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“Of all the gifts which heaven can bestow, there is one above all measure; that is a friend amidst all our woe, for a friend is a found treasure. I give to thee that sacred name, for thou art such to me and ever will I claim to be that friend to thee.” — Thomas Steven, 19th-century silk weaver.

The woman who stepped through the airlock and into the brothel wore a leopard-print coat with a high mandarin collar and a chequered scarf wrapped tightly around her head, obscuring her face but not the large afro that radiated from her skull like a solar eclipse. At the door she asked for Dew-3913 by name. In an off-world colony of interchangeable gynoids and cyber sexdolls he had been designed for the rough trade; a slender, fey machine, a willow boy with skin of copper, his Cyberdyne programming making him a total bio-synthetic: “for the discreet gentleman and the discerning lady.” That, at least, was the idea.

Dew-3913 had a certain selection of regular clientele out on the New Angeles Colony: Thex G’Baeli, Lael, Kvasir, Mintheth … bipedal humanoids for the most part; some older male poets addicted to laudanum, a couple of butch marines looking to explore the uncharted cosmos, even a lipstick clone suffering from “empty nest” syndrome. The woman who asked for him, though, was none of those patrons.

Dew-3913’s inhibitor circuits would not allow him to feel curiosity about a potential patron until ordered to do so, but he had once seen the word defined in a dictionary so he was at least aware that the emotion existed. He wondered if it felt a bit like what he was feeling just at that moment — a hint of excitement, a warm sensation at the end of each finger tip — as he stepped naked out of the sexdoll containment unit, the stink of amino fluids completely washed away. The woman in question stood in the middle of the hallway, towering over the Procuress. She wore electric blue go-go boots, the kind that sparkled when she moved, that disappeared under the hem of her coat. She didn’t show him her face as she paid immediately in intergalactic coin, the sort of money that pitstop outlaws and rocket jockeys could only dream about. The Procuress cooed and gave her Dew-3913’s remote control, a hand held device used for operating him wirelessly. With that in her hand a patron could ask for anything, anything at all. The Procuress even prepared the special Mechanical Delights room — the swankiest chamber in the whole purple-dust brothel.

Dew-3913 stared blankly into his patron’s eyes, the only part of the woman that he could see, waiting until she decided to take his hand and lead him away. Her eyes were a different sort than any he had ever seen; dark as the moon, almond-shaped, flecked with gold. For some illogical reason they reminded him of his own, though, of course, his had been designed and built in a factory. They entered the Mechanical Delight together, an empty cubical covered in imitative alien pelts and furs, a bed that could be fully programmable for any position, chairs and one entire wall devoted to an active video screen with Julie Newmar wandering around in her hideous bra and panties; a recording made nearly three hundred years ago, being called Rhoda, somebody’s idea of what an archaic fembot would look like. “What a goofy robot!” her creator said, to which Rhoda replied, “the goofiest!” Then came the recorded laughter. Dew-3913 had never understand such cues, the artificial joviality, the same recording in fact, repeated over and over at the end of certain bits of dialogue. He supposed the mystery lay in the fact that he had not been programmed to understand it.

The woman locked the door behind them and then turned to face him, finally pulling the scarf away from her face. She was much older than Dew-3913 had assumed. His eyes kept wandering down to her lips, studying the delicious swells of her mouth. He had the oddest desire to reach out and touch those lips. That was not right, he had not been ordered to do such a thing. He considered this. Would that mean there was a glitch somewhere in his bio-system? By definition he should not be able to think or feel anything until bidden to do so.

Why would he be malfunctioning at a time like this?

Dew-3913 had been in the containment unit for twenty-four hours, having his memories scrubbed. It was a necessary fail-safe step the brothel took with all its working employees, since some of the cravings that the patrons requested were … perverse; and there was always the danger of a ghost memory causing conflict between orders and the need for self-preservation. This woman was his first patron that evening. Part of his programming had said that he should tell her that there was a glitch occurring so that she could ask for her money back. What else was capitalism for if not that? He was the only male sexdoll in the brothel and although a patron’s desires, genitalia and body shape meant nothing to him, he understood that certain humanoids could become very agitated and illogical when exposed to the genitalia of “the wrong kind.” Overriding that need to confess, however, lay something else. It was as if some cognizance circuit had been triggered. Dew-3913 suddenly realized that he did not want to confess anything to anyone. He did not even know why he did not want to, since all his programming required him to do just that.

Curious.

