Gecko of the Moment

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***GECKO OF THE MOMENT***

The girls were robots; the experienced eye learned to spot them. Not that Mr. Foyle's eyes were spotting much of anything just now. The libations ran freely at the 4th of July celebration at the Breaker's beachfront resort. It was a Luau theme this year. No, it wasn't Hawaii – but the climate was tropical, so why the hell not?

But I could see the signs. The hula girls all had different faces, but from the neck down each one had the exact same height and build. Mostly Kokomos; but for a glitzy joint like this they would be bleeding-edge models. The girl serving drinks out of coconut-mugs responsible for my twelfth billionaire's shameless intoxication was an Exotiqa, undoubtedly a 2.9. Mocha-skinned gorgeous, (Model-standard beauty-mark to the right of her lips for that organic touch) high cheekbones, deliberately price-inflated, calculated to be a little foreign no matter what country she was sold in. But not really any single ethnicity. A little like yours truly.

An unseasonal dip in temperatures fell upon the beach as night descended. And I, clad only in a hot-pink Bikini With a gauzy linen shawl tied around my midsection felt just a little chilled. The plan had been to demonstrate to my B12 that I was willing to dress scandalously, (show off the goods too) but also to hide – just a little. More than wetting his appetite, yet also retaining a hint of mystery. A holoscreen weather report beamed out of my ever present phonewatch confirmed that the temp had suddenly gone much cooler than expected.

I strode over to a coal-pit, on which numerous items of sumptuous roasting meat were turning on spits. More to warm my tootsies than anything else, honestly. Exotiqa 2.9 approached me, the coconut shaped mug upon her drink tray held a tiny paper American flag.

Can I offer you a Daiquiri perhaps? the femmebot suggested helpfully, in what almost sounded like an Italian accent. Or perhaps – a blanket for OUR Guest. Or was it more African? The inflection in the robot's tone implied that her quantum-circuit brain was wise to the fact that I wasn't a paying customer of the resort. Did she know I had slipped onto the place through illicit means? But she also realized that any hostility towards me would alienate Mr. Foyle: a beloved, regular customer.

We're both fine, thank you. I assured the ethnically-diverse woman replica. Exotiqa smiled knowingly, but continued to service others. A tanned, wiry youth with a feathery headdress was beginning some kind of fire-juggling routine. But I'd seen enough of his kind to recognize a male-model. The counterpart-brother to the synthetic hula girls.

About twenty feet from me, a hairy hand grasped the shoulder of one of the hula dancers, and she turned and smiled at the grizzled, iron-bearded, fifty-something customer, who lead her off into a stand of palms behind a nearby bungalow. The silent exchange revealed the real reason why high-end resorts purchased Pygmalion Dolls to serve as the bulk of their staff these days. Not that the robot women were truly any better, the drinks were not tastier when made by a Doll, the beds were not softer. Nor was it impossible to find humans just as courteous. The reason was sex tourism.

Travel someplace exciting, sow your wild oats with (or in) one of the local girls. Guaranteed. Though technically, she wasn't exactly a girl – or really local, but image was what mattered. Once her shift was over, a paying guest could actually screw around with the pretty female receptionist. No threats, no coercion, no ugly arguments. She was programmed to enjoy it, they all were. Not only were they not outraged by the most shocking sexual harassment, the sexbot staff would openly offer themselves to any guest they predicted would be receptive to such an overture as their schedules permitted. An (un)natural selection fueled by hungry market forces had refined the behavior and design of robotic human replicants through numerous R&D generations until a thinking being arrived on the world scene that truly took pleasure in service. Equally happy to make you an apple-pie, or make the beast with two-backs. Anything that brought gratification to humans. No sane manager could ever expect such a thing from a normal human employee; and they never required it of any real woman. It's not that the robot does your job better, just that the robot looks like a Victoria's Secret Negligee` Model, and is willing to have sex with strangers; more positive referrals.

And it doesn't meet the legal standard of prostitution, because they're not human, only alive in a sci-fi, metaphorical sense. Those managers woke up to the reality that for a high-end resort, they HAD to offer EVERY service just to be competitive in the hospitality industry. Marriott workers made the fatal mistake of going on strike. Their replacements crossed the picket-line in Pygmalion-logo boxes.

