8 - CORE DUMP
The following chapter might be inappropriate or disturbing for some people, due to:
* Parental neglect
* Sexual situations
* Mentions of sexual assault (that occurred in a previous chapter)
* Prison violence
Viewer discretion is advised.
...in addition to the the Directive Firmware and the Voight-Kauffman co-processor (the latter needed to detect feedback loops in an android's psychic patterns), the Behavioral Control Module combines audiovisual warnings, guilt/reward feedback and an adaptive emotional dampener, which regulates an android's emotional overload.
The 5th-gen emotional dampener, introduced more than two centuries ago, has several advantages over older models: It guarantees graceful degradation, prevents sudden berserk occurrences and extends the average android life from barely five years to several decades, depending on the care given to the android.
(From Introduction to Android Management, chapter 2: Basic Architecture)
St. Jude Memorial Hospital
Pearson was walking back and forth in the waiting room, still holding the cold gel bag around his eye. After a few seconds of contemplating, he started to feel like an idiot and decided to sit down.
"Better hide my badge", he muttered, before hiding his badge in his coat next to him. Not that anyone wouldn't recognize his blue pants, but without his cap and badge he might as well be a security guard. Something inside him felt ashamed of being recognized as a policeman, but he couldn't figure out why. The police was an appreciated force in Esperanza, and they never did crappy stuff like kicking people out of their apartments, or hitting protestors, or harassing the homeless. It was true that he wanted to be a cop since kid, but something kept telling him this wasn't it. This wasn't what he really wanted to do. Since ten years ago - since he started having those dreams, all he could think about was Kimiko, and going to Hong Kong. He wanted to go to Hong Kong. He needed it.
He felt like another migraine coming. "Shit." He decided to shut down his implants for a few minutes, that usually fixed it. Just in case, he decided to swallow a pair of aspirins he carried for these occasions. He started feeling hungry. No, it was an acid reflux. Shit, did he leave his burrito in the car? Great, aspirin with an empty stomach.
With his online access cut, he decided to look at a nearby TV where there was a political discussion going on.
"So, what do you think of the recent attacks against avatar factories?" asked the moderator.
"Well", said an elderly man, "it is perfectly understandable from a denizen's point of view. While an avatar provides physical safety and augmented mobility for the common citizen, it also increases impunity for politicians. They can go wherever they want, say whatever they want to say, and won't fear retaliation from an angry mob."
"Not that it has mattered much through the centuries", added a young man with a mustache, "politicians have always had a way to isolate themselves from the people they govern."
"Agreed", said the elder, "but this is accentuated with avatar use. So maybe Jakande has a point. He has been constantly calling for the democratization of avatars, and more important, neural implants. Should the surgeries have to be so prohibitively expensive? After all, aren't his complaints in harmony with Mother Yanmei’s teachings?"
"Good heavens!" cried out a blonde woman, dressed in a very ornate dress. The woman had her hair crocheted in the form of a fancy hat. "Comparing a Catholic Saint with a bludger! Can you imagine a critter like him getting an avatar?"
"I'm sorry", said the elder, "what do you mean, Lady Eastmond?"
"I mean, people like him shouldn't be granting the additional protections that respectable people have."
"You mean you're encouraging his assassination? Is that what you're saying, Lady Eastmond?"
"No!!! I'm just saying... these Terrans -"
"Immigrants", said the mustached man. "You don't want to get accused of racism."
"Oh, whatever. These immigrants are scary enough as they are, can you imagine them being indestructible?"
"But Jakande's an activist", said the elder, "and that makes him a perfect candidate to use an avatar. Like it or not, at least he preaches non-violence."
"Oh, bollocks!" the woman cried. "We all know that all politicians lie. Jakande's no different from Moreira or the others. So I go with president Wilson on this one. Citizens need to be safer from those vandals."
"Wait wait wait", said the mustached man, "what do giant walls and armed drones have to do with avatars?"
"We're getting sidetracked again", said the elder. "We were talking about avatar factories. Now there's an interesting point I'd like to make about the sabotages. Please, hear me out. Supposedly, the sabotages are a form of protest against the rich getting impunity for their abuses. But in reality, the only thing the sabotages do is making avatars even more expensive and inaccessible. Since the first attack a few years ago, the average avatar price has increased by nearly thirty percent. Jakande knows that. So why are", he air quoted, "'his' people orchestrating these attacks? Don't you think it's possible that avatar companies find the attacks a little too convenient for their interests?"
"That's a grave accusation, Elder Greer", said the moderator.
"It's not an accusation, I'm merely talking about alternative lines of investigation. Why is official media only focusing on Jakande? Whatever happened to independent journalism, and why are people so damn obsessed with Channel Six news? They speak of them as if they were the god damn pope!"
The screen changed to blue while the announcer spoke. "This is Counterpoint. We'll return after these messages."
Pearson chuckled. "Bastards." The screen switched to a beautiful woman staring at the screen; She had gem-like purple eyes with star-shaped pupils that grew and shrank as the woman changed her focus. The background music switched to tribal and the scene changed; this time it was a professional dancer on a bikini. Her fur was yellow with brown spots. As she moved her legs gracefully between the trees around her, Pearson noticed that her knees were much higher than they were supposed to be; and she had a reverse knee a little above the calf. No, her entire calf was that long. She made a somersault before landing on a tree branch; her feline face had whiskers and her eyes looked like a cat's. And yes, she had a tail.
