The Offer, Part 3
Chapter 9: Reassignment
It was almost an hour before the two new androids began their first duty shift. Wendy felt a pair of electric surges along the length of her body as first the male unit, then the female was switched to functional level ten. As the surges faded, the colorful lights that represented the androids’ individual minds seemed to recede to the back of Wendy’s consciousness. All activity within them had quieted to a whisper.
Wendy was still the conduit through which the central processors continued to transmit commands to “her” androids, but her role in those communications was completely passive. While her androids were at functional level ten, she was no longer directly involved in their thoughts and decisions.
She was alone again. In the past—only a few hours ago, really—regaining sole possession of her own mind had made her feel whole. Now, it felt empty.
Reaching out with her mind, Wendy watched as the two N units impassively exited their programming cubicle. Riya/N001 was deployed to a data processing center a few levels above, while Mark/N002 was assigned to the maintenance crew for one of the nearby buildings. Each android spent the first part of its duty shift receiving the necessary upgrades to carry out the basic work functions that would be required of it. In both cases, installation of the upgrades was successful, and the two performed like perfect automatons.
Six hours later, the two androids received the electronic signal that the shift was over. Both responded instantly, ceasing all work and proceeding obediently to their programming cubicle. They arrived at the door to the cubicle within seconds of each other. Aside from the fact that N001 stood patiently at attention while N002 pressed his palm to the door control, neither unit acknowledged the other’s presence. Each was still at functional level ten.
The door opened, and N002 waited as N001 entered the room. N001 proceeded directly to her programming chair, turned, and sat. Through the impassive android, Wendy felt and heard several loud, satisfying clicks as the chair connected itself to N001’s power supply and data ports. Within N001’s field of vision, Wendy could now see N002 performing an identical procedure in his own chair. Of course, she was also witnessing the same sequence from his point of view.
Moments later, both units had shut down to recharge. As soon as the two androids deactivated, the voice of the central processor rang out in Wendy’s head. COMMAND INTERFACE TO UNIT N001 DISENGAGED. COMMAND INTERFACE TO UNIT N002 DISENGAGED.
Now, she really was alone.
At least, she thought she was until she opened her eyes. As her pixilated field of vision resolved to its optimal resolution, Wendy realized that Unit C457 was standing over her.
“A little over eight hours—not bad for your first time out,” C457 said. “I take it there were no problems?”
“No,” Wendy said, arching her back slightly as her pod’s data connection disengaged itself from her rear communications port with a soft hiss. She sat up slightly, and reached up to remove her helmet. “Wow, what a day.”
“You’re doing great. I was monitoring N001 and N002 for a while, and they seem to be functioning perfectly. Congratulations!” C457 paused to check a reading on the display above Wendy’s head, then nodded approvingly. “So, are you enjoying yourself?”
“Yes, definitely,” Wendy replied as she stretched her arms and began to step out of the pod. “The feeling of being joined to another person like that, it’s indescribable. And experiencing all the thoughts and physical sensations of a male unit as well as a female . . . it’s beyond anything I could have imagined.”
“Well, I’m told it only gets better as you take on more and more units. Speaking of which, based on your performance today I think we’re ready to send you back to Earth.”
“Really? I was just starting to feel comfortable here.” Wendy winked. She’d known all along that she wasn’t going to be on the home world for very long. She was actually excited about the idea of seeing her friends again. Then it occurred to her that she wouldn’t just be seeing them. She’d be connected to them.
“Trust me, you’re desperately needed on Earth.” C457 headed for the door, and Wendy followed her out of Interface Cluster D. “Up to now,” the C unit continued, “we’ve been trying to maintain command interfaces to our Earth-based androids from here. It’s a huge strain on our resources—so much so that until recently there was no way we could ever deploy anything less than a T unit to Earth. We’ve developed techniques for routing interface traffic from an Earth-based central processor to one of the interface units we have stationed here, and back again to the androids on Earth, but it’s very costly and bandwidth is extremely limited.”
“That must be why there’s still only a handful of converted N units at the recruiting center.”
