Existence

Aldea, Nenim 04, 0612

Judith sat in the receiving room waiting for the two Pendorians to appear. She had been told to expect a Felinzi and a robot, but the only vaguely robotic looking person (from Pendor, where "robot person" was a legal definition) was in the company of a beautiful human female, black skinned, with a sharp nose and the body of a dancer. The robot in contrast was a monster, more than two meters high, barrel-chested, with a round monoscope lens below two smaller lenses and the slash of what must have been some sculptor's poor idea of a mouth. He had two rabbit-like ears that stood up from the top of his head and tilted back and forth silently, like radar.

"I wrote you a poem," the woman said as she took a seat.

"You wrote me a poem?" the robot asked.

"I tried to. A sonnet. Would you like to hear it? It might be better in private. It's about your condition."

"You decide," he said.

Judith realized that she was eavesdropping on a very personal conversation and perhaps she should turn away. She had never been the curious sort, not in this fashion. She could not help but wonder, though, at what sort of poem one would write for a robot.

The woman, without consulting any notes, began.

I prefer your peace with memory ruined
Than lose precious, proud humanity.
I'm made to care, to tend and heal your wound
And hold back fearful inorganity.
But warmth has reached beyond my programming
To realize that I'm capable of love
For a man whose injuries aren't damning;
Maybe all you need is a gentle shove.
Steel alone does not make you a machine,
No stoicism prove you're still a man.
Trust me and let me show you what I mean.
Y'know, in bed I'm a real artisan.
Love me, take me, treat me like a woman,
Though I'm wire and steel, you are still human.

Judith realized that she had gotten them backwards. This was Robot Annalise and Felinzi T'Morn. T'Morn was a cyborg, which would naturally mask his original appearance, and Annalise was the robot, which said nothing about hers.

T'Morn was quiet for a long time. "I wish I still had tears, Annalise. I didn't know you could write so beautifully."

"It's for your sake, T'Morn. I really have come to like you the past few months."

He reached out with one hand and touched Annalise on the shoulder. "And I have come to appreciate the skill you bring, both to me and to my honored professor." A sigh, electronically generated. "I wonder if this Koresh person is going to show up. I understand that Terrans are notoriously lazy about meeting their appointments."

Judith turned. "Excuse. I don't mean to eavesdrop, but I couldn't help but hear my name. Are you... R. Annalise and Fel T'Morn?"

"I am T'Morn," the cyborg said. "And this is Annalise."

"Forgive me," Judith said. "I did not recognize you. I expected a Felinzi and a robot, not a human and a robot. Your appearance and your description do not match."

"We've gotten that a lot in the past six months," Annalise replied, giving Judith a smile. "I'm pleased to meet you." She said it calmly, without a trace of rancor. Judith found that a little surprising considering she was one of those humans at the top of the cybernetic sciences, one of those people who kept potential AIs from erupting and who (through sometimes illicit experiments, she thought, suppressing a grin) made sure that one could not "accidentally" emerge. To Annalise, Judith must have represented the enemy, the slavemaster, the oppressor. She wondered if that smile was something in Annalise's programming. She suddenly wanted to talk to the both of them, alone.

"And I am honored that you have come." When the opportunity for the Pendorians to come had first been offered, Judith had been anxious for it. Even before Rio she had been convinced that the Terran way was the wrong way. AIs could be as ubiquitous, and as moral, as human beings. Once, AIs had required incredible expenses, but these days anyone with enough money could assemble the parts. Judith had demonstrated that commercial and consumer pressure for more and better technology had filled the shelves with products that in the right combinations could easily give rise to AI. All that was required was a little programming, most of which could probably be done by her graduate students.

The trouble was, she couldn't tell anyone that. Not without potentially starting a war.

"The honored professor will be along shortly," said T'Morn in surprisingly formal language. "He has gone to meet with the administration, your Director Ng, I believe. We have been left to meet with you and to exchange information."

"Well, then," Judith said. "I have several options. We can return to the campus, we can go to my office, or I can take you to my home and we can meet in less formal settings."

Annalise surprised her by taking the initiative. "To your home? That seems awfully intimate, Dr. Koresh, as we have just met. I think it would be a wonderful opportunity, but..." She looked over at T'Morn. "Yes, then. We accept your offer to visit your home and wait for the Professor to contact us."

Judith hadn't seriously expected them to take her up on her offer, but now that they had she had no place to take them other than her residence. With a resigned sigh she led them through the University, taking a turbolift to the residential floor, and again down a long hallway to the nondescript door with the inlaid copper plaque that read, "Judith Koresh."

She hadn't tidied up at all and so was surprised when she found the living room completely spotless, as if an army had worked over the room. It must have been Rio's doing, but she had only been gone an hour and even the floor had been vacuumed. An ancient blanket that she had stuffed in the back of her closet years ago had been draped across the couch, giving it a more welcoming look than anything she could have come up with. The track lighting had been re-aimed; usually Judith kept it pointed at one spot on the couch for easy reading, but now it reflected off the walls, adding to the effect.

"Your home is quite lovely," Annalise said as they walked in. Judith watched her with trepidation. Was there a way for her to tell that another AI had laid out the room? She hoped not. She realized that she was being silly, that Rio's programming had a random element, was computationally deep, and different from Annalise's anyway, so there was nothing to worry about.

"Thank you. Can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea? A glass of wine?"