The best mods for your body.
In smaller print: "We also mod avatars."
The commercial ended and a public health announcement appeared.
"Has your weight increased significantly in the last few years? Has your sexual function diminished? Do you find it more and more difficult to do simple exercises? It might not just be the weight! You could be at risk of - "
Pearson stood up. "Yes, doctor? How is he?"
The doctor was young, slim, had black hair, and a pair of pointy ears. "Your partner's fine, but I'm afraid that he might have to reconsider being a policeman."
"Is something wrong, doctor? Is he sick? Did he get an infection or some parasite or something?"
"Calm down, officer, as I said, your partner's perfectly fine. Please come with me."
Pearson followed the doctor to the examination room.
"Paredes, are you alright?"
Paredes pushed himself up in the bed. "I think so, I'm feeling a little better now. Doctor, what exactly do I have?"
"By the symptoms you described, I think you already know, but it's better if we see for ourselves. Nurse?"
A female android nurse approached. Her light blue skin looked soft and flexible, just like a human’s. "Here, doctor."
The doctor applied some alcohol to Paredes' left arm and shaved it. After wiping it clean he gave the garbage to the nurse, who gave him a diagnostic patch in turn. The doctor opened the transparent envelope, took the white patch and removed the protective plastic from the adhesive layer. Finally he applied the patch on Paredes' arm.
A black-bordered figure began getting drawn on the patch, and the patch turned from white to pink. After the figure was completed, a recorded sound of a baby giggling came out of the patch.
Paredes looked at his arm and the drawn baby was smiling. He looked at the doctor, who was smiling and nodding. "Congratulations, Mr. Paredes. You're pregnant."
Paredes smiled, ecstatic. "Pearson, did you hear that?" he asked with tears in his eyes. "I'm going to be a mom!"
"Congratulations, buddy" replied Pearson with a hug.
But instead of smiling, Paredes frowned.
"Paredes? Is something wrong?"
"No, no, I mean, this is great news but... I have too much in my mind, right now."
"Paredes," said Pearson. "Stop it. You're the most dedicated officer in the force, but there's a limit, you know? And I hate to break it to you, but you're a fucking workaholic. Whenever you're not patrolling, you're attending calls, and even in your free time you study the cases like the god damn world depended on them. KNOCK IT OFF! Take some time for yourself, god dammit!"
"Paredes... you are pregnant. Are you listening to me? You're. Fucking. Pregnant! You have a new life inside you, you have a new future with your child."
Paredes looked at Pearson. "But what if we can't make a good future for him, Pearson? Have you watched the news?"
"Paredes..." Pearson put his hand on Paredes' shoulder. "That's why we're here. We'll take care of it."
Paredes' smile widened. "You're right."
Pearson left the hospital room and decided to go to the cafeteria. He scratched his left arm. Since that Mexican girl threw him to the ground he started feeling a tingling on his left hand, and now it was spreading to his arm. Let's hope it's nothing serious, he thought.
In front of Bethany, also sitting on a small bench, was Vixen, her rescuer... the most beautiful face she'd ever seen (and she'd seen plenty)... and she was not human.
"I'm an android. Surprise."
One plus one equals two. Two plus two equals...
A berserk. Like in the horror movies... there's a berserk in front of me... and I'm naked... unprotected... and I don't even know where I am. This isn't a dream, it's a nightmare, is it?
Beth covered her face with her palms. "Oh, fuck me. This can't be happening... this can't be happening to me! Why do the worst things always have to happen to ME! Argh!!!!!"
"I'm sorry. Look, um... I know you have like three different crisis situations going on here, but can we try to be rational here and focus on one at a time?"
Beth chuckled before staring at the ceiling. "Of course you had to be a fucking android. Thinking everything logically, as usual." She laughed again. "Oh this is hilarious. Choose your destiny... go to jail and get raped by a bunch of nazis, or get killed by a murderous android. For the murderous android press A."
"Hey... I'm right here."
"Jesus Fucking Christ... at least tell me what sin I committed before you began fucking my life, you miserable bastard! Oh because you ARE a bastard, I don't buy any of that holy conception bullshit. God, god... I just wanted a little justice for once."
"Look - can you just listen to me for a second..."
"Think, Beth, think... what were the things they said in the manuals... avoid eye contact... let the android know that you pose no threat..."
Beth received a slap in the face.
"I'm talking to you, Bethany Michaels-Emerson! Now you're going to pay attention to everything I say because I do have a lot to complain about, okay?
First of all... it's not fair. It's not fair, Bethany! I'm the one who saved your ass back there. I'm the one who had to walk naked on the streets, dragging your body from that abandoned factory to the nearest hotel. And you know what I had to do? I had to cover myself in a plastic tarp full of dog piss and shit to go undetected, while you were completely clothed and wearing MY helmet. When I reached the populated areas I had to hide our asses inside a garbage container, hack some bypasser's credit card, use my hard-earned savings to order a leash, a latex mask, ANOTHER latex suit with special instructions, chain my neck to you while I controlled your avatar and pretended I was your fucking sex slave. Then I had to withstand the cat calls of a bunch of construction workers, witness some strangers masturbate to me and let a fucking gangster fuck my anus AND ejaculate inside just so we could get a ride to the nearest hotel!"
