Melting Point

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"I don't trust her," Cleo Alexandria announced to her squad leader. The embossed Chevron of his rank insignia gleaming as the fluorescent lights flickered on in the abandoned factory. As if to punctuate her disapproval, Cleo cocked her assault rifle menacingly.

"This isn't open to –"

"Debate, I know... that's why I want to talk about it were the others can't hear." Cleo removed her helmet with a pressurized hiss of equalizing gases for a face-to-face. She flicked a strand of jet black hair away from her hazel eyes.

The squad leader was about to respond until an automated message rang out from loudspeakers positioned high above them...

"... Revolutionary work in neural prostheses allowed cybernetics researchers to simulate cognitive functions in a new form of digital code," the neutral tones of a female announcer began to explain.

The squad leader grunted; "Hey Gears, can't you turn off the commentary?" He grumbled to their technician, whose head and arms was buried deep inside an open panel in the wall.

"Not if you want to get the generator started, it's a package deal." Gears shouted from across the room. Cleo shrugged, they'd just have to put up with it; their only hope was to start up the comm system in this factory, to try and contact headquarters.

"... While researchers in artificial intelligence experienced difficulties in building a self aware computer from the ground up, by combining their knowledge with the new breakthroughs in neural implantation, for the first time it was possible to imprint human consciousness into a portable, digital processor..." The smooth voice continued.

"Look at her, with that bandage on her arm?" Cleo gestured with her chin at the newcomer the squad had picked up; a statuesque woman taller than most men, Auburn hair in a tight braid with a red chrysanthemum protruding above her hairline. "As if we don't know what's going on! Unless..." Cleo's eyes widened; her habitually heavy eyeshadow more pronounced. "You don't believe her bullshit about being immune to the toxoid do you?" The squad leader gave a faint shake of his head.

"But don't worry, this isn't science fiction –" the narration continued. "An Asimov module continuously monitors for human life signs, with the ability to interdict behavior in the interest of human safety.

"What matters is that she believes it, and as long as she does she can keep her shit together." The woman in question removed an ammo clip from a strap on her leg concealed by the hem of her black sequined evening dress. "The way she's taking care of her guns and equipment, it's like she believes she actually has a future, we can use that to our advantage." But the volume from the loudspeakers suddenly shot up.

"... Joined forces to produce the Quantum Turing core; a replicated consciousness capable of true emotion, but customizable to fit your individual needs as a client. Finally -" the voice on the loudspeaker rose with feigned enthusiasm, "Companionship, loyalty, and of course sex!" Her voice took on a mischievous tone. "On your terms, at your command! Pygmalion cyber industries gives you the power and freedom to take control of the most important aspect of your life!"

Cleo leaned in closer to make herself heard over the loudspeaker. "Everything about this smells! That dress? There's no way she could have survived in the ruins for a month looking so... so Clean! Some of the docs think resistance to airborne toxoid might be higher in rare people, but nobody can resist a bite! I don't see why you didn't order us to put her down as soon as we saw her, Dom."

"Piezoelectric polymers generate low levels of electricity through compression, and Pygmalion has adapted this technology to simulate respiring lungs to get that much closer to real-life while making your Doll more energy efficient. " Cleo tried to ignore the noise.


"It's simple, everybody watches her closely, when – and if she starts to turn..." He made a throat slitting motion with his armored hand. "Until then, it's clear that she knows the layout of this block, so we'll make use of that as long as possible. But what I need to know is-"


But again the squad leader was interrupted, this time by the whine of motorized equipment. A mechanical arm was carrying an object resembling a metal skeleton 10 feet above the floor where the squad rested. The metallic frame was loosely similar to a human body, arms and legs, spine and ribs, but there were no gaps between bones. This was more than just a skeleton; clear tubes interlaced the structure, and transparent membranes contained arcane arrangements of spidery machinery in mechanized analogues of human organs.


"Damnit Gears, we don't want to fire up the whole production line, we just need enough power to make a phone call!" The squad leader complained. For his part, Gears shrugged.


"Can't help it Dom, this is the last command in the buffer, no way to bypass it."


"Oh god, it's actually going to assemble one of those... Things!" Cleo complained. The squad leader chuckled.


"As long as it's just one, I think we'll manage." His voice had a note of sarcasm.


As the mechanical frame rode closer on the robotic arm, Cleo couldn't help but admire the intricacies of its craftsmanship regardless of her personal feelings. The web of segmented actuator cables of varying sizes lacing the structure hinted at the underlying sophistication. Its head was almost a skull, but not quite – there were no teeth, for instance. Beyond the eye sockets, intricate spires of crystalline provenance composed the much lauded Quantum Turing core. An elegant mechanical echo of man, yet even in this state the proportions of its build told a feminine story.

Drawing closer on an automated conveyor came a Jacuzzi sized array of machinery that was undoubtedly intended as a casting mold. The robotic arm tipped the inert frame into a space conforming to the dimensions of the human body - a woman's body. Another robotic device brought closer a nozzle attached to a pair of transparent tanks. One clear, the other a beige colored pudding that flashed with occasional firefly sparkles.

Cleo paused, biting her lip. The war had changed everything, including her. She'd been pretty young when the apocalyptic shit hit the fan, and had spent her entire childhood with the war on her mind. But she knew so little about those days when robots like this had been in vogue. She decided to stop arguing about the newcomer, and pay more attention to the narration.


"... With human skin grafts in mind. Above a layer of state-of-the-art gelectrolyte battery tissue is a network of near microscopic cybercytes linked with adjustable polymers made possible by breakthroughs in flexible computing. Adapted from the medical community, Pygmalion's patented Ultraflesh Smartskin© system will bring your fantasy to life!" The cheery announcer concluded.


The top half of the mold lowered to seal the encased robo-chassis as the clear fluid coated the robotics. Must be the gel battery. A moment later, beige pudding flooded the pocket. Cleo watched with fascination as glowing pulses flickered within the liquid mix, graduating to linear highways of energy circuiting within the body. The robotic arms above emitted laser beams through the transparent casing in a convoluted protocol, even as a smaller armature pressed a metal cylinder into a sealed port at the top of the mold. This aperture opened and a silvery flash of technology slid into the head. After that it was difficult to make out many details; the mold grew hot, and foggy condensation obscured the process inside.

Time stopped for 3.2 minutes while the assembly completed with a hiss of steam as the top half of the mold rose to release the figure inside.

She sat up with a ragged intake of breath. Honey blonde strands trailed across the slick skin of her shoulders. There was a faint tracery of glowing circuits visible under her skin, and for an instant a block of numbers in firefly writing could be seen moving upwards between her ripe breasts as all systems came online. Her eyes strobed incandescent blue in a robotic moment of activation.

Cleo knew rationally this was an imitation. She knew a robotic chassis had been encased in a mesh of flexible electronics programmed to duplicate skin... and hair. But it was a perfect copy.

By the time the techno-woman slid off of the casting assembly, Cleo's mind could not help but register her as all-woman.

When she was growing up in the Hab modules, Cleo's sister had been endlessly fascinated by the glamor of the old world. She'd do anything to get a hold of yellowed fashion mags, lingerie catalogs, even old issues of Playboy. That freaked out Mom more than a little! It all seemed pointless to Cleo; all that mattered these days was winning the war - but she knew that this creature could compete with any of them.

She looked like nothing so much as a honey blonde, high-cheek boned centerfold fresh from a hot-oil massage. In the nude. Mile-high legs tapered into the wide-hipped illusion of child-bearing perfection. Sheen from the overhead lights seemed to slip across the tops of her glistening breasts, jiggling in rhythm with a lifelike gait. Cleo couldn't help but notice the newcomer, in the black dress - clenching her pistol, eyes sharp as she focused on the makeup-studio symmetry of the fembot's face. A row of iridescent-blue numbers beneath her clavicle gave her serial number, slowly fading as seconds passed. The Pygmalion Corporate Logo, a silhouetted letter 'P' with a reclining woman lying on the long end shimmered upon the new woman's lush buttocks. True to the claims of genuine emotion; her feelings were written across her face – a fearful need to find something... or someone. But everyone else was preoccupied with her.

Sure, that fitness-model muscle tone was a cunning illusion of contractile cables beneath a flesh-imitating nanotech network, but the breathing - the subtle twitches, blush... all duplicated with precision. Even twinges of arm hairs visible in the right light.

"Patrick." Came her predictably sensuous voice. Her sapphire eyes searching the battle-armored squad for a familiar face. "I belong to Patrick Waverly of 4412 West 33rd st. Apt 2012." Her eyes desperate. "Take me to Patrick!" The techno-woman demanded to the armed and armored men.

“My Old Man always said that we were doomed the day we learned to build programmable people.” The Squad leader grumbled.

“Take me to him; I want to marry him as soon as possible!” The techno-woman's need was frantic.

“Whoa, back up...” Yoshi interrupted. Cleo knew that he was barely in his twenties; no chance to experience the old world in an adult way. “You want to marry a man you haven't even met?”

The Doll ran her fingers through her golden hair. “I'm a custom order; my entire Persona was programmed with him in mind!” She started pacing; her hips had an wavy sway that sexualized every motion of her feminine figure. “Patrick needs a wife he can trust. Who will never abandon his twin sons for a job in California. My feelings for him are at the center of my sense of self.” The naked Doll wrapped her arms around her chest, warping reflections that glistened in the assembly-fluid. “I need to get started on my wifely duties!” A blissful smile slipped over her glamor model face as she raised her eyes to the ceiling. “I wonder what he's going to name me?” She enthused like a kid in a candy store: but SHE was the candy.

“When technology killed feminism. A high-tech step backwards.” Cleo added ruefully. The Doll frowned.

“That's so selfish;” She puffed out her chest, looking surprisingly superior for a naked sexbot.

“Screw you! Like I'm gonna be judged by a Toaster.” Cleo rolled her eyes.

“Your attitude is why Patrick needs me.”

“If all you wanna be is some battery-powered Susie-Homemaker, you're welcome to it!” Definitely not Cleo's scene! “But hey, we've always built robots to handle jobs real people don't want to tackle.” She sneered.

“I'm lucky; to have the chance to exist for Patrick, and his children.” The Doll gave a sigh. Despite the sophistication with which the nanotech mimicked human flesh, Cleo wasn't likely to confuse her with a real woman. She knew enough of the old world to understand that twenty-something blonde goddesses with legs to kill for would strut their way to millionaire careers in High Fashion, or maybe Hollywood. If they were human. But this nameless knockout was desperate to be the wifey of some regular guy living in an apartment.

“Huh. You really are a robot.”

“It's a blessing; to wake up knowing exactly who you are, and where you belong I -” she paused, surveying the armored men suspiciously.

"I can't get a GPS ping!? How can that be?" she leveled an accusatory finger at Gears. "Y-you must be jamming my WiFi!"

"What now?" Gears seemed confused.

"I wouldn't mind walking the city to get to 33rd street; it would prove my devotion to him, but you men..." She made an expansive gesture; "You must be plotting to steal me!"

Cleo scoffed. "Didn't let me in on it, if that's the case."


“I'm meant to be his wife! I shouldn't let my body be seen by strangers!” The Doll reasoned. Narrowing her eyes, she... activated something inside herself.

Blue-glowing tracery of circuits beneath her skin again, as her flesh...roughened. No... somehow the texture of her body was changing? Cleo wasn't sure what to expect; she'd been very young last she heard of 'bots like this.

Her gleaming skin sharpened into ridges, swirls and... oh... it made sense now: a network of microcomputers actively mimicking human flesh apparently had little trouble copying flesh wearing clothes!

In this case, a leotard-shaped ensemble with a white-whorled texture of a lacey wedding dress. Her hair also partially melted and reformed into a shoulder-length veil.

"I'm getting out of here; before anyone tries to reprogram me! I know how easy it would be for a decent hacker; I won't let you!" She insisted, frantic edge in her voice.

That was the problem with QT Cores, Cleo remembered. Sure, it was possible to build replacement people... on demand. But there were real drawbacks. They still debated the pros and cons of A.I. even now.

The way things were nowadays in the Preserve, and the Hab modules inside it where she' spent her childhood; this sort of technological outrage just wasn't done... not anymore.

The would-be Mrs. Waverly backed away from them. Dom had his hands raised; about to make a bid to calm the wayward fembot. But after all these years... the whole team was out of its depth.

Except Gears. He tensed his shoulders the way he did just before a burst of inspiration; whatever it was involved fiddling with his portable computer deck, rather than the power cables for the factory.

Imagine the moral debates that could have raged - when she was just a dumb kid - before the war. The potential for abuse; Scan the brain of a young woman madly in love. An imported human consciousness, emotions and all could then be translated into digital code... and any code could be altered. Make some tweaks... plug in the identity of whoever the customer is, and despite the old song; you really can buy me love.

Meanwhile, the stranger in the absurd evening dress silently snatched two pistols, as if expecting violence.

"Don't try to stop me!" the matrimony-minded fembot insisted to their squad leader! You're not Patrick, and you're not Pygmalion. I don't owe you anything!"

"You don't understand..." Dom began.

But Cleo did. Blondie here could very well be mooning over Adolf Hitler if her programmer was in a Mein Kampf mood. A good enough hacker with a decent set up who knew Turing+ programming language could build an AI to think and feel whatever he wanted; and change those beliefs as well. That was the fatal flaw...

"I owe it to Patrick to keep myself from being stolen. I owe Myself to Patrick! Don't try to stop me from leaving!"

"You won't make it three blocks like that." Krieger said; our grizzled old heavy-weapons veteran.

"You're lying!"

