by Kamil Beylant
as inspired by Zheng Jiajia
The last straw was she had taken the hair dryer. True, he didn’t have much hair left, but the noisy yellow plastic antique was a souvenir from college, back when he was a young buck. It had made him an item back in his club days – which were no more. The golden age of Jason Smore – the gold of youth, long ago pawned for parking change and silver gift bracelets. Aargh. Women! She had done him in, this one. Walking out like that. Taking Robin, yes, legitimately her very own kid, from her previous slot in relationship-roulette, but he had got quite fond of the ratty, bratty tigger. He’d almost been on the way to being an OK dad, at least occasionally. Yes, sure, he was usually at work. Being brilliant in this world just put you in with the top billion brilliant people – then you had to slave. Robotics was a crowded field, and he was underfunded to pull off a big whopperoo with all his special tricks and knacks.
She thought he worked hard just to stay away from her.
If only she hadn’t caught him looking at that website with the Czech naturist photos from the 60s. From the look in her eye, he reckoned she knew – knew he was looking at some forms there that were notably younger than her. Some not much older than Robin, if the truth were known. How can you explain? It’s not as if he were any less attracted to her. Looking at eye candy from the eastern Europe of another era wasn’t going to hurt anyone. The youngest ones there would be in the seniors’ home by now, in real life, probably dreaming of being back in those same sunny scenes, jumping off the dock, weaving roots into their hair. They wouldn’t mind sharing the pleasure of the memories.
“I may not be the best person to interact with women,” he thought, “My social skills are flat and my sexuality’s a fucking can of worms – yeah, that’s it – no more humans.” That very night, he sat back in his faux leather chair and began to dream, cogitate, extrapolate and plan. Inspiration struck like a series of gas burners lighting up around the rim of his brain.
“I’m going to call her Natasha,” he thought. “She’ll be awkward, but I can pass her off as an internet friend.”
In six months, after many evenings of labor in the workshop downtown, the gorgeous robot was a reality. She was anatomically correct, and able to pass the Turing test as long as the questioner was no more than two years old. He’d given her a Russian accent to explain her simple English. To hear her say ‘honey, come here’ in that cute phrasing hooked him like a fish.
To his surprise, he found her anatomical correctness absolutely thrilling. She worked for him. He could even wear a condom and save on cleaning. He couldn’t have compassion for her, but his heart was full of benevolence toward all the flesh-and-blood women she was rescuing from getting involved with his sweaty grip and his tedious quotidian. He loved the world through her.
His friend Sergei from work came over for drinks every Friday night, and the Stoli bottle was always plump and full at the beginning. Not so much at the end. “Genius is our usual vodka,” Sergei opined, “but this one is not bad for some down-time in stupid land.” He drank the glasses in one throw, Russian style, uttering a cry about health, which echoed dimly off his liver. After both men had cast down the first three of these shots, Jason took a deep breath and introduced Sergei to Natasha, in her best evening wear. Sergei’s eyes widened, and then he roared with laughter and slapped his knee until he said, “ach, I bruise myself.”
“Perfect, Zhason, perfect!” he marvelled. “You know what? You should do like that guy in China – marry her. Make her legal, not robot whore. Show respect. Maybe her last name can be Simonova til then. I know a guy – old friend – working in the Consulate in Marseille, south France. He helps people who have trouble with paperwork – you know? I can get her Russian birth certificate, other stuff. Then we can have a wedding!”
“Wait,” Jason said. “That’s completely crazy. I can program the wedding ceremony into her, but if she was on the books as a Russian wife, how would she get her immigration to stay in the UK?”
“Compassionate basis,” Sergei suggested with a shrug. “Make her a cute little daughter.”
This solution didn’t sound like it would work at all, but the idea stabbed into Jason’s mind like a bee-sting and started to swell. A vision sprang up, something with appropriately east-European overtones. Starting all over, this time in miniature – so much work. Now he’d have to make another robot. But the thrill of, um, composition – that would pull him through the chore. The anatomically correct chore.
Another six months. Nothing could get you around all that wiring and the exact cutting of skin fabric, even with all the tools of the life-like robotics trade in the room around you. Finally, she was ready. Now it was only a matter of buying her some clothes.
“Hello, Luba,” he said, gazing in wonder at his adorably fragile-looking, but actually quite resilient creation.
She smiled and replied, “Zhason, come here” in a sweetly high-pitched Russian lilt.
He obeyed her request to the letter – without a condom. He was beside himself. Natasha, meanwhile, looked on benevolently, without stirring, perhaps because she was in low power mode.
“Bedtime,” he said.
