“I was going to ask if you were programmed with the common courtesy to knock, but it looks like this is your show. Your place.” I continued cleaning the barrel of my Winchester as the door to the comfortable quarters slid open. “You've done well for yourself.” I braced my knee on the bunk bed beside me as I worked, the pale blue aura of the desktop holo-console painting twilight fingers across the dull metal of my rifle. “By that you mean – I've done well for a living toy built for the sexual amusement of men?” She raised an eyebrow, as if to challenge something I hadn't said. “I have nothing to do with that,” I reminded the Woman in White, as I paused to inspect the safety seals on my gasmask, removed and sitting on an executive-style, ten-drawer office desk made of cherry-wood. As good as it felt to have the thing off my head, for some reason I was now craving the sense of security it had provided. Why should I not feel secure here? “You'll notice I've made no attempt to order you around, or.... sleep with you.” “But did it ever occur to you that I enjoyed every microsecond of it? Is a slave really a slave if she's hard-wired to crave her servitude, and even seek to reinstate if she's ever released?” She strode closer to me, still in that wedding gown, but without her high-heels, this time. She was barefoot, for some reason. “Look, uhh... ma'am.” I rolled my eyes in exasperation.”Don't take this the wrong way, I'm grateful for the clear zone you've provided me and the rest of the guys, but – I'm really uncomfortable around your... technology.” “I get the feeling you're not referring to the solar panels that power this compound?” “This... ability we gained, before the war, to build artificial people, and then to program emotions into them to serve our basest desires it's just... it seems like a threshold that should never have been crossed.” I shook my head sharply for emphasis. “So it's my very existence that offends you?” Her eyes were wide, receptive, questioning within her glamor-model face as she perched her achingly perfect leg upon the bunk bed. “I don't know if there's a nice way to say it, you are what you are. And I can't really be honest with you without being rude to my... host, being one and the same. So I think it's best if I just leave here as soon as possible.” I could feel my heart rate accelerating. I tried to remind myself that this... thing was made of silicates and circuits, but back in the glory days, they'd gotten so good at building the damn Dolls that you really couldn't tell the difference outwardly. My body certainly couldn't. “Are you really so different from the other men?” I frowned, and lowered my mask and rifle. “What is this? Are you trying to mock me? Yes fine, you made a fool of me. You damned Pygmalion Dolls are so convincing that I was running myself ragged trying to defend the honor of a sex-bot. Alright then, yuk it up. I'm sure Cleary will get a good laugh out of this.” “You are a man, with all the needs of men. And in these two days you've had no interest in using me. Not now, and not before the war, either.” She wasn't asking. She just cocked her eyebrow and crossed her arms with bemusement. “No... no way could I...” Why should I tell her/it anything? I was leaving, after all. “Besides, from the sounds I heard, the rest of the guys sure made use of you. Isn't that enough?” “Never. That's one of my selling points. A man can come to me knowing I'll never have a convenient headache, no matter what time of the month it is. Not to mention my 100% guaranteed post-coital sanitation system, which I won't bore you with. You don't like that, do you? It disturbs you that your society created sapient human replicas for sexual companionship. But here I am; You resent what I am, you question the validity of my existence. The thing is – I like the fact that I exist.” I narrowed my eyes, not quite sure where the demented robot was heading with this. “Fine. You can go on existing without me. I should be going before we both regret my being here.” “But you don't really want to leave.” She concluded. Somehow. Delicately, she placed her elegant hand upon my broad chest with the pressure of a whisper. “Well, it's more comfortable than anyplace I've been in.... ever... but it's really for the best that I go.” “It's true that I haven't lived a full human lifespan, but I remember enough about civilization to know that hospitality requires payment. You don't just lounge around for two days in a hotel and skip out on the bill.” “Well, yeah – that... makes sense. Sorry, I seem to have misplaced my credit card somewhere in the zombie apocalypse. Not sure what I can offer you that you don't already have here.” “The Name.” The Woman in