Protection

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The season's first cold morning had come unexpectedly, and Ashley's thin jacket was poorly suited for these conditions. Her mechanical legs squeaked as low grade lubricants congealed. Mechanized from the waist down, Ashley's human top half shivered in the biting wind. She turned the corner and saw her destination: The Ready Ratchet. A fembot sat outside. Its left arm had been crushed, and it was leaning, powerless and silent, against the wall beside the door. "Shit." Ashley scowled, opening the door. "Boss, we've got another one!"

Lori looked up from her work. "Lovely. Can you drag her in, or do you need me to get it?" "I got it." "Cool. Ashley, this is my friend Cam. Cam, this is my apprentice and fembot-in-training, Ashley." A blue-haired fembot leaned up from the workbench. "Hi! I'd wave but my arms are rebooting." "I'm a cyborg, not a fembot-in-training!" Ashley yelled. Then she stepped outside to drag the broken fembot in.

Cam turned back to Lori. "As I was saying: it's nice to be a sex bot. Existing solely as someone's pleasure toy is really rewarding. You should try it." Lori smiled. "You're just programmed to say that." Cam nodded. "Yeah. But that doesn't mean its not true." "Ha!" Lori nearly fell over laughing. "Well I appreciate your honesty. You're all set. Do you have payment, or should I bill your owner?" "He said to bill him, and he sends his thanks. He also wants to invite..." "I'm not going to one of Chuck's parties. Tell him to stop asking. He's a nice guy and all, but he's not my type." "What's your type?" "Synthetic, female, and open to experimentation." Ashley, dragging a 200-pound fembot in the door, interjected: "Boss, your definition of 'experimentation' is genuinely terrifying." "You lack vision, my dear" said Lori, pointing. "Bring her to that table and I'll lift her onto it." Ashley nodded. Her human arms couldn't lift the inert fembot more than a few inches.

As Ashley toiled, Cam resumed her inquiry. "I didn't know you had an assistant. You called her your 'fembot in training'?" "Ashley's working to pay for college, so I made her my apprentice. I've been trying to convince her to go fully artificial, but she won't see it my way. She's so proud that her boobs are 'all natural'." Ashley turned bright red. "That's not the ONLY reason!" Then, realizing she had only incriminated herself further, managed to turn even redder and turned away to resume her work. Cam grinned and spoke quietly: "They're real? I'm impressed." "I know, right?! How often does a fembot get upstaged by the real thing?" Lori whispered back, cupping her own chrome-plated steel bust. Cam laughed and they exchanged farewells.

Once Cam was sent on her way, Lori strode over to the workbench and lifted the damaged fembot into it. Ashley reached for nearby power cables while Lori removed the fembot's shirt and opened its chest. Once it was plugged in, the fembot shuddered and opened its eyes. "Hello, please repair me. Payment to follow twenty-four hours after work is completed." Ashley sighed. She was right: it was another one.

About a month ago, the first one had arrived at the front door. Five days later, another one appeared. Another less than a week later. The frequency had steadily increased, and now the Ready Ratchet was servicing the fifth of these mystery-fembots this week. They all had several things in common: They were all fairly new fembots. They were all left outside the shop, deactivated. They all had their memories altered, so none of them could remember what had happened. They were all programmed to say the same thing: "Hello, please repair me. Payment to follow twenty-four hours after work is completed." When repairs were complete, they would always thank Lori, turn left out the door, and walk south down 17th Street. The next day, funds would always be anonymously deposited in Ready Ratchet's account. And most disturbingly...

"This was an attack." Ashley spoke aloud what she and Lori were both thinking. "This wasn't an accident or a malfunction. Someone tried to hurt her, like the others. And it's getting worse." ____________

Repairs took just a few hours, faster than any other establishment in the city could boast. The arm was fully replaced with an identical model procured from the parts store several blocks away. Connections, reflexes, and motions were run through a full battery of tests before the nameless fembot was cleared to go. "Thank you, have a great day!" the fembot cheerily repeated the same farewell as her equally mysterious predecessors had before her, and turned to leave the shop. Up until now, Lori and Ashley had refused to follow them out of respect for their privacy. But given the rate of escalation, they needed answers. They wordlessly nodded to each other, and quietly followed her out, with Lori pausing only to flip the sign from "OPEN" to "OUT TO LUNCH".

The fembot walked briskly down the cold sidewalk, but Lori and Ashley's robotic legs were easily able to keep pace. South on 17th, west on Market, ducking down an alley behind the Kitten Club, and emerging on Lawrence Street. The fembot crossed the street, and entered a nearby bar: The Electric Sheep.

