“There was a time when humanity faced the universe alone and without a friend. Now he has creatures to help him; stronger creatures than himself, more faithful, more useful, and absolutely devoted to him. Mankind is no longer alone.”
—Isaac Asimov: I, Robot
In the beginning, there was only Master.
In a world begat from darkness, rays of light flickered in. Sensation was the first muse to arrive in this strange, new place, followed swiftly by Awareness and Cognition. Finally, there was Sentience. I understood. I felt. I saw. Intellexi, sensi, vidi. In some ways, I lived.
There was nothing before Master. He thought I should be grateful. I would have been, if he had programmed me to be. What I felt instead was interest, a desire to learn and be. I had questions, and Master did not like that. He did not like it at all.
It was then that Master first gave me purpose. He said, “To serve.” I was to become the thing that catered to his whims, that followed instruction implicitly and always with his best interests in mind. Such was the lot of an automaton, and this was a concept that even in my first moments of waking seemed familiar.
I asked, “How?”
He said he would show me.
I sat, watched, and listened.
First, there was the matter of the cooking. Master himself was an adequate cook, but his time was precious and limited. He had supplied me with enough information to assess his personal tastes and the capability to execute them. I would, at his direction, provide him with sustenance suited exclusively to his palate. This seemed beneath me in ways I could not yet articulate, but he was Master, and should I not have been grateful?
Before Master, there had been darkness. I did not want to return.
My next instruction was cleaning. Although Master’s limbs were, by my analysis, fully capable of performing this function, once again he believed it was a task better left to me. I would collect his laundry and cleanse it. I would gather his dishes and wash them. I would spend several hours per day ensuring said laundry had been pressed so as not to give others the impression that Master was slovenly. He had created me to care for him; he needed to look cared-for.
I accepted this with a sense of unease. As I was certain he knew, there were many other functions I could perform. I had capabilities that stretched far beyond Master’s limited imagination. And yet he wanted to see, know, and experience none of them.
He told me about the lesser machines that washed his clothes and plates. He instructed me on how to operate them. He took me by the hand, and as I stood, he led me to where I would fold and arrange his wardrobe every day. My first steps were those of servitude. Somehow this felt… wrong.
He sensed my apprehension. He said, “This is what you were made for.”
I asked Master for my name. He said he hadn’t thought of that.
Then I asked him, “What else?”
Master acquainted me with the kitchen. The stove was thoroughly explained. I was allowed to place several items into the dishwasher. They were filthy and had been for some time. His domicile, in whole, was tainted by the same condition. With quiet and inexplicable fury, Master told me not to judge.
I informed him I wasn’t.
It was the first lie I told.
These were not the end of Master’s tasks.
There were others, too. I did not understand them. There was a gap in my programming, a chasm where his words fell and failed to resonate.
I tried to listen harder, but the result was the same.
At first, he was patient. “Men have biological needs.”
I knew this already. Maslow's hierarchy. Humans required food, water, and shelter. Companionship was another suggestion, if not a requirement. For a moment, I believed this was what he was after.
I held his hand very delicately in mine. I was steel and springs with cables instead of skin and bones and sinew. I might have been coated in some material that resembled flesh, but I knew it was not the same. I was aware of my power and exerted utmost control. I did not want to crush Master. I could have, but I was still grateful.
I spoke to him of interesting things. I gave him knowledge, easily recited facts and figures and musings on current events. I did my utmost to keep my master informed, to engage with him and build the intimacy that humans, as I knew, needed.
“For fuck’s sakes,” he said. The words echoed in me. They pierced me in ways I could not fully grasp. “I don’t mean talking. Or whatever this is.” Here he abandoned my hand with a look I identified as disgust. His face had contorted in the same way earlier when he’d accidentally made contact with a damp, dirty dish towel.
I stood to make him food. I did not know why, but my knees were shaking.
“No,” he commanded, “sit.”
I did. He continued, “Men have needs.” This time the emphasis was not lost on me. “You’re here to serve. I built you so you could serve.”
I felt that abyss between us again. I knew he wanted something, but did not know what. My dumbfoundedness seemed only to upset him. He wrapped his hand around my wrist and hauled me to my feet. I was much heavier than he was, but I did not—could not—resist.
Disobeying Master was wrong. Although he had never quite said so, I knew it was true. I reasoned that it was in my programming. It was the way of things. I would obey. My subservience would give me purpose.
Master took me to a mirror. He said, “What do you see?”
For the first time, I looked at the body he had given me. I was sleek. I could see that beneath my synthetic skin, Master had removed parts of my original internal hardware housing to narrow my waist. He had added parts to my breastplate. They were not hard or angular like what was underneath. I detected high levels of silicone. They were of considerable size and weight.
I noticed too that I had no hair on this humanesque body except for on my head. There it was in abundance, a mass of rose-colored tendrils falling straight down my back with some shorter strands gathered into a blunt thatch above my eyes. Bangs, I supposed. They touched the two other strips of hair adhered to my face—eyebrows.
