Autonomously Yours

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Chapter 9 - It's Not Her

I tried my best to sleep that night, I really did. Although, what Cran had told me made perfect sense, I still did not get over the fact that something I created could have been the cause of someone’s demise. As such, I spent most of the night with my eyes wide open, thinking of that poor man; thinking of what his mother would feel if he passed; I was even briefly concerned about what his robotic maid, Miriam, would think of losing an employer. Of course, this was ridiculous.

I turned over in my bed and stared into the eyes of my wife in the picture on my bed stand and wondered would she be proud of what I accomplished if she knew all of what has happened up to this point?

The light from the next morning’s sun was peeking through my curtains by the time I was finally able to fall asleep. My eyes had not been shut ten minutes when, as expected, a familiar distant pounding awakened me. Only this time it was angrier, more violent.

I’m sorry, sir. They forced their way in,” Cran said as he followed the two large men into my bedroom.

“Get up,” the asshole said to me as he yanked me up violently by my arms.

“Get dressed,” the other one barked at me as he rummaged through my closet and threw some random combination of a tie, a collared shirt and slacks that he thought an engineer might wear at me. None of it matched, not that they cared, but I hastily put them on anyway.

I was able to grab my lab coat from the chair it was slumped over before the asshole grabbed me my collar and pulled me out of the room.

As they pushed me through the hallway toward the front door I bumped into a side table causing a very important picture to fall to the ground.

“Wait, wait. Can I––”

“No, you can’t.”

“Cran, can you please clean that up?” I said to my assistant who was following close behind.

Of course, sir.”

“It’s not broken, is it?”

She’s intact, sir.”

Then I remembered…

“Wait. Cran. I need hi––”

“No, you don’t.”

Don’t worry, sir. I’ll have everything cleaned up by the time you get back,” I heard Cran say to me from the doorway just before the two men tossed me into the back of their car and drove away.

Mrs. Smith and I met eyes as the two men escorted me past her desk. She looked very worried; each man was on either side of me, each grasping both of my arms forcefully guiding me toward the door in a hurried manner, so I understood her concern.

I desperately wanted to say something of substance to her. Perhaps it was a call for help. Or perhaps it was an apology. I cannot recall. But, I could not help feeing like that was the last time I would see her, so I had to say something, so I just said, “Morning.” She simply nodded back, not really knowing what to say in return.

As we entered the room the goons vaguely tossed me towards Mr. Axell. The force caused me to fall to the floor. I looked up to see Sally again, standing silently beside her casing, same empty look on her face as she had days before, as if she had not tried to murder a man the previous night.

The dark figure of Mr. Axell was standing next to his desk, ominously backlit by the morning sun. He stood there, arms folded; his stance was threatening.

“Come here,” he said, informally.

I stood up on my feet and brushed myself off. I had just fixed the crooked glasses on my face as one of the bodyguards pushed me towards Mr. Axell knocking them askew once again. After fixing them once more, I began the long, laborious walk to his desk.

“Hurry the fuck up!” he yelled at me. Apparently I was taking too long for his liking, so I quickened my pace.

As I reached his position he stared at me for a moment, his brow furrowed. He gulped down his morning glass of whiskey before he started speaking.

“Override,” he said slowly as he looked at his empty glass.

“Override,” he said once more, this time through gritted teeth.

I did not know how to respond to this so I did not.

He ripped his stare from his glass and now began to look at me once again.

“What the fuck did I say about implementing that override system of yours?”

I opened my mouth to answer, but again he was just showing off his adeptness at asking rhetorical questions.

He threw his glass angrily to the floor causing it to break into tiny pieces, some of which might have flown directly into my eye had it not been for the protection provided to me by my glasses.

Before I knew it his hand met the side of my head and I was down on the ground again, dangerously close to the wet shards of broken glass. He grabbed a handful of my hair and bent down to join me on my level, took one of the shards from the floor and held it to my neck.

“I told you I wasn’t in the habit of making veiled threats. If it were up to me I’d cut a hole in your throat right here and watch you bleed out all over my nice marble floors. It could use a bit of color.”