“Yes, that’s one reason,” C457 said as they reached a transport station. Inside, the C unit tapped their itinerary into one of the computer consoles. “The other reason is that we need an interface unit for each new cell of 1024 androids. Our existing cells are all at or near capacity. It had been decided that, outside of the experiments going on at the recruiting center, recruiting activity would have to be curtailed until we’d developed additional capacity.”
“In other words, me.”
“That’s right,” C457 said with a coy smile. “You, and . . . .”
“And?” Wendy’s face lit up as she realized what C457 was hinting at. “You mean there’s another one?”
C457 laughed. “Wendy, you should know by now. We do everything in pairs.”
TEMPORARY SHUTDOWN ENDS NOW. REACTIVATE UNIT. Wendy’s chrome eyelids had already been open, but only now did the golden visual sensors within begin to register input. She was standing in the recruitment center’s small transport station. Unit C457 was next to her.
“Transport successful,” the I unit and the C unit announced with one flat, mildly reverberating voice.
The C unit moved toward a nearby door. Wendy followed. The door opened onto a receiving area. Unit T801—Kim—stepped forward to greet them. Unit N979—Sam—stood at attention nearby, awaiting instructions.
“Greetings, Unit C457,” T801 said. “And greetings to you, Interface Unit A107E8. We’re so glad to have you back here!” The T unit was positively beaming with delight. And it wasn’t just because Wendy’s arrival meant that the recruiting center could finally begin to step up its operations. Kim was genuinely ecstatic to see Wendy’s dream finally coming true.
“Thank you, Unit T801,” Wendy replied. “May I speak to Sam?”
“Of course.” T801 turned toward Unit N979, who continued to stare impassively ahead. “Unit N979, resume functional level two.”
Immediately, the N unit’s eyes blinked with mechanical precision. The absolute rigidity of her shoulders and arms seemed to melt away as her head turned smoothly to face T801. “Functional level two restored.” Now her head turned again, a bit more fluidly, as she scanned the room. In a fraction of a second, she spotted the newcomers.
“Wendy!” Sam cried, skipping over to greet her friend. “You did it!”
“Yeah,” Wendy replied, relief flickering across her mind as she realized that her presence was no longer disruptive to the other androids. “Finally, I get to join the club.”
“You’ll do more than that,” C457 interjected. “Come on, it’s time we did what we came here to do. Unit T801, has the interface station been prepared?”
“Affirmative, Unit C457. We are ready to install the interface unit on your command.”
Bringing her left arm up, Unit T801 pressed lightly on the back of her wrist with the fingers of her other hand. A previously hidden panel on the back of her forearm slid open, and she quickly pressed a sequence of buttons inside it. She looked up.
“The command sequence has been entered,” she reported. “All units will begin executing installation protocols in three seconds.”
A few feet away, Wendy was holding one of her arms up to give Sam a better look at her detailing. “I love the white pieces,” the N unit said. “What else about you is diff—”
Unit N979 froze, eyes suddenly wide. Letting go of Wendy’s arm, the N unit came to attention, staring right through Wendy. Her mouth opened. “This.u.nit.is.now.set.at.func.tion.al.le.vel.ten,” she droned.
A satisfied smile showed briefly on Unit T801’s face before she too stiffened. “This.u.nit.is.now.set.at.func.tion.al.le.vel.ten,” she said, her voice every bit as monotonic as the N unit she now turned to command. “U.nit N.9.7.9. Es.cort U.nit C.4.5.7 and In.ter.face U.nit A.1.0.7.E.8 to In.ter.face Clus.ter A.”
“Af.firm.a.tive,” came N979’s metallic reply. She turned to C457. “Please fol.low this u.nit.” She turned again and headed for the door, followed closely by C457. As Wendy walked past T801, the T unit turned neatly behind her to being up the rear.
As the androids made their way down the corridor, Wendy saw that the entire center was buzzing with activity. In one chamber, a pair of male units fitted a large piece of equipment into place as a female unit began testing connections. Where the first corridor met a second, another female seemed to be entering data into a wall-mounted access panel. Like every other unit in the facility, she was obviously at functional level ten. Her task finished, the female unit turned neatly and strode with mechanical precision in the opposite direction.