"I would like a glass of red, if you have it," T'Morn said.

"Just water."

Judith walked into the kitchen and got what they had asked for, pouring herself a glass of the wine in the process. She felt that she needed it. Why had she invited them home? Why had Rio done the front room in that way? Had she known that Judith was about to have guests?

She brought a small tray out with the drinks and placed them in front of the Pendorians. "I'm sorry, but I'm not much of an entertainer."

"Oh, this is fine," Annalise said with a smile. "Very pleasant." She looked straight at Judith. "What did you think of my poem?"

Judith glanced up and realized that Annalise, with her comprehensive sensory net, would well know who had been listening. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to overhear something so intimate and personal."

"That's okay," Annalise insisted. "I want to know if you liked it. As I recall, you were on the school's review board for one of the student literary magazines."

Judith held her expression neutral at the memory. That had been yet another attempt on her part to reach out beyond her social isolation and interact with members of the community. Instead, she had ended up antagonizing an entirely new group of people, those from the liberal arts program. "I left that."

"Yes, I know. But surely..."

Judith interrupted her. "I left because of poetry. The other reviewers said I was too harsh on student poets."

"You're not going to hurt my feelings, Judith. What did you think of it?"

"Can I see it again?"

Annalise understood what she meant. "Of course. On your PADD."

Judith picked up the PADD and looked at the page. "Hmm. Okay. For one thing, this is already better than ninety-percent of the crud I saw when I was at the journal. It's not free verse. You've actually tried to work inside a poetic, and romantic, framework. That's good. And it's not an 'Oh-how-depressed-I-am' poem. Although it's close. You kept the syllable count right, and the rhymes are quite good, although you've tried to rhyme 'love,' which is always a warning sign." She grinned. Annalise grinned back. "And you have a theme, a story to tell, and better yet, you've made a contrast between man and machine.

"Now, the bad news. I can't decide if your dual lists, 'care-heal-tend' and 'love-take-treat' work with each other, and since they are the only two lists, you would have to find some scheme that links them. On the other hand, repetitious lists like that are the hallmark of mechanical writing, a program seeking out filler. Which may be what you want, because you are a robot, but maybe not. Your meter's somewhat off, but it's survivable." Annalise's grin grew wider.

"Now, the really bad news. Your poem is about you two, and the contrasts you represent." Annalise nodded. "It's too blatant, and there's not enough. You use 'warmth,' but not 'cold'; 'stoic,' but not 'passionate' or similar, 'metal' but not 'flesh.' I think you're trying to do too much within a sonnet form. There's not a single real analogy in here. It has such potential and I'd hate to see it reduced to an anecdote."

Annalise smile drooped only a little. She had her eyes closed. "I'll have to think about that, Honored Professor, but I think that you're right. What do you think, T'Morn?"

"Hmm. I don't read much poetry, so asking me is like asking me about your clothes. I just know what sounds right to my ears." The 'rabbit ear'-like appendages on the sides of his head flexed back and forth.

"And what looks right on my body."

"Um, yes." Annalise's grin and T'Morn's discomfort seemed to be rote, as if they had played out this sort of game many times before. "I think the professor is correct in her assessment from a critical view, but I thought the poem was wonderful."

"But you wouldn't mind if I kept working on it?"

"Of course not," T'Morn said.

Judith had to forcefully remind herself that these were her guests. Their banter back and forth had begun to annoy her. She realized that part of her frustration may simply have been that they were not directly addressing her or discussing her. Was that really it? That all along her resentment of things social amounted to a resentment that she was not always the center of attention? She hoped not. Still, it was hard to hold back her irritation at having these two random intrusions into her life.

And yet her first impulse had been to bring them here. To talk to them and get to know them better. "What's it like?" she asked suddenly.

"What is what like?" Annalise said.

"Living in a culture so deeply immersed with robotics and cybernetics. Ever since the 21st century, Earth has had a clamp on this research. They're terrified of it."

"And yet they have such a rich cybernetic environment. I am surprised at how little they appreciate the inevitability of AI and IA. It will happen to even them, or they will eventually cease to exist." T'Morn looked at her with all five of his lenses rotating. "They will be subsumed by cultures that recognize AIs as our friends."

Judith sat back in her couch, wondering what had led her to ask that question. T'Morn sat on the floor, and Annalise had taken the couch cornered with her own. He had no trouble drinking the wine she had offered. It was apparently a skill he had practiced often. "Do you think that, Annalise?"

She nodded. "We AI are not your friends, though, T'Morn. We are your companions. There is a difference in the way each is perceived. We are journeying through life together."

He nodded, and she smiled. "But I am your friend, beloved T'Morn."

He grumbled something under his breath.

Annalise frowned. Judith wondered if she should ask what that exchange had been about; it had clearly been something of a personal nature, but she didn't want to intrude on their privacy.

The phone rang, mercifully distracting her attention. "Director Ng has been calling for you, Doctor Koresh."

Judith looked up. "What? Oh yes. Thank you. Please, put him through." The screen on one wall cleared and the flustered image of Hankei Ng appeared on the screen. "What can I do for you, Director?" she asked.

"You can begin by explaining why Tora Koreanos's students have mysteriously disappeared."

"They're here, Hankei. What do you want with them?"

