Unusual Chance Encounter
Joey is a pervert.
There's really no other way to describe him. Joey is a pervert, but not in a fun, quirky way like those old men in Japanese cartoons. No, there isn't anything amusing about Joey. He doesn't train protagonists to shoot lasers from their hands or anything. No, none of that. He's a guy who wears sunglasses to ogle women on the streets. He's a guy who visits gyms to take pictures of yoga classes. Only the fear of reprisal stays his hands from any truly heinous deviancy.
His perverted tendencies, in fact, are the reason for his current residency in a changing booth.
Short story long? Dickens.
Long story short? Pretty much what anyone would expect. As it turns out, after openly leering at enough women in public, at least one of them will file a complaint with security. When security equips guards with cattle prods and assault rifles, a wandering pervert is a good enough excuse to declare open season and unleash the full might of the Second Amendment.
Most city folk are quite aware of the zealotry of typical mall security, so they aren't so open with their degeneracy. Joey, however, is from the old country. His arrival is a fairly recent event, so he had yet to pick up the customs and practices of a far less forgiving home. Needless to say, he was deeply regretting his lack of social etiquette.
Luckily for Joey, a rural upbringing has its advantages. A lifetime on the sprawling plains has rewarded him a set of swift feet and clever eyes, and it wasn't long before he found a good hiding spot, evading the swarming of bullets and electric shrieking of truncheons, at least for the moment.
Ordinarily, the story would end here, with the guards victorious and Joey's face plastered across the local papers as a modern scarlet letter. However, in this one specific scenario, the story continues. Indeed, today is actually a very good day for this voyeur.
See, the changing booth was, in fact, already occupied.
Because Joey was previously fleeing the wrath of law enforcement, his attentions were understandably devoted elsewhere. Now that danger had momentarily subsided, Joey was busy contemplating his next course of action when he accidentally bumped into his fellow occupant. Startled, he quickly began stuttering an apology, trying in vain to stop this stranger from alerting the guards.
Lucky for him, the other inhabitant of the changing booth did not respond. In fact, she wasn't really moving at all. There was a stillness in her posture, an unfocused, blank look painted over her eyes, marred by traces of a scowl. Joey's sputtering apology trailed into silence as he realized his companion wasn't doing much of anything.
At first, Joey thought it was some sort of mannequin. After all, he's in a department store. Given how still this woman is, that could be a reasonable guess.
As he stood before her, trying to make sense of the situation, he noticed something wrong with the air. It smelled acrid, almost burnt. Whatever it was, the smell made Joey uncomfortable, and, given the sparse contents of his immediate surroundings, it could only be coming from the woman.
A nobler man would have hesitated. Joey is rather lacking in nobility, and his hands suffer little indecision. With a single swift motion, the woman is disrobed, and the problem is made evident. From an oval-shaped indention set in her stomach, small wisps of ashen air leaked into the air, tainting it with the unmistakable stench of burning.
"That's weird", Joey muttered to himself. "Did some kid shove a cigarette in this mannequin?"
He runs his hands over the inert form, trying to identify the source of the smoke. As he pores over the smouldering abdomen, from both curiosity and (regrettably) lust, his hands apply a little more force than he intended. At first, Joey is simply confused as to why a clothing store would spend the time and effort to give a posable model realistic flesh. Then, there is a click, and he notices that the downward pressure had dislodged the abdomen panel. Moving it aside, he realizes that he's not looking at a simple mannequin.
Mannequins are typically simple plaster molds supported by wire skeletons.
This thing is packed with mechanisms and wires.
The sight did little to perturb Joey. If anything, he was intrigued. Growing up on a farm in the older part of the country, robots weren't a common sight. Still, he knew of them and made a habit of tinkering with old engines and generators in hopes of one day owning a robot himself. After spending an entire childhood convincing himself that androids were enormously rare curiosities owned only by the wealthy, he was rather shocked that they were actually common rank-and-file labor. This one must've been a store employee, albeit one suffering from some sort of hardware failure.
Once again, Joey is a pervert. It's not a kind description, but it does drive many of his actions. Regardless of his justifications, what he does next is not an act of kindness.
Lifting the gynoid to a standing position, he examined the open stomach cavity and let years of mechanical tinkering identify the problem. The cooling fan had stalled, snagging on some unknown obstruction, and several fuses had burned out. In addition, whatever entity responsible for upkeep was clearly terrible at its job; little else could explain the fraying wires, loose insulation, and stripped screws keeping the frame together.
Still, he had been waiting all his life to own an automoton, and this deactivated gynoid was the chance of that lifetime. Luckily, in her discarded clothing, Joey located a small assortment of hardware and tools. Evidently, her slipshod maintenance was her own doing. Carefully, Joey begins his work, starting with the blocked fan. With hands well-worn from tinkering on farm machinery, the immediate problem is resolved, and he even manages to get several of the wires patched up, though it did take a bit more electrical tape than he would've liked. As for the stripped screws, well, there wasn't much to be done. Even with the time, tools, and parts, replacing stripped screws is never an easy task. For now, he had to content himself with screwing in a few loose connections by hand.