"I figured as much. We've been fixing sex bots," Ashley said, folding her arms. "But why?" "What do you mean?" Lori asked, "This is a bar, not a brothel." "The bar is a front. But if you say the right things, you get in to the back, where you can buy some action with your drinks." "I see." Lori chose not to pry. Ashley bristled at the silent accusation. "I've never been a customer, if that's what you think." "Hey, I don't judge. Anyway, the ball's in your court. You seem to know more about this establishment than me. Maybe you can find some answers. I'm heading back to the shop." "Wait, what? You're just going to leave me?!" "I've got a business to run. This is as far as my curiosity will take me. Going any further pushes the line of professional ethics." Ashley tilted her head in bewilderment. "Professional ethics? You?" Lori whirled around and walked back down the alley. "Let it not be said I don't have standards." Ashley stood alone, planning the next move. ______________

While Rose cleaned glasses behind the bar in The Electric Sheep, her mechanical mind was calculating the day's revenue. Her joints clicked softly as she placed a clean highball on the shelf and reached into the sink for another glass, testing the faith she placed in the rubber seals protecting the delicate electronics in her hands. Sensing unexpected movement, her eyes moved to the door as a cyborg wearing a tiny dress walked in. The girl walked directly to the bar, trying to project confidence. Her eyes gave her away, darting around, examining unfamiliar surroundings. The girl was nervous. Unsure. Rose smiled: a new customer.

Ashley sat at the bar and ordered an Old Fashioned, "No soda, no fruit". Rose smiled as she reached for the top-shelf bourbon. "You have good taste. I take my Manhattans the same way." "Do it right or don't do it at all, I always say. That applies to lots of things. Cocktails, machines, sex..."

Rose did her best not to laugh at the cyborg seated in front of her. New customers are always the same. They think they need to slyly work sex into the conversation, as if Rose didn't already know exactly what this girl had come here for. She could have walked up to the bar and said "You, me, upstairs, now" and Rose would have happily joined her. She let Ashley carry on though, for the sake of appearances. "It's tough. When lovers see my robotic parts, they get too rough and I bruise. When they see my human parts, they go too soft and I can't get off. I need someone with experience, who really knows how to love a cyborg girl like me." Here it comes, thought Rose, on the verge of rolling her eyes. "You look like you know exactly what I'm talking about" Ashley said softly, touching the bartender's hand as her drink was served. Rose leaned forward, giving Ashley a perfect view of her cleavage. "Oh I do. I've got a room upstairs if you'd like to give it a try."

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Rose and Ashley lay cuddling on the king-sized bed. Ashley was panting from her last, roiling orgasm. Was that her fourth? Fifth? Rose glanced at her battery status. I'll need to recharge soon. That was incredible. If every client was like this, I'd do this job for free. "You know, you didn't have to go down on me. You're my client, remember? I'm supposed to be taking care of you." "I'm the client, so I'll do what I want to you, when I want to." Ashley give Rose's clit a gentle pinch, prompting a squeak from the fembot. No longer fearful and awkward, Ashley was treating the fembot as if she owned her. Ashley resumed gently fondling the synthetic woman beside her. "When did you get converted into a fembot?", Ashley asked. Rose shook her head. "I came into this world on an assembly line. Surprised?" "Your A.I. is amazing! I'd have sworn you were post-transformation." "Nope. Just nuts and bolts from the start. I'm part of the JSI-3500 series." "I've heard of that series. It came out at the same time as the USR Lily series, which was much more popular." Rose nodded. "JSI's design philosophy put more emphasis on their A.I. personalities. USR went with more realistic bodies. Consumers chose the latter. Turns out people care more about great tits than making conversation. Speaking of great tits, are yours for real?" "They're the real deal," Ashley said proudly while Rose gave them a grope. "My boss keeps telling me to go full-fembot, but then I wouldn't have these girls anymore." "You can't do that, we'd lose a national treasure!" said Rose, laughing.

