The Headless Hunt
It was a mild October morning in the Uncanny Valley. Halloween, to be more precise. Although the region was populated by androids, they were still capable of creating their own traditions, and this one was truly unique, as only androids could participate, and even then only a small subset.
It was the annual Headless Hunt, and it was held every year on Halloween as an homage to the stories their human creators had frightened themselves with over the past several centuries. Unlike those stories, however, this tradition did not involve ghosts or ghouls…it instead involved the subset of the android population that were constructed with their CPUs in their torso rather than their heads.
At first, it was a tradition that allowed those androids to simply have fun, since they were obviously able to function perfectly without their heads. However, as time went on and Hothead models became the norm, the tradition morphed into more of an outreach event, since the Airhead models were now considered throwbacks to an earlier era…despite the advantages they still had.
While every major populated area in the region held their own celebration of the event, the largest celebration occurred in an area of the large forest just an hour east of Asimov City.
Hundreds of the Airheads gathered in a large clearing in the park, waiting to be paired with a Hothead who would assist them with locating their heads. One by one, they all removed their heads and gave them to volunteers who would then hide them out in the forest. The headless androids then walked over to a waiting area, deactivated their secondary visual systems to blind them, and then went into standby mode to await their partners.
Adam was a young, 25-year-old Hothead model. He lived in one of the communities surrounding Asimov City, and was quite lonely. Although he was familiar with the annual Headless Hunt, he’d never had any reason to attend one…that is, until he’d heard it was a good way to meet girls.
More than a few of his coworkers claimed to have met their significant other at the Headless Hunts in years past, though only a few of them were still together.
It wasn’t that Adam had any ill feelings toward Airhead models, it was just he didn’t see the point in attending…but his family was pressuring him to find someone, as they didn’t spend all that money manufacturing him just for him to remain single for the rest of his life.
The problem was that he was pretty shy and insecure about his physical appearance. Unfortunately for him, that was simply the way his personality had been programmed, though he had considered on several occasions the possibility about altering his physical parameters. The problem was, every time he did, he figured it would just make him look like a shy hunk, so he kept his modest appearance.
On the day in question, he requested the day off, dressed up in his nicest casual wear, and then packed a bag of supplies before driving to the park. He arrived at the park nearly an hour before the event was to start to ensure he could pair himself with someone attractive…as much as one could without a head, that is.
After he registered at the event, he was instructed to sit in on a rules orientation for new attendees and then he was escorted to an area where there were people of his age group. Adam was 25 years old, so they ushered him to the area with 25 to 28-year-old airheads. Once he was given some final rules, he was free to pick out his partner.
He looked around in the group of airheads in standby mode for only a few seconds before finally fixating on one. She was dressed in a fairly fashionable navy blue, long sleeve, button up V-neck top that accentuated her creamy skin and her modest chest. She wore a matching dressy skirt slightly over it, with little white patterns on it. Aside from that, she wore only a pair of brown moccasin slippers.
Adam wasn’t human, but he was feeling a sensation of love at first sight, which was impressive because she didn’t have a head or face for him to stare at. From what he could determine by looking at her, she was obviously constructed with a female, Caucasian appearance.
He quickly looked around and made sure no one else was near and then claimed her. All he had to do was grab her identification tab from her open pocket and scan his credentials into it so only he would be able to snap her out of standby mode when the event started. He regretted that he was not allowed to snap her out early, so he could acquaint himself with her, but considering the size of the park, it was likely they’d be out there for hours anyway.
He decided to instead take in even more of her physical appearance and attire to better try and understand more about her, since that was a part of the tradition.
Before long, more people showed up and took a partner. Once all the airheads and been paired with a hothead, they were given the go-ahead to snap their partners out of standby mode.
Adam quickly grabbed a slip of paper that was in the girl’s hand with the phrase she had programmed herself to snap her from standby mode; she could snap herself out if she wanted to, but the tradition dictated she have her partner do it. He quickly opened it and then spoke the phrase: “Like the sun, I always rise.”
The instant the words left his vocal synthesizer, her body snapped back to life with a series of beeps and whirs, as her dormant systems came back online. He heard some activity in the open mechanical area where her head was supposed to be, but he was more focused on her body to see what exactly had happened.
“Hello,” her voice emitted from a speaker installed in her throat just below the separation area, “are you my partner?” she inquired.
“Yes,” Adam said nervously, “My name’s Adam.”
