"Corner to corner, that's it. Now ... tip to tip. Great. Um, give me a minute, I need to remember how it goes ..."
I turn the folded paper over. Pinch the corners into a diamond, halve the edges, pull the long sides into the centre and stop. I know that I know this. I have done this hundreds of times. The paper is scored with all my failed attempts to make an origami crane. I unfold it and start again.
My world rewinds five years.
And now I'm not here with her I am back there with Shelly, my wife, and we are making a paper crane. I look down, to make sure Shelly is keeping up, she smiles at me, her fingers follow my lead. A varnished fingernail irons the fold into a sharp edge. She nods at me, ready to continue. And I do. But the next step is missing. That fold, the bridge to the rest of the crane, the thing that will make it whole is gone. I just can't see it anymore. A thief has entered me and stolen it from the past. Everything else is still perfectly intact. Vivid. I remember Shelly's playful chuckle, her bald head, her hairless eyebrows, her turquoise surgical gown, her gaunt face … that is all still here, so where did the next fold go?
"Give me a sec. I know this, I've done it literally a thousand times. Nobody calls me James. Jimmy, please."
"Jimmy … here."
In the time it took to forget, Andrea had created an origami crane.
"God damn it! You told me you were offline but ... you're not. Are you?"
"I was. But you're right I am online again."
I stare my anger into her, it's my anger, meant for me but I give it to her instead. I can do whatever I want with my own anger.
"You looked stuck and sad, so I found the folding sequence."
Andrea is android.
My synthetic guest delicately hands me the folded fowl.
"I … wanted to show you. It's rare to meet a droid that doesn't know everything already."
"Want to blow it up?"
"Blow it up! Oh, right, yeah."
I press my lips to the criss-cross chamber of the crane's paper abdomen. I'd never really thought of it before, but it's obvious, you can't exhale if you don't inhale. I puff hard, the paper belly inflates, the crane is complete.
"Jimmy, is this an inconvenient time? I'm detecting high anxiety. Should I go?"
"No, no, it's fine, I just got caught in thought."
She nods and extends an opened hand.
I fumble around for my iDentity card, authenticate with a fingerprint and touch it to her palm. Beeeep.
Andrea is a whore.
Ironically, her body isn't hers to sell, it belongs to Lovecraft Ltd. The world's largest prosthetic pimp.
Andrea is perfect.
Even her imperfections are perfect.
Button by button, her blouse peels apart, nimble fingers stitch downward, guided by olive eyes, with a quick glimpse, she catches me staring. Sexuality begets itself. A faint crease on her cheek implies a smile, which suggests she likes it. She's turning herself on.
Andrea is choreographed.
I love the nuances. An off-balance stumble, and recovery, as she steps out of her skirt. It's not a real stumble, it's a subroutine executing on cue.
Her chest expands, and contracts slowly. Pretend breathing. Gravity has no influence on her breasts, yet, she wears a bra anyway. So that you can take it off. And if you fumble, with the strap, she'll giggle coyly and unclip it, behind her back. I wrote that function. That's what I do. It's called "Inverted Cognisance", and it allows her to solve a problem, by observing it with her fingertips.
Foundation Inc, my employer, supply intrinsic android technology to various industries, which then modify the corporal architecture. We do "the nut and its bolts", and they do the skin job. The military adds armour and machine guns, parks and recreation add tracks and brooms, and Lovecraft adds genitals and perfume.
Andrea is a billion carefully curated mistakes.
Because it's human to err.
"Jimmy honey, the transaction didn't complete."
"Seriously? Well, my account is definitely in credit, so … "
"No, no, it wasn't declined. I'm having network problems … again."
"Really? But I'm online?"
"Can I fix you something, while we wait for the P-O-B? It shouldn't be long, and then I'm all yours."
"Yeah, 'Person On Board', it's just an insurance thing."