White breathed. “ Uhhmm... well, MY name is Hiro Salvador. Is that good enough?” “No, you carry a torch for her – your fiance`. And you blame yourself for her demise.” The Woman in White sat down upon my – well really it was her bed. A flow of comfort seemed to wash through me. “Aw hell, has Cleary been talking to you?” My cheeks reddened. “None of your compatriots have said more than two words to me. They just want to – get down to business, which I understand. There are many things I don't need to be told. Such as the fact that she left you, before it happened.” I jumped to my feet. I hadn't told that to anyone! Ever! “The signs of the separation are written all over your body language, plus a stop-motion analysis based on the Facial Action Coding system, and your brain activity correlating with the guilt, and your reaction to me....” She nodded, her eyes widening in a burst of preternatural insight. “A Robot! Your fiance' left you for a robot!” This was....worrisome. We'd all heard of Pygmalion Cyber-Industries, and their legendary living Sex-Dolls, but they weren't supposed to be that smart were they? To interpret secrets that I had never revealed just from watching body-language? Something about the Woman in White made me less outraged than I probably should have been, at such a deeply personal intrusion. I wanted to tell myself that my expressed disdain for Doll technology was based on some kind of moral/ethics for sentient beings, and not from my personal betrayal. I lowered my eyes to the ground. The Woman in White was behind me, as an unwelcome wave of reverie crept over me. Without truly knowing why, I did not object when the synthetic vixen began to massage my shoulders. “What model was he?” For some reason, it wasn't this strange interloper asking, it was as if the question came from within me. “A Latin Fox, Version 6.9. Enhanced vibrator and mimetic pheromone synthesizers that adapt to the physiology of a female human User. The thing even had enhanced hygroscopic molecules in its chest, giving it constantly moist pectorals. A lot of guys were confused about why feminist types got their burning bras in a knot when all the female Dolls came on the market, the male-models weren't far behind. Fair, isn't it? If a man can drop ten grand and come home with a remote-controlled supermodel concubine with more curves than a Rocky-Mountain highway, who exists to serve him, then surely any woman can order a steely piece of inexhaustible robo-beefcake with a male performance that no flesh-and-blood guy can match. One whose every circuit is fanatically dedicated to finding new ways to make her feel special. Why not?” “But you refused to avail yourself of the same choice that she had?” “I didn't believe. I denied that any machine, no matter how convincing, could be a genuine companion.” The world around me was fading away, lost in the past – my own thoughts. “And you still believe that her death was your fault?” “She was... an activist type, she wanted to document over-industrialization and deforestation of the Central American jungles. Brought the LF with her, but in San Jose` they got on the bad side of a back-alley I-dope dealer. The LF froze up, his Asimov laws prevented him from fighting back. “I saw her a few times... when she was with him – it. She felt safe, he seemed very macho – virile to her. Because the machine extrapolated the neural activity from the pleasure centers of her brain, and adapted its behavior to provoke the most intense sexual response from her – just as it was programmed to do. But he couldn't fight back when it counted.” “Standard for all sapient robots.” “It was the only way. The legal complications, the politics, the paranoia. If there was a companion robot able to rip the heart out of the chest of a mugger, then is it murder? Or an industrial accident? What if the state or country restricts the ownership of lethal weapons? Even if a robot kills in defense of its User, the corporation could be opened to crippling liability suits. Is the owner to blame? What if the owner is a criminal, and the loyal robot rips the heart out of a cop's chest to protect its master? Is the company responsible? The robot itself? Should a court punish a robot? We evaded the whole question. The only way society would tolerate the construction and distribution of millions of self-aware robots would be an absolute, non-negotiable detection engine that prevented them from actively seeking to injure or kill a human. She'd been told about the Asimov Laws, but I guess she wanted to believe... as macho as he seemed, that somehow he would find a way to 'handle it'. Didn't turn out that way. Mr. LF existed for no other purpose than to get in the pants of