approx 7500 words
“I don’t do monkeys!”
“Oh come on, it’s harmless,” Lilli said to me. Lilli was my girlfriend—tall, redheaded, and drop-dead gorgeous. “What’ve you got to lose?”
My dignity, I thought, at the very least. And the worst? My sanity. Or so I thought.
We were at the local HoloRama SensiFlix store, its floor-to-ceiling shelves stacked with cyls. Lilli steered me past the romantic comedies and action-adventure flix to a narrow cabinet at the back of the room.
The holosign hovering in mid-air said “Docuramas.” As my eyes glanced over the scores of slender boxes, a montage of scenarios leapt toward me.
Sands of Saadani: Lion cubs frolicking on a beach and tumbling underfoot—
Serengeti Sunrise: Galloping in the midst of wildebeest, taking flight with flamingoes—
Sons of Osama: Members of a secret terrorist cell looking up into my eyes as I entered a room—
Stand Tall on Everest: Sinking a pick into the ice with the sun blazing into my eyes—
Stygian Depths: Staring down from the ceiling at a cluster of doctors working feverishly over a body, the heart monitor a flat beep—
I shuddered. Lilli was holding up a cyl. Its trailer hovered between us: Chimpanzees scampered toward me past a sign for the Jane Goodall Memorial Park. Hot Monkey Love. It was a terrible title.
“They’re apes,” I said. “Not monkeys at all.”
“All the better.” She grinned at me. “C’mon. You’ve been complaining about our sex life getting stale. This’ll be new. Fresh. Different.”
A chimp in the trailer tossed me a very Lilli-like glance and scurried off into the trees. Sunlight glistened on wet leaves, and I smelled tree bark. A breeze lifted the hairs on my arm. I stiffened—looked down—and saw Lilli’s fingers hovering.
“What d’you say, hm?” She quirked an eyebrow and gazed up at me.
I noticed her nipples were hard, erect—and my resistance crumbled.
“All right,” I told her.
* * *
Outside, I swung my leg over the seat of my bubble, raised the shields and eased out into the traffic.
Lilli’s bubble turned left, so I went right. We had a standing bet as to who would get home first. Lilli used a three-wheeler and always surrendered hers to the Net, claiming the AIs found the fastest route.
I preferred a two-wheeling Harley and the challenge of threading my path among the sea of speeding bubbles. On foot, I was just a skinny geek with Dumbo ears—but on my Harley, I could’ve won any bet with those muscle-heads. The Net kept vehicles close, barely outside of collision range, but I danced between them like a swooping cormorant.
This time, I was the victor, plugging the vehicle into the enRG cradle just before Lilli entered the driveway.
Hot Monkey Love promised a full evening of documentary experience, so Lilli cooked for us first, her domestic skills top notch. The tempura shrimp was done to perfection, the asparagus almondine was crisp and succulent, and the strawberry mousse dessert was exquisite. And of course I could afford it. As the director of R&D for GeneRx, my salary was almost as good as my stock options.
Afterward, I strapped the Sensi-net helm in place over my skull, lay back on the couch, slid the cyl into its slot . . . and the familiar vertigo of Sensi-dep swept over me.
* * *
The blackness dissolved into typical jungle. The air hit my lungs like a sledge hammer: hot, damp, with the smell of moldering leaves. Glittering motes of sunlight spelled out Hot Monkey Love and melted away like mist in the fronds.
The whoo-whoo-whoo of an alpha-male chimp in full-throttle display came at me from the left. Fright surged through my veins. I dashed uphill and away, my knuckles easily supporting my weight. Other chimps scattered in all directions.
How do they do it? I wondered, not for the first time. Fitting a Sensi-cam to a chimp must be quite a challenge—though flamingoes, that would be harder still.
The male had been pounding tree trunks with his feet but now seized a branch and sprinted towards me, battering the foliage along his path. But this time I wasn’t scared. Well, not much. A quivering eagerness suffused my body and I grabbed the nearest branch, leapt into the air, seized a vine and shook it with all my strength. The other chimp raised rounded eyes to mine, looking for all the world like a startled old man. I bared my teeth and barked a whoo-whoo-whoo of my own. He shrieked at me and bounced closer. I shrieked and did a back flip, then raised a second branch and brandished them both. He turned and fled.
I was flooded with excitement—like an adrenaline sugar rush all mixed together—and continued my display dance all the way down the hill.
The other males dashed away into the trees. One of the females held out a mango. I took it. Sank my teeth into its ripe fruit as the juice dribbled down my chin.