As Joey busied himself with an usually unruly screw, the fan suddenly whirred back to life. He barely had enough time to save his fingers as surrounding machinery stuttered to life. Too late, Joey realized that the fembot was actually still running when he found her; otherwise, the fan wouldn't have been making so much smoke.
However, now was not the time to reflect on poor decisions. Awakened by a chorus of beeps and whirs, the fembot became animate, subtle movements transforming a mannequin into a convincing facsimile of a living woman. Joey, realizing that he was about to deal with something with an unknown degree of sapience, immediately realized that any situation involving a strange man and a naked female won't end well. Before the situation could deteriorate any further, he made a mad dash for her clothes to try and salvage whatever dignity a pitiful creature like himself could muster.
He could not have chosen a worse time.
Just as he was haphazardly reverse-engineering the complex clothing ritual to reverse nudity, the fembot awoke. Upon regaining consciousness, it noticed two things.
Firstly, she is naked.
Secondly, there is a man groping her.
Naturally, there is only one logical response. Over ten thousand years of human evolution, for such encounters, one weapon was developed to reign supreme over all others. Engineered across every era of written and unwritten history, it has been honed to gleaming perfection, the first and greatest tool of combat.
That weapon, of course, is the fist, and all ten thousand years of its storied history are currently lodged in Joey's face.
Needless to say, it hurt. To this day, Joey isn't quite sure how he survived. Some would attribute it to a thick skull. Others, his horniness. Perhaps it's simply one of those things ordained by fate as part of a greater narrative.
Of course, at the moment, Joey wasn't concerned with any fortune telling nonsense, and, frankly, neither was the fembot.
"What in the actual fuck!" Understandably, her tone of voice was rather angry.
"I was just trying to help!"
"Really? Oh, I'm sorry, mister 'I was just trying to help'. In my part of the world, we usually don't consider getting our tits groped by some pervert helpful! I just want to know, ass-muncher, what makes you think any sane person would find this okay? Can you even name any women that stupid, dipshit?"
"I don't know, can you count all the loaves of bread you've eaten?"
If Joey intended on making a clever retort, his efforts were both wasted and heavily inappropriate for the situation. The fembot only got angrier, and Joey could clearly see eleven different forms of murder in her eyes. Grabbing his throat, she slammed him into the changing booth wall, leaving it rattling from the impact.
"Oh, so you aren't just content with molesting. You also think you're smart! Tell me, shithead, what form of brain damage made you think that was in any way okay?"
While "oxygen deprivation" is technically a correct answer in this scenario, Joey's mental faculties were suffering performance issues due to the aforementioned choking. He was not in a position to make such a retort. Instead, he tried a more obvious answer.
Once again, he is technically not wrong. Her lingerie was more form than function, in a manner of speaking. In other manners of speaking, however, it did nothing to quell the roaring inferno before him.
"Oh, so I can't dress how I like without idiots like you leering at me all the time?" Such was her mounting fury that fire practically flew from her lips. It seemed as if the very air around her had distorted from her rage. "It's not even supposed to be visible! This is supposed to be private! Do you even understand the fucking concept of decency?"
At this point, Joey's windpipe was in serious danger of structural collapse. If it were tissue paper, it would be soaking, spinning in a flushing toilet. However, in a sudden stroke of luck, her grip loosened, and Joey was freed from her iron grip. Oxygen flowed once again down an unrestricted trachea, granting Joey once more use of his brain.
Honestly, at this point, he should've fled. The secret technique of graceful retreat is difficult to execute, but even the most unpolished of strategists would've urged Joey to count his lucky stars and take his chances outside the murder chamber. In defiance of common sense, those same stars clearly had different plans because something made Joey hesitate.
The something in question was the fembot malfunctioning.
The acrid smell of smoke, previously quelled, once again filled the air. Evidently, her violent outburst had exceeded the cooling capacity of her systems, causing several important processors to overheat. Unable to cope, she had collapsed to the ground, visibly shaking as she tried to regain her previous posture. Each failed attempt to stand only sent her plummeting back down, components audibly straining to maintain operation.
At this point, there was a lot Joey could've done. Many in his position would do some very interesting things with a malfunctioning fembot. Joey was literally planning to do some of those things mere moments ago. There would be no better time to do so, as whatever mechanisms still supporting her frame finally buckled as their respective circuitry fried, leaving her with no escape.
Still, he hesitated.
Even though the fembot was more-or-less immobile, she kept trying to move. It wasn't out of rage, though. Her rage had long subsided. These motions were far more frantic, far more desperate.
He could see it in her eyes. He knew that look. He's spent too many nights on the open range, enveloped in total darkness with skittish animals and strange growls looming in the distance, to not know that emotion.
It was fear.
She was afraid of dying, of losing herself.
For all his ignorance, even Joey could tell that the Fembot was old, far older than her lifespan would've otherwise dictated. Motors and engines are meant to last, to power their respective machines for long decades of grueling toil on the old homestead. These components are frail, barely meant to last for what few fleeting moments they still have.