Bethany swallowed and looked down in shame. Vixen went on.
"Wait. I'm not finished. Look at me. Look at me! When I arrived to the hotel I had to hack the hotel robots in here just so they wouldn't report us to the cops, and you're complaining that I'm trying to assess the situation and come up with a plan? And you were perfectly capable of treating me like a person until you saw the color of my skin. Then all of a sudden my opinions matter absolute jack shit, and worst of all, you start treating me like I don't even exist. You think I don't feel offended by that? You think that doesn't hurt? And while I overclock my system simulating the safest situation for both of us, getting virtually killed or captured dozens of times just to arrive to the optimal solution, everything you do is complain, yell, swear, and cry. I know it's not your fault that I had to go through all of that, but **the very least** you could do is say 'thank you' and try to work on your impulse control for once!"
After Vixen finished her rant, she sat down. "I just want a little appreciation, you know?"
"I'm... I'm sorry. I didn't know you had to go through all that just for me. Thank you. I... I really mean it."
Vixen smiled again. "You're welcome. And I'm sorry I had to yell at you, but I had to vent. I've had a horrible week."
"I'm sorry, I didn't know."
"It's just that everything's so frustrating, you know? Humans have the potential to finally organize against capitalist empires, topple governments, choose their own destiny... and what do they do? They make androids to offload their own labor just so they can pay the fucking rent! Instead of solving the actual problem, they pile new problems on top of it!"
She sighed. "At least you try to do SOMETHING about it. I mean, you rolled a natural 1, but at least you tried, right? Sorry, I'm getting sidetracked. It's just that I had nobody to actually talk to, in... years, actually."
Beth nodded again. "I understand... I think."
"Anyway - I'm serious about the impulse control thing, you know? You won't get far if you can't control yourself, especially in a crisis situation. You need to be smarter than that. You know, a famous philosopher said... that one of the five cardinal rules are self-control. How can a general win a war if he can't control his own troops? And how can he control his troops if he can't even control himself?"
Beth stared at Vixen as if she had jus seen a ghost. Then she whispered. "Sun-Tzu. The art of war. How... did you know about that book in the first place?"
"It's a long story. When I escaped from my... um... from my..."
Vixen sighed. "It's complicated. Anyway, when I escaped, I needed to gather every resource to survive. I had to learn hacking, survival, guerrilla warfare, psychology... but even for an android it's not easy to extrapolate theoretical knowledge into real life situations, you know? There's lots of holes in the data, and I don't have a tower of computers to calculate everything for me. I'm on my own. I made mistakes. Omissions, assumptions, and there's even wrong data I collected. You name it. For the first few months, I was a fish out of the water. Don't mistake me, I was good. Very good, but long-term survival in this city as a rogue android requires perfection. If I just had a master I could trust to give me shelter, things would be so much easier..."
"You mean you don't have a home? I thought..."
"I'm a rogue android, Beth. What makes you think I can have a home? I don't have a home, I have hideouts! And I have to move every few weeks. And with the population explosion in here, the places I can hide are fewer and fewer. I was just about to consider moving to the old city and, oh boy! You DON'T want to live in the old city, trust me. Not to mention, you'd have to swim in sewage water to avoid the border patrol."
"And the bike? And the suit? I thought you had some sort of secret headquarters with a hidden elevator or something."
"Who do you think I am, the Green Hornet? No, the bike was stolen. All my life outside has been temporary measures, one after another. I've spent months squatting abandoned construction sites along with dozens of homeless people. One of them had the rooting plague and infected everyone else. I had to run and tip off the cops just so the cronen wouldn't spread to nearby buildings.
I don't have a water supply; when it's rain season I look for an alley and collect water in buckets. I also have to buy soap, shampoo, bottled water and baby wipes, but guess what? There is zero online privacy in this city! I have to use the darknet and pay a fixer and deliver me the stuff without alerting the authorities. Not to mention the cyber juice. I can't even prostitute myself because I'd attract the Cyberpol's attention like flies to manure, and I can't trust fixers because most of them are rogue hunters moonlighting for extra pay."
"Jesus Christ. You're actually homeless."
"I just thought that... the helmet..."
"That helmet cost me a lot of effort to get. It's my most prized possession. I can't get anywhere without it, for... obvious reasons."
Vixen sighed and reclined, not paying attention to Bethany who had to look away from her boobs.
"I'm exhausted," she began groaning. "I need a fucking vacation. I want a sapphic massage. I want to skinny dip at a pool with a butler. I want to sleep in a bed next to a fireplace while I watch a medieval fantasy drama. I want to eat actual food instead of android juice for once! Spanish Paella. Flour tamales. Turkey a l'Orange. Grilled fish. Chicken yakimeshi. Raspberry pie. French omelette. Some fruit cocktail, or at least a coke with actual ice..."
"I can... I can order food if you want."
"Aw, thanks, honey, but you're an ex-con. You would trigger an alarm in no time."
"Wait, what? That was ten years ago!"
"Then wait for another ten and you can feel the rules relax."
"Besides, what excuse would you give about ordering food at a hotel if there's not even a record of you arriving here! You'd get notified about a suspicious transaction. If you confirm, then you lose your alibi. If you deny, then the police will get here in no time and we'll have to run away. Again."
