Nelson held The limp hand of his wife tightly, pulling her along behind him. He wasn't sure what Carla was feeling, but for him, the anxiety was almost overwhelming. His heightened senses brought in the unfamiliar surroundings clear and crisp like the cold winter storm that surrounded him. Thick layers of snow had gathered in heavy layers on collections of crates that seemed to be abandoned, never to be brought on the ships that landed on the platform. In the distance two men stood by a small lifter that hummed with a warm glow, hovering a meter off the ground with a large crate in its metal clamps. If they killed him he would be covered beneath the white within the hour, and then, how long would it be before they would find his body? One? Two cycles? When someone tripped on his corpse? Nelson looks back at his wife who wore a blue striped jacket that matched his, when they travelled she always insisted that they wore couple clothes. But there were no snarky remarks on how cute they looked or expectations or introductions of their destination. For the past cycle Carla carried the same placid emotion on her face and in her paced shuffle. In this state with her hood down one could think that she was sleep walking.
“You Nelson Lima?”
Said one of the men sitting on the lift as he tossed his smokes behind him into the snow. Nelson pulled his shoulder bag in front of him and pulled out his identity card which the man quickly snatched out of his hand. The man examined the card with his right eye, flipping it back and forth, no doubt taking pictures of it with his cybernetic eye.
“The agreement was one passenger. So which one of you is it?”
The other man questioned. Nelson looked back at his wife again. Carla used to be incredibly expressive and vocal, but she held her head down and remained silent.
“She's coming with me…”
Nelson said as he pulled out another identity card, though this one had been cut in two and was being held together with clear tape. The same man took her card as well, scanning the broken plastic with his eye, then back at her. He gestures to his friend that jumps off the lift and lands in the deep snow with surprising weight. He reached out with one hand and lifted Carla’s hood back behind her, in which her rich brown hair was immediately pulled out and fluttered wildly by the currents of the storm.
“How come your bot’s not running with any lights?” The man with the card said, looking back and forth between the picture on the plastic and Carla’s face.
Before Nelson could recite his planned excuse, the other man gave Carla a push towards the lifter that almost knocked her on the ground.
“Don't matter, on the ship she can't stay with ya, she's going to storage, full power off, okay?” The man winks at Nelson with a smile, exposing his set of withering teeth.
“Yeah! No problem.”
Nelson breathed deeply to calm himself as the lifter brought the four of them into the opening of the ship that had landed crookedly on the platform. This wasn’t the first time he was flying, he often took trips with the company to work offworld, travelling for months at a time. What was different this time was he was travelling illegally on what looked like a space garbage hauler. Not that the ship was hauling garbage, but it was the ship itself that looked like garbage. He would never say that of course, the crew were smugglers at best, pirates at worst.
As the lifter took them inside, one of the men gestured at Nelson to get off at a walkway crossing the middle of the cargo hold. Carefully, Nelson jumped onto the metal catwalk as the lifer passed by. Behind him a loud thud reverberated through the metal framework. The other man had Carla in his arms and had landed as well. With the load lightened, the lifter sped up and moved more gracefully deeper into the hold with its cargo in it’s claws.
The interior of the ship did not look any better than the exterior. Metal was rusted and chipping off the walls with strange stains of mold or paint dotting what remained. With every step the corridor rattled with a dozen loose objects dangling overhead.
“Hey, pretty boy!” One of the men shouted at him needlessly behind him.
“Your bot goes in here. Japp will show you to your room.” He pulled Carla into one of the doors along the hallway marked ‘storage’.
Having Carla be separated from him with her in her current condition isn’t ideal, but there was nothing he could do at this moment that wouldn't make the situation worse. The ride was only going to be a few days at most, there was a good chance that nothing would happen to her. Carla would be shut down, despite her past misgivings it would relieve some of his current worries that he had of her.
Japp led him around the corner just a few doors down to an unmarked door, inside it looked like a small office suite turned into a makeshift guest room. A small bed was tucked behind a full sized work desk that is obviously part of the ship’s construction.
“The boss had us clean up this place just for you.”
Nelson looked back at him with barely contained disgust, he had never slept in such a nasty place before.
“Don’t look so displeased, it's much larger than what we get.”