whatever woman bought him, he simply emulated whatever personality would achieve that. Not to fight muggers. He wasn't a Man... when it mattered. The red tape spider-web of legalese governing the sapient robot industry left him a pretty face with no substance.” “And for you, it's small comfort to tell yourself that she deserved it for ditching you.” Came the cool, reassuring voice that I no longer wanted to question. The voice that caressed my shoulders, soothing me. “At first... it was like that. All the anger you'd expect. But I never wanted her dead! Never... I guess it's not... rational. I started thinking, if I had been... more of a man; done things... differently, then she wouldn't have left... we would've been together – she'd still be alive, If I was a better man than I am.” “Guilt can be narcissistic. Give me yours.” “Wh-what?” I began to snap out of my trance. “I can take your pain and replace it with a pleasure you never thought possible.” At that, she began to unfasten the back of her gown. “N-no... even if that made sense I could never... use one of your... kind that way I'd become... part of the problem.” “You're a challenge; I like that. I like the other men in your squad too but that's because – just as that Latin Fox was programmed to bring pleasure to women; I too – know my purpose. And therein lies my satisfaction. But you.....” I averted my eyes upward as the wedding gown slid down, past her bustline. But that only brought me in line with her mesmerizing face. “I want something more from you.” “I can't.” “You want to. I'll even let you call me by her name when we're together.” Her smile was shark-like as she pressed her aquiline nose against my throat. “No way in Hell.” But something – several things were happening. I found that my hands were now traveling down her bare back exploring the silken terrain of a feminine form that set my nerves a-tingle. I tried to remind myself that this was a machine play-acting at a human likeness. But despite that, I found my hands beginning to cup the generous swells of her rear as I reveled in a sensual pleasure as remote from the hard-scrabble brutality of my former life as night is from day. I tried to fight the boiling urges throbbing through my soul, trying to... dehumanize her. I knew that creating a human replica that could be accepted on the instinctual level by other people was a daunting challenge. I knew about the 'Uncanny Valley' the visceral rejection of something that tried too hard to be human, but wasn't. But the cyberbionicists working for the Pygmalion Corporation had achieved an inversion of that innate suspicion. Lifelike breathing, subtle fidgeting, eye movements, mimicry algorithms juggled hundreds of subtle cues that screamed living, breathing human. My primitive hind-brain instincts, also screamed: – 'Possess her, Mate with her.' Blood surged in several regions. I began to grit my teeth as animal urges seethed just under the surface of my prized rationality. Yes, for all appearances, there was a naked woman embracing me, nuzzling me – but somehow the attraction went deeper than that. Instead of a primal sense of alarm at an impostor, my senses sang with an erotic awareness that was itself unreal. It was possible for any sane human being to stand in the same room with someone else they considered highly attractive, and still concentrate on other tasks. There may be momentary distraction, but I could observe beautiful women – back when women could walk around in public without respirators on – and still focus on business. It wasn't like that with these robotic sex-dolls. She didn't really have to do …. anything.... that I could see. Just her nearness became a caress. I had tried to avoid the damned things before the war, but if male-models had a similar effect on women then my fiance's behavior didn't seem quite so inconceivable. Not just her appearance, but every motion, gesture engineered for attraction. This snow-haired apparition reminded me of ancient Celtic legends I'd heard of the supernatural charms of faerie creatures imagined to gird themselves in beauty and seduction like garments. But this was a techno-Sidhe, fantasy made flesh born from the cold womb of science, rather than the faerie ring of myth. “Your hands tell a different story than your mouth,” the Doll intoned in my ear. This was wrong; I pushed her away. Or at least, I thought about pushing her away. I did, really. But somehow, in reality my arms just continued their greedy exploration. My instincts were telling me – oddly – that she was... extra-human? The suspicion that should have been there from close contact with a human-imposter was replaced by a primeval urgency. That itself, was the most important clue