After Hours

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So, I suppose we should just get started with the introductions, huh? My name is Melanie Nelson. I'm not telling you my age, but know I'm just out of college and I have been sitting on a diploma in the field of consumer robotics for the past year. What else should you know about me? I have brown, kinda' frumpy hair and green eyes. Beyond that, you really don't need to know that much more, do you? Since the story isn't about me, anyway.


This story is about my life as an electronics retail assistant at a local national chain megastore. You might have had experience here, so maybe you know what I mean. But for the uninitiated, my job title is what some corporate big-wig figured would make some people proud of the fact that they were a gofer in the electronics department. Technically, I sell electronic do-dads, but I am still under a manager, himself under a manager, so on and so forth. A chain of middle management so long as to rival the ever-expanding length of the universe and just as unknowable to the individual human mind.


Ultimately, I feel better as a gofer here than someone who has to actually sell things on a regular basis. Mostly because of the fact that I find myself repulsed by the idea of trying to steer people towards the more expensive garbage simply to make more sales. Wasn't it enough that we got enough in terms of holo-projectors with a wide-display format to pay for the department several times over? I'm not selling some kid the latest crap shooter game because some big company plugs it, although you give the customer what they want, I guess.


That's why I don't do sales, I couldn't sell a space heater to Eskimos.


Inuit...Thule? Sorry.


But yeah. I don't like lying to people, I don't like using bullshit tactics to get someone to buy something other than what they want, or what they need. I'm content to just point people in the right direction when they are looking for something and leave it up instead to the resident sales wunderkind; 'Jasmine'.


Yes. I swear to God, her name is Jasmine. And frankly, she fits the name in all the wrong ways. She's beautiful. Oh, my God, she is smoking hot. Oh, yeah. I like girls, by the way. Don't get too pervy about it, though. I'm as plain jane as it gets. Frumpy hair, thin as a rail and I need glasses to see anything other than an image of the world that looks like a broken camera lens. I'm about as dorky looking as it gets, and let me tell you; Jasmine does not fail to mention it.


Picture this in your head: an hour-glass figure, chest that barely seems capable of staying within her uniform vest and the shirt underneath (and believe me, the shirts she wears do nothing to help her keep decent and I don't think she cares) and long, slender legs and thick thighs. Slightly tanned skin, she's got a bit of Guchi/Jersey Shore thing going on. Never heard of that show? Take it from me; sometimes a knowledge of ancient pre-holo television can be a drawback, you're better off not knowing. Her face is pretty, but a little too pretty. A little too smooth and straight and...ideal. I figured it was plastic surgery.


But Jasmine's looks didn't measure up to her personality. She put on a smile and flashed perfect white teeth at customers, but she did it in the sleaziest ways. She would always hold the items close to that chest of hers, and bat her eyelashes at customers and smile with those full painted lips. Jesus, they'd buy anything if they thought she could sleep with her. And, sorry to say it, but the vast majority of electronics nuts are still male, mostly the stereotypically socially awkward nerdy types versed enough in tech lore to know what they want but too new to the scene to know the better places to get it, as well as meatheads who are over the hill who wanted to watch TV on holoprojectors and justifying it by saying it was to watch the ubiquitous “game”. I never know what game, and I don't bother to ask. I just point them to Jasmine who knows about as much about what she's selling as I know about sports.


Which, is to say, next to nothing. I have had to repeat myself nine or ten times to explain to her what's going on in her department, how the holoprojectors work, how the computers work, how the home robotics work. And when she does listen to me, it never seems to stick. I'll be in the middle of something important when suddenly, I'll hear her annoying voice quack my way, and then I end up having to explain things to the guy. Me, the frumpy nerd, having to explain the technical details while the curvy airhead with the black ponytail, big red lips and black eyeliner smiles pretty and sticks her big tits out his way.


Do you hear that? That muffled sound of something smacking against thin wood? That's the bones of Susan B. Anthony spinning in their grave like dreidels. And before you ask, she's been employee of the month for Electronics for two of the three months she's been working here.


Jasmine, not the corpse of Susan B. Anthony.


Anyway, now that you have some idea of what I put up with, I suppose we could now move on to what happened to me one night when the most horrifying possibility became one of the most interesting nights of my life.


I stood there, staring into space. I was vapid, jaw slightly dropped, head cocked to one side as I watched green text stream into my vision. I could feel my mind start to slip away from me, and when I was suddenly addressed, I began an awkward stuttering, jerking up straight as I heard the voice of my Master.


Or, Manager. But the way he drives us, I feel like he expects me to call him that.


I quickly reached up and tapped the sides of my SmartGlasses, turning off the sexy story from TechnosexVibe and quietly forcing myself to some more normal state of being. I had the rather irrational notion that my manager somehow saw what I was reading and that I'd either be handed my pink slip or asked to write down a web address, but no. Instead, it was 8 PM, and he was now about to flex what little muscle he had in the world of corporate dog-eat-dog dickery.


“Melanie, I know you were planning on heading home tonight at your usual time...”


Oh, no.


“...But because everyone else on the shift...”


Sweet lord, no.


“...you are going to have to stay here and cover for the after hours shift.”


Fuck.


“You'll be working with Jasmine for--”


FUCK NO.


“--got it?”


I looked my manager right in the eyes behind my adjustable resolution glasses, pushing them up my nose slightly. I could feel the steaming indignation rise up in my chest, rising up like the fires of Vesuvius as I heard his 'sorries' but saw the power-trip running across his face. At this point, if I could kill with my thoughts, I'd be concentrating very hard to avoid a case of psychic manslaughter. Good thing then I'm not a mutant or something.