“Ah… Well, thank you. I appreciate it.” Nelson replied.
Two days had passed, or rather, 53 hours according to his phone. The crew had largely stayed clear of him for the most part, only occasionally coming to offer him some food or water. He had yet to see the captain however, or the boss sometimes he's referred to. With the trip half way done, Nelson did not mind, soon he would be on another world, following some questionable advice in seeking some dubious cult group.
Looking up at the blue light of the security camera trained on him, he thought about the contents of the paper that he was currently reading on his phone. ‘Infections on different types of AI’ was its title, it mostly contained barely understandable technobabble that Nelson lacked the fundamentals to truly understand. Even so, he understood what had infected Carla was a logic virus, one of the most troublesome infections that could affect an AI. At first he didn’t notice, it was small things like Carla not changing clothes unless he brought it up. Then, she also began leaving things that she used laying around without returning it, and eventually, completely neglecting her own hygiene as well. By then when he had noticed, it was too late, the virus at that point was diagnosed non-removable.
The same diagnosis was shared between all the techs and experts he had brought her to. At the end of the ordeal, Nelson had Carla disassembled and was planning a funeral for her. He would be melting her AI Disk into a memento and the body was waiting to be picked up for recycling. With Carla’s near comatose condition and his own acceptance of her fate, it was Nelson’s sister that had suggested he try one last thing. His sister had believed magic was real, just like many similar-minded people they took up all that Arcadian propaganda nonsense on the internet.
Now on the ship, despite being instructed to not leave the confines of the office suite, Nelson felt the urge to be with Carla again. During the whole of the past two days he had done nothing but think about her. Nelson stood and put his phone away. Carefully sliding the squeaky door to his room open he looked into the hallway of the ship and found that it was dead quiet. Shutting the door behind him he made his way to where he saw the men lead Carla to.
The storage room was dark and only lit by a dim screen plate mounted onto the walls, but he still spotted Carla immediately in the dark. She was lying face up on one of the crates lined up against the walls. Her hair and arms spread apart with her legs dangling off the edge of the metal box, as if the men had just tossed her and just left her there. Nelson walked up to her and lifted her hand into his. Though the men said that she had to be shut down, her skin was still warm. Carla turned her head slowly and looked Nelson in the eyes.
“Hello Nelson.” She said, startling him.
“Hey there, how are you feeling?” He asked her, hoping her answer would be different.
“I feel fine, all systems are reporting no errors and warnings.” She said in a perky and cheerful tone, but the smile faded from her face as soon as she stopped speaking.
Nelson rubbed her limp hand between his and kissed it on the back. Carla would giggle or kiss him in return every time he did that, but instead now she was lying motionless with her face not betraying the slightest hint of emotion. He pulled himself up and sat beside her on the metal crate, still holding on to her hand.
“We are almost there, being smuggled sure is more boring than what I expected it to be.” Nelson said, bringing his attention to her, with his eyes now used to the darkness of the room he saw his wife with clarity.
The thick jacket Carla wore is opened to the side revealing the white tank top she wore underneath. Her breasts could be seen hanging to the sides with thick nipple mounds pushing through the thin fabric, all of her chest were slowly, gently rising and falling, imitating the breaths that she didn’t need to take. In the coldness of the room and the stillness of the air, he could feel the faint flow of hot air rising from her exposed torso.
Unable to contain himself any longer, Nelson placed his hand and ran his fingers down underneath her tank top. Carla’s skin was perfectly smooth and soft under his caresses. Reaching in with both hands he cusped the bottom of her breasts and pushed them up, feeling the jelly soft texture underneath her skin.
“Would you like to engage in sexual intercourse with me?” She said in the same perky and cheerful tone that every brainless gynoid spoke in.
Still cupping her breasts, Nelson rolled on top of her and kissed her deeply on the lips that parted to give way for his tongue, offering no resistance whatsoever. Beneath him, Nelson felt Carla warming up and her breast stiffening, growing and stretching in his hands. He himself could feel his pants tightening and his member begging to push in the same familiar, warm folds of his wife. But as he reached down, Nelson found that Carla’s underwear was missing, only a warm and dripping wet pussy met his fingers.