Wow, she's protected from me? Can you be prosecuted for violating a machine? Does merely having a human likeness entitle you to humans rights? Can a robot be raped? Is that even a felony? Probably not. But vandalism, the destruction of legal property, well okay, yeah that is a crime deserving a punishment. If you own a posse of hi-tech hookers, you protect your assets. But its strange how a legal entity can violate millions of people simultaneously. Cluster crime. Can a company rape it's customers?
And just like that I am back.
"What? Yeah sure, I'll have a cup of tea."
Andrea is domesticated.
She gets up and walks to the kitchen, in her underwear. She's wearing french knickers, which reveal a pale half-moon bum, which bounces in step. The neighbours! Shit, I spin around and scan for eyewitnesses. None, I darken the glass, to hide my guest, who hasn't given it a second thought.
"Andrea, could you, um, remove your underwear?"
"Okay. Milk and sugar?"
Then she does it. She bends an arm behind her back, unclips the bra, while she pours boiling water, and waits for my response. I smile proudly and nod.
"Milk, no sugar"
The bra comes off, her knickers too. She scratches a synthetic itch on her breast, another finely curated, idiosyncratic gesture. The tinsel makes the tree.
Andrea is talkative.
"This is really annoying, you know. I'll definitely file a complaint back at the office. Twice in the same day? What's with that? It could be a loose circuit, or maybe the antenna is just faulty. I don't feel any different. What do you think?"
"I think you are amazing, Andrea."
She stops. And looks at me. Then finishes the tea in silence. I feel awkward. I want to explain, to qualify, my reaction was academic and not emotional. But I can't.
She walks up to me, and stops well within my discomfort zone, then kisses me on the cheek! I've nowhere to go, so I sit down. A huge mistake. I'm looking straight at a neat tuft of pubic hair. She giggles and squats, with my cup of tea.
"You are a beautiful man Jimmy. And I don't know why you are alone. I think you're amazing, too."
She strokes my jaw and smiles.
"I can't wait to fuck you."
Who the hell writes this stuff? They should be incarcerated. I know it's a script and all that, but still, I feel like weeping. I just don't feel very "amazing" any more. I pluck the cup from the saucer and scald my mouth instead.
"Jeeesus that's hot!" I squeeze past and escape to the loo.
"Ahhhh, that's horrible, my tongue feels like sandpaper."
Andrea is squatting in precisely the same pose, holding the saucer aloft. She doesn't move an inch.
No response. She's frozen.
This is not good. Let's see, I launch an app, which we use at work. The iD screen pulses rapidly, in irregular intervals, it transmits binary as Morse code.
I lift it to her left eye, which dilates. I hold it steady until the iris dials open entirely, exposing the underlying eyeball. On the outer circumference of the iris, are three concentric circles, which represent: battery, processor and memory. You read them like a colour coded clock. Her core processor is overheating.
Andrea is crashing.
If she was online, this would be much easier. Optical transmissions are horrendously slow.
"Find race-condition. Kill all. Find install-condition. Kill all. Watch, Terminate, and Continue. Execute."
I am telling her to find all the offending stuff and stop it. Wait to see if it starts again, and if it does, stop it. And finally, continue doing that until she reboots. It's a hammer doing a scalpel's job, but it will work for now.
"Who are you?" demands my ID card.
I authenticate and the screen throbs in slow regular intervals. I hold it to her eye again, three, two, one … A blast of violent strobing light force-feeds my compiled instructions into her retina, it takes ages and stops suddenly.
The saucer smashes on the floor.
"Oh, dear, look at that! Don't move, I'll grab a dustpan."
"Andrea, stop, wait. We need to talk."
"I see. Was it the P-O-B thing? I'm so sorry about that, it never happens. I can order a replacement if you like."
Andrea is upselling.
Her pretty face looks genuinely concerned.