that I held a lie in my arms. To overcome that Uncanny Valley, Doll designers had created a subliminal onslaught that provoked an unnaturally intense desire. It was a paradox of lust, Her living vitality was flavored with a radiating sexual enticement to create the illusion of living humanity so compelling, that reason told me she could not be human. She even had a pulse. My rebellious hands continued their plundering, even as I grit my teeth and shook my head in refusal. Ironically, her curvaceous form was... not quite perfect. She was equipped with tiny subtleties, like faint traces of downy hair follicles, and a few minute freckles. This added an organic asymmetry that resonated in my gut even as my hormones sizzled with the most rampant animal urges. If she was too absolutely perfect, down to the tiniest patch of skin, she would seem less....alive, real. As it was, her figure was more believably human than the silicone-injected, female 'entertainers' around the turn of the century, even though she actually contained far more of the substance. But there was no single feature of her body that was obviously 'fake' – it was the total package; an anatomical lottery winner of cherry-picked perfection so idealized, that her beauty became as unattainable as it was convincing. Yet I could never forget how inadequate I felt the first time I saw the chiseled virility of the Latin Fox male-model my Fiance` had become so entranced by. What would it mean for the world, the future if people weren't good enough for people anymore? She would just mutter something about the world being over-populated anyway, before rushing out the door in favor of her statuesque paragon of rippling-muscled, but quite sterile, robo-perfection. Taller than me, all the male-robots were. Not that I was an especially short guy, either. “I should... go.... I'm not... the kind of man... that would have... bought one of you...” Despite that, my mouth moved against hers, and her tongue was within my mouth, we lip-locked like the long-lost. My heart skipped a beat as her nipples hardened against my chest. I detected a subdued, yet flowery scent. Beneath it was an undercurrent of something primal, something uncivilized. Shouldn't surprise me; Pygmalion skirted the limits of legality to make their bionic bed-warmers physically – and psychologically addictive to human customers. But knowing that I was being blasted with a chemically-optimized artificial pheromone more powerful than what nature would normally allow didn't seem to lessen its spine-tingling potency. What had it felt like for the woman I'd loved when she greedily drank in the molecular-enhanced seduction-scent of her LF? Did her heart hammer in her chest? Did her body shudder with longing as she opened herself utterly to savor her impossibly masculine, cyberbionic lover? Despite the futility after all these years, I once again cursed internally the female co-worker that had first lent my girl the use of another beefcake-bot for a day, planting the seed of an obsession of which I was beginning to get an inkling. But at that moment, I reached my own floral-scented tipping point. I never decided to have sex with this Doll. And intellectually, I could devise many valid reasons for trying to extricate myself from this encounter. Yet I bore the winsome robot down to the bunk, and began to surge against her soft warmth. I fully intended to yank myself away and explain why I wasn't the man she needed. Anytime now. Stop doing this. But it just didn't seem to ever happen. Somehow, my clothes were gone – yet I didn't seem to remember taking them off. The Doll must be affecting my mind more than I feared possible. Time to push away from her. Time to stop kissing my way from her throat down to the hardened peaks of her feminine bosom. Time to stop gripping the cheeks of her rear with such possessive desire. “No.... I'm not... that kind of man...” I insisted, yet to my chagrin, I could not stop myself from kissing her throat, and against my will, my tongue began to lave the sweeping valleys of her vulnerable breasts. “A man... is a man...” she snarled. “ IS a man!” my cock throbbed as her nails teased it. Sleek legs hooked themselves around my pelvis, to duplicate a primal female receptivity as I wallowed lasciviously in the sinful valley between her more than ample breasts. The way her tender hands caressed my broad shoulders seemed to emphasize her awareness of my masculinity, which encouraged me towards greater confidence, greater exertions. It became more difficult to maintain the illusion that I was going to disengage from her, and soon – those bamboozled hind-brain instincts that had gotten me into this mess seemed to tighten around my