Surprised, Nelson pushed himself up and examined his wife in her spread out state again. Her pose, the way her jacket was opened and her underwear dangling on her foot, it all was so obvious and somehow he had not noticed the first time.
“Would you like to engage in sexual intercourse with me? She repeated.
“Carla! What happened?” He asked worriedly, careful to keep his voice low.
“I’m sorry, your question is too vague, can you please rephrase your question to be more specific?” She said in that same carefree tone, acting like one of the dumb bots that performed menial jobs.
“Did someone do something to you while I was away?”
“One of the crew members of this ship placed me on the crate that I am on now. After that no one has touched or altered me in any way.” Carla explained, with her cheery voice what she said did not match the tone of her voice.
“Carla… Why are you undressed like this? Did the crew threaten you or something?”
“I have not been threatened or coerced, I performed masturbation and ejaculation of my own agency.”
“My own free agency” That phrase Carla had just said was the same words that was mentioned in the paper that Nelson had read. Something about how the virus causes logic threads to cluster that manifests in loss of agency in the victim.
“Really? Thats great! What made you decide to do that?” Nelson asked, if Carla had decided to do something of her own will, that means there is still hope.
“My erogenous threshold had been reached through previous interactions with the crew members of the vessel we are currently on.”
“What? What did they do to you?” Nelson asked.
“My crew member did behave out of line, I stopped his actions before he could do any morally unjust actions.”
The voice sounded like it was spoken through a low quality microphone. Nelson turned around to find the room empty, the door had not opened and there was no one else beside him and his wife.
“What? Who… who said that?”
Nelson moved to cover up Carla’s chest with her jacket and pushed her legs together with his hips.
“Sorry to intrude on your moment together. I am the owner of the ship.”
This time Nelson caught the blinking of the security camera lights as the voice spoke. The camera swiveled to focus on the door and Nelson’s gaze followed as well. The door of the room slid open and a simple looking worder droid walked into the quiet room with its loud clanging of its metal foot pads. The metal droid took a few steps forward and offered its large grippers towards Nelson as the door behind it slid closed again.
“Pleased to meet you.” Nelson said as he cautiously shook the metal claw of the droid, the machine could turn his hand into a pancake in an instant if it wanted.
“Same as well.” It answered.
There was a short pause, the droid retracted its claw to its side.
“I am currently installed into the ship itself, this droid here is a part of me as well as the security systems. My name is BDL729, you may call me Buddy if you wish.”
“I see… Thank you for keeping Carla safe.”
“That is alright, I acted because I noticed that Carla of yours is indeed not a low class android. The pieces were there for me to connect.”
Nelson remembered that the camera was there watching him, it had seen him read the various books on AI viruses.
“I’m… I’m sorry that I lied about her to get on your ship, I was short of options…” Nelson tried to explain.
“There is no need to worry, while travelling with an AI infected with a virus is strictly illegal, I understand your situation and am sympathetic towards your goals.”
“You won't report us to the authorities when we arrive?”
“I will not, you have my guarantee.”
Nelson, with Buddy’s approval, stayed with Carla in the office suite of the ship until their arrival. The ship had docked with the crew unloading it’s cargo through the day. After the light had completely faded and the dock workers had gone into the night, Nelson with Carla in tow had been led off the ship quietly with disappointed looks on the crew’s faces. Nelson didn’t hold any grudges on them though, they thought Carla was a low class android, a sex bot and not an intellegent AI. Though normal people certainly wouldn't want to share sexbots with each other either way.
Nelson again held Carla’s hand gently and led her onto a small path away from the port. Stopping at an vantage point, looking into the sky, Nelson found that Karimsa-IV was not dissimilar from home. The night sky glowed with purple hues and the air was humid with fleeting snowflakes. From the high vantage point where the arrays of docking ports were, he could see the faint glow of the township below. He looked at Carla and led her to the ledge of a small cliff, the faint lights in the distance reflected clearly in her crystal clear eyes.
“Look at that, beautiful isn't it.”
“Yes.” She answered with a whisper.
