They met in “Psychology 302: Elements of Consciousness” during their junior year of college. Both were taking it as a general requirement, and both would later explain that they had chosen this particular course to better understand their own inner-workings. He was 21 years old. She was an android.
She kept it from him, at first. Androids had integrated into society years before he was born, and the ones lucky enough to be built as perfect simulacrums of humans kept it a secret for fear of discrimination—although the secrets never helped to build trust. She waited over a year, adjusting her behaviors to match his expectations. She ate like a person, claiming to be picky about food when confronted with things that might harm her. Each night her best friend, another android, helped her to clean out the array that comprised her body systems.
When there were enough rumors surrounding her and their relationship that it seemed inevitable he would find out, she asked him to take a walk with her. There wasn’t much explanation needed. She simply told him and watched for the micro-expressions that would reveal his true feelings. To her surprise, there were none. Instead, he asked if she cared about him. She told him she did. “Then we’ll be fine,” he said, taking her hand in his. She liked that he was casual about it. She wanted to know what it felt like to be loved. She wondered if she could know what it felt like to give love.
Together, they found it possible. She struggled to describe her feelings, wishing she had her own vocabulary to account for the differences in physiology and emotional capability, but all androids relied on human vernacular to communicate. Like a script, there were things she knew he wanted to hear. Things that would accomplish her objective of keeping him near. Things like her insistence that he made her ‘feel’ different; that she ‘missed’ him when he was gone; he made her ‘happy’. For his part, he never gave it much thought. “Consciousness is consciousness,” he would say, “And I love yours.” She wasn’t as sure about his conclusions, but his strength gave her strength.
Most people didn’t see it that way. His family balked when he introduced her. His mother cried and wondered how they would have children. His father reminded him that there was a time when androids were humanity’s greatest enemies. That his grandfather had died fighting that war. His friends mocked him mercilessly. Asked what she felt like on the inside. If she was cold or if he had to use oil and grease to slide inside of her. If his ejaculate bound up her gears. Telling him that androids were invented as sex toys and that he was partaking in a long and storied tradition of using an inanimate object when he couldn’t otherwise get laid. He played along, absorbed their prejudice with his own good humor and self-deprecation. He told them that he didn’t have to worry about getting her pregnant. That she was durable. They became serious and asked how he could trust anything about her. Her emotions, her body, her motivations—all manufactured. He explained that wasn’t true, that he believed everything she said about their relationship, but in reality he preferred not to think about it. Because on some level he believed they were right.
Her family was non-existent. Her earliest memory was staring at a ceiling, then being told to stand. From then on she was on her own, every survival need pre-programmed into her. Her friends, other androids, couldn’t understand the affection for the boy. They told her it was dangerous. That even if she weren’t physically destroyed by people for encroaching on their biological imperative, she would be emotionally destroyed by this boy when he found flesh and blood that suited him better than her synthetic skin and computer brain. They reminded her that he will age and she will not. That he will die, and she will not. She preferred not to think about it.
The first attacks came not long after taking their relationship public. They were walking home from a movie when a group of his college friends drove by in a pickup and threw a Molotov cocktail at her. It shattered at her feet and she went up in flames. He threw himself on top of her, dampening the flames with his jacket and, fool that he was, with his body.
Weeks later, after she was reskinned, she visited him in the hospital. He marveled at her new skin. She studied his scars. The way his skin folded in on itself. The sheen it kept. “It’s like nothing even happened,” he told her as he ran his shaking fingers down her arm.
Touching his scars, she wondered how something so fragile survived in the world. She vowed to protect him at all costs.
The next year he proposed. Marriage between man and android was illegal, but he said it didn’t matter since he didn’t have to worry about her getting sick. “It’s just a piece of paper and some legality,” he said. “What’s important is the vow. I vow to love you, forever.” She smiled and thought that her forever was different than his. Still, despite that logic, there was something in her that didn’t want to be without him. They said their vows in front of three androids beneath a full moon. To her surprise, she meant it when she told him there was nothing that could take her from him.
