Valerie's view of her dorm room scrambled like an interrupted digital video stream. Sometimes she would dream while deactivated, or at least do the closest thing her brain (can I even call it “my brain” anymore? What's left of it I guess) could do to dreaming. She never really remembered the dreams when they happened, but she was dimly aware of the occurrence. The main difference was the awareness of time having passed. But more often than not it was like this; a brief flicker in the sensory feed and a delirium that comes with being an A.I. that's still booting up.
In one section of her vision, red text and progress bars turned to green one by one as Valerie's A.I. plug-ins initialized.
Just like “commercial units?”
Please don't be alarmed, the system is meant to feel and function quite seamlessly when all the necessary software is running properly.
Other sections of her field of view flashed the usual status messages and important data such as battery level and internal temperature.
It's called a H.U.D., or “heads up display.”
Yeah doc, I've played a few video games, I know what it means.
In the upper left section (more than a quadrant, but not quite a half) the camera feed from her eyes was auto-focusing on her roommate's face above her, which held a vaguely curious though not truly interested expression. It certainly wasn't warm. Val took note of the time display in one corner of her H.U.D.
A section of Val's vision tracked and displayed how much of her CPU power was being used by various software. The bar for her emotional response plug-in flared considerably.
“What the fuck?” Val inquired in a decidedly robotic monotone, too angry and still to unskilled in operating her new body and mostly new brain to remember to manually inflect her vocal synthesizer. With a brief whine of her neck motors she sharply turned her head toward Taylor, who had already turned to walk away as soon as Val had shown the faintest sign of activity. “I told you I had class at 8. Why didn't you turn me on before then?”
“I overslept. Sorry,” Taylor replied, though she was obviously more annoyed than apologetic. She could be a bitch more energetically, Val thought, but I guess she'd have to see me as human to do so.
“I already missed my first whole day of college. I need to keep my scholarship. My parents spent so much money on... my operation.”
“You don't sound that upset about it,” Taylor shrugged.
Shit, that's right. Val mentally opened her vocal inflection interface.
“It takes a little more effort for me to emote than I'm used to,” Val tried to say sternly, though the result was a bit stilted and awkward.
“Well, fix your timer or whatever. I didn't ask to have some weirdo robot goth girl for a roommate that I have to fucking... flip a switch on the back of your neck in the morning,” she stammered, “it's fucking weird.”
“I'm getting it looked into.” Val sat up, her torso swiveling stiffly and steadily around her pelvis with a loud whirring of the motors under her synthetic skin. “Hopefully they can get their shit together with a software update and I don't have to make an appointment.”
Val got off the bed, unplugged her power cord from the wall and let it retract into her side, and began to gather her things as quickly as she could with her stiff movements. Taylor stared, still not used to seeing this mechanical girl in motion.
“Quit staring and go about your business, citizen,” Val chided (though with less effective sarcastic bravado as she hoped for). She grabbed a Type O Negative shirt (with the cover of October Rust on it) from her drawer and pulled it over the camisole she'd been recharging in. She also selected a facial expression from her library of available options that cocked her mouth to one side and one eyebrow up as she turned her head toward Taylor. “Looks like I've got some academic maintenance to take care of in the meantime.”
Valerie trudged up the hill to her government class. She wished she could move faster, but her capabilities were limited in many ways....
“Val, your mother and I have been told that there may be a way for you to walk again.”
Offering a discount with certain concessions.
“These kinds of things are very expensive, sweetie. This might be the best opportunity we could have.”
Some more observant people seemed to be staring, but most people were distracted enough to not notice Val's stiff, motorized gait underneath the hooded trench-coat she'd thrown on before leaving her room (though a big coat in August was conspicuous in its own way). It wasn't doing wonders for heat management, but it at least covered up that ridiculous one-pigment synthskin they'd covered her with.
“Even with these subsidies we'll only be able to afford a fairly basic model.”
Val knew this fucking glorified mannequin, as she often thought of it, wasn't fooling anybody. Sure, she had the same figure as before. She had soft skin, a replica of her own face, a couple B-cup pieces of silicone on her chest, and even the lady parts down south, though that basically amounted to a fleshlight built in between her legs. At least she had the appropriate increased sensitivity in that area. Maybe if the sorostitute isn't around tonight I can plug into the wall, look up some porn on my built-in wi-fi, and have a little date with myself, she thought. That was the only action she got anymore. Aidan broke things off pretty fast after the “transformation” or whatever she wanted to call it. He tried to act all cute about it at first. “Babe, your like some badass robot now? Yeah, let's kill all humans!” But that first night they tried anything intimate it was obvious where things were going. Val tried her best, but at that point most every move she knew fell under the categories of “cadaver” and “flailing.” Aidan obviously wasn't into it, and he more or less just gave up the next day. “People change,” he said, “sometimes they can't stay together when that happens. I mean, you should know better than anyone, right?”