rational mind like the coils of a hungering serpent. Reason screamed that it was a lie, a falsehood in opposition to my belief in the sanctity of natural, human relationships. Only to be wrestled into submission by my rampaging Id, paying no heed to the pathetic prattling of my wimpy logic centers. Animal yearnings operating from an eons-deep reservoir of reproductive mania told me this female was too fertile, too healthy to refuse. To forget logic, law, ethics and release my essence into her no matter the cost. For a female this worthy, I needed to fight, struggle, conquer for the right to seed her body. The Uncanny Valley had been beaten to a pulp, its lunch-money stolen, sent whining to the Teacher who ignored its bruised pleas. Instead my soul sang at the diaphanous contact with her smooth, inner thigh, I grunted with a passionate greed as eyes and hands reveled in the utter femininity of her every warm crevasse. “This isn't.... who I am...” My beleaguered rationality complained. Having lost the battle to control my body, it seemed that logic had taken up shop in my speech-centers alone, in protest against the bestial tidal wave that now swept through me. The Woman–no-longer-wearing-anything-white–or –otherwise responded with a low, growl – at odds with the sophistication of her high-tech origin, and released a potent, lavender-like scent-burst that had me gasping with heightened urges. My nose hovered over that swan-like throat, inhaling, sniffing like a beast in heat, as I willingly absorbed yet more of her witches' brew of aromatic jet-fuel for my hormones. My mind, my thoughts twisted with new, intense lusts. It was as if this woman beneath me were the worst sort of criminal imaginable, and the only possible punishment was with my own manhood – to be administered with extreme, spine-arching, toe-curling prejudice. Her every gesture, twitch and throb was charged with a distillation of female essence. Hers was a pink flame that had to be countered with the blue torrent of my male passion. The last vestiges of reason whimpered in my throat as hind-brain raged with the need to enforce my masculinity upon her with a barrage of rigid thrusts and covetous clutches. It felt so right, so Just. With a guttural bark, my male hardness penetrated the hot depths of her secret flesh. Smooth, wet, masterful. A million masseuses in throbbing coordination. She raised her head, and delivered a deliberate, lurid lick against my smooth, muscled chest, It was such a crude, animal gesture. An insult to civility. A signal of the treatment she expected. My heart hammered as if to leap from my chest. My long-suffering logical capacities detected another important difference between this creature, and the real woman I should have been with, as our writhing bodies grew damp with our exertions. Except for her, From the suddenness of her reaction, I sensed that she did not sweat due to any need to control heat, beads of moisture glistened upon her soft skin simply as another erotic tactic to pander to the illusion that had so ensnared my savage instincts. Unfortunately, it worked. The wet rivulets gave her a raw, lusty sheen that wrenched yet another throb of need from my manhood. My brow furrowed with yet greater desire as my lips and tongue alike luridly savored my pseudomate. Tasteless, but with more of that lavender scent that warped my thoughts into a lusting conflagration. But in the end, my frustration began to build. “Need... release....” Despite the most vigorous, virile efforts I had ever attempted, my own completion somehow was denied me. Her female sanctum held me rigid and determined, yet somehow my lover was able to clamp down, depress my arousal whoever much I craved that magical moment, “My Price. Her name.” She panted, her lips at my throat. My hands filled with her breasts. “I... shouldn't...” “Call me by her name.... and I will take the pain from you....” Promised those ruby-lips. “Call me by her name, and you will be complete.” I moved, thrusting against her in a last trace of defiance, yet still, her control – her mastery of sensation, desire, was superior to that of any Tantric master – or mistress. Even as I pounded my way towards glorious conclusion, somehow she was able to push back against my mounting arousal in a way that didn't seem to make sense. I would surge forward, and with a brilliant sexual cunning within her most intimate depths, she would slow me down, that I might stoke the flames yet again, but somehow without completion. And yet again, my reason was subsumed. “Her naaaaaaame.....” Those lips demanded with emotion I never imagined possible for a machine. “CELESTE!” I cried out. And my troubles were borne away on a river of my own making.