John Truman began the age-old process of shutting down his cubical for the day precisely at five o’clock. He gathered his belongings in the faded leather briefcase and carefully shuffled the papers into a neat pile. He imagined the look of approval the CEO would give his work once he’d finished. He was certain his blueprints would prove more impressive with just a little after-hour work. As a design specialist for A.I.R. Incorporated, or artificial intelligence robotics (as it was known by customers), he often tinkered with his own personal projects. He was hoping to spec something beyond the standard android model currently being developed. He would design something that desired, that thought, and felt.
He had been talented at the design industry for as long as he could remember. After graduating college as a software developer, he had put forth all his efforts to work for A.I.R. Inc, and the effort paid off after a fruitful summer internship. His talents were noted and thereafter, he had been working as a design specialist for several years. He felt his lack of further recognition probably had something to do with his age. Many of the scientists, manufacturers, or senior designers he’d met or celebrated a rare birthday with were as old as their thirties or forties, and he was only entering his mid-twenties. It wasn’t surprising his accomplishments had gone unnoticed when coupled with his reclusive tendencies.
Ah, but this wavering confidence belonged to the old John Truman. He, the new John Truman, was more than certain the CEO would find his research and ideas capable of making A.I.R. Inc very rich indeed.
He began to let his imagination wander as he approached the elevator
leading to the parking garage, picturing the extra space on his executive desk,
the attractive assistant serving him coffee in the morning, and the view, oh,
the view. No longer would he have to stare blankly at the dull, flat gray walls
of his cubicle.
Yes, he decided firmly. When he was promoted his new office would have a big window, big enough to see the whole city. Then he would be the one inviting others into his office. Yes, thought John, My luck is changing for the better.
“Yo, Truman! Wake up!”
“Huh?” John jumped and loosened his grip on his briefcase enough for it to slip free and hit the ground, popping open and scattering its contents all over the carpeted floor. “Oh, great…” He bent down to start gathering the stray papers.
“I was calling your name for the last five minutes, John.” A man in slacks and a white dress shirt stooped down and helped his friend collect his belongings. “What happened to you, finally become one of the drones?”
John flashed an apologetic look as he accepted his property and stuffed
it back into the briefcase. “Sorry, Chris. I was day dreaming.”
Chris grinned and gave John a friendly slap on the back. “Don’t sweat it. Going home?” John stared. He had always felt a little envious of Chris’ good looks. The man had a carefully-developed tan and smooth black hair neatly tied in a ponytail. He even found time to work out and build a six-pack.
John tried to ignore his own pale skin and dirty blond hair in the steel reflection of the elevator doors. Bobbing his head complacently up and down, he nodded. It was difficult to harbor any feelings of ill-will towards Chris, because the man was such a genuine friend. “It’s going to be a great weekend, Chris. I can tell.”
“Quitting time is always great!” Chris exclaimed loudly, stepping into the elevator shaft. “Made even better on a weekend they can’t force me to come in, thanks to the meaningless holiday. You got any plans?”
“Not that I know of, besides working,” John patted his briefcase fondly. “You want to come over? Order pizza, maybe check out a movie or something?”
“I got a better idea. How about you and I meet up on Saturday for a double-date? And here you thought I never had your well-being in mind.” He playfully shoved John’s shoulder and continued before the man could get a word in edgewise. “I met this girl, Alice. You remember her? She was the document correspondence temp a few weeks ago? I slipped her my number by asking her to fax it and she’s been hooked ever since,” he brushed a few fingers across his chest as if polishing them.
“I don’t know… who will I be going with?” John’s expression turned
to suspicion that Chris did not mention anything about his date, leaning
towards him and angling his eyebrows upward.
“Come on, man, Alice just said she had a friend. Look, it’s not good for you to be cramped inside that condo of yours all the time. You need to get out sometimes, John. Besides, any girl will go for your line of work. Just use some of that fancy talk on them, you know, architecture… specifications… schematic. Girls like big words.”
John chuckled to himself. “Right, count me in.”
“What’s on your workload this weekend, anyway? Must be something important to make you think twice about going on a date…” Chris craned his neck towards the shut briefcase.
John patted his case gingerly. “These are plans for a proposal I’m making to the big guys upstairs.”
“Upstairs? You mean way upstairs? Wow, whatcha got?” The elevator
hummed as it traveled towards the parking garage.
“You’ll see. It’s something really special. I’ve talked to the boss about it before a couple times. He was impressed, I could tell. He even asked to see it. Well, what he said was he would love to see it sometime, while he was walking away. But I could tell he was very invested. I’m telling you, this is going to be the future of A.I.R.” John sucked in a deep breath through his nose and swore he’d never smelled the elevator air so sweet.