He stopped mid-speech to show off a bit of his acting skills––he looked up sarcastically as if to think of something, then looked back at me.

“Wait. You know what? It is up to me.”

He slowly pushed the shard deeper into my flesh. I could feel it make a small incision in my neck. I then started to feel the sensation of warm liquid slightly dripping from the tiny, yet, significant wound, followed by the sting of the alcohol entering it. My heartbeat increased tenfold and I was breathing heavily. Indeed, I was at that moment truly scared for my life. If I’m being honest I didn’t think he’d do anything real. I actually did think it was just a simple, veiled threat. The night before I tested his dependability in keeping promises and it seemed like I was going to fail that test.

But, I had no regrets. I knew that what I had done was the right decision, even if I had essentially traded my own life for a total stranger’s.

“Luckily for you, I am a fair man, and am, for the most part, quite rational. Also, it would take some considerable time out of my very busy day to have the blood washed off of my floor.”

Mr. Axell drew the piece of glass away from my neck and tossed it back on the ground. He then pulled me back up on my feet by my hair. I looked to Sally unrealistically hoping for a sympathetic eye from what is essentially my synthetic daughter, but she just stood there, like the life-like doll she was, staring straight ahead, oblivious to anything real happening around her.

Mr. Axell fixed his tie, his hair and his suit. He tried to compose himself the best he could, but his voice was still quivering with anger.

“Mr. Okamura,” he said. He pointed to over to Sally. “She is very expensive. I’ve paid you a considerable amount of money to realize this for me. And I’d rather not needlessly pay you or anyone else any more money to take this shit back to square one, but if you keep interfering with the experiment like that it might be something I’d have to do. And that would not make me happy. Do you understand that?”

Again, I started to answer, but he cut me off before I had a chance to.

“Just nod your head yes or shake your head no. Do you understand that?”

I nodded my head yes.

“Now, Mr. Okamura, do you have an opinion to add to this conversation?”

I hesitated to answer, and he noticed my hesitation.

“It’s okay. You can speak now,” he said, and I believed him.

“Yes, actually I do. I do not believe that––” was all I could get out before he slapped the side of my head again, this time holding me up by my tie so that I would not fall to the ground. It was my own fault for not recognizing the rhetoric.

“Hmm. That’s interesting. I’ll take that into consideration. Do you have another opinion to add?”

I did not like having my head hit in that manner so I shook my head no.

“Speak up. Are you sure?”

I nodded.

“Good. Can I speak now?”

I half considered making a sprint for the door and running out of there, but as I looked back towards the entrance and saw the two bodyguards standing on either side of it, logic rushed back to me and I quickly realized that would not be possible. So, I just nodded again instead.

“Now, you must be wondering about the condition of Mr. Castillo,” he said as he walked over to his desk and poured himself another drink in a new glass. He did not offer me a drink this time.

“He’s in stable condition and talking. Even sent me message this morning. Want to read it?” he asked me. He pulled up the holomail message from Mr. Castillo and called me over.

“Read it aloud,” he commanded me, and I did as was told:

Dear Jerrald,

First of all, I would like to thank you very much for affording me the opportunity to test out your new product and I wish you the best of luck with your new business endeavor. Rest assured, though, I am alive and well. At the very least, I am breathing. Regarding the events of last night, they were rather unfortunate, but with experiments of this kind certain mishaps are unavoidable and cannot be entirely unexpected. However, this has not curbed my desire for another SL-35 unit for my very own. I’m sure with the data you’ve obtained from the previous week you will be able to properly “work out the bugs,” as they say, and resolve any problems swiftly. And when you do I will be first in line. I also hope you will be able to provide me with a model with restored memory if possible. Patricia, as I had named her, was quite special to me.

Best Regards,

James D. Castillo

“Bugs, huh? We both know it was his failure to speak his own safe word that almost did him in,” he said to me. In James’ defense, it’s a little hard to speak with a whip tied around your neck.

