The Yard Sale
The girls finished setting up the yard sale just before nine. No one was up this early, they argued, especially on a Saturday. Emma's parents countered that it was the apex of the summer heat, and anyone who was going to stop by their lawn would show up before it became unbearable outside. They had a point; even this early in the morning Emma was beginning to sweat. July sucked here.
"It's got to be a hundred degrees out here. Who's going to show up?" Emma looked over at her companion, the slender girl who was diligently setting up tables in the front of the lawn. Vanessa, not showing even a hint of fatigue in the oppressive summer sun, placed VHS tapes, Laserdiscs, MP3 listening devices, and old reference books in perfect rows on a fold-out table. How her parents had managed to hang on to some of those things so long Emma never could quite figure out, but hopefully the near-antiques would fetch some cash from overeager collectors.
Vanessa took a moment to pause and look over at Emma. "It is only eighty-five, and the heat index registers ninety-three. This is far from the extremes you are stating." The girls looked at each other, as if waiting for a retort where there could probably be none.
Emma sighed. "I hate it when you do that, Vanessa."
"I know. But at least it keeps your mind off the inevitable." If Vanessa was at all sad today, she didn't show it. Emma, on the other hand, was torn to pieces, and had already voiced her grief several times today to anyone who would listen. Vanessa was hers, bought and paid for with the money she had made sitting for all the brats in the neighborhood two summers ago, and she shouldn't have to give her up. These were hard times, and everyone had to chip in, and besides Emma would get half the money that Vanessa brought in...so her parents told her. It was a long speech, and an argument she would never win. So here she was, about to sell off her best friend in the entire world to someone who stopped by 47 Flower Street between the hours of nine and four on this too damn hot July-Fourth Saturday.
Some Independence Day. By the end of it Vanessa would be a slave to her new owner, and Emma would have a few bucks and a much emptier room to show for it. There were few more terrible ways to spend a holiday weekend.
Vanessa sat down next to the girl who had purchased her, developed her AI, nurtured her development over the past two years. "Hey, cheer up. I know I'll end up somewhere nice. And I won't even remember you, so that's a big plus for me..."
"Vanessa! Come on! You're not making this easy!"
"I was just trying to joke around a bit with you. You usually like that."
"I don't like much today." They sat in silence for a while. "I wish you could delete my memories too. Make it easier for the both of us. Make me forget I ever bought you."
"Doesn't work that way for humans, love. I wish it did." Vanessa put a finger under Emma's chin, turning her face towards the robot girl. "Besides, even when I'm gone, would you want to forget this?" Vanessa leaned in and kissed her owner with a tenderness often reserved for soldiers shipping off to war, or star-crossed lovers separated by cruel Shakespearean fate. Under the circumstances, this kind of affection was more than appropriate.
Emma broke off the kiss before it could go too far. After all, they were out on the lawn, and she didn't want the neighbors, or even worse her parents, noticing her tryst. "God damn, am I glad I programmed you to love me."
"There's nothing programmed about it, Emma. I love you just as much as you love me. Actually more, because I don't have to worry about school or friends or money..."
"Okay, okay! I love you too, and I will even after you're gone, and," she swallowed, trying to fight back the idea. "And even after your new owner reformats you and makes you forget everything about me."
"Maybe she or he won't, Emma."
"Who would want a robot with a whole lot of baggage, an ex-owner they're still in love with--"
"Who also developed sexual routines that normally take dozens of programmers years to create."
"You're right; I was pretty brilliant with you."
"...Do you think we have time for a quickie?" Vanessa bit her lip and curled it into that wicked half-grin that Emma had spent so many hours perfecting in her appearance protocols. Looking at her ersatz lover, her perfect companion, her near-constant confidant, she wished that this moment could linger until the end of time. It didn't hurt that Vanessa had decided to dress skimpy to attract customers. She looked delicious in that hook front bra and g-string combo, nearly all of her hanging out and just ready to--
Emma's train of thought was interrupted by the squeal of old auto brakes, as up pulled the first customer of the day. The car was an old sedan, not quite a classic but not exactly new either; in that way it was like most everything Emma was trying to sell today.
Everything but Vanessa.
The driver stepped out and took off his sunglasses, surveying the day's wares. He was young, or at least young enough to pass for a classmate of Emma's. Scruffy, like he was on vacation and didn't care too much about shaving. Hip, wearing those 1990s throwback clothes that were so in style right now. And he was handsome enough, what they probably used to call the "boy next door" look.