Chris opened his mouth to reply. Ever since the two had become best friends, Chris had considered himself the rock of reality to John’s deluded dreaming. His eyes lingered on John for a moment, noticing his smile of confidence. He smiled in return and his lips deliberately closed. Although he couldn’t say whether the man’s hopes were misguided or conceivable, he could say with a comfortable amount of certainty he had never seen such a look of supreme confidence on his friend.
“Right! Well, good luck, John!” The elevator dinged as it reached its destination and the doors slid open to reveal the dark lot full of cars. “Call me Saturday, we’ll keep in touch.”
“I’ll call you,” John waved as he parted ways from Chris, noting his friend had to travel a maximum of five steps to reach his car. Lucky bastard. He headed down to where his car huddled at the absolute bottom of the garage. Won’t be that way for long. Soon I’ll have my own space, with my name posted across it for everyone to see… John Truman.
He opened his front car door, the engine grinding a few times as it tried to turn over. He’d bought the small used car through ebay and although she had run well for a few years, he was beginning to suspect she was going through the midlife crisis of the automobile world. He turned the key once more and the engine sputtered to life.
As he began to drive, he bent over and turned on his radio. A shower of static filled the car and he groaned, bending over to examine the station. He adjusted the fuzzy, indiscriminate reception the best he could while driving. Finally he reached a station he recognized and one of his favorite songs came in loud and clear.
No sooner had he found the station than the car was jostled in a speed bump and the music fizzed stubbornly away. “No, come on… I like that song, don’t do this to me…” He squinted to try and read the station numbers, his car ill-equipped for inner lighting. “Come on…” He realized he would have to look away from the road for a moment to right the problem. His eyes scanned his surroundings. He bent over to see the radio better and began to fiddle with his iPod. “Let’s see…101.5 FM, so if I go one up, there we go. Now we take the connector cord and connect it here … just like tha-”
Suddenly, he felt the car lurch. Instinctively he slammed on his brake; his eyes flickering up to catch the glimpse of a body rolling off of his hood. His blood ran cold and he stared ahead into the darkness of the lot, the music from his radio utterly absent in the chill of the moment. He flexed his knuckles, white from their grip on the steering wheel, his bright blue eyes wide. Oh my God. Oh my God. I hit someone.
As his heart pounded in his ears, he craned his neck forward. It was no use; regardless of how far he leaned, he couldn’t see anything. I can’t go anywhere. I have to see if they’re okay. Oh my God, what if they’re dead? I’m going to jail. He cranked the shift into park, forcing his foot to lift from the brake and opening his car door. He edged closer to the front of his car, and a chill ran down his back when he was greeted with a grim sight.
The body, noticeably female, lay unmoving on the cold cement, limbs sprawled around her, her head turned away from him. He carefully bent down, constant prayers leaving his lips in hushed whispers. Please God, don’t let her die. Please say I didn’t kill her. He hesitated as his hands hovered over her. He didn’t want to move her for fear of worsening any injuries, but he couldn’t see any visible bleeding. He noted she was barefoot. She wore a simple white dress with no markings, just a zipper along her back, which was facing him. Her chestnut hair covered her face.
He deftly swept a few strands of her hair away and bent in closer. “Miss?... Miss, can you hear me?” A flood of relief flushed through his body when he saw her chest steadily rising and falling.
“I can hear you…” her lips mouthed with a soft exhale. Her eyelashes
fluttered, but then she slumped back as if her body had shut down once more.
She’s alive, thank you, God. Can’t be charged with manslaughter… He gingerly rolled her over, her figure limp and unmoving.
“Miss?...God… come on…” He decided at the very least he could take her to the hospital… or could he? He wasn’t thinking clearly. After determining one last time that she did not seem to be seriously injured, he scooped her body into his arms. She fit snugly and her head tilted back over the crook of his arm.
“Miss, if you can hear me, I’m taking you to the hospital.” He shuffled to the rear door and opened it, easing her into the backseat carefully. “You’ll be alright. You’ve got to be… for my sake.” He returned to his front seat and adjusted his rearview mirror to see her better, mind racing.
If I take her to the hospital, I’ll have to turn myself in… but if that happens, I’ll never get that promotion. I’ll lose my job, my future, everything I’ve worked for. She doesn’t look that hurt… I could just take her home and see what happens when she wakes up, besides, I would still be willing to drive her to the hospital if she asked me to, it’s not like I’m not offering to take care of her until then. I’m doing the right thing. I’m a good person.