To say that this was a nightmare scenario is an understatement. The after hours were a time when we had nothing but ourselves and an automated security system. It would be me, Jasmine and maybe a janitor, depending on if the unions would make us hire an actual flesh-and-blood human for that job and not a silver hockey puck with a built-in mop. Regardless, it meant that we would be expected to do inventory as well, which meant going into the back room and making sure that all the storage boxes were packed and ordered correctly. One-by-one with a checklist.


Yeah. It was pretty fucking awful.


“...yeah, okay, I got it. Inventory night, right?”


“Riiiiiight, you get to count boxes for the rest of the night. Can't say I envy you. Anyway, I gotta' go and enjoy my time at home. So, you have fun! Don't worry, you'll have our best employee on hand to help you out!”


On second thought, I wish I could have killed the prick where he stood. I resisted the urge to throw any kind of insult in return and the little dweeb knew how badly I had wanted to. Jesus, who the hell is proud of themselves when they act like that? Needless to say, as soon as the object of my immediate anger walked off, and when I stopped pretending to shoot lasers from my eyes, I turned and walked from my position over by the information desk to find Jasmine. I walked through the aisles and finally found her. Finger on her cell-device, talking into the air like she had a mental disorder of some sort. I let out a sigh. It was so far outside of what she should have been doing, but I suspected the manager had some distant notion that if he treated her well, she'd sleep with him or something. I shook my head as I tried to speak.


“Jasmine, did you--”


“Shush, I'm talking.”


I glared at Jasmine as she continued to prattle. Why didn't I interrupt her? Because, at the time, I figured the last thing I needed was to have to worry about her shouting at me about an inane phone call while the last of the people who were likely to pay for things bought their last-minute purchases. Yes, we were open 24 hours, but that was really only twelve effective hours and -maybe- the occasional person wandering in for an occasional soda or on their way home from a night shift job themselves. Unless there was a big sales event, people rarely came in to buy electronics at 4 AM, and I remain convinced that is a qualifier for some kind of terrorist watch list.


I rolled my eyes and put my hand on my hip, and then finally let out a sigh of relief as she finished up.


“What,” was the single-word reply to what I had half-said earlier. Between the impatient tone and the obvious annoyance, it was like standing in front of a wire as it broke and snapped my way. It was at this point that I was in a bit of a conflict. I wanted to tell her that she was stuck with me for the night and watch her reaction to it. But I also knew that whatever displeasure she experienced, she was likely to experience it for the rest of the night. She glared at me the whole while, a dull stare that seemed at once aggravated and bored.


“Guess a bunch of people on the late shift decided that they didn't want to come in tonight. We're stuck with inventory duty. Now, am I just repeating information you have already been told? We gotta' spend the rest of the night on this, so I want to be sure.”


Jasmine rolled her eyes and slapped her hands on her thighs, head tilting back like a turkey trying to catch raindrops. She then brought it down and glared at me. “Are you fucking with me, Mel? I got, like, a social date tonight. Maybe you don't quite know what that is, but that's--”


I let out a sigh. “Quit it with the stupid insults. Don't kill the messenger, I'm not exactly happy to be in this situation myself. But seeing as how I like being able to pay my rent, I'm stuck doing this the same as you. So we can at least try to be professional about it, if not civil.”


It was like I was speaking gibberish. She just stared at me and shook her head. “What-ever, all I know is that I'm going to tell that stupid manager that he can find someone else to do it, 'cuz I ain't doin' that kind of work for nobody. I'm sales, I don't lift boxes.”


I watched, incredulous, as she strutted off.


Two hours later, she was standing right next to me as we stared out at the warehoused materials in the back of the store. The massive storage area consisted of shelves with stacked boxes on pallets in a room as oppressively dull as any military bunker, with fluorescent lights flickering overhead. In here, there was enough product that, should the end of days come and customers still demanded their lawn ornaments, soon-to-be-recalled high chairs and holoprojectors big enough to cover the Great Wall of China, we had about enough to last about three months. The place was more of a warehouse than a storeroom, really. Which I suppose is the same when you think about it, save most storerooms don't have shelves stacked up to the fifth story.


The job was actually not all that difficult, it was just long, tedious, and required typing in a lot of numbers. The boxes had various registration numbers—lot numbers, IPN numbers, model numbers and so on—that we had to record. The machine did most of the work, that is to say, our huge, clunky, old-school handheld computer devices that used only a basic holographic interface. Despite this place being one of the huge megacorporations that strangled the megacorporations that strangled small business supply chain stores, this place really needed to upgrade its tech. But they would record the information, talk to a server somewhere, get something confused, mess it up, require the server to confirm the screw up, then order us to do another scan when we were four or so rows down.


It is a task that nobody really wants to do. We never have enough staff for it. It's redundant—the people who load the items into storage record what they put in, or are supposed to—and because we don't have enough people, the five-story tall storage shelves with their dozens of crates arranged in rows six crates deep have to be checked by less than five people every three weeks. Again, only because the corporations in charge don't trust us to do the jobs we were hired for.


But as I looked to Jasmine, I realized that this paranoid mentality was probably not entirely misplaced. She was there with her phone, texting away. Her thumb blurred across the screen as she texted up a storm with one hand and one finger. It would have been impressive, but as far as I am concerned, speed-typing in a language that amounts to a grammatical train wreck was not something that is all that impressive. It's like being good at the kazoo. And right now, it was irritating me to the point where I was going to smack the phone out of her hand and watch its cheaply put together components scatter across the floor. But I had to be diplomatic about this. One wrong move, and I'd be doing this all night by myself.