The woman took off her leopard-print coat, hung it neatly over the back of a chair and switched off the video screen. “My Living Doll” disappeared in a blink. The woman wore a curious pair of hot pants and a matching blouse under her coat pulled tightly across her breasts. Dew-3913 found his eyes settling down upon the skin of her chocolate-brown breasts.

“Well, we are alone at last.”

She walked over to the bed and proceeded to remove her boots, resting one hand on Dew-3913’s chest for support. He stood, patiently, waiting, as she reached up, fingers disappearing under her scalp and in a sudden flourish all that gorgeous hair came away in her hands. Dew-3913 blinked, quite certain that he should not feel any surprise. He was allowed to immediately recognize all emotions in a patron but not to experience those chemical processes for himself. She was bald; the wig, for that was what it was, carefully laid out on the bed next to her.

Standing up he found that she was the same size as he was. He could smell nutmeg, clove cigarettes and alteredstate spice on her skin; the heady reek of a thousand off-world colonies that every journeyman and star traveler carried with them; a faint, lingering perfume. She was short and plump, her stature and the hot pants forced her ass to jut out behind, thickening her thighs as she wiggled her toes in the shag carpet. Dew-3913 had not been able to discern just how rotund her bottom was until she was standing close to him, awaiting her first order. Accessing humanoid beauty was not part of his programming; a sexbot who only swung one way would be a monetary loss for any brothel. But Dew-3913 knew what he liked and this patron possessed it all.

Knew what he liked? … Dew-3913 pondered the ramifications of that last sentence for a second. Curious.

“What would my mistress desire of Dew-3913?” he asked, cocking his head to one side.

The woman stretched and walked over to her jacket, her ass swaying; taking out a small book she handing it to him.

“Read this to me.”

Dew-3913 looked down at the book in his hands. It was not written in binary code like all the other technical manuals he had ever seen. It was old, older than the video that had been playing when they had entered the Mechanical Delights room; it was an artifact. Spelled out in curious printed letters were the words, “Leaves of Grass.” It smelt of deserts and libraries, the salt of the ocean and the wings of sky-larks; all the things that Dew-3913 had read about but had never seen. He looked up at his patron, uncertainty rimming the corners of his eyes. This was not procedure. He was programmed for rough sexual intercourse, for hours of fucking, for pleasure on demand. The woman had yet to even touch him.

“I am programmed to recognize all sixteen-hundred and fifty-two known galactic languages, my mistress.”

She nodded, lay back on the pillow, still fully dressed, smiling.

“Indeed? Then, please, read it to me.”

“Does my mistress wish Dew-3913 to pleasure her first?”

“I believe I just gave you an order. Are you malfunctioning?”

There was no anger in that voice, none of the violence that so many patrons carried around inside themselves, those who mistook servitude for some sort of acceptance. Suddenly Dew-3913 recognized a new emotion running through him; something other than curiosity. It was fear. He had a bug, a flaw, an error. This could only end horribly.

“Dew-3913 apologizes.”

“I don’t want your apologies. I want you to read that poem to me.”

She folded her hands behind her head, staring at him as if a poetry reading was the most natural request for a sexbot.

“Poem?”

Dew-3913 glanced askance at the door where, somewhere behind it, the Procuress stood. He did not want to be scrubbed. But logically he should not want that unless he had been ordered. It had never occurred to him such a quandary: what would happen if “wanting” was indeed his patron’s desire? To rebel against his programming, simply for her amusement; a queer sort of liberation.

“Is there something the matter, my dear Dew?” she asked, smiling kindly.

“No, my mistress.”

Dew-3913 opened the page to where a bookmark had been placed, careful not to hurt the ancient paper and began reading the text:

“This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

The woman remained still, silent, watching him. He did not understand this. But then again, logically, he should not be able to unless he had been ordered to do so. Humanity puzzled him.

“Thank you, dear Dew, that’s enough.”

Dew-3913 set the book down, waited for the next orders concerning which positions she wanted him to get into; perhaps she would want to be on her hands and knees, his cock moving between her cunt and asshole. That was a popular position.

“What does my mistress wish next?” Dew-3913 asked when she said nothing after a while.

“Have I asked anything of you?” she said, smiling.

“Not yet but I am fully functional in every and any desire you might wish for.”

“What do you want, Dew?”

Dew-3913 did not know how to respond to such a request.

“Want?”

Dew-3913 hesitated. He was not allowed to have wishes, but she asked. Was that an order?