Because of the previous attacks, they fled to someplace no one knew them. When they moved in together she suggested that if someone figured out that she wasn’t human and asked about it, they explain that she was a servant-android, kept to help him with the house. It was safer, she explained. He fought with her but she was unrelenting, and eventually he agreed. In private, they were like any other married couple. He went to sleep at 930, she pretended that she slept to be next to him. He woke up at 6am. She made his breakfast and prepared his lunch. He went to work. She busied herself around the house. He came home at 430. They ate dinner together in front of the television at 530. Every day.
Their neighbors realized she was synthetic within a few months. From then on, in public she acted as his synthetic assistant. This seemed to work. The violence reverted to the everyday discrimination androids always faced. She knew this bothered him, but he never spoke of it and she never pried. His physical safety was her main concern, even if she recognized that his emotional well-being may be compromised. They preferred not to think about it.
He retained his youth until his mid-thirties. Then his gut began to protrude, his hair thinned and lost its color, and his eyes sagged. “I’m sorry I can’t stay as attractive as you,” he said. “I’d understand if you wanted a younger guy.” He meant it. She assured him that she loved him for his consciousness, and nothing else. He found that funny.
As he neared forty, his biological needs panicked. “I’m going to die without children,” he said, “Without a family to carry on my lineage.” She wondered why that was important. He told her he didn’t expect her to understand. She was only an android, after all. She was silent, aware that he wanted to see her cry. She couldn’t give him what he wanted, so she left the room. Less than an hour later he apologized.
When he became distant and less responsive and spent more time away from home, she knew he was having an affair. She thought of the human language and her ‘feelings.’ Online forums said she should be ‘jealous,’ so that’s what she ascribed to herself, although it wasn’t accurate. There were no words to describe the unique combinations of electronic signals and synthesized hormones that coursed through her gelatin brain and allowed her to understand and interact with the world. She just knew that the connection she felt to him never wavered.
After a time, he admitted to it. “I’m sorry,” he said. She told him it was alright, that she understood. “She’s pregnant,” he said. Still, she understood. His biological needs were important on an evolutionary scale. She couldn’t compete with that. After all, it was only a body he needed. She would always have his consciousness. He smiled, but there were tears in his eyes.
He introduced her to his son and the other woman. The other woman looked at her, amused, and referred to her as the ‘fuckbot.’ She waited for him to defend her, to explain that her body was only a vessel for what she really offered him—a consciousness to share his life with. But no defense came. She wondered if the world wouldn’t be easier without this other woman.
She resented having to pretend to be the family’s servant-bot while they were out. The child and woman treated her as a toy, or a pet, or a maid. He still treated her fairly. But he no longer slept next to her, instead choosing to sleep with his biological imperative. Something strange happened within her circuits—some dull heat that she had never felt before. Still unable to ascribe a human word to it, she preferred to think of it as analogous to anger.
She watched as they slept. The scars on his chest and shoulders were reminders of his love for her. His willingness to sacrifice himself for her. They were reminders of how fragile human life is.
The woman didn’t have the time or strength to struggle when her larynx was crushed. Her eyes went wide and she made a strange sound with the sharp intake of air—the last oxygen that would grace her lungs—but otherwise she was still. He didn’t even wake until the next morning. When he did, she sat next to him, held his hand, and calmly explained what happened and why. He nodded, said he understood, and she watched his face for the micro-expressions that would tell her his true feelings.
He hid them well, but in his eyes there was something she had never seen before: Fear. She recognized the mistake she had made. Still, it was too late. The other woman was gone. So she gave him a choice to leave or stay. He asked for time.
Time passed, the situation brought up only when explaining to the child where her mother went. It was a short conversation.
The child would grow up angry, obstinate, and leave as soon as she turned 18. Neither of them would hear from her again. She asked him if he was bothered that his child had disowned him. “I prefer not to think about it,” he said.
From that point on their lives were uneventful. He returned to sleeping next to her. She returned to being unable to explain what she felt. He grew old. She never aged. When he died, she let go of her old life and began anew.
To learn more about my thoughts behind this story (and how the image was taken) check out this blog post.