Small fleeting moments, that's all she is, yet she clung to what little she had as best she could.
Years scavenging parts.
Months of clumsy self-maintenance.
Days spent fretting over even the smallest of faults.
All that just for a chance to see the sun rise for another day. All that thrown away today, all for a single errant failure brought about by sheer chance. She knew she would not live past this day.
After all, she was at the mercy of a complete stranger, one she just assaulted, no less. People have died over far pettier disagreements. Even worse, the figure before her understood what he was doing. If he had no mechanical competency, she'd be used up and thrown aside. An unpleasant fate, but a quick one. However, since he knew his way with machines, it wouldn't just be one night. It would be countless stretches of darkness, denigration after denigration as what little independence she has loses all validity. She'll no longer be a person, assuming she would even have enough conscious thought left to conceptualize her fading humanity.
Joey took a step towards her. The gynoid weakly lifted an arm, trying to fend him off, but the arm had no strength in it. She tried to at least crawl away, but her efforts were rewarded only with the whine of overtaxed processors bellowing out more smoke.
She could only watch as her access panel was once again exposed to the attentions of a stranger.
Joey set the gynoid in an upright position and looked inside. As he suspected, his slapdash repair job was not adequate. What was once electrical tape was reduced to molten plastic by her meltdown, and her primary cooling fan had once more left its post. Also, there was a whole host of problems he had overlooked before. Problems really become obvious when they start causing problems. Oh well. At least he saw some simple stuff he could jury-rig for the moment.
He grabbed his tools and started working.
As he worked on her internals, the gynoid watched in confusion. He wasn't...doing anything bad. He was just poking around with her tools, trying to bring order to the chaos of her systems. She had expected him to start fiddling with her data ports, or, at least, start heaping abuse on the woman who had moments before nearly broke his neck. Yet, here he was, just playing technician.
For a moment, the two locked eyes. The fembot didn't know what to say. Joey thought for a moment, and, in a rare victory for rational thought, said something situationally appropriate.
"I'm sorry", he apologized.
The mechanical woman was at a loss for words, not from the written redundancy, but the apology. She had many rebuttals queued in an attempt to at least go out with some shred of dignity, but none were quite suitable for this specific moment. At best, she managed to stutter some incomprehensible gibberish that, nontheless, still managed to convey her confusion.
Joey sighed. "I'm sorry for what I was planning on doing. I was being an ass. I got carried away, and I forgot that you're a person. I can't take back what I did, but I can at least try to fix you again."
A bit melodramatic, but at least he was honest. She asked him, "You were trying to fix me?"
"That...that...wow, I feel like an ass for yelling at you now."
"No, I still feel bad for what I wanted to do. I mean, I could've done without the choking, but, you know, I really got a chance to get a good look at myself for once."
"But...I mean...I should at least--"
"Look, if that's how you want to apologize, let's just call it even between us."
The mechanical woman laughed, and Joey responed with a shy grin of his own. The mood significantly lighter, two settled back into a simple maintenance routine. It was a while before the woman decided to break the pleasant monotony.
"Sorry about this, it's been a long day. I have to work here, and, well, retail just sucks. People keep yelling at me. All those moms with their kids, all those imbeciles with their coupons, and my manager with his stupid 'lol just work harder forehead' lectures. I just get so pissed.
"I mean, it doesn't help with my upkeep", she admitted, gesturing at herself, "but some people just...just fucking make me want..."
She took a moment to collect herself.
"There was this one lady kept yelling at me, and I kept yelling back. She wouldn't listen, and I just kept getting angrier. Don't really remember what happened next, aside from some furniture being thrown around. I just remember storming off to find somewhere private to cool off. Next thing I know, I'm waking up in a closet, and, well, you know."
There was an awkward pause.
"I'm Joana, by the way."
"Oh, um, hi, Joana."
There was another awkward pause. This time, Joana at least decided to get dressed. Awkward moments are much more awkward when naked. After she finished, she gave her panel another check. She was...actually running a lot better than she was moments ago. A lot better than she's ever been, actually. An interesting thought crossed her mind, and she turned to Joey with a sly grin.
"Hey, you're good at fixing things, right?"
Joey knew where this was going. "Well, kind of, b--"
"Well, I usually can't get proper repairs these days."
"If you give me your make and model, I can f--"
"As I was saying", she interrupted, "I usually can't get proper repairs. Not a lot of good mechanics willing to work on a woman like myself. If only there was some guy out there, probably guilty of some sort of wink wink nudge nudge, that I could, I don't know, blackmail to give me a free check-up."
Joey blinked. "Wow. You are actually evil."
Joana winked. "Look, you coming over to my place or not?"
"...okay", Joey finally replied. That was probably an empty threat, but he didn't want to take any chances. Besides, it sounded interesting, and he really did want to see her again.
The two exchanged contact information and agreed to meet sometime later. As they said their farewells, Joey made a mental note to review his notes on computer repair. It is as it is, this minutia of existence.