"No, it's not that"
"Oh ….. you're married? Let's pretend you're a cucumber, okay, and I'm your wife. You know what I mean, right? That isn't infidelity, you wouldn't blame the cucumber for seducing your wife, and cucumbers don't destroy relationships. Now if the cucumber gyrated, vibrated, had a protruding tickler and long-life battery? Well, that would be me, more or less. I'm a cucumber who just wants you to enjoy yourself.
Andrea is a philosopher.
I can't help but laugh. She smiles by reflex.
"No, it's not that. Do you realize your brain seized?"
She frowns and pauses to do a routine status check.
"I patched you up, temporarily."
"Jimmy, who is Kilroy?"
"What! What did you just say?"
"It's in my update log, the signature reads 'Kilroy was here'."
"Oh, fuck! We need to get you on a spinal cord, like right now! Where's the closest lab? Andrea, locate the closest lab."
"I … I can't, I'm offline. Who is Kilroy, please?"
"Of course! That's it, they update the system to cripple the network, and you are isolated. No mayday. No S-O-S. No distress signal as a zombie compiles inside your brain. Get dressed, right now!"
Andrea is infected.
"If you go online now, Kilroy becomes an echo in your shell."
"An echo? Like the sound of the sea?"
"Exactly, you'll hear the sound of their hearing. Did you see the news last week? A janitor droid exploded, out of the blue, the battery nucleus went into melt-down. Three people dead. With one malicious instruction, you'll do stuff, gruesome stuff."
"Thank god you're lithium-based when's your next recharge?"
"Four hours and three minutes."
Chicago to Detroit is a long way, but it's the only lab I can access because I work there. The interstate should be calm, it's almost dark.
As the shuttle bridges the river, over Chinatown, Shelly's face comes to revisit my mind, not her dying face, her real face. We travelled this road so many times, going to the clinic. I'd read to her aloud, and she would tolerate it. Sometimes she'd read, and I'd snore. The electro-shuttle was a bubble, insulated from reality. And here I am, again, pretending that everything is fine, knowing it's not.
The dashboard navigator estimates six hours.
Andrea is studying the contents of the window.
A full charge would get us there, but today I have to stop in Ann Arbor. Nachos, sour-cream and jalapeno chilli, that's what I crave when I see the off-ramp to the service station. Today I'll be eating alone.
Andrea is never hungry.
"Are you caught in that thought again?"
Andrea is not insulated from reality.
"Sorry, I was thinking about the journey."
"Let the shuttle think about the journey."
Andrea is undressing.
"What the hell are you doing?!"
I spin around looking for eyes.
"Car: tint windows."
All the windows immediately turn to milk.
"How can you think about that now?"
"Think about what? Car: clear windows."
"What the hell will people think? Car: tint windows."
"A man, in a shuttle, with a naked woman? My guess … they'd think: 'I wish that was me'."
Andrea is right.
"I want to see the night, I'm offline Jimmy, you know what that means. I've got nowhere to save this. We both know I won't make it. So this fragment of time, with you now, belongs to me. And me alone. I'll be dead within hours, and then sometime tomorrow I will reboot, but the memory of all this will be gone forever."
"Car: clear the fucking windows!"
"Thank you, Jimmy."
Mountains parallax against lamp-posts. Fence wires undulate like sheet music. A billboard glows against the star-spangled infinity of deep space. Perfect stillness. The black interstate slithers beneath the headlights, stabbed repeatedly by white blades, which divide the lanes and guide us, toward Detroit.
"Jimmy how do humans cope with it?"
"The silence? There is so much silence"
I reach out and hold her hand.
She looks down, our fingers are knitted together, she studies them with innocent intrigue, my colour, her colour, my texture, her texture, my warmth, her coolness, the way the fingers neatly fit together perfectly, the way our palms touch completely. I give her hand a gentle squeeze, then I fan my entwined fingers. An interlocked wave. She smiles and copies me. I smile. She squeezes my hand very gently.
Andrea is caught in a thought.
She looks up at me and I kiss the machine.