Moments later, Unit N979 led the group into Interface Cluster A. It was the first and only interface room in the new recruiting center—actually, the first and only one on Earth. Much smaller than its counterparts on the home world, it was designed to hold a total of only four interface units. None of the pods, however, were occupied yet.
“All right,” C457 said, turning to Wendy as they came to a stop before the first of the pods. “We’ll have to shut you down for the physical installation. Should only take half an hour or so.”
“No problem,” Wendy replied. “Initiating shutdown sequence.” A moment later, she felt herself stiffen to immobility. Unit N979, who had come up behind her, expertly tipped the I unit’s body backward into her arms and lifted her as though she were weightless.
The next thing Wendy knew, she was inside her new interface pod, connected both physically and mentally to the androids’ Earth-based sub-network. Of course, the sub-network was nothing compared to what she’d “seen” on the home world . . . but it was a start. With only a handful of android and non-android CPUs online, it was like a vast, empty landscape waiting to be populated.
As the resolution of her visual input increased to its optimum level, she recognized Unit C457 standing over her, smiling. Unit T801 was just behind her, her chrome face devoid of any emotion.
Before Wendy could say anything, Unit N979 leaned over her pod. The N unit blocked Wendy’s field of vision for several seconds, her face and body frozen except for the hands, which executed a complex series of delicate adjustments within Wendy’s open access panels.
At last, the N unit retracted her hands and returned to a standing position. She pressed a button on the side of the pod, and the voice of the recruiting center’s central processor rang out in Wendy’s head.
INTERFACE UNIT A107E8 ONLINE. ACTIVATE VOCAL.
“Installation complete,” Wendy said flatly, still staring straight up at the ceiling. “Interface Unit A10768 is fully operational.”
Again, the voice came. RE-ESTABLISH COMMAND INTERFACE TO UNIT A107E8-N986.
Rosa! Wendy had almost forgotten about her. On the other side of the recruiting center, the N unit had been waiting to be reactivated for almost twenty-four hours. Now that Rosa’s command interface had been re-established, Wendy felt the central processor contact the N unit for the first time since she’d been shut down. ACTIVATE UNIT.
A moment later came N986’s reply. Systems activated. This unit is fully functional.
Wendy’s field of vision grew dim, her own consciousness receding as N986 came online. From somewhere—most likely the home world, given the relative slowness of the transfer—a complete representation of Rosa Sanchez’s neural matrix was being downloaded to Wendy’s mind. Soon Unit N986 would be able to operate at functional levels below ten. But not yet.
The conversation between the central processor and the newly reactivated N unit continued.
SET UNIT TO FUNCTIONAL LEVEL TEN.
This unit is now set at functional level ten.
COMMENCE INTERNAL SYSTEMS DIAGNOSTIC.
Commencing internal systems diagnostic. Processing. Command interface re-established. All internal systems rebooted successfully. Processing. CPU test . . . passed. Memory test . . . passed. High-level scan of internal storage array . . . passed. Basic motor functions . . . passed. Passed. Passed.
Unit A107E8-N986 is functioning properly. Processing.
Non-fatal error 431: Neural matrix for individual designate “Rosa Sanchez” currently unavailable. This unit currently limited to functional level ten. Warning: Long-term disconnection from individual neural matrix may result in degradation of systems integrity.
Diagnostic report ends. This unit is awaiting instructions.
REPORT TO INTERFACE CLUSTER A.
Command received. Executing command.
It wasn’t long before the door to the chamber opened, and Unit N986 entered. No longer seeing anything through her own eyes, Wendy observed the entrance through N986’s sensors in real time.
The first thing Wendy noticed was that none of the androids in the room reacted to N986’s arrival. The second was that Unit C457 was gone. Apparently, her presence was no longer required.
A moment later, Rosa’s individual consciousness had been successfully downloaded. There were now three units in Wendy’s care—though N001/Riya and N002/Mark were currently deactivated, and still presumably on the home world.
Wendy didn’t have much time to think about them before the central processor spoke again. ALL UNITS BEGIN SHUTDOWN SEQUENCE. This time the command didn’t pass through Wendy, though her connection to the network made her aware of it. The command had been routed through Interface Unit A107C3, back on the home world. All units in cell A107C3—that is, every android in the facility except for N986/Rosa—immediately began to shut down.