“Jasmine...Jasmine!” I shouted it out as she let out a huff. With a few more swipes of her thumb across the flat screen, likely to let whoever was sharing in the inanity know about the horrible fire-breathing bitch who was making her do work at her job, she closed the messaging app and pocketed the phone, putting her hand on her hip. In irritation, I pushed my smart glasses up my nose and let out a heavy sigh. Compose yourself, I thought privately. Let's just get through this night and then maybe you can switch to a different department. I lifted the tablet scanner, in the hopes that it would knock her back into the real world and she'd be reminded, however unfortunately, of the predicament that we now found ourselves in.


“Here's how we're going to do it. I've got my walkie-talkie, you got yours. I say, you go down to the right side, work your way up, then come back down and repeat. I'll do the same on the left. Then, we meet in the middle. You do your part, I'll do mine, hopefully we will be out of here before four in the morning.”


Jasmine blinked a few times. She put a finger to her lips. The way her eyes turned upwards was almost stereotypically bimbo-esque. Looking back on it, what was weird was how it was still seductive. I mean, yeah, I'm a lesbian, but the way her hips tilted and her chest puffed out in a huff, a straight woman would have picked up on it. It had all the subtlety of a train colliding with a plane being ridden by a dinosaur. I was too irritated to notice it at the time however. I had wanted to go home the second I got into work, and now I was looking at something that could only rival childbirth in how laborious and painful it would be. Jasmine then brought her head down, giving me that condescending look, and then rolling her eyes at me.


“Yeah, like, whatever. Sure. We'll do it that way, and then I won't get to see your frumpy ass for the next few hours.” 'Frumpy'? My, my, weren't we using the big words? Probably pulled that one out of a tabloid by accident. I kept my thoughts to myself as I just turned around and went to do the task that I had given myself.


As I went to the first row of crates, I walked up to the shelf and put the device into a railed track with a bracket intended to hold the device. It had a USB-style plug, which interfaced with the tablet's software and the software on the bracket. They began the process immediately, and while I could easily scan the first crate in the row on the bottom, the rest would have required step ladders, which were worker's comp lawsuit magnets. And seeing as how not everyone was trained to use the robotic forklifts and pulling the crates down and back up again would have taken time, this was deemed the most expedient solution. But the rail system had issues in its initial deployment, so that meant that they only moved on their own vertically. Some software bug, or something.


So, I had to sit, and wait, as the scanner went up and back down again. Then, I had to cross-reference everything myself. I often do it twice, because sometimes it can be hard to tell when the software just fucks up and...well, needless to say, it is a long process that is way more complex than it should be that should be handled by more people. So that left me twiddling my thumbs while I waited for the tablet to come back down again. And once it was...row one of fuck knew how many was done. I double checked and cross-referenced the lot numbers in the store's database and so far, it all looked good.


The night continued on like this. At the third row, I reached down and plucked my walkie-talkie from my hip. Though technology had advanced, the walkie-talkie was pretty much the same, although unlike the ones of prior centuries, these had flat screens instead of physical buttons and dials. I'm a tech buff, so I catch myself comparing new to old frequently. I keyed in Jasmine's frequency and brought it to my lips. A little beeping noise issued from the device as I got it ready to speak into. “Jasmine, how's it going?”


The response was about what I expected. “I'm on my sixth row while you're babbling at me. How about you do me a favor and be quiet, huh?”


Remain cool. Remain calm. “Yeah, right, okay. Just keep doing your work.”


“You don't tell me what I--” I turned it off and sighed. Sixth row? She was doubling me? She must have been skipping procedure. I cursed myself. I knew I was going to have to be making up for her screw-up somewhere down the line tonight. I just knew it. Still, I decided to remain stalwart in my resolve and went back to counting numbers on the sides of boxes.


But it was about the eighth row down that the night started getting strange. I just got my tablet back and as I was going down to the ninth row to get it set up, about two hours after I started, I suddenly got a little beep from my walkie. I turned my head down and then snatched it. I hadn't heard anything from her, but didn't want to. I decided to leave her alone and hope that I could get her blamed for it. I brought it up and then spoke into it.


“Jasmine, if you just got on to tell me about how--”


“Are you feeling lonely?”


The question, the utter randomness of it, caught me off guard. I paused. My brows furrowed and I found myself too dumbfounded to really speak.


“Are you feeling lonely?” Once again, the question was posed to me, but I finally had my brains together enough to actually respond.


“Okay. What?”


“I can make you feel so much less lonely...I'm feeling lonely over here. How about you come over and we can cuddle a little?” The voice was unmistakably seductive. Again, she wasn't exactly hiding her intentions, even with just her voice over the walkie. This was just not Jasmine. Not the braindead she-bat that I had come to know and loved to hate. To be fair, she made it easy for me. I shrugged my shoulders and tried to think of a good response to it.


“Um...No?” To be fair, were it not for the fact that I already had a girlfriend and that even considering doing anything with this woman would have been a violation of my admittedly few real principles and ethics, not to mention my sense of pride, I'd jump at the chance to cuddle a bubbly-headed F-Cupped hourglass like that. But I tended to see past Jasmine's good looks at the spoiled rotten brat that she was. Now, here she is, asking if I wanted to cuddle, at work? It was like up and down were reversed for me. I was feeling strangely surreal. Was Jasmine...being nice?


“Can you make me you feel soooooo much less--” And then suddenly, the transmission went out. I thought Jasmine must have been crank calling me, truly bored and deciding to waste my time. Oh, I was willing to bet the bitch was snickering and chuckling or some variation of derisive laughter (derisive? Geez, that's an odd one, even for me...) at my expense. I shook my head, wondering what idiocy made her think that spouting gibberish requests for cuddles counted as a prank anyway. I pulled the walkie to my face and hit the send button.