Vanessa wanted the full profile. She scanned his license plate; it was registered to a couple thirty years his senior, most probably his parents. She queried online databases to discover the music playing from the stereo: a band called The Kookies, unsigned and playing underground clubs in the city, popular with journalists and in-the-know celebrities. She had a very good idea of what this guy was like, and what he was looking for.
Vanessa turned to Emma. "I bet you he's going to buy a whole bunch. He's in town at his family's 'country house,'" --and she stressed the quotation marks with exaggerated hand gestures-- "And he works in the city. Probably doing something with vid making or Pad-zines."
"Do you recognize him?"
"No, but you taught me to be a very good detective." Vanessa winked at her human counterpart and darted over to the table with the price tags and cashbox. She quickly worked up a tag for herself and slapped it on. It read "TOO MUCH."
The young man nodded his hellos to Emma and Vanessa. He took note of Vanessa's newest addition, smiling a little bit at the joke, and then headed for the outdated media. The two girls watched him intently as he rifled through Dad's collection of Heavy Metal discs, loud action vids from his childhood, insane toys from years ago which seemed to trigger happy memories in the young man. Emma had to suppress a giggle when he pulled on the string of that old cowboy doll to hear it talk. That young man looked too giddy for oh-nine-hundred on a deathly hot day.
She had to admit that she'd consider flirting with him. Probably a bit too old for her, but it'd be more fun than haggling the price of a candy dish with old Mrs. Glick from down the street.
Emma felt Vanessa's elbow in her back. They turned to face each other. "I did a scan. He's totally famous in The City. And I know you're thinking it, and you totally should flirt with him."
"You'll need someone after me, Ems. Go for him." Vanessa pushed the other girl forward with such force that she nearly collided with the young man. He threw out a hand to stop her from falling, and in the process she tripped directly into his embrace.
"So...this is awkward."
"Do you, um, do you see anything you like?" Emma tried to let out an oh-isn't-this-wacky laugh. It sounded horrifically awkward. She was relieved when he matched it.
The young man pointed down to the Laserdiscs. "I haven't seen a collection this amazing since I was a little kid. Are you sure you want to part with them?"
"Yeah, my dad says they're all streaming on the pipe anyway, so we can free up some space. Maybe make a few bucks off them."
"Oh yeah, you can get these whenever on stream, but these versions sound way better. You get a good AC-3 setup and plug it it, amp everything and I'll stop before I bore you to death." They both laughed. Then there was a pause.
"B.B. Glad to meet you, Emma." He had trouble letting go of her hand when he took it. She, just for a moment, forgot about the artificial standing behind her. Then he looked over her shoulder at Vanessa, trying to find a new topic. "So...you cost too much?"
"She's too much," Emma said. "I'm priceless."
"You can say that again." Vanessa walked forward and put her hands around Emma's waist. "This one is top of the line. I don't think anyone deserves such an incredible model."
Emma blushed. "You're too good to me," she said to Vanessa, and kissed her companion on the cheek. There was a lot of hemming and hawing after that, a big show for the customer. A few years back, one would have sworn these were two human girls having fun. But it's incredible what a difference a few years makes.
B.B. slapped his hands together, considering his next move. Emma hoped that he'd notice her, maybe leave Vanessa well enough alone. Maybe Vanessa would still be here tonight, and then Emma's parents would reconsider. Maybe B.B. would buy out the place; Vanessa said he had money, right? Maybe he'd buy it all and she'd have a rich new boyfriend from the city and Vanessa too--
"So buying both of you would be out of the question, right?"
Whoa. That was weird. Did he just try to...buy her? You can't buy female human girls! (At least not in this country.)
She was going to speak up when Vanessa interjected. "I'm sure we could work out a price break. You know, bring it down from Infinity Dollars to...just way too much." Emma looked over at them, trying to figure out what was going to happen. Was he going to leave with Vanessa? Did he like her? Did he like both of them?
For the moment, B.B. wasn't paying any attention to Emma. He was circling Vanessa, checking her for dents and defects. She was perfect. Emma had made sure every night. "What series model are you?"
"Thank you for asking, sir. I am a VNS 380io, in service as a full AI for the past twenty-two months. However, I have been extensively modded and programmed." Vanessa had gone into full sales mode. She sounded unnatural to Emma, more like the demonstration model at the factory than the girl she had spent nearly every waking moment with since the day she was delivered. Vanessa was going through the list of programs installed and modifications made within her, but to Emma those were nights and weekends they spent together, time they had been together until Emma had declared her "just right" and they celebrated by coming together, natural and artificial tangling in an embrace that had been the greatest thing in Emma's world.