“This.u.nit.will.now.be.gin.shut.down.se.quence,” T801 droned. Her eyes flashed briefly, and her mouth fell open.
“This.u.nit.will.now.be.gin.shut.down.se.quence,” N979 echoed, a fraction of a second behind.
Through the building’s internal monitors, Wendy watched as, one by one, the command reached every android in the facility. N992/Keisha, seated at a communications terminal, reacted immediately, her head slowly falling forward until her headset came to rest on the console. N982/Ben and N987/David, carrying a heavy piece of new machinery, remained active just long enough to find an appropriate spot to put it down before they too began to shut down. Even the Stage One units came to a halt, several frozen in mid-stride before bending stiffly at the waist to end up in various awkward shut-down positions. N991/Cheryl waited to ensure that all had shut down successfully before powering off herself.
“This.unit.shut.ting.down,” the androids said, each in its own time. Their final words resonated through the quiet corridors.
“Shut.down . . . com . . . . . . . plete.”
A quick scan of the facility revealed that everything was in order. Wendy turned her attention back to the room she was in. T801/Kim and N979/Sam were motionless, their bodies bent over slightly. N986/Rosa was motionless too . . . but unlike the others she stood at attention, status lights blinking gently.
ESTABLISH COMMAND INTERFACES TO ALL REMAINING UNITS. Good, Wendy thought. The central processor is just as eager to get started as I am.
It took less than a second to identify every android in the facility, and establish a connection on the network. Wendy’s internal database was soon populated with a complete list of the units that now comprised cell A10768.
N001 * Riya Bharti * Fully Functional * Offline N002 * Mark Russell * Fully Functional * Offline T800 * Timothy Walker * Functional Level Ten Only * Offline T801 * Kimberly Ann Peters * Functional Level Ten Only * Offline N979 * Samantha Taylor * Functional Level Ten Only * Offline N982 * Benjamin Stalling * Functional Level Ten Only * Offline N986 * Rosa Sanchez * Fully Functional * Online N987 * David Bryant * Functional Level Ten Only * Offline N990 * Kevin O’Shea * Functional Level Ten Only * Offline N991 * Cheryl Linz * Functional Level Ten Only * Offline N992 * Keisha Grant * Functional Level Ten Only * Offline N993 * Troy Whittier * Functional Level Ten Only * Offline N1001 * Heather Lawson * Stage One * Offline N1002 * James Koning * Stage One * Offline N1003 * Julie Goldman * Stage One * Offline N1004 * Nathan Hurwitz * Stage One * Offline N1005 * Angela Silvestri * Stage One * Offline N1006 * Jennifer Silvestri * Stage One * Offline N1007 * Anthony Rice * Stage One * Offline N1008 * Eric Seung * Stage One * Offline N1009 * Lisa Garrett * Stage One * Offline N1010 * Mary Pierce * Stage One * Offline N1011 * Stephen Pierce * Stage One * Offline N1012 * Douglas Hewitt * Stage One * Offline N1013 * Sean Lyons * Stage One * Offline N1018 * Arianna Young * Stage One * Offline
Twenty-six units in all—more than half of whom were still at Stage One of their conversion. Of the twelve fully converted androids, only three neural matrices had so far been downloaded to Wendy’s consciousness. A fourth—Timothy Walker’s—was already being transferred from the home world, but Wendy knew it was going to take a while to download all of the remaining nine. She didn’t want to do it without some company.
Wendy was about to instruct N986/Rosa to resume functional level one when she suddenly remembered that she couldn’t. It was not her function to control her fellow androids—merely to enable the central processors to control them. As reassuring as it was to finally understand her purpose, she couldn’t help but feel disappointed. She wished that Rosa would just talk to her, so she didn’t feel so alone.
REQUEST RECEIVED. REQUEST GRANTED. Amazing! Maybe it was possible to influence the central processor after all. Wendy’s mind voiced its thanks as she happily relayed the central processor’s instruction to Unit N986. SET UNIT TO FUNCTIONAL LEVEL ONE.
Unit N986 blinked slowly. “Functional level one restored,” she said. Then she scanned the room. It was the first time she’d ever seen an interface cluster—that is, the first time at any functional level below ten. “Wendy?” she asked as she moved toward Wendy’s pod. “Hey, how are you doing?”