“Always eloquent, that James. Good man,” Mr. Axell said while sipping on his whiskey. He walked back around his desk to where I was and put a hand on my shoulder, as he was fond of doing for whatever reason.

“That,”––he pointed at Sally––“is fucking profitable. It’s undeniable. Even when he was grasping death’s fucking doorknob, he still wants one. He didn’t blame me. He didn’t blame her. He understands the risks and is willing to work past them.”

I slightly nodded. He continued.

“This is something you wanted, too, Okamura.” He omitted the mister and had stopped calling me ‘Harry.’

“I know you understood the risks. You must have. Don’t tell me you haven’t encountered problems in your entire career as a robotic engineer, problems you’ve assessed and worked through.”

I nodded again. He was right.

“In fact, I know you have. I know you were able to work past that incident with that robotic elephant and that kid. Avoided a pretty nasty lawsuit.”

I looked at him straight in the eyes. I was paying astute attention now.

“And your father, he worked through them. Your grandfather worked through them.” He started to bring the glass to his mouth, but stopped just short of. “Oh, your grandfather.”

He knew something, something I wished he didn’t. He continued.

“His invention took that poor kid’s arm right off, almost at the shoulder. Bloody mess as I heard it. What was it? Toy gorilla? No. That was your field. Ah, yes,” he finished his drink, and poured himself another, “It was a mechanical helper, a server bot. First of its kind. Wanted to test it before they brought it to market. Where have I heard that one before?”

Where could he have heard any of this, I thought. It was supposed to be a private matter. But, with Mr. Axell’s resources I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was.

“Terrible what happened. Almost brought your granddad to failure. The parents rightly threatened to take him to court. He faced jail time. Of course, none of this was made known to the media. But what did make it to the news was that shiny new arm for the kid provided free of charge by your grandfather. You know what they say; desperation begets inspiration.”

He had taken to pacing around me in circles while he spoke.

“It took him a couple of months, but he fashioned a mechanical arm, complete with nerves and all. It was truly lifelike. Nothing had been seen like it. What came before it were mere toys compared to it. He asked the kid if there were anything special he’d like to have done to it. He could have had a fucking missile installed. But, the kid being a 9-year-old boy wanted a laser pointer in his finger. Such is innocence.

“But that arm. That fucking mechanical arm was better than any biological one, I’ll tell you. That kid was glad he lost it. The parents were pleased, the incident was swept under the rug, they settled out of court, and your grandfather was something of a national sensation. Asimo was nothing. You’d think people intentionally cut off their arms to get one of your grandfather’s design. In fact, I’m not entirely sure that didn’t happen, what, with the amount that was manufactured. What am I telling you this for? You know all of this well, don’t you?”

I nodded, albeit reluctantly.

“That’s how he became rich. Your father followed in his footsteps, and, of course, so did you. Indeed, it’s because of you and your family’s reputation that I sought you out for this. None of what you have done would have been possible had he not gone through that tribulation. So, it’s frustrating to have you try to hinder everything when you know what needs to be done.”

He shook his head at me in disappointment.

“That server bot and that arm were precursors to Sally. Could any of this have been done without his research, his mishaps, the data that he gathered because of those mishaps?”

“Well, I’m sure someone would have figured it out eventually,” I said in a tone that some could have taken as a sarcastic one. He was far enough away from me that I felt I could speak without the threat of being hit again.

“Don’t you dare get smart with me. You know full well what I mean,” he said looking as if he were about to throw the glass at me. “I asked you a serious question.”

“No, it couldn’t have,” I answered, seriously. He calmed himself a bit before gesturing toward Sally.

“Now then, are you ready to continue the good work started by your grandfather, or, are you going to shit all over his legacy?”

“I’m ready,” I said, again, very reluctantly.

“Good. There’s only one more client. The faster we get through this and work out the kinks the faster we can get her out there and start making money,” he said with a positive clap and subsequent rubbing of his hands.

“But, my assistant Cran––” I started but he quickly shut me down.

