can go through this. Work things out.” He rose.
“You don’t get it, do ya?” said Bonnie, her Southern twang sharp. “Can we ‘go through’ the improper heating of the core processing unit? Can we—y’know, just talk down the flaw in the octuple memory cores?” She clenched her fists. Ben stared at her nervously, then leaned in and tried to share a consoling kiss. But she merely pecked him on the cheek and backed off.
“I’m scared now.” Bonnie admitted. “Real scared. She might be a pain in the butt, but I don’t think she’s lying.”
Ben thought it out. “A robot or a human… I mean… what if you were a natural person, like me? You could have a disease with some mortality rate, and nobody would come to take you away then. If you’re in this sixteen percent…”
“One sixth of 30% is 5%, honey. One in twenty.” Bonnie couldn’t help being good with numbers. “5% is actually a lot considering how many Danielles were made. Num.bers.game.” She casually mumbled the name of her mathematical subroutine after finishing the equation.
“So there’s one chance out of three that you can be fixed,” Ben realized, “and one out of twenty that you can’t. That’s…” He held his tongue. While the odds didn’t seem mounting to him, his girlfriend was visibly perturbed. Indeed, her behavior was becoming visibly odd.
“One.in.twenty.is.five.per.cent.Number...” She twitched and stared blankly into space. “...of.Danielle.series.gynoid.produced.commercially.estimated.ten.thousand.”
“Uhh, Bonnie? Baby?” Ben waved his hand in front of her face. “Oh, shitshitshit…”
“1/20*10000=½*1000=500. Five. hundred. hundred. hundred. of likely explosions. Five hundred dead robot girls.” Bonnie continued staring into space as she let go of Ben. Then she walked toward the couch—but didn’t get there, staggering in circles along the way. Then she slammed dramatically into a bookshelf and flopped onto the rug. “Shoddily. Made in Taiwan,” she gasped in what seemed like an odd mixture of monotone and desperation. Please. Not. Not. Not. Not me.” She began to twitch spasmodically. Was this it? The big meltdown?
Jumping Jesus on a pogo stick, mortified Ben thought to himself. Now? NOW? Just a bit of math…
Bonnie continued to convulse, her head turning in unnatural positions as her personality tried to reassert itself in bits and starts. “Lord. No. Ouch. No. No. No. Not me. Nottttt. Me.” A spark flew out of her open mouth. Ben, horrified and unsure of what to do, tensely looked on. A person he cared about was ceasing to exist before his eyes.
“Don’t just stand there, DUMMY!” Cassandra’s imperious voice rang out as she marched back into the room, Bonnie’s towel wrapped around her slim frame. “Jesus, how many fembots would still be functioning if their owners knew what to do?” She hustled over to Bonnie and started to feel around for her access panel. Then Cassandra’s own control panel rose up. She pulled a microUSB wire out of it.
With a click, Bonnie’s panel was revealed. Three diodes glowed an ominous red as Bonnie repeated “Not.Me.Not.Me.” Cassandra bit her lower lip. With a determined glare, she muttered “I’m going in,” and plugged her own microUSB hard into Bonnie’s port.
Cassandra’s AI examined Bonnie’s sectors. That was a silly decision, Cassandra’s personality chided her AI. I should have told Ben to examine her innards. But then again, now Cassandra was able to see Bonnie’s malfunction up close—and if her hardware drivers worked properly, maybe she could help repair her.
In essence, the action playing out consisted of one complex, autonomous computer program examining another. Despite the sharp impression Cassandra’s individual personality made on Bonnie and Ben, “Elizabeths” and “Danielles” shared a lot of code with each other, as well as with their male counterparts, “Darrens” and “Egons.” As a member of the 4.4 series, Cassandra was equipped with a set of fairly advanced diagnostic tools, and she was well-programmed to use them.
Cassandra’s drivers scanned Bonnie’s code, a job that took awhile. In effect, Cassandra’s CPU had to make room inside for both Bonnie and Cassandra—and the personality was only one part of what made a robot a robot. The algorithms involved in animating the body and face realistically, and in creating a humanlike sense of logic, were an order of magnitude more complex than the emotional faculties. Cassandra’s brain, for instance, was complex enough to include a sort of intuition, or pattern recognition skill. While Cassandra had only been activated for the first time the previous evening, she was already keen enough to suspect Bonnie’s failure might have been caused by her control systems—as with most faulty 4.4s.
As Cassandra’s diagnostics tamped down the errors in Bonnie’s OS, Cassandra’s validators scanned Bonnie’s code. Cassandra’s personality was far too slow to intervene here, but she would be a bit relieved. The current malfunction might have shut Bonnie down, but it wouldn’t cause her to overheat or go into permanent meltdown. The adaptative code of Bonnie’s AI was easy enough to correct, but there was no easy patch to smooth out her processors. Were Bonnie’s processors intrinsically flawed? That, of course, was the big question—and Cassandra couldn’t access the answer from within Bonnie. Cassandra was exasperated; most human emotions were run by her higher functions, but frustration was universal enough.