“Jasmine, whatever dumb idea you might be having right now, stop it. It isn't funny. At all. Or even insulting.” Releasing the button, I then waited for a response...And got nothing. Bringing the walkie back over my lips, I keyed the send button again. “Jasmine...Jasmine, are you there? Where are you?” So I can kick your ass, I thought to myself. First the calls and now this. I had thought that whatever stupidity she was trying to pull tonight was going a little too far. That was when I started to hear my personal phone go off. I sighed, and then set the walkie down.


When I pulled the phone out of my pocket and looked down at it (smart glasses were great for web surfing, but my model sucked for making calls), I let out a pleasant sigh when I saw the ID. The image was fit for a model's headshot, and it always made me feel better whenever I saw it. That shoulder-length auburn hair, with just a bit of a bounce, surrounding a beautiful Asian face. I activated the device with one hand, the other still holding the radio and brought the phone to my ear. I hated holographic calls, never any privacy. And with Jasmine still prowling around, I didn't want the bother.


“Tomoko! Hey, babe, listen I can't call for long. What's up?”


“Oh, nothing Mel-chan! I was just wondering where you were. Normally, you are home by now and you don't often go out after work, so I just wanted to know if you were okay?” Tomoko had been my girlfriend for just over a year now. We had met at an electronic gaming expo. She was one of the booth girls. I hardly qualify for that, but we got to talking when the game she was representing was brought up in a conversation and we really hit it off. Three dates later and we're going steady. Oh, and before you go expecting any great twists in this story? Yeah, my girlfriend is also a gynoid. I could go on, but I actually want to finish telling you this story tonight without getting sidelined talking about how awesome my girl is. Besides, that's for me and her, anyway. I could feel my blush grow as I heard that cute voice use that term for me.


“Jeez, quit callin' me that, you make me feel like a webcomic character, or something. I'm still at work. We got stuck with a shit shift and it looks like I might not be in for the next few hours.” I actually love that she calls me that. Unlike a lot of people, I know how much that honorific means. And no, she's not programmed to say it, beyond her own developed software. I could hear her repeat it several times just to tease me, and I smiled softly, attempting not to giggle like a schoolgirl should Jasmine be nearby.


“So, Mel~”, Tomoko was teasing now, “what's holding you up? It isn't anything serious I hope!”


“No, nothing that bad. It's just who I am stuck with. Jasmine, from my department.”


“Ah,” was Tomoko's only reply. She knew of Jasmine from the many times I've vented to her about my fellow co-worker. She always listened and comforted me on it. I admit, at times it is hard to tell when factory programming ends and actual self-developed programming begins, but I figure it is the same as looking at a human and asking what they are born with and what they have come to learn. Anyway.


“Yep. Lookin' like a long night doing inventory. Jasmine's screwing around, so I gotta' go see if I can figure out what's going on. I'll kick her ass, if I have to. I want to go home already, I won't lie. Listen, babe, I gotta' go, okay?” I smiled as I heard her sigh.


“Okay, Mel-Chan. I'll see you later tonight, I hope!” The call ended, and I put the phone in my pocket. I could not ask for a better girlfriend, in all honesty. And, no, that isn't just because of the gynoid thing. She's more than just a robot...there I go, on a tear about her again. Oh well. Back to the story, because this is where it gets interesting...


I once more put the walkie to my face, hitting the send button. “If you don't answer me, I swear to God, I am going to come over there and kick your ass!” I knew that should have got a response out of her, but instead I got nothing. Silence. Now, I started to get concerned. Jasmine might have been a pain in the ass, but she was still a co-worker and a person. So, unsure of what to expect, I put my work aside, bringing the ID scanner with me so I didn't lose it. I calmly but quickly walked to where I knew Jasmine was, but it wasn't much to start with. Her half of the storeroom was still a big one, which had rows of boxes that made it difficult to see what exactly was behind it. Row after row was empty. Then, I finally turned the corner of the fourth giant row of boxes.


The first thing I noticed was an ID scanner, like mine around my neck. I was going to start yelling at her for breaking it, when I noticed that there was a tilted over ladder nearby. I paused a moment when I saw sprawled legs on the floor. Oh no, I thought. I rushed around the corner, expecting to see the worst...When I saw something entirely different instead.


Given who I am telling this to, you can probably guess where this is going. Expecting to see a dead woman with a twisted neck laying underneath a fallen ladder, I instead found a gynoid with a twisted neck laying malfunctioning under a ladder. Jasmine lay with her hands at her sides. She hadn't even tried to brace her fall. And when she had fallen, she probably hit the ground head first. There was a scrape of synthetic skin missing from her forehead, I knew it was synthetic because of the lack of blood and the fact that what was underneath was a cranium made of cloudy white plastic. Her head was twisted backwards, the synthetic skin broken, a few wires visible underneath. Rather embarrassingly, her bubbly ass was jutting up into the air. Sparks snapped from her neck as an electronic buzz came from her body. Her upper lip curled slightly, her left eye rolled upwards slightly.


Needless to say, I was relieved. For a human, this was fatal. For a robot, it was repairable damage. But what really had me ecstatic, more than that fact, was the fact that she was a robot in the first place. Suddenly, it all made sense! Her figure, her skin, the way she walked and talked, the way she thought...The only thing that had really thrown me off was that abrasive personality. It wasn't to say that all gynoids were programmed to be super-helpful and servile, but very few are intentionally programmed to be...well, snotty, bratty bitches. I figured this was either bad programming or perhaps someone had a thing for that sort of high school popular girl bullshit. Lots of unresolved issues in that later one, I figure...


But still. Here it was. Payback. It may have been hypocritical of me to look at it that way. After all, if Tomoko was in this situation, I'd be in a panic. But Tomoko was a nice and sweet person—and I stress person here, regardless of her nature as an AI—whereas Jasmine was anything but. I didn't view it as taking advantage of a robot, but as taking advantage for months of torment. May be a weak excuse, but I guess I can just leave that up to you to do the judging here.