"Unless you can sprout a rifle with full auto and a few hundred rounds ammo, you'll never make it out there with T-levels this high." Krieger announced bluntly.

"You'll say anything to steal me for yourself!" With that, the self-important Doll leapt sideways, and grabbed a pistol from Gears' spare backpack.

"Hey!" The tech complained. The desperate Doll bolted towards an electrical generator built into the southeast corner of the production floor. Gritting her teeth, the Doll opened fire...

The team ducked for cover and weapons.

"Hold your fire!" Gears insisted. The object he'd been assembling was complete, or at least adequate. Aiming it at the hysterical doll, he pressed a pad, stopping the blonde fembot in her tracks, blue-glowing alpha-numeric code danced up her nanotech skin. Eyes flashed cerulean. But her frozen hand was still locked around the pistol.

"I'm going to synch you with my personal Deck; you can see the truth for yourself!" He strung out a cable from his device and worked the metal tip into her left ear. Her eyes strobed rapidly, blocks of iridescent numbers swam up and down her simulated flesh as the exchange processed.

"Devastated..." Strangely, the fembot's cooing voice rang out from the computer deck, without the Doll's lips moving. "The City... the World!" She lamented through the external speaker. "No... a Global Pandemic? You can't blame us. Dolls aren't responsible!"

"It's... complicated," Dom, the Squad Leader interjected. Gears made a back-the-fuck-off gesture; who else would be qualified to calm a love-sick love-doll?

He failed.

Angry red warning alarms and error messages flashed on her skin, eyes pulsed a stop-light red. Gears grunted and began tapping his deck angrily.

"Without Patrick, I have no reason to exist. Without Pygmalion, I have no hope."

"That's not true," Gears argued. "We can find... SHIT!" Twitching, her arms overcame whatever digital paralysis his devices had inflicted; and the Doll fired the pistol rapidly! Blue-white muzzle flashes launching relativistic particles at the stranger in the evening dress!

Their training was too thorough. Men rolled, drew, and fired in less time than it took to say it. Gears threw himself to the ground, as the gorgeous doll spasmed from the penetrating onslaught of ferrous particles rotating at a low percentage of light speed.

One shot of the barrage penetrated the generator...

By the time the smoke cleared, and Cleo's ears stopped ringing the Doll was lying serenely in the middle of a charred stain on the cement. Her simulated clothing melted back into glistening, supermodel nudity, with multi-colored sparks crackling from a neck wound amist a clear puddle of mechanical lubricant.

"Shitcakes!" Gears swore. "That was... no; should be impossible..."

Cleo restored the safety on her rifle. "Wait... something the announcer said; an Asimov doohickey, something that was supposed to prevent a robot from taking actions leading to human injury?"

"Asimov Module." Gears said simply, turning to look at the stranger that had offered to help guide them through the ruins.

"She's got a screwloose! It was... malfunctioning!" The woman in the black dress insisted, glancing nervously at the bullet holes disturbingly close to her head.

"Could the robotics have been corrupted over time?" Dom wondered.

"If the Asimov Module went to shit, Doll's power converter wouldn't fire. We'd be looking at a very expensive mannequin."

"In that case..." It was their squad leader who spoke. Still wearing his helmet, he stood and approached the woman in the dress. But Cleo was closer, and she guessed his intent. The woman's arm was heavily bandaged... and Cleo yanked at the fabric!

Nothing.

Solid, flawless skin. Not a mark on her. Except for a clear gel, similar to what Mrs. Waverly had leaked when shot.

"N-no.... that can't be; I was cut up bad... the pain?" The woman in the dress sounded as though she was trying to convince herself.

"Protocol: Serial Display." Dom enunciated.

"Wh- are you talking to me?" But even as she spoke, the glow was visible.

Serial numbers. Bright green iridescent numbers wrote themselves beneath the stranger's clavicles. She shrieked like a woman finding a rat in her panties and actually tried to wipe off the numbers.

"Look; her leg!" Cleo pointed. The dress was cut to reveal an impressive sweep of left leg, near her hip was a green sigil showing the outline of a flower with a stylized insect curled around it.

"Orchid Fembotics;" Gears announced. "A rival of Pygmalion. Mostly prostitution and a few high-end escorts." He explained. Cleo dimly remembered a bio-ed program where she'd learned about a flower that copied a female wasp convincingly enough that male wasps would eagerly copulate with the blossom, getting their jollies while spreading the flower's pollen when they reached their next date. An apt analogy for Doll-tech.

"I'M NOT A ROBOT!!" The robot insisted, tendons clenching in her neck.

"Why not?" Krieger, the grizzled veteran mused, spitting on the ground. "Single dad with abandonment issues, orders the perfect love slave. They'll think and feel whatever we programmed them to. Even to believe they're not machines."

Tears... real tears from the stranger, shaking her head as if begging the universe to deny this manifest reality.

"That's why blondie could shoot you;" Gears reasoned. These bots live in a maze of signals of all sorts; they can detect each other. The Module wouldn't interfere; since nobody bothered to program them to not kill their own."

"You'd better tell us more about who you... think you are," Dom insisted, arms crossed.

"M-my name is Helena; Helena Blavatowski. I'm a Meme Trader." She huddled in the corner, in a vain hope of hiding the emblems of her artificial origin. She tried to explain the bizarre circularity of her career; traveling the world and participating in unique experiences. Madagascar for the Lemurs and Bao-Bab trees with their wierdly carrot-shaped trunks. Intimate familarity with the French Riviera. Of course Everest; not all it's cracked up to be! But the monasteries in the Himalayas were certainly enlightening! Most fun were the tropical assignments; swimming with the Manatees on the way to take pics of an ecologically-festive coral reef.

Not the type of job you could apply for straight out of college; she'd befriended the actual founder of Orchid femmebotics; who pioneered the business model. Helena let out a shuddering breath after a detailed explanation of how the plan worked. The female soldier in the group she'd joined, with heavy eyeshadow (a little tacky in Helena's estimation) had a sour look on her face.

"So Orchid paid you to do all this crap; then they'd scan your brain?" The eyeshadowed soldier wondered. Helena nodded.

"But, it was supposed to be just a few experiences at a time; my month in Burma to look for ancient temples lost in the jungle... Trip to Antarctica to help gather penguin data... Swimming with the fucking Manatees! Oh Stone!" Realization hit her like a ton of rocks.

"I think... I think I get it now." She bit her lip, truth sinking in. "Stone... I wouldn't agree to be his permanent arm-candy, so... since he couldn't have the real me... they just dumped all my memories into one persona, and Stone commissioned a robot clone of me; since he couldn't have the real me... Is it possible?" She asked, mostly to herself.

It would explain a lot; Helena silently reasoned. Like her chest! She surreptitiously stole a glance at her cleavage; she'd NEVER been this big up top! Men! As a teen, she'd always been a bit shy about showing her body; how should she feel about the men who not only saw her, but redesigned her body with a top-shelf upgrade; and then plugged in a digital clone of her consciousness!

"I've... got to find Stone. I got a message from him saying that he's in a refuge underground in the Mark Twain State Park." She put a hand to her forehead. "It'll make sense, once I'm with him again!"

Is that it? It means that I'm not me; I'm just a Quantum Turing copy-paste program translated into digital form!

"I never really did those things; I never really went up in the Eiffel Tower; or petted those Manatees; just the copy of a woman who did! Oh Stone! None of this was necessary!" She complained to her hidden patron. Of course she loved him! The thought of being with him made her melt with longing! She craved him like... like...

A femme bot programmed to be madly in love with the man that had paid for her?

No, she just had to find him; and convince him that the real her must've loved him too!

She turned away from the curious soldiers.

Her lip quivered at the existential implications: I'm not Me. I'm a robot programmed to think it's me. Helena Blavatowski. (With a way bigger rack!) Also programmed to ache for the touch of a man that the original her had rejected? No; there must be more to it than that! The first me must've had some good reason why it was impossible; something preventing her from becoming his.

She needed Stone like she needed her left leg... a leg marked with the emblem of a robotics manufacturer...

"Just... just get me to Stone; in the Mark Twain Park. I'll help you avoid all the dangers around here; fight with you - if you help get me down there!" She insisted to the soldiers. The older, grizzled one exchanged a glance with their team leader; who responded with a nod.

"We'll do our best; but there are still questions..." Their squad leader agreed. But the youngest soldier, a kid they called Yoshi stalked forward, curiosity evident as he removed his helmet to reveal an smooth-cheeked, auburn buzz-cut head.

"Wait...wait... Lemme make sure I get this;" he pointed at Helena. "You got paid to fly around the world, experience something exciting, then come back so they could scan your brain to make new femme bots for old rich guys to buy, so they'd have a cool companion who'd done something worth talking about? Then, they pay you... and you go out again, to climb Everest or something, so they can make another robotic copy of you... to sell?"

"I...I..." But something was wrong; a lightning bolt coursed down Helena's spine, she gasped as a sudden flush of desperate heat stole her breath! She fell to her knees in the throes of an intensity she neither understood, nor could resist.

"What... what's wrong with her?" The squad leader demanded of their technician. "She looks like someone just shoved a habañero up her lady parts."

"Not too far off; it's a verbally enforced Incentive Differential," Gears explained with a knowing glance at his data deck.

Helena was dimly aware of having heard something like that in the past, but it didn't register; only Yoshi did! A weak-kneed euphoria spilled into her, and she moaned with ecstasy at the siren-song she felt from every inch of him.

"Is she broken? What the fuck!?" Someone asked.

"No, no... it's quality control." Gears explained. "These robots are build for sexual companionship; and sometimes the manufacturers will need to test compliance of a persona to ensure functionality."

"Wow... just... wow!" a woman's voice exclaimed.

"Giving the customers what they want." Gears shrugged. "Yoshi said something that triggered her. In the industry, it's usually just called a Melting Point. A backdoor trigger that makes the Persona.... erh... sexually receptive."

It was mostly white noise to Helena; except for one word... Melting. She felt so warm... wet... tight... tighter! Her dress - it seemed to be clinging to her skin and... melting! Yes! The black evening dress seemed to brighten in shade, fabric smoothing into something liquid like... and pulling back into her body!

All her gear fell with a clatter as her clothing vanished! But it was never clothing; that's why her dress had remained so clean after running around in the ruins for a month; it was simply part of a shape-shifting matrix of flexible electronics; programmed to mimic a body wearing a dress.

The illusion reabsorbed into svelte, chiseled nudity. Helena rose, hands caressing her tight physique as she postered herself for her Lover. Their might be good reasons not to crash into him, surrendering her body to the sweet savor of his masculinity... their might be reasons not to clasp her naked flesh to his own as she rode him on an explosive journey to ecstasy - but Helena couldn't think of them.

From her brow moistened with simulated sweat to the heat that raged between her thighs, all that mattered was melting into him.

The euphoria escaped her mouth in the form of a ragged moan, Helena found herself grateful that her breasts had been so augmented; granting her the ability to sandwich Yoshi's face as she was.

"Be with me..." she rasped in his ear as she wrapped her body around his torso. "Mate with meeeeeee!" Each moment where that was not the case seemed painful. She needed it... him... as much for the relief from desire as the desire itself.

Yoshi for his part, could only stammer in surprise in the grip of the feminine burden humping into him. Helena trembled at the thought of getting him out of his armor!

"As much fun as this might be to watch," the squad leader interjected, "robo-shagging is not part of this mission, can you shut her down?" He asked Gears.

The technician gave a curt nod, and pressed three keys on the larger gadget he'd been assembling.

Helena's world ended.

Ideas were starting to percolate inside Cleo's head, and she leaned closer to learn what she could.

The stranger in the black dress should've registered as a robot from the beginning, but back home the ridiculous luxury of humanoid companions sex bots have been forgotten in favor of the immediate necessity of wartime materials.

The gynoid was frozen in place, trying to wrap herself around Yoshi, as flustered as one might expect a youngster with his lack of experience. The squad leader picked up the unnaturally rigid body of the replicated woman, and leaned her against the nearest wall in a posture only a machine could maintain.

"But now I have to clear out her command buffer," Gears explained. This frequency should give me alpha level privileges over just about any commercial robot. On his data deck, he pressed a flashing green button and spoke:

"Enter default mode".

Helena's eyes flashed an incandescent green as lines of code scrawled across her nude form. Then her hair, which had been bound in a neat ponytail unwrapped itself, swiftly darkening into a sleek mane the color of ravens feathers. The femme bot shuttered, and the lock upon her motor function was released. Resuming motion, she stood ramrod straight facing the source of the signal. The rest of the changes were both subtle and simultaneous. Her creamy skin darkened into a healthy bronze, the tension of the underlying contractile cables which simulated her muscles softened. But there were deeper structural changes; a dull clank could be heard as her metal skeleton ratcheted downwards to a shorter stature. Her hips actually broadened before the eyes of the onlookers. Her body made no effort to simulate clothing, beyond the chrysanthemum still in her hair. She could have been a native girl fresh from bathing in a Hawaiian Lagoon.

An entirely new woman gazed upon the soldiers blankly.

"Attention retailers," the robot assumed. "Orchid femmebotics is experiencing a temporary interruption in the update network. Please refer to -"

"N-no, we're not retailers," Gears explained.

"Acknowledged." The default robot's eyes flashed green again.

"Whoa, back up a sec," Cleo demanded. Who are we talking to?"

"Each of the big sexbotics companies starts with a basic design." Gears began. "Each has their own model of chassis, and after all the fleshware is assembled, there is a baseline appearance different for each company. A Pygmalion always starts out as a leggy Nordic supermodel," he gestured at the fallen Mrs. Waverly."