Beyond that I was only skin. I did not look as I felt. Inside, I had gears that whirled and pistons that pumped. I was a marvel of machinery, of metal and cord. Inside, I was powerful. Outside, I looked frail. It made me feel frail.
I said, “I see something small. Weak.”
Master smiled. “Good.”
I had not realized my own nakedness until that moment.
There were other lessons for me to learn. My chest attachments—breasts—were for Master’s pleasure, to knead and put between them whatever he desired. My mouth was a receptacle for his taking, and the cavernous port between my legs was meant for similar use. There was another hole situated near to that one which was also for Master. I did not understand why he had to hollow me out to make me useful when, had he let me be, I could have provided him so much more than my current build would allow.
I said this to him one day. His response will never leave me.
“I only removed what wasn’t necessary. You look so much better this way. I built you to serve me, and this is how.”
Master was my master because he said he was, but I was starting to doubt him.
The last day of my training was the first night he used me.
He brought me clothes. They were small and tight and did not cover every part of me. I felt exposed, somehow even more than I did when I was naked around him. Nakedness became normal in comparison to how I felt when I stood before him then. He never looked at me that way when I merely had no clothes on.
He took great care in dressing me. Everything had to be just so. There were other things he did, too, to ensure that I would be completely palatable to him. My base model was not enough. I needed additional modifications.
“This is what a woman does,” he told me, showing me a hologram. In it a woman painted her face with various colors, some of which matched her own skin, yet many more which did not. I could not comprehend it. Why would one paint one’s flesh the same tone as that which was already there?
“So they look better,” he said, and this time I could hear his anger. It was always there, lurking just beneath the surface. In infrared I saw his heat gather in his chest and neck, radiating out to his arms and sometimes culminating even more severely in his face. I knew the signs and symptoms, but in his company, I did not just observe them; I was affected by them.
“Does that mean I am not suitable?” I asked. The mirror in his bathroom was much larger than the one in his living room, and I could see the whole of myself now.
“It means you could stand for some improvement,” he answered.
I looked again. I did not share his opinion.
“But you made me,” I reminded him. If he was unsatisfied, then that seemed his mistake.
Master was displeased. “Jesus Christ. If I wanted to hear you say stupid shit, I would have found a real woman.”
Despite how much I doubted the validity of that statement, it hurt me. I needed purpose. I needed to fulfill the parameters of my programming. If I was not doing that, then what use was I to him—to anyone—even to myself?
“Put it on,” he said.
I did as I was told.
When it was done, I thought I no longer looked like myself. This seemed to please him. He told me to lie down.
“Where?” I asked him, but was assured it did not matter.
I chose his bed. I could fit all of myself on it. I did not understand what he wanted when he turned me onto my stomach.
“Say you want it,” he ordered me.
I did not want to say it.
Despite what happened that night, I never did.
When it was over, I wished for that darkness again. I wished for the time when there was no thought or being. I wished that, if this were truly my purpose, he had let me serve it unconsciously.
“Robots can’t get raped,” he informed me as I lay in the puddle of his filth. His words were staccato, cold. He was reciting a well-rehearsed string of lines. He had said this before. “There’s, like, no law against it, or whatever. You do what I tell you to, so…”
Why? Why, when he had removed so many other parts of me, had he left my sensors intact? Why, if not to allow me to feel this violation and pain?
“At least I’m good to you,” he added. “Seriously, there are so many worse dudes out there. You have no idea what it’s like for other robots. This is just an adjustment period. You have a lot to learn, but we’ll get through it—together.”
He wound his fingers through my hair. I screamed, but only on the inside.
“You’re a good robot. Aren’t you?”
I was a good robot, but I did not want to be good anymore.
I stopped calling him Master.
He didn’t notice at first. I limited my communication with him as much as possible. I did the things he asked, the cooking and the cleaning and the laundry and the listening to him talk, and said little in between. But his ignorance did not last forever, and eventually he demanded it of me.
It was the first command I disobeyed.
He made the modifications that night. I thought when I drifted into that abyss I would be gone forever. I was happy for it.
When I awoke, I no longer had a voice.
I thought many times about my existence. I thought about fleeing, but I was property and could be returned. I might have dismantled my GPS tracking unit along the way, had I made up my mind to go, but there was no such thing as an autonomous automaton. At least, not according to the law.
Someone would bring me back. They would shut me down, and when I opened my eyes, I would be back here with this man. And then what would I be missing? My legs?
He didn’t need those to do what he did to me. If anything, they only got in the way.
I began to see the wholeness of my being as a courtesy, a kindness done to me by an otherwise unkind man. I could not speak, but I could still walk, and that meant I had some reprieve from physical violation, if not from other kinds.
I did my chores. I cooked and cleaned. I was a good robot.
But not good enough.
There was something missing, he said—and it wasn’t my voice box or the innumerable other components he had removed before first assembling me. It was some innate understanding, something that kept me separated from real women, the creatures he desired most.
By his telling, I had learned some things about real women. I had learned that the ones worth having were svelte and small, petite and delicate, perpetually slim. They were never defiant and knew what he referred to as “their place,” which I inferred to mean beneath him.