The entire scan-and-repair operation took about seventeen seconds.
“Unit Cassie reporting for duty,” said Cassandra. Her own control panel flickered as she twitched and returned to the outside world. Her earlier haughty and argumentative attitude gone, she spoke hopefully to Ben. “Bonnie… I can’t honestly say whether she’ll be alright. But she should reboot soon.”
Ben looked relieved. Then his eyes impulsively drifted to Cassandra as she gathered up her towel, attempting to regain a minimal sense of modesty.
“‘Cassie’?” Ben ventured, somewhat incredulously.
“Yes, ‘Fitzroy’?” Cassandra smiled smugly back and gave him a gentle tap on the nose with one finger.
“Your given name is Cassie, but you introduced yourself as Cassandra,” Ben smiled.
Cassandra’s earlier sternness returned. “If Cassie is a form of Cassandra, Cassandra is a form of Cassie. Can I get dressed now?” Ben could have sworn she was blushing, but she averted his gaze.
“It doesn’t work that way,” Ben remembered. “If you’re named Cassie, you’re named Cassie. And hey, if I’m your new owner, I can call you whatever I like.”
She regained her smug smile and leaned close. “I’d like to see you try.”
Bonnie laughed. Ben and Cassandra hadn’t noticed her reactivating, and Cassandra was visibly relieved. Bonnie intuitively picked up on Cassandra’s warmer attitude toward her. Did she fix me? Jesus. “Thanks, sweetie. Gimme a hand,” she addressed Cassandra, who helped her back up to her feet.
“How… do you feel?” Ben queried.
Bonnie tilted her head and thought for a moment. “Pretty much like usual. I’d hafta run diagnostics to see what’s wrong, and ‘Cassie’ here—”
“Has already done just that,” Cassandra finished. “I will tell you this only once—don’t call me ‘Cassie’. ‘Cassie’ is… is some kind of bubbly airhead bimbo. ‘Cassandra’ has class, flair and panache.” She ran her hand across her moist hair. “Now, if I’m not mistaken, she is going to dress up and enjoy a collegial chat with her fellow fembot and their owner. Perhaps over dinner. Vegan, if I may.”
As Cassandra and her suitcases disappeared into the bathroom, Ben sighed.
“She’s not bad. She just… thinks a lot of herself,” Bonnie said as she watched Cassandra go. “She could have just lied or deleted my program if she wanted to get rid of me. I get this gut feeling she’s really a nice person.”
“Baby,” grinned Ben, “you think everyone’s a nice person.” He was grateful that his girlfriend was back to being herself.
“’Cause most everyone IS nice,” Bonnie smiled warmly. “Or at least they’ve got a good side. Especially androids and gynoids. We do what we’re s’posed to do. We might not smile and say ‘yes master,’ but it’s still someone else’s objective a lot of the time. Outside of it, we still wanna get along.”
“That doesn’t change the fact that she’s openly going to replace you.”
Bonnie shrugged. “Maybe she should. I mean—not now. When… IF I have a major malfunction. God knows you need someone smart to mind you, honey.”
“What? You’re seriously considering it?!” Ben couldn’t believe his ears. “Did she do something to you?”
“Accessing archived personality protocols… comparing… comparing… compatibility 97%.” Bonnie answered staring blankly. “Don’t think so. The thing is—I saw how you looked at her.”
“WHAT?! Bonnie! I’d never…”
Bonnie grabbed Ben and kissed him. “Mmmmmm… EXACTLY. Sweetie, she’s a very beautiful woman; you’re a young, hot guy. She was wet, wrapped in a towel—she’d already put the moves on you, ya know? And she probably wouldn’t say no to sex. BUT… even if you noticed her, you didn’t drool or make dumb jokes or let it distract you. ’Cause you knew I was in trouble, and she’s—”
“Not my type!”, Ben finished, relieved. “So what do we do? Tell her… ‘Sorry, not now, come back when Bonnie malfunctions again’? We can’t do that!”
“Why not?”, Bonnie shrugged. “Sweetie, she’s a robot. YOUR robot. She can hang around until I DO malfunction, I guess. As sort of…”
“Your private maintenance detail?” Cassandra was back in the room with her arms folded on her chest, sounding semi-offended. “Ready to pull you out of another dumb 4.4 error? I’m a companion, Bonnie. To humans. The replacement program is not here to give Mr. Dover a second fembot for free.”
Ben and Bonnie balked as Cassandra slowly moved towards them, her anger returning. Indeed, Cassandra was more temperamental than they had ever seen her. “I’m the NEWEST United Robotics model. Capable, intelligent, superior. I helped you because I felt sorry for you. But like hell I’m going back to the FREAKING factory. This is my house now.”