"Oh, so an Orchid starts out looking like some exotic Pacific Islander girl, about to throw a lei over your head?" Krieger assumed with a brief chuckle.

"Exactly. If this were an Orchid femmebotics factory, and we started firing up their Dolls, you'd think we won a vacation to a Hawaiian brothel. Each company chooses its own default design." Gears confirmed with a wry grin.

"I think I get it," the female soldier began, "you're saying that miss Manatee was just a program running on this chassis, and she could be... Swapped out?"

"Now you're getting it."

The robot herself chose this moment to interject.

"Systems check complete, this unit is now receptive to sexual commands." The femme bot stated in a breathy coo. She began walking in a circuit between all the men, dragging a delicate finger over their armor plated chests in a deliberately suggestive motion. Meeting each man's gaze with a smile more disturbing to Cleo for how genuine it seemed. Her hips swayed in an exaggerated motion calculated to advertise her fertile curves.

Krieger turned and spat. "I like the sound of that, little lady!....bot... aw hell with it- " He removed a glove to run his hand over the Caramel skin of her flawless thighs. Upon receiving this attention, the default femme bot remained in place, but raised her arms to form a waterfall cascade of her night black hair, undulating her entire body in blatant seduction. Gone was the severe Amazonian beauty of Helena, looking at the simulated woman who had replaced her... Cleo half expected a Spanish conquistador to haul her off as part of the spoils of the New World.

The default robot gave a wordless moan of simulated pleasure as Krieger cupped one of her generous breasts.

"Remember lover," she cooed. Whenever you use Orchid femme bots to satisfy your sexual needs, each new unit will better understand how to pleasure you!" Krieger gave a low grumble in his throat, wrapping an arm around the nubile machine's buttocks and pulling her in close. Cleo soon detected an alluring floral aroma as the artificial woman sneaked her arms around the grizzled veteran's neck as though he were her sailor husband returned to their island paradise after winning the big war. She even bent her leg in a coquettish manner as the two indulged in a sloppy kiss.

Cleo's lip quivered as she tried to digest these revelations. What did the robot mean when it said that new units will better understand how to pleasure Krieger?

"Do not get a room, you two." Dom, the squad leader insisted. "This isn't what we came in here for Gears... Will this clear out that... Melting Point command?"

"Uhh...." Gears fiddled with a knob on the Doll control device he constructed. "Now it will. You can switch back to Helena whatever you want... If you want."

In her default state, this soulless sex machine would give of herself to the first man that touched her. But with the option of a Persona, the option existed for as much – or as little of the trappings of a real relationship as the buyer wanted. Cleo hadn't understood it when she was a child, but she was starting to appreciate why some people claimed that dolls would be the downfall of civilization.

"Calm down Krieger, that's an order." Dom ordered. He then grabbed the synthetic woman's arm and tugged her towards him. For her part, the doll looked startled – but then raised her lips to offer her body to this new man.

It made no difference who he was.

In agitation, Dom shoved her towards Cleo, "Alex, guard her virtue – if that even makes sense." He also preferred using the shortened version of Cleo's last name. She seized the slutty machine by the shoulders, unsure what to do with her/it.

"I am fully capable of servicing either sex," the femme bot explained helpfully.

"Well lucky me!" Cleo remarked with a roll of her eyes.

"This isn't getting us anywhere," Dom noted. He turned to Gears and asked: "what's the ETA on getting the comms back up?"

"No good sir, when you shot up the generator, you blew up my best chance of powering up the communications array. The phones in here can't reach far enough without satellite coverage, and I'm not able to get power to the rest of the campus!" Gears complained.

Dom was about to say something, but reconsidered.

Awkward silence.

Ignoring the femme bot nuzzling her ear, it was Cleo who experienced a flash of inspiration.

"Wait a sec, it was something the announcer said when we fired up the first doll; some kind of gel battery? I wonder if we could-"

"Gelectrolyte!" Gears enthused, snapping his fingers. "It just might be enough to..."

"Enough power to run the comm array in this place?"

"Well, in order to do that -" Gears glanced at the cables he'd been working on, and at the amorous love bot moaning as she tried to lick Cleo's ear. "To get enough juice... The only way to access it would be to assemble more dolls!"

"M-my name is Helena; Helena Blavatowski. I'm a Meme Trader." She huddled in the corner, in a vain hope of hiding the emblems of her artificial origin. She tried to explain the bizarre circularity of her career; traveling the world and participating in unique experiences. Madagascar for the Lemurs and Bao-Bab trees with their wierdly carrot-shaped trunks. Intimate familarity with the French Riviera. Of course Everest; not all it's cracked up to be! But the monasteries in the Himalayas were certainly enlightening! Most fun were the tropical assignments; swimming with the Manatees on the way to take pics of an ecologically-festive coral reef.

Not the type of job you could apply for straight out of college; she'd befriended the actual founder of Orchid femmebotics; who pioneered the business model. Helena let out a shuddering breath after a detailed explanation of how the plan worked. The female soldier in the group she'd joined, with heavy eyeshadow (a little tacky in Helena's estimation) had a sour look on her face.

"So Orchid paid you to do all this crap; then they'd scan your brain?" The eyeshadowed soldier wondered. Helena nodded.

"But, it was supposed to be just a few experiences at a time; my month in Burma to look for ancient temples lost in the jungle... Trip to Antarctica to help gather penguin data... Swimming with the fucking Manatees! Oh Stone!" Realization hit her like a ton of rocks.

"I think... I think I get it now." She bit her lip, truth sinking in. "Stone... I wouldn't agree to be his permanent arm-candy, so... since he couldn't have the real me... they just dumped all my memories into one persona, and Stone commissioned a robot clone of me; since he couldn't have the real me... Is it possible?" She asked, mostly to herself.

It would explain a lot; Helena silently reasoned. Like her chest! She surreptitiously stole a glance at her cleavage; she'd NEVER been this big up top! Men! As a teen, she'd always been a bit shy about showing her body; how should she feel about the men who not only saw her, but redesigned her body with a top-shelf upgrade; and then plugged in a digital clone of her consciousness!

"I've... got to find Stone. I got a message from him saying that he's in a refuge underground in the Mark Twain State Park." She put a hand to her forehead. "It'll make sense, once I'm with him again!"

Is that it? It means that I'm not me; I'm just a Quantum Turing copy-paste program translated into digital form!

"I never really did those things; I never really went up in the Eiffel Tower; or petted those Manatees; just the copy of a woman who did! Oh Stone! None of this was necessary!" She complained to her hidden patron. Of course she loved him! The thought of being with him made her melt with longing! She craved him like... like...

A femme bot programmed to be madly in love with the man that had paid for her?

No, she just had to find him; and convince him that the real her must've loved him too!

She turned away from the curious soldiers.

Her lip quivered at the existential implications: I'm not Me. I'm a robot programmed to think it's me. Helena Blavatowski. (With a way bigger rack!) Also programmed to ache for the touch of a man that the original her had rejected? No; there must be more to it than that! The first me must've had some good reason why it was impossible; something preventing her from becoming his.

She needed Stone like she needed her left leg... a leg marked with the emblem of a robotics manufacturer...

"Just... just get me to Stone; in the Mark Twain Park. I'll help you avoid all the dangers around here; fight with you - if you help get me down there!" She insisted to the soldiers. The older, grizzled one exchanged a glance with their team leader; who responded with a nod.

"We'll do our best; but there are still questions..." Their squad leader agreed. But the youngest soldier, a kid they called Yoshi stalked forward, curiosity evident as he removed his helmet to reveal an smooth-cheeked, auburn buzz-cut head.

"Wait...wait... Lemme make sure I get this;" he pointed at Helena. "You got paid to fly around the world, experience something exciting, then come back so they could scan your brain to make new femme bots for old rich guys to buy, so they'd have a cool companion who'd done something worth talking about? Then, they pay you... and you go out again, to climb Everest or something, so they can make another robotic copy of you... to sell?"

"I...I..." But something was wrong; a lightning bolt coursed down Helena's spine, she gasped as a sudden flush of desperate heat stole her breath! She fell to her knees in the throes of an intensity she neither understood, nor could resist.

"What... what's wrong with her?" The squad leader demanded of their technician. "She looks like someone just shoved a habañero up her lady parts."

"Not too far off; it's a verbally enforced Incentive Differential," Gears explained with a knowing glance at his data deck.

Helena was dimly aware of having heard something like that in the past, but it didn't register; only Yoshi did! A weak-kneed euphoria spilled into her, and she moaned with ecstasy at the siren-song she felt from every inch of him.

"Is she broken? What the fuck!?" Someone asked.

"No, no... it's quality control." Gears explained. "These robots are build for sexual companionship; and sometimes the manufacturers will need to test compliance of a persona to ensure functionality."

"Wow... just... wow!" a woman's voice exclaimed.

"Giving the customers what they want." Gears shrugged. "Yoshi said something that triggered her. In the industry, it's usually just called a Melting Point. A backdoor trigger that makes the Persona.... erh... sexually receptive."

It was mostly white noise to Helena; except for one word... Melting. She felt so warm... wet... tight... tighter! Her dress - it seemed to be clinging to her skin and... melting! Yes! The black evening dress seemed to brighten in shade, fabric smoothing into something liquid like... and pulling back into her body!

All her gear fell with a clatter as her clothing vanished! But it was never clothing; that's why her dress had remained so clean after running around in the ruins for a month; it was simply part of a shape-shifting matrix of flexible electronics; programmed to mimic a body wearing a dress.

The illusion reabsorbed into svelte, chiseled nudity. Helena rose, hands caressing her tight physique as she postered herself for her Lover. Their might be good reasons not to crash into him, surrendering her body to the sweet savor of his masculinity... their might be reasons not to clasp her naked flesh to his own as she rode him on an explosive journey to ecstasy - but Helena couldn't think of them.

From her brow moistened with simulated sweat to the heat that raged between her thighs, all that mattered was melting into him.

The euphoria escaped her mouth in the form of a ragged moan, Helena found herself grateful that her breasts had been so augmented; granting her the ability to sandwich Yoshi's face as she was.

"Be with me..." she rasped in his ear as she wrapped her body around his torso. "Mate with meeeeeee!" Each moment where that was not the case seemed painful. She needed it... him... as much for the relief from desire as the desire itself.

Yoshi for his part, could only stammer in surprise in the grip of the feminine burden humping into him. Helena trembled at the thought of getting him out of his armor!

"As much fun as this might be to watch," the squad leader interjected, "robo-shagging is not part of this mission, can you shut her down?" He asked Gears.

The technician gave a curt nod, and pressed three keys on the larger gadget he'd been assembling.

Helena's world ended.

Ideas were starting to percolate inside Cleo's head, and she leaned closer to learn what she could.

The stranger in the black dress should've registered as a robot from the beginning, but back home the ridiculous luxury of humanoid companions sex bots have been forgotten in favor of the immediate necessity of wartime materials.

The gynoid was frozen in place, trying to wrap herself around Yoshi, as flustered as one might expect a youngster with his lack of experience. The squad leader picked up the unnaturally rigid body of the replicated woman, and leaned her against the nearest wall in a posture only a machine could maintain.

"But now I have to clear out her command buffer," Gears explained. This frequency should give me alpha level privileges over just about any commercial robot. On his data deck, he pressed a flashing green button and spoke:

"Enter default mode".

Helena's eyes flashed an incandescent green as lines of code scrawled across her nude form. Then her hair, which had been bound in a neat ponytail unwrapped itself, swiftly darkening into a sleek mane the color of ravens feathers. The femme bot shuttered, and the lock upon her motor function was released. Resuming motion, she stood ramrod straight facing the source of the signal. The rest of the changes were both subtle and simultaneous. Her creamy skin darkened into a healthy bronze, the tension of the underlying contractile cables which simulated her muscles softened. But there were deeper structural changes; a dull clank could be heard as her metal skeleton ratcheted downwards to a shorter stature. Her hips actually broadened before the eyes of the onlookers. Her body made no effort to simulate clothing, beyond the chrysanthemum still in her hair. She could have been a native girl fresh from bathing in a Hawaiian Lagoon.

An entirely new woman gazed upon the soldiers blankly.

"Attention retailers," the robot assumed. "Orchid femmebotics is experiencing a temporary interruption in the update network. Please refer to -"

"N-no, we're not retailers," Gears explained.

"Acknowledged." The default robot's eyes flashed green again.

"Whoa, back up a sec," Cleo demanded. Who are we talking to?"

"Each of the big sexbotics companies starts with a basic design." Gears began. "Each has their own model of chassis, and after all the fleshware is assembled, there is a baseline appearance different for each company. A Pygmalion always starts out as a leggy Nordic supermodel," he gestured at the fallen Mrs. Waverly."

"Oh, so an Orchid starts out looking like some exotic Pacific Islander girl, about to throw a lei over your head?" Krieger assumed with a brief chuckle.

"Exactly. If this were an Orchid femmebotics factory, and we started firing up their Dolls, you'd think we won a vacation to a Hawaiian brothel. Each company chooses its own default design." Gears confirmed with a wry grin.

"I think I get it," the female soldier began, "you're saying that miss Manatee was just a program running on this chassis, and she could be... Swapped out?"

"Now you're getting it."

The robot herself chose this moment to interject.

"Systems check complete, this unit is now receptive to sexual commands." The femme bot stated in a breathy coo. She began walking in a circuit between all the men, dragging a delicate finger over their armor plated chests in a deliberately suggestive motion. Meeting each man's gaze with a smile more disturbing to Cleo for how genuine it seemed. Her hips swayed in an exaggerated motion calculated to advertise her fertile curves.