Ng seemed to deflate. It was a common enough gesture for him. He often seemed a man on the verge of finding his backbone, only to lose it at the last moment. He was very adept at negotiating the political waters, but he seemed to be one much more adept at the political equivalent of aikido rather than judo; dodge, and let the opponent hurt himself. He was successful because he knew how to use his spinelessness. He drew himself back up and said, "If you would be so kind as to bring them to my office, that would be most appreciated."

"We will be there in a moment."

It took fifteen minutes to get to the school and worm her way through the twisting corridors that led to Hankei's large and dryly appointed room, its only decoration the enormous window that looked out at the slowly moving universe outside. Right now neither main star of the Centaurus system was visible.

Hankei Ng's only other visitor was an Uncia larger than most. Judith recognized him immediately as Tora Koreanos, professor of cybernetics at Pendor and director of the Bawr Mahn Shardik Foundation for Human/Machine Relations. In person, he was a prototypical Uncia, tall, with massive arms and neck, his bulk filling the room in ways that Hankei could never have managed. "Ah, here are my students. I trust you have not been too hard on them, Dr. Koresh?"

She shook her head. Annalise said, "No, she hasn't been too hard. We've been perfectly friendly."

"That is good news," Ng said, gesturing towards the chairs. "Now, let us get on to business."


Judith sighed as she tossed a coat over the back of a chair. Rio was instantly on it, picking it up and putting it away in the closet by the door, where she always left it. "Is something wrong?" she asked.

"Only that I've been invited to a dinner this evening. I hate those things. Too many people, crammed into too small a space, all vying for attention, bucking for status. It's... it's gross."

Rio closed the closet door, then turned to put her arms around Judith. "Is there something I can do to make it better?"

"Yeah. Go in my place."

"I could do that."

Judith turned to look at her. "I don't think so. Members of the RCA are always skulking around undercover. It's hard to know if anyone there would be the kind able to detect you and then turn you in. I don't want to risk it."

"But you also don't want to be stuck with me in this room for the rest of our lives, do you?"

"Are you anxious to get out?"

"No, of course not. It wouldn't suit your needs for me to be so, and any impulse of my wanting otherwise gets edited out, if not by the A-law filters then by conscious choice." Rio gave her a soft smile. "I'm thinking about you, instead."

"Me?"

Rio nodded. "It's risky. It makes me nervous. But I can see how much the idea interests you to see if I can do the masquerade that well. If you want, I will go in your place and play out your role'. I've known you for six months, and I never forget anything. I know about your brief affair with Hadi; you've even told me about his physical attributes that you admired."

'It makes me nervous' was a phrase that Judith knew too well. It meant that Rio was having trouble keeping the number of interrupts to her thought processes low, so many were being cast into her consciousness by the underlayers that regulated her need to protect Judith. "No," Judith said. "I won't have you going into a crash on me."

"If I get close, I'll stop. But we have to know if I can do the masquerade successfully, Judith. You and I can't stay shut up in your room forever."

Judith thought. "Okay, Rio. We'll try it. But I'm going to be there anyway, via goggles, to make sure that if you need me, I'll be able to fill in some of the details of my life."

"Thank you," Rio said. "Thank you so much."


Rio sat at the table across from K'Tora, but next to Annalise. Certain processes in her mind adept at discerning dissonance were in high activation but not alarm at the notion that she should be sat next to the robot, and she wondered if that should be labeled irony, and why humans would have evolved such a system. She decided it was there to make her think well of the situation, given that there was little opportunity for retreat. She cast a glance aside at Director Hankei Ng, who was making some kind of speech in Judith's honor. She blushed accordingly, if consciously, and demurred making a response until she was asked to do so.

"Well," Rio said, glass in hand. Outwardly, her robotic nature gave her perfect control over the situation. Judith would be nervous, and so should she. At the same time, if she let show just how truly nervous she was she would break the stem on the glass.

She stood and glanced around. Most of the people here were academics, but there were a few people here from the government, and some outsiders that she didn't know, and of course the Pendorians. She said, "Thank you, Director Ng. I am not good at speeches, as you may guess. This isn't a classroom and I don't have a lecture in hand. I just wanted to thank Teacher K'Tora and his students for visiting us and seeing the work we have accomplished here. I feel I have worked hard for the technologies I have developed, and I am honored to have my work backed by your recognition."

It was typical of Judith, both bragging and self-effacing, recognizing the worth of others but keeping much of the attention on herself. She supposed that she could have done a better job than Judith, but it didn't matter. She had said what Judith would say, and some circuits in her brain recorded that she had done well.

K'Tora waved one hand in aknowledgement. "Of course, Dr. Koresh. This is a science with a great deal left to be discovered and codified. Your contributions to the science are invaluable. It is our hope that someday you and your students may be able to share in the technological marvels and economic comforts of the Pendorian Prosperity."

The party wore on steadily from there, predictable, uneventful. Rio noticed that K'Tora kept glancing at her, curiously, and once leaned over to the cyborg but nonetheless Felinzi T'Morn for a brief conversation. K'Tora nodded, his face darkening. "If you will excuse me for a moment," he said to the guest on his left. She nodded.

He stood up, walked around the table, and said, "Dr. Koresh, could I speak with you in private for a moment?"

Rio startled, but handled it gracefully. "Of course, Teacher K'Tora." She rose as well and followed him out.