A “lifelike female android” my man-made ass.
The effort didn't really make her tired. She didn't really experience pain or physical exhaustion anymore. But more exertion meant more drain on her battery and more heat through her wires and motors, as did the additional number crunching her CPU had to do to maintain a functional walking motion compared to walking on a flat plane without a bunch of heavy school books (I ought to just sit down and save stills from whatever pages I need and just store them on my hard drive, she noted. At least she wasn't especially limited on disk space).
A warning message flashed: “EXCESSIVE HEAT LEVEL: Unit will enter low power-usage mode if excessive heat persists.”
SHIT. Okay, Val, just a few more steps to the top of the hill and maybe-
No such luck. As she crested the hill Val's fail-safes engaged and she fell face first to the concrete. She lay to her side, limbs slack. She was still dimly aware of what was going on, but her higher order A.I. functions had been suspended, so she couldn't really form an opinion of her situation.
Most people just stared a few walked over for a cursory glance. “The hell? Looks like some sort of robot.”
“Why's it wearing a backpack?”
“I dunno. It probably belongs to the school or something.”
That seemed to be enough to convince everyone not to concern themselves. After a few minutes an answerable question finally triggered Val's still operational speech recognition software.
“What's wrong?” Val's visual feed was filled with a concerned face. Very plain, with thick glasses and a bush of sandy brown hair tied into a loose ponytail.
“Amplify query,” Val's vocal synthesizer automatically replied. Her mouth hung open, allowing the fan inside to vent heat from her brain more efficiently.
“Uh, why are you laying on the ground?”
“This unit's motor functions are currently disabled.”
“Why are your motor function's disabled?”
“This unit is currently operating in low power mode to reduce heat buildup.”
“Well, then why are you wearing a trench-coat in August?”
“Unable to answer question.”
The girl sighed. “Alright, you poor thing, let's cool you down.”
The girl grabbed Val under the arms and strained to drag her into the shade. Petite though the robot's frame was, it was still made of metal underneath the skin. After pulling Val into the shade the girl pulled the trench-coat off of her, revealing the well-crafted but almost chalk-white arms the sleeves had obscured.
“Wait right there,” the girl said before stepping into the nearby dining hall. A minute or two later she returned with a handful of ice wrapped in a paper towel. She wrapped it up further in the hood of Val's coat and set the makeshift ice pack on the incapacitated robot's pale forehead. After about 30 seconds Val started to become herself again as the rest of her software relaunched.
“Thank you,” she said to the kind stranger, making sure to sound as natural as she could.
“Don't mention it. I felt bad for you. You looked so helpless.”
“You don't know the half of it.”
“Um... you've got a, um, spot on your cheek.”
“I'll wipe it off.”
The girl winced and nervously scratched above her ear. “Well, I said 'spot' but... it's really more like a tear.”
After a brief pause, Val began clumsily digging through her purse and pulled out a small mirror. The skin of her cheek had in fact been torn slightly under and a little to the left of her right eye, revealing a little bit of her metallic skull and some of the electronic connectors beneath if you looked closely.
“Well,” she quipped, “my bitch roommate did say I'd look prettier with more prominent cheekbones.”
“It's not so bad, you could just cover it with a band-aid or something!”
“Yeah, I'll raid the 'meatbag's' medicine cabinet after class if I have to,” she selected a wry smirk to take the edge off the conversation, “don't worry about me.”
“So... you'll be ok?”
“Other than my class attendance nosediving into the toilet so far, I guess I'm ok for now. I really need to get moving though.”
“Fair enough. My name's Jessy by the way.”
“See you around?”
“If I don't flunk out of college.”
“Well, good luck!”
Val tucked the coat under one arm and made her way to class, hoping she'd be able to find a seat next to an outlet. Hope I run into her again, she thought.
Val arrived at the teaching theater to find the door closed. She tried to ignore the wealth of stares she received as her motors echoed conspicuously through the relatively quiet hall. The instructor at least didn't care enough to to stop going through the motions of her lecture. Val scanned for outlets in the walls, zooming her vision in and out like, well, cameras. Her eyes were just small digital cameras after all.
Sweet delicious 120V, she thought as she spied a few on the back wall of the teaching theater. None of them had an open socket. Time for diplomacy, she thought, though not optimistically. She approached the least popular looking student using one.