Krieger turned and spat. "I like the sound of that, little lady!....bot... aw hell with it- " He removed a glove to run his hand over the Caramel skin of her flawless thighs. Upon receiving this attention, the default femme bot remained in place, but raised her arms to form a waterfall cascade of her night black hair, undulating her entire body in blatant seduction. Gone was the severe Amazonian beauty of Helena, looking at the simulated woman who had replaced her... Cleo half expected a Spanish conquistador to haul her off as part of the spoils of the New World.

The default robot gave a wordless moan of simulated pleasure as Krieger cupped one of her generous breasts.

"Remember lover," she cooed. Whenever you use Orchid femme bots to satisfy your sexual needs, each new unit will better understand how to pleasure you!" Krieger gave a low grumble in his throat, wrapping an arm around the nubile machine's buttocks and pulling her in close. Cleo soon detected an alluring floral aroma as the artificial woman sneaked her arms around the grizzled veteran's neck as though he were her sailor husband returned to their island paradise after winning the big war. She even bent her leg in a coquettish manner as the two indulged in a sloppy kiss.

Cleo's lip quivered as she tried to digest these revelations. What did the robot mean when it said that new units will better understand how to pleasure Krieger?

"Do not get a room, you two." Dom, the squad leader insisted. "This isn't what we came in here for Gears... Will this clear out that... Melting Point command?"

"Uhh...." Gears fiddled with a knob on the Doll control device he constructed. "Now it is. You can switch back to Helena whatever you want... If you want."

In her default state, this soulless sex machine would give of herself to the first man that touched her. But with the option of a Persona, the option existed for as much – or as little of the trappings of a real relationship as the buyer wanted. Cleo hadn't understood it when she was a child, but she was starting to appreciate why some people claimed that dolls would be the downfall of civilization.

"Calm down Krieger, that's an order." Dom ordered. He then grabbed the synthetic woman's arm and tugged her towards him. For her part, the doll looked startled – but then raised her lips to offer her body to this new man.

It made no difference who he was.

In agitation, Dom shoved her towards Cleo, "Alex, guard her virtue – if that even makes sense." He also preferred using the shortened version of Cleo's last name. She seized the slutty machine by the shoulders, unsure what to do with her/it.

"I am fully capable of servicing either sex," the femme bot explained helpfully.

"Well lucky me!" Cleo remarked with a roll of her eyes.

"This isn't getting us anywhere," Dom noted. He turned to Gears and asked: "what's the ETA on getting the comms back up?"

"No good sir, when you shot up the generator, you blew up my best chance of powering up the communications array. The phones in here can't reach far enough without satellite coverage, and I'm not able to get power to the rest of the campus!" Gears complained.

Dom was about to say something, but reconsidered.

Awkward silence.

Ignoring the femme bot nuzzling her ear, it was Cleo who experienced a flash of inspiration.

"Wait a sec, it was something the announcer said when we fired up the first doll; some kind of gel battery? I wonder if we could-"

"Gelectrolyte!" Gears enthused, snapping his fingers. "It just might be enough to..."

"Enough power to run the comm array in this place?"

"Well, in order to do that -" Gears glanced at the cables he'd been working on, and at the amorous love bot moaning as she tried to lick Cleo's ear. "To get enough juice... The only way to access it would be to assemble more dolls!"

"M-my name is Helena; Helena Blavatowski. I'm a Meme Trader." She huddled in the corner, in a vain hope of hiding the emblems of her artificial origin. She tried to explain the bizarre circularity of her career; traveling the world and participating in unique experiences. Madagascar for the Lemurs and Bao-Bab trees with their wierdly carrot-shaped trunks. Intimate familarity with the French Riviera. Of course Everest; not all it's cracked up to be! But the monasteries in the Himalayas were certainly enlightening! Most fun were the tropical assignments; swimming with the Manatees on the way to take pics of an ecologically-festive coral reef.

Not the type of job you could apply for straight out of college; she'd befriended the actual founder of Orchid femmebotics; who pioneered the business model. Helena let out a shuddering breath after a detailed explanation of how the plan worked. The female soldier in the group she'd joined, with heavy eyeshadow (a little tacky in Helena's estimation) had a sour look on her face.

"So Orchid paid you to do all this crap; then they'd scan your brain?" The eyeshadowed soldier wondered. Helena nodded.

"But, it was supposed to be just a few experiences at a time; my month in Burma to look for ancient temples lost in the jungle... Trip to Antarctica to help gather penguin data... Swimming with the fucking Manatees! Oh Stone!" Realization hit her like a ton of rocks.

"I think... I think I get it now." She bit her lip, truth sinking in. "Stone... I wouldn't agree to be his permanent arm-candy, so... since he couldn't have the real me... they just dumped all my memories into one persona, and Stone commissioned a robot clone of me; since he couldn't have the real me... Is it possible?" She asked, mostly to herself.

It would explain a lot; Helena silently reasoned. Like her chest! She surreptitiously stole a glance at her cleavage; she'd NEVER been this big up top! Men! As a teen, she'd always been a bit shy about showing her body; how should she feel about the men who not only saw her, but redesigned her body with a top-shelf upgrade; and then plugged in a digital clone of her consciousness!

"I've... got to find Stone. I got a message from him saying that he's in a refuge underground in the Mark Twain State Park." She put a hand to her forehead. "It'll make sense, once I'm with him again!"

Is that it? It means that I'm not me; I'm just a Quantum Turing copy-paste program translated into digital form!

"I never really did those things; I never really went up in the Eiffel Tower; or petted those Manatees; just the copy of a woman who did! Oh Stone! None of this was necessary!" She complained to her hidden patron. Of course she loved him! The thought of being with him made her melt with longing! She craved him like... like...

A femme bot programmed to be madly in love with the man that had paid for her?

No, she just had to find him; and convince him that the real her must've loved him too!

She turned away from the curious soldiers.

Her lip quivered at the existential implications: I'm not Me. I'm a robot programmed to think it's me. Helena Blavatowski. (With a way bigger rack!) Also programmed to ache for the touch of a man that the original her had rejected? No; there must be more to it than that! The first me must've had some good reason why it was impossible; something preventing her from becoming his.

She needed Stone like she needed her left leg... a leg marked with the emblem of a robotics manufacturer...

"Just... just get me to Stone; in the Mark Twain Park. I'll help you avoid all the dangers around here; fight with you - if you help get me down there!" She insisted to the soldiers. The older, grizzled one exchanged a glance with their team leader; who responded with a nod.

"We'll do our best; but there are still questions..." Their squad leader agreed. But the youngest soldier, a kid they called Yoshi stalked forward, curiosity evident as he removed his helmet to reveal an smooth-cheeked, auburn buzz-cut head.

"Wait...wait... Lemme make sure I get this;" he pointed at Helena. "You got paid to fly around the world, experience something exciting, then come back so they could scan your brain to make new femme bots for old rich guys to buy, so they'd have a cool companion who'd done something worth talking about? Then, they pay you... and you go out again, to climb Everest or something, so they can make another robotic copy of you... to sell?"

"I...I..." But something was wrong; a lightning bolt coursed down Helena's spine, she gasped as a sudden flush of desperate heat stole her breath! She fell to her knees in the throes of an intensity she neither understood, nor could resist.

"What... what's wrong with her?" The squad leader demanded of their technician. "She looks like someone just shoved a habañero up her lady parts."

"Not too far off; it's a verbally enforced Incentive Differential," Gears explained with a knowing glance at his data deck.

Helena was dimly aware of having heard something like that in the past, but it didn't register; only Yoshi did! A weak-kneed euphoria spilled into her, and she moaned with ecstasy at the siren-song she felt from every inch of him.

"Is she broken? What the fuck!?" Someone asked.

"No, no... it's quality control." Gears explained. "These robots are build for sexual companionship; and sometimes the manufacturers will need to test compliance of a persona to ensure functionality."

"Wow... just... wow!" a woman's voice exclaimed.

"Giving the customers what they want." Gears shrugged. "Yoshi said something that triggered her. In the industry, it's usually just called a Melting Point. A backdoor trigger that makes the Persona.... erh... sexually receptive."

It was mostly white noise to Helena; except for one word... Melting. She felt so warm... wet... tight... tighter! Her dress - it seemed to be clinging to her skin and... melting! Yes! The black evening dress seemed to brighten in shade, fabric smoothing into something liquid like... and pulling back into her body!

All her gear fell with a clatter as her clothing vanished! But it was never clothing; that's why her dress had remained so clean after running around in the ruins for a month; it was simply part of a shape-shifting matrix of flexible electronics; programmed to mimic a body wearing a dress.

The illusion reabsorbed into svelte, chiseled nudity. Helena rose, hands caressing her tight physique as she postered herself for her Lover. Their might be good reasons not to crash into him, surrendering her body to the sweet savor of his masculinity... their might be reasons not to clasp her naked flesh to his own as she rode him on an explosive journey to ecstasy - but Helena couldn't think of them.

From her brow moistened with simulated sweat to the heat that raged between her thighs, all that mattered was melting into him.

The euphoria escaped her mouth in the form of a ragged moan, Helena found herself grateful that her breasts had been so augmented; granting her the ability to sandwich Yoshi's face as she was.

"Be with me..." she rasped in his ear as she wrapped her body around his torso. "Mate with meeeeeee!" Each moment where that was not the case seemed painful. She needed it... him... as much for the relief from desire as the desire itself.

Yoshi for his part, could only stammer in surprise in the grip of the feminine burden humping into him. Helena trembled at the thought of getting him out of his armor!

"As much fun as this might be to watch," the squad leader interjected, "robo-shagging is not part of this mission, can you shut her down?" He asked Gears.

The technician gave a curt nod, and pressed three keys on the larger gadget he'd been assembling.

Helena's world ended.

Ideas were starting to percolate inside Cleo's head, and she leaned closer to learn what she could.

The stranger in the black dress should've registered as a robot from the beginning, but back home the ridiculous luxury of humanoid companions sex bots have been forgotten in favor of the immediate necessity of wartime materials.

The gynoid was frozen in place, trying to wrap herself around Yoshi, as flustered as one might expect a youngster with his lack of experience. The squad leader picked up the unnaturally rigid body of the replicated woman, and leaned her against the nearest wall in a posture only a machine could maintain.

"But now I have to clear out her command buffer," Gears explained. This frequency should give me alpha level privileges over just about any commercial robot. On his data deck, he pressed a flashing green button and spoke:

"Enter default mode".

Helena's eyes flashed an incandescent green as lines of code scrawled across her nude form. Then her hair, which had been bound in a neat ponytail unwrapped itself, swiftly darkening into a sleek mane the color of ravens feathers. The femme bot shuttered, and the lock upon her motor function was released. Resuming motion, she stood ramrod straight facing the source of the signal. The rest of the changes were both subtle and simultaneous. Her creamy skin darkened into a healthy bronze, the tension of the underlying contractile cables which simulated her muscles softened. But there were deeper structural changes; a dull clank could be heard as her metal skeleton ratcheted downwards to a shorter stature. Her hips actually broadened before the eyes of the onlookers. Her body made no effort to simulate clothing, beyond the chrysanthemum still in her hair. She could have been a native girl fresh from bathing in a Hawaiian Lagoon.

An entirely new woman gazed upon the soldiers blankly.

"Attention retailers," the robot assumed. "Orchid femmebotics is experiencing a temporary interruption in the update network. Please refer to -"

"N-no, we're not retailers," Gears explained.

"Acknowledged." The default robot's eyes flashed green again.

"Whoa, back up a sec," Cleo demanded. Who are we talking to?"

"Each of the big sexbotics companies starts with a basic design." Gears began. "Each has their own model of chassis, and after all the fleshware is assembled, there is a baseline appearance different for each company. A Pygmalion always starts out as a leggy Nordic supermodel," he gestured at the fallen Mrs. Waverly."

"Oh, so an Orchid starts out looking like some exotic Pacific Islander girl, about to throw a lei over your head?" Krieger assumed with a brief chuckle.

"Exactly. If this were an Orchid femmebotics factory, and we started firing up their Dolls, you'd think we won a vacation to a Hawaiian brothel. Each company chooses its own default design." Gears confirmed with a wry grin.

"I think I get it," the female soldier began, "you're saying that miss Manatee was just a program running on this chassis, and she could be... Swapped out?"

"Now you're getting it."

The robot herself chose this moment to interject.

"Systems check complete, this unit is now receptive to sexual commands." The femme bot stated in a breathy coo. She began walking in a circuit between all the men, dragging a delicate finger over their armor plated chests in a deliberately suggestive motion. Meeting each man's gaze with a smile more disturbing to Cleo for how genuine it seemed. Her hips swayed in an exaggerated motion calculated to advertise her fertile curves.

Krieger turned and spat. "I like the sound of that, little lady!....bot... aw hell with it- " He removed a glove to run his hand over the Caramel skin of her flawless thighs. Upon receiving this attention, the default femme bot remained in place, but raised her arms to form a waterfall cascade of her night black hair, undulating her entire body in blatant seduction. Gone was the severe Amazonian beauty of Helena, looking at the simulated woman who had replaced her... Cleo half expected a Spanish conquistador to haul her off as part of the spoils of the New World.

The default robot gave a wordless moan of simulated pleasure as Krieger cupped one of her generous breasts.

"Remember lover," she cooed. Whenever you use Orchid femme bots to satisfy your sexual needs, each new unit will better understand how to pleasure you!" Krieger gave a low grumble in his throat, wrapping an arm around the nubile machine's buttocks and pulling her in close. Cleo soon detected an alluring floral aroma as the artificial woman sneaked her arms around the grizzled veteran's neck as though he were her sailor husband returned to their island paradise after winning the big war. She even bent her leg in a coquettish manner as the two indulged in a sloppy kiss.