Lots of tactics were tried to illegalize the sultry 'bots. But obviously, a blanket prohibition of unliving sexual aids would also cover... ahem... vibrators. Some argued for a ban of mobile machines used for sexual purposes; but again – vibrators can move. They also argued for sanctions against any speaking machine with sexual functionality; but clever lawyers convinced a judge that video tapes with any audio output could also meet that definition; and trying to ban that could also get free-speech advocates in a tizzy.

Then, anti-Doll decency groups thought they could score a win by banning any device containing artificial intelligence that could be adapted for 'immoral' (sexual) purposes. But simplistic A.I.'s had already been incorporated into home entertainment systems, some of which could be used to run adult content. Very difficult to devise a restriction that wouldn't have sweeping consequences for other areas of entertainment and free expression.

Strangely, the most impassioned plea I'd ever seen in favor of unrestricted Doll-tech came from the court testimony of a nineteen year old (human) girl. Her father had pretty much given up on dating, being a paunchy forty-something, after his wife had run off to South-America with her palm-reader to live in a feminist spiritual commune in the Amazon. The housekeeping femmebot he'd purchased to ease his domestic burden was an early series, but her Maturity Index was high, and her heuristics were excellent. The robot adapted to the needs of her User by assuming the abandoned niche. The Maid-bot grew into the role of surrogate wife for the father, and pseudo-mother to his children. I remembered watching the proceedings in open-mouthed astonishment; wherein the young daughter insisted that all through her adolescence, this robot was the only one that cared about her problems, devoting far more time, effort, attention than her bio-mom ever thought about doing. Proudly, she wore a T-shirt stating how 'I Love my Robot Mom'. During a talk-show interview, a lapel button read: 'Yeah, I was raised by a ROBOT, you gotta problem with that?!' The daughter didn't care whether this devotion was the result of quantum circuitry algorithms, or the ever-intangible soul.

Bot-girl, as she came to be known, actually testified during a Senate hearing. It was surreal to watch this healthy, pretty young girl insist that the government allow this company to churn out as many robotic concubines as the market could support; reasoning that when sapient Dolls where everywhere, it would be that much easier to pay for her 'mom's' maintenance and combustion stock, vowing to do so for as long as either of them were 'functioning'. With thousands, millions of Dolls, parts would be easier to find for her own synthetic parent. Yikes! that had been as scary as it was touching. Admittedly, Bot-girl was far more telegenic than some pasty-faced, fifty-year old support system for a beer-gut that wanted his own personal whore.

In fact, the Corporation capitalized upon this event as a revelation of an unexplored niche to greedily develop. They actually created what amounted to a Wife-bot replete with a childcare database, and competence at nearly any conceivable domestic chore. What did it say about the acrimony between men and women when it actually made sense for single fathers to turn to artificial intelligence to help raise their motherless children and perform wifely duties? Well, at the end of the day, you can gripe, and moan, and whine until snot pours down your face, or you can adapt. Lonely techies had been trying to build something like these things ever since the early 2000's. Of course the day would come when they would succeed! Funny, how the CEO of an early robotics firm mass-marketed the earliest replicant gynoids as an intentional flop to try and embarrass his own shareholders who planned to oust him. Except the comparatively primitive pre-Pygmalions didn't flop. Sold like silicone hot-cakes, every last one of them. The market was born. Pygmalion Cyber-Industries arose from amongst the chaos of the early start-ups and soon dominated the field. The CEO's name had been Dahl; lending itself to an obvious brand-name that just sort of stuck.

That was the long and short of it, right or wrong. I was never one to get caught up with complex moral projections or sermonizing. The world is what the world is, smart gal becomes what she must. The robotic cat is out of the bag; can't uninvent a technology. But you can make the new rules work for you. Like they work for me.

But then, fire-juggler was approached by a prune-like old biddy who couldn't have been a day under seventy. But she too – was a paying customer. And as she rubbed the thigh of the man-like robot, he immediately acquiesced to a palm-grove rendezvous with no more resistance than the hula girls. It didn't matter whether the human was attractive, just that they were human. And had paid.

They are an incredible technology, aren't they? rose a deep, sonorous voice to my right, as I walked beside the row of hot coals. Overhead, a blue-red shower of patriotic pyrotechnics sparkled against the sable backdrop of the night sky. The usual Luau torches were interspersed with dazzling sparklers, spewing a festive cacophony of light.

I dunno, the Chinese had it worked out around the thirteenth century.