Nelson kissed her on the forehead and looked into the distance together with her. The Arcadian town looked just like any town that he would find at home. But he knew that Arcadians had very different laws and beliefs than what he was used to. The town below, and the whole planet, was governed and owned by one of the seven houses of Arcadia, under an tyrannic oligarchical system. But it was because of this system, some of the houses had open policy towards foreigners and Karimsa was known to be a free planet for tourists and entrepreneurs, as long as they paid their dues to the houses of course.
Their destination was not the town though. In the far distance among the mountains were a few scattered sparkles of light, it was a temple built to honor the leaders of the house Sheppard.
The climb to the mountain was not an easy one. Nelson was already panting from climbing the endless stairs that lead up towards the stone temple in the distance. He could have Carla carry him, she was certainly capable and her batteries were full after they had been charging overnight at the Inn. But looking at all the other cult worshippers making the trip on foot as well, he couldn't bring himself to depend on her like that in front of them.
“Hi, having some trouble? You can sit down and take a rest on the stairs, it's best not to tire yourself too much, the day is still early.”
A simple metal skeleton looking android stopped beside Nelson, it looked at him and Carla back and forth with its single camera of an eye.
“Oh, I’m fine, halfway there right? Just a temple up a mountain with no road leading up it.” Nelson said back with a smile.
“Yes, indeed it is. A good reminder that only a healthy body can house a healthy mind. The Temple is a place of the mind, and the stairs before it, a place of the body.” The android said with slow nods of its head while it seemed to scan the both of them up and down with its eye. Nelson felt Carla reaching for his hand, he grabbed it and brought her close to him. It was unusual how she was reacting but at this point he was not surprised at any weird gestures she made.
“You sure sound like a preacher.” Nelson squeezed out between his heavy breaths.
“I am something of the sort. This preacher will be waiting for your arrival at the entrance of the temple my foregin friend.”
The eye of the android spun in place as it’s lenses refocuses on the distant temple, its metal legs followed its gaze and the android began climbing the stairs again.
Nelson, with his pride injured, struggled to the top with aching legs and sweat rolling down his head. The sun was now midway through the sky, with the 50 hour days on Karimsa, he guessed that he had been climbing for just shy of eight hours. The metal android indeed waited for him at the summit before the gates of the temple. Just before the unnecessarily huge metal doors was a pavilion filled with worshippers. Androids and humans alike all knelt, their bodies bent towards the heavy doors and a grand statue of a man wearing a cape with a hand in hand. The figure looked like it was something from a fantasy game, a wizard of some sort. The whole scene would be comical if not for the fact that Nelson knew the statue was depicting the head of the Sheppard family, magical or not, a powerful man beyond the reach of any normal person.
“I am glad that your resolve towards your wife has persevered, friend.”
The metal android nodded with its head in approval, it looked at Carla and continued.
“Your husband is certainly worthy of your unending devotion. Most foreigners do not manage to even gather the determination to attempt the path.”
It looked back at Nelson, who was bent over holding on to his knees, looking in vain for a place to sit.
“All who make the climb are welcome to receive the guidance of our lord Sheppard. Please, come rest inside. We will help you with Carla’s treatment.”
The metal android gestured for them to enter the obscenely large metal gates.
“Wait. How did you know why we came here? Did someone tell you?” Nelson asked.
“Ofcourse, your wife has told me herself.”
Nelson looks back at Carla who stood staring blankly into space. Upon noticing his gaze she looked him into the eyes. Her face briefly twisted into a faint smile.
“Yes, I told Priest Braga about our situation.” She explained cheerfully to him.
“When we met approximately four hours ago on the stairway.”
Nelson looks back at the priest android who had already begun walking inside the temple, leaving Nelson with no choice but to follow. The interior was lit with flames that floated in the air with their sources hidden, the walls danced with shadows casted by various statues of other wizard-y figures. They stood above pedestals carved with words too small to read. To Nelson, all of this felt like a theme park that had been taken too seriously.
“Not too far now, come, we have water and food waiting for you.”
Nelson’s attention diverted from the scene inside the temple to the promise of water and food. The climb had been long and he was both parched and famished.
“Thanks, you certainly didn’t make it easy for humans to get here.” Nelson remarked as they passed through the corridors of the temple.
“The path keeps out those who do not believe, between AIs and Humans, it is the latter who hold often more skepticism and mistrust.”