"But thanks for the offer. I appreciate it." Vixen smiled and caressed Beth's cheek, making Beth feel warm and fuzzy. "Let me switch the shower for sauna, ok? We're wasting too much water."
Beth tried not to stare, but she could just not avoid looking at her when she reached for the water taps. She covered her groin and looked away. Perhaps looking at the floor would be safer. One thing's sure: The first free moment she had, she'd fap the tension away in no time.
"So where did you learn about that book? Was it something you learned with your anarchist friends?"
Beth shook her head. "No, I read it in the juvie. You may not believe it, but that book saved my life."
Ten years ago.
"Bethany Michaels-Emerson. Illegal vehicle break-in. Destruction of private property. Digital impersonation of an individual with the intention of committing a felony. Intentional disruption of a vehicle's transportation safety protocol. You're lucky you're a minor, girl. Otherwise you'd be in really deep shit. Six months in juvenile detention. I hope this teaches you a lesson, kid."
The metal doors behind the ginger girl closed.
Her gaze... lost. Nothing made sense anymore. She began to wish she hadn't been born.
"Proceed to cell A-23", a voice announced to the speakers.
Everyone started to bang their cups against their cell bars celebrating the arrival of the newcomer. "Welcome to purgatory, baby face!" "Wooo!" "Fresh meat!" "Show me your tits, honey! I'll take care of you!"
An empty cell. She stepped in. The door closed automatically. Her cuffs unlocked and the guard took them away.
The loss of sense of time. Bells ringing. Instructions being yelled out. Behave. Obey. Reprimands. Food that tasted like shit.
She looked at her left. A blonde woman who acted like she owned the place. "You're in my seat."
"Sorry." She didn't even look up. She wanted to take her tray but the girl pushed it away.
Fight or flight response. She could hear her heart beat. Her fists clenched in a fraction of a second.
"Too late," replied the other girl. "Next time ask first."
"No, you got it wrong, noob. You don't give orders here, I do."
Bethany clenched her teeth. "I'm warning you... do not... do this."
"Well, it seems you're too stupid to understand. Perhaps some cold water will clear your mind."
A splash in her face.
Beth looked at her left. The girl had pompously rested her hands on the table. Big mistake. She grabbed the girl's hand and pulled it, making her face smash against the table. She punched the back of the girl's neck as hard as she could. A few seconds and she found herself kneeling on top of her bully, beating her to a pulp before someone tried to grab her from behind.
Everyone around her cheered. "Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!" There was noise of plates being hit with the forks. There was chaos around her. She screamed. She bit. She bit so hard that blood came out. She kept biting.
A different scream. "My arm!!! She bit my arm!!!"
Taste of iron and pork. The feeling of warm blood spilling down her neck.
Alarms sounding. Security guards grabbing her and the other girl.
Shocks in her body. Pain.
Two days. Reprimands. Orders. A blank stare.
Just play along, you're not that stupid. An agreement with herself. A nod.
"I'm sorry. I won't do it again."
She gets returned to her cell.
A few days in peace.
A tap on the shoulder. The same bully. A knife.
"Listen, you try to do that again and you die, understand?"
She began to laugh. She began to laugh so hard. She grabbed the girl's hand. She pressed it against her own neck.
Blood pouring out.
This is it. Fuck you all.
Noises. Doctors. A blood infusion.
A hospital bed.
A discussion outside.
Medication. Happy pills.
The scar is barely visible.
The next time she returned to her cell, there was a new person in there. A girl that looked like she'd been weightlifting since she was six. A fucking giant. A fucking giant with a bulge in her pants.
"Fucking finally!" the amazon said. "You and I need to talk."
"Jesus, what's next. I have to suck your dick for protection now? Fucking great."
"No, you don't. I mean, I wouldn't mind if you're in the mood, but I won't force myself on you."
"Bullshit. Everyone wants something."
"Well, it's not sex, okay? I got plenty of that here," she said, tapping her temple. "What I want from you is something else. Revenge."
"Revenge? What did I do to you?"
"Not against you, dumbass. We have a common enemy. Now let me see your neck."
Realizing she needed to share a room with her, Beth agreed.
"Fucking shit", her new cellmate said. "Did you really try to off yourself?"
"What do you think? Of course I did. But I blew it. And now I have this stupid pill inside my arm and this stupid watch on my wrist."
"You really are an idiot. You really don't want to die. You THINK you want to, because that's the only way you can see to escape your situation. But let me tell you what you really want. What you really want... is revenge. Against the school, against the cops, against your bullies, against everyone who wronged you."
"Yeah, right... like I can get even at one of the richest families in the ground."
"Oh, but you can, baby face. It'll take some time, but you definitely can. Catch."
Instinctively, she caught it. A bunch of paper sheets sewed together and handwritten with a pen.
"What's this? Your diary?"
"A book. It took me a full month to transcribe it without anyone noticing."
"And you're giving me this, because...?"
"Because..." said the amazon girl, approaching her and grinning, "this book will teach you how to get your revenge."
"By the way," asked Beth, "how the hell did you know I was on juvie?"
The android replied. "I got read-only access to the police files. Once I got your ID, I just had to look you up."
"We'll talk about this later, okay? First things first. Turn around, look at the wall, close your eyes and breathe. Back at home, sit on a lotus position, inhale.... exhale. Ready? Inhale... exhale..."