“Oh yeah, that fucking assistant of yours. I humored you for the first couple of times. But, do you seriously think that in the year two thousand one hundred and fucking sixteen that an android needs to be… what’s that word?” he asked one of his thugs by the door.

“What word, sir?”

“That word that means being powered by wires and such,” he continued, snapping his fingers.

“Analog?” the thug answered back.

“Analog. I couldn’t even remember the word it’s so obsolete. In a time where I can take a shit right here in my office…”––he pointed to his ass––“and have it sent digitally through the air to my toilet over there…”––he pointed to an inconspicuous door meters away––“you would have me believe that Sally here is an analog creation,” ––his final finger landing on her. The order of the pointing made me uneasy.

He started to walk towards me, hands in his pocket. He reminded me of a gangster from olden times.

“Listen, I know you think I’m stupid, but, let’s get one thing straight: I’m not. I tried to verbally enter commands into her myself, but I know you have her rigged to where she can only understand your voice pattern or something, so, if you please.”

She was mere feet away but I walked toward her as slowly as I could. I fixed my hair and dusted my jacket of any pieces of glass that might’ve gotten on it. I cleared my throat a couple of times when I didn’t even need to. I did anything to delay the process. But, Mr. Axell just stood there, arms folded, waiting. He was uncharacteristically patient.

When I reached her I stared into her eyes, still optimistically hoping that she would come alive and whisk us away from this room, from this project, like some kind of magical fairy capable of such feats. But, she just stared right through me. Despite the fake smile on her face seeing her like that saddened me greatly.

I looked back at Mr. Axell who still stood waiting, his eyes boring a hole in my head. So, I cleared my throat, this time with purpose as I had built up a considerable amount of phlegm from nervousness, I pulled back the hair on the left side of her head exposing her ear and I started to speak directly into it. But, before I could get any words out Mr. Axell interrupted the exchange.

“No whispering. Out loud,” he said.

He was on to me. I suspected he was recording my voice and the activation sequence for later use. He was tired of me for sure and if he didn’t need me to come in every time he needed to make changes to her the better for him.

“Doctor Harold Okamura, April twenty-third, two-thousand-eighty,” I spoke at her, causing her to come online. She shook her head and wiped her eyes as if she were coming out of a deep sleep.

“Hello, Harry. Good to see you,” she said and she playfully poked my stomach. She was still in ‘Patricia’ mode.

“And you as well, Jerrald. You seem a little pouty today.”

“I’m good. Just a rough morning’s all,” he answered back.

“Not my fault, I hope.”

“No, not at all,” he said, more to me than to her I’m sure.

“Let’s get this moving then, shall we. I’m excited to see who I’m going to become this time,” she said rubbing her hands together with great enthusiasm.

“You heard the woman,” Mr. Axell said to me.

He walked behind his desk and called me over and started talking to me in a slightly hushed tone.

“Her birthday as well, huh?” he said to me.

“Excuse me?”

“The activation code. It’s her birth date, not yours,” he said.


“Come on, I know you know who I’m speaking of.”

He had certainly done thorough research on me, as expected, but I was not comfortable with the invasiveness, expected or not. I could have strangled him right there were it not for the guards in the room and my lack of conviction.

“Why do you do it to yourself? Her birth date as the code, naming your creation after her. I know you want some way of keeping her memory alive, but you had to anticipate some of what these men, these clients might do. You must think of her every time someone sticks a finger in Sally.”

I stared at the glass on his table as the rage inside my built and built to a near climax. I almost did not care of the consequences if I had smashed it against his face. It would have been worth it, I thought. But, rationality got the best of me and I calmed down. Besides, he was right. Why did I do that to myself?

“Well, you must have your reasons.”

He brought up another holomail message.

“Here it is. He’s a man of very few words,” he said as he brought my attention to the holomail.

He wasn’t kidding. There was not but four full sentences in the client’s message:

Here’s a pic of what I want. For obvious reasons don’t make her exact, but get her as close as possible. I don’t care about her personality. Make her speechless for all I care.