“Bedtime, mama,” said Luba, with her program taking its cue from his words. Natasha roused and came over, picked her up, and they settled in comfortably on the sofa. “Suddenly, I’m exhausted,” Jason sighed. “Natasha, remind me to clean everything up, tomorrow at 6:45 a.m.” “Yes, darlink,” she replied with her standard phrase, “now scheduled cleanink reminder for 6:45 a.m.” Her accented voice was much more appealing than Siri’s.
You can fool some of the people some of the time – they say – but one thing is certain: techno-Russians are not among those some-of-the-people. When Jason first showed off the finished, nicely dressed Luba to Sergei, after six shots of clear liquid health, the stubbled Slav stopped, looked him straight in both eyes, and raised his brows like incoming MiGs.
“You like that?” he asked in a high voice, and paused before going on, shaking his head. “Wah, Jason, focking man. But okay, I guess it keeps you out from trouble, heh? But you know what – I don’t want anyone to think you’re doing it with little girl robot – probably you’d get arrested. I’ll have my friend make birth certificate for her, too, and passport – if anyone sees her, like, from a distance, whatever, you can say she’s visiting. Let me take passport photos.” He got out his phone.
“She’ll make a great flower girl,” Jason mused. After everything Sergei had done for him, Jason wanted to flatter his friend’s wacko marriage scheme. He didn’t really need to marry a robot, he reflected, but once he’d taken someone else into his confidence, he was stuck on the bobsled ride of wherever their expectations were heading.
The difficult thing wasn’t going to be the wedding, anyway. It was going to be the immigration hearing that would necessarily follow. He’d have to be a lunatic to attempt any of that. But sometimes, as all creative people know, the greatest spur of brilliance is a really stupid starting point. A dumbass situation that no one should ever be in, that’s what you needed to make your greatness leap forth. Jason came up with the idea that made him wealthy for life as he contemplated the idiocy of following Sergei’s plan. All he needed was to partner ventriloquism with an electronic interface and a transmitter, and Natasha could say anything he needed her to.
The device, finished three months later, looked identical to a teen’s dental braces. The wires around the front met in sensor junctions at the back of the teeth, and the palatal plate was dotted with more sensors. A separate sensor sat inside the button of his white dress shirt, tight at the neck and well hidden by his tie. The off-on switch was in a pen that could be fiddled with unobtrusively. When the system was on, all Jason needed to do was to shape what he wanted Natasha to say inside his closed mouth, and the words would emerge from her speaking apparatus. The hardest part was filtering everything to sound equally Russian, without his having to do a proficient accent imitation.
Natasha did very well at her wedding, elegant in a blue dress and blue tinted glasses at City Hall. Luba was there in white, holding flowers, also with tinted specs on. Sergei attended in a suit to ‘give Natasha away’ on behalf of her old paperwork-homeland. Jason felt a little weird mouthing ‘Darlink I will always love you so much’ inside his clenched teeth so that he could give himself this pledge using Natasha’s dulcet voice. The presiding civic official, however, seemed satisfied, even though he squinted at Luba several times, puzzled by something unusual in her movements. Jason hadn’t yet made his transmitter switchable to her, so she could only say what was in her program. The official didn’t address her, and she had no cue to say anything, and could only follow along beside her ‘mother,’ carrying the flowers.
“Not impressive,” Jason thought, but they had made it through to the end of the ceremony, and that was that. He and Natasha were man and spouse. He shook Sergei’s hand and kissed his bride once again. At last, he could pick the little girl robot up, a natural gesture she was not quite too old for, and he carried her out triumphantly. She smiled at the contact, and all was well. “You smell nice,” she said in his ear, as she so often did when she was closely handled. Only Sergei heard, and he made a wry face.
Many weeks later, Natasha needed to attend the immigration hearing that followed from the wedding, but Luba was exempted. Thanks to the ventriloquism transmitter, the beautiful Russian was able to make a highly articulate case for the extent to which she loved her husband. She was dedicated to staying in Britain to be with him forever. And her daughter already loved the man. Jason couldn’t bring himself to say “as a father.” That struck him as creepy.
One member of the interview panel noticed that Jason seemed to be doing something inside his mouth. “Are you all right, young man?” she asked, nodding up toward his teeth.
“Periodontal disease,” Jason replied. “Very sore gums. Just had the dental hygienist at them this morning.”
Natasha was accepted as an immigrant, and was on her way to citizenship, along with her daughter. The two of them now had plenty of documents in English.
The ventriloquism interface was patented, with half the rights in Jason’s name and half for the firm. It was a huge hit: you could use it to make anything seem to talk. Parties were never the same. Jason’s investment portfolio started heading in the direction of buying a football team in 20 years.