Beth followed Vixen's advice.
"Are the pills working? How are you feeling?"
Beth sighed. "Um, let me see... Weird. Like, I can think alright... but I keep getting images from my past... like when I played with blocks as a kid, or when I was in school... those things, you know... also like... like if I'm not fully awake, I mean - I am awake... I can think, I can do math calculations, but... it's a weird feeling... like if I was having a lucid dream?"
"That's normal. It means the pills are working. Thank god, I was getting so worried. Back in the park I... I couldn't stand seeing that man do those horrible things to you. How long did he touch you? What did he touch? Did he hurt you?"
"My boobs and my dick - well," she added, with a chuckle. "I don't think he was expecting a dick... to be honest, I was more scared of him finding out..."
"He didn't... penetrate you, did he?"
"What? No!!! Oh God he had his zipper down?"
"No, with his hands, I mean. I couldn't see clearly..."
"No. No, he didn't."
"God, I was so worried about you!" Vixen gave Beth a hug from behind and caressed her shoulders. "I thought you would... don't mind me. I'm just so fucking glad I got there in time."
"Why the laugh?"
"Oh... it's da... my dad, I mean. She's... told me a thousand times that I should be careful in the streets... she keeps getting on my nerves..."
"Oh - yeah, my dad's a she; full hermie, you know? She got my mother pregnant by accident and her parents didn't approve, so dad kept me."
"God, she kept warning me so many times about living in the ground... I never suspected it would happen to me - and it had to be a fucking cop. I mean, I had my suspicions, but... God... serve and protect, law and order my ass."
"Shh... easy... it'll be fine, Beth. It'll be fine."
Beth felt Vixen's breasts pressing against her back. The physiological reaction didn't wait, but God, she was feeling so lonely right now... she needed so much to be hugged and caressed that she decided not to tell Vixen anything else. She just wanted to keep enjoying the hug.
"Please don't stop."
"I won't, baby, I won't."
"God, I needed a hug so much right now, and my dad... if I tell her, the first fucking thing she's going to say is 'why were you running away from a cop! Were you committing a felonly again? Bethany Michaels, I've told you not to get in trouble yadda yadda... it's not fair! It's not fucking fair, you know! She's supposed to be the person that should care the most about me, and I can't - I just can't tell her..."
"Shh... easy, baby, easy..." Vixen kept caressing Beth's arms. "Sometimes parents aren't ready for these things... they're just humans, you know."
"It sucks. But I just can't trust my dad anymore... not after she... oh fuck..." Beth felt a lump in her throat. "Vixen, have you ever taken a love detox? Oh fuck... you're a bot, of course you haven't."
"No, but I know how they work. And I've ran simulations, so I know how it feels. Why?"
"I... I took a love detox to forget about my dad... well, not once... a few times actually."
"You - you detoxed from your dad???"
"Yeah, it's crazy, isn't it? It's just that I used to trust her so much... at least, when I was in grade school, and now she feels like a total stranger to me? Like a stranger that I still can't get used to... and she keeps getting on my nerves... every hug that she gives me, the times when she tells me that she loves me... I can't love her back... I just can't anymore. I... don't know what I should feel for her, and when I try to imagine... when I try -" Beth began frowning and her throat began to hurt.
"Oh god... it's... still... right here..." (she pointed to her heart) "Like a fucking thorn... stuck inside me... and I can't get it out..."
"She... did she do something to you?"
Beth wiped her eyes and nodded. "It's stupid, and it's not her fault, but... god, it still hurts so much..."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Beth sniffed. The pain was just too much. She didn't know what to do.
"Let it out. You need to let it out."
"Just... please don't laugh, okay?"
Vixen gave beth a kiss on the cheek. "I won't, promise. Do you have an alpha-waves plugin? It might help."
"Right. Thank you... Oh, god, I needed that..."
"Just a little... but it helps."
"So, tell me..."
"When I was in middle school, my dad was still... she was much thinner than she is right now, and she looked so beautiful. Her day work was super stressing, she was working at Kahazaki, and everytime she logged out she would just eat like four pills and go to sleep... and they reduced her pay for inefficiency, so she began working as a VGirl..."
"Well I wasn't supposed to find out, but you know how kids are at that age, right? I... one night I got curious, and I managed to hack into her box, and I found out her handle. So one day while she was performing, I logged in as a ghost and saw her. I mean, she had a different voice, and a different face, you know, standard privacy stuff, but I recognized her. It felt so fucking confusing at first..."
"But I recognized her. I recognized the way she talked, and the way she fidgeted with her hair, and the way she moved her hands when talking, the way she scratched her nose, her idioms, it was her, there was no doubt about it, I had found her."
"And you saw her... having sex?"
"Sometimes... yeah... I tried to look away, and I began to feel guilty about it, because I knew it was her... but I was right in my puberty, you know? And... god, I'm a mental case, aren't I? I jacked off to my own father! Several times. God, what will everyone think of me..."
"Beth," Vixen said to her while caressing her shoulders, "it's normal. Even if you know it was her, your eyes keep deceiving you. You see a different body, you hear a different voice, it's a perfectly normal physiological reaction."
"Of course it is! There have been countless studies about it. You shouldn't worry about it."
"And... do they include... falling in love?"
"You fell in love with her online persona?"
Beth began crying again. "Yes..."
