It was only 8:30am, and it would have been a stupidly busy day even if they hadn’t had a surprise government inspection to deal with in the afternoon. Anna was thrilled that SAI was finally starting to attract some serious finance capital – they would need it if they wanted to start large-scale production within the year. But the fact that three major financiers had shown an interest within the space of a week, after the feature on Financial Insider, made scheduling a nightmare. Anna was definitely feeling the strain of pretending that SAI was a serious, professionally run R&D company, and not the scrappy little start-up it actually was.
Anna had explained their business plan, complete with slides presentation, so many times now that she could almost do it without struggling to keep a straight face. Almost. She’d made it all up herself, the graphs, the projected earning, all of it. She sometimes wondered if she was an exception, or if all CEOs were this much of a fraud. Feeling a little giddy, she imagined a slide presentation that honestly explained SAI’s true business plan:
1. Hire a team of genius engineers for a fraction of what they’re worth, in return for allowing them to direct their own research.
2. Anna runs around like a chicken with its head cut off desperately covering up for said team of engineers’ total, flagrant inability to work to a deadline.
She shook her head to clear it. It wasn’t that bad, she told herself. A few more weeks of sixteen-hour days, and things would settle down again. She would go to her flat and hang out there, not just sleep and then go to work again. Maybe she would watch a film. She could even invite her friends! Anna vaguely recalled that she had friends.
“Oh, and Cath wants to talk to you as soon as possible,” Britt, her personal assistant, was saying. “I told her it couldn’t happen until after 1 at the earliest.”
Britt was attractive, in a self-effacing sort of way. He was a white man, slightly built, and didn’t seem to Anna to be any particular age – she supposed he was somewhere between 25 and 40. His light brown hair was neatly and conservatively cut and styled, his clothing always impeccable. Britt was meticulous, intelligent, and utterly dependable.
“Cath? She called you?”
“She’s here. I saw her perhaps twenty minutes ago.”
“Cath the engineer?”
It was 8:30am. The Cath rarely made it in by 9:30, the nominal starting time at SAI, and Anna had never known her to be early.
Britt smiled sardonically. “Is there anyone else in the company by that name? She seemed quite excited. She said she’d had some sort of a breakthrough.”
“That’s good to hear,” Anna said vaguely. “Well, OK, talking with Cath, could you tell her, hmmmmm…” she trailed off, thinking.
“That hopefully you’ll slot her in at 1:30, after the Campten meeting, but that you can’t promise because it could go over and run into the inspection thing, in which case you’d be tied up until at least 4?” Britt suggested.
Anna cast a long, appreciative look at her PA. She couldn’t believe how lucky she was to have an assistant who was dependable and cute. Not that the cuteness mattered, actually… but it didn’t hurt.
She grabbed her things and started to leave, then stopped again.
“Britt, the expenses report -“, she began.
“I finished it this morning. It’s waiting on your desk.”
Anna blinked. “What time did you come in?”
“Around seven. I wanted to get the expenses done before the Campten meeting.”
“Britt, you’re amazing”, Anna said gratefully. “I don’t know what I’d do without you. Actually, I don’t know what this company would do without you.”
Britt smiled at the compliment, and gave a little mock-bow.
Anna left the room, letting the door bang behind her in her haste.
Left alone in the office, Britt’s smile faded. “If only you knew,” he whispered.
Britt hadn’t come in to work at seven that morning, he’d come in at four. It was the only way to have a reasonable chance of finding himself alone, given the extremely erratic working hours of some of the employees.
He’d let himself into the lab using Anna’s keycard. The lab was a large open space. Desks piled with computers and electronic equipment lined the wall, and there was a huge whiteboard entirely filled with unintelligible multi-coloured scribbles. To Britt’s left stood three android prototypes, all identical, all with skin the colour of umber, symmetrical features, smile-lines and a few centimetres of curly black hair. Long lashes curled away from the closed eyelids. Was it real human hair, Britt wondered, or plastic? They really were really quite handsome, Britt thought approvingly. The designers were definitely going for a ‘guy next-door’ look: well-built but not overly muscular, easy to look at but not drop-dead gorgeous.
The Design Team had dressed each android differently; one wore a very dapper dark green cotton suit and a beret tilted at a jaunty angle, another wore a tennis shirt and khaki slacks, and a third wore a sweater and jeans. All of it was couture, of course, and hand-tailored to fit perfectly. The android’s jeans were genuine Flippensiaughs, cunningly styled to give a casual look. They looked exactly like a regular pair of jeans, at two-hundred times the price.
Britt chose a computer, logged in, and booted one of the androids.
For a moment nothing happened. Then there was a barely perceptible sigh, an exhalation, and the eyelids fluttered open. The android looked left and right, then fixed its gaze on Britt, and smiled warmly. It said:
“Hello, my name is Elijah.”
Its voice was low and resonant, and sounded perfectly human. The prototype looked at Britt expectantly.
“You have a name,” Britt said.
“I do,” the prototype agreed. “I can change it to something else, if you prefer.”
“Right,” Britt said drily. “Do you have a surname?”
“It’s Doolittle,” the android replied.
“Elijah Doolittle,” Britt said, amused. “That’s not a very sexy name. Did the Design Team choose it?”
“No, it was one of my creators, Cath Healy, who named me.”
The prototype stepped closer, until they were nearly touching. It made eye contact with Britt and said softly:
“I’ve told you my name, but you haven’t told me yours.”
Britt gazed at that not-quite-real face, wondering what made it seem so human. And, if he was honest with himself, so attractive. It wasn’t just the design work and the voice, it was the way it looked at him – as if it really wanted him.
“You don’t need to know who I am,” Britt told the android.
He reached forward and brushed some dust from the fabric of the prototype’s suit jacked.
“No,” the prototype replied, “I don’t.”
“They should dust you off once in a while,” Britt said. He dusted off the other shoulder, then took hold of the fabric of the suit with both hands and gave it a shake. “There, that’s better.” He circles his arms around the android’s waist.
“Thank you,” the android said, in that low, sexy voice.
“There’s something I want you to do for me,” Britt told it.
“Oh?” the android asked.
It leaned in for a kiss. Britt let his lips brush against the android’s, then pulled away. The android’s gaze me his.
Yearning, Britt thought, it’s looking at me with yearning. How does it do that?
“I want you to do some tests for me,” he said. “It’s a combat simulation. I need data on your shooting accuracy, speed, reaction time, and visual recognition. It’ll be just like playing a video game.”
The android prototype in his arms tensed, and doubt flickered in those gorgeous brown eyes.
“I’m designed for pleasure,” it said, “not combat.”
“I’m aware of that,” Britt said, smiling. “Nevertheless, you’re supposed to represent some sort of breakthrough in artificial intelligence, and my employers think that you should be exceptionally good at killing people. So we’re going to work through some simulations to see if that’s true.”
The android looked distinctly uncomfortable, but it did not pull away. “The used of robot combatants in armed conflict is prohibited under the International Convention on Armed Combat,” it said.
Britt grinned. “That’s very clever,” he said, “how did you know that?”
“I have access to the WorldNet.”
“And you decided to look that up just now?”
The android nodded.
“Very impressive,” Britt said approvingly. “But that’s really not your concern. You’re going to do the combat simulation for me, to the very best of your ability. Do you know why?”
The android shook its head wordlessly.
“Because it would please me. And you want to please me. You want that more than anything.”
The android cast him a look of confusion. Britt pulled the machine close against him, and leaned in for a long, hungry kiss.