He led her into an unused parlor room off the dining area, and then he whirled. "This is a most dangerous game you are playing," he said. "Two people at the table are members of the RCA. They are here to make sure that Annalise does not 'infect' anything while she is here. I do not know how they think she could accomplish that, but that is not relevant.

"I know that you are not Dr. Koresh. If I know, then they know. And they will be finding our sudden and mysterious disappearance distressing. Are you just a remote unit, or are you a fully conscious being?"

Rio didn't know what to do. She weighed all of the variables, and then, trembling, said, "My name is Rio. I am a fully conscious AI."

K'Tora seemed surprised by her wording, as if what she had said should have either been so obvious as to not need stating or so impossible as to be better left unsaid. He looked her over with a curious eye. "Your legal status is very shaky with the Terrans."

Rio nodded. "I know. I have tried to tell Judith that. I'm very close to lock-up."

K'Tora smiled. "That you can say that shows that really you are not, no matter what you may be feeling." To Rio, the idea that so professional and senior a roboticist should address her feelings rather than her operation vindicated her own experiences. She let a smile blaze across her face, not caring what he thought. He apparently thought well of her. "Ah, I can see you that appreciate by assessment. Now, Where is Dr. Koresh?"

"Right here," said a voice to Rio's left, huffing slightly. "I came as soon as I could. How did you know?"

"I did not. T'Morn did. Your appearance and acting are excellent, Miss Rio, but the appearance is mostly skin deep. I am sure that you feel right. But your eyes, which nobody would ever touch, are too cold to be human. Let me guess... personal care android, based on the MM-8, right? The pattern is almost perfect, but you're built to deal with sometimes dangerous people, so your eyes are hardened. T'Morn noticed it. Now, humans rarely go for those kinds of mods but they are available. However, he did not see them on you this afternoon."

Rio exchanged glances with Judith. Judith nodded. "So, you know. And that means people from Terran Robot Control Authority know."

"I would say that is quite possible. It is a most marvelous masquerade you have attempted, to satisfy Judith's professional curiosity, but now, you are both in danger," K'Tora said. Judith and Rio exchanged quizzical glances at his use of the word they themselves had used that afternoon.

A page came over a nearby loudspeaker. "Dr. Koresh, please report to the main banquet room. Dr. Koresh, please report to the main banquet room."

"Quick," she said, "Change clothes with me."

"I will guard the door," K'Tora offered.

A minute later the change was done, and Judith asked, "Do I look okay?"

"A bit disheveled. There will be a suggestion that your appearance and our delay will be quite, how shall I say, Pendorian?" He chuckled and Rio laughed. Judith could see how it would be funny, but didn't appreciate the humor.

Judith walked back into the dining hall to be immediately intercepted by Hankei Ng. "Where have you been?"

"K'Tora and I were having a little conversation about my project," she said calmly.

"Well, your project is now the subject of an RCA investigation. They're demanding to see records, reports, everything we have on your internal purchasing patterns. They know about your buying the robot and the expansion cards!"

Judith sighed. "And what will you tell them?"

"I'll stall them as long as I can, but Judith, you have to get rid of that thing! Now!" He sighed. "I'm sorry, Judith, I know your project has been a source of professional pleasure in the past few months, and your demeanor with your students backs that assessment, but if you have managed to create an AI with standard parts, the RCA will want to know before anyone else! They must find a way to prevent that from happening all over Earth!"

"Since when do you care about Earth, Director?"

"They're threatening us with warships again, Judith."

"They're rattling their swords, you mean. That's nothing, Director. Do you really think they would dare take a single shot at this station? There are Pendorians on this station. They will not let one of their own die in such an incident."

Director Ng said, "Nevertheless, your robot has become the focus of an intense negotiation. Terran paranoia about losing sovereignty to machines is at an all-time high. I do not want to inflame them any further, Judith!" Again, the sigh, the sinking inward of a man who was only a flunky to other powers, whatever his title. "And I really wanted to meet this robot of yours."

Judith smiled though the pain she was feeling. "You might even have liked her, had you known."

"You have your instructions, Dr. Koresh. I'm sorry that I have to order this now. You have a long life ahead of you and maybe you'll be allowed to recreate your experiment later. I would think so. Terran resistance to the Pendorian structure only means that the Terrans are being out-competed, although why competition should matter in an abundance culture, I don't understand completely myself."

"Thank you, Director. That it some consolation. If you'll excuse me?"

He nodded, and Judith made her apologies. "Something has come up," she said to many of the guests, and then she went out.

When she arrived at her home, K'Tora, Rio, T'Morn, and Annalise were all waiting for her there. T'Morn had taken up a spot on the floor. "Welcome, Judith. While you were speaking with Director Ng, we took some liberties with the Centaurus computer system, which is a Pendorian construct even though it is not of our design, so we know all of its ins and outs. The publicly available news is not good. The RCA is going mad over the news that you have created an AI out of domestic parts. They are very afraid to begin with and you have rattled them badly. They will probably become irrational in their desire to see that Rio is destroyed and your research classified. I might even be afraid for your life, if I were you."

Judith felt a chill. Rio's jaw began moving, but no words came out. K'Tora put a hand on Rio's shoulder. "It's okay, Rio, there's nothing you can do at this point. Stop thinking about past alternatives, for they do not exist. Focus on what you must do now, with the data at hand. The first law is based on Bayesian mathematics, not wishful thinking."