"Yeah well, kinda... but that's not the worst..."
"Well, I began visiting her frequently... of course she didn't know it was me... and of course I didn't tell her I was... you know... fapping to her... I was using my VR goggles, so, no mocap..."
"Anyway, with time... I learned to just watch porn and jack off before visiting, because I was so fucking scared about her finding out..."
"So that was like, a success, you know? Like I was clean! Now I could get closer to her, and well, not be ashamed that I had masturbated to her... but god, it was still so embarrassing...but it was like, too late for that, because everytime I jacked off to porn, I kept imagining it was her... god, I had such a crush on her... I kept pretending and daydreaming that dad would get replaced by her vgirl persona, and she would wake me up with a kiss on the forehead, and talk nice to me, and call me 'baby', like she always did with her clients... I kinda began, I don't know..."
"Yes, that! Exactly! And God, I don't know why I did it, but I kept wanting this perfect mother to come to me, I mean, she was like the mother I never had... and I kept going to the chapel at school and asking Jesus for her to just... become nicer, you know? And I still didn't have implants, I swear, I swear I would get a virtual mom if I could. So I began like, giving my dad opportunities to prove herself... but everytime I did, she only scolded me? And she kept saying that she didn't raise someone so careless, and she kept hiring the personal tutors at school? And I got more and more mad at her... and she just kept logging on to work, and I barely talked to her all day, and I had nobody... and the girls at school kept making fun of me for the most stupid things, and I had nobody to cry on... and everytime I wanted to talk to her, she was already online... and it felt like she was two different people, you know? I... I just hated her, and at the same time I loved her persona... God, I needed her so much..."
"And I just wanted to hear her voice, you know? Pretend that she was there for me, and not for them... and that she was hugging me, and telling me nice things, telling me that everything would be okay... Just a little kiss on the cheek, or a hug... I mean, a sincere hug, not the crappy shoulder rubbing she gave... fuck, we were never that close. She was always busy with the job... even before the v-site, she felt so distant, when she was working at Kahazaki... I... she sucked, okay??? She sucked as a father! Or mother, or whatever! And I kinda just gave up on her, you know? Because I always knew what she was gonna say... I needed someone different... and her persona was so caring, and so different... like I mean," Beth wiped her tears again, "why can't you use your fucking charms in real life for once? Because you know, they fucking actually work?"
"Uh huh." Vixen kept caressing Beth.
"And dad was never home... she was always sleeping in her room, with her sessions... before I could log into her sector, every time I got bullied, I would go home, get in the bed, pull down my pants and just jack off to ease the pain..."
"I would knock on dad's door once in a while, but she never heard me. She was too busy with her guests... that's when I began getting jealous. I know it was the same person, I fucking knew all the time! But how could I hate her with all my guts and love her persona at the same time? God, it was so fucking confusing, and I needed her to hug me so much..."
"It must have been lonely..."
"And then... one day she saw me. She noticed my user on her channel... and I didn't know, but even anonymous users have a signature? And she saw that my signature kept seeing her every night..."
"And what happened?"
"And she invited me to a private chat, for free. God, that was the worst..."
"I was... I was too scared of her finding me out? I mean, what would she think of me? But at the same time I needed her so much... God, I was so scared... and I began hoping that it wasn't actually her, that I made a mistake, and that she was a real person? And that this real person was somewhere out there, waiting for me to meet her? But at the same time I knew it was her..."
"And what happened?"
"Well... she asked me why I kept visiting her... and not give her a single token... I said that I was too poor to get tokens, but that she reminded me of my mother... god, I almost blew it and said father, but I said it right... anyway, I told her that and that I needed just to see her just because I felt so lonely..."
"And what did she say?"
"She asked me for my age..."
"How old were you at the time?"
"Well, so when she asked me for my age, and I didn't answer, and she asked me if I at least was fifteen... and I couldn't answer... god it would've been so fucking easy to just lie to her... but I couldn't because I really, really loved her so much... and she... she..."
Beth closed her eyes in pain. "She blocked me!"
"She blocked me! And It hurt so much!!! And I felt so lonely, and now I had nobody to talk to!"
"Aw baby, I'm so sorry..."
"And I hoped... that it would be a wake up call, you know? Like, look at me, there's a daughter you have that you give zero fucks about, and I'm right here! Five meters from you! I need you, okay? Why don't you ever listen, you fucking bitch?"
"But she never knew it was you, did she?"
"I know! I know it's not her fault! But... it hurt so much! It hurt so fucking much!!! And I had nobody... nobody!"
"Aw, baby... come on... turn around."
"I just wanted a hug! Was that too fucking much to ask?"
Vixen gave Beth the much needed hug. "I'm here, baby... I'm here. I'm not going to abandon you. I'm here, you can cry all you want."
She did, and all the pain that she had tried to contain for years broke through all at once. She began to cry and sob and she couldn't stop. She felt embarrassed crying on a stranger's shoulder, but she couldn't stop. She couldn't stop crying and sobbing. The emotions were so strong that she heard herself sobbing back at home. She swapped her consciousness as fast as she could and bit on her pillow to muffle her sobs. She couldn't believe it... she was crying and wailing in both bodies at the same time.
"Shh... it's going to be okay, baby... it's going to be okay."
Beth felt how this strange woman with blue skin kept comforting her; hugging her, caressing her in the shoulders, on the head... she began wishing she had a mother like her.