I walked up to Jasmine, then knelt down and looked in her eyes. “Well, Jasmine. Let me guess. You went a little too fast, tried to cut corners, and now you've got a busted neck to show for it. What happened? Get your processors all twisted up and then took a tumble down the steps?”


Jasmine's head twitched slightly with a mechanical buzz, followed by a clicking that I knew came from broken components. Shit. That would make her a bit hard to repair...Yeah, I intended to repair her. I may have gloated, but I'm not cruel. Well, not that cruel. “Reeeerrrrp-pair-pair-pair meeeee youuuuoooouuuuuu du-du-dumb bi-bitch-bitch.” There was a spark, she made a sound like a croak, and her wrist twitched. “Hi-Hi I'm Ja-Ja-Jasmi-mine waaaaaannnnaaaaa cu-cud-cuddle-cuddle wi-with-with-with--” I shook my head as I put my hands on my hips.


“That's no way to treat the only person who can repair you, you know. I figure, a reboot, some duct tape, and while you might be looking like Batman in one of those old 1980's movies, unable to turn your head until you get it a proper fix, I can at least keep you from being found out by the company. I bet you didn't tell them you were a synthetic, did you?” I stared at her, drumming my fingers against my biceps with my arms crossed under my chest. I tilted my head as I waited for a response, but sighed as she just lay there. I turned as I heard her say “Rep-repai-pair me you stu-stupid-stupid--”, though as I walked away, I wasn't intending on just leaving her.


These days, most robots are repairable using household tools, though specialized tools were still needed for things like major dismantling and other types of intense robotics work that was best performed at a repair center. Luckily for me, I could fix what could be fixable with those tools. The problem was that I didn't have any of those said tools. However, the store did. Walking out of the store room, half-hoping that a spark wouldn't cause a fire that would burn the place to the ground, I made my way with a casual stride to the tools section. A little gift set of cheap tools for dad contained in a hardy box made of cheap molded plastic was all I needed. Of course, I felt a pang of guilt that I was stealing from a heartless mega corporation that had the kindness to employ me and would be equally kind enough to fire my ass if they knew, but chances were that not even they counted their beans so thoroughly to notice that it was missing. And, if it came to it, I'd simply tell them the truth; I needed it for an emergency.


Not sure what I'd find when I got back, I was pleased to see that she was pretty much staying in place. Her motor functions were probably offline. I wouldn't know for sure, but I imagined that the reason for it might have been that critical wiring that sent electrical signals or data to her motor processors had been severed, to put it in simple terms. Or, perhaps that this was a safety program to keep her from stumbling and bumbling around with her head flopping about like a tetherball on her neck. Either way, it was handy. She was immobile, which meant that she wouldn't be struggling or fighting with me, intentionally or in the throes of a malfunction.


Pulling the stepladder away, I then reached down and pulled Jasmine up to a sitting position. I'm not going to lie. Watching her head suddenly bounce against her chest, tethered to her plastic neck by only a few bundles of wiring was a strangely erotic sight. Actually, it wasn't strange at all. I'd been into this sort of thing since I was thirteen. Tomoko sometimes let me take her apart, a little, though it wasn't anything like this. Wow, you know what? On second thought, this was weird. I felt like I was cheating on my girlfriend by getting turned on at the sight of a robot with her head half knocked-off. How many girls can claim that?


But I remained professional. Tempted though I may be, I could stay truthful to my girl. Besides, once I got on my knees on the cold concrete floor of the store room and took a look at what I was in for, it became work to me. I set the tools next to me, and took my smart glasses off. No way did I have the time to re-purpose that clunky tablet used for scanning bar codes into the system. I could do a bit of reprogramming, but reformatting the thing? Besides, it wasn't mine, and my glasses had diagnostics systems pre-loaded. The slightly thick frames, aside from appealing to my geek chic, allowed it to contain both an upgraded microprocessor and a few other add ons, like a wire-thin connection cable device. Thank the maker for tax returns.


“Hi-Hi-Hi-Hi—J-J-J-Ja-Jasmine-mine—c-cuddle-cuddle wanna cu-cuddle? Me. With.” I steeled myself for the task ahead. Normally, in accordance with science fiction tropes, the interface jack for a hard connection would have been located in the back of the neck, typically near the base. But I was pretty sure I saw that jack lying somewhere on the floor. But like any good engineered system, it had a backup in place. Namely, the other old sci-fi trope. A control panel in the back. All well and good, save for one thing. That meant taking off Jasmine's top.


“Okay, Jasmine. Don't start getting all weird on me. I need to take your top off in order to establish a connection with your processing systems. You're obviously a little glitched up, here.” I squashed my perverted side and first pulled her employee vest off. Then, the item underneath; a low-cut purple shirt that looked about ready to give up the ghost and let the breasts underneath fly free like a pair of tan-colored zeppelins. And while that may not be a sexy analogy, I had to try very, very hard to make it that way. The shirt was off, and the object of so many lusty male gazes were revealed. Mostly. I wasn't sure if I was relieved to see she was wearing a bra that looked about a cup size too small for her or not, but as I ran my fingers down her back (Margaret Thatcher naked on a rainy autumn day, Margaret Thatcher naked on a rainy autumn day...I wasn't even sure what she looked like, but thinking about a dumb movie was just as good a distraction), I found a section of synthetic skin that was plastic smooth. A bit of a tell in the industry of where a panel might be if you didn't want to put seams on a 'bot. I distinctly remembered what I said to myself when I found out where it was, though.