He turned on his blinker, the signs for the city hospital drifting further into the background until they finally disappeared altogether. About ten minutes later, he pulled into his numbered parking space of the condominium complex. He silently hoped no one would see him staggering towards his door from the elevator carrying an unconscious woman in his arms. That situation would prove difficult to explain.
She did not wake up, nor did she stir when he set her down on his couch
and his briefcase on the table next to it. He went to his closet to retrieve a
blanket and covered her with it, deciding to call Chris and ask him what to do.
He loosened his work tie and went on to change into casual clothes just as the
phone picked up on the other end.
“Hey, this is Chris.”
“Chris! Oh my God, I’m so glad you’re there, I hit someone in the parking lot and-“
“I’m not here, that’s why you got this message, but hey, drop me a line and we’ll get in touch soon.”
“Damn it, Chris! You can’t do this to me!” John yelled, coming back into the living room, hands shaking. He turned, and his heart leapt into his throat. His guest was sitting up, fingering through his papers and blueprints casually, as if he had invited her over for dinner.
“Chris…I’ll call you back.” He snapped the phone shut. “Miss?” he asked, “Miss, are you feeling alright?”
Her eyes, a soft hazel, turned up to meet his. “I am feeling normal.”
Stunned by the remarkably calm, soothing tone of her voice, he blinked. “I…” He tried to think of the best way to mention what had happened. “Miss, I hit you with my car in the parking lot.” He winced as the words left his mouth, expecting her to fly off the handle or threaten him with legal action. A few moments passed and she said nothing, just regarded him with a steady, relaxed look. He continued, puzzled. “Miss, do you need a ride to the hospital? I said I hit you with my car.”
“I do not require a ride to the hospital. What do I call you?”
“John Truman,” he replied, baffled by how sincere she sounded, as if she didn’t have a care in the world. He walked over, holding out a hand. “Are you in pain anywhere?”
“John Truman…” She accepted his hand and stood, her facial features regarding him with no sense of emotion at all. “I am an XLite Android 2.0 model created by A.I.R. Incorporated, and I am finely programmed to be at your complete service. Now that you have purchased me, what would you like me to do first?”
He blinked a few times, regarding her with a scrutinizing stare to make sure she wasn’t joking. It had to be a joke. “You’re kidding me.”
“I am not making any sort of joke, John Truman. Would you like to hear a joke? I am capable of telling over one million jokes according to my preloaded database. Knock knock.”
“No, you’re an android?” he repeated, collapsing in his armchair, rubbing his temples with his fingers. An android… He laughed in relief as he felt the tension gush out of him.
“I believe the correct response to such a joke is, ‘Who’s there’, John Truman.”
“You’re an android,” he repeated, rubbing his head, eyes closed.
“I believe I had already established that fact in my opening greeting, John Truman. Would you like me to repeat it for you?” she asked, sitting down as he was. Her eyes seemed intensely focused on him.
“No, that’s not necessary.” He sat up in the armchair, eyes focused and deep in thought, forehead wrinkling. “You’re from A.I.R…” That makes enough sense. She was in the company parking garage. “Why were you in the parking garage?”
“Parking garage?” she repeated, blinking once, her thin, shapely eyebrows furrowing. “My memory banks do not contain any information regarding a parking garage, John Truman. My current timeline of memory data begins from the moment I began function in this room. Is this your residence?”
“This is my place, yeah…” he said, standing up to his feet once more, the android copying him. If she belongs to A.I.R., I could be accused of stealing her. I have to get her back to the building, but it won’t be open tomorrow. We’re closed for the holiday. But I can at least look her over and try to find her model number. Any information would come in handy. Chris can probably review some of her data…he’s in quality assurance, that’s what he does daily… maybe he can find out what she was doing in the parking garage… “Okay, can you stand there? I want to review some parts of your manufacturing code.”
“Understood, John Truman,” she replied, hands held leisurely at her side. His name rang with an almost automated sound from her lips, and as pleasing as it was to have a female at his entire disposal, it sounded strange. He wasn’t sure he liked it.
“Please don’t call me that, okay? It sounds weird coming from you.” He
picked up one of her arms, running his hand over it. He’d visited the quality
control room with Chris before, just so his friend could show off his knowledge
of the android models. He’d touched one of the androids and he could still
clearly remember the clammy, cool feel of their skin. It was hard, as if it
were indestructible, which was meant to protect the inside wiring. It made
Her skin was subtle, smooth and pliable. He squeezed to apply a little bit of pressure, watching his thumb sink into her arm, as if it were real flesh. Hesitating, he swore he could feel a bit of warmth from the skin. Couldn’t be. Have we really progressed that far?