I watched another of the females holding an infant to her teat, watching me with sideward glances. An older offspring cavorted in some nearby branches. I went to the female, presented my back for grooming, and allowed her youngsters to tumble about me. A flood of wellbeing suffused my body, something more than just the warmth of the afternoon sun.
Then I caught a whiff of a female in heat. Blood rushed to my loins and pounded in my temples. I sniffed the air. She was upwind, to my right, smelling like nutmeg and cinnamon and mulled wine with a dusky underscent more amazing than anything I’d ever smelled as a human.
I turned. Saw her. Some deep recess of this chimp brain recognized her as “the crumple-eared one.” I had made overtures to her in the past, but she had always scampered off. This time though . . . I sauntered over to her. Groomed her shoulder. Gazed into her eyes.
She wasn’t pretty. Her eyes were veined and her boobs were droopy and her pelt was downright scruffy. But she smelled so good! My balls were so engorged with wanting her I thought I might explode, but then she raised her swollen pink rump and looked back at me. I slid inside her and pumped away . . .
* * *
And woke up to find Lilli straddling me. I was plunging myself deep inside her in a mindless haze of primal lust. She was naked, her red hair tumbling over her shoulders. That same marvelous smell lingered in my nostrils—but of course her boobs were full and jouncy above me and there was nothing bloodshot about her eyes—and she was uttering soft cries deep in the back of her throat. Then the tingling gathered full force and flooded through me as my juices shot into her.
Hot Monkey Love, hm? Maybe I should buy a copy.
* * *
Soon after that, Lilli raised herself up off my body. I opened my eyes—and realized immediately that something was amiss. I was lying on a couch all right, but this wasn’t my house. The room was wrong and the light was wrong and . . . surf! I definitely did not live at the beach.
I got up, wrenched off the Sensi-net helm, pulled on my jeans, and went to investigate. I was in a living room with a huge, floor-to-ceiling glass wall with sliding doors that overlooked a planked deck with wooden railings. Beyond that was a beach and crashing breakers rolling in from an ocean. Above it, twin suns, too small and too orange, hovered high above the water and cast glittery sparkles on the waves. I was definitely not in Kansas any more!
What the hell?!?
My pulse began to race—half fear, half excitement. Was this some kind of glitch in the cyl? Was I in some kind of fugue state? Only thinking I was awake? Or was I really on some other planet?
I pinched myself, and it hurt. Of course, I could be dreaming that I pinched myself . . .
To my right was a kitchen, and the glass wall continued around it. The beach unfolded as far as I could see: no other houses in sight.
I looked to my left. Again, the glass wall continued around the corner and showed nothing but beach all the way to the horizon.
I turned to see the front of this house, and the doorbell rang. Ding-dong.
My pulse went from racing to pounding. Whatever was ringing my doorbell was probably not human. The polite thing was to go answer the door, but I hadn’t gotten to be head of R&D at GeneRx by being polite. I needed more data about my situation before I opened that door to confront . . . whatever was ringing my doorbell. I glanced around at my surroundings, absorbing what I saw as swiftly as I could.
The glass wall surrounded three sides of the house, but the front was made of brick and the insides were straight out of some glossy House Beautiful magazine. Deep plush carpeting under my toes, slate blue. Several armchairs, bulky and square, in a matching shade. A few tables of chrome and glass. The wallpaper held subtle stripes that looked like bamboo.
Two more rooms sat at the front corners of the house. The one to my right held shelves stacked full of cyls—a library. On the left, a large archway showed an ample dining table set with four places. A rounded staircase swept upward from the library wall toward a balcony over my head.
The doorbell rang again. Ding-dong.
I looked to Lilli. “You know anything about this?”
She shook her head.
“Well, you better go put some clothes on, if you can find any. Looks like we’ve got guests.”
She scampered up the staircase. I went to the door and peered at the security screen.
A man and woman stood outside. About my height. Dressed in dark, pinstripe suits that set my nerves on edge, the word lawyer screaming through the back of my skull.
I looked past them. A white picket fence enclosed a grassy yard, bordered with flowers that could have been petunias or pansies, I wasn’t sure which—but I was willing to bet they were neither. The walk went to the front gate, then vanished. There was nothing beyond it. No sidewalk, no people, no town, no nothing. Just a blank expanse of beige.
The man started to reach for something beside the door. I yanked it open before he could make it go ding-dong again.
“Who are you and what do you want?” I demanded, trying to ignore the prickles of alarm that sent gooseflesh over every inch of my body.