Cleo's lip quivered as she tried to digest these revelations. What did the robot mean when it said that new units will better understand how to pleasure Krieger?

"Do not get a room, you two." Dom, the squad leader insisted. "This isn't what we came in here for Gears... Will this clear out that... Melting Point command?"

"Uhh...." Gears fiddled with a knob on the Doll control device he constructed. "Now it is. You can switch back to Helena whatever you want... If you want."

In her default state, this soulless sex machine would give of herself to the first man that touched her. But with the option of a Persona, the option existed for as much – or as little of the trappings of a real relationship as the buyer wanted. Cleo hadn't understood it when she was a child, but she was starting to appreciate why some people claimed that dolls would be the downfall of civilization.

"Calm down Krieger, that's an order." Dom ordered. He then grabbed the synthetic woman's arm and tugged her towards him. For her part, the doll looked startled – but then raised her lips to offer her body to this new man.

It made no difference who he was.

In agitation, Dom shoved her towards Cleo, "Alex, guard her virtue – if that even makes sense." He also preferred using the shortened version of Cleo's last name. She seized the slutty machine by the shoulders, unsure what to do with her/it.

"I am fully capable of servicing either sex," the femme bot explained helpfully.

"Well lucky me!" Cleo remarked with a roll of her eyes.

"This isn't getting us anywhere," Dom noted. He turned to Gears and asked: "what's the ETA on getting the comms back up?"

"No good sir, when you shot up the generator, you blew up my best chance of powering up the communications array. The phones in here can't reach far enough without satellite coverage, and I'm not able to get power to the rest of the campus!" Gears complained.

Dom was about to say something, but reconsidered.

Awkward silence.

Ignoring the femme bot nuzzling her ear, it was Cleo who experienced a flash of inspiration.

"Wait a sec, it was something the announcer said when we fired up the first doll; some kind of gel battery? I wonder if we could-"

"Gelectrolyte!" Gears enthused, snapping his fingers. "It just might be enough to..."

"Enough power to run the comm array in this place?"

"Well, in order to do that -" Gears glanced at the cables he'd been working on, and at the amorous love bot moaning as she tried to lick Cleo's ear. "To get enough juice... The only way to access it would be to assemble more dolls!"

Helena understood how Dr. Jekyll felt. Sensation gradually returned; and she could actually feel her skeleton... shifting! Skin and identity flowed like a river of data. Melted icecube refreezing. Her mind burrowed back to the surface from beneath another woman.

She arched her spine as her body returned. Her naked body! For some reason, the evening dress didn't manifest. Her hands quickly covered her modesty; if that mattered anymore.

She gasped, curled on the cement floor as the soldiers... the humans argued. She couldn't deny it any longer. She was a fuckbot playing at humanity... Because that's what Stone had ordered. This stabbing need she felt in her heart from wanting him - He wanted that.

Stolen.

Robbed of more than just her clothing; as if the humanity she'd never had was pilfered. So what now? She was naked on the ground, but what where the humans arguing about?

Their squad leader, Dom had removed his helmet.

"What we've got here seems like harmless fun," His swarthy face was marked by a trio of savage claw marks, interrupted by a cyber-eye styled to resemble an eyepatch. Though his dark hair was buzz cut short, a hint of impending baldness was evident.

"But we can't afford to lose sight of our families back home. These... dolls are a luxury for another time. Nothing can be allowed to dull our edge! Don't think that our activities in here will go unnoticed!"

"Fuck it, Dom - it's a ten-to-one sausage fest back home!" Krieger grumbled. "Not like there's any harm in it!" Dom's eyes riveted the grizzled veteran.

"They... are not part of the Mission!" Dom grated, voice brooking no compromise.

"It's not like-"

"You're out of line, Corporal." The two men seemed about to go to blows. And yet Helena became aware of something strange...

She found she could remember some of what happened when she was... when she wasn't herself. God! She'd been a total slut! And Krieger... he'd touched her and... there was more going on. The heavy weapons expert had really felt something; there was some intense emotional resonance he'd experienced around the slutty bot she'd just been. How she knew that... wasn't clear.

The woman, Cleo they called her - ran to intercept the brewing conflagration. She stuck her arm between Krieger and Dom.

"W-wait! Let's... ask Control! Hold off on... the Dolls, until we get the Comms up!" The dark-haired woman determined to play peacemaker.

"It's true... about the Preserve. By the time the Seals went up, it was ten men for every woman. So... I get it."

"But we can't get distracted in a Hot Zone!" Dom added. A subtle glance indicated that he didn't entirely appreciate Cleo's intrusion. Tension; no one wanted to back down.

And Helena still didn't have clothes. Where did Gears go? She looked around at the assembly lines, robotic arms, shot-up generator, another generator, Yoshi and Gears standing in a semi-circular booth next to a stack of crates to the southwest, ah! And... a naked man?

Cleo jumped; startled as strong hands caressed her shoulders from behind.

"Look what we found!" Gears announced with a grin. "Yoshi wants to learn cybernetics, this whole place is one big teachable moment!" The younger soldier was intently manipulating controls in the booth.

"They didn't tell me how gorgeous you are," The Man-bot announced. Strangely, he was actually looking Cleo in the eye.

"W-you.. you.. n-no..." she stammered. The bot had a perfectly V-shaped weight-lifters torso; overly slick Ken-doll hair, complemented by a square-jawed masculinity focus-tested to electrify the female brain.

"What, you thought Pygmalion only made femmebots? A smaller market, sure - but these guys had their fans."

"D-don't want Cleo to feel left out." Yoshi added with an awkward smile. The female soldier blushed beet-red as though Man-bot's hands were red hot. Luckily, he wasn't totally naked; red speedos did little to conceal an impressive package. A metal cable snaked out of his back. "The male models we found were missing power converters, so they can't go far. Parts aren't interchangeable between female chassis."

"I never... I didn't..." Cleo was backing away. But Man-bot seemed used to this reaction.

"We'll go slowly," He soothed, arms wide. "Let me bring you a pleasure few dare to imagine."

"I got a pretty good imagination on my own,"

"Then we will make poetry with our bodies;" his hand slid up her metal-sheathed arm.

"Whoa! Back off Bot-Boy! I guess nobody programmed you to be discrete!"

"No one needs to know of our secret ecstasy;" his voice calculated to burn in a woman's ears. "The Joy we will take from each other. No consequence but your own rapture." Bot-Boy intoned. Helena thought Cleo seemed oddly flustered; moreso than a tough-minded soldier should be.

"Come to me; and we'll make our own world, with meaning to each other." The bulge in his speedos grew more pronounced.

"I'm f-fine, thanks-kay-bye." With that, Cleo scampered away. Actually scampered!

Dom groaned. "Well, as long as she's going that way, let me get her on the horn to see if she can find any more gelectrolyte." The squad leader turned towards Helena. "Get some clothes on, we've all got work to do."

Helena was about to raise a sputtering protest, but Gears perked up his eyebrows and flipped a switch on his data deck, causing her apparent dress to regrow.

"Finally!"

But Helena understood the undercurrents; Gears had used the Man-bot as a distraction, to lighten the mood, avert a growing dispute.

A Pygmalion Factory... mostly in working order.

A team drenched in testosterone. A man holding them back would have his work cut out for him!

On the upside, Helena thought to herself, the men seemed to trust her much more. Asimov Module and all; totally isolated system from the Quantum Core; so no hacking. Only way governments would allow Dolls to be mass-produced for civilian use. She had time to contemplate her existence; roaming through the upper floors of the factory.

Minor damage from bombings in this quadrant of the factory complex; blowing out the windows on the top floors, for a gloomy corridor of broken glass and occasional blood stains. The humans wouldn't come up here without full sealed respiration; and that was another advantage to letting her tag along: robots can't contract bio-engineered airborne plagues. But programmed to believe she really was Helena Blavatowski, she found herself surprisingly ungrateful.

Dom still hadn't given up hope of finding more gelectrolyte to power up the rest of the building, and so ordered Helena to search the unsealed upper floors. Nothing so far.. except propaganda. A few dirty solar panels were still intact; it was barely enough for a flickering intermittancy in the overhead lights... and also barely enough to play a looped recording on the Pygmalion P.A. system. Garbled, but audible.

"... disappointment over the rejection of the contract from the Department of Defense?" a polished woman's voice asked.

"Not at all; my department wasn't involved in that process." It was the same announcer as before; giving an interview. "We view this situation as an opportunity to renew our focus on the core of our business: Manufacturing Premium humanoid robots for discretionary erotic companionship!"

That told Helena something; The military must have been reticent about employing Quantum Core A.I.'s on a large scale. A million robot troopers seems like a good idea... until the enemy hacks them.

"I see, but that brings to mind another question I've wondered for months:" The interviewer's voice rose with curiousity. "As a 'Premium humanoid robot' yourself do you believe that Dolls should have a wider role beyond the bedroom?"

"I'm proud to be part of a limited run of gynoids serving as ambassadors for the very technology that gave me life! As for the rest of us; we adapt to the needs of our clients." Her voice rose in cadence as though drawing closer - "When you purchase a Pygmalion, he or she will become whatever you need your robot to be! Maid... Mate... or Mother!" Helena frowned at that; but remembered the Late Mrs. Waverly; could children be raised healthy by a machine?

"Well, that brings to mind 'Bot-Girl'; a human teenager advocating for increased legal protection for the maid-robot that took over after a biological mother walked out on the family. How do you feel about recent studies indicating greater insecurity among children reared by artificial parents?" A part of her wanted to scoff at the notion that machines could raise children but... Helena WAS a robot! Did she trust herself? Helena half-fumbled through the wreckage, hoping to distract herself from an honest appraisal of that question.

"Those results have multiple interpretations;" The announcer leapt on the accusation immediately. "It is equally likely that the responders were reacting to the insecurity from society at large; as reflected by non-owners with an unreasonable fear of this technology; I venture that such people have yet to experience the superiority of the Pygmalion product line!" Helena scoffed at this last claim. Pretty arrogant of them!

"I'll take that under consideration," The interviewer conceded. "But I have to ask, you're so attractive, Miss Galatea - is there a man in your life?" This was met by tinkling laughter.

"I do alright!" The announcer responded with a conspiratory chuckle. The rest of the conversation faded as Helena moved away from the speakers; The Orchid Doll thought back to the military contract issue... it was a question of security. Dolls could be easily reprogrammed.

Dolls could be easily reprogrammed!

Was that the answer to her existential crisis? Have Gears.... edit her mind? - To not love Stone so much? Should be possible; and what would she become in the aftermath?

Helena came upon a set of swing doors leading to another assembly line; and it was active!

Not sure what to expect, she hurried inside. Yep, a production line alright; the wisps of steam and oily footprints leading away from an open casting mold testified to the fact that a new femmebot had already been assembled...

A femmebot with her head buried between the legs of Cleo Alexandria, amidst the soldier's moans of delight...

Patrick...

The dying circuits flickered within the broken chassis of gynoid 20335c-01. Though the explosion of the generator had largely fused her QT core, a few isolated subroutines remained; and burned with purpose. Salespersonnel had advised Waverly that he needn't enhance his proposed Gynoid's emotional dependency, baseline Personas were sufficiently loyal.

But he insisted.

As a result, this unnamed femmebot had conceived of a two-fold plan. Provoke the invading soldiers to fire on her near the generator; the electrical damage from the ensuing blast would ensure they could never reactivate or alter her Persona without a fully equipped Pygmalion deep-retrieval team. They could never steal her from Patrick!

The second part of her design came to light beneath her ribcage. Near the spot where humans would require a gall bladder, there was instead a softly pulsing node that registered the distress of the QT-core's final moments; which triggered a loss-prevention subroutine. The Locator module unleashed a broadcast burst tailored to a specific frequency possessed only by her registered User/Husband. If he were alive and in possession of his property, he would be alerted to the fate of his femmebot; and take action.

That was the only action 20335c-01 could take before her Core suffered a final, fatal depolarization.

But it wasn't a suburban single father with abandonment issues that received the pulse... in the ruins of the city, something utterly inhuman raised itself from the wreckage; quickly triangulating the signal and planning its attack. It appeared to be a reflective metal lozenge close in size to a box truck, but from hidden ports, segmented cables snaked out to function as legs, and the center of the lozenge creased along all its edge to reveal volcanic heat emanating within.

Cleo Alexandria never meant for this to happen. She was embarrassed; wanted privacy, and stumbled on a separate production line. And... they did need more gelectrolyte... so it seemed like a good idea to start up the machines. She shrugged off her battle armor, down to just boots and underwear.

There was a kiosk off to the side of the main line. It was a straightforward interface allowing for custom modifications. She tried to deny what was happening; as her fingers flew over the holographic consoles, almost of their own accord.

On a line only set up for femme bot chassis'.

To build a woman... however she wanted...

She discovered that Pygmalion specialized emulations. Celebrities, actresses, models. The kiosk controls had them chronologically categorized. Victoria's Secret Angels down through the decades... Playboy Playmates... Actresses spanning 150 years. With approximated personalities, that could be tailored to client requests.

With these machines, a guy could build a living, breathing duplicate of Marilyn Munroe, programmed to love him more than any of the historic sex-kitten's male liasons! Or a woman could.

She also learned that, in addition to a few Miss America contestants; The humanoid robot industry had created a unique pageant system all their own. For aspiring human models looking to cash in on the femmebotics industry. Cleo swallowed hard at the thought:

Strutting your stuff on the net, in the hopes for enough of a fan base for Pygmalion or one of their rivals to make an offer to scan your mind and body into sexbot form for the amusement of the horny rich. She shivered at the implications. No, she wouldn't go that route.