“John Truman?” He looked up at her eyes, which stared at him with a sense of misunderstanding.”What shall I call you instead?”
“…John. Just call me John,” he mumbled, shaking his head to get his
attention back on the matter at hand, examining her other arm. He found no
markings there either, and he stooped down to her legs. Should be a serial
number on her somewhere, maybe under her foot? He lifted one leg at a time.
“John…” she repeated, the corners of her mouth curving upwards. “Understood… John.”
I can’t find her serial number anywhere… maybe Chris can tell me more once he downloads her data tomorrow. I’m beat… this is too much for me to take. “You can sit back down now…” The thought passed his mind that he could order her to clean the dishes or even his condo with a simple command. He could have ordered her to do a lot of things. However, he was exhausted from the excitement. “Do you have a sleep option?” he asked. When she did not answer, he gave her an unsure look. “Did you hear me?”
“My apologies, John. I did not know you were speaking to me.”
“I guess I’d better give you a name.” he put a hand to his chin, scratching. I’m surprised, this is more difficult than I thought. “Hard to name someone right off the bat…”
“If I may make a suggestion, John. Perhaps you should assign me a name that you think of when you look at me, the first thing you think of at that time.”
John couldn’t explain how, but as he looked into her unassuming eyes, free from negative assumptions or judgment, he could only think of one thing. “Serenity.” He instantly knew he’d found her name; there was no doubt in his mind it fit her perfectly. “Your name is Serenity.”
She stared for a moment, and the corners of her lips moved up in a smile. “Serenity. I like that name, John.”
“It’s probably time for me to go to sleep, Serenity. I’m taking you to meet a friend tomorrow.” A faint, musky odor of something he often smelled in the parking lot wafted towards his nose and made it wrinkle. He wondered how he hadn’t been aware of it before this point. “You think you can wash yourself tomorrow? Take a shower or something?”
“I am capable of doing so if you direct me to any major water source, John,” she stated.
“See that door there?” He pointed to his bathroom. “You can shower there. I’ll see you in the morning. Goodnight, Serenity,” He lingered for a brief moment, wondering whether androids noticed when niceties were offered or if it didn’t affect them in the least.
“Goodnight, John,” she murmured, nodding, her eyes devoted on his figure.
It was still dark when John woke up from a restful, but dreamless sleep. He opened his door and glanced towards the living room where he’d left Serenity, startled that he didn’t see her until he heard the shower running. He approached cautiously, knocking on the bathroom door. “Serenity?” He knocked again, and turned the knob. Unlocked. Why should she know better? He cracked the door, eyes averted. She may not have been a real woman, but she might as well have been, and he was not about to be called a pervert. He soon discovered the theory was not so easy to follow in practice.
John would have been lying if he said he didn’t stare at how closely she resembled a perfect female image, but his interest soon shifted to her hands. Her fingers were outstretched gracefully, spread as wide as possible, directly under the waterspout, a look of concentrated wonder visible on her features. She didn’t seem to notice him, completely absorbed in the water, as if it were a revelation for her. John had never seen such a fascinated look on anyone.
He opened the door, waving away some of the cloud of steam in the room. How long has she been showering? He grabbed a towel off the nearby rack. “Serenity.”
She withdrew her hands and the look of awe vanished from her face. “John!”
“Serenity, it’s okay. You can come out now. I think you’ve been in there long enough,” he said, holding out the towel for her.
“You are not happy with me, John…” she murmured, accepting the towel and
wrapping it around herself tightly. He’d heard the tone with women before; it
“No, Serenity. It’s fine. I neglected to tell you most people don’t spend that long in the shower. What were you doing?” he asked, satisfied she’d covered herself with the towel.
Her head bowed and she tucked her hands behind her back, the towel folded in a way so it would not come off easily. “Are we going to meet your friend now, John?”
“Serenity, what were you doing?” he repeated. Something in the mirror caught his eye and he turned. “What’s this?” A myriad of small, childish drawings were drawn in the steam covering the mirror, simple things such as spirals, a tic-tac-toe game, and her name, Serenity, under them, as if a signed piece of art. The game of tic-tac-toe looked remarkably familiar, as if he’d recently seen it in the exact same order recently. “Did you do this?” He looked back at her, the drawings now dripping as the room temperature dropped.
