I sense when Ian walks into the study, in spite of the darkness and his quiet tread, and my body reacts with a brief flash of fear despite the fact that I know it’s him. It’s the same fear that jolts you when you think you’ve seen a ghost, only to realize it was your own reflection in a darkened mirror.
I switch on my desk lamp and swivel in my seat.
“Yes?” My voice is curt. Looking at him makes me want to cry, but maybe not because I’m sad. I find it hard to believe that I once lectured the International Robotics Alliance on how to prevent emotional surges in artificial int...
“Are you all right?” Ian asks as he crouches in front of me, the muscles of his lean body bunching beneath the unblemished stretch of smooth brown skin. He’s wearing nothing but the boxer briefs that he sleeps in, a habit he picked up after determining it was common in humans.
I’d had to introduce Ian to the world slowly, covertly immersing him in humanity to help him learn faster. Walks in the park, trips to museums. People watching from the safety of sidewalk café tables. Bingeing films and classic TV shows and discussing them afterward. Sharing my favorite books and music with him. It had all been work, even if at some point I’d started enjoying it. Then one day, after months of increasingly complex conversation, of banter and laughter, he’d looked at me, uncharacteristically hesitant, and asked, “Have I been programmed to love?”
“No,” I’d replied firmly, my hands beginning to shake. I’d thought I hadn’t been programmed to love either, to be quite honest.
“Then I believe I may be malfunctioning, Annika.”
I’d thought I’d known what I had created. I’d had no idea until he leaned down and kissed me. His mouth had been surprisingly warm, but I didn’t think of the success of my artificial circulatory system until much, much later.
“Annika?” Ian’s fingers stop moving, resting on my cheek and drawing me from my reverie.
“I’m fine,” I say.
He gives me a dubious grin; I still remember the first time he deployed the expression. It had taken me aback because I’d had no idea where he’d learned it. That was when it finally hit me that though I’d built him with my own two hands, he was his own person, learning and growing and evolving. Not a human—definitely not that. But a person.
I fixate on the only obvious sign of his inorganic origins: that strange pulse in his left eye. A subtle tic, the same as squinting, or twisting one’s hair.
I know each physical part of him, down to the schematics. That pulse means that he is taking in my posture, analyzing the emotions revealed by the twitch of my cheek muscle and the speed of my pulse, cross-referencing it with the unfathomable amount of data that his brain has access to. Complex algorithms that had once been employed to crack the secret of dark matter are being used to figure out why I’m sulking.
I can’t help but let out a harsh chuckle.
He tilts his head, his grin transforming into a nervous pull of his lips, and I wonder what apprehension feels like to him. Could he ever really be worried by my behavior? Could I ever really make him suffer? And of course, the real, deep down question: could he ever make me? Would he?
I hope I never find out those answers. He’s no longer an experiment to be tested and put through its paces. He’s Ian, and he’s mine—and not because I created him.
“Just another attack of insomnia,” I finally reply, prickly even though it’s not him that I’m mad at.
I think of my ex, of all the men who had come before Ian. “Real” men, although they had databases of their own to plunder for information. The data they accessed had been input by mothers too cold or overly accommodating; fathers who abandoned them or who stuck around and expected too much; girlfriends who hadn’t stroked their egos enough; friends who had not met their needs. Their universal experience was distilled into a pattern that controlled their every movement, their every response to stimuli. How is Ian any different? I’ve asked myself this a million times, and the fact that I don’t have an answer should be all the answer I need.
“Do you want some warm milk?” Ian asks, resting his hands on my knees.
I give him a look that I’m sure reads: generalized annoyance, open to further suggestions.
“Or I can write out some complex equations for you to solve. That always relaxes you.”
I purse my lips.
“Or we can drink tequila and go howl at the moon,” he suggests, blasé. He shifts, his forearms pressing into my thighs, and a cluster of curls falls over his eyes.
I bite back a smile and brush the lock of hair away, tucking it behind the perfect shell of his ear.
“Do you want to talk?” There is real concern in his voice, and god knows I didn’t program that tone. I’d never received it from anyone else.
“God no,” I reply. My petulance ebbs and I sigh deeply.
“Good,” he says in a tone that starts a tremor low in my body. “I don’t feel like talking either.”
He shifts from a crouch to a kneel, his knees pressing into the carpet beside my bare feet. His hands rest on my thighs, gripping them lightly before he caresses his way up over my robe, outlining the curve of my hips and then the swell of my breasts beneath his palms. His hands are on my skin again now, pausing as they brush up my neck—he can feel my pulse speeding up, feel my throat work as I swallow hard in anticipation—before continuing up to cup my face. He leans up and presses his mouth to mine, and there’s an urgency beneath the sweetness of his kiss.
I sigh into his mouth, and he grips me just a bit more tightly, rubs his lips against mine just a bit harder.
I nod so that he understands that he’s made the correct deduction—I don’t want him to hold back tonight.