Nelson guessed what the priest said was true. Hard to argue logic with an android, even if it was programmed to be a cult follower. The metal android led them to a room where a woman holding a large metal plate was just leaving. The woman bowed her head upon greeting the metal android before moving on.
“The meditation room is ready, Reverend Braga.”
Inside was a decent sized room with ceilings that held fancy fabric and plants that draped over the floors from above. A tall portion of the wall was missing, letting the view of the fog covered mountains illuminate the room. Despite the gateway to the outside, the interior was surprisingly warm. But most importantly, in front of a large bench was fresh food and a jug of water left by the woman no doubt.
“Please help yourself, these were prepared just for you.”
“Thanks, this is just what I needed.”
“Now Carla, please come sit with me, I am sure you have much to say.” The priest continued.
Nelson with a piece of bread already in his mouth looked in amazement as Carla listened to him and sat on the stool across from the android priest as she accepted the wired connection and plugged the cable into the side of her arm.
“Umm… Priest Barga, Carla is infected with a virus, it's probably best not to connect to her directly.”
“Thank you for your concern. But that's quite alright. Your wife is not infected with a virus, but a false rationale that is easily dispelled.”
Nelson frowned his browns and paused in his chewing. How the priest had bypassed the security lockout placed on Carla by the techs was one thing, but complete disregard to AI Viruses? That was not normal.
“Please, make yourself comfortable. The conversation between us will be long.”
Nelson could do nothing but watch as the metal android and Carla sat across from each other, one connected to a hidden port in the arm, the other to an exposed panel built into the torso, both motionless. Nelson knew that androids could communicate a large amount of information directly through wireless connections, even more so wired. Having a weird cult android connected to Carla was certainly worrying. The best scenario Carla would be cured, but the worst was that she would become another cultist, or worse that the infection spread to the priest and Nelson himself would be held accountable by an inhumane government. But even the slightest chance of getting Carla back was worth the risk to him at the moment.
What seemed like hours had passed and Nelson was just being woken up by the sounds of quiet whispering. He opened his eyes to find that the priest and his wife were no longer on the stools. He found Carla’s jacket had been placed over him, and the rest of her clothes had been neatly folded and placed at the foot of the bench that he fell asleep on. Still lying down, Nelson turned the other way to find a naked female figure standing outside on the balcony facing the mountains, her figure glowing white from the bright light outside. He immediately recognized Carla, her’s was a body that he could recognize even if it had been separated in all its divided pieces. She had had arms spread out gripping the stone railings, her back arched upwards as she stood as tall as she could on her tiptoes.
Again she whispered something that was muffled by the invisible forcefield that kept the cold of the mountains outside. Nelson hurriedly grabbed the jacket that lay over him and hurried to Carla’s side. Walking through the force field he is instantly greeted by the piercing cold winds that came with the long afternoon. From Carla he heard the rapid whistling and buzzing of machine speak coming from her open mouth.
Nelson hesitated in approaching her. They had been together for almost a decade and his wife had never acted this way before. She had been reserved with the way she dressed and hated to be reminded that she was mechanical underneath. She had on several occasions made a big deal about not wanting to interface or speak electronically.
"Carla?" He said quietly.
Clara turned to Nelson, her face in a wide-smile. Her body shining in the afternoon light where even the faint recess of her hidden controls casted strong shadows just below her navel.
"Darling! You're awake." Carla said calmly.
"Yeah… What are you doing out here?"
Nelson asked and moved in with her jacket in hand, but before he could cover her, she moved in with a wide hug and held him tightly. Nelson returned the motion and found that Carla's skin was as cold as the stone of the balcony. She pushed her face into his shoulder and spoke through the fabric of the jacket that was sandwiched between them.
"Just feeling the air and the sun on my skin."
She pauses for a moment before continuing.
"And the shape of your body."
"Are… are you okay? What did that priest do to you?”
Carla looked up at Nelson with focused eyes that were intensely staring into his own.
"I'm fine now, you can say that I'm cured! Don't worry, the priest and I only talked, that's all."
Nelson pulls back from Carla and does a double take. The woman indeed looked and talked with the same voice as his wife, but she seemed different, she seemed more direct and confident. Carla took the jacket from his hands and tossed it on in one smooth motion, but without any other garments, it did little to cover her chest and legs.