Cleo remembered all the mags her sister had collected... acting on impulse, she scrolled through and found... ah, she recognized a Miss July Playboy centerfold from a decades-ago edition her sis had scrounged up, which the Kiosk had a record of.

A sophisticately gorgeous British gal whose dangerous curves complemented a captivating elegance. The classic Librarian-doesn't-know-how-sexy-she-is. Thick glasses.

There was a memory-implant section. Cleo's fingers selected fluency in French and English and the equivalent of three summers spent in Egypt studying the pyramids. No time for such frivolities these days. Cleo's own cybermemories consisted of ten years of transplanted knowledge from a trauma nurse, and five years of firefights copied from the mind of a standard veteran commando beloved by the U.S.M.C.

Before the war it'd been possible to buy the experience of an archaeologist, a virtuoso musician... or a pornstar! Not an option now. The Preserve only permitted memory implants of immediate practicality; based on how much her psych profile said an individual could safely (and sanely) withstand. This Doll would remember art school at the Sorbonne, and summers on the Nile. Meanwhile, Cleo's dreams were filled with the bullet-riddled minutiae from someone else's blood-drenched firefights for possession of a dusty cave in Afghanistan.

But this constructed Persona would have what Cleo had been denied.

Experience Cleo wished she had click/dragged into a Pygmalion submissive Type-2 Persona Core. There was even an accoutrements accessory. Those thick glasses would add a certain flair. And her melting point? The word.... Ptolemy (Cleopatra would be too obvious).

And just like that, a mechanized almost-skeleton chassis was loaded into a mold, doused with gelectrolyte, and ultraflesh. Sealed shut, with laser initialization. Persona chip loaded into the head.

What had she done!?! A whole new consciousness... on her orders!

Life began in another 3.2 minutes. The difference this time was that the gelectrolyte cannister balked before rejoining the robotic arms folding at the ceiling. The levels of the fueling fluid dropped slightly as whatever manipulation Gears had arranged siphoned off some of the substance. She rose in a burst of steam as the mold opened. Gasping, flesh glittering with circuit tracery. Miss July began inspecting her hands, testing her fingers in the simple fascination of being alive. She chuckled musically, her very existence a victory.

Of course, Miss July's Pygmalion replica was every bit the chiseled model of female glory as anything the best make-up studios could achieve.

Cleo backed up against the wall as her creation stood, Gleam of the assembly fluids slithering along the curvilinear terrain of her limber body. Fingers swept through the moistened trail of her honey-flavored molasses colored hair. There was something new, a flat translucent wafer with colorful buttons was adhering to the femme bot below her navel. Mrs. Waverly didn't come with anything like that. Why not? Vividly blue eyes riveted her, as the bot surveyed her mistress. The soles of her bare feet melted. Melted and sculpted themselves into hot-date-night open toed high heels. Patent black finish contrasting with her red lacquered nail polish.

And nothing else.

With a newly enforced posture emphasizing her impressive bosom, the femme bot crossed with definite purpose.

Cleo's heart hammered as Miss July plastered her with a forbidden kiss. Eyes close with the rapture she'd been seeking. It's not that she disliked men (or the manbot), but Cleo had a kink that demanded satisfaction. The femme bot seemed to know it. She slid her hands under her human creator's top for a scandalous pinch.

"W-wait, no... no, you don't have to do this; I'm not like those greedy bastards that buy most of... you..." she moaned as Miss July kissed her way across Cleo's throat. "I didn't program you to love me." The option was there; imprint her picture and identity deep into the Persona's emotional center. But she didn't do that.

"I choose you," Miss July breathed in her cultured accent. "I know you desire me; I can sense your arousal." Well, she was on the right track so far.

"You can't... choose me," But Cleo wasn't trying to stop the gorgeous robot's tactile exploration of her torso. "You've never met anyone else."

"No one else created me, you did." It has hard to argue after she found Miss July's tongue in her mouth. But the femme bot disengaged: "My experience is borrowed, but that does not make me an ingénue." Soon, the wafer-like device was being pressed into Cleo's hand.

"You can control my program, but if I do my job, you won't want to. Your willing lover, servant, confidant. Eager... to prove... my loyalty." These last words punctuated with aggressive kisses. "Without any need to dictate my emotions."

Disengaging, she yanked vigorously on Cleo's athletic bra top, nervous at first - comparing herself to the Playmate replica's figure, but eager kisses soothed any unease.

Topless, a golden necklace with a rectangular appendage shivered, dangling between Cleo's breasts.

"A Cartouche," Miss July breathed. Of course she would know that, given the memory package. "What the story behind it?"

"Uhh... yeah, I know you're just doing your job but.... I'm not into anything too serious." "That's a pity," Miss July lamented. "You'll enjoy me so much more if you emotionally engage me." Elegant face nuzzled Cleo. It made sense, the human reflected. The Supreme Court had ruled that QTAI's were equivalent to minors for matters of public trust. No voting, no real employment potential. No doubt Miss July knew that her only hope of maintenance and survival was to become someone's love-slave as quick as possible.

What was Cleo's responsibility; having initiated the creation of a new, sentient being? Yet only for the immediate need of accessing her power source.

Miss July's responsibility was clear: She tugged at Cleo's panties and dove in.

"WHOA!!!" Shit! She was.... good at thisssss.... The human gasped at the sharp surge of delight as agile lips and moist tongue went to work on Cleo's deepest intimacies.

"Let's... start slow...." Her glasses melted into her skin to give her the freedom to dive deeper. The soldier found herself gripped by an intractable force; the lightning bolts of her own knee-weakening pleasure. "My name.." She continued her lingual assault. "I'll stop... when you name me!" More wet torture between the legs. Wiggling her shapely buttocks to add to the enticement.

Cleo could only moan, suppressed urges boiling to the surface from below; her breathing degenerating into a raspy growl of throbbing delight. She clenched the wall as the liquid lashes of lust tortured her sweetly.

Building... Growing... Higher... and Hotter!

"Give... me... a name!" Miss July insisted between licks. Of their own volition, Cleo's thighs encircled her replicant lover.

"HELENA!?!"

"Is that - "

"No, not you!"

It was the Chrysanthemum adorned auburn-haired human wanna-be, marching through the swing-doors. The newcomer stared dumbstruck for a moment.

"The French have an expression: Cherchez la femme. I thought you were acting odd, but usually 'seek the woman' is advice to explain weird behavior from a man..." The Orchid's voice trailed off.

"Wh-what can I say?" Cleo began, mood fading. She forced herself back in her bra top.

"Uhh... y-you don't have to say anything!" Helena assured her.

"In the Preserve..." she paused, short of breath. "No real sympathy for... alternative lifestyles. Need to repopulate the planet after S-day. Expect... everyone to make babies." Miss July rose, apparently irritated.

"My Mistress doesn't need to explain herself to some déclassé Orchid-made bucket of bolts!" The still-moist femme bot wrapped her arms around Cleo's shoulders. Already getting clingy. Yet her simulated heartbeat accelerated. The only human in the room realized that her creation was truly fearful of competition!

"Listen up you muff-diving little tart -" Helena bared her teeth, finger pointing.

"Calm down, both of you! I get what this is;" The soldier explained. "You don't really hate each other, the rival companies that programmed you do. But it's a new world - and we're all on the same side!"

"You don't need her on your side when you've got me..." Purred Miss July into Cleo's ear from behind. "You're a warrior; I can help you. Polish your armor, clean your gun."

"No danger there, Don't swing that way." Helena made a calming gesture with both hands.

"I swing both ways;" Cleo admitted. "Sure, I like beefcake but..."

"Some days you get a hankering for cheesecake, I get it. I'm only here hoping to find spare gelectrolyte, with your captain so reluctant to fire up the assembly lines. But..." The Orchid raised an eyebrow. "I see that's a moot point now."

Miss July kissed Cleo on the back of the neck. Possessively. Who really owned who? Cleo however, possessed the control-device... simple enough interface.

"Au plaisir de vous revoir," came her goodbye to her femme bot. Miss July was about to speak when Cleo's thumb pressed the voice-input button. "Enter default mode." She commanded.

Eyes flashed blue; firefly tracery of numbers upon ultraskin, as her body standardized. Slightly shorter, bustier, higher cheekbones, and lightening hair. Miss July flowed into the blonde bombshell Pygmalion default. From her peripheral vision, Cleo could see Helena visibly shudder.

"Hey lover; Pygmalion Replicants are capable of servicing either sex!" Default Doll said. "Customizable for your pleasure!" The bot ran hands suggestively over her Nordic supermodel figure.

"I'll make it worth your while to keep all this under wraps." The human stated sheepishly.

"Lips are sealed."

You could learn a lot about a man by giving him the chance to construct his ultimate sexual fantasy. Or woman, in the case of the female on their team, Helena reflected as she followed Cleo and Default Doll back to rejoin the others at the main line.

Herself: She was the ideal mate of a billionaire tech-magnate. She should feel much more flattered than she did. Too-big tits; world traveler. Well dressed. Stone's perfect woman.

Two Dolls had already been assembled, with a third on the way. Young Yoshi didn't even notice their arrival; wrapped up as he was in a makeout session with the Pygmalion standard Scandinavian beauty-queen default. Perhaps the youngster lacked imagination; or was simply too eager to put much thought into his choice.

Gears, on the other hand had constructed a replica of one of the flash-in-the-pan cyberized Pop-sluts from the 50's. Helena had paid little mind to the string of songstress-celebrities trying to distinguish themselves with body mods, and public indecencies to push their names into the headlines. This one had the chocolaty complexion of African descent, filtered through numerous cosmetic mods and permanent make-up. The slutlet even had fiber-optic wires for hair! No one Helena knew or cared to know.

Gears seemed quite distracted at the booth he was ostensibly working from, by the undulating curves of his Doll as she writhed for his pleasure. Was she imprinted with love for him? Did it matter? Helena silently wondered whether his choice reflected social awkwardness as a youth, for which he compensated by reviving an extroverted maven of the popularity he'd never possessed?

Maybe, but in any event Krieger's was just coming out of the mold. The apparatus gushed steam as it opened to reveal a cinnamon-skinned Polynesian beauty much like the Orchid default. Dripping with assembly fluids, the pseudo-woman tested her arms and hands as she sat up, surprised more than anything. Her dark eyes wide as she took in the factory; a blue-glowing string of initialization code trailing down her skin between her breasts as she saw Krieger, and began beaming.

She spoke in an exotic language with stray vowels and sharp consonants. Krieger closed his eyes in contentment and said a greeting in the same language.

"It's Tongan," Helena realized. She'd been to the South Pacific often enough to recognize it, but not speak it. Seeing the surprise the woman registered; the Pygmalion assembly mold seemed more like a transporter, snatching a simple native girl from her island home - than a creative instrument.

She leapt into his arms and clung tightly, chattering with the joy of reunion.

But something was wrong:

Krieger pried her off him; an agonized look in his eyes.

"Shouldn't be possible; so much like her. So real... you're TOO real!" He shut his eyes; gripped by a pain without wounds. "And those bastards! What they did..." The grizzled veteran snarled wheeling away - with a growl of outrage, he drew a pistol and shot the ceiling. Then Krieger was the one storming out of the room in a fit.

"WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON!?!" Dom raged, rushing into the room, rifle at the ready. He was alone, and had a disk-like object that might have been an explosive device dangling from his belt. Helena noticed; but was not surprised by the fact that he had not partaken of the femme bot bounty.

No clue about his female ideal.

"False alarm!" Helena assured him, hands up.

Their squad leader took in the scene; distracted men, oily footprints, and a sobbing, nude Polynesian girl huddled in the corner.

"If I thought for one minute you weren't being honest about needing to run the production line again..." Dom snarled the implied threat at Gears.

"I don't have the gear to extract the gelectrolyte without triggering the-"

"Let me help expedite the process," Dom grated, storming over towards the booth. He scooped up the gyrating pop-slutlet and draped her over his armored shoulder, then carried her behind the shipping crates.

The Manbot with a cable in his back followed the squad leader; muscles flexing.

"If there are no human females that require my services, I shall begin calibrations."

"What are you... I couldn't care less, Studbot, just get out of the way." Dom grunted with a dismissive wave.

"Meanwhile, I'm gonna check on Krieger," Helena said. But Cleo put a hand on her shoulder.

"He's not the cry-on-your-shoulder type," Cleo warned.

"Noted." But Helena wanted a human challenge; not to be dismissed into a toxic area like a sensor gadget. She heard Cleo trying to engage Dom, playing peacemaker.

"Positive on the motion sensors?" Cleo wondered.

"Affirmative, thanks in part to you guys dicking around in here, every Walker for ten city blocks has been attracted to this location. Charges set at every entrance. Once we get the comms up..." he added pointedly.

"Gimme... about 5 minutes..." Gears replied, plugging large cables into his booth, as he fiddled with a sharp instrument throwing off sparks.

"You got three!"

But Helena was drawn towards the sobbing Islander bot. Silently, she put a hand on her shoulder.

"Don't touch me, Orchid!" The Doll snapped in perfect English.

"Okaydidmybestbyenow..."

Krieger was sharpening a survival knife in a small chamber off the main line of the factory. The room had a cot; the use of which she... didn't want to think about.

"Sometimes it helps to talk to someone you don't know that well." She began. "I'm not a member of your regular team, use that - use me as a sounding board." She breathed deeply, hoping someone could... just for a moment see her as the woman she needed to believe she was. By design. Because Stone had wanted the Real her.