“…yes,” she answered, unguarded hazel eyes meeting his.
“Where did you learn to do this?” John was no expert on the mechanics of androids. He couldn’t make sure Serenity was running properly or find out her model number or components. However, he did design them, and he had come to a stunning realization. He just needed her to confirm it. “Where, Serenity?”
“I learned from you, John.” She drew her head up to look at him.
“How? I never showed you how to draw…” He suddenly realized why the game looked familiar to him. He’d played it only yesterday, with Chris, while they were stuck in one of the more boring business meetings. “My notes… you saw my notes last night…these are my doodles…you just copied them.”
“I am sorry, John,” she said.
He looked from her to her name, mind racing. “Where did you learn to do that, to write your name?”
“I wanted to see what my name looked like, John,” she said, her gaze never leaving him.
Her name proves it. She’s thinking and acting on her own. It was both startling and wonderful to realize his research and blueprints were possible. If androids had already progressed this far, his ideas to take the upgrades even further would be well-accepted. They could think, they could act on their own. Maybe reason and emotion were not far. Maybe if he showed the bosses Serenity, they’d understand, accept his proposal. He’d always feared the CEO and other higher-ups were just money grubbing people. It was a common fear among the younger employees. Now, his fear was almost insignificant in the face of his all-too-real theories. It’s just like my notes. Granted, she’s a little more naïve than she should be and she seems like she’s at war with herself half the time, but when I present this idea to the CEO there’s no way he’ll refuse, not after he sees her. They must have taken what I’ve told them so many times into consideration! I have to take her to Chris and we’ll get her to AIR right away.
“I think we’re ready to go see my friend now,” he said.
“Should I not be dressed in something other than a towel, John?” Serenity seemed just slightly apprehensive, as if afraid to question him, but relatively sure such things were not proper.
“Oh… right. Where did you put what you were wearing before?” he asked, to which Serenity pointed back towards the living room. “Tell you what…” John motioned for her to follow him and cast a last glance back at her name, a strange feeling of what he could almost relate to guilt stirring within him. She wasn’t human. He knew that. He felt reluctant to take her to Chris, but why? She wouldn’t care what he did. She didn’t feel anything more than she was told to feel. “Come here.”
John opened his closet and took out a box sealed with duct tape. He’d been bitter with Rachael, his ex, for some time and had sworn that he didn’t have any of her clothes after their break up. She’d sworn back at him, in quite a more voracious matter, and so he’d kept them in his closet out of bitterness. Part of his conscience again gnawed at him as he opened the box and proceeded to remove a t-shirt studded with fake gems and dark blue jeans, which to his chagrin, still smelled like her. He took out a pair of her old tennis shoes, pink converses. “You can wear these. You’d look weird without shoes. Just swear you’ll stay next to me the whole time and don’t talk to anybody but Chris.”
“I promise, John.”
“Something wrong, Serenity?”
“I sense you are unhappy, John. Is this due to my actions or lack thereof?” she asked.
“No, Serenity. It’s nothing you did. Just things I’d rather not
remember…” He was surprised the memory of his ex was so painful; after all,
he’d not seen or spoken to her for months now.
“Then perhaps you should turn your attention to other memories,” she suggested with a noticeable absence of his name following, putting a hand on his shoulder.
He blinked and turned slowly, stunned by how completely natural and human she appeared. “Thanks for the advice, Serenity.” He took her hand in his own as he would a child’s, pulling her complacently along behind him.
The following car trip to his best friend’s house was, for the majority
of the drive, uneventful. Serenity would break the silence every few minutes
with an occasional question or comment, but otherwise, the trip went by
quickly. John noticed Serenity’s gaze never seemed to settle on one thing in
particular, but flitted from one object to another, a hummingbird of interest.
John was almost thankful for the silence, because he knew Chris would break it
the moment he got a good look at Serenity. And of course, John was right.
“What’s so important that you had to show up before I’ve even had breakfast?” Chris mumbled as he cracked his front door. “Don’t know what to wear toni-“ his words left him when his eyes alighted on Serenity. “Who…?”
John winced when he saw Chris was only wearing boxer shorts. His friend’s cheeks were flushing a red the shade of ripened tomatoes. “She’s an android,” he quickly explained, Chris’ expression shifting from embarrassment to interest. “Her name is Serenity.”
“Really? You? Got an android?” It was clear Chris was stunned by this idea. He knew John had always been fascinated by the android’s inner workings and design, but he never expected the man would go so far as to buy one. “So… uh… did you want to bring her on your blind date, or…” he trailed off, giving John a look of mischievous intent.