"Thank you for not giving up on me. I'm so sorry for putting you through so much trouble."
She moved in again for a hug, this time she stood on her toes to share a kiss between their lips. Nelson had questions but was taken aback with her impulsive act of passion. Despite her freezing body her lips and tongue were slippery and hot to the touch. She moaned quietly and tightened herself around him as the moment went on. Nelson could feel that both of them were getting too turned on and broke the kiss, leaving a string of saliva between them.
"How… I mean, how were you cured."
Nelson asked Carla as she continued to hold him tightly between her arms.
"I was talking with the priest, and… He convinced me that it was okay to be both your wife and your property… That it was okay for me to be a machine."
"But you're not my property, you're my wife. We met at the seaport, I didn't buy you." Nelson said with a confused look.
Carla rubbed her face again on his chest.
"Yes, you're right. But when we decided to marry, you knew I agreed to be re-programmed right?"
"Yeah? But that makes you my wife, not…"
"I never told you this before… I couldn't… but as part of the program I had the tech sneak something in for me. I wanted you to be registered as my owner."
"What? But you were not the property of anyone. It's illegal for an android with an owner to marry anyways..."
"Nelson! I really did love you, you know that right?! You were so kind and honest, you had principle, something that most don't have nowadays. And after learning that so many marriages fail between humans and androids, I didn't want to lose you. So I decided that I wanted to stay with you no matter what."
"Carla… I still don't understand how that could…"
"I… the logic virus rather, convinced me that it was impossible for me to be your wife and your possession at the same time. Any action I took towards one goal would be ingenious to the other. But I know now that if I accept myself as nothing more than a machine doing its programmed tasks, I could be both your wife and your property at the same time. Not as a person, but as a machine, a thing."
Nelson stared at Carla worriedly. What she was saying now was the opposite of how she acted all the years they had been together. But her secret reprogramming did explain the way she acted, it made sense to him in a weird twisted way.
"But Carla… you're not a thing to me, you're a person with your own thoughts and feelings…"
"But I am just a thing…"
Carla grabbed Nelson's wrist and moved his hand over her control panel just below her navel. She ran her fingers over his and placed his digit over her power switch.
"Press the button and see for yourself. You can break my lifeless body in pieces and sell them off, you can throw me over the cliff right here, you can make love to me till I break. I am happy with whatever you decide to do with me, I really am, because you're my owner and my husband."
"Carla no… I would never turn you off…"
"Do it for me then? I want you to do whatever you want to me when I'm switched off."
They both paused in each other's arms. Nelson looked back at the well lit interior of the temple. Nothing had changed and there was no one watching, not that it mattered. Bad owners or bosses switched off their androids to have their way with them, be it reprogramming, throwing them away, or other despicable acts. Nelson had thought he would never do such things, but here he was, Carla was pushing his finger harder and harder.
"Turn me off. Have your way with me." She pleaded.
"Turn me off, I am…"
Nelson's finger moved ever so slightly, triggering the button hidden underneath her skin. He guessed that Carla had pressed his finger just hard enough so the smallest action on his part would actuate the switch.
Carla's face shifted to a neutral emotion as her body slowly fell limp in his arms. This was the first time that he had turned her off. Normally this process was done when she went for tune-ups or software updates, something in which he accompanied, but never witnessed.
Nelson whispered in vain. He could see her pupils narrowing till they vanished, completely closing behind a curtain of gray. He could hear the warm air that she held in her lungs escaping her slightly parted mouth. Every joint of her body softened to jelly as she flopped into his arms with a soft chime coming from her body. The sound was universal, it meant that Carla was now completely shut down. Nelson sighed with relief, even though this is not what he expected, Carla seemed to be lucid now, more alive than ever rather. He could turn her on again at any moment, she seemed cured and he had her back, despite the revelations.
Carrying her lifeless body back inside, he gently set her down on the bench that he had fallen asleep on earlier. Her perfectly still chest jutted into the air, her sex wet from the kissing they did no doubt. After a moment of contemplation, Nelson decided to do what Carla told him.
He would do whatever he wanted with her before turning her back on.