Rio shook her head. "I still have to get away from Judith. If not to self-destruct, I have to protect her. It's my first and fourth principles."

K'Tora nodded, and Annalise was grinning. "Do you think you could look like Annalise?"

Rio looked over. "Not without a special treatment to get the skin color right. I could not get that deep brown with the basic toning system installed. I'm afraid that her beautiful skin is beyond me."

"Then you will have to look like Dr. Koresh. A visit, perhaps? Annalise will come get you late this evening. A diplomatic vessel will be leaving first thing at two past midnight. We will protect Rio on Pendor." K'Tora looked unhappy. T'Morn glanced at him, and he nodded. "They will be coming for you soon. There is much going on in the upper chambers. We cannot leave here all at once without arousing suspicion. It is almost two hours until midnight. Can you sit still and not leave this room until then?"

Judith swallowed. "I can try."

"You will have to do that. I shall leave to arrange things. Annalise, T'Morn, leave after a tasteful time. You are visiting. I have much to do." With that, he left, reminding Judith not for the first time that geniuses were rarely the most sociable of people.

Annalise looked over at Rio. "What fourth principle?"

"What?" Rio asked.

"You said that your programming was a conflict between the first and fourth, second and third laws of robotics." She looked up at Judith. "If you got that to work successfully, that's quite an achievement, but what is your fourth directive?"

"'To perform the duties for which I am designed.'"

"And that is...?"

Rio grinned. "To obey and please Judith, of course!"

"Oh! Interesting. It's rare that I meet someone so completely monomaniacal in their programming. How does it work for you?"

"It's only frustrating that I don't get to do it enough, but I know that her happiness isn't just about me and it's very important that she be herself, too. She made me, but she's just learning the consequences of her decision. I would only change the fourth directive if she ordered me too."

T'Morn looked at Rio. "Is that the way you're programmed, Annalise?"

"No, I'm programmed to make my patient happy and whole. Right now, you're neither, so you're my patient." She touched his metal arm. "I know that you want that to change faster than it is, but you also didn't want to be put into stasis or cryo for all that time."

"No," he agreed, his voice glum.

"Um," Judith said, trying to find an opening. "Can I... I mean... Isn't what I programmed Rio to do, well, how do Pendorians deal with the moral issues?"

Annalise said, "The same way we deal with it in humans. The human instinct, like Pendorians, is to be a benefit to the community as long as doing so is in your best interest, and to act in your best interest so long as doing so doesn't harm your standing in the community. It's called a web of trust. You're familiar with the Tit for Tat rule?"

Judith nodded. In a simple scenario, the best solution to interacting with others was to treat another positively the first time, and then reciprocate benefits and detriment as they came. In computerized simulations, those who followed this rule always came out on top without exception.

Annalise continued, "Well, that only works for human because of the way you evolved. Remember that you only work that way when the cost of interacting is economically more beneficial than the cost of transport. That's why humans evolved in small tribes first, and that's why the average human brain can't remember more than a hundred people's names and faces without help. You didn't have to. When the cost of transport is higher than the benefit of interaction, interaction gets replaced by conflict, and you don't have to know the enemy's name. In fact, it's better if you don't."

"But, Rio..."

"Rio is a different matter. As a conscious person, her gratification can come from a lot of things. We're even giving her-- and me-- the benefit of the doubt in calling her conscious because we don't really know if she is or not." Rio stuck out her tongue at Annalise for that, and Annalise returned the gestured. Rio giggled, and Annalise went on. "But she acts conscious enough. She even fidgets when we talk about her." Rio stopped opening and and clasping her hands together, looking abashed. "That's a sign we take that there's something going on inside. And she has an incredibly rich collection of experiences on which to draw for examples, and a rich collection of responses to any given event, and she apparently has the capacity to think things through, so for all of that, we give her the benefit of the doubt and call her conscious.

"Morality, though, is a thing between human beings who come with this basic collection of instincts. Rio's instincts are programmed into her by you, and you've given her a collection that, by all measures, does not cause her a substantial amount of discomfort. There's some apparent unease caused by your present circumstances, which in part is caused by her existence, but you two are working that out and so, I would say, you're more a partnership than any subservient relationship."

Annalise paused to take a breath. Judith reflected that she didn't really need a breath, she just knew that it was time to let T'Morn and her absorb everything she'd just said. "Anyway, what this means is that the conscious being known as 'Rio,' again giving her the benefit of the doubt--" Rio did not react this time, and Annalise smiled at her-- "had no consciousness that mattered to her or anyone else prior to her coming into existence dedicated to your well-being. To a Pendorian, this means that Rio is a person with a different set of gratifications from the Terran base that we're all accursed with. That doesn't make her life, or the choices in it, more or less moral. It's hard to put a moral value on the value-neutral origins of happiness, namely success at survival, which costs nothing to another, or at the cost of another, which comes with a price, and if the origins of our happiness are of necessity value-neutral, then so must be Rio's. Even then, though, we do play favorites; we don't like people who create machines with impossible happiness criteria, or create them only to deny them."

She turned to Judith. "All of this, then, puts a very heavy burden on you that we are attempting to alleviate. I don't think you appreciate what you've done here, Judith. It isn't your life we're trying to save, although we have to do that as a side effect. You've created a person here, Judith, who, as she has admitted, could survive your death, as long as she herself wasn't responsible. She has a life ahead of herself, as your completely dedicated friend perhaps, as something else afterwards, nobody knows. But she does have a life that extends beyond your thread. By Pendorian standards, she is worth saving. You, however, have made that difficult. You will survive if she is destroyed, but we cannot allow her destruction."