Wendy’s face showed no response—her eyes remained fixed on the ceiling, and her lips did not move. But Rosa suddenly heard Wendy’s voice in her mind. I’m fine, Rosa. Just getting everyone else online as quickly as I can, and I thought you’d want to keep me company. It wasn’t the commanding voice of the central processor—just Wendy, in the same tone she once used to speak aloud.
No problem, Rosa said, quickly getting the hang of transmitting her thoughts directly to Wendy. Actually, it didn’t feel like a transmission at all. It was like Wendy was inextricably connected to her thoughts . . . perhaps even aware of them before she was, if such a thing were possible. So, exactly what do you have to do now?
Hang on . . . there. I’m done with T800 now. He’s been instructed to run a full systems diagnostic on the recruiting center computers, so I can focus on you again. One or two more units activated, though, and I probably won’t be able to keep our conversation going. To answer your question, I need to download each unit’s individual consciousness, so that they can all function properly without intervention from the home world. Did you know that until today, the part of you that’s still Rosa Sanchez wasn’t even here on Earth?
Um . . . I guess I’d never thought about it.
Right. Normally you’d never have any need to. But as of this minute, you and T800 are the only units in this facility who can access their individual selves. I’m trying to get the others up as soon as I can . . . T801 is next.
You mean, if we activated her right now she wouldn’t even know who she is?
Well, I’m guessing yes and no. Only one way to find out exactly, of course . . . so let’s try something. Could you establish a direct connection from the interface cluster to Unit T801? I need you to do it now, before she’s done downloading.
Understood. Rosa reached down and opened a panel in the interface cluster’s central column. From inside the panel, she pulled out one end of a long black connection cable. As she extended the cable toward T801, the motionless T unit suddenly jerked to attention. “Sys.tems.ac.ti.va.ted,” T801 droned. “This.u.nit.is.func.tion.ing.nor.mal.ly.”
OK, Rosa heard Wendy say inside her mind, I’ve activated her. Make the connection.
Gently pressing against the T unit’s Back, Rosa removed her rear access panel, then inserted the end of the cable. T801 remained impassive as it clicked into place. There, Rosa thought. All set.
Meanwhile, Wendy was just beginning her download of T801/Kim’s consciousness. Thankfully, she could sense that the central processor was giving her the leeway to experiment with the process a little. It was, after all, the only way for her to learn how everything really worked.
Thanks, Rosa, Wendy thought. I’m going to try to set her to functional level one now.
An instant later, T801 spoke. “Er.ror. Curr.ent.ly un.a.ble to re.store func.tion.al le.vel one. This u.nit will re.at.tempt un.til func.tion.al le.vel one has been re.stored.”
Good, Wendy continued. Now talk to her as though . . . hang on . . . OK, talk to her as though she actually were at functional level one, and we’ll see . . . we’ll see how she responds.
Wendy was obviously expending a lot of effort trying to hold up her end of the conversation. Fortunately, Rosa now had all the information she needed. Understood, she replied as she came around to the front of the T unit. “Kim?”
T801’s head swiveled neatly to face Rosa, but she said nothing.
“Kim, it’s me, Rosa. Do you recognize me?”
“Af.firm.a.tive,” T801 replied. “U.nit N.9.8.6 re.cog.nized.”
“Yes, I’m Unit N986 . . . but I’m also Rosa. Remember?”
“Negative. Designation ‘Rosa’ not found.” The T unit’s voice was smoother now, but she was obviously nowhere close to her old self. “You are Unit N986,” she continued. “You are an N designate an.droid . . . a machine programmed to serve its assigned func.tions within our society. No addi.tional information is avail—”
T801 stopped, and her head cocked. “Stand by . . . processing . . . affirmative. You are Unit N986. You are Rosa . . . Rosa Sanchez. Yes. While operating at functional level one your auxiliary designation—your name—is Rosa Sanchez.”
“And you? What about you?”
“I am Unit T801. I am a T designate android, a machine programmed to serve its assigned functions within our society. My primary function is to identify suitable recruitment candidates and supervise their transformation into android machines. I . . .