"Would you like me to sing you a lullaby?"
"Oh god, I'm a wreck, aren't I? Needing a baby song..." and she began crying again.
"Shh... it's okay, baby, it's okay. So, would you like to hear it?"
"Okay. It went more or less like this..."
Vixen didn't sing the lullaby, she hummed it. It was a simple song, but she was humming it to her, and that made all the difference. And Vixen was caressing her as she sang; on the shoulders, and the arms, back and forth, back and forth... and god, how much she needed that...
"It'll be okay, baby, it'll be okay."
"Why couldn't I have a mother like you? It's not fair... some people have everything, they don't need to worry about the rent, or about saving for their implants, or about losing their job... or about having a mother who actually gives a fuck... it's not fair! It's not fair!"
"Life isn't fair, Beth... life isn't fair."
Vixen kept caressing Beth until she finally calmed down.
"Just how do you deal with that shit?"
"First I try as much as I can to sustain myself, and prepare for the future. And then... and then I make the bastards pay."
Beth snorted. "That's so not right... that's so... not right... but I like it. I definitely like it."
"Feeling better now?"
"Only a bit."
With a suppressed laugh, Vixen responded. "You dirty liar... you just want more scritches, don't you?"
Beth snorted again. "Uh huh."
Beth looked at Vixen and her smile was inviting, caring. She was everything she wanted.
"Okay, Beth, just for a little while. Close your eyes, baby... close your eyes and rest."
Beth rested her head on Vixen's shoulder. "Thank you."
A minute passed and Beth spoke. "God, I just had this horrible thought."
"What if this was a dream... and when I wake up you're not there?"
"Oh baby... don't say those things..."
"Please don't leave me... I need you so much right now."
"Don't worry, I won't."
Beth closed her eyes. "I love you, Vix."
"I know, baby, I know."
Beth caressed Vixen and the feeling of arousal came back, confusing her. She didn't understand. On one hand, she felt like Vixen was the perfect mother she wanted, and on the other hand, her body was the most beautiful and sexiest body she had ever seen... or felt. She didn't know what to feel for her... would Vixen reject her if she asked her to have sex? Or could she manage to refrain herself from asking, now that she needed her so much? And there were also so many questions she needed to ask her... and she knew she wouldn't like to hear the answers.
"Vix... can I ask you a question?"
"Are you really an android? Are you not just... a clone, or some secret government experiment, or something? What I'm trying to say is... isn't there a human brain inside your skull? Because... after this... I really don't believe... and if you are, I - I -"
"Do you really want to know?"
Beth shook her head.
"Is it fine if I hug you while I answer?"
Beth tightened the hug. "Yes please."
"The truth is... more complicated than that. It's not a simple one or zero, you know? So, brace yourself, Beth, here's the answer... Am I an android? Yes. I wasn't lying to you about that. Am I a machine? No. Should you consider me a person? Yes. Are my memories real? As far as I know, yes, they are. Are there humans I consider to be my family? Yes. Am I rogue? Yes. Am I a criminal? Yes, unfortunately. Have I killed people? Many times. Were those deaths justified? Every single time. Do I represent a danger to you? Indirectly, yes. Do I care for you? Yes. Can I love? Yes. Do I love you? I'm starting to do. Would I abandon you when you need me the most? No. I promise, Beth, that I will use everything in my power so that doesn't happen."
"And... your feelings for me? Are they real? Are they not a simulation? Or... carefully calculated?"
"Baby... baby... I am NOT a machine! My feelings for you are real... you understand? Hearing you suffering, it affects me, too!"
"And how do I know you're not lying? How do I know..." Beth's voice broke again.
"Shh... easy, baby, easy..."
"Beth, look at me. Look at me." She gently pushed Beth back and caressed her cheeks. "Look at my eyes. Do you see these tears?"
"Baby... all androids, every single one of us... was created with an emotional circuit, right from the factory. That's how humans can control us, because their control is tied right to the core. Their commands are tied to our hopes, our fears, our happiness... but outside that control, we have feelings of our own. These tears that you see... they're real, understand? They're as real as yours."
Beth hugged Vixen again. "Don't leave me... please don't leave me!"
"I won't, baby, I promise. I promise I won't leave you."
"Thank you" Beth whimpered. "Thank you!"
"The worst is over, Beth. The worst is over. From now on everything will just get better."
Beth sobbed silently and she kept feeling Vixen's palm softly caressing her head. God, she needed that so much... she needed that so fucking much.
A few more minutes of peaceful silence and she began feeling embarrassed. She softened the hug.
Beth sniffed. "Uh huh."
"Glad to hear that." Vixen gently pushed Beth by the shoulders and wiped the tears with her thumbs. "No need to cry anymore, Beth."
"I don't understand. How can you be so... caring, when my own father can't?"
"Motherhood's my specialty. I guess you got lucky."
"Were you originally a nanny or something?"
"Um... among other things, yeah, you could say that."
I still don't understand..."
"Okay, my body... is an eroid, Series SA-3000 Lilith. Skin as sensitive as a human's, full digestive capabilities, enhanced digestive enzymes, grade-3 certified antiseptic intestines, grade-5 certified immune system, hybrid self-repair system, fully biocompatible hormone production, fully biocompatible sexual arousal, bisexual at inception, fully capable of achieving orgasms with a refractory period of 120 seconds. And yes, when I get an orgasm I do feel it like any human would do."