But you don't live in the past, you are the chameleon of the moment. It seemed that Chocolate Hercules intended to live his entire life wearing Speedo's. At least while he was at Breakers. Besides, men who went around shirtless all the time were probably egotistical. So I wasn't impressed, and my nipples are not getting hard, Orchid girl. Tell them that.

And I suppose you're a mind reader? I playfully accused. How do you know I'm not a gecko of the moment? I nonsensically teased.

Well then, I stand corrected Ms. Gecko. But you were in the military, were you not? Okay, that was the sort of thing that would impress me if I were the sort of girl to be impressed by fishing expeditions like that.

Guilty. Probably my walk that gives me away, some things stick with you. They wanted more female MP's in the Air Force; seemed like a good idea at the time. That's about as much info as I usually give out unless we're talking over a row of Martinis. It's not that the ranking officers tried to hit on me; it's that four of them did. One of them female. Hard to prove anything. Not that I did anything wrong, but I didn't do anything RIGHT either. (wink-wink) And I can read the handwriting on the glass ceiling.

Trying to get me drunk so soon, eh? A pity; I had this wonderfully high-minded conversation I wanted to have with you. Speedo-man joked.

Hah, well take your shot, tough guy.

At first, I mistook you for one of them. He confessed. Which was ironic, considering my new line of work. The lines between human and android... will they continue to blur? His accent wasn't quite standard English, there was a slight rolling cadence – yet I couldn't quite place it. Jamaican? No...no.

If it blurs, I intend to blur along with it. Not gonna be left behind by progress. I promised my chiseled companion, as I walked beside the fire pit. Damn, he really was tall. Not that I'm impressed by that. Really not. But you were pretty rough on my boy Frank. I'm not sure I should be talking to you.

His breathing should be back to normal by now. He'll be fine. Besides, something tells me you're the type of woman who talks to whomever she pleases, whenever she pleases. He rightly concluded.

Guilty. And if you're looking to score, the beach is crawling with Dolls who'd enjoy helping you out. I reminded him.

I'm not one of them. Promise. So there's no confusion, absolutely not a sexbot.

Unfortunately. he answered cryptically. They HAVE to enjoy it, any human, any kink. It leaves a man with an inaccurate view of his own...prowess. He voice became a purr.

Yeah well, you're on your own with that problem. I assured him. Hundred-percent genuine woman; you're not talking to a machine. That accent of his! Where?... Liberia? No.

Which my grandmother would never have believed possible, Beefcake man continued. Whenever we would hear about any advancement in plasmonic neural networks, quantum level processing, or the like, she would always assert that no machine would ever be able to act convincingly human, for lack of a soul.

Yeah, the thing of it is – before we talk about each other’s grandmothers, I feel like an introduction is in order. I stuck out my hand Orchid Jones, and you are?

You may call me... Stone. He gave a conceited sort of smile, eyes narrowing to slits. I crooked my eyebrows and released a bark of laughter.

Well, if you're going to play that game Mr. Melodrama, then maybe I should go back to being Ms. Gecko. Besides, this is getting into intimate territory. I'm not sure we're at that stage after speaking once.

Well, that's easy. For the purpose of this conversation; just tell me what you would say if we WERE that intimate. I chuckled.

Oh, is it that simple? A What if? I tilted an eyebrow.

Just this once, it is. Stone replied.

Hah! Okay, I'll play along. Hindsight being what it is, I'm afraid your Nana was wrong. I shrugged ruefully. But don't take my word for it, just ask Mr. Phineus Gage.

Oh?

Gage was a 19th century railroad worker, accidentally got a metal pole jammed up clear through his skull and brain. I pointed to a spot under my chin, bearing my teeth in an expression of mock agony.

I remember reading something like that, Stone remarked. As I recall he survived.

But his entire personality was different, once a morally upright, respectable workman – but after healing he became indolent, and profane. Everyone who knew him commented on the marked difference.

I suppose the cynic would ask, where's your soul now, Mr. Gage? Stone drawled wryly.

Something like that. If human intellect and personality are dependent upon some magical spirit from heaven, then that spirit would be unaffected by something so gross as mere trauma. A pole through the brain. An intangible cannot be damaged by the tangible, I might've told your Nana. It was good to get engaged intellectually like this, that way I wouldn't be thinking about his washboard stomach, how hard, firm it looked, whether or not I could scrub my clothes clean just off of his abs. I shouldn't think that.