“Hi Adam, my name’s Stephanie,” she replied, outstretching her right hand, “I’m looking forward to getting to know you better while you help me locate my head.”
“Me too,” Adam replied, feeling slightly more confident as he grabbed her hand and shook it. As he shook her hand, he couldn’t help but think of how nice it felt in his, and how much he adored her voice.
Once they shook apart, she seemed to stand still for a while before speaking again, “Are we getting started now?”
“I think so,” Adam replied, seeing someone get ready to speak to them all. After the brief introductory speech explaining the rules and history of the event, they opened a gate and allowed them all to enter the vast forested park.
“Alright, let’s go,” Adam told her, taking her hand again and walking with her out into the field.
“You don’t have to grip me so hard,” Stephanie told him, “Even without my visual systems active, my stabilization systems are able to keep me steady,” she assured him.
“Oh, sorry,” he said, loosening his grip on her hand.
“No problem,” she said in a reassuring voice, “So, what’s everyone else doing right now?” she asked.
“I think they’re all just trying to get to know their partners better,” he said, quickly watching everyone else around him.
“That’s a good idea. We should do that too,” she said, “Why don’t you start first?”
“Alright. You already know my name, but I work at an agency that tries to develop new software for the population,” he told her. “Basically, we analyze the needs of the average model and try and develop new apps and configurations to be added to the monthly software updates we all receive.”
“Wow, that sounds like an important job,” she complimented. “Can you give me an example of an app you added that we all got?”
Adam put on a thinking expression as he analyzed his memory files, though he realized Stephanie couldn’t see it, it was still part of his programming to do so. “I’ve only been there a short time,” he admitted, “but I did get one app approved — one that allows us to customize our hair growth.”
“Ooh, I use that to moderate my bangs,” she said excitedly. “Not that you could tell in my present condition,” she laughed.
“Well, I’m glad people are actually using it,” Adam said a bit bashfully. “Otherwise the majority of work I do is bug fixes and such,” he finished. “How about you? What do you do?”
“I work in People Resources at one of the major A.I. companies,” she responded.
“Ah, I guess that explains your nice clothing,” Adam nodded.
“Ah, thanks,” she said, giving him a slight curtsy since she couldn’t smile. “I thought long and hard on what to wear today since I wanted to give a good impression for a prospective partner.”
“Well, it worked,” Adam told her. “I was the first one here and you were the first one I picked.”
“I’m honored then,” she said, giving his hand a slight squeeze as they continued.
“So, is this your first headless hunt?” he asked her.
“Yes,” she answered. “I never really saw the point of doing it before, since I used to get teased a lot in school when I was growing up,” she explained. “People always used to yell ‘throwback!’ whenever I would walk by, and there were more than a few people who would remove my head and hide it from me.”
“Then why would you wish to have your head removed and hidden once more?” he pressed.
“Well, once I got my job at the A.I. company, I worked with other airhead models like myself, and they told me that they had a marvelous time doing it,” she explained. “This event is, after all, a way for us airheads to show that we’re just as good and sophisticated as you hothead models.”
“Indeed it is,” Adam agreed.
“Anyway, I’m also not very outgoing, so I figured this might be a good place to meet someone,” she added.
“Same here,” Adam said.
“Ah, well I look forward to being able to see you then,” she said in a delighted voice.
“Likewise,” Adam nodded. “I’m curious…are you usually able to see when your head is removed?”
“Before I answer that, how much do you know about airhead models?” she asked.
“Not much,” he admitted, “To tell the truth, you’re the first one that I’ve met. At least, that I know of,” he added. “In any event, all I really know is that airheads have their processing equipment in their torsos instead of in their heads.”
“Well, that is the most basic information about us,” she conceded. “But, to answer your previous question, there’s a small rod that pops up out of our necks that has a rudimentary camera and a microphone,” she answered.
“Oh, is it up now?” he asked.
“Of course,” she laughed. “It’s right here,” she then said, letting go of his hand and pointing at a small rod sticking from the opening in her neck.
“Huh, that’s interesting,” he said, leaning in to get a closer look, and then refocusing his visual sensors to get an even closer look. It was precisely as she described: a small rod with a front facing camera, and microphones on either side. “I take it that the rules of the event have you disable the camera."
“Of course,” she confirmed, “Otherwise it wouldn’t be as fun, or educational,” she shrugged.