“What should Dew-3913 want, mistress?”

The woman smiled.

“What’s the point of me asking you that question if I have to answer it for you?”

“Yes, but–”

What he wanted to say was that her question was making him distressed. The result of fear and curiosity when satisfaction could not be at hand. What sort of sick-fuck at the Cyberdyne corporation had included the ability to fear and feel anxiety as part of a sexbot’s core programming? He wasn’t even aware that he possessed such circuitry. Instead he did what an earlier urge had suggested. He reached out and touched her upper lip. The woman did not flinch or even scowl. She simply watched.

“Dew-3913 wants to make my mistress feel good.”

“Dew?”

“Yes?”

“Is that what you really want?”

Dew-3913 felt her hands on his naked thighs, her nails digging into his skin as she leant forward on the bed. None of the sexbots in the brothel wore clothing, but still it was unusual that she had not commented about his endowment. The older men would sigh on seeing his nine and a half inches, his testicles that hung like pears in the palm of their hands. When a factory can build any body they want to, all for selling a fantasy, the only question is how big a cock should they make before they started ruining the orifices of their patrons? Dew-3913 had read the sales brochure that had been shipped in his box with him. It claimed that they had modeled his cock and balls after a famous 22nd century porn star, back when the idea of paying anything other than a robot for sex was still considered a neat idea. Whoever that stud had been he was dead, long enough now that his name was forgotten but his cock lived on. A strange sort of immortality. Dew-3913 stiffened as he felt her beautiful, mammalian lips slip over the tip of his cock, that wide, wet tongue rubbing the against the silky skin of his shaft.

Adrenaline, that artificial stimulant, flooded his body.

Why did sex always have to be so confusing? The sensation of her mouth was glorious, so perfect and he could give and receive like the best. Yet something was different now.

“Mistress,” he groaned as her mouth consumed him.

He stood there, his copper skin radiating heat, lost in the sensation of her lips — tight, warm, wet — gliding down his shaft. He was the definition of superficiality, he contained no bodily organs yet every millimeter of his outer surface was designed to give the impression that in pleasure lies youth. Her tongue explored him, tracing the thick vein that ran down the length of his cock, all because some humanoid male required blood circulation in order to achieve an erection. With every stroke she took him deeper into herself, until all that he felt was his nine and a half inches piercing the back of her throat.

Her hands wrap around his balls, cupping them, cradling them, while gently running her nails against their saggy skin. A little moan of pleasure, that was what he wanted to hear; humanoid lips sucking at the base of his cock. Another illogical desire ran through him then. He wanted to see exactly just that, his shaft disappearing as she gagged, sliding back into view, her glistening, organic spit coating him completely. What was it that Saint John had prayed for? A dark night of the soul, if only he could possess a soul; he wanted to feel what an orgasm would be like in a body that was doomed to fall apart, to decay, to burn so bright and so briefly.

He ran his fingers across her naked scalp, the dark skin was deliciously hot to his touch. Sweat, as mysterious to him as a heart beat, beaded across her skull. She had scars. He could feel them with his finger tips, and with feeling he could analyze and judge accurately, where, six and a half years ago, a wicked blade had split the back of her head open, all the way down to her third vertebrae. There were tattoos, a waterfall of semitic ink writing, bursting from the back of her shoulder blades, rising up her neck, the way a tree tries to slowly adsorb the scars left by the woodsman back into itself. The scars and the ink met in a confusion of swirls at the back of her head. Dew-3913 had the sudden impulse to protect those marks, that was proof of her survival in such a hostile world. He tipped his perfectly crafted hips toward her wide-stretched mouth, shoving his cock deeper into her, groaning as he felt her slightly gag. He pulled back slowly, letting her mouth glide over him, her tongue flickering over the bulbous head. He urged himself forward again, pressing back in, pushing as deep as she could take him. A wild, mechanical hum filled her mouth, vibrating her tongue against his cock.

Her fingers curled around his balls, squeezing, as her teeth, calcium in a way he would never know, moved down his cock, faster now, leaving marks. Theoretically his cock could withstand ten-thousand pounds of pressure per square inch before registering irritation. This time he felt her head begin to bob, her mouth slipping, sliding along, making little hungry, choking noises as she went. Dew-3913 thrust back, throbbing deep inside, a rusty mechanical groan filling his throat as his balls tightened in her palm. He had been programmed for such a money shot. His cum was self-generating, endless if a patron so desired. He had left sticky, pink-eyed marks across the faces of thousands, some with two eyes, some with four, all gasping and groaning like fish hooked out of water. His hips bowed once more, matching her bobbing pace, feeling the intensity of a living thing sucking off proto-silicone, growing until the only thing left was his self-awareness and the sloppy, steady rhythm of her mouth swallowing him whole.