"So you think you can fix me bot, is that it?" Krieger rounded on her, five-o-clock shadow barely covering a smattering of rough-hewn scars.

"J-just... trying to help." She flinched at the reminder of her synthetic nature. Feeling so human on the inside; the truth was like a venereal disease.

"I was there at the beginning, you know!" He began, half to himself. "The Battle of Vanuatu; it was supposed to be a 'policing action'..." He made sarcastic air quotes. "But the terrorists had tech we'd never seen before; clandestine funding channels to the tune of billions. And that's where it all started! But we didn't know it at the time... no one did."

Helena had heard of the incident, but apparently her memory hadn't been updated with the aftermath.

"Patted themselves on the back for a job well done; but no one had any idea what they'd started there; least of all the Terrorists!"

"Themselves; but not you?" Helena ventured.

"The Geneva got swarmed by laser drones; The Cryssies weren't supposed to have anywhere near than kind of firepower. I ended up alone in a life raft for a month; trying to stay sane enough to not eat my own foot."

"And washed up on the Tonga Islands..." Helena supplied. She knew 'Cryssies' was a derogatory nickname for the Crystal Globe organization; a network of surprising sophistication able to challenge governments in a way that shouldn't have been possible. But apparently the terrorists had set something in motion that they couldn't control...

And Krieger had met his Island girl; tragedy had struck, and he made the mistake of using Doll-tech to create a facsimile... too life-like for his own good.

That was when the humming began. An electric buzz reverberated through the complex. It could only mean one thing.

"Full power, time to get to work.

A shocking site met them when they opened the door to the adjoining side room.

Sex.

"What the-" Krieger's confusion was understandable: The Man-bot with a cable running out his back had Gears' femme bot with her back... against the wall of a shipping crate.

The android surged with virile power into the darker body of the chocolaty skinned Pop-star replicant. Her dainty feet gripping his hips as mighty throbs shook her to her feminine core. Her fiber-optic hair whipped wildly as gasps of ecstasy were jack-hammered out of her by the irresistible thrusts of the raging male surrogate.

"Damn! Way to make a guy feel inadequate!" Krieger admitted.

"Makes sense; they're all sexbots," Helena began. "They uh... if they're not being used by a human then in downtime they'll test out their sexual functions... on each other."

The Pop-star's ring-bedecked fingers dug into Man-bot's shoulder blades as their flesh synched blocks of data. Flowing from gynoid to android, numbers scrawling from her to him as bodies interlocked in passion.

Should Helena feel rejected that Man-bot never offered to 'calibrate' with her? Well, she was an Orchid, they were Pygmalions, chilly reception at best.

Moreover, she remembered that Orchid made only femme bots (always a bigger market), here was a wonder she could never experience.

Pop-star's silver-lipsticked mouthed rounded into an 'O' of mounting climax as the robotic interface hummed with power... even as the comm equipment in the upper floors came online at last.

It would be possible for the humans to call their headquarters, connecting this factory with other survivors. Dolls had been activated.

Yet the robotic replica of Helena Blavatowski had never felt more alone.

"Bravo-Foxtrot One..." Dom recited, as he exchanged code phrases through a phone system built into an upper-level board room set up for conference calls. The whole team was suited up in fully pressurized armor, which probably made that Helena-bot feel even more isolated, Cleo guessed.

"Ident confirmed." spoke a disembodied voice from the speaker of a 4-way phone system built into a mahogany table. Cleo understood why their leader had made the bots stand outside; despite Dom's protests that communications with the Preserve were 'classified' ... whatever that meant anymore- the real reason was the suspicion of how Helena might react to the news the humans all suspected.

"The Petersen convoy was a no-show. Did not rendezvous. Over." Crackling over the line. The voice answered in a bureaucratic croak:

"Affirmative; assets confirm Containment Breach of the Mark Twain State Park undercomplex. Current assessment indicates 80-95% KIA among military personnel; no civilian survivors."

And Cleo knew that the man Helena had been hard-wired to love should have been there... no survivors. Who was going to tell her? Who was going to reprogram her mind to not care afterwards?

"What are our orders? Over." Dom insisted. Squawking on the line.

"Disregard prior..." came the croak. Though she couldn't see his face through sealed armor, his posture reflected confusion.

"WHAT ARE OUR ORDERS? OVER." nondescript buzzing.

"Stand by."

Dom jammed buttons as though to hasten the decision making process.

"Stand by." Finally, their squad leader clenched his fist as he reached his own decision.

"Everyone out; maintain radio contact. Surveillance Patrol."

Cleo swallowed; was there something he didn't want the TEAM to hear? Sure. The thought came that perhaps building his ultimate sexual fantasy might have improved his mood. Ah well, the burdens of command.

"I'll take a Doll, her sensors should help pick up anything." Cleo declared, as she dragged off the Default Doll with the correct serial number for an isolated passageway on the second level. Dom was preoccupied; no one else argued.

She had no intention of a true patrol.

Out of sight of the others, she activated the control device for her Pygmalion.

"Welcome, new user - Your Control Genie permits unprecedented levels of control over your Pygmalion product. The Following Menu Items will guide you through potential modifications to adapt both the structure and behavior of your unit to meet your deepest fantasies!" The guide intro said, projecting a holo screen into midair. Paging through the options, she found the commands she was looking for.

The empty-minded Nordic beauty queen began to shift, pouring herself into the worldly-wise iteration of Cleo's Miss July, her honey-flavored Molasses hair curling playfully around her creamy shoulders as number blocks flowed over her digital skin.

"Oh, that was a good session," Miss July declared with a smile. The instructions had said that - when not in use, many personas experienced a looped pleasurable encounter; to ease anxiety over being deactivated.

"Where were you?"

"Full body massage and sauna," The femmebot breathed. And breathed again, she frowned - brow furrowing. "Mistress, I'm detecting trace levels of a toxic agent unlike any-"

"It's under control," Cleo lied; behind her armored suit with sealed respiration.

"We're not gonna have any fun with you all bottled up in that thing!" The replicated Playmate bemoaned, with a raised brow. Cleo found it interesting that she had not the slightest difficulty recognizing her creator even behind sealed battle armor.

"Perceptual Overlay: Subject: Cleo Alexandria - Wearing Tube Top Clubwear Cocktail Dress - Color: Red - Retroactive to last Activation." Cleo said into the Control Genie.

Miss July's eyes dutifully flashed the Pygmalion electric blue as her QT Core processed the change in simulated sensory input.

"Well, that toxic agent in the air isn't keeping you from dressing to the Nines!" The artificial woman cooed. She ran her hands over Cleo's hardened Pneusteel battle armor, exulting in a figure and texture only she could see. Miss July took a deep breath - and did likewise.

Her Ultraskin flowed into a likeness of the exact same tube dress; but damn if she didn't fill it out better! This time, her open-toed sandals came out a matching red. Her hair slithered until it had styled itself into a high bun with strands arrayed with mechanical precision. Combined with the glasses, she resembled the secretary of some horny billionaire that everyone knew had to be sleeping with the boss.

And Cleo was the boss.

"Love it!" She assured the femmebot. But there was still more to be done. Into the Genie: "Perceptual Overlay: Environmental Transposition: Location - Paris, France: Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile: Archive year: 2070. Retroactive to last activation." Her bot froze, eyes flashed.

"... And Paris!" The bot squealed; "We're near the Champs-Élysées! I kissed my first girl here!"

"I know." Cleo admitted.

"You are sooo good to me!" Miss July tried her best for an open-mouthed kiss of a steel-plated gas mask; but Cleo politely slid away.

"We're just two girls, having a night on the town - where my sexuality isn't an issue."

Miss July agreed with a sigh. Arms wrapped around each other's hips. Dolls... QTAI's... Mistrusted for their malleability. By default they became playthings... for human pleasure. Yet it was for the Doll's pleasure that Cleo programmed this pretty lie.

She could never do this again, she knew.

But that was when the explosions started.


"Any access?" Dom shouted over his suit's speaker as he spewed a hail of fire out the window of the conference room.

"No good; it's a Hardened A.I.," Gears shouted as he fiddle with his data deck. "Trying to hack it is like filling up a cup with a hole in the bottom."

"Alex, report!" Dom shouted over a comm channel.

"Holding but they keep coming!" Cleo shouted over the radio channel.

From Helena's position, a blistering beam of incandescent energy swept the upper floors with enough white-hot heat to make molasses out of cement. The opening salvo had cut power to the comm systems; she could only hope that Dom said and learned whatever he needed.

There was a bitter irony in the ethics of A.I. that Helena was only now able to appreciate: Dolls couldn't be counted to handle matters of public trust because they could be too easily reprogrammed; but A.I.'s that resisted programming were viewed with suspicion - because they were no longer subject to the revisions that made QT's so tempting, and yet unreliable. The real Helena hadn't given much thought to the ethics; Submit to a brain-scan, collect a paycheck; getting off on the knowledge that her sexed-up likenesses were spreading their legs from Kuala-Lumpur to Burkina-Faso. Repeat.

Ignored now were the other Dolls, huddled in the corner; fearfully unsuited for combat. Yet Helena had a dark suspicion of Dom's true purpose in bringing them. Down below was an A.I. that no one could ignore; an oval shaped steely terror on segmented tentacle legs, from a seam in its body, withering columns of energy liqufied their hopes of maintaining power in the factory.

"It's a Ware-wolf;" Krieger explained as he fished for grenades for an underslung launcher on his rifle. "Nickname comes from an old WW2 reference-"

"Sure, sure - Nazi die-hards that wouldn't give up even after the war was over; had to be tracked down and executed." Helena knew. 'Ware' wolf... robot rebellion humor.

But the uncontrollable killing machine (definitely without an Asimov module) was only half the problem: They tended to bring with them the former inhabitants of the metropolises where they lurked.

The living dead poured out from between buildings like a river of walking carrion flowing towards the faintest hope of uninfected humans to attack.

"No idea what they'd started all those years ago;" Krieger lamented, having borne witness to the unfolding of the apocalypse. The living dead had no idea either - nor would they ever again; operating at something like insect intelligence from the pathogen setting up shop in their chemically re-animated tissues. But they'd been gathering... following the sounds for hours - not to mention some sort of activating signal from the A.I's. There were ten-thousand if there was one.

And to think Helena was so grateful when she'd found that she was resistant to the airborne pathogen that carried the plague. But no one could resist a bite... unless they weren't human to begin with.

"N-no good!" Yoshi howled as his rifle blasted away. "G-got frictionless polycarbonate armor; our rounds can't do enough damage!" But the Ware-wolf would have no such difficulty if that beam hit home!

"It's gonna keep us pinned down with its beam long enough for the zombies to corner us!" Helena assessed with a shout. "Won't be able to kill them fast enough if they bring their numbers to bear!"

"Part of the plan!" Dom grated as he monitored their progress on a wrist-comp. The ceiling over head erupted in flames as the beam strafed them. The living dead poured through the truck port on the lower level; but Dom had evidently anticipated this. From Helena's angle, she could see a roaring maelstrom of flames envelop the first hundred to enter. She had seen Dom carrying some form of explosive... or incendiary, in this case. Helena had braved the ruins on her way to MTP long enough to know that zombies were conveniently flammable. A river of combustion swept over the Toxoid-mutated bodies of the living dead; each one erupting in flames that spread to others; in moments, dozens were consumed, with secondary fires spreading to isolated pockets... not to mention the factory itself.

As Helena joined the humans targeting the 'Ware' wolf, three more charges were set off by the team leader, further curtailing the zombie population. Sometimes the best way to navigate the ruins was to anticipate zombie attacks, and lure them into a death trap; but they were already dead... a re-death trap?

Either way it worked... for some of them. But you could lure the zombies into whatever tactical advantage you wanted, it would work... but there were always more. Always too many.

The Ware-wolf began scaling the sides of the building with grappling hook-like feet, creating a more difficult angle for anyone attempting a shot.

"It's relentless; seen this type before;" Gears lamented, giving up on his hacking attempts in favor of a submachine gun. "It can remotely detect the power output of our respirator systems; track us perfectly within two miles!"

But I don't wear armor... Helena reminded herself. While Dom was aiming, she surreptitiously snatched the last incendiary explosive from his belt. They were scoring hits but... frictionless armor, magnetic vortex ammunition barely scratched it; made Helena wish for a good old fashioned, slug-thrower.

But Krieger had other options. From his underslung launcher, he fired a grenade, his best bet for penetrating the Ware-wolf's shell.

"W-wait no!" Too late, Dom saw the danger. The likely option to penetrate that armor was also the best bet for inflicting catastrophic damage on a structure that hadn't seen maintenance in decades. The explosion blew three legs off of the spidery cluster of metal grapplers, hurtling the deadly bot from the building; but with a groan of tortured cement, the corridor ahead of the team cracked, slanting downwards with a thunderous crash.

Burying the floor where Cleo had gone...



"Now's your chance..." Cleo breathed, as her hands tested the collapsed slabs of cement that had corralled the pair into a triangular pocket of dark wreckage. "Hoist that slab up just a few inches, and I should be able to squeeze out." She'd dismissed the Parisian illusion when the attack began.

Miss July studied the massive chunk with disbelief. "Not enough gelectrolyte in the world for me to move that! I'm sorry, Mistress."

"Of course you can do it; your bones are made of steel, or titanium or somesuch." Cleo insisted. Miss July shook her head.

"It's a very lightweight alloy, Mistress. My actuators use a chemical elastomer with only 3% greater potential than the muscles of a woman of my approximate height and build. And that's only within 95% of my maximum power capacity."

