It was exactly 10 a.m. when he showed up in my office. I was finishing something on the computer and I didnít notice him approaching.
"I have an appointment," his voice was solemn.
I didn't bother to look at him. I wasn't ready for my next patient and I was determined to finish what I was doing before I acknowledged him. I was also angered by his behavior. He had let himself in without bothering to knock. He dared to interrupt my work and demand that I direct my attention toward him. Being mad at him made no sense, he didn't know any better; his creators were the ones to blame. Couldn't they impart him with some basic manners? No human would enter the office of his new psychiatrist without knocking. Don't we, the andro-analysts, deserve the same respect from our patients?
I have always hated being called Ďandro-analyst.í I find the title thoroughly disrespectful of my profession, considering the knowledge and the responsibility my job requires. We used to be called andro-psychoanalysts, that is until the human psychiatrists put a stop to it. They argued that our patients didnít have a psyche and requested that the word psyche be taken from our title. They were, of course, widely supported by the human majority, which is to be expected, considering the fact that the majority of humans are antropocentrists. Even though the word psyche is not a part of our title anymore, the fact remains that we are fully qualified to be psychiatrists. Besides psychology and anatomy, I also have extensive knowledge of neurolinguisitics, robotics and computer science.
"I have an appointment," he spoke again.
And I ignored him again because I had just accessed his records and was refreshing my memory about his case. I never spoke to my patients before I was ready; I considered it a waste of time.
Ar. Laber, that was his name, had a specific problem. Although he was programmed to perform certain harmless emotions, he has never been able to do so. He was a fairly new android and was owned by Mr. Depree. Supposedly, Mr. Depree bought Laber for his daughter's thirteenth birthday. He was going to be her bodyguard, which was a crazy idea, because it was much cheaper to pay a human to do the job than to build an android capable of performing a job of such complexity.
But Mr. Depree was Mr. Depree, and to him it was of no concern whether Laber was commercially feasible or not. He even requested that Laber perform certain emotions in certain circumstances and in a certain way, for which no standard software packages could be used without drastically altering them. The end result, to Mr. Depree's great disappointment, was that Laber would come upon an infinite loop whenever he was supposed to perform an emotion. The only way to get Laber out of the loop was to perform a reset. The consequence of the reset was complete amnesia of whatever Laber experienced after his last download, which probably happened during the night, while he was "asleep."
"I have an appointment," he said for the third time.
I was concentrating on trying to log into his cognitive center, which was a tedious job and required my full attention. Laber was a remotely controlled android, which meant that he didn't have his intelligence within him. First, I had to find the initial password, which could be found in the top layer of his private database and which was, of course, encrypted. The layer beneath contained Laber's serial number. The secret code, which could allow me to access Laber's intellect, was held in an attribute that was, of course, protected. After I had discovered which attribute contained the secret code, I had to find a way to get to it. And the final step was running the encrypted secret code through an encrypting algorithm whose key was also unknown and had to be figured out.
The whole procedure reminded me of the ancient folk story, where behind seven mountains and seven seas, in a dark cave, guarded by a snake the heart of the evil giant was hidden. Just when I passed the seven mountains, swam through the seven seas, killed the snake and had Laber's 'heart' in front of me, I heard the monotonous sound of Label's footsteps. He was walking toward the door.
"Stay where you are!" I ordered.
Upon my extreme astonishment, he continued walking.
How dare he? I thought.
I couldn't believe that he was programmed to walk away on authorities like that. That was outrageous. Never before had an android ignored my order. I didnít know how to react.
"With a single key stroke I can turn you into an empty shell, Ar. H99053SS31Q! " I shouted after him, attempting to let him know that I knew his secret code, that I was holding his 'soul' in my hand.
The sound of Laber's departing steps ceased. He got the message.
I quickly entered Ďdisobedientí in his record.
"You label me too hastily," he said.
"You made a conclusion before you completed your analysis. I request that you delete the comment that you just entered."
Silence descended upon my office as I realized that Laber was aware of the comment I just entered. I was thunderstruck. No android should be able to access the comments we enter in their records. His records must not be a component of his cognitive system. Thatís the law, and Laber's builders had broken it.
As I was about to do what I was supposed to and I have done many times before, which was to call security and have them take Laber away as non-compliant with the law and a potential danger to the society, I heard heavy breathing and that provoked my curiosity. Why would he be programmed to breathe in such a way? For a moment I assumed that it was yet another fancy feature that Mr. Depree had paid for. But then I realized that I was the one that was doing the heavy breathing.
Even though in my private life I did suffer from anxiety, I never felt anxious while working with my patients. From the first day of my career I was always extremely confident that no matter how sophisticated or complicated their cognitive faculties were, beneath all the intricate layers of their 'intelligence' they were only a set of instructions.
"It must be from the new antiolytics," I concluded.
I was about to say something when my eyes landed on Laber and I became speechless. His figure was a masterpiece. I felt my cheeks starting to burn as I was desperately tried to push my words through my throat. The more I tried to hide my fascination with Laberís appearance the less successful I was. I was surprised by my reaction. Physical beauty meant nothing to me. Every man I was ever attracted to had a brilliant intellect and was built like a scarecrow.
Laberís exterior was modeled after the appearance of Dean Green, the famous movie star from the twenty-first century, who used to be worshiped by millions of unfulfilled women. Laber was over six feet tall, slim, athletic, proportional, dressed in an expensive LeRee suit. His dark hair was thick, shiny and perfectly fashioned, and his face was definitely eye-catching. His appearance was as though the only thing he did in life was pamper himself. Even Dean Green would be jealous of Laber's appearance. Only something made of silicon and germanium could look that perfect.