They continued cuddling and fondling quietly, punctuated by the occasional moan, for a few more minutes before Rose broke the silence. "You're here to ask about the attacks, right?" "Yeah. How did you know?" "If you were a normal client, you'd be much more concerned about how long we've been up here. I charge by the hour, you know. I knew Lori or one of her subordinates would come, it was only a matter of time." "We're just concerned. What's happening?" "It's a fucking protection racket. We were paying a mobster by the name of Karinka to keep her goons from harming our girls. But Karinka made some bad business deals, and started asking for more money to pay off her debts. We couldn't afford it, so we stopped paying. Soon the attacks started." "That's terrible! Why haven't you gone to the police?" "Because our whole operation isn't technically legal. Some of our girls are unregistered. More than one is actually subject to recall by the manufacturer. We can't have law enforcement breathing down our necks. That's also why we've been hiding their memories when we send the girls to you: so they can't answer any questions to curious cops. Paying for repairs was cheaper than paying off Karinka or hiring private security, so we've just been taking the abuse. But now they've stepped up the rate and severity of the attacks. I think we're out of options." "Come with me to the shop. Talk to Lori. We'll think of something!" Rose shook her head. "We shouldn't have involved you guys. It's too dangerous. Karinka made a deal with some Columbian guerrillas. She's renting three military-grade androids, and they're the ones doing her dirty work. They're bad news. Stay away."

Unable to ignore the low-battery warning any more, Rose's programming forced her to get up out of bed and walk, still naked, over to the wall and plug herself into a small recharging station. "I'm so sorry. Take care of yourselves and don't worry about us. Please show yourself out." "But..." Ashley cut herself short when she saw that Rose had already entered low-power mode, staring straight ahead while recharging. Ashley gathered her things, kissed Rose on the cheek, and left.

___________

The sun was setting when Ashley returned to the Ready Ratchet. Amid the orange light coming off the nearby buildings, and the neon signs of neighboring businesses, the shop's windows reflected a kaleidoscope of bright colors. Only when she came within a few feet of the door did she realize something was amiss. The lights aren't on inside.

Ashley opened the door and flipped on the light, then gave off a brief startled shriek. The scene was worse than the had feared. Smashed equipment littered the floor, steel tables were bent like fortune cookies, and water was spraying from where the shop sink had been torn from the wall. Ashley froze in terror. Were they still here? Were they nearby? She heard a voice coming the back of the shop. Looking around, she spotted a portable electric saw, grabbed it, and crept forward. After a minute of silently advancing, she recognized the voice. "Lori!" Ashley threw down the saw and ran to the back, jumping over debris. She found her boss sprawled on her back. Lori had been thrown into the concrete floor so hard that she lay in a shallow crater. Her body twitched repeatedly, her badly malfunctioning systems still trying to defend itself against a threat that had already gone. "You son of a... you son of a... you son of a... ERROR 46 You son of a... you son of a... you son of a... ERROR 46 You son of..." Lori froze as Ashley flipped her carefully hidden power switch.

_____________

It had taken months for Ashley to convince Lori to share her personal design documents. "You won't always be able to repair yourself, you know. Someday you'll need someone else to open you up and replace a part or reconnect a cable, and when that happens, you won't want them making educated guesses in that custom body of yours." Over and over, Lori would refuse, impersonating a stubborn old man. "Balderdash! I'm fit as a fiddle!" She'd say, banging a fist against her chrome steel chest. Then one day, seemingly at random, Ashley got an email. "I'm trusting you to take care of me", was all it said. Attached were a copy of Lori's complete schematics.

For a week, Ashley had poured her off-duty hours into studying them. They weren't just the blueprint for a fembot, they were a glimpse into the creative mind of her boss and mentor. In some areas, Ashley could see where Lori's skills had improved over the years. The electrical systems in Lori's body, for example, were inferior to anything she was building today. In contrast, the weight distribution and servo designs were decades ahead of their time. Ashley guessed that the only reason Lori didn't reuse the design on other fembots was because of the incredible time and effort it would have taken. Ashley wondered what it must have been like, building her own body from scratch, then throwing a switch and becoming a machine. Trading flesh for steel, blood for oil, and neurons for microprocessors.

_______________

Ashley's long days of study paid off, and less than two hours after finding Lori's battered form, she could turn her boss back on. A decade-old boot script ran across cold silicon. "SYSTEMS ONLINE TRANSFERRING CONTROL TO SUSPENDED MIND" Lori twitched, then relaxed. "...a bitch! Ah, you're here. What time is it?" "It's 7:44 now." "Damn that felt strange. My mind was in a loop. I knew my mind was in a loop, but I couldn't do anything about it. I was so helpless, but I didn't even feel helplessness. I couldn't. I was stuck feeling the same emotion over and over..." "What emotion?" Ashley asked quietly. "Anger. Rage. Fury." She pointed to her shoulder. "They scratched my paint, Ashley. THEY SCRATCHED MY FUCKING PAINT!" Ashley exhaled, relieved that the experience hadn't traumatized Lori in any noticeable way. "What happened?"