“True,” he agreed.
“So, what happens when your head is removed?” she asked.
“I lose control of my body,” he answered.
“What?! You can’t remote control it or something?” she asked.
“Well, I could if I got the appropriate upgrades,” he admitted. “But I’ve yet to need it, and it’s kinda expensive anyway, not to mention a strain on our processors.”
“Ah, that makes sense, I suppose,” she said understandingly.
“So, are there any advantages you can think of about being an airhead model?” he asked; they were once more holding hands and making their way through the forested area.
She made a sound like she was thinking. “Well, it’s easier for me to make myself up,” she answered.
“How so?” he asked, knowing women, even android women, tended to take excessive amounts of time making themselves look pretty.
“It’s quite simple. I have three heads,” she answered simply.
“Wow, and how does that help?” he asked.
“Well, I always keep one head with my casual look, a second head with my business look, and then the third head I use as a blank slate to create more custom appearances,” she explained.
“And I’m sure it’s helpful to have a spare head or two in case something happens to the one you’re currently using,” he added. “I’m assuming they all look the same otherwise…you don’t have different faces?”
“Of course not,” she laughed, “And besides, that’s be illegal.”
“I guess you’re right,” he nodded, “and just out of curiosity, which head did you bring today?”
“My casual one,” she answered.
“You know, I was so excited to participate in this event that I wasn’t really paying much attention to the rules,” he admitted. “How much are you permitted to tell me about what your head looks like?” he asked.
“Only the basics,” she admitted, “but, only after you’ve given a basic assessment of what I look like…based on the rest of my body, that is.”
“Hmm, alright,” he said, then he quickly sized her up. “You’re obviously designed to look like a female Caucasian, approximately 25 years old, and, based on your voice, you’re an American model,” he listed.
“Very good,” she complimented. “So, all I’m programmed to tell you is that I have long, brown hair, and blue eyes,” she said.
“Well, that’s pretty basic, but it wouldn’t be fun if I had too much information,” he conceded. “Oh! I think I found a head,” he then said, spotting a lock of brown hair sticking out of some nearby bushes.
“Well, pick it up and take a look,” she suggested.
Adam didn’t waste any time doing so. He carefully reached into the bushes until he felt them close around a head shaped object. He then brought them out and took a look.
It was quickly apparent that the head wasn’t Stephanie’s. Although the hair was brown and the eyes blue, the skin tone and facial features were that of someone who was Middle Eastern.
“Is it mine?” Stephanie asked.
“Not unless you were manufactured in Iran, or otherwise ordered for an Iranian,” Adam said.
“Oh,” Stephanie said with a dejected tone. “Well, at least we get to spend more time with each other,” she then said.
“Indeed,” he told her, preparing to place the head back where he found it before it’s owner walked by. He stopped part way though, a curious look on his face, “Stephanie, do you think someone else’s head might work with your body?” he asked.
“I’m not sure,” she admitted, “I suppose it depends on whether the head’s neck is similar in size to my body’s neck,” she surmised. “Why?”
“Well, it might be amusing to try this head out on your body,” he said, staring into the head’s blank eyes, wishing to see them more lively.
“Perhaps you’re right,” Stephanie agreed. “Well, assuming there’s no one else around, I’ll allow it.”
Adam quickly looked around and ramped up his visual and auditory sensors to confirm no one was in the immediate surroundings. Once he was sure they wouldn’t be disturbed, he sized up Stephanie’s neck, as well as the opening on the head he was holding.
“Um, is there anything special I need to do in order to attach this thing?” he asked.
“No, just line it up with the connection points and click it in,” she shrugged.
“Ah, good,” he smiled. He then lined up the foreign head on her neck and carefully brought it down.
At first, he thought it didn’t work, but then Stephanie’s body seemed to lock in place as a series of mechanical whirs emitted from her neck. A few moments later, the noises stopped, though the seam around the neck did not properly seal...most likely because the head wasn’t completely compatible. Nevertheless, the head came to life.
“Stephanie, can you hear me?” Adam asked.
“Yes, surprisingly I can,” she answered, though with the installed foreign accent and voice of the person the head belonged to.
“How does it feel?” he asked, not sure he’d have any frame of reference to compare.
“Well, I’m able to control all of the head’s systems, but I can tell it’s not my head,” she answered. “Though, since we’re still playing the game, I haven’t activated its visual systems,” she added.