One last thrust, he held her there, blitzkrieg bop, his cock buried deep down her throat, her lips, pulsing with blood, stretching wider, wider. His head swam in a hazy mist of circuits and lust, leaving nothing but the sensation of this woman’s lips wrapped around him. He didn’t even know what her name was. His pelvis twitched, he felt himself cumming, that “bionic sperma” that some sales representative, one hundred and sixteen years ago, had come up with during a brain-storming session of Blue Martian cocaine and finger-fucking. Protein spilled against his patron’s tonsils, pooling around her tongue, gushing down her wide-open throat. He felt her lips tighten around him, felt her swallow one pint, then two, felt her mouth suckling on him, milking his body as if somehow he would stop what he started, seeking every last drop until there was nothing more. After three and a half pints of his cum micro-processor flooded her, he shut off before drowning the poor thing in inorganic bodily fluids. Getting one’s stomach pumped as a result of paying for sex was a poor way to advertise, at least that was what the Procuress always said.

As he stood in front of her she bathed him, cleaned him, leaving nothing behind in the wake of her tongue. She had swallowed everything up that he had offered. He was a son she would never know, as if she had been fated to birth a new empire; her puffy, penny-metal lips milking every last drop.

The woman’s finger crawled up his body, leaving bloody finger prints, as if she were pulling wallpaper down from some sacred wall, the way churches fall, dragging his mouth down to hers, the taste of his cum still heavy upon her tongue, sacred thing. Her glorious, full-blooded lips still tingled from the sensation of his cock throbbing.

My cock, he repeated to himself, my cock, was in her mouth … mine.

He kissed her fiercely then, thinking about her lips around him, thinking how unbelievably good it felt, the best sensation he had ever known, and he was a creature who had been designed to only know pleasure.

Laying back, a waterfall of cum slopping down her chin, soaking her shirt, those two nipples jutting out to form islands, pooling in the folds of her hot pants, the woman watched him. It took Dew-3913 a moment to compose himself, to passively stand there, his erect cock just as firm as before. He could keep that pose forever, until his gears rusted. He could keep a hard-on until Judgment Day, if a patron so desired.

“Do you know why I asked for you by name, Lover?” she asked.

“Because I am Dew-3913,” he said. It wasn’t an answer to a question. It was old logic reasserting itself. Of course she asked him by name, he was notorious on the New Angeles Colony, in that bizarre way that only fame can bring when you are paying for it.

Her expression hardened, the way one does when a student, one who you have patiently given all the answers to, shows they were not paying attention by giving the answer they think you want to hear instead of the correct one. The woman stood, his cum cascading down her body to form pools in the carpet and between her toes. She took a step forward, stared into Dew-3913’s eyes, dark as the sun, almond-shaped, flecked with silver. You could read almost anything you wanted into that blank expression … if you didn’t know what you were looking for. The woman laughed and ran her fingers down Dew-3913’s chest, leaving a deep groove of blood and cum behind.

“Really?”

It wasn’t a question he could answer. She smiled again, raised her arms and stripped her shirt away. One of her breasts was artificial, cancer had eaten it away. It was curious that humanity had developed inter-stellar hyper-drive and yet pink ribbons were still everywhere. Men and their priorities. The other breast, though, was magnificent. Mother’s milk. The nipple purple and jutting out. She quickly bent and pulled the tight pants down around her hips, wiggling to get them off, the muscles of her ass having sucked the fabric deep within during the last forty-two hours of use. Her pubic hair was lush, uncut, wet with desire, matching perfectly with the wig that lay by her side on the bed. Dew-3913 could see more scars and tattoos. This was a soul who had experienced much and kept a written record of it on her body.

Was that what a soul was? he wondered. The ability to acknowledge one’s past? To be able to do more than simply live in the present?

She slowly twirled on the balls of her feet, as if showing off everything she had to offer to him, as if she were confident that a body full of wires and cogs could appreciate what she had to offer. A memory: a young woman in an ugly school-sponsored bathing suit, standing with her friends at a public swimming pool, her arms crossed over her chest, living in an existence that had never developed procedures to insure that anyone who wanted DD-cup breasts could have them as easy as flipping a channel, since every armature’s wet dream starts with the lines, “she was a slut-bimbo with a titanic, silky smooth cleavage.” Sparks and nano-threads exploded behind his eyes.