You'll be able to manipulate the pitch of your vocal synthesizer, and the rate at which it executes your speech, they'd told her at the hospital. Other's have found it... difficult to utilize effectively, but... you will be the first musician to undergo the conversion process. Maybe you'll have an increased aptitude for it. Part of her saw an appeal in woodshedding vocal expression the way she'd woodshed a guitar solo. The reality had been much more frustrating. Even if it was still a matter of manipulating pitch and timing, the phrasing was all different. It was a whole different lexicon that she'd taken for granted because it had been second nature. But now “nature” was something she just had trouble feeling connected to now.
“Hey,” she greeted the student in the chair as sweetly as she could, and not without some success now that she was getting the hang of the vocal controls, “do you think I could use that outlet?” As she spoke she tried to subtly pivot her hips and shoulders just a little, not to be quite flirty, but just enough to maybe make him a bit more inclined to help a lady in need. The looks she got from everyone nearby were enough to let Val know that she hadn't pulled it off (though not enough to know if she looked comical or creepy doing it).
“Do you see a free space there?” replied the young man with some irritation, barely looking away from his laptop.
“Well, do you need to use both?”
“Uh, yeah; one for my phone and one for my laptop. Do you mind? I'm... trying to learn here.” He hesitated a bit as he started to realize exactly what was so unusual about the girl addressing him but was too distracted to notice before.
“Oh fuck off, you're playing Skyrim on that thing,” Val retorted.
“Cool, somebody built a robot that can recognize popular triple-A games,” greasy student's voice was dripping with sarcasm and derision. “Is this conversation being recorded? Am I gonna be mentioned in Wired?”
“Shut up,” Val snapped back in monotone, too angry to remember to inflect, “I might be a robot but that doesn't-n't-n't-n't meeeeeeeean...” Val locked up completely for a couple of seconds, her visual feed freezing as well and nothing but faint noise reaching her audio processor until an outwardly audible beep sounded from her CPU and she regained control.
This was too much. This snarky chud was getting under her skin, talking to her like she was just some mindless bot, and she didn't know if the anger was compromising her system stability or vice-versa. It was a vicious cycle really, because her audible glitching was drawing chuckles from the crowd that were taxing her emotional response software even more and making Val very glad she couldn't cry involuntarily.
“Hey, zip it up there,” the TA teaching the class called out from the podium.
Val lowered the volume on her voice and leaned toward the the aspiring Dovakhin to whisper “if I was just some man-made bot with no brain cells in my head then why would I even be taking this class, dickhead?” then stomped off a few paces and sat on the floor since there were no empty chairs left. She set her sensors and hard drive to record what was left of the lecture and tried to just veg out otherwise, hoping that minimizing the use of any higher order processes would stretch her battery life enough to make it through her next class. She even thought about disabling her emotional A.I. plug-ins, but she just couldn't bring herself to go through with such a measure. Since he couldn't see over the chairs in front of her anyway, she pulled her hood up and shut off her eyes. It cut down the drain on her battery and she didn't want to look at any of the people around her anyway.
Val had thankfully made it through the rest of the class day without any other major incidents or embarrassments. She returned to her room, happy to find that it was currently vacant. She checked the bathroom to see if Taylor had any bandages in stock and found one to conceal the tear in her facial skin. In and of itself it didn't bother her so much, but she was fast getting tired of the stares her superficial damage was attracting. Noticing the grime and dust left on her shirt from the fall she'd taken earlier, she pulled it off, still somewhat awkwardly. She paused and looked at her reflection. She'd been rebuilt with her original slim figure, but her skin held the same pigment throughout; just a scant few shades of fleshtone beyond porcelain white. Seams were visible at various points; around the perimeter of the chest, a rectangle on her abdomen, and around her upper arms a few inches past her shoulders. A product number and barcode were printed on her left shoulder, the stylized M logo of Matheos Robotics was partially concealed by one bra cup, and if you squinted you could make out the words “MADE IN USA” printed on the middle of her chest a few inches under her neck (though she knew that at least her hard drive and probably other components had been manufactured overseas).
Walking back to the bedroom, she pulled up the small hard plastic section of her side (where others would have a ribcage) that concealed her retractable power cable and plugged in. She still had a decent amount of charge, but if she didn't need to move around much she always tried to stay plugged in just to be on the safe side. She rummaged through her purse and pulled out her cell phone. She knew there were cyborgs and robots like her that used built-in replacements, the kind that they could use to just talk “in their head,” but she didn't mind doing things the “old-fashioned” way. In fact, it made things feel a little more normal for her in a small way. She called the tech support branch of her manufacturer.
