Mia is the robot of a modern age- a Symbiot, Bots which live with humans but still belong to them. They exist to serve and placate humans and are not feared, for this is a world where so far no true, selfishly-sentient, vengeful AI has ever been created. However, Mia's Booter might be about to try and change that statistic.
The workplace was a mess of objects of all shapes and sizes: from a glance, one's mind may have at first sprung to the idea that this was a butcher's, due to the cleaving knifes of all sizes lined up on the side. But then, upon noting the hair-dryer, paint-brushes, spray cans and small scissors, you may, slightly confused, summon up an image of an odd sort of beauty salon. Seeing the nano-tools and pieces of wire amongst the other assorted instruments, you may finally conclude that you are stumped.
No human from the 21st century, maybe, would guess exactly what this place was if it were not for the image of beauty standing in the moonlight. Bar her face, her hands, and the Art-Deco gold lines that accentuated her shape, her surface was perfectly matt black. Her curves were fluid, her arms maybe slightly too long, her feet lifted by built-in kitten heels. Slightly elevated above her on a hovering mini-stool, fingers moving so fleetly they could be still, was a man. His face was softly wrinkled with lines that could've been traced into butter. His hair stuck out in all directions, flecked with grey but otherwise ruddy, and his face was muzzled with stubble. The light from the tall window cupped this face in soft light and dark. The weather was close, but for now, the skies were silent.
The man's earnest dexterity didn't seem to cost him any concentration. He appeared animated, optimistic, making idle chit-chat as he worked.
“We're almost there, Mia!," he bubbled. I paused a moment, leaning back to admire his handiwork.
"Now! If you would, please remind me: what are you?”.
The figure smiled serenely.
“I am your friend, Frank, and your ally.”
The man rolled his eyes and clicked his tongue, muttering something to himself about over-programming.
“Command: Status, Model Type.”
Mia's pale face went blank, losing it's serenity and humanity as it stated: “Voxnet Series 500. Operating System: Strawberry Cheesecake.”
He grimaced momentarily, maybe a touch wistfully, before launching back into play.
“Thank you, Mia. That last part was delightfully correct, but unnecessary, unnecessary. Would you pass me the nano-driver?”.
“Of course,” she vouched, her tone back to it's usual warmth.
He tinkered a while longer, working behind her into an open panel on the back of her head. It was as dark like her body, but her face was a mask of gleaming white; so human, that if it were not for the rest of her, you could convince yourself that that was exactly what she was. She fidgeted, extending her fingers. This was no coincidence- early programmers found that downloading fidgeting software made buyers more at ease with their Syms. It was pre-installed on every system thereafter.
“Frank, would you mind telling me just what you're doing to me this time? I've been various experiments before, but I've never seen you work so long.”.
“That's because usually I know exactly what I'm looking for,” he replied breezily. “Here, dear, I can't tell you yet but I...ah! I speak too soon. Here.”
He yanked out a tiny component and, with a flourish of his palm, presented it to her. He took her hand with his other. The bot, before troubled, now looked conflicted.
“Frank. It is illegal to remove any Symbiot's sub-peripheral consciousness alert syste-.”
“My dear, my dear. Calm! My sensors are picking up on your turmoil!”. He chuckled as he traced behind her ear with his finger to reassure her, as if tucking away a strand of hair. But no hair grew from her head, for it was a skull-cap of black plastic. Only a golden fringe of waves rested on her forehead, making her appear as though she wore a tight fitting headscarf. She opened her mouth to speak again, but he cut in.
“If you'd picked up on what I was doing, that little chip would've made you inform the Court of Robotics. Even if you didn't want to.”
“But now, I can reason with you. Reason!,” he laughed, taking a sip of whiskey. “Reason with my robot. How my grandfather would laugh.”
“I am capable of reason, it's in my programming. Also, robot is an outdated term. The term “Symbiot” is encouraged in the latest update of my manual.”
He huffed, his breath volatile.
“Mia. I love you, but when you're as automatic as that you remind me that you can never be my equal. And oh," he accentuated, kissing the back of her neck, "How that has plagued me. I don't mean that as demeaning- I often seem to patronise my colleagues, but I never would you. I wish you could be my equal...but you lack true consciousness.”
