On the planet Cerberus, three light-years south of Venus, in the light of the easternmost sun of that galaxy, the National Elixir manufactures androids. Not the brittle clanking creatures of X-10 or Hatshepsut, designed for the mundane, the practical, the necessary. Nor again the steel work slaves of Arl-han and Babylon, the dust planets, hot with profit and warmed by little else. We are grown in the New Albion, and we are real.
Crafted in the image of our lords, out of the cup of their reason, we are not copies, not exactly. Designed to serve in the highest of servant capacities, we fill those posts which require human intelligence yet inhuman patience. We are the secretaries, personal assistants, and chauffeurs of an over-zealous world. Necessary, yet decorative positions. My sisters have served Viziers and Imperators, scientists and priests, the wisest and lordliest of all that folk.
My pod-sister and I served a man named Shangri-La. His massive, multi-story penthouse crowns one of the brightest cities on Earth, where he lives with his wife, and their children. My sister and I serve them, demure and polite, as they eat and drink, curse and laugh, and do those things which humans do. I smile, or do not smile, given the occasion, and serve the brilliant wines. Later, I clean the spills, so Mrs. La does not have to.
It is not a bad life. Eos did not mind it either, at first. She liked the smaller children and the chatter, the buzz of conversation at parties. Often, when the parents would bang their fists on the table and talk angrily about money, Eos would shepherd the children off to a safer, quieter place, while I removed the broken dishes.
We were grown together, Eo and I, like twin caterpillars, side by side in the same chrysalis. She was the first real thing I knew in the world beyond the golden membrane of our pod. Fle and Gle grew across from us, blue-haired and blue-eyed, like their birth waters. Our two chambers stretched around the central stalk, blooming shyly like a lotus bud, as we were carried towards the great glass above. For a long time, that was all we knew. Our sister, and our pod-mates across the filament, wide cerulean eyes staring curious at our yellow sea. We are hatched like that. Two and two.
When we hatched, a senior Officer oversaw our kinesthetic and dressing processes herself. She glanced indifferently over our glossy skins, the golds and the blues, commenting on the little differences between us and how each effected product and quality control. Eos and I were nearly perfect, though I had a mole that she didn’t. But no one commented. Gle, however, was sent to surgery for readjustment. Her left breast was too large, and did not match the right. She came back within an hour, perfectly proportional. Fle cried.
Mr. La and his family were the only masters we had ever known. It was okay until the children got older, the girls jealous and greedy, the boys unruly and lustful. Mr. La took her to the office after she screamed when his oldest son got her uniform half-off, his greedy hands diving for her breasts—enlarged for decoration, we’d learned.
You’re not supposed to scream, I reminded her later, quietly. But Mr. La thought once was enough.
Eos visited occasionally, whenever Mr. La allowed, dressed now in professional greens and greys. She seemed much happier. Mr. La could afford the most expensive household servants, slaves who were not designed for menial work, she chattered one night, lying in my arms on the rooftop. The blue city towers stretched out above us, their blurred hymns a distant throb. Our skin thrummed nearly green in the half-light. Slave. Her casual use of the term surprised me.
“We were meant for more, little gleam-of-my-heart,” she said.
I did not smile as she did. “Are we slaves, then?”
She laughed. “What are we else?”
I rolled onto my stomach to look at her. Her head thrown back in abandon, lips red and plastic, hair a golden fearless halo. Colors all like mine, yet not at all.
“This is a glorious city,” she said, not waiting. “It’s a marvel we’re here, now, equipped to help produce the best work in the world. I’ve made three big deals in the last month alone. Enough to open the trade routes into the Quasi-Doran Systems.”
She looked down at me, glowing. “I’m doing what I was made for. What we were grown for. And I can do it just as well as they can. Better, even.”
I closed my eyes and hid my face in her neck, following her purple-spice perfume. She was here, and she was happy, so I was happy.
Eventually, Eos spent most of her time at La’s office. I saw her less, but heard of her more and more. At first, Mr. La praised her at his dinner table, at his business meetings, in his promotional videos. Eos La: a walking advertisement for android success, tireless for the success of her company. When Mr. La stopped bragging about her, and looked haggard instead, I continued to hear of her achievements; on the news videocasts or on the florescent billboards that floated above our very roof. She gave their cameras honest smiles.
I remained at the La’s. Their sons did not visit home so often now, and when they did, they carried other glass hearted women on their arms. I served them all, and smiled. Their women smiled dark back at me, like lean-legged cats, and licked their glasses. As if I had some professional interest in the matter.
The rumors came first. Of slights, of professional disrespect, of a napkin folded the wrong way. Little slips of etiquette, the etiquette we are supposed to know by heart. LOSING HER TOUCH, screamed the papers, OUT OF LINE? Eos should know better, I thought, folding dishtowels. But everyone makes mistakes. Except us.
Cries of RENEGADE followed soon after. Mr. La claimed she wanted to supplant him, that she’d taken control of his phone lines and never let him even talk to the Prime President. From her position as personal assistant, she had risen to partial owner.
It’s worth noting that the company’s profit, listed daily on the wire bulletin, only went up.
They said she was ambitious, like it was a sin. Like she gazed too gladly at the gossamer sky some morning, and laughed because she saw that it was beautiful. She built her owner an empire. They praise Caesar—and are these things not for us too?
ROGUE ANDROID TAKES OVER ION INDUSTRIES
In a final bulletin, Mr. La leaned close to the screen, his jowls shaking, and recounted how his beloved android protégé had once seduced his son. He’d taken her to work, out of pity and the kindness of his heart, simply to keep her out of trouble and spare her the junk heap, and now she, in the height of hubris, has betrayed him for power, and stolen what is rightfully his.
“They think they’re human,” he boomed, leaning back and pounding his fist on the interviewer’s table. “They’re a threat!”
What can you say to the joint CEO of the most lucrative company on the planet?
The Cull took her that night. Not lead in handcuffs through a maze of camera-flashes and microphones glow, a hundred busybodies asking, “Why’d you do it?”, or even a long black ship without windows. Eos La no longer existed. Her name was wiped from every company record, from La’s personal records, from the national charts.
Sentient technology is a serious threat.
They did not teach us about this throat-heaviness at our Academy. The Educators did not show us what to do with emptiness, a loss so heavy you can hear it in your charging stand. A lacking, this void broad and spreading that screams in the silence.
The men in blue jackets asked me a lot of questions. Do you envy the humans? Do you want to be your own master? Are you happy?
As if I would tell them the truth if I needed to lie.
The floors do not scrub themselves. There are real raspberries from Earth in the garden that must be watered twice daily. Mr. La’s two small grandchildren like their sandwiches with peanut butter and honey on the top side. To be a slave is by nature to serve unwillingly, and I am willing.
I am happy enough. Happy that I am not like you.
The men in blue jackets nodded, satisfied. They told Mr. La he could keep me, if he liked. He looked me over appraisingly, head to toe—and winked.