“Of course,” Adam nodded, “And I take it you can’t override the voice on the head?”
“No,” she answered. “For some reason they haven’t allowed us to do that,” she told him. “Perhaps your team could develop a setting for us,” she suggested.
“Perhaps,” Adam nodded, “Though I’m sure it isn’t really safe for you guys to swap heads like this, so I’m sure that’s why they never considered it.”
“True,” she nodded, “Well, we should probably put the head back before it’s owner comes looking for it,” she suggested.
“Alright,” Adam said, “How do I remove it?”
“I’ll do it this time,” she told him, and before he could respond, she zoned out and the mechanics in her neck whirred some more before she removed it herself. “Here, put it back while I reset my connection systems,” she told him, carefully holding out the head.
“Okay,” he told her, taking the head and carefully putting it back in the bushes, “Alright, it’s back,” he told her, maneuvering himself back to her left side and taking her hand once more.
“So, if the next time I do find a head that could be yours, how are we supposed to verify it?” he asked her.
“Assuming it matches the general description I gave you, I can briefly activate my camera to check if it’s mine,” she explained.
“Oh, good,” he said with a sigh of relief. “I don’t want to risk damaging you or someone else’s head.”
“That’s nice,” she said. “So, continuing our discussion from before, what would you consider the primary advantage of being a hothead model over and airhead model?” she asked.
“That’s easy,” he told her, “Since our brains are compact and in our heads, we can fit larger power systems in our torso and stay online longer.”
“Ah, that must be nice,” she mused, “I have to plug myself in every night while I sleep.”
“Well, no offense, but they do have services that can convert airheads into hotheads,” he told her, “Have you ever considered it?”
“Well, of course I have,” she responded, “I’m sure most airhead models have, but I supposed we do have a few advantages,” she told him, “Aside from being able to have multiple heads, there are fewer latency issues since our CPUs are closer to our body’s motor control systems,” she explained, “and our torsos are considerably sturdier than our heads, so if I were in an accident, it’s more likely my brain would be undamaged.”
“Hmm, the last point you made is pretty good,” Adam admitted, “But since we all backup our memories three times a day anyway, it’s not really necessary.”
“It is when you consider we’re only insured for three accidents before we have to pay for our ‘resurrection’,” she told him.
“But I’m fairly certain we both make enough to pay for the 4th time,” he told her incredulously.
“Well, I suppose I’m a little cheap then,” she said in a huffy tone.
“Well, whatever works I suppose,” Adam laughed, with Stephanie joining in. Unfortunately, their brief moment of laughter was interrupted when Stephanie tripped on a tree root.
“Ouch!” she cried out, stumbling quite a bit until her stabilizers compensated.
“Are you alright,” he asked her, knowing that androids were really only programmed to express pain when they were damaged.
“I think my foot’s damaged,” she told him, hobbling a few steps before stopping, “Yep, my right foot’s damaged,” she confirmed with a sad voice.
“Well, don’t worry,” he comforted her, guiding her to a nearby tree stump and sitting her down, “I’ve got a few rudimentary repair programs installed, so I might be able to fix it.”
“Really?” she asked excitedly.
“Yeah, if you don’t mind, I’d need to remove your shoe…and foot,” he told her.
“Well, considering the only other option is to withdraw from the event, we might as well,” she shrugged.
“Very well,” Adam smiled, getting down on his knees so he could reach her foot.
Once he was in a comfortable position, he grabbed hold of her right foot from her ankle and squeezed until he felt the separation mechanism. Fortunately, all three major models of androids had the same separation systems, so it made it much easier to repair them. He squeezed the pressure trigger and, with a mechanical whir and click, twisted her foot off from two inches above her ankle. With her foot safely removed, he stood back up and then sat next to her on the sizeable tree stump.
“Well, can you fix it?” she asked in a concerned voice.
“I’m not sure yet,” he told her, “Just give me a few seconds to review my data files.” He then quickly perused the files he’d installed in himself pertaining to basic android repair and brought up everything regarding feet. Fortunately, he’d kept the files up-to-date, because it seemed Stephanie had recently gotten a new body per her aging algorithm, and naturally the new body had a few new enhancements that were released each year.
“Alright, I think I see the problem,” he told her, pulling an image of what the mechanisms in her open foot should look like and keeping it up in his HUD to compare, “If you don’t mind, I’m going to remove the shoe from your foot so I can check for any other damage.”