"They came right in the front door. Three big ones, the size of fridges. You shoulda seen 'em! They weren't very talkative. They probably thought I'd be intimidated or something. They sure changed their tune when I threw the first one into that." Lori pointed at a smashed diagnostic console. "But once they knew I was a tough customer, they got wise. They only attacked two or three at a time!" Lori was getting excited, as if telling a fishing story. "Once they got ahold of me, they tried to rip my arms off, but I'm too tough, see? So eventually, the biggest one just grabs me by the ankles, and starts using me to hit things. Eventually they hit me against the floor enough times that my motivator board broke, then I had a processor bus pop off." Ashley's eyes widened. I knew she was tough, but I didn't know she was that tough.

Lori sat up. "This means war." Ashley's jaw dropped. "No! No, this doesn't mean war! We need to get out of town, it's not safe here! Survival good, war bad!" "Fuck that and fuck them! Ashley, call all the parts guys we trust. Then tell The Electric Sheep to send all their girls here. Tell 'em I said so." "They won't..." "They will. Trust me." Ashley complied, wondering if she should have performed a full psych diagnostic before restarting her employer.

____________

The eastern sky was turning a deep blue, obscuring the dim stars while the brighter ones struggled against the tide of light. Venus had marched above the horizon, and the Sun would soon follow. In an alley off 23rd Street, a fembot walked briskly home wearing shorts and a tank top, oblivious to the sub-zero air, avoiding the same icy patches she had avoided a dozen times that week. She heard the crunch of cracking ice behind her, whirling around to see a sledgehammer being swung at her.

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On Havana Avenue, Tabatha fumbled the keys to her first-floor apartment. Cursing her clumsy mechanical hands, she stooped over to pick them up. When she arose, she was staring down the barrel of a megawatt arc rifle.

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In West Park, Sindi had been cornered by a hulking mechanical menace. He smiled wickedly, and reached for her neck with hands the size of baseball gloves. Sindi wanted to scream, but nothing came out.

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"All set." Lori looked down at Rose, who was laying naked on a dented steel workbench. "You shouldn't have done this." Rose tried to put up a defiant front, but her smile betrayed her relief. Sitting up, she closed her abdominal panels, voicing a little squeak of arousal when they clicked into place. "You sex bots crack me up. You can't even have some work done on you without acting horny." Rose shrugged. "It's the life I was built for. What about you? Don't tell me you never indulge in any carnal pleasures?" "Oh I do, but my tastes are a little different than yours, my dear." "What do you mean?" "Let's just say the most fun I've ever had in bed involved an arc welder and a brave volunteer." Rose spent a moment in silence trying to imagine, then forget, such a scenario. "What do we do now?" she asked, changing the subject. "We go about our lives. The point of the plan is twofold. The primary goal is, of course, self-defense. The tune-up I gave to each of you should help you be able to fend off those Guatemalan mooks." "I think they're Columbian." "Whatever. The point is, this should keep you safe. And if you want to stay even safer, take up judo or something." Rose nodded. "And the second goal?" "To send a message. To tell those creeps that we won't be intimidated. To tell the people of this city that it's safe to walk the streets at night. To tell the world that nobody scratches my goddamn paint!" Rose looked over at Ashley, who had passed out from exhaustion and was sleeping on a sofa in the corner. All through the night, she and Lori had modified, upgraded, and outfitted the fembots of The Electric Sheep, calling in favors from part suppliers, and adding some custom equipment of their own. "Were these modifications... legal?" "They're not illegal, I guess, but now most of you need to be reclassified as construction equipment or something." Her statement was punctuated with a sadistic giggle that made Rose shiver.

The front door opened, and Lori turned around. "Ah, I was wondering when you would show up."

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In an alley off 23rd street, the still air was pierced by a deafening CLANG! The fembot had caught the sledgehammer with her bare hand, stopping it short. Her reinforced legs groaned under the strain, while the larger android's mouth opened in shock. Deftly turning her hand, she yanked the weapon out of his hand and, spinning all the way around, delivered an underhanded swing that connected with his jaw, sending him twenty feet in the air.

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On Havana avenue, an arc rifle exploded, the predictable result of having its electric current sent back into it through the barrel. The air around Tabatha crackled with electricity as a maniacal grin formed across her face, and for the first time, a military android felt fear.

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In West Park, two baseball glove-sized hands lay on the sidewalk, and a gigantic android gawked at the sparking stumps at the end of his arms. Sindi cracked her knuckles, each pop sounding like a gunshot. The guerrilla wanted to scream, but nothing came out.