“What? No! Oh, God, no, I mean, she’s not- we’re not-no!” he sputtered.
“No!” Serenity chimed, as if to emphasize the point, beaming at John.
“Okay then… what is it you want from me? Because I can tell you right now, John, I’m not going to do a threesome.” He leaned against the banister inside the house, an amused smile spreading.
“No, Chris! It’s not that! I hit her with my car last night-“ He broke off when he saw Chris’ expression turn to one of sheer disbelief.
“You hit her… with your car? Why?” he gaped. “Why didn’t you tell me?” He opened the door, letting the two of them inside his home. “Alright, John, spill.”
As he wound down to the current moment, John sat down in one of the kitchen chairs and sighed deeply. “So I brought her to you in hopes you could tell me some more about her before I bring her back as soon as possible.”
“Wow… that’s better than what happened to me. I came home and went to sleep. Why do the fun things always happen to you?” Chris approached the standing Serenity and took a walk around to get a better look.
“It wasn’t fun!” John replied, irritated by how calm Chris seemed. “What am I supposed to do with her-“
“Simple. You let me examine her and we can find out where she came from,”
Chris ran a few fingers over her skin. “She’s extremely realistic… I’ve never
seen an android so realistic before.” He straightened to meet her eyes staring
into his own. She was so… simple. Unassuming, non-judgemental, just…
serene. His lips curled into a smile. “Have a seat… Serenity, wasn’t it?” He
turned his attention on John, who was watching closely. “I’ll just connect my
own computer to her mainframe and we can look up her information that way.”
“Will it hurt her?” John asked, watching Chris boot up his computer.
“Androids don’t feel pain, John,” he murmured as he brushed aside Serenity’s hair and inserted a tiny plug into her ear. “They look like people. But they don’t feel.” He glanced towards his friend. The way he’s looking at her… it’s almost like he’s worried. Sighing softly, he continued, “But if it makes you feel better, I can put her into stasis during the procedure. Sort of like a controlled sleep mode.”
“Do it,” he said, sitting down in view of Chris’ computer on a kitchen stool, though he didn’t understand what the coding lines meant.
“John?” Serenity turned her head towards him.
“Yes?” he looked at her, her expression relaxing as he did.
“I will wake up… won’t I?” she asked, her expression wavering into one that John almost thought looked like fear.
“You have my word. You’ll wake up as soon as we’re finished making you better,” he was careful to pick his words carefully, as if he were speaking to a child.
“Your word… that’s a promise, isn’t it, John? You promise?” she repeated,
Chris’ fingers hovering over the keys as he waited for their conversation to
“I promise.” Her lips parted as if to say something in response, but the light suddenly dimmed from her eyes and her head bowed forward in a slump, her activity ceased.
John watched as Chris’ fingers typed away on his keyboard, but his interest quickly turned back to the unresponsive Serenity. “Can you see anything yet?”
“You’re right; she’s from A.I.R… can’t find a model number, though. Here’s a small problem…” John leaned over his friend’s shoulder to see the screen, Chris pointing at what looked like a 3D model of Serenity, and lines of binary code appearing next to her. “The memory circuit’s shorted, probably from you hitting her with her car.”
“Can you fix her?” John asked.
“Sure. Just need a little time to tinker around in her mainframe. I have some tools in my garage that should do the trick. Might take a couple of hours though, maybe we’ll be able to find out where she came from and why.”
John was somewhat reluctant to leave Serenity’s side, but he found he hindered Chris’ progress more than helped. Hours passed by slowly, but John was very careful not to mention how long the process was taking. When he was finally called into the kitchen for the reanimating process, John quickly moved to Serenity's side.
His eyes were earnestly focused on her unconscious expression as Chris almost routinely plugged in connections and typed up the necessary binary code for the process to begin. For a few moments nothing happened and John turned to Chris with concern. Chris pointed as Serenity's eyes fluttered open from her sleep. “Don't sweat it, she's awake.”
Visible relief flooded John's face as she stared at him. “How do you feel?”
“I feel... fine, John.”
The tone of her voice struck him like ice. It was not necessarily unkind or harsh in any way, but something had changed. Her words no longer seemed to have their sweet, gentle charm, the innocence he had been so fond of from the first time he'd heard her speak. He glanced to Chris, his eyes furrowed in distrust. Something was wrong.