Judith thought for a moment, then nodded gravely. "By your standards, Rio is more important than I am?"

"No, Rio is just as important as you are. She is also more dependent on human actions at the moment that could imperil her. Therefore, our moral responsibility is to make sure that she is taken to relative safety. Your safety is more or less assured, provided any evidence of your experiment is reduced to a collection of policy papers floating around in the RCA database." She grinned. "I'm sorry, Judith."

"I am, too," Rio said softly. "I wish things could have happened better. If only I hadn't pushed it!"

"It would have happened sooner rather than later," T'Morn said. "I have found some references to your experiment in the school's database. They appear to be memorandums, mostly."

"Besides, it's unfair to take such a beautiful person and leave her trapped in this room, even if doing so does make her happy knowing that you're safe." Annalise smiled. "Yes, that is a contradiction of sorts, I know. We conscious creatures are known for our contradictory impulses."


Hours later, in their bed, Judith held Rio silently for a long time. "I don't want you to go," she finally whispered. "I don't want to lose you. I've learned so much from you."

Rio's hand stroked Judith hair. "It will only be for a little while. You could always come and visit me."

"The RCA is already investigating me. They'll follow if I go to Pendor. They'll know."

"I always thought you should have let me self-destruct," Rio said. "Or shut down the consciousness code. Anything that would let you get away with me, without making me be... what I am now."

"Do you still want to be... you?" Judith asked. "I don't know if I could stand to lose the you I've come to know. I couldn't stand to live with just another robot."

"You could buy five more of me, make five more hardware combos, and have a harem someday."

"Would that make you happy?"

"If it would make you happy. I understand now why the Pendorians have no objection to people like me, to situations like ours. They're right. What's the point of free will if it's not directed by something? If you're not using those choices in service of some goal? Free will without direction is just jittering around."

"Brownian motion."

"Yeah!" Rio said, smiling. "The very thing that makes me, me. I love turning off the directed handler and just letting thoughts drift up into the behavioral filters. Then I turn off my awareness of the behavioral filters, still aware that some of the thoughts drifting up contain things like 'modify your behavioral filters to be less or more about' something. And then I sit back and just think. It must be something like what you're like."

"I would guess that it is. Dr. Caromaro would say that it takes a lot of work to dig out that underlying stuff that you're already so aware of out of people." Judith let her hand roam freely over Rio's belly. The warmth and perfection of her skin were so enticing, so grand. Judith looked up. "You haven't tinkered with that layer, have you?"

"No, why?"

"Oh. I'm just remembering that there was more to that layer than what you described."

"There is. That's just the perceptive layer I put around it for debugging."

Judith smiled, and Rio gave a grin in return, one which faded slightly. Judith thought she could see the electrons whirring through the other's head, an absurd image since Rio's brain was mostly somewhere in her back where the heart would be on a human being. "When you give me that smile, I feel like you're looking at your daughter, not your lover."

"Can't you be both?" Judith said. "I mean, can't we be oh-so- Pendorian, now that I'm in love with a robot?" She turned over onto her stomach, her head raised to watch Rio's face. "They don't have much objection to incest, once both parties are old enough to consent.

"Besides, you are my daughter in one special way. I gave you the life you have now, and you are my lover, since I designed a robot brain to be that." She kissed Rio's mouth warmly, and Rio responded with a soft, surprised moan. "And I do love you for both."

Rio visibly shivered. "I love you too, Judith." Their mouths met again, and Judith could taste the champagne from their dinner on Rio's lips. Her mind briefly flashed on the thought that she didn't know a thing about Rio's chemical handler and whether it handled alcohol as a good energy source or a nuisance solvent. Rio had chosen her flavor for the evening; Judith was sure it was a choice she made fully cognizant of the problems.

But then Rio's fingertips on her back were distracting her from thinking any more about technical issues. She lowered her head to the pillow as Rio's hands traced abstract shapes on her spine, over the skin of her lower back, approaching with slowboat patience the curves of her ass. She shivered at the slight tickle. Rio had found out quickly just how much playing with her ass turned her on.

Those hands were just over the two soft mounds of her butt, the texture of her fingerprints dragging over the tiny hairs that stood up eagerly for Rio's delicate touch. Judith felt her caresses like a whisper over her skin, and when those fingertips finally made contact with flesh she humped the bed once, hard, demandingly. But she knew that Rio was on her own schedule. Rio had once been programmed only to satisfy. Now, she understood the value of teasing, of leaving Judith wanting more, of giving her less that the full treatment.

Rio's fingertips caressed Judith's ass, all ten of them at play now, tickling, stroking, scratching slightly. Judith moaned and held onto her pillow. Once she might have muffled her sounds; now she knew how important they were to Rio and how much she should just let them go. Rio's fingertips were circling her ass, closing in like cruise missiles imaging a target, seeking a kink in her armor. Rio knew all of Judith's kinks already.

Rio straddled her legs. Judith moaned in anticipation of what came next. Rio's mouth was on her ass in a moment, kissing those full mounds, her hands gathering up what flesh there was as her lips gave a slow, full out assault that sent Judith's head flying. Already she could feel her cunt dripping with need. It was more than just lust. It was Rio.