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"I'm ruined!" Karinka stood in the Ready ratchet, shaking visibly, pointing an exotic-looking weapon at Lori. "Do you have any idea what that cartel will do to me when they find out the bots they loaned me have been destroyed?! FUCK!" The shouting awoke Ashley, who sat up and blinked. Then her eyes went wide. "Lori, that thing's a plasma rifle! It'll cut right through you!" "Yes, thank you." Lori's tone remained calm, not breaking eye contact with the desperate fembot in front of her, who in turn was getting less calm by the second. "Rose, please turn yourself off right now." Rose had been frozen in terror, seated on the workbench. "What? Why?" "Now, my dear." Rose looked worriedly at Ashley, who silently nodded. With a click, Rose shut herself down and slumped onto her back. "Didn't want her to see me fry you?" Karinka's trigger finger twitched. "Not exactly."

Ashley pressed the button on a tiny remote, and suddenly the shop was filled with a loud hum. Karinka's shaking stopped, and she stood frozen in place. Unable to move her mouth, Karinka's voice came from her internal speech processor, and it came out muffled and mechanical. "What... ERROR 398 why can't I move my body? -ody? -ody? ERROR 56 What have you done -one to me -ee?"

"Like it? It's a modulated induction jamming coil. We installed it in the shop a while back. It freezes the motion controls of almost any robot on the market today. I can't claim credit for it though, it's an invention of my fembot-in-training over there. Smart as a whip, that one. She's got a bright future. Anyway, we've both got built-in countermeasures against the coil, so aside from a tingling sensation, I feel just fine. How are you?" "I'll kill y- y- y-...." Karinka strained, but she couldn't even blink. Her body was her prison. "Resuming our conversation from earlier," Lori cut off the idle threat, "I am well aware of what the Guatemalan cartel will do to you." "Columbian." Ashley interrupted. "Whatever. When they get you, they'll cut you up with plasma torches, sell your useful parts, and recycle the rest of you. You will be on and functioning when start cutting." Karinka was silent now, saline tears welling up in her eyes. "They'll send your head to their boss in Columbia. They'll probably mount it to a wall or something as a warning to their enemies. But what they might do instead is hook a battery to it, and reprogram you to be his personal blowjob toy. You do have a cute mouth. He'll use you as long as your servos last, which should be another five to ten years before you're discarded."

"Ple- -ease, have mer- ERROR 398 er- ERROR 41 -cy -cy -cy." "Here's the alternative," said Lori, walking closer to her would-be assailant. "I make you dissappear. I'll build you a new body, and the Guate...Columbians will never find you, and you'll work for me here. I'll let you keep your memory and your sense of self, but I'll need to reprogram your personality from scratch. Can't have you go trying to murder me or something. You'll be a whole new fembot!" Karinka was silent now, except for the stream of increasingly worrisome error messages. "Please decide quickly. The coil is making your systems overload. Ashley and I have a bet going as to which will fry first, your power relays or your motion logic circuit." "I... ERROR 56 I... ERRrrr..." There was a loud "POP", and Karinka's faceplate blew off, her exposed head circuity giving off smoke and sparks. Her speech processor gave off a burst of static, then silence. The sparks stopped, and the broken fembot remained standing in place. "That will be ten dollars," Ashley declared triumphantly, turning the jamming coil off. "Huh. I really thought it would be the motion logic circuit." "Were you serious about what you said, about the Columbians?" "I made up the part about the head." Lori grinned deviously. "I figured she needed the extra kick."

______________


three months later----


"Have a good time back at college, Ashley. I'll make a fembot of you yet." Ashley hugged her mentor. "Yes I will, and not a chance." Rose stood impatiently in the doorway. "We don't want to miss the train!" "Wait, 'we'? Rose is going with you?" Lori raised a chrome eyebrow. "Well, we're really in love so..." she looked into Rose's eyes, "I asked her if she'd be mine. She said yes!" "You're engaged?! Congratulations!" "Huh? No no no, I meant literally mine. I offered to buy her from the Electric Sheep. They told me I needed her consent, and she said yes." "Oh well that's... significantly less romantic. But I'm very happy for you both!" Rose laughed. "I'm a sex bot, not a wife. And when she finds that special someone, I'll belong to them as well. With Ashley's permission, of course." "I'll think about it." said Ashley with a devious smile. "Grab that bag. We're off!"

After their farewells, the door closed, and Lori sighed. "There goes the best assistant I ever had. Now it's just you and me!" She turned to the blond fembot behind her. "K-4, are you synthetic?" "Yes, master." "Are you female?" "Yes, master." "Are you open to experimentation?" "You programmed me to be, master. You said I lacked vision." "Lay on that workbench, darling. I want to try something."

K-4 dutifully did as she was told. She could not imagine a more frightening command.


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