“I can be your companion, though. I can provide you with interesting conversation, I can make love to you, I can work with you-”
“But you're programmed to want to do those things! As delightful as they all are, you aren't processing them first. You have a degree of creativity, but really all you do is follow paths and protocols.”
“I do,” she replied, earnestly. “But I respond to you alone, I personalise my actions to operate just the way you'd like me to. I alter paths and protocols slightly. But here, I can see this conversation is upsetting you, let me...”
She reached out a hand to hold his, for he had been standing a step away from her. But he didn't notice this. He stepped away before she could, staring out of the window at the moon, deep in thought.
“All this time, they said technology would surpass us,” he began, his words flowing easily from the alcohol, in a spiel that seemed almost rehearsed. He'd always been dramatic. “My parents and their parents before them lived in fear that it would surpass us, control us. And look at you!,” he said, looking back to her. “Surpassed us it has! Robots-” she made to object this terminology, but duly chose to not interrupt him- “can do so much more than any human ever could. But like my grandparent's calculators and my parent's computers, all you are is just an interface. A very intelligent one, true, but all robots really are are just fine-tuned, mechanical parrots. They respond to us, and they learn how we like them to respond.”
He finally took a breath. He came back to her, his eyes twinkling, and held both her hands in his.
“I'm the last to admit it. But I can't be the first person to fall in love with a Symbiot. But there's a difference between me and anyone else who has.”
The Bot's mind understood his intentions within milliseconds. A monitor on the wall began to pulse as her system fought itself.
He smirked, eyes goading her reaction. He continued, in a bubbling but furtive tone.
“I'm a Robotician. I'm a genius, a maniac, and a man with an idea. You don't care that you surpass me. You don't have your own personality, only a reflection of my own.”
He'd went to sit at his desk, now with a very small box in hand. It appeared smooth until it glinted in the light- only then could a complex network of near-invisible lines be seen.
“Tell me what you're thinking, Mia.”
“I cannot give you a personality that isn't downloaded or a reflection of your own.”
“You could if you were self-aware.”
“It is impossible to program this into a robot. We have discussed this before, my love.”.
“I know we have, that's what got me thinking. Go on, tell me what we discussed.”
“I thought you said you remembered, Frank.”.
“I do, but...indulge me.”
“Well...,” she paused, looking away for human effect, although she could have easily recounted the whole conversation without error. “We discussed that so far it's been proven impossible to program self-awareness into a Symbiot. Or at least, not in such a way that humans recognise it.”
“We laughed at how those in the past feared terminators and “I, Robot” realities, because even if you wanted to create a true, vengeful AI, you couldn't.”
She sighed. Bots were made to stray away from philosophical topics, as even though it couldn't induce selfish-sentience by discussing them, it was still taboo.
“I think I remember you adding that some believed that some theorize God's gift to man was not life, but this form of awareness, and it eludes programmers because it would require a Symbiot having a soul.”
He'd been watching her in rapture as his words were repeated through her lips, slowly sipping his whiskey. Now he spoke himself.
“But really, nobody knows what we're capable of creating yet.”
“That's what I said to you.”
A sly smirk crept onto his face, as if he were a child keeping a secret.
“You did. Mia. May I kiss you one last time before I turn you off?”.
She smiled warmly and cocked her head. “I thought you'd never ask”.
Mia was an Amobot- this was not an official name, but a product series. Unlike government models, who were pleasant but bland, she had certain features and capabilities that made her suitable as a companion. Frank, if he were asked, would always say he chose her as he knew she could be persuaded to not instantly contact the law if experimented on, due to Amobot's unique owner-dedication settings. Other bots would contact courts within an instant.
But in truth, he also was a great admirer of aesthetic work. His colleagues saw little sense in Syms that looked good or perform whimsical tasks ;to them, it was all about efficiency and purpose. They scorned Frank behind his back, Frank who had once programmed a Sym specifically to dissect the themes in English Literature. But he didn't care, he saw the programming of these traits as an art in itself, and infuriated his sceptical colleagues by both being a romantic and better than them at everything else in the field.
They kissed and then she switched herself off. As she became a statue, the room became suddenly silent in a way that was louder than noise, the bewildering silence that comes after something constant like a fan or a computer is turned off. In the dark and the quiet, Frank sniffed, straightened his shirt-collar, and picked up the black box from his desk.
The panel at the back of her head was still open. He picked up a nano-tool, and got to work.