“Matheos robotics, how may I help you today?” “I'm having an issue with my timed reactivation.” “What model is having this problem?” “... it's me. I'm an experimental... sentient type. This is the number they told me to call though.” “Oh...” the rep sounded a bit unsure of himself now. “Do you have a serial number?” “IM15B-FWXPG-KD12A.” “Thank you. Ok, can you further explain the issue you're... experiencing?” “Well, I can mentally set a time to automatically reactivate from shutdown or sleep mode, but it hasn't been working. My roommate's been having to reactivate me manually. I was late to class because of it.” “Are you sure it's set properly?” “Yeah, I'm looking at it on my HUD right now, it says 7:30 A.M. and next to that it says “set” in green text. I assume that's how it's supposed to look.” “That's correct. Is your software fully updated?” “I downloaded an update on Friday and haven't received any notifications about a new one, so I would think so.” “Have you rebooted your rob-, your...self since then?” “Yeah, I told you I-I-I had to be turned on by myyyyy roommate this morning. And can we do something about this too? My proccess-essors keep... hiccuping, mainly when I'm... pissed off I guess.” “Ok, well... I'm looking at your file and... it looks like you have organic components in your computer system. I'm... really not experienced with this model. Have you tried... there might be a registry error-” “I can't access my own registry. Safety feature or something. Look, I'll just get this fixed when I come in for my nutrient recycling next week.” “Wait, wait! Um... there's a patch available but I don't know if there will be any compatibility issues with your, um, brain.” “I'm willing to give it a try. Like I said, I need to come in anyway next week, so... just make a report in my file that I have a small tear in my facial skin from a fall I took when I overheated and... do you need to check anything out if I've overheated?” “Well, if you're not noticing anything unusual since it happened you should be ok, but if you want they can take a look inside your head when you come in, make sure there's been no damage to the electronics from the fall or the heat.” “Make it so, meatbag... Sorry, I've been resorting to terrible humor to cope with my current medical situation. I don't expect you to have a patch for that,” Val added, recalling her own experiences in customer service. “Um... don't worry about it. Can I do anything else for you today, ma'am?” “No, I'm sure I'll last another week. Bye.”
Val hung up and scrolled through her phone contacts looking for her dad. She thought it was about to go to voicemail after a few too many rings until he answered.
“Hey, kiddo!” Val could hear the squeal of an electric guitar in the background. “Hey, Dad. Sorry, did I call you during band practice?” “You called during the beer break of band practice, so no worries. How's the first week going, college girl?” “I've been having technical difficulties, quite literally.” “What happened? Are you alright? Who do I need to sue?” “Dad, calm down, you sound like Goeff Tate.” “Oooooh, go for the jugular why don't you? Seriously though, are you ok? What's going on?” “Well, for one I'm having to rely on my bitchy roommate to switch me on in the morning because my timed activation isn't working, so I haven't been getting to all my classes on time. At least it's mostly been big lecture hall classes so no one really notices so much, but... I was rushing this morning and I overheated and went into a sort of standby mode I guess. It was really weird. I can still remember it... like I was still aware at the time, but my personality was just gone. This girl helped me out and I just responded to her questions automatically. I was checking the .pdf manual in my hard drive between classes and it looks like that just happens if my brain gets too hot; saves heat cuz my higher order A.I. functions use so much processing power. For my own good supposedly, except it suspends my motor functions too so I fell on my face. Tore the skin a little, but I don't think that'll be a big deal. Hey, you think I could start a fashion trend of exposed metal cheekbones?” “Well, there comes a time in every parent's life when the kids grow up, move out, and and there's nothing you can do about the weird shit they decide to do,” he replied mock wistfully. “Are you sure you're ok though? We can have Matheos send a tech for you.” “You know, I would love to see the freaked out look on my roommate's face if she walked in to see my skull opened up and all that, but of course I'd probably sleep through the whole thing what with being switched off. It's cool, Dad. I'll have them take a look at my regular appointment. I'll just have to give up on wearing a trench-coat in August. So, how're things at home?” “Fine. Same as usual. Your mom's still at work. Dio seems to have decided your bed is his bed now that you're not around, so don't be shocked to find a room full of cat hair when you come back. Band's gonna be recording soon now that Carlos has his own rig set up for us to use. You should come visit and cure us of the empty nest syndrome.” “Hey, I could totally come visit more if you bought me some driving software. I don't really trust myself to drive a car manually, but I'm pretty sure I can run the same control plugins for it that people install in service androids. That'd be a win win.” “I'll mention it to your mom. You know she's the only one making any meaningful money in this family.” “Thanks. Well, I'll see you guys soon.” “Love you, kiddo. Let us know if you have any problems.” “I will, Dad. Love you too.”
Val hung up and kicked on her waist actuators to lie back, contemplating what to do with some moments to herself.