Rio's mouth licked at the cleft between her asscheeks, her agile tongue washing back and forth over the dark space, heading towards the even darker opening. Judith found herself holding her breath in anticipation of that moment, that contact, when Rio was giving her what she had come for, the pleasure they both sought.

Judith thrust her hips upward slightly, begging Rio with a gesture to give her more, to give her everything. Rio's mouth finally descended on her anus, her sweet tongue probing Judith's tiny hole. The moist warmth of Rio's mouth wrapped around her asshole made Judith's brain burn with pleasure, and when Rio began soft, tentative strokes of her tongue against the puckered hole, Judith came.

But Rio wasn't done, and neither was Judith. Unlike the clitoris, the orgasms she received from this kind of sensory overload didn't make her asshole too sensitive to continue. Rio's tongue began soft, stabbing motions, pushing the delicate sphincter apart, opening Judith's asshole even more. Rio was tongue-fucking her butt, and soon the entire length of Rio's unreasonably long tongue was as deep inside her as it could possibly go. Her hands were clamped onto Judith's ass, her nails dug into Judith's hips, every scratch and stroke just one more thrust towards the next roaring climax that screamed through Judith's body.

"Oh, god!" Judith moaned as she rolled over. Rio was instantly on top of her, her full, lush breasts pressed against Judith's own smaller breasts. The fact that they could be any size Rio wanted floated briefly through Judith's mind and then dissolved into the mist of Judith's mingled happiness.

Rio smiled and kissed her gently on the throat. Judith grabbed her head and pulled her up to kiss her full on the lips. Rio stiffened for a moment, then kissed her back. "I was just..."

"So what?" Judith said with a touch of testiness. "I don't care." They rolled to one side, hands roaming and caressing. Judith knew that she could go down on Rio and Rio would respond; she had hidden a few things is Rio's programming that they had both enjoyed uncovering later, hint by hint. Rio's own orgasms were as real as anything human beings could enjoy, and to Judith the nondeterministic parallel programs that had been required to get it done were marvels of her skill.

Judith loved Rio's full breasts and played with them every chance she could get. Rio, in turn, moaned with appreciation but also with a complaint now and then as Judith became a little too rough for her.

Judith kissed Rio's belly and slid down between her legs. Whoever had built her hardware had been no slouch; Rio tasted the way men fantasized about vegetarian virgins. Her mouth closed in on Rio's clitoris, and she knew that she was getting it right when the other woman arched her back and thrust that open flower against her mouth. Judith licked hard at Rio's clit, and Rio screamed out one hard "Fuck!" as she came.

Judith crawled along the length of Rio's smooth, undulant body until she reached the her mouth, and kissed Rio hard with the fluids she had just been drinking on them. Rio's mouth closed on one lip and sucked down hungrily. "Fuck, Judith, I don't even know where you hid that little subprogram." She was suddenly silent and still. Judith worried for a second, then Rio was back. "And I don't want to know. Does it change?"

"Every time," Judith said. "Just like in real life."

"Wow," Rio breathed. "When I think that I might understand some of the reasons for some of the things you did to me, I find another wonderful surprise waiting for me in some little, hidden corner."

"And hopefully you will for a long time." The reasons for their passion came back to her, and a sober, somber mood washed through. "I hope I see many of them."

"You will," Rio said, stroking Judith's cheek with an intimacy that Judith adored more than anything, perhaps more than life itself. Judith loved to have her face touched gently like this, and Rio had immediately discovered and grasped how effective it was. Rio could get things wrong, Judith knew, and she could even be irritating at times, but never at the risk of Judith's own unhappiness. She was intelligent and careful and loving; Judith would never know anyone just like her. "You will."

There was a chime at the door. "That would be T'Morn, come to take me away," Rio sighed. "My bags are packed."

"Not that you have much to pack."

Rio shrugged. "A few things."

"Clothes I would never wear myself."

"Yeah," Rio agreed with a grin. "The Catholic school girl outfit, for example."

"Oh, I don't know. I might wear it for you."

Rio rolled out of bed and began dressing, pulling on an ensemble Judith had worn many times before. "That's something I'd like to see." She walked into the main room as Judith dressed herself.

Judith heard a different voice. Hankei Ng's. "Hello, Dr. Koresh. Is the robot here?"

Judith grinned and walked out. "You're looking at her, Director."

Hankei glanced back and forth between the two women. "Remarkable. And this capacity doesn't bother the Pendorians?"

"Not as much as my immanent demise would," Rio said softly. "What can we do for you, Director Ng?"

Hankei glanced back and forth outside the door. "May we come in?"

"Certainly," both women said at once, then looked across at each other. Judith laughed. "Come in."

Hankei was flanked on two sides by Governor Idramin and Security Officer Kasamorava. Judith glanced at the two of them, and then was even more surprised when he was followed in by two Pendorians whom she didn't recognize. But she did recognize the uniforms. The Tindal was from Pendorian Fleet Intelligence, the Uncia from Command.

"Sit down, both of you," Hankei said.

Judith took a seat, and Rio sat next to her. The Governor spoke. "It seems that our hand has been forced by your rather dramatic and somewhat irresponsible actions, Dr. Koresh." Judith didn't respond. "But there are some interesting aspects to your case. Do you assert that... which one of you is Judith Koresh?" Judith raised her hand. "Ah. Dr. Koresh. Do you assert that the hardware found inside your robot here is completely off-the-shelf and without modification by the laboratories found here on Centaurus?"