“What?” Chris retorted, taken back by his friend's glare. “I did everything right, repaired her memory circuit; she's functioning completely normally.” John just stared. “Fine, you want to see for yourself?” He bent over and put both hands on the sides of Serenity’s head, and a small hiss of compressed air sounded as a panel slid down to reveal her incredibly complicated inner workings. Amidst the blinking lights and soft hum of machinery, Chris pointed at a tiny chip, similar to what John had seen inside a digital camera, although on a much more delicate scale.
Fitting, he thought, for a woman like Serenity. “What is that?”
“Her memory chip. Everything that she is… Serenity is that chip. Without it she’d just be a hollow preprogrammed shell, like any other android. You should be thankful I fixed it for you. But if you want I can just mess her up again.” Spite oozed from his features as he glowered at John.
“No, no! I’m sorry, Chris… I just don’t understand this stuff.”
“Damn it, John…” Chris was looking at a digital clock on the wall reading six twenty. “I-we have a date in ten minutes. Did you forget? Alice is supposed to come over and we’re going out on the town, me with her and you with her friend. What are we going to do with that?” He gestured with a fling of his arm towards Serenity.
“Don’t talk about her like that,” John growled. “I hit her with my car. She didn’t ask for any of this.”
“I’m going to get ready. You do what you want.” It was at this incredibly inopportune moment that the doorbell chime rang. “She’s early! So much for getting spruced up… how do I look?”
John cast a brief glance at his friend and sighed mentally. “You look good.” The door opened in the background and John could hear conversation being exchanged, but the words were a jumble to his ears. In fact, he couldn’t really focus on much apart from how sullen Serenity looked. Had he done something wrong in fixing her? Should he have just left her as she was? He decided to ask.
“Serenity,” he began, his eyes fixed on her downcast face, “are you alright?”
She drew her hazel eyes to meet his, her lips pulled tightly together, as if holding back a secret she dared not speak. Slowly, almost forcefully, they pried apart.
Regretful he did not hear Serenity’s words, and annoyed at the timely interruption, he got up and popped his head around the corner. He was greeted by the sight of a voluptuous blond woman a few years younger than he, dressed in a cocktail outfit in swirling colors of burgundy. Her hair was loose about her shoulders in a fashion that almost begged to be touched, her manicured nails clutching a small purse in one hand. She was alone. “This is Alice. Turns out her friend didn’t show…” By the way Chris spoke, John knew he was sincerely sorry, but the same part of him knew that Chris would not refuse such gorgeous company, either.
“It’s fine.” John had experienced his fair share of disappointments in life. “Go on; you two have fun.”
“Who’s that?” Alice asked.
John turned to see Serenity beside him. “I am Serenity,” she said. There was an unmistakable assurance to those words which deafened the three listening in a short period of awed silence.
“Well… hey, if he already has a date, we can go together.”
“I would like that very much.” Serenity replied, and John turned to her, assuming he would have to explain the meaning of a date. Upon meeting her hopeful eyes, he couldn’t bring himself to say anything but “okay”.
The feeling of going on a date with his best friend nearby was a little awkward, but going on a date with an android was even more so. John found himself strangely captivated by her desire to know the world around her, everything from the way she smiled at something unexpected to the way she asked simple questions. It was around an hour into the date when Alice suggested they visit the movies. She had a romantic movie in mind and Chris was all too thrilled to agree in hopes the date would end with a positive score.
John agreed. As the movie rounded the hour runtime, he felt a nudge from his side. At first he thought it had been an accident, but after the second, harder push from Serenity, he turned to look at her.
“Is that love, John?” she asked in a hushed whisper.
The question took him immediately off-guard. “…What?”
She repeated her question, looking more earnest. “Is that love?”
On the screen before him a couple was kissing each other ravenously within an apartment. John shook his head. “No, Serenity. That’s not.” She did not speak again until the party was walking along the city sidewalk afterwards.
“John… if what we were observing in the theater is not love… what is?”
“What is love,” he repeated, considering the best answer himself before replying. “I suppose… it’s when you want to make someone else happy. Even if it hurts you.”
For a few moments, John wondered if he’d described it properly, because Serenity was again quiet. Then, she stopped where she was and declared, “John, I must go to the hospital.”
Immediately the entire party halted and whirled towards her, and everyone seemed to talk at once. “Is she alright?” Alice murmured, pushing away from Chris.
“What’s wrong, John?” Chris let Alice slip away and jogged over.
“I don’t know, she seemed fine until just now.” John took Serenity firmly by the shoulders and whirled her to face him. “Do you hurt, Serenity? Do you want me to take you home?”