“Oh, Christ...” I'm not religious in the least, but I appealed to a supernatural power in a desperate attempt to not get turned on by this. If the bra had been pressed any tighter against her skin, it would have probably popped the panel open on its own.


“S-Sto-stop st-stal-talling and fix-fuck-fix me you st-stu-stupid nerdy idiot-ot-ot!” I rolled my eyes, and then turned to look at Jasmine's head to tell her to shut up, when I spied it dangling behind her back, just a few inches from where my hands were. Against my better judgement, I grabbed it with both hands and pushed it up and over her neck. Mechanisms were clicking, wires were stretched taut...Oh, man. And now I had to unclasp her bra if I wanted to get the damn panel open...


Once again appealing to an aspect of the supernatural, I hoped that karma would even this out. It took some struggling to pop it off, but eventually, I got the bra unclasped. As I took it off though, I heard a seductive purr come from Jasmine. “Oooh~ B-Ba-baby I lo-love it whe-when you—always knew you were a per-per-pervert-vert-vert st-star-staring at me the way—love it when you—c-cuddle?” It sounded like it might be getting worse. I didn't want to reboot her until I took a peek into her programming. I figured there was more going on here than typical ditziness. Ignoring the woman whose head was now likely resting on her breasts, I swear I didn't look, I got the panel open.


Your typical access panel will have a touch-screen interface included among various types of access port. Some countries favored different jacks, and you don't want to be a robot girl in a country that can't connect to your systems in an emergency. I ignored the interface. It was totally pedestrian and wouldn't get me anywhere. No, I went straight for the port and plugged into it. My glasses immediately brought up a Heads Up Display, projecting it a few inches from the glasses themselves via hologram. Now, I'm not going to say that I have password cracking software as part of a setup to jailbreak various electronics systems, but let’s just say, for the sake of the story, I had a way to get around a really awful password protection system. That was when I got into her systems, and I saw she was a train wreck before I even met her.


Jasmine, it turned out, was a Molyneux Fabrique YKR-series gynoid. I was familiar with the programming specifications through some casual reading on slow days. That, and it was often a subject of interest on the forums. The MF YKR's were well known as being highly modular in terms of programming and body type, but this was typical of any consumer-level general purpose gynoid. And, with the new VKR series having been around for two years, the old YKR's were now much more affordable. Jasmine's specs fit a YKR-R9, which was the pleasure model base. Made sense with that rack. But the programming inside was a mess.


No amount of modularity would excuse what I found in there. Every back alley program mod you could think of and then some. Malware, spyware. Sheesh, this girl probably got everyone she ever had fuck her end up on a Croatian black market penis enlargement roll call. I saw programs for home care that clashed with third-party sexual software systems. She was just as likely to attempt to give a washing machine fellatio as much as she would stuff clothes into it. All kinds of awkward prompts for sex interrupted other basic programs and each other, and most of her systems security was compromised to do it. I felt like I'd have to scrub my glasses with bleach on top of giving them a total system restore. It went a long way towards explaining her erratic and combative attitude.


“Your programming is a total mess, Jasmine. I'm going to try and fix this as much as I can, but you need to see someone about this. You're on the verge of needing a total memory wipe to fix this.” As much as I disliked Jasmine the person, I felt bad for Jasmine the machine. Might seem weird to you, but robots are just as much at the whim of their creators and owners, and I hated to think what kind of an asshole put these programs in her system. A cheapskate, or someone too dumb to be anything but a script kiddie who'd never bother to ask someone how to program properly. Or at least take a course, Jesus. “I'm going to have to shut down your higher AI processing and personality to get it done, alright?”


Jasmine might have started protesting, but it was too difficult to tell. She was malfunctioning so bad that when I shut those processes down, I figured I had to do it now or she'd end up in an even worse state. Which is saying something given where her head was. She wasn't offline, but most of her processing functions were. So, for her own sake, I began reprogramming her.


I started by deleting the third-party software that I knew to be bullshit. A few times, it really struggled. Well, metaphorically. The programs weren't any more self-aware than, say, an individual neuron in a human brain. It was when they all worked together that they created the semi-sapient AI I was attempting to repair. No, in this case, Estonian malware and spyware from companies in Indonesia were just copying themselves, leaving bits of itself in other programs, and other such processes that if I went into detail, I'd be here all night. Going through all that code was giving me a headache, but I eventually managed to get most of it. Enough that it wouldn't eat so much of Jasmine's sorely needed storage space.


That took only about three hours. I took off my glasses and closed my eyes for a few minutes, trying desperately not to think about the damaged, topless robot girl in front of me. I kept reminding myself about who this was, so I wouldn't feel the urge to do something I'd later regret. After giving myself a few minutes to let the eye strain leave, I then put my glasses back on. Yep. Topless, mostly headless bimbo, just the way I left her.


By comparison, fixing her neck was a cakewalk. Mostly because there were so many things I couldn't fix. Hunched over her, I saw that a lot of the structure of her neck was indeed broken. The typical pedestrian concept is that a robot like Jasmine is made out of metal on the inside. Problem is, you do that, and she'd weigh more than four hundred pounds (not including the giant rack). So, while there were metal parts used here and there for sections of her spine and most of her skull and such, most of her was made out of polymer plastics and lighter metal alloys. After all, she'd be expected to take the daily abuses of a sexbot, but Jasmine wasn't made to fight liquid metal killbots. Yes, another ancient reference. Look it up, because I am not explaining it further. So, yeah, a lot of small plastic parts that operated the motion of her neck were damaged. But the structure of her neck was made so that individual sections could be replaced if need be.