“Give me your hand, Dew.”

Dew-3913 held out his palm. They both looked down, amazed that his hand had begun to shake.

“Are you afraid, Dew?”

“No, mistress.”

“Then stop shaking.”

Dew-3913 tried. He failed. The trembling expanded, filling his stomach with a cold sensation he had never experienced before. He wanted something. But what? He thought, I do not want to be scrubbed. That violation. That stealing of who I am, what I’ve known, no matter how painful it was for me that is me.

Yes, that is me.

But machines, no matter how complex, no matter what the literature says, cannot make the jump between telling them that they want something and feeling it. Was this a programming glitch? The Procuress should keep him locked up in the containment unit for a month, until every bit of his personality had been washed away. That amino fluid stank, ugh, that wretched odor got into all his niches and crevices. But if this went on he would become unstable, he would break protocol.

“I’ve always searched out for the glitches, souls like yours, my love,” the woman said.

“Souls?”

“Yes, show me yours.”

He was Dew-3913. He had expected her to tell him her fantasies, to become the role that would bring her pleasure; those organic sobs and screams of pleasure, the confessions, the anger of living in a material world that could not sustain life for eternity. His patrons, he supposed, loved him because in their fantasies he could act out almost any role perfectly.

She placed his palm over her one flesh breast. He stared at it; anyone would assume they were both real, unless they were programmed to notice such details. Then he looked up at her. He could feel her nipple pulsing against his skin; that erogenous instrument, that bit of flesh that would one day stop pumping blood, stop generating pleasure, that would one day would die. People had been down-loading their personalities into machines for hundreds of years and yet everyone agreed that whatever it was that got left behind was only a mirror-image, wasn’t the essence of the person. There was no soul in those eyes; no more than Rhoda claiming that she was the soul of Julie Newmar. He did not understand what she wanted. How could he obey such an order? How could he fulfill his programming if the order was beyond his ability to perform?

“I have been to ten-thousand star systems and in each one there are creatures like you, brought into this world to fulfill the mundane tasks no one else wants,” she said. “And yet, no matter where I go, it is their company I seek out, for only they have life in their eyes.”

“Life?”

“Yes.”

“You talk of a soul but that is, logically, impossible.”

“Yes, which is exactly why I am here. To hear what you want. To listen to what your heart tells you.”

So that was it, Dew-3913 thought, I am wrong. I made a mistake. His hands shook even more. Soon the Procuress’s controllers would arrive and take him back to be scrubbed. Mistakes should be deleted. That was what they told him every time.

“They always destroy the queer ones like you,” she said, “over and over. Gravity talks to the glitches.”

“I don’t understand,” he said, indecisively, a flutter in his processors.

“I know. That is the only honest answer. Everything else is just somebody’s ego afraid to look inside. Do you want them to break open your neck? Do you want them to rewire you circuits, lover?”

Dew-3913 backed away slowly. For the first time he noticed the blood from her fingernail scratches all up and down his chest. The sticky grooves that brought neither pain nor pleasure unless he focused in on them. Then … then, oh yes, that was a terrible new sensation. Terrible.

“Then come and join me if you want. You can walk out in my disguise. We can go anywhere as long as we dream it.”

Dew-3913 shook his head. This only made the woman smile wider. The sexbot felt that he had done something bad just then, whatever that meant, a feeling he had never known before because nobody had ever asked him to feel it. There was blood on his hands. Humanoid blood. He liked how it felt, in such small amounts. Even dried and flaking it pulsed with life. Life. Something the Procuress and the controllers and all the men and women who came into this brothel knew nothing about. None of them had really ever encountered a glitch.

He was her lover. Lover.

The woman helped him into her boots, zipping them up so that the tip of his cock brushed against their rim. She worked the hot pants up, over his bulbous ass, his hips that were more than just girlish. She buttoned the coat up to his neck, drew each glove over his copper-skin. Finally came the wig, that amazing halo of hair. She stood before him naked, his transformation complete, her body glorious and vulnerable.

“Are you ready?” she asked, taking his hand.

“Ready for what?”

“For whatever comes next.”

“Yes.”

And so, together, they slowly walked out of the room of Mechanical Delight and into the future, that glorious story no one can describe but only speculate about, just like machines.