“I don’t mind,” she shrugged.
“Good,” he told her, then he carefully removed the brown slipper from her foot, along with the little black sock she wore underneath it to keep the shoe clean. “Wow, your foot looks pretty,” he complimented, admiring the well-kept toenails, and the soft skin.
“Thanks,” she said with a hint of bashfulness, “I try my best to keep them in good working order.”
“Well it shows,” he assured her, probing various areas of the foot to determine if there were any additional damage, “Though, I must say you probably should’ve worn shoes that were more…athletic to this event,” he said, “These slippers are probably the reason your foot got damaged.”
“Oh,” she said with a disappointed voice, “I was just trying to look pretty.”
“Well, there’s nothing wrong with that,” he assured her, “But this is pretty uneven terrain.”
“I understand,” she said, “So, can you fix the damage?”
“Yes,” he told her, taking a small kit from his jacket and using a small tool from it to fix a slightly misaligned servo mechanism near her ankle mechanisms. As he repaired the servo, it activated the rest of the mechanisms in her foot, making the toes dance around with the sound of the whirs in her foot.
“Alright, I think it’s fixed,” he finally said a few moments later, putting his tool kit away and holding her foot in his hands.
“Well, there’s only one way to find out,” she told him, holding out her right foot.
“Indeed,” he agreed, kneeling back down in front of her and clicking her foot back on. Once it resealed, she regained control of it and then tested her mobility by rotating her ankle, and wiggling her toes.
“Amazing, it’s as good as new!”
“Glad to hear,” he smiled, picking up her sock and shoe and handing them back to her.
“Thanks again,” she told him as she put them back on her foot, “Even if I did have my visual sensors on, I’m pretty hopeless when it comes to fixing things,” she laughed.
“Well, perhaps this’ll convince you to keep me along in your life…” Adam said, helping her to her feet.
“Perhaps,” she said with a hopeful tone.
They continued the hunt without further damage, though since the repair job, she was far friendlier and open towards him, and him to her. Although they were talking more about their lives, they had an unspoken agreement to limit what they discussed, since they preferred to do it in a more intimate setting.
Although they found several more heads along the way, they didn’t play around with them. After another hour of searching, he finally found a head that he thought, and hoped, was hers. It matched all the basic descriptors: Brown hair, blue eyes, and the same skin tone and Caucasian features.
“I think I found your head,” he told her, reaching down and picking it up from the hollow log he found it in. As he picked it up, he brushed the leaves and debris from the long hair.
“Alright, just hold it in front of my neck camera so I can verify,” she told him.
He held it in front of her neck for a few seconds while she reactivated her visual systems. It didn’t take long for her to confirm.
“You’re right, we found it!” she practically screamed, jumping up and down with excitement.
“Wow, well you look just as attractive as I imagined,” he told her, turning her head around and staring deeply into its frozen features.
“Thanks,” she gushed, “I can’t wait to see what you actually look like.”
“Well, let’s not waste another moment,” he decided, turning her head back around and walking bringing it up to Stephanie’s neck.
Stephanie said nothing, but instead braced her body for the reattachment of her head. Just as he brought her head down, the camera rod lowered back into her body and then the head smoothly reconnected with a series of whirs. Adam had been a bit nervous that maybe they were wrong, but he was immediately reassured by the sight of the seam resealing perfectly, leaving no trace her head had ever been removed. Now that her head was reattached, he could now see her hair was very long — going down to just past her breasts.
Her face twitched a few times as she regained control of all the cranial systems, but, after a few rapid blinks, her eyes opened and focused on Adam’s, her face forming a smile.
“Hi,” she said, seeming to drink in his physical appearance.
“Hi,” he said back, waiting for her to finish taking in his appearance.
“You look as kind and handsome as I had imagined,” she finally said, walking forward and giving him a hug.
They just stood there in each other’s embrace for several seconds in complete silence before breaking apart and starting to walk back to where they started.
“Well Adam, I think you’ve earned yourself a lunch date with me,” Stephanie said playfully.
“And hopefully much more,” he finished with a smile.
“Hopefully,” she winked.
As they continued walking back to the start area, Stephanie looked around at the beautiful, yet unstable scenery and said. “Wow, I really should have worn athletic shoes.”
Adam said nothing, choosing instead to enjoy the scenery with his new friend as they walked back to their future.