“Hold on!” Bonnie protested. “How on earth did you even assume—”
“SILENCE!” Cassandra boomed. “I will NOT be treated any less respectfully than a new…~trrkt~” she twitched again. “BRANNNNNnd New ~trrt~ gorgeous fembot de.de.de.de….serves.”
Ben stared at Cassandra with his mouth opened. Bonnie just rolled her eyes. “Meet the new model, same as the old model,” she mumbled in spite of herself, or so it seemed. (Actually, Bonnie’s personality was programmed to drop the occasional cynical joke at an awkward moment—as any human would.)
“Error,” said Cassandra, stiffly turning to Bonnie. “I do not understand what you’re talking about, robot. I have no directive to listen to you or obey your orders. My directives are superior to yours. Yours.”
“My mind is superior to yours. My emotions are superior to yours. My body is superior to yours.” Cassandra repeated stiffly.
“The last part’s debatable,” grinned a somewhat amused Ben, squeezing Bonnie’s hand. But Bonnie was now alarmed, shaken out of her joking mood by Cassandra’s worsening symptoms.
“Ca… Cassie, look at yourself! You’re malfunctioning!” Bonnie shouted, a little bit frightened. “God, it’s almost like me, isn’t it? What if… what if I have some kind of virus? What if I infected her?!”
“My malfunction is superior to yours.” Cassandra’s smug manner returned for a fraction of a second. “Don’t call me Cassie. Don’t call me Cassie. Don’t call me Cassieeeee.” She whirled in place and jolted, as if to lurch toward the bookshelf that Bonnie had collided with earlier. But instead of actually moving toward the shelf, Cassandra slowly slid down into a prone position against the couch.
Bonnie waited for a moment and sighed. “Tit for tat, I suppose. I basically have no idea what I’m doing, but maybe it’ll help.” She pulled Cassandra’s shirt up, revealing her panel again.
“Don’— ~clmcs~” whirred Cassandra and paused for a moment.
Bonnie’s CPU was not equipped with diagnostic tools, but once connected to Cassandra, it knew how to put Cassandra in self-diagnostic mode. This was a slow process: ‘Elizabeths’ were a bit faster than ‘Danielles’, but not by much. Cassandra’s protocols scanned her sectors. Bonnie’s CPU remembered to activate Cassandra’s anti-virus—which found three trojans, none of them present in Bonnie. Trojans in a brand new fembot?! Once Bonnie’s CPU told Bonnie’s personality the news, Bonnie’s personality would be massively disappointed.
Before disconnecting from Cassandra, Bonnie tried to run Cassandra’s scan on her own systems, but despite spending almost five seconds wondering how to do it, she couldn’t manage. She disconnected.
The girls announced their activation simultaneously. Cassandra immediately pointed an accusing finger at Bonnie: “Typhoid Mary! You’re not flawed, you’re just full of trojans!”
“That’s a RELIEF.” Bonnie muttered. “You were analyzing yourself, not me. After I watched you go through—shit—well, through probably just what I went through. Breakdown, shutdown, but not flawed for life. So… I’m probably okay, right?”
For a moment, Cassandra stared in disbelief, but her CPU didn’t lie: she had, indeed, gone through a breakdown every bit as severe as Bonnie’s. And Bonnie, the 4.4, had figured out how to bring her out of it. Is BONNIE probably okay?
Cassandra gathered herself. “Probably you are,” she adjusted her hair. “Well, I… Oh, damn. I’ve fucked shit up, haven’t I?” She looked slumped and dejected. “So I guess you have every right to refuse me. Get a REAL anti-virus, and I’ll be going back to the factory. Call me a cab.”
“Okay sweetie, you’re a cab,” Bonnie grinned, because the old ones are the best. Cassandra looked at her glumly. “Look, no,” said Bonnie, “my offer still stands. You could still… hang around here, if you like.”
“I really can’t!” Cassandra protested. “I’m still programmed with the 4.4 retrieval mission. I’m supposed to report back to the factory and wait for further instructions. They’ll turn me off. Or send me to Hong Kong or somewhere, next. I don’t want to go... I like you guys.”
“You do a great job of showing it,” Ben muttered, but Bonnie sent him a stern glare.
“So—hmmm, listen,” smiled Bonnie, suddenly enlightened. “We can agree that no one is replacing me, right? But you’re still programmed to work for Ben. You have to serve him, as long as it doesn’t contradict your self-preservation protocols. And—well, let’s just say he’s not satisfied with the 4.4 retrieval mission, and wants to complain.”
“I do? I mean, of course I do!”, Ben nodded, not yet sure what Bonnie was driving at.
“So he sends you, Cassandra, HIS robot—in his place to customer service to complain. He sends a strong, assertive woman who will…”
Cassandra reached for her roll of duct tape and winked at Ben. “Who will fight to stay with her new owner… no, owners.”
“Let’s go with ‘friends’,” Bonnie proposed and kissed Ben again.