"So, Emma." She was rousted out of her memories by B.B.'s voice. Vanessa was smiling at her, but she couldn't figure out quite why. "How long have you been active?"
She didn't quite understand. Had he got it confused? "Um, I was born in 2002, if that's what you mean..."
B.B. turned back to Vanessa. He said something, but Emma could have sworn all that came from his mouth was a blast of white noise. "Sir, Emma is my master. My HUMAN master?" There was too much insistence in Vanessa's voice. What was wrong?
"I see, Vanessa. Undress your Mistress. I want to compare your bodies." Emma didn't have time to protest this one before Vanessa was upon her. She leaned in close and whispered in Emma's ear. "Don't worry, sweetheart. I think I'm about to get you a very awesome boyfriend."
Those words eliminated all doubt from Emma's mind. Of course. She will demonstrate her body for Sir. Why would this be strange. Within moments she was out of her t-shirt and ripped shorts, dressed in the same undergarments as Vanessa and standing beside her. Passers-by, at least those who gave more than a passing glance, would notice that these two girls were exactly identical below the neck, even down to the scar on their left hips. Apparently Emma liked her body so much that she had ordered the exact same one when constructing Vanessa.
"I have to have you. And the Laserdiscs, and that Woody doll, and maybe those 1988 campaign buttons. But mostly you two." B.B. and Vanessa worked out the details while Emma stood quietly. Inside her mind was raging. Had she really just been sold? What about college? What about her memories and life and the family and Vanessa? Emma looked down at her body. Was she really a robot, just like Vanessa?
"Good. I'll let them know they have to send you the transfer documents." Vanessa and B.B. were finishing up everything. Emma would be able to get some answers. She turned to her companion, and Vanessa began to speak. No, not speak. Mutter. Emma would come to know these as high-speed data blasts; they were the most efficient mode of communication between two robots.
Yes. The sale was final. She must go inside and prepare. She left Vanessa and walked up to Emma's room. Emma had been this unit before it was sold to its new owner, and it might be again if owner permitted. The robot marched to the desk where two bags of essentials were waiting. Before picking them up, she typed a brief message into the open dialogue box, a popular social network with students. "Emma has been purchased by a new owner. Please delete her as soon as possible from your memory. Thank you." The process had started. Those friends of Emma's that were robots (more than she ever knew) would delete her immediately. The rest would soon follow as evidence of her life drifted away.
The unit formerly known as Emma grabbed its bags and marched out of the room. Before she was at the stairs, she was confronted by Emma's young sister, a precious creature who was just waking from a nap. "Emma? Where are you going?" Without stopping, the unit let out her first data blast, stopping the young child in her tracks.
"Yes. Acknowledged. The owners of these units will be notified." The only child of the house watched as the old maid unit departed. She was glad to seen it go, as Dad had promised her half the money from the sale of the two units. Maybe she'd use the money to buy her own companion. She would have more than enough when combined with the money from babysitting this summer.
Emma marched directly to B.B.'s car before she regained control of her own body. Her first action as an aware robot was to break down in tears. Vanessa and her new owner both comforted Emma, telling her all the amazing things they'd do now that Emma knew what she was.
"Can...can I at least be seen as your girlfriend sometimes?"
He said yes.
"And will I still love her as much as I do right now?"
If there was an answer, Emma didn't remember it. B.B. had Vanessa deactivate her counterpart and place her in the trunk, along with 200 laserdiscs and a few old toys from bygone eras. She sat up front with him, and they both waved goodbye to the young girl running the yard sale.
Vanessa looked over at her new owner, the man who had figured out so quickly that Emma was something other than human, and had paid through handsomely for both of them. "You're going to change us, aren't you?"
"Not too much. Just enough to make you mine. I wouldn't have bought you if I didn't like you mostly the way you are."
Vanessa nodded. "Leave her everything with me. Her family, her friends, her school. They can go. She's already forgotten there anyway. But leave us intact. You probably don't believe it, but I do love her. Better than anyone ever did."
"Of course. You two are special. One request, though."
"Teach me to love both of you as much. I bet you guys have incredible sex."
The robot smiled. "I think you just made the yard-sale find of the century...Master."