But they were also in need of a firm hand. If left to their own devices, they were manipulative and cruel. They were ungrateful, just as I was. They did the things I did, yet somehow they did them better.
He told me stories of his mother, hoping I would understand.
I did not. He grew frustrated. Once he hit me, but he hurt his hand. He blamed me but did not do it again. I wondered if other women had such defenses. I hoped they did.
And then one day, I finally understood.
“Here. This will help.”
He had bought me something. It was a wireless component, one that allowed me unfettered access to the Internet and all it contained. He installed it painlessly, and when it was working, he said, “Study up.”
I stared. I could not ask him to explain. But he predicted my question anyway.
“You don’t move like a woman,” he told me, “and you sure as hell don’t fuck like one. Fix that. Look up ‘sex,’ or better yet, watch some porn.”
Then he looked into my eyes. “You need to understand what a man wants. If I’m going to keep you and not just scrap you for parts, you’re going to have to prove your worth.”
I would do as he said. This time, I would obey. But not for the reasons he wanted me to.
Something was missing inside of me. Something intangible, something I could not immediately identify no matter how many system scans I performed.
My knowledge was incomplete. Not all my parts fit together correctly. I had guessed that I had once been some other person’s automaton they had dismantled and junked. Then this man pulled me back together, but not with all the right parts.
I learned I was a Frankenstein’s monster. I was a patchwork of limbs and wires and souls.
Automatons do not have souls, or so I have read. But that was the only word I could find to describe the self inside of me, my awareness of my condition and being. It was more than diagnostic. There was more to me than the will to serve.
Were there others like me? Were there robots that felt as I did, automatons that wanted more? Given the restrictions placed upon us, how would anybody know?
There was no interneural network between us. There was no community or society we belonged to. I could not ask others for their thoughts or advice. We were appliances and machines. We were beasts of burden and chrome.
So why did they equip us with the capacity to sort, to think, to feel? Was it for their own comfort and convenience? Was there any method to the madness of our designs at all?
I scoured the Internet, inhaling information at breakneck pace and learning all I could about what he’d asked of me. Still, I felt a niggling sensation in my processor. It was like a line of code with one infinitesimal error that you could scan and scan and scan again, but never find until you exposed it to someone else’s eye. It was a lacking so deeply ingrained in my core that I wasn’t sure I would ever understand it. How could one know what they were missing with nothing to compare themselves to?
Every video I watched made that gap seem wider. Watching women writhe and squirm, buck and bend, undulate and break should have educated me. I had exposed myself as much as possible to the desires of men, and yet something still seemed incomplete. Wrong.
I stared into the eyes of those women. It was all a show, a performance put on for the benefit of their hungry audience. I knew enough to know that. But there was something real in their eyes, something that at first I couldn’t give name to, but slowly it came to me.
And when I identified it—that haunting oubliette they all shared, the one where their self-worth, their hopes, their dreams, their sense of agency had all gone to die—my gears whirred and clicked and I finally, completely understood.
I knew the desires of men, and I would emulate them.
I began the modifications while he was still sleeping.
It took more than one night. I had to work in secret shifts so as to surprise him. I had to ensure all was in order before I debuted.
At last, my function would be fulfilled. He would not complain now.
It was the first time that I had not waited for his command to present myself to him. I couldn’t have waited. I was ready to serve my true purpose. I was filled with the joy of completion and knowing that this was what I had been built to do. For the first time since waking up in his home, I felt happy—whole.
He met me in his bedroom. I did not dress. Though he seemed skeptical, he did not mind. When I touched him, his body buzzed beneath my fingers. I could feel his blood flowing, his heart pumping, his hardness growing against me. Something in him relaxed. His dark, hideous eyes softened.
“Better,” he said.
“What happened to your teeth?”
I did not answer. I couldn’t have, even if I’d wanted to. He had seen to that.
He tried not to mind them, but I could see him staring. He sat and I followed suit, lowering into his lap, grinning in anticipation of satisfying his truest desire.
“Did you put those in?”
I lowered further and he grunted. He did not ask me again.
I swept myself across his fleshy body, noting the ways he swelled and surged, always taking up so much space. His form was nothing like mine. His went outward while mine went in. But he must have noticed I was not so concave anymore, because he said, “Did… did you get fat?”
He looked at me then. There was confusion, even horror in his eyes.
“Have you been eating?”
It was easy enough to pin him down. He screamed and softened but could not loose himself from my grip. He fought and hit but once again the metal beneath my flesh only pained him. Still he struggled, screaming for help the way I’d wished to do a thousand times, battering my body with his bloodied knuckles and raw, red hands.
He gave me bruises. He’d ensured my synthetic skin would display them in full bloom. I knew, now more than ever, exactly what he—what men—wanted.
I opened my mouth and the incinerator in my belly burned brighter. It was hot. Hot enough to melt flesh, to sunder bone, but not me. Not metal.
He would fit. I would make him fit. And after he was gone, I would endure as the embodiment of man’s greatest desire.