Elenya, Ring 18, 03198
A Pleasing Shape, Chapter 7: Deprivation
Darzi didn't need telepathy. Paecc was worried about him, but Darzi no longer cared. It had been two weeks since his fight with Peren. She hadn't called him and he hadn't had the courage to call her, either. "I hate women," he growled softly.
"Switching to boys?" Paecc said.
"No. I guess then I'd be your type, huh?" Darzi took another long pull on the drink in front of him. "Ten thousand intoxicants in human history, but this one is still the most popular."
"I heard somewhere that alcohol is in our genes in a way that other stuff isn't. Something about it being necessary for civilization," Challay said. Konrad and Challay made up the bulk of their little reunion, now that the summer "break" was over, and they seemed to be as luckily cozy as ever. They'd been here all summer. Paecc had gone off to Ista to visit relations, and Darzi was glad he'd come back.
The Wankel was one of several smaller pubs buried under Salieri, a little place the derriere garde had decided belonged to them. Darzi half-expected Peren to walk through that door, looking for her crew, but Peren already had her drugs of choice and her favorite coffee shop. Intoxicants weren't among her preferences.
"You're going to get hammered," Paecc said, putting his hand over Darzi's drink.
"Let me," Darzi said. "I haven't gotten drunk since... I can't even remember." He laughed darkly. "Isn't that funny. I can't remember. I just can't fucking remember."
Paecc jutted his muzzle in frustration, but held back from further comment. Darzi remembered to be grateful. How did something as simple as a fuck throw his whole life out of equilibrium? Is this what had happened to the previous Darzi? The alcohol didn't help.
He looked look back on that day when he'd awakened on Gilligan Orbital Station One. A tall human in a grey suit and a felt bowler was handing him a small leather folder and a duffel bag. "Good morning, Mr. Darzi. You have a berth on the next flight to Discovery, scheduled to close its doors in half an hour. Here are your clothes, and here's a letter explaining your situation. The letter will not open until you are away from the station, I'm afraid."
"Who are you?"
"The Honorable Dilpin," the man had said. "Your attorney."
"In a matter of speaking," Hon. Dilpin had said.
Darzi hadn't remembered hiring an attorney. Darzi couldn't remember anything at all before that moment: not who he had been or where he had come from. He had had a functional set of memories: "starship," "attorney" and so forth had meaning for him, so the associations of the civilization in which he lived had been intact. But there had been no Darzi in that network of concepts. He was amnesiac. And according to the letter Hon. Dilpin had given him, so of his own choosing.
At Claude's urging, Darzi had read a lot about robots. He wanted to know more about Jouet, and what he could look forward to. The literature on first-hand versus second-hand robots had fascinated him. First-hand robots imprinted on a person immediately upon activation, and built their persona out of their interaction with that person and the template with which they had been seeded, a template which was not by itself "conscious." A robot grew into its consciousness gradually over months and years. Some templates were primitive and simple, others deep and complex, although the contractor (the word "purchaser" was taboo) paid a lot for that year's worth of initial personality presets. Second-hand robots often chose the subject of their devotion, and almost always that subject was another person. They came with a history behind them, and a personality that was already determined by that past. Like real people. Claude had been less than forthcoming about which category Jouet fell into, and Darzi suspected it was somewhere in the middle.
His history was a lot like Jouet's. They had both woken up to a strange present and no past. Darzi had only a letter and a vague sense that he could accomplish what it said. Jouet had only her initial template, the free one Claude had provided, and then her experiences with Darzi.
He and Jouet were both stumbling toward personhood. Except it wasn't a place. It wasn't a thing. It was something you did. Darzi wondered if he was doing it right. He wondered if he could do it wrong. He felt like he was doing it wrong now.
He knocked back his drink and ordered another. Paecc said, "You're gonna make yourself sick, Darzi. Aren't you worried about killing off the braincells that Madame Quenilda admires so much?"
"Fuck, no," Darzi said. "I'll just replace 'em. Isn't that what they say? Alcohol only kills off the weak braincells."
Paecc snorted. "I'm not carrying you home."
A voice behind Darzi said, "Maybe I should." Darzi thought the voice was familiar, so he turned around. The Mustela wasn't Peren, so he was momentarily inclined to dismiss her, but then it clicked. "Neeomia?" The short fem nodded. She was more ordinary as a Mustela, but still beautiful. Darzi grinned. "Could I paint you?"
"When you're sober, maybe. You offered at the beginning of summer. Darzi, what happened between you and Peren?"
Darzi shrugged. "Things were different between her and I when she got back. We didn't click anymore."
"When did you click?"
"When she left," he said. "Why? What's up?"
Neeomia shrugged. "I just saw her the other day. I asked her about you. She was really unhappy. I just want to know why."
"Hey," Darzi said. "She walked out on me. I didn't try to drive her away. She made up her own mind." The alcohol wasn't working hard enough, he thought. There were things he wanted to say, that he wanted to confess. He wanted to tell her about how Jouet had cursed him with a bad habit, and now she was cursing him by not feeding that habit. He had only his own right hand now, the same one he painted with, and neither the wanking or the painting was making him feel better. "I'd love to have her back. Paint her some more. Paint her at her keyboard, yeah, when her eyes are all lit up and so beautiful and she's got head tilted just like this." He mimed the pose. "Damn, that's one I'll never get to finish now."
"Darzi, try again," Neeomia said.
"Why? There's more."
Paecc snorted. "Yeah, right. All you'll do is sit in your apartment and paint. And without someone like Peren, your art will go to shit. You know it."
"There were others," Darzi said.
"Didn't you say once that your biggest problem was finding people who could sit still long enough for you to find a problem?"
"Yeah, I fixed that too."
"With that robot, Jouet?"
"Yeah, with Jouet," he said. Although the real shame of it was that Jouet, still crudely following a program for his own good, had now refused not just to have sex with him but had also refused to pose. She had recognized that she had become a habit and had taken what she guessed was the most appropriate action: she had withdrawn from his life. She was active enough to avoid him, but otherwise she pretended being the wide-eyed empty-headed mannequin he'd first found in his hallway.
Neeomia said, "Peren told me about her. She can't be that interesting... can she?"
He was drunk and should not open his mouth too far. He failed. "No. But she's easier to deal with."
Neeomia's muzzle wrinkled briefly, a bit-off retort Darzi could hear even if it went unspoken. She turned on her heel and marched away.
Paecc shook his head. "You really know how to deal with the ladies, don't you?"
"You don't have that problem."
"No," Paecc said. "But I do like doing it with other living, conscious people. Guys are just as interesting as girls that way. I like having relationships."
"You're always whining about how they fall apart," Darzi muttered.
"Yours aren't doing so well, either."
Darzi's stomach shuddered, and he stood up. "I think I have to find a toilet."
"Over there." Paecc pointed helpfully. Darzi barely made it.