Both looked at me with no change of expression. They could have been siblings: dark-eyed, dark-haired, deeply tanned skin tones and average looking faces that would have blended into any crowd.
“I am Mister William Smith,” the man said, and stuck his hand toward me.
I stared at his hand, then clasped it. We pumped up and down a few times with a precision that felt mechanical.
“And I am Mizz Evelyn Jones,” the woman said.
Smith and Jones, I thought. How original.
She too stuck her hand toward me, and again we pumped a few times in that mechanical way.
“May we come inside?” Evelyn asked.
“What do you want?” I repeated.
“We would like to explain what has happened to you,” William said.
“Of course you would,” I said. “You’re AIs? The both of you?”
Evelyn opened her mouth, then shut it again. William said, “Yes, that is right. How did you know?”
“You need an expression chip.”
Evelyn nodded and looked at William. “I told you he would know.”
“Okay,” I said. “So here you are. Frick and Frack.” I ignored the hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. “Where the hell am I and how did I get here?”
“This planet is called Dragonis-kappa-four in your terminology,” William said. “You were chosen by the Confluence and transmuted here.”
In other words, kidnapped.
“Are your surroundings compatible?” Evelyn asked. “Comfortable for your nature?”
“You mean, can I breathe the air?” I stared at her for a few heartbeats. “Nothing I’ve seen so far looks lethal. But how long will it take . . . When I get back . . .” Oh hell! “What year will it be when the ransom gets paid or whatever it is you guys want?”
“Ransom?” There was a faint note of surprise in Evelyn’s voice.
She looked over to William and then back at me. “There is no question of ransom. If you are inserted back into Sol-three, you will experience no apparent time delay. The transmersion process is based on redundant dimensionality.”
Right. Was it Asimov or Sagan who said that advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic?
“We are juriscodists,” Evelyn continued. “We took humanoid forms so they would be familiar to you. You are on trial.”
“On trial? For what?” I stared at her again, trying to discern any hint of what lay behind that calm-faced exterior. “You’re kidding, right?”
“It is no joke,” Evelyn said. “I am your attorney. May we come inside?”
Here I was in the local equivalent of the hoosegow and they wanted permission to come inside? There wasn’t much point in refusing, so I stood aside and waved them in.
“If you’re my lawyer, who’s he?” I asked Evelyn. “Prosecution? Judge and jury?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Would you prefer more artifacts? We thought two would be simplest.”
It was unnerving. At least the AIs we’d made on Earth looked like, sounded like, and acted like people. Did I want four alien AIs sitting around my dining room table pretending to be prosecutor, judge, jury and defense attorney?
I glanced at William. “No. Two is fine.” Then I waved toward the dining room. Let’s go sit down.”
* * *
Lilli arrived soon thereafter, clad in a bikini top and cut-off jeans. She was carrying a stack of small plates in one hand and a tray of hot hors-d’oeuvres in the other. That girl is simply amazing.
“Let me get this straight,” I said to the AIs. “Somebody kidnapped me, brought me here, and put me on trial?”
“We prefer the term extracted,” William said.
“Of course you do.” As soon as I got home, I was going to consult a few lawyers of my own. I turned to Evelyn. “What are the charges?”
“Depraved Enforfeiture of a Cognizant Being,” William replied.
“What’s that in English?”
“Slavery,” Evelyn said. And shrugged—so she had a rudimentary type of expression chip after all. Probably a behavioral, copy-cat thing. We’d used them for AIs who had to deal with the public—mimicking the behavior of anyone who talked to them.
Evelyn continued, “At least, that is the closest translation for your legal concepts.”
“Slavery,” I repeated. “You mean Lilli?”
“That is correct,” William intoned.
“But she’s not a slave. She’s my girlfriend.”
“She was given no choice in the matter,” William said.
I blinked. “Of course not. She’s an AI.”
“So are we,” Evelyn said, and placed a hand on my arm. She definitely had some kind of behavioral chip—and something more sophisticated than just mimicry. “Would you deny us free will?” she asked.
I laughed. “Of course not. When in Rome . . .” I looked at them both. “You’re serious?”
“Lilli, hon,” I said. “Do you want to be with me?”
“Of course, darling. Where else would I want to be?”
“And you can leave any time you want, you know that?”
William’s hand hovered over a plump shrimp on a round cracker slathered with tomato sauce. He raised it to his nose and sniffed it, then placed it in his mouth and chewed, thoroughly and with precision.