Thanks, Jerr.

…was all that was written.

“Not even a voice?” I asked, reconfirming.

“You read it, right? I suspect he was exaggerating though.”

“Verbal command: wipe memory slate clean. Start from scratch,” I spoke into the air, and Sally’s expression went from sassy to blank.

“Where’s the picture?” I asked Mr. Axell.

“Eager, huh?”

Truthfully, I just wanted to get this whole ordeal over with. There was no need to prolong it.

“Here you go.”

He brought up the attached full body picture and I had to do a double take. It was exactly who I thought it was. The client had provided a picture of one of the most beautiful actresses of our time, Martia Bekele. Ms. Bekele is arguably the highest paid and most sought after actress of recent years. She’s the star of stage and big screen, and has appeared in many holovision shows and holo-ads. She was one of the few live humans who were able to stand out amidst the slew of ultra-realistic digital performers of our age. If you walked the streets in any part of town her face was unavoidable, which was problematic for me, as the woman who adorned every picture frame in my house was said to have resembled her.

Every one of Sally’s friends and members of her family would constantly tell her about their likeness. I didn’t think so; I thought she was much more beautiful, but I must admit, my opinion was quite biased.

Honestly, though, a general resemblance was undeniable. Miss Bekele was of Ethiopian decent and my wife was of Eritrean, so it was understandable that they would resemble each other in some way, but that wasn’t all.

They were close in height and body shape, and their hair was the same length and had a similar style and color: naturally curly and dark brown.

They both had eyes of amber, although, the woman I knew had an added greenish tint to hers as well.

Miss Bekele had a more roundish shape to her face then my wife, who had a more slender one, light freckles scattered about it.

They both shared the same walnut brown skin complexion; Miss Bekele’s perhaps a little darker if there was any difference at all.

The woman I knew had a longer nose and plumper lips and bigger ears than miss Bekele, and had the most adorable medium-sized mole on her cheek, just below her left eye. She had the longest, fullest eyelashes of any woman I had ever met, and that was one of the things that attracted me, physically, to her the most.

She had been long gone for two years, but I could picture her as if she were there standing before me, clear as day, smiling happily at the sight of me.

I had been daydreaming, I thought, lost in my head, lost in my memories of years past. Mr. Axell’s voice had yanked me out of my supposed trance.

“Are you finished? She looks good to me. A little familiar though,” he said.

“What?” I answered, and shook myself of the clouds that had encircled my head and looked at what stood in front of me, and I was not ready for what I saw.

What I thought were daydreams and contemplations of the past actually manifested as verbal descriptions: I had inadvertently and subconsciously instructed Sally to look exactly like the woman whose face I stared into every morning for the past two years, the sight of which almost knocked me to the ground once again.

My legs grew wobbly and my heart beat thrice as fast as when I thought I was going to have my throat slashed.

I was simultaneously elated and immensely saddened by what I was staring at. It was as if the two years that had passed had not passed at all. My emotions were confused. My eyes did not know what type of tears to cry: ones of joy or ones of sorrow, so they cried neither.

My trembling hand wandered to Sally’s face and I caressed it gently, as if I were touching wisps of fog and not trying to damage it. In that moment it was just the two of us, together again, and I could not believe what was happening to me.

The rough grasp of Mr. Axell’s hand on my shoulder reminded me of where I was.

“She’s almost the spitting image of her. At least, of the pictures I’ve seen of her. Of all the things you know that could potentially happen, you still go ahead and do this. And I thought naming her after her was crazy. That’s some fucked up fetish you have there,” said Mr. Axell as he laughed and drank his alcohol. “Is she ready to go?”

I heard what he asked me but I could not consciously answer him. He snapped his fingers in my face to get my attention.

“Well, Okamura. Is she?”

“Um… Yeah, yes. Let… let me check her vitals,” I said, and Mr. Axell walked back to his desk as if to give us some alone time. I slowly placed my hands on each of her shoulders as I spoke to her.

“How are you, Sally? Are you doing okay?” I asked very slowly and carefully, as if speaking any louder would suddenly blow her away from me.