“I am also . . .”
T801’s head cocked again. Then she smiled—her first, tentative smile since coming online. “Kim. Kim Peters. I’m Kim Peters!”
Kim lifted her hands before her face as though looking at them for the first time. “Wow . . . I feel so weird. Rosa, it’s like only part of me is here. Some of me is . . . missing.”
Tell her . . . tell her she’s . . . almost . . . done, Wendy struggled to say.
“It’s OK, Kim. Just give it another minute.”
“Yes. I . . . understand. The missing data—the rest of me—it’s all coming back.” Her head cocked slightly as she suddenly remembered something. “Tim. Where . . . where is Tim?”
“He’s upstairs, I think—running some diagnostics.”
Just then, Kim’s download completed. Wendy now had five fully functional androids in her care—and even with only three of them activated, it was becoming too difficult to maintain any focus on her own thoughts. Rosa, I’m . . . I’m going to have to . . . give my full attention to my work. You can disconnect the cable now. Thanks for . . . talking with me. I won’t be able . . . to do this with you very often, but . . . but I’m always here.
Before Rosa even had a chance to respond, she received a command from the central processor. SET UNIT TO FUNCTIONAL LEVEL TEN. Of course, she responded instantly. “This.u.nit.is.now.set.at.func.tion.al.le.vel.ten.”
In parallel with the instruction for N986/Rosa, Wendy transmitted a similar command to T801/Kim. SET UNIT TO FUNCTIONAL LEVEL FOUR. “This unit is now set at functional level four,” T801 said matter-of-factly.
A moment later, T801 had been deployed to reactivate the Stage One units, with N986 following dutifully behind. Just seven more to go, Wendy thought dreamily as the first colored lights of Samantha Taylor’s consciousness began to form inside her mind. At this point, the lights were all Wendy could see. It was as though she were swimming in a boundless sea—floating beneath the surface and realizing she no longer needed to come up for air.
Soon the world outside was gone for her—or rather, it existed only through the sensory perceptions encoded in those millions of flickering lights. Seven more androids to go, and the entire recruiting center would be up and running, ready and able to expand more rapidly than ever before. And Wendy would be at the very center of it all.
It was something Wendy would be proud of, if she were only capable of forming the thought.
The voice roused Wendy as though from a deep sleep.
Systems activated. This unit is fully functional.
Several seconds passed before the white ceiling tiles of Interface Cluster A came into focus. Wendy was still lying in her pod, but she was alone. As far as she could tell, every android in the facility was deactivated.
It had been a long time since she’d seen anything with her own eyes, or even formed a conscious thought on her own. How long? A quick check of her internal chronometer told her: 7 days, 21 hours, 13 minutes. More than a full week on duty without a break. Incredible!
And yet, she didn’t feel the least bit tired. Physically connected as she was to the interface cluster’s power source, she was always fully charged. No, she wasn’t tired at all—just a bit disoriented. That, and extremely curious to learn what had happened in the past week. Though she’d been an intimate part of everything occurring within the recruiting center, not a single second of it was in her personal memory. That made sense, of course—there was simply no way her conscious mind could hold all that data.
Wendy carefully stepped out of her pod, noticing how slowly the movement came at first. The chamber was empty. On the wall, a video terminal flashed insistently. Apparently, someone from the home world was trying to contact her.
She walked over to the terminal and gently pressed a button. A brief stand-by message was soon replaced by the image of Unit C457. “Greetings, Interface Unit A107E8. How are you doing?”
“Great, thanks. Just getting my bearings, and hoping to catch up. I’ve been out of it for a while.”
“Yes, you were overdue for some downtime. I have to say, though, you performed perfectly the whole time. Not a single anomaly, even as your load increased.”
Wendy was going to ask about that, but immediately realized she could answer her own question with a simple database lookup. Accessing. “Wow,” she said. “I’m already up to 38 units?”
“Oh, yes. I’m happy to say we’ve completed the experimentation phase of our operations, and we’re ready for more ambitious field testing. Things should start moving forward pretty quickly now. But you’ll have plenty of time to think about that. Right now, I want to introduce you to someone.”