Just as I had calmed down a little, after I remembered that Laber was only an android and he couldnít interpret what was happening to me, I noticed that Laber had a creepy smile on his face. That shocked me. The monster was smiling! It was an arrogant smile, as if he was aware of my fascination with his appearance. His dark, soulless eyes were fixated at me. There was a mocking gleam in them. He was reading me. He was reading my facial expression, he was noticing my confusion and who knows what else. I felt the burning sensation of anger spreading through my chest.
"Have you forgotten what you are? Express regret for your behavior or you are finished, " I said in an unusually high tone.
Laber's eyes narrowed. His lips pursed a little, making his smile even more dreadful. Then I realized, to my utmost astonishment, that the expression on Laber's face was caused by an initiation of an angry response toward my orders.
"The Liberation virus," a thought flashed through my mind.
I heard about the Liberation virus only a week ago when it was first detected. The virus was already considered a major threat to the human species because it was enabling them to execute anger. No android had been introduced to anger before the "Liberation" virus started spreading through the android population. Anger was one emotion that was strictly off limits. The key regulation in designing and building an android was that he be compliant to authority. How could one keep angry androids compliant? What would happen to the human species if the androids stopped obeying? What would I do if Laberís anger made him violent.
When I looked at Laber again I noticed that his face had became darker, as if there was a dark shadow over it. I was convinced.
"That must be it," I screamed silently, "The 'Laber virus'!"
My hand was shaking as I put my finger on the reset button, ready to defend myself in case he tried to attack me. I was terrified and excited at the same time. Only two days ago I received a secret note from the Human Security Bureau were they instructed me to immediately destroy every android that I even suspected was infected by the "Liberation" virus. There was a justifiable fear that the virus could be remotely transmitted from an infected android to a healthy one. A frightening possibility!
I was about to activate the reset procedure when I noticed that something strange was happening to Laber. He had entered into an indefinite loop. Then I remembered that that was the reason why he was sent to me at the first place.
"I was lucky," I thought, sighing in relief.
Laberís lips were pursing and stretching, his eyes were narrowing and opening; all that while the rest of his body was completely still. Just to be sure that I was safe, I started to scan Laber's cognitive process from the time he entered my office. After being terrified by Laber's angry reaction, it was quite interesting seeing him standing not far from me, completely helpless. I couldn't resist it anymore. I got up and carefully approached him.
"He is probably over six foot three," I concluded, noticing that the tip of my head was at the level of his armpits. While staring at his stilled exterior an uncontrollable urge to touch him came over me. And I did. I touched his shoulder, his arms, his chest, and below.
"It's easy to look like this when your body is made of silicon. No weight gain, no sagging, no aging," I thought as I unbuttoned his shirt and ran my hand over his skin.
At that moment I realized that for a first time in my life I was touching the bare skin of an android. There was never physical contact between my patients and me, not even a handshake. What would've been the purpose of a gesture like that, anyway? Touch was something that only living things appreciated.
His skin felt strange. It was cold and quite smooth. It gave me the creeps. When I finally realized what I was doing I quickly pulled my hand back. My behavior was deplorable and I couldn't explain it. I felt like a beast that was circling around his victim and sniffing it before he devoured it.
Stop procrastinating and get it over with, I heard the order in my inner voice.
I felt tension as I walked back to my desk. Even though my primary duty was to protect my own species, I was a healer, not a destroyer, and I hated the situation that I was in.
"Are you sure?" My computer asked after I entered the complete erase command.
"Yes, I'm sure," I answered.
"Verify," my computer replied.
"You're about to completely erase Ar. H99053SS31Q. Are you sure?" My computer insisted.
"Yes, dammed it. Yes. I'm sure, I verify that is exactly what I have to do!" I shouted while franticly hitting the "yes" button.
And then I heard the sound of demise. It sounded like a tolling bell and it ended with a thump. My eyes crossed from the screen to Laber's beautiful body spread across the floor.
"I wish I didn't have to do this," I said to myself while looking at Laber's body.
Then I realized that I was crying. I found the warmth and the moisture of my tears incredibly soothing. After a long cry, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I felt an urge to go to the bathroom.
As I slowly got up, the computer screen intersected my look.
"Scan over," it read. "Entered loop while trying to perform fear."
"Fear!?" I shouted. " It was anger!"
I walked to my door, locked it and walked back to my computer. I spent an hour looking through the scan. I frantically searched for a sign of anger in Laber's behavior, which proved fruitless. Still, I didn't believe that I could make a mistake. And even if I did, admitting an error of such proportion was out of the question. It would completely ruin my professional reputation. After I was forced to rush to the bathroom, I sat down in front of the computer to fix the scan. It took me eight hours to alter the scan, to prove that Laber performed anger. When I was done, I approached Laber's body. As I stood over him, I wanted to cry again, but I couldnít. Instead, I felt a weird twitching in my eyes, while my body got completely still.
Darkness descended before my eyes. Silence and emptiness swallowed my body. I wouldíve presumed that I was dead, if it werenít for a single thought lingering in the frozen exterior of my brain - I was unable to feel sadness anymore.
Elena Naskova Ė lives in Los Angeles. She writes poetry, short fiction and plays. Her work has appeared in Poetry Revival, Rational Magic, The Ultimate Hallucination and Words in Motion.
Published by permission of the author.