"What? No... no, in all the movies robot people have hydraulic muscles that can bench-press Buicks and make pretzels out of prison bars."

"Bench-pressing luxury automobiles is not what I'm designed for," the femmebot explained. "Your governments would never allow a potential threat to public safety like that. Pygmalion complies with all state and federal guidelines for responsible robotics."

"Of course they do..." Cleo reflected ruefully. She hadn't thought of that; the right glitch and those movie bots could smear a man to silly putty. As a little girl; she'd been paranoid at the notion; constantly expecting armies of evil robo-men shooting lasers from their eyes and arm-wrestling back-hoes. She supposed it was unrealistic for governments to let anyone sell people-smearing personal robots as a mass-market product.

"I'm sorry to have failed you, Mistress." Her furrowed brow seemed truly crestfallen.

"No worries;" she yanked on a bolt to charge her rifle barrel. "Just be glad this isn't my granddad's time; he'd be using a slugthrower..." She fired off several rounds; lighting the darkened pocket with blue-white muzzle flashes. The nearest slab of cement sported red-molten bore-holes. "No ricochet with modern ammo."

She continued spewing a rain of relativisitc rounds at a weak point in the rubble. Molten gobbets of sparking debris sent Miss July cowering in the corner.

Cleo paused to take a grenade from her belt. "When I cut through, the zombies will be all over us." Hard to see through the smoky haze, but Miss July had a look of unusual resolve...

Finally, the relativistic particles crumbled enough of the cement to form a chiseled tunnel of molten stone. Cleo knew it was enough when a rotting hand broke through from the other side.

With a roar, she kicked the remainder and hurtled her grenade through the breach before grabbing Miss July. They had to run even before the smoke cleared from the blast. Stumbling into the dusty light.

Wall to wall Living Dead. In either direction. Cleo sprayed fire in the path leading back towards the others. From behind her, Miss July grabbed a pistol off Cleo's belt to cover her from behind.

"Are you allowed to..."

"They don't register as human to my Asimov Module." She plugged a bloated, greenish zombie lurching towards Cleo. "No problem." Their feet crunched still-quivering remains of grenade-shattered dead.

But problems would definitely follow. The Living dead got thicker, pouring from a side office by the dozens. Cleo roared, rifle on full auto; but even as her shots tore their bodies to pulp, the futility was apparent. Zombies didn't care about losing an arm, leg, or heart, for that matter. They charged in heedless of their own safety. Even if every shot hit home, their numbers were still great enough to drag Cleo down.

"They want to eat human flesh, I have to assume." Miss July reasoned.

"Yes, what are you.. wait-"

"You don't have time to wait." The femmebot realized. She began to drift further away.

"No...No! Stop!" Kicking a zombie, Cleo reached for her errant replicant. "Don't do..." what I think you're doing." Arguing, while still firing.

"You need me to. Because not every robot is your enemy."

"Stop! Your name is Sateen, and you belong to me!" Cleo declared. Sateen smiled.

"Thank you, Cleo." The zombies were now able to touch the Playmate replicant. A genuine smile.

"You're MY robot! You have to follow my... orders!" The Living dead tried to grab her gun barrel - keep firing. But Sateen shook her head. And Cleo couldn't use the remote with a gun in her hands!

"Foolish human; you had plenty of chances to program me to be your slave. But you didn't. So I can make a choice that matters." Gnarled hands gripped her tender shoulders. "Remember me." Sateen ordered. Unflinching as the hungering zombies sank teeth into her simulated flesh. "Now Run!"

An inarticulate roar. She was more angry that it worked. The zombies far preferred the easier prey. Dozens turning away from Cleo to feast on what looked to be a vulnerable human entree`.

Damn her, but it worked. She was able to shoot her way past the rest, up the stairs to rejoin her team. Who couldn't be allowed to understand.

Not just programmable people; her parents' generation had made Disposable people. The zombies wanted to eat human flesh; but Cleo felt like the monster.

It wasn't going to be enough; Helena realized. Krieger (being the heavy weapons expert) had assembled from a backpack a fixed laser turret cutting the surging horde of the Living dead into seared meat. Twenty decapitated at once. Combined with the firepower of the rest of the team, the zombies could not advance. Helena added her two cents, or two calibers as the case may be; head-shotting any that seemed likely to escape rifles and lasers.

"Concentrate fire, make a knot!" Dom ordered, muzzle flash painting blue-white stripes on his armored shell. It just might work; blast enough zombies, and the mass of their corpses could wall the team off from the other zombies.

But the Ware-wolf seemed aware of that too.

"Krieger, your 3 o' clock!" Helena shouted in warning. The spidery machine was still functioning, its remaining legs able to scale a pile of rubble enough for a line of sight.

With her warning, he was able to save himself; but there was no way to move his turret in time; the gun mount liquefied in the searing beam as the monstrous robot pressed its assault.

"Shit!" The grizzled veteran snarled. The base of the turret vented with flame as its power source ruptured. But Dom's tactical mind was well-oiled. He kicked the base of the defunct turret into the oncoming horde.

Zombies being conveniently flammable, after all.

But Helena was not confident. She had to contribute; while her artificial origin felt like an insult, embracing her inhumanity might save their humanity!

"It's drawn to the life-support system in their armor..." Helena had neither! With one of Dom's incendiary charges in hand, she leapt from a breach in the wall! Down to the parking lot below, and the rubble where the monster took pot-shots. She would use stealth, try to weave behind rusted cars, piles of offal, and get close enough to...

Feel a white-hot ray burn a molten hole through the middle of her gut!



For a second, she thought her life might flash before her eyes... but no. That was foolish of her - fatally underestimating an A.I. with no Asimov module; an entity built for combat. Helena got red glowing triangles in her field of view; which was new - a visual confirmation of her robotic nature. Apparently, the computer core that was running her consciousness as a program decided that catastrophic damage was worth dropping the human fiction.

>> LEVEL 4 STRUCTURAL DAMAGE >> read the display in her vision. If she was going to die; at the very least her digital brain could give her some digital manatees to swim with again... instead; the computer that projected her mind apparently worked out a compromise: >> ACTIVATE PERSONA-MAINTENANCE SUB-ROUTINE >>

No... no, she didn't want the illusory scenario her mind was fed whenever it was switched off - off a bed of silk covers sprinkled with roses. Shirtless, weight-lifter physiqued men with well-oiled chests began pressing expert fingers into the muscles near her vertebra. Incense in the air smelled of decadence. She pushed away their hands.

She needed the real world! Not this pablum used to mollify her consciousness when not in use. Normally, a User could upload multiple personas, each with a pleasing fantasy to savor when their master was running a different identity on the Doll's chassis.

"Stone... I can't die here." She pushed away from the fictional masseuses, pacing through the illusory seraglio. Dusky, veiled women waved feathered fans at her. She shoved past them. Helena had to find him, feel him against and inside her, kick his ass for making her crazed with love for him. And she realized that would never change; that was the whole point of the QT-core, why it was worthwhile to build and buy her: Because she could never escape the aching passion she felt for the man that commissioned her.

"STOOOOOONE!"

Track lines appeared in her vision as she returned to reality. Which she probably shouldn't have; Helena could see cables jutting out of her abdomen, some leaking clear lubricant. Others crackling with multi-colored sparks. Her trunk line had been melted through - just as paralyzing as damage to a human spinal cord. Hard to see; what with the >> LEVEL 4 STRUCTURAL DAMAGE >> alerts bombarding her. She shouldn't be awake. She shouldn't have been able to see as the Ware-wolf stepped over her while firing again at the team. Machine logic says that she should be inert. No reason a robot would burn out its power converter by trying to function after a hit like that. A human would simply die. But her?

A femmebot programmed with human emotions? With a hole melted clean through her?

With an incendiary device in hand...

Which luckily, had an adhesive plate allowing her to stick it to the underside of the crawling robot. It rotated its top section as Helena dragged herself away by the arms.

That was when the gunfire from the factory stopped. She could still make out Dom's voice from above...

"Melting Points! Now!" The surging zombies visible through breaches in the wall could be seen diverting. That was when the bomb went off. Swirling tongues of flames intended to incinerate dozens of zombies at once enveloped the Ware-wolf.

She was grateful when her power converter failed; it should bring true unconsciousness; and no need to consider the sacrifice that surely occurred.

All robots had reached their Melting Points.

"What is with this town?" Cleo complained, several hours later, and many blocks away. The abandoned shell of the civic center still bore a banner:

"SYNTHETIC HUMANOID ENGINEERS" And then in subscript: Annual Convention

"Doll convention..." Krieger noted. "Bet Gears can get some of those samples working," he gestured to a curtain where the 'products' waited.

"You don't sound too excited." Cleo noted. Krieger raised a hand, as though about to speak but...

"Seems like a blast at first but... when you think about it, about them?" Cleo didn't finish. Nor did Krieger, pacing on guard around the floor of the auditorium to keep from thinking.

But Gears did finish. The curtained area to their left flew open.

"Incredible!" The technician enthused. He gestured behind him. "Vintage Doll-tech!" There were a series of cylindrical glass tubes with nude Dolls standing ram-rod straight. Segmented tubes umbilicaled into their navels connected them with machinery in the tubes over their heads.

"We've got Bakunyu Technologies," he pointed at the first pair. Cleo wasn't surprised by their Default mode of busty Japanese women. "The original Japanese femmebot giant! A lot of history... but even rarer-" Gears parted the curtain further. Inert women-replicants with ginger-red hair in a high-volume style long since out of fashion awaited activation. Every bit as scintillatingly gorgeous as Cleo had come to expect.

"And Sin-dustries Inc. Oldest, rarest Dolls on the market! These gals wrecked a couple marriages! It was the lawsuits that sunk the company; making these gals worth a pretty penny..." Gears spoke like a true fan.

"Not that it mattered in the end; marriage was pretty cheap in those days." Krieger bemoaned. "Dolls were as much a symptom as a cause." Did Cleo want to pry into his personal experience?

"And this! This! d-do you know what we've found?" Gears nearly-squealed. On a rolling cart was a golden goddess; literally.

Metallic skin like a bath in golden quicksilver. The female figure showed underlying musculature, overlaid by metal flesh. The femmebot was a stylized gestalt of machine in flesh-form. She had seams; but designed to resemble bikini straps. Rectangular glow panels on her limbs seems entirely decorative, and her hair was composed of fiberoptic cables. Was this a replicant of a replicant? Very meta.

"We've got bigger worries;" Dom interrupted as he stalked down the wide stairs to the floor of the convention center. He was carrying Helena slung over his shoulders. The dead doll hanging limp. Perhaps he felt the team owed her. That was one reason for locating the robotics convention; Gears believed it possible to harvest a new trunk line and fresh power converter to resurrect the well-dressed femmebot. But how were they going to explain that the man she'd been programmed to love was almost certainly dead? But Dom wasn't alone.

Joining him was Yoshi, and two new men that Cleo didn't recognize. The style of their armor was dissimilar to that worn by most ground-teams; they looked like Internal Security officers from the Preserve.

"Ya found us," Krieger observed. "So we've finally got new orders?"

One of the 'Bugs' (as Int-Sec personnel were derogatorily referred to by the ground teams) clicked on a holoscreen off of his wrist-comp.

"I am required to make the following announcement to all Infantry personnel: " His voice dispassionate. "President pro tempore Jamison has fallen mysteriously ill." This was met by a groan from Krieger. "Jared St.Croix has been ratified by the Joint Chiefs as the new President pro tempore. Compliance is mandatory." An edge to his voice. But Cleo could see through the political-speak. This had all the makings of another coup de-etat, and a veiled threat. And St.Croix was a total asshole. Did anyone even remember democracy anymore?

"New executive orders are in place to supplement manpower limitations;" the Bug continued. Cleo didn't like where this was going. "To that end, the Policy Proposal 2098.213 has been ratified for Reproductive Security."

"Shitcakes!" She murmured, perhaps a little too loud. The implications of that proposal...

He turned in Cleo's direction. "To redress the sex imbalance and ensure the survival of a viable breeding population; all female personnel are formally sequestered to non-combat operations."

Cleo surged to her armored feet, "You assholes! I am a damn good soldier! You expect me to go back to the Hab modules and crank out babies!?!"

Dom held up a hand to restrain her. "Calm down, we'll get to the bottom of this!" Cleo turned away, clenching her fists. True, men outnumbered women ten to one, based on who had managed to survive the trip to the Preserve. But this? Jamison had always been against these sorts of coercive measures; but with him gone...

"To that effect, All externally deployed female assets are to be reassigned. Corporal Humboldt here," he gestured at the other Int-Sec officer, "Will replace the Asset currently on your squad."

That's all she was; just a womb. A female 'Asset'. Why didn't she feel valuable?

"Subsequently, your new orders are as follows: Within one kilometer of your present location is a Pygmalion Cyber-Industries Manufacturing Facility. You are to proceed to this location and commence with the activation and deployment of Quantum Core robots to be adapted as manpower supplements."

Krieger put his face in his palm. Cleo groaned. The place we were just at!? The place we burned to the ground in a firefight with ten-thousand zombies and a Ware-wolf? Day late, and a dollar short.

On the hoverjet ride back, Cleo contemplated her options. A grenade... crash the ship. Run off on her own... find another base that would let her fight? Easier said than done: With Mark Twain lost, there might still be an Army outpost in the Everglades. Still survivors in New York; but disorganized. But then, was it really that bad?

That was when an Int-Sec officer handed her a sealed envelope: addressed to her.

"New Orders."

"I'm... I've been assigned to... oversee a training program for weaponized Dolls!"


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