To the layman, it was nothing more than bundles of wiring, a few plastic rods, screws and other odd parts. To the expert, they knew what each part did, what it would take to replace it. To me, I was desperately trying not to think about it in a sexual way. I kept thinking about Tomoko. I kept thinking about my bed. I hadn't realized how late it was until I saw the display on my glasses. I repaired the wiring so that she at least wouldn't have a short of some kind, made sure that what mechanisms in her neck that could potentially cause damage in their broken state were removed or disabled, then...well, did you think I was kidding about the duct tape? It was actually more like electrical tape, but in any instance, she now had what looked like a black choker on her neck. So, she'd be able to see, hear and swallow (that last one would be terribly important to her, I was sure) but she wouldn't be able to move her neck. At least not much. My hope was that she hadn't already violated her warranty and could get this repaired in a qualified shop.


So, that was that. And so, I rebooted her. And that was when the errors began occurring. At first, when she started twitching, her arms rising up and down and spewing random gibberish, I thought maybe I disconnected a wire wrong. So I untapped her neck and pulled it up. Had I been in different spirits, I might have been aroused by the feeling of Jasmine's face and jaws moving in error in my hands, but I was too cold, tired and my legs ached. But, much to my surprise, I hadn't fucked up with the wiring. So, I set Jasmine's head back down and then taped her neck up again.


So, I suspected it wasn't hardware. I couldn't just take her apart. I didn't have the time, or the patience. So, I decided to see if it was a software issue. I reconnected to her systems with my glasses, and put my eyes through another round of torture, just to see if I could find the problem.


Ho, boy, did I.


Here's a funny thing about pleasure 'bots. They often have two processor cores. Pretty much up to the same standard as running a full spec AI. The thing is, the second one is often times exclusively for processing pleasure. Sex is a pretty complex action. Your standard fembot can handle a few different sex maneuvers (sex maneuvers? Positions? The hell is it called?) and some other extra things. But the sheer amount of processing in terms of personality, predictive movements and such, it is often too much for a standard processor, especially those on the cheaper end of the scale. And Jasmine was no Tomoko. And another thing about them? That secondary processor is a neat little place to store data that you might not want to store elsewhere. And, wouldn't you know it? More malware was there. That I couldn't access...Not directly. Which meant...


I put my forehead down on Jasmine's shoulder and groaned against her skin. Fuck, no, not like that. It was out of frustration. Not the sexual kind for fuck's sake...Gah, I've got sex on the brain so bad I'm saying 'fuck' like a Hail Mary. But yeah. It meant one thing. I turned her off again, and then moved around in front of her. Spreading her legs, I pulled her bottoms down, underwear included. I needed it out of the way, and I looked down at her bare sex. Yes. Her...thing was nice. I might have appreciated it if I wasn't so goddamned tired. I reached down between her legs, and started to brush her...parts. I was looking for a way to access the processor I knew was in her hips. It wasn't there, so I moved further up.


Eventually, I found it. A panel just above it. I managed to work it open, pulling the panel cover off and setting it aside. Inside was a processor that was pretty much identical to the one in her upper chest, save the fact that it was surrounded by the mechanisms of her hips. Balance sensors and leg servo motors jammed in there. I focused on the mechanical parts. I focused really hard on the mechanical parts. I plugged in and began clearing everything again. I sighed, and then unplugged from her again. I put the panels back on, and then rebooted her again. By the time she came back fully online, I stepped around in front of her as she started to try and turn her head.


“Error. System Malfunction. Servo Motor Malfunction In Neck Region. Area Non Operative.” A twitch of her head, and she then blinked several times, then slapped her hands against the floor. “Ugh! I told you to repair me! You stupid--” She was cut off as her shirt hit her in her face, because I threw it at her. The cloth wrapping around her head. By the time she pulled it down, I was standing right in front of her, astride her thighs. She had the presence of mind to close them, and had to lean back to look up at me.


“Shut up! Shut your whiny mouth up! I figured maybe that if I untangled that cat's hairball you call an AI while I was keeping you from making more stupid mistakes like the one you just made, you'd show a bit more appreciation! Climbing up on a stepladder was like, the first thing we were told not to do in employee orientation! That's like, THE biggest stupid thing you can do! If you were a human, I'd have to explain all of this to the police! But you aren't, you're a robot, and you had the good fortune of being found by me before some dumbass temp came in and tried to use you for a sexdoll. Because I know how to fix your dumb ass, and I did it with sto—borrowed tools from the freakin' hardware department! You're bitching at me when I just MacGuyvered you back together! I'm cold, I'm tired, my legs hurt, my head hurts, my eyes are fucking sore. So the least you can do is show some fucking appreciation!”


I realized what I just said, pointing my finger at her, standing over her with a look of anger on my face. And it was one of the most satisfying moments of my life. Months of pent-up frustration let out at once like an emotional volcano. Normally you have to pay for that kind of resolution in therapy. She looked stunned for a little while, then smirked. “You know, when you're all pissed off like this, you're actually pretty hot.”


I glared at her, then reached down and picked up her panties. I flung them at her face. “You can fuck off,” I said in anger, turning on my heels and leaving her to sort herself out. “And finish this up while you are at it! Good luck at the repair center!” I muttered the rest. “You brainless airheaded...” I was too tired to finish the rest of my sentence.


Somehow, I managed to drag my tired feet across the floor of the storeroom and out through the front of the store, back to my car. By some miracle, I managed not to kill anyone on the way home to my apartment and I arrived just as the sun was rising. I should have been home hours ago, I thought to myself, as I shut the car door and fumbled with the keys to the door. I just about had them when the guy from one of the upstairs apartments got the door open and kindly kept it open for me. Eh, not all men are dicks, I guess. Which makes me feel kind of bad, since in my tired state all I did was just grunt his way, too tired to even remember if it was supposed to be a thank you or just an acknowledgment of his presence in the temporal plane. I shook my head, then trudged on to my apartment.