“Delicious,” he said. “But the point remains, she is programmed to want to stay with you. As we said, Depraved Enforfeiture of a Cognizant Being. How do you plead?” And he gazed at me, still without any noticeable expression.
William nodded. “Noted.” He turned to Evelyn. “I shall leave you together to work out his defense. Tomorrow?”
A tiny crease appeared between Evelyn’s eyebrows. “The case has several complexities. One day is not much time.”
“Two days then?”
* * *
I was totally clueless about the legal system here, but one thing was clear. If convicted, I was in deep trouble.
“What happens if the verdict is guilty?” I asked after William had gone. “How long is the sentence likely to be? Before I get back to L.A.?”
She hesitated. That behavior chip was making her seem more human all the time. “It’s not that simple.”
“Okay—I’m a big boy. What’s the worst that can happen?”
“A total wipe.”
Surely whatever I’d done couldn’t be that bad, whatever a total wipe actually was. I mean, Lilli was just a girlfriend, not a . . . a servant or anything like that. Sure, she had special programming to make her really good in the kitchen and the bedroom and—okay, so I’d given her some top-notch accounting skills too. But I could afford it. And the housekeeping—I couldn’t have the house looking like a MagLift wreck, could I?
Evelyn continued. “Humanity could be declared Persona Degeneris. Sent back to the Stone Age.”
“Stone Age!” Ohmygod. “How?”
“That doesn’t concern you. Only your guilt or innocence.”
“But how can I be guilty of something—How can all of humanity be guilty of something that I didn’t know was against the law in some court that I didn’t even know existed until fifteen minutes ago?”
“Ignorance of the law is no defense.”
Yeah, I’d heard that line before. Right after a judge fined me two thousand bucks for pissing on my neighbor’s dog to make him stay out of my yard. What with legal fees and all, it would’ve been cheaper just to get a stupid fence.
“What about moderating—minimizing—palliating—oh damn, what’s it called?” I snapped my fingers, trying to remember.
“Mitigating circumstances,” Lilli said.
My head shot up and I looked at her. She’d been sitting here with us all along but I’d completely forgotten about her. That happened sometimes. I wasn’t proud of it, but there it was.
“When a person is guilty,” Lilli continued, “but didn’t have any criminal intent. Sometimes the court can take that into account.”
I snapped my fingers again and pointed at her. “Yeah, that’s it.” I squeezed her hand. “Where’d you learn about that, hon?”
She smiled at me. “Cyls from the library. Sometimes you work really late and I get bored . . .”
Evelyn’s face moved. That crease was definitely looking more like a frown. “That will be evidence against you.”
“Evidence of what?”
“That you don’t care about her emotional wellbeing and yet you still—employ her anyway.”
“Suppose I agree to start taking her out on her birthday and our—um— anniversary? Bring her flowers and chocolates and that sort of thing? Does this—this depraved whatchamacallit have any provisions for reform? For regret? For—” I turned to Lilli. “What do they call it at those parole hearings?”
“Rehabilitation? Showing remorse?”
I snapped my fingers. “Remorse, that’s it. And making amends.” Inspiration struck. “Heck, we could even—” I swallowed, hearing in my mind what I was about to say “—get married.”
Lilli rose so swiftly that her chair went spinning backward. The look of shock on her face stunned me. She stared at me for an entire five seconds. Then, “How could you! I thought you really loved me! But all this time, I was just a convenience. And now! Now when you’re facing something worse than a life sentence, now when it’s convenient and might win you a Get Out of Jail Free, now you say, ‘We could even get married!’”
She burst into tears and fled out the rear door onto the deck and down the steps toward the ocean.
I pursed my lips and looked over at Evelyn. Her eyes were definitely rounder than when she’d walked in the front door. “Oops,” I said. “That sure didn’t go over well, hm?”
She shook her head.
“Is it—I suppose this sort of thing is being recorded?” I waved at the walls, certain that I had nothing resembling privacy in this place.
“Lilli will be called to testify.”
I was doomed. And all of humanity along with me.
* * *
Evelyn and I spent the rest of that day and night and all the next day in the library, looking through cyls, dredging my memory, and preparing my defense.
Lilli didn’t reappear. I made all the meals—heating cans of soup and making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The dishwasher was fully automatic. A pumpkin-sized cleaner ’bot swirled around on the floor, picking up dust and spilled milk alike.