She silently nodded at me, a tepid yet serene smile on her lips. She turned her head and nodded cordially towards Mr. Axell. He nodded back.

“Just checking hair strength,” I said as ran my fingers through her hair, tugging on the curls on her head from the roots. I was making up excuses to touch her now.

“Good, good. And, your heartbeat?” I asked as I placed my hand over her chest.

“Good… good,” I said to myself. I did not want to pull my hand away just yet.

I was holding back my tears as hard as I could. I looked at her from head to toe, being careful not to let my stare become lecherous. I wanted to carry her out of here as fast as I could, back home, to a park, to another country, anywhere where it would be just the two of us, together again.

“Please, look at me,” I instructed her to do as I held her jowls in both of my shivering hands. Our eyes met, and in that instance I could sear she was real. But…

“You’re not real, are you?” I asked, lowering my voice so that I could not be heard by anyone else in the room. It was so low that it might just have been a thought in my head.

She did not respond.

I still could not quite grasp the reality of what I had done. But, I had to get a grip and remember what I was dealing with. It was not she, the woman I spent the best twelve years of my life with. As realistic as she was, I had to remember that what I was looking at and feeling was not human, but an android designed and built by me. This was not flesh and blood; this was plastics and electricity, the reality of which filled me with even more pain and distress.

“Okamura,” Mr. Axell said, rushing me along.

I knew that was my last chance to undo what I had done. I could have changed the length of her hair; changed the size of her eyes; changed the color of her skin to a darker shade; given her a couple more inches of height; taken away her the mole under her eye, anything subtle to take away the striking resemblance.

But, I could not bring myself to change her. In that moment she was too perfect to tamper with. She was, physically at least, too much like the woman I knew.

“Okamura,” Mr. Axell said again, his voicing growing more impatient.

“Are you ready?” I asked Sally, trying not to let the emotion in my voice be noticed.

She offered me another ordinary nod.

I turned my attention back to Mr. Axell, and said, “She’s… she’s good to go.”

“That’s good to hear. I’ll send her out right away.”

He walked over to me and gripped the scruff of my neck as he started walking me toward the door, patting me on the chest.

“I understand yesterday was a mistake, Mr. Okamura,” he said, reinstating the mister. “You’ve had something traumatizing happen in your life, obviously”––he looked back at Sally––“and that may have compromised your ability to make proper decisions, and I understand that. But, you have to understand that it’s important to keep your eyes forward looking towards the future and not backwards at the past.”

He passed me off to his guards still standing patiently by the door, and they immediately grabbed me by my arms, but Mr. Axell waved them off before he brushed off my jacket.

“Sorry I had to get a little rough. I understand now that you’re a tad unstable. I respect you and your talents, Mr. Okamura, I really do. I haven’t wasted many resources keeping tabs on you because, frankly, I trust you. So, I don’t think I have to remind you again of what has to be done, and of what will happen if you try anything again. Next time I won’t be so kind.”

I fixed my gaze on Sally fearful of what might happen to her. I did not want to leave her alone again. Mr. Axell snapped his fingers in my face to get my attention.

“Hey, she’s not her. Detach yourself. She’s a project. If this works it can be very lucrative for all of us. And if it doesn’t, we’ll repurpose her as an escort-bot and it will still be very lucrative for us,” he said with a dry, disgusting laugh. “If guys willingly pay for the metal puppets on the market now, imagine what they would pay for her,” he said as he looked back at Sally.

“Wow. If she really looked like that what the hell did she see in you?” he said in a volume that was curiously low, but high enough for me to hear. He said it in a joking manner, but I knew he meant it. I shot him a condemning look that he either missed or ignored.

“Get outta here. Go home. Watch the feed, and watch those hands.”

As the guards walked me out of the office, I looked back over my shoulder and I stole one more glance at Sally who waved good-bye to me as the doors closed. And as hard as I was trying to keep from crying, I admit, the sight of her doing so caused me to let two or three tears go.

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