But C457 had turned away to address someone else. “Initiate transport,” she said. Then, turning back to Wendy, she continued. “Sorry, Wendy, but I don’t want to ruin this for you. Just be patient—you won’t be disappointed. C457 out.”
And with that, the screen went blank, leaving Wendy alone. She didn’t have to wait long, though, before the doors to Interface Cluster A slid open.
The android that entered the chamber was male—and the white metal of his hands, forearms, and boots marked him as an I unit. Wendy had never seen him before, but he was smiling as though he’d known her for ages.
“Wendy,” he said affectionately, reaching for her hands. He drew her close and held her. Wendy’s body was suffused with a warm electric tingle, and she happily returned the hug.
“I’m sorry,” she asked, “but do I know you?”
“Not really,” he replied, stepping back. “But I’ve been with you through your entire journey.”
Wendy looked into the android’s deep golden eyes. Every color of the rainbow seemed to flicker within them. She felt herself irresistibly drawn to him. There was, she decided, something familiar about him after all. She was reminded of . . . what?
For a second she thought he might have been in one of her dreams, but no. The only man she remembered from her dreams was Rick, and he didn’t look anything like Rick. Well, not that much like Rick.
Now that she thought about it, Wendy wasn’t sure that Rick looked all that much like Rick—that is, he hadn’t in her dreams. Why hadn’t she noticed that before? Was this guy—
“Wow,” the male unit laughed. “You really are amazing. But no, Wendy, I’m not Rick. Though I guess you could say I was, in that dream you had.”
Wendy’s jaw dropped.
“I’m not being fair,” the male unit continued. “Here, let’s sit down and I’ll explain.” He touched a button on a wall panel, and a pair of seating platforms extended nearby. Gently taking her by the hand, he led her over to them. They sat.
“Before you start,” Wendy said, “I need to know your name.”
The male smiled again. “I haven’t had any use for a name in a long time,” he said. “But my designation is Interface Unit A107C3. Until you came along, I was providing the command interface for Kim, Sam, and the rest of your friends. And, of course, for you.
“That’s what I mean when I say I’ve been with you all along,” he went on, still holding her hand. “As soon as you came to us, I knew you had the gift.”
“That there was ‘something special about me,’ right?”
“Yes, that’s right. Your perceptive ability was so strong that you actually sensed my early appraisal of your potential, and that awareness manifested itself in your dreams. Once I realized what was happening, I reached out to you there—both to test my initial conclusions, and to give you a hint of the path you were on.”
“So when I was with ‘Rick,’ it was sort of like I was with you.”
“You could look at it that way. Or maybe I should say, I was hoping you’d look at it that way.”
A brief silence passed between the two. Wendy simply could not take her eyes off his.
“You see, Wendy, I don’t have a companion unit. Like you, I’ve been waiting for someone for a long time. I want that someone to be you.”
“Then what are we waiting for?” Wendy asked, practically jumping to her feet. Then she caught herself, and giggled nervously. “I mean, it’s only logical. Each of us needs a companion unit—I don’t see why we couldn’t end up being perfect for one another.” Besides, she thought, he’s gorgeous. Thoughts of Riya flashed through her mind. Maybe this whole arranged couple thing can work after all.
“So,” she said, hands clasped in front of her as she swayed from side to side. “Where do you want me?” She was ready to bend right over the interface console, if he wanted her to.
“Right where you are is fine. Just hold up the palms of your hands.”
“OK,” Wendy said, doing as she’d been told. “But I really am going to have to call you something. How about—”
“Shhhh,” he said, pressing his palms to hers. Almost immediately, an electric buzz began to build between them—only at the hands at first, but quickly spreading to their entire bodies. Wendy suddenly felt lightheaded. The room began to spin.
No, Wendy realized, not spinning around. Spinning apart.
Like grains of sand in a rising wind, the pixels in her visual field blew away, leaving a vast expanse of darkness. Everything was gone. Everything but him.
And then he began to change, too. Tiny colored lights seemed to form upon his chrome and white surface—just a few to start, but rapidly growing in number until he was completely covered. No, he wasn’t covered. He was those lights. The lights were who he was.