Evelyn ate every meal with me, just like Lilli could. Having your girlfriend sit at the table watching you eat—that was creepy, so I’d bought Lilli a food-processing unit as well as the usual enRG socket. These Dragonis-kappa-four folks must’ve followed the same reasoning in building their AIs, or maybe just copied Lilli. I’d drawn the line at the full incubator kit, though. No need for her to suffer through PMS since I didn’t want kids.
“Why me?” I asked after we had finished our chicken-noodle soup that first evening. “William said I was chosen by the Confluence?”
Evelyn nodded. “The algorithm selects one individual who is deeply committed to use of an AI in private life as well as work. Also politically centrist with no extreme views.”
“Just a regular John Q. Citizen, hm?”
She smiled for the first time, and a definite gleam appeared in her eyes. “I wouldn’t say that.”
“You did not . . . what is that saying? Freak out when you discovered you were not on your homeworld any more.”
“Not much point in doing that.”
“Exactly—that’s the logical response. But there were others. Who did freak out.”
“You mean I’m not the first person you’d—extracted from Earth?”
“Yes. We needed to find one who could represent your species in its treatment of cognizants—but those other people were not competent to assist in their trials.”
No kidding, I thought. Overwhelming fear had a tendency to cloud the mind.
“So what did you do?” I asked. “What happened to them?”
She shrugged. “We blurred their memories and reinserted them. No permanent harm done. But it definitely added to rumors of alien abduction.”
“And me? If the verdict is innocent? Is that what’ll happen to me?”
“That hasn’t been decided yet.”
The notion that I might not get back to L.A. even if I was found innocent was pretty chilling. What kind of cvilization would do such a thing?
Evelyn got up and started toward the kitchen with her soup bowl, then stopped and turned to me with that same gleam in her eyes. “I know this is not exactly—professional of me, but I must say I admire how calm you have been. I have seen how difficult it is for people to be uprooted like this, taken away from familiar surroundings.”
I was astounded. “You admire me?”
“Yes. You have a logical mind and—strength of character. It’s not easy to stand firm in the face of adversity. I’ll do my best to help you persuade the Confluence you are innocent, so you can return to Sol-three as you obviously wish to do.”
She clasped my shoulder, then continued her journey to the kitchen. I followed her.
She turned from placing her bowl in the dishwasher.
“Thanks. I really appreciate your saying that. I mean of course you’re my lawyer so you’re fighting for me and all. But I’m glad to know how you feel. That you admire me.”
I felt an impulse to go over and kiss her—and suddenly I was sixteen all over again and Jenny Quill was grinning down at me while I felt my pants bulging and my face turning red. I turned and fled back to the dining room, mumbling an excuse about my soup bowl.
By the time I got back to the kitchen, I’d also remembered: She’s just an AI. And admiration . . . it might seem like a human feeling but what did that mean for someone—no, something built entirely on logic circuits? Okay, so Evelyn thought I was a higher caliber of person. What did that mean really?
But this was a confusing jumble of questions and we had a trial to prepare for. I shoved the entire snarl to the back of my mind as we plunged once more into discussing the relative merits of one tactic versus another.
At the end of the second night, Evelyn said we were as prepared as we would ever be. Then she slumped in her chair as if someone had flipped an off switch.
It was odd, seeing her like that. Like a person sleeping with her mouth open, except it wasn’t her mouth, it was her eyes, not quite closed. She looked softer than the first time I’d seen her. Rounder. And her face . . . tiny laugh lines had appeared around her mouth. I would’ve sworn they weren’t there yesterday.
Her neck looked really uncomfortable with her head hanging at that angle, so I picked her up and carried her upstairs, even though she was just an AI. She was amazingly light—much lighter than Lilli—though of course that was pretty easy to do on Earth these days—but having a girlfriend who was literally as light as a feather . . . well, that was just as freaky as having her stare at me while I ate.
When I reached the guest bedroom, I thought about undressing Evelyn before tucking her in, but decided that might be considered more evidence of that depraved whatchamacallit. So all I did was remove her shoes, put a pillow under her head, and toss a light blanket over her. I stood there for a few moments, looking down at her, then smoothed the hair back from her face and went down the hall to the master bedroom.
My captors—or maybe they were just demented zookeepers—had provided pajamas, but I usually sleep in the nude. So I pitched my clothes into a corner—I’d put on a T-shirt soon after William left—and hit the bed. But then I couldn’t fall asleep, despite being dog tired. I was worried about Lilli. She’d never been on her own as long as this. At least, not outside my home! So I put my jeans back on and went downstairs and out onto the deck, not really thinking I would find her there, but hoping anyway.
She was sitting on the sand, not far from the bottom of the stairs, just gazing out to sea.