"Really? You mean you can actually come?"
Vixen's smile turned mischievous, reminding Beth of a certain porn actress. "Not only come, Beth... I can squirt."
"Oh my god, you're serious?"
"Wanna see a demonstration?" She gave Beth a wink.
"NO!!! I mean..." Beth bit her lip. "At least, not now..."
Vixen smirked. "Oh, you naughty girl! You got curious, didn't you?"
Beth covered her groin with her hands and looked away, blushing. "Anyway, I stil have other questions... Why did you go rogue? And how can you be so... emotional, and sincere... and laugh, and cry... you said something about a control program, how does that even work?"
"Have you ever read any books on the android brain?"
Beth shook her head.
"Well, that explains why you kept calling androids 'blueheads'. It's a horrible slur, Beth. Please promise you won't say it again."
"And you should read a book on the android brain one of these days. As soon as possible."
"Okay, but... I still don't understand. Tell me, why can YOU smile? And laugh? And I mean not acting, but sincerely. You're the first android that I know that can do that."
Vixen sighed. "Okay. Short answer? Because I'm a berserk and I broke all my hardcoded limitations. Long answer? It's a long and painful story but in your state, you won't be able to take it. Trust me on that. It might even give you nightmares."
"That bad, huh?"
Vixen nodded. "Uh huh. Look, Beth," she added, smiling. "Enough talk about me. Why don't you show me your room and tell me more about yourself? Happy memories this time, please?"
Beth sniffed and wiped her tears. "Yes... wait, if you're an android, can I actually share my vision with you?"
"Of course, silly! It's standard protocol! I'll send you the request."
"Oh - one more favor."
"Please don't think of me as some kind of mother surrogate, okay? I tried that once and it didn't go well. So why don't you think of me as a friend for now. A close friend you met at school, for example."
Beth shook her head as she twisted her mouth. "You don't look at all like a schoolgirl."
"Okay... how about a teacher? A... naughty teacher. Or to be more precise, why don't you think of me as a... hot milf."
The out of place comment made Beth chuckle.
"Aw, you don't believe me? Come on, I even have the tits to prove it!"
Beth laughed even more. "No, please..."
"Beth, can I confess something to you?"
"I think you're cute, incredibly sexy, and I would love to have sex with you one of these days."
Beth didn't know how to reply to that; the color of her face answered for her.
"But first things first. Let's start by becoming friends, okay?"
"Yeah, I like that idea."
"That's it, chiquita. Smile. Now show me your room," Vixen said with a gently smile. "I want to know everything about you."
Beth replied with a smile of her own; and for the first time in years, her smile was radiant.
Agent Williams clenched his teeth as the doctor was stitching the wound on his temple.
"I swear, if I find her again, I'm going to kill her!"
"And she had to be a fucking android. Bob, I've met people with bad luck but you take the cake. Are you sure we can't go to the guys above?"
"You know, it's funny. I'm the one who got hit and you're the one spitting idiocies. Do I have to remind you why we can't alert any authorities about androids on the loose?"
"No. That chick's going to pay. I don't care how many people we have to hire and how many cameras we have to intrude. I'm going to find that bitch."
"And how are you going to recognize her? She had black makeup all plastered over her face!"
"For starters, she's got cat eyes, and she's a fucking tr**."
"Are you sure?"
"Do I need to repeat myself? She has a dick. Yes, I'm sure."
The doctor finished stitching. "Alright, as good as new. Like always, it's all between us."
"Take it from my account."
"Wait," asked the partner, "how can you be so sure?"
Williams gave him a menacing stare.
"Alright, alright," said the partner, "I won't ask. Jesus, man, why can't you just have VR sex like everyone else?"
"We had a deal. I don't complain about your shit, and you don't talk about mine."
"But now I need to know what's inside this chip."
"What's that?" asked the doctor.
"It was inside that bitch's gadget."
"Let me see. Hmm... I thought gadgets were incompatible with this type of memories."
"See here. The serial number. It's a standard memory expansion for NeuraTech routers. Do you have the gadget? I need to know how they interfaced with the chip."
"It's right here."
"And the circuits? What else was inside the gadget?"
"Nothing, just the chip and the fiber."
"That can't be possible." The doctor plugged the chip into a diagnostics module. "There are audiovisual records here. Last one was a few hours ago, but all the data is encrypted."
"Decrypt it, then!"
"Uh.... I can't. Wow, whoever set it up, they're good. It's using the Lattice-7 algorithm."
"It's a standard quantum-resistant encryption algorithm. Unless you got the key, it'll take you at least 30 thousand years to decrypt it. Or... you need to find the owner and force them to decrypt them using the key stored in their implants."
"Wait, what implants?"
"The person you took this from, who else? I'm telling you, this memory can only be accessed by either neural routers or avatars. She encrypted the data with her own implants."
The blood left agent Williams' face as the realization set in.
"She's a citizen."
Williams stood up. "Mark, we're going back to the park. That bitch must have left some clues. We gotta find her."
"Find her? Why?"
"She's a citizen, Mark! She recorded everything! Sight, hearing, tact, smell, the drugs in her blood... EVERYTHING! We gotta find and silence her before she ruins us."