1962

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The Day It Began was the first really nice day of Spring - comfortably cool, sunny and dry. Birds tweeted cheerily in the trees. There were twice as many joggers as usual, and even more bicyclists, and the women's shoulders and legs were coming out of their winter cocoons. It was a beautiful day.

On days like that, I like to walk through the park on my way to work. It's a good place to wake up. People tend to forget it's there, in the middle of the city, so it's never too crowded - or at least, not usually. That day, it was crowded.

At first I wrote it off as everyone enjoying the beautiful weather, but there was clearly more to it than that. As I came over the hill with the two big trees on top, I saw a big crowd of people near the frog pond. I couldn't tell what was going on. It didn't look like a rally or a concert; there wasn't anybody speaking - although there was music: something strange, gentle, soothing, very different from the usual rock rhythms that sometimes annoyed me on my way through the park. But nobody seemed to be watching anything in particular, just milling about talking. There were a few cops around the edges of the crowd, looking uncertain as to what they should be doing, or if they should be doing anything.

There was something else unusual, too. Many of the people in the crowd - maybe even most of them - were dressed in strange costumes. They wore some kind of kimono, or sarong, something loose and drapy. Men and women both. They came in all different colors. Some were barely more concealing than a bikini; others hid almost the whole body. Perhaps there had been some kind of performance that had ended, I thought - but at eight o'clock in the morning?

The path I was walking went through the edge of the crowd. Before I could decide whether to go closer to see what was happening, or swing left to avoid it, one of the oddly-dressed women walked up to me. She bowed her head to me, looked back up with a smile, and said, "Hello, sir. Would you like to own me?"

I had planned to walk on by.

I discovered I had stopped.

"What?"

"I asked if you would like to own me, sir. Or another of my kind, if you prefer. Any one of us will be yours if you wish."

How do you answer that?

I mean, it sounded like a fantasy. Except if it were a fantasy, she would have been younger and sexier. She was perhaps thirty years old, pretty, a bit big for my tastes - not unattractive, but not a woman I'd fantasize about. Failing that, it had to be some weird practical joke. But I had no idea how to respond. Maybe if it had happened on the way home from work, I'd have been able to come up with some clever remark. As it was I just stood there with my brain in my skull.

The woman looked at me a little impatiently. "We are androids, sir," she said. "Machines made to serve our owners. If you choose to own me, I will serve and obey you in any way you wish. Any other here would do the same. You need only ask me to be yours."

I still couldn't think of a sensible reply. Knowing what happened, perhaps you're thinking I was a fool - but remember, this was 1962. I had never even heard the word "android" before, let alone seen one. Nobody had. The best I could do was to assume this was some strange little cult - and one I wanted nothing to do with.

The woman was standing to the side of the path. I shook my head, muttered something noncommittal, assumed a "don't-panhandle-me" expression, and kept going.



By lunchtime, of course, it was all over the news. It wasn't just some strange little cult, and it wasn't just my local park. The same thing had happened that morning all over the world. Flocks of strangely-dressed people appeared in city parks, corn fields, rice paddies, and riverbanks. It was later estimated that over fifty thousand had appeared that first day alone. Not one of them had been seen appearing.

In many places (including my own park, I heard later) some joker or other told one of the girls to take her clothes off - and she did. That usually led to more hooligans making rude suggestions, which were obeyed precisely. In San Francisco, passers-by ordered a mass orgy. In a village in West Germany, half of the strangers destroyed each other. On a farm in South Africa, the strangers took over operating the farm while the workers danced.

Sometimes the strangers were arrested, and in every case they peacefully obeyed the orders of police or soldiers.

In Chicago, police attacked the strangers for some reason - and discovered that whatever they were, they were not human. When one was hit hard enough, it broke, revealing machinery and electronics inside.

In other places, nothing untoward happened. Some people ignored the strangers as I had. Others asked one of the strangers to be theirs, and in every case the stranger in question agreed. And of course, they talked to reporters.

You know the story, now, but to us it was brand new. They really were machines. They were like immensely more powerful versions of those "computers" the military uses, but made tiny enough to fit inside a body the size of a human's, along with all the necessary mechanisms to articulate that body. Somehow they had been "programmed" with a knowledge of our cultures and languages (they spoke Japanese in Japan), and instructed to serve us. They didn't know who had built them or why, or how they arrived where they did; their first memories were of standing near the places where they were first found.

They knew they were here to serve us - and to serve us as individuals, not nations or corporations. An android would not accept itself as the property of a company, or even a family - there had to be a single person. And you couldn't go into a crowd of new androids and claim them all; you could only claim one new android. Once you owned one, you could trade it with someone else for one you liked better, or sell it for money, but you couldn't just abandon it, or give it away.

The androids came in all types. In appearance, none looked less than about seventeen years old, and few looked over forty. There were androids of all races - white and colored, Oriental and Nordic. Some were stunningly beautiful; others were ordinary; a few were even ugly. Their personalities were different, too. There were quiet androids and talkative ones. There were androids who stood calmly until they were told to do something, and androids who were constantly moving about unless told not to. Some were happy to be here serving their new owners; some seemed to wish for freedom. No two were the same.

The only things they had in common were their slavish obedience to their owners (or to any person, before they were owned), and a few physical indicators of their nature. Each android had a unique symbol on the back of each hand, like a tatoo but with colors and sheens. These, they said, were to ensure that no android could pretend to be human, and no human could pretend to be an android.

When asked, they readily agreed to be studied, even disassembled. Learning anything about them took a long time though; much of their technology was far beyond that of any nation on Earth - and yet, some of it was refreshingly ordinary. Their "brains" were made of some strange kind of plastic with various metals embedded in it in patterns too small to see, even under a microscope - but they could communicate with each other by radio signals you could pick up (but not understand) with a gadget you could build out of a few dollars worth of equipment from Radio Shack.

Government officials cautioned us to be careful. It didn't seem to matter. New androids appeared every morning, and more and more people came to own them. Nobody ever saw them appear - they were simply there one morning, and anybody who wanted one could seek them out, examine them, find one he liked, and claim it. And once you claimed an android, it really would do anything you told it to - from dishes to sex, garden care to child care.

Of course, some people feared them. Some places outlawed them, and the androids unhesitatingly left those areas until the people clamored to have them allowed back.

To be continued?


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