I can't quite remember what happened after that. Not because of anything particularly traumatic, but because my exhaustion was getting the better of me. I remember shutting the door, and I remember something about Tomoko recharging, but what I remember most of all was just falling face first into bed and surrendering to exhaustion. Never mind getting out of my clothes, I didn't even take off my uniform. I almost immediately slipped into a blissful sleep.


When I awoke the next day, it took me a few minutes longer than usual to realize where I was. My hair was a mess around my head, and one of my first thoughts was that my shoes were still on my feet. I let out a heavy sigh, trying to shake off my exhaustion, pushing my feet together in a vain reaction to get my shoes off, when I managed to take a look at the clock.


Few things can get you up faster than making you think you're late to work. The clock was reading it as four hours after I was supposed to get to work, and in my panic, I started to take off my shoes to get dressed, only to realize that my shoes were already on. I even still had my glasses on, which explained the indents on my nose. I had a brief moment of relief when I took them off to inspect them. I let out a curse, but they were fine. I was cursing because...Actually, I can't remember why I was cursing. Truth be told, it was all a blur to me, a panicked check to see if I had everything.


The clearest memory I have of those moments was what made me stop panicking. Stop doing everything, really. The sensation of a hand resting on my shoulder, and slowly moving down. Whatever idiot said that robots had to be cold was...well, wrong. Tomoko's hand was warm, soft, inviting. I turned my head to look over my shoulder, before turning around slightly to view the body that the hand belonged to. She was naked, and while I am sure you would love to know all the details in that regard? Well, there are some things I would rather keep private. All you need to know is, it made me stop in my tracks.


I was about to say something when she let out a little sigh. She could simulate being sleepy oh so well, especially when she knows she's being cute. “Mel-chan,” she said with a voice soft enough to fall asleep on, “it's Saturday.” She slipped her fingers up to my shoulder again to give it a squeeze. And as she did, I leaned back into her gentle grip. I closed my eyes as relief washed over me, and I felt Tomoko rise up behind me. I could feel the warmth of her artificial body against my back, and I leaned into it just a touch more.


“Jesus Chri...” I felt my words slip away as I leaned into her hands, eyes closing as I reached up and slipped my glasses off. Setting them aside, I then signaled for Tomoko to let go as I shrugged my employee vest off. Saturday was the one, mandatory day off. I let my head lull to the right and almost fell back against her body. “Thank God...Babe, I need to tell you about--”


Before I knew it, Tomoko was kissing me, deeply. And not to kiss and tell, but man is it a nice kiss. She was soon helping me out of my clothes, before I know it, she's not the only one naked in bed. And by the time I know it, I'm on my back, out of my pants and shoes and soon, everything else, and she's getting ready to straddle my hips. I looked up at her, and she smiled.


“Mel-chan,” she said in a husky, seductive whisper. I can see everything. All her seams and all her details. None of which I am sharing, by the by. But I watched as one of her fingers began to move up to one of those seams. “I want you to help me...I've been having this problem with one of my shoulder micro servos...” Tomoko knows how much I love to 'play repair woman', how much I enjoy looking at her wiring, her circuitry. I know most of it, if not all of it, by heart. It gets me wild thinking about it, most of the time. I'm not ashamed that seeing her parts in working motion gets me off.


But as she moved up, I reached up, stopping her with a touch of my fingers to her elbow. I let out a heavy sigh, and she looked at me with concern. Tilting her head in that cute, robotic way, she lowered herself slowly, until her hands were resting on the bed just above my shoulders. I looked into her eyes as she looked into my eyes, and whispered softy, but not as seductively, “is something wrong, Mel-chan?”


Oh, that nickname. She's just so full of love for me. And I didn't even need to program her that way. God, how lucky am I? That some nerdy girl like me got the girlfriend of her dreams? I think of that as I think of Jasmine and that long night in the storerooms, thinking about all that work. I sighed softly, and brought my hand up to stroke her side, my other at rest next to me.


“Babe...I'll happily dismantle you down to your wiring,” I said with my own soft tones, only using it as a figure of speech. Though, I'd have come close before. But then I shrugged my shoulders, looking into those pretty artificial eyes. “But, today...Today can we just make love?” The thought of putting a robot girl back together was already bringing back the ache that was going up from my knees, up my back and to my neck. I must have had it on my face because there was a quick kiss to my lips.


“Mel-chan, if you aren't feeling up to it, we can always wait.” Tomoko's face showed mild concern, and her tone was more worried as well. I smiled, shook my head, and brought my hands up to squeeze her thighs, since an ass-grab at this position would have been a bit awkward.


“Hell no. You have no idea how much I needed this...C'mon, Babe. I'm all for a bit of lovemaking in the early...” I paused a moment, looked at the clock's holographic display. “...Afternoon.” I chuckled softly, and turned back to look at her. “But when I'm done...I got a hell of a story for you.”


Tomoko smiled and nodded.


And that's exactly what we did. Anything more and...well, I guess I'll just leave it to your imagination.


And as for Jasmine? Well, she still works in the Tech Department. And, although it is now on her official employee record that she’s a robot, she got a promotion. Go figure. Tomoko is the only other person who knows about the night in the storeroom (and there was a brief argument before I explained things a bit better about it) and neither me or Jasmine are willing to tell anyone about it. Of course, she’s still a bitch. But, if she gets a little too testy with me, well…


...Well, now at least I have something to hold over her head if she gets that way. It’d be awfully embarrassing for Ms. Perfect, I know that.


...Wait. You thought I meant something else? Something like…


...Nah. Never!


...Would make for a pretty good sequel hook, though, wouldn’t it?


Hmmm…


The End


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