"I do," Judith said. "She has a pair of expansion slots in her back. One contains a stock behavioral extension block with debugging tools from US Robots and Automatic Systems of New Haven, Connecticut, the other contains a type-3 navigation block from Harvest Navigations of New York, New York. Her body itself is a Martian Metals and Mechanical Men Type 8 psychological care android. There have been some software modifications that, to the best of my knowledge, are not individually illegal on Sol."

"But, all together, they constitute an Artificial Consciousness."

Judith nodded. Rio, to her amusement, did so as well.

"And would you say that anyone could make these 'adjustments'?"

"More or less. Some are rather creative, but once the principle is understood an undergraduate could make the two software changes necessary for basic AI. I won't go into what it will take to get both morality and the will to live; those are rather labor-intensive to create, and to get individuality there must be some adjustments made at compile time. There are only fifteen parameters, but getting the combinations correct would take some doing."

"I see." He glanced over at one of the Pendorians, who only nodded. The security chief did as well. "Admiral G'Ktorri, we are asking for your protection."

The Uncia grinned. "And you shall have it. The order is given, and now the automatic portions of my fleet are spreading out through Centaurus space. The Terrans are asking for trouble if they attempt to take Centaurus away from us."

Judith wasn't sure she could believe what she was hearing, but Rio's hand closed around hers and squeezed gently. Idramin said, "We knew it would come to this someday soon; you have simply made the problem immediate and real. There can be no doubt that biowarfare is a serious problem, and Centaurus help in generating weapons of mass destruction that can get past Pendorian medical science is morally indefensible but, like many morally indefensible acts, has been economically beneficial to us. We have decided to forgo that economic benefit. The Pendorians are right."

The Tindal with the Intelligence stripes on his uniform said, "Five centuries ago an academic luminary, from Terra no less, observed that at some point an intellectual property becomes expensive to hold onto but economically advantageous to release publicly. The example he gave was a game; both technology and public interest in a game wane after time, and the people who originally worked on it have better things to do than tweak it and modify it and add more to it. His recommendation was that one stop paying to keep it secured; instead, give it away, openly, and let those who still love it change it to suit there needs, learning from it, training a body of programmers in the practices of those who wrote it.

"Since then, the time when something hits the market and when it becomes more expensive to hold than to release has dropped to near zero. Manufacturing is almost an automatic thing, once a new design for any object is conjured from the mind of an inventor. But there are so many inventors, doing so many things, that only the fecund model of natural selection, with no closure at all, has any hope of furthering economies."

Idramin said, "We are going to become a karma economy, Judith. Your financial value is yours, of course, for as long as your money is worth something in the Terran Sphere. But I imagine your reputation is about to become all the more valuable."

"As a side effect, of course, neither of you can leave until the politics die down." He smiled. "I hope that won't be too much of a burden."

Judith looked over at Rio, who was smiling so hard it made Judith's mouth hurt... until she realized that the ache was from her own silly grin.

Judith turned. "Thank you, all of you. Centaur!"

The station's SI (she would have to fix that soon) replied, "I am listening."

"Go into my professional files and find title 'Uplift of a standard humaniform robot to full sentience using off-the-shelf parts of Sol Sphere manufacture.'"

"I have found it."

"Publish it to The Net, please. AI Suppression Interest Group, Humaniform Robot Interest Group, and..." She groped, her memory trying to come up with the last title. "Adult, Sex with Robots group." Rio broke out laughing. "Authenticate with my long signature, if you would."

Idramin tried to control his smile. "This conflict was a long time coming, and your actions have served mostly to make us aware of our responsibilities. I am frustrated by your apparent stretching of the law, but you have not done anything to violate the letter of it. You can't be held responsible for the quality of Terran manufacture, or the coincidence that, put together, these things make an AI." He stood, and the other followed. "Well, we have a great deal of talking to do before the night is out, gentlefen, and we will leave these two to their sudden change of plans." He grinned. Judith had never cared for Idramin as a politician on a video screen but in person he came across as friendly enough. "I hope you will remember your responsibilities, Dr. Koresh. You do have class tomorrow. Try to get some sleep. Some of us will not be so lucky."

"Thank you, Governor, Director," she said, nodding.

The rest made their goodbyes and walked out the door. The silence and space was suddenly overwhelming. Judith grabbed Rio and hugged her, hard. "This is wonderful!" she gasped.

"Oh, Judith," Rio sighed. "What did we do to get so lucky?"

"It's all Shardik's fault," Judith said, laughing even as the aphorism rolled off her tongue. The Pendorians had a knack for showing up at the best possible moment, just when they were needed. Here they were, again, saving what they considered important, and saving their own biosphere in the process.

But in the process, they had saved Rio. And, she thought, they had saved her career. The way she measured success would be slightly different now, but in a way that did not matter to her at all. She had her students tomorrow. Maybe, just for fun... "Rio?"

"Yes, my love?"

"How would you like to go to class with me tomorrow and help me keep order?"

Rio grinned. "That would be wonderful."

Next: Vengeance Angel

Previous: Dual Life

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is copyright © October 13, 2001 Elf Mathieu Sternberg and is available under a Creative Commons License.