Sergei, over for drinks one night, groused that not only was Jason ‘stinking rich,’ but also, he had a more beautiful Russian woman than his Russian friend would ever find. “I would ask if she was swinger, but I know in my heart she’s faithful to you,” he grumbled. Jason was glad the man hadn’t asked to dally with his robot.
“Sergei, I promise, after I finish the Moresby robot crane project,” Jason said, “I’ll make you one like her – for now, just find a photo of the perfect face and body.” Sergei grunted – he didn’t want to admit sinking so low as to resort to 3D porn – but Jason knew he was seriously interested.
“I love real Russian women, you know, but some of them want you to buy them sable coat, which is a super expensive coat made from a weasel. If you don’t get it for them, they turn into the weasel. Then there is punk rock kind of Russian girl, very wild, hot in the sack, but you live with them, you can’t stand up to pee even once or they make you clean the toilet.”
Jason only cleaned his toilet twice a year unless it needed it. “I have no competition for the washroom,” he said smugly.
Not long after that, though, the smugness was wiped from his face.
He’d gone so far as to take Natasha and Luba out for a walk in the park – what was he thinking? Perhaps someone might have found out he was married, he thought, and they might wonder why they’d never seen his wife. Maybe she should be seen, occasionally, in the distance. Taking Luba out was a distinctly more foolish risk, though, because she was school-aged, but needless to say, didn’t attend. No one in bureaucracy so far had detected that his immigrated step-daughter was on the lam from education.
Then it happened. A woman with straggly grey hair, mid-50s, strode over and looked hard into Luba’s eyes.
“Just as I thought,” the woman announced, glaring at Jason. “You have a child robot. And I bet she’s anatomically correct, you fucking disgusting creep.”
“No, no,” Jason offered, “I work with a reputable company. She’s totally featureless down there. But please don’t make a scene by trying to look.”
“I’m calling the police,” the woman snarled. “Let them investigate. Piece of shit!” She strode off to a safe distance, then pulled out a mobile phone.
Jason hadn’t programmed the robots to run, and before they could all walk home, the police materialized.
“What ‘ave we ‘ere,” a red-haired, freckled policewoman said in greatest suspicion.
“Just an informal walkabout, um, product testing,” Jason said, giving his card out like a good engineer.
“To objectify a woman this way is horrible but not illegal,” the second policewoman said, as she studied Natasha, including a brief peek into her undies, “but the child needs to be taken in to the station for her own – for society’s protection. I advise you to come along and make an explanation. You have a right to have a lawyer present, naturally.”
“Thank you,” Jason said with dismay. At the police station, he used a wall phone to call his firm, who sent in their most trusted solicitor. Jason had the resources to hire all the legal help he could dream of.
He needed it. He was charged under a new obscenity law outlawing the possession of a three dimensional, anatomically detailed child facsimile. His computers were seized and, to his chagrin, the fossil remnants of his perusal of Czech naturist antiquities were turned up. He faced up to 20 years in prison. As far as he could tell, the entire British public woke up every morning to scream his name in rage and chant for his death. The furore that broke out when a laboratory identified his semen in a pint-sized robot cavity was just this side of Hiroshima.
Sergei, reached via the prison phone, gave him a hard time. “Haven’t you ever heard of safe sex?” he demanded. The question was deadpan, as if it were totally sensible. “That makes no sense,” Jason responded, “but then again, neither does anything else. I always appreciate your advice, Sergei.”
Nights were hardest part of prison life. He could barely sleep. “I have to give the English people credit for sticking up for the safety of robots,” he muttered, as he lay in a cot beside a snoring murderer. The snore itself was nearly lethal.
At first, he worried the other inmates would kill him outright. “You’re a fucking nonce and you’ll bleed,” said one man with a tattooed skull. “I’m no nonce,” Jason said, “never been near a child. They done me for doing something with a robot.” “Ha, Robopaedophile,” said the man-wolf, but then his eyes crinkled and he started to chuckle. “That’s a bloody good one, mate.”
His situation struck his jailmates as so hilarious that they conspired to keep him alive. “I wanna see ‘ow this comes down in trial,” said Tattoohead, “Trial of the Robobeast of Britain.” They took bets.
Jason's brazen walk in the park ensured that he couldn’t be granted bail, so he stayed behind bars and waited. Eventually, he placed some bets on his own conviction.
One day, he heard a long lecture from a judge about how he was on the slippery slope to being a child rapist and murderer, and then came back to prison to pick up the four packs of cigarettes that he’d won, one for each five years of the sentence. He traded them for toiletries and chocolate bars.