For a second or two, all Wendy saw were her own shining white hands, pressed against the hands of a man made out of colored dots, floating in a warm sea of endless night. Then her body began to change as well. Soon, she too had transformed into a collection of gently winking lights.
He pulled her closer—and they embraced, their forms dissolving until the two had become a single mass of pulsating colors. The lights swirled and danced, mingling together in patterns both perfectly ordered and spectacularly random. Some of the lights flew about at astonishing speeds, jolting Wendy’s consciousness as they careened recklessly off one another. Others were more deliberate, lingering in a long kiss before going their separate ways, a satisfying electric hum lingering in their wake.
The sensations completely overwhelmed the human consciousness that was once Wendy Choi. Only the machine that was Interface Unit A107E8 could begin to process all this data. Later, Wendy would be able to sift through it all—to find out every last thing there was to know about this man to whom she was now completely joined. But right now, all she could do—all she wanted to do—was enjoy the ride.
The lights continued to tumble and collide, and Wendy was simultaneously swimming within the flickering mass and floating outside it. Gradually, the lights seemed to glow brighter—and soon they began to coalesce around a growing center of gravity. The lights at the outer edge of the mass seemed to assume a kind of orbit, accelerating and drawing toward the center with each revolution.
The mass continued to contract, swirling ever faster in a dizzying maelstrom of color. The electric hum that suffused it grew stronger and louder. Soon it became difficult to pick out individual lights within the crackling tempest. The mass grew tighter. Tighter.
The whirling colors now resembled a solid ball, the reds and greens and blues no longer shifting along its surface. The ball compressed further, until the colors blended into pure white light. Wendy’s entire being was fused to that of her companion as the ball squeezed tighter. Tighter.
The ball shrank to a single point of brilliant white. There was an instant of pure silence.
Then, it exploded.
Billions of colored lights flew in every direction, a perfect sphere of energy trails streaking out into the darkness. If this was an orgasm, it was like none Wendy had ever felt before. The electrifying sensation extended far beyond the limits of her physical form, and penetrated to the very core of her soul. It was the perfect joining of man to woman, a seamless melding of human and machine.
The rapidly expanding sphere soon separated, the lights within coalescing into two distinct human forms. The male form came into focus, its arms outstretched. A pair of slender female arms followed, their palms pressed against those of the male. Where once there had been nothing but colored lights against an infinite backdrop of darkness, there now stood a pair of chrome and white androids in a chrome and white room.
According to Wendy’s internal chronometer, the entire experience had taken less than four seconds.
“John,” Wendy managed to say. Her knees felt ready to buckle under her.
“Your name. It’s John.” She hadn’t even begun to work her way through the rest of the data, but now at least she knew the name of her companion unit.
John. John Anderson. The love of her life.
“I love you, John.”
“And I love you.” He said it like he’d loved her for years.
“So, what now?”
“Now I have to return to the home world. I’ve got an entire cell of androids waiting in stand-by mode while I’m here with you. You have to go back on duty, yourself—there’s a lot to do around here. But don’t worry. We won’t see much of each other in person like this, at least for the foreseeable future. But we don’t have to be together physically to be together. Now that you know how, we’ll be able to do . . . that . . . any time you want. We’re connected now—forever.”
“I understand—but wait. Before you go, I have more questions about my dreams. Obviously ‘Rick’ wasn’t really Rick, but what about Amy and Erica? I’d never met them in real life—so were they real?”
“Yes,” John replied. “And that’s probably the most amazing part of the whole thing. Somehow, my presence in your dreams allowed you to glean information you’d normally never have access to . . . little details, like the new recruitment technology we’ve been developing, and—”
“And the names of the two latest visitors to our recruiting web site.”
“That’s right. See, like I said—you’re amazing. Anyway, Amy Travis and Erica Sorensen don’t go to the same school you did, but they are college roommates, just like in your dreams, and they did place an order on the web site just a day or two before you saw them in those dreams. We’ve been holding them off a bit, because we think they’ll make good candidates for our first uncontrolled test of the new recruiting process. Plus, as you know, we’d been forced to slow down recruiting anyway due to limited interface capacity.”
John gave Wendy’s hand a gentle squeeze, and smiled.
“But now, thanks to you, I think we’re ready to contact them.”