She shook her head, maintaining eye contact with him, her face a little pale, but not sickly. Her eyes were soft, reflective, and gentle as usual, but somehow reflected unspoken regret. “I am funct… feeling normally, John… please take me to the hospital.”
“John, we can take my car. Alice, do you mind?” Chris moved to the android’s side.
“No, go ahead!” she encouraged.
“I’ll call you!” Chris shouted back as he followed John, who bent and picked up the android, carrying her towards the vehicle parked near the movie theater a few blocks away.
“What is it, Serenity? Why are we going to the hospital?” He loaded her into the back of the car, climbing in beside her as Chris jumped into the driver’s seat. “If it’s something with your software, they can’t help you at the hospital.”
A long pause hung in the air as they pulled out of the lot and started towards the highway. She turned to look at John, and there was a very slight shimmer to her eyes, almost as if she were tearful.
“Serenity, tell me what’s going on,” he demanded.
“You must take me to the hospital, John. Because that is where they will think you’ve brought me.” Though she looked sad, there was a peace to her features.
“They?” He pushed for more information.
“John, there is something you must know. I wanted to tell you since you first reactivated me, but I did not know how,” she started, drawing her gaze away from him. “I am an android from A.I.R. Incorporated. You know that. But you do not know that they sent me to spy on your ideas, your plans. I did not know right or wrong, John… I still do not know. But I know one thing: I want you to be happy. And to do that… you must shut me down.” The atmosphere in the car turned frigid.
“Shut… shut you down?” John stammered, appalled. “I can’t shut you down, Serenity!”
“You must, John. There are people who want your work. Your ideas. They want to take everything from you. They set you up, John, from the beginning. You must shut me down so they will never have anything from you.”
“But you don’t know any of my plans, Serenity! I’ve never spoken about anything with you, I’ve never even shown anything to y…” he trailed off in sinking realization of the truth.
“I was looking at your briefcase’s contents when I first arrived in your home. At that point, I did not know I was meant to discover your ideas. But when your friend, Chris, repaired my memory circuit, I recalled my purpose.” She turned to him and her lips parted with a truly remorseful expression. “I’m sorry, John… you must shut me down.”
“They’ll come looking for you at the hospital?” Chris said.
“They will find me. I am sure they saw you hit me with your car, John. There are cameras everywhere, but they will never know I awakened if you only shut me down.”
“I won’t do it. I won’t shut you down, Serenity.” He reached across the seat and took her hand. “Listen. You’re something special. I might not ever see another android like you. How can I shut you down?”
“You must, John,” she stated flatly, removing her hand from his. “Let me make you happy.”
“What will happen to you when they find you?” he asked as his eyebrows furrowed darkly.
“Once they see I am no longer of use to them, they will likely recycle me.”
“Serenity. I can’t-“ he began, interrupted before he could finish.
“I will remember our time together, John. For as long as I have the memories. I almost felt… human.” She opened her side door and stepped out into the eerily-quiet hospital parking lot, John quickly following to her side.
“Serenity, don’t do this…”
“You watched your friend open my main circuitry disc. You must flip my auxiliary switch and give me the command to shut down, John,” she started to turn around for him, but he caught her shoulder, reversing her posture so she faced him.
“Serenity.” He looked at her eyes once more, those ever-calm, completely serene eyes for which he’d named her. “I won’t forget you.”
His hands reached around her, resting his arms on her shoulders while removing her back panel and feeling the circuitry until he found the switch. He ran his fingers delicately over each part of her machinery, her wiring, buttons, and chips. Her memory chip, everything she was. Then, he pulled her closer, until he was hugging her, and Chris watched her body go limp in the man’s arms.
He didn’t dare speak to John again until nearly a week had passed and he had been confronted by his boss in the quality assurance testing center about a particular android. Serenity was right. She’d been found, and she’d been destroyed.
“Christopher, I need you to recycle a defective model.”
“Sure thing, boss,” he whispered,
eyes glued to the limp, mangled body of Serenity lying motionless on the floor, her body
banged and dented and back panel fizzling with sparks of electricity. Heart
sinking in his chest as he approached, he bent to take the body in his arms and
suddenly noted something unusual: her memory chip was gone. Perhaps they had
taken it. Maybe they hoped to reap the memories from it. He set her aside,
hurrying to his friend’s department. Maybe if he warned John, they could fight it. Maybe if
he told him in time, he could take legal precautions, something, anything.
“I know.” John slid open his desk drawer. He picked something out and squeezed it, his palm opening to reveal a tiny chip. “I promised I wouldn't forget her... and I'm keeping that promise.”