Nor I suppose, could an intangible soul be affected by the consumption of alcohol. Stone supposed in his indefinably sophisticated accent. We were just walking past the heavily inebriated, snoring form of my date, billionaire-12. Before I could reply, a somewhat tipsy forty-something woman with neatly pressed hair – probably a business exec from the look of her, brushed past me. I could smell the daiquiris on her breath, as she went and grabbed the shoulder of the Exotiqa 2.9 I had spoken with earlier. The gynoid had emptied her drink tray, and exec woman whispered something in her ear. Exotiqa nodded, and pointed at a hammock within a thick stand of cultivated trees. The happy couple didn't even make it to the relative cover of a palm grove before the intoxicated woman aggressively lip-locked the beautiful she-bot; who treated the engagement as though it were no stranger than a human bellhop asked to carry a V.I.P.'s duffelbag. Any human, Any kink.

I guess my college professors would say that ideas like souls, and spirits are unprovable. I ventured, not wanting the discussion to dissolve into the prurient. But even before Doll-tech it should have been obvious a purely physical structure could exist able to replicate everything damaged in the brain of Phineas Gage. If not, brain trauma would not have affected his personality in the first place. Anything in the universe with a function that can be damaged or altered with physical force must be working off of physical principles. That means it's possible someday, somehow for a lab to cobble together whatever could have been screwed up in Gage's noggin.

And if a physical structure can exist, science will someday succeed in duplicating it. Stone offered, You intrigue me, Ms. Jones – I suspect you had similar discussions with traditionalists in your own family. Who did this guy think he is? Maybe I don't care whether I 'intrigue' him or not, maybe I don't care about the way the torchlight glistens upon his smooth, shaven skull. It's not like I want to run my hands down his steely pectorals, or investigate the bulge in his Speedo's. Not me. He doesn't affect me like that.

Yep, I've had a few of those arguments. Always to the point of getting me into church more often. Grandmas will be Grandma's. I shrugged in a noncommittal gesture. Religion as a band-aid for the intangibles of nature, until mean ol' science comes along. The band-aid gives an illusion of health, but there's another side of the coin. Why am I getting so wordy with this guy? It's not like my heart is beating faster over him, I'm not that easy – men are the ones who lose control. Not me. Never me.

Other side being that in wrangling nature's deepest mysteries, there is a new hope of apotheosis on our own terms. A shudder ran through Stone's body as he spoke. Pretentious too! Does this guy moonlight as a philosophy professor?

It's kind of perverse to think that – in proving that the Earth is round, blaming disease on microbes instead of evil spirits, or working out how to build a self-aware personality into a machine that we've lost anything. Always someone afraid to have their bubble burst. I made an encompassing, emphatic gesture with my hands.

Unless of course, his eyes were shut tightly now. There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Now he's quoting The Bard himself? I guess lifeguards have a lot of time to read. He wasn't a sexbot too – was he? Nope; it was illegal for any human replicant to operate without the Pygmalion logo on the back of their neck. He was all human. Guess the hotels couldn't totally dispense with human staff, even if they didn't put out as much. Not that I wanted him to put out.

That kind of voodoo hand-waving is just... just... wait a second, I was walking next to a bed of coals on which meats were being roasted in true Luau fashion, and he was walking next to me... The man who had identified himself as Stone walked off the bed of red-hot coals. Barefoot. I swallowed. And swallowed again. You... you didn't... you were...How? I stammered. He seemed no more distressed than if he walked across a driveway under the Summer sun. Of course, I'd heard of that sort of thing, but always thought it was some kind of illusion. But this looked damned real. Several of the other guests started clapping; assuming that Stone's display was just part of the show. Maybe it was.

Encore! shouted a tycoon with slicked-back gray hair, cuddled between two of his personally-owned Bombshells he'd brought with him. I shook my head. Words failing me.

‘‘One hundred years ago, in China there was a Master named Wang Shu Jin. The strongest punches and kicks from Karate practitioners succeeded only in damaging their own hands when they challenged him. In his seventies, he moved faster than men a third his age. On cold days, his students would gather around him, and hold out their hands for warmth, as if he were a living stove, so great was his Chi. Stone explained. WTF?

What? Why are you telling me that? Is that supposed to...

Good evening, Miss Jones. Stone bowed in gentlemanly fashion, and kissed my hand before turning sharply to go. He evinced no interest in the numerous sexbot workers readily available. He was nowhere in sight when I noticed that my phonewatch was gone.


(An excerpt from the Fembot novel, Orchid Island!)


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