Meanwhile, his lawyers and the firm’s continued to plug away. The first break they got was to get Natasha and Luba released from captivity in the evidence room. They were no longer needed as evidence, and the firm argued Jason had embedded unique intellectual property into the robots’ design that belonged to the company and needed to be retrieved. They were quite correct about that – there was nothing else around the firm like Jason’s girls. When the robots were habeas’ed, the staff of the evidence room made an awkward attempt to pack them into large cardboard boxes for transport. The manipulations of Natasha’s body accidentally turned on a backup battery pack, and Natasha came to life inside the box and struggled her way out. Eventually, Sergei was sent to bring the two robots back in a cab.
One of the lawyers then suggested that freedom of robot expression could be aided if Jason applied for a conjugal visit by his lawful spouse. “Preposterous,” railed the opposing lawyers, “the marriage is null and void; the spouse isn’t human, she’s a machine.” This was when Sergei’s friends got involved. The Russian embassy in London produced the documents proving Natasha and Luba had been born in Russia, and stated that since they hadn’t had access to these two citizens, who had not yet become British, they would treat them as human until they were certain non-human status could be proven. They demanded that the British government accord them their human rights as Russian immigrants who had been officially accepted as such by the British government, prior to its poorly evidenced, subsequent denial.
The firm was not about to let anyone examine the robots, possibly obtaining information that could be used by competitors, and the duo remained of uncertain status.
No one could see the harm, in any case, of arranging a conjugal visit with a consenting adult robot spouse, and the application went forward. Then some wag at the embassy, enjoying the situation, passed on a demand from Natasha that her daughter be allowed to accompany her in her visit to the prison. The demand was denied, without prejudice to Luba’s exact legal status, because she was deemed underaged, according to her birth certificate – Jason wasn’t allowed to see minors. Natasha went alone, escorted by a driver from the firm, and when Jason walked down the prison corridor towards his conjugal visit, every prisoner in the wing applauded and thumped and cheered. By this time, he had his lawyers working on every case on the wing that he felt there was hope for. The money was there. He was everyone’s hero. They affectionately called him “Prince Nonce-a-lot.” Every time one of ‘his’ prisoners won a case he was supporting, he had the person’s initials tattooed on his back. It was rapidly filling up.
The years went by; Natasha came for every visit the system allowed. One day, Jason phoned out to Sergei, and was greeted by a most enthusiastic hail.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“Don’t you know what day it is?” Sergei asked. “Sixteenth birthday of Luba, according to birth certificate. OK, when Kolya made the document, it was set in the past, years before she was assembled, to match appearance. Appearance hasn’t changed, but she is now, whatever you say, major.”
The humorist at the embassy again stepped up and demanded that Natasha be allowed to take her daughter to see her lawful spouse.
“It’s just a bloody machine, let it go,” said someone in an office, underpaid for the constant paperwork about the rights of a robot.
So, finally, there he was, Jason, older, slightly greying, wiser, thinner, with his lawfully wedded wife, and a tiny sixteen-year-old girl bot who looked not a day older than she had nine years previously. He was in a little room with a bed, a side-table and three chairs, and he couldn’t have been more pleased. The curtains were drawn and his right to privacy meant that no one could look in.
“Honey,” he said to Natasha, “give me a few minutes.”
“Yes, darlink,” she responded automatically. She paused.
“Wonderful to see you again!” he said to Luba, picking her up. “You smell nice,” she whispered in his ear. He was overcome with sensation. Gently, he removed her garments. “What a form I made,” he whispered. He hugged her mildly artificial nakedness.
“I love you,” she said. He blinked at least four times.
“I didn’t give you that phrase,” he said, “where’d you get that from? I mean, I love you too, but I never thought we’d say it.”
“Compliments of Sergei Ivanovich,” she said in a much different tone of voice. “He wants me to tell you he made his own Natasha based on yours, but she’s called Nadya. She lives in his apartment. The company has now sold 1,480 of his Nadya-1 series, and also 774 Nikolai-1 based on recent co-worker Janice Przybl’s alterations to the body. He programs me to give you a special kiss for this wonderful success.”
She kissed him with great tenderness on the side of his jawbone.
He was overcome with affection and other intense feelings. Quickly, he pulled out one of the freely provided condoms from a jar on the table. “Sergei was right,” he murmured, “they’ll probably test you when you get out, to see if you were made obscene again. This is a bloody dangerous world for sex, and safe sex is very necessary.” He fumbled with the packaging, opened it, and sheathed himself methodically, growing ever tenser as the vibrations crackled through him.
He clasped the little robot tightly and planted his lips along her cheek. “Apart from your wonderful figure,” he said softly, “I can’t tell you how good it feels for this engineer to be plugged back in to miniaturization electronics again.”
“Nerd talk is beautiful,” she whispered supportively. There were 375 tech terms that would elicit that response from her if she was being embraced. No real partner would have such a response, but it worked.
When he attained his outcry of the spirit with her, he felt nothing but love for the whole world and everything in it.