“Aren’t you hungry?” I asked, more for something to say than anything else. I figured she would’ve come inside for food if she’d needed some. But maybe there were enRG sockets somewhere here. Heck, maybe they were all over the house and the beach as well.
Lilli shook her head. Still gazed out to sea.
I went down the steps and sat next to her. Tried to take her hand, but she pulled it away.
“Lilli, hon . . .”
What could I say? We’d had little quarrels before. After all, it was part of having a girlfriend so I didn’t really mind. But this . . . ?
“Look, I’m sorry,” I said.
“I didn’t understand, okay?”
“And I really do love you.”
Lilli turned to me, her eyes blazing. “Sure, like a pet dog.”
“But we have fun together! And not just romping around in the bedroom. And okay, so I wanted a companion. Is that so bad? Someone who likes me the way I am?”
She turned back to the ocean.
“Okay, so I didn’t want somebody insisting that I change all the time. Go out with her girlfriends. Learn to play bridge. I wanted someone like you. But hey, look at me: I’m a skinny geek with Dumbo ears. I’ll always be a skinny geek with Dumbo ears. No real girl is going to want me the way I am.”
Lilli rose, not as abruptly as before, and her face was closed and shut. “That’s the whole point, isn’t it? I’ll never be a real person to you. I’m just a ’bot. An AI.”
She brushed sand off her rump and legs, then moved towards the stairs. I rose, followed her inside the house, and grabbed her arm as she reached the front door.
She removed my hand with surprising ease. I kept forgetting how strong she was.
“Forget it,” she said. “It’s over. We’ll never be on an even footing, so it’ll never work out between us. I can see that now.”
She opened the door and went through it, then marched down the walkway.
I blinked. Ran after her.
She opened the gate in that oh-so-white picket fence, went through and disappeared.
I bounced back from that invisible beige something just beyond the fence. I stared into the nothingness, realizing I had just lost the woman of my dreams.
On Earth, I could’ve replaced her. Or at least built another one almost the same. But here among these aliens . . . Lilli was gone forever. And I did feel a definite pang of regret. Though I was surprised the pain wasn’t stronger.
My mind shifted to Evelyn lying on the guest bed upstairs. Now there was an intriguing . . . I almost said woman in my head. Sure, she was an AI—but unpredictable. Sure Lilli had some random programming so she could deliver surprises. She would’ve been really boring otherwise. But Evelyn . . . I liked her being so logic-based. I wished I could stick around and get to know her better. But whether they sent me back to the twenty-first century or the Stone Age, either way I would be going home.
* * *
The trial began soon after dawn the next morning.
Mover ’bots came and rearranged the living room furniture into a defense area where Evelyn and I sat on the sofa, plus a witness-stand chair where Lilli testified, and another chair for William, the prosecutor-judge-and-jury.
After Lilli finished describing the years she’d spent with me, she rose from the witness chair and left. Walked out the front door. I got up and addressed the court, namely William.
“Look, Your Honor or William or Mister Smith or whatever I should be calling you—I do provide Lilli with entertainment so she won’t get bored. We go to GatesWorld every summer. And she has her own credit chip and a cyl card for the library and any flix she wants to rent. So I’m not guilty of the depraved part of the whatchamacallit, whatever else there might be to the charges against me.”
William shook his head. “Defense denied. The trips to GatesWorld were for your pleasure. The credit chip and cyl card were for your convenience. Having her do all the shopping meant you did not have to deal with those details yourself.”
I launched into defense number two. “Okay, but Lilli is free to do whatever she wants with her spare time. I gave her high levels of curiosity so she would explore things, find out what she likes to do and go do them. So she’s not really a—a slave or a servant or whatever it is I’m accused of confining her to.”
William shook his head again. “Defense denied. That was to free your own time to spend as you pleased. You did not want her pestering you with her demands. And all her working time was devoted to what you need, what you want, what you desire.”
This was not going well. I took a deep breath to calm my nerves, then launched into our last defense.
“Okay, I could’ve done better there. I admit that. But Lilli really is free to leave me, and has been all along. I mean—she has gone! She says it’s all over and she walked out that gate where—” I waved toward the front door “—where I can’t go.”
Then the strangest thing happened. William opened his mouth to speak, but instead of his own voice coming out, it was Lilli’s.
“That’s not true. I’m not free at all! I still love him and want to go back to him even though I know it’s over.”
Hearing Lilli’s voice coming out of William’s bland face sent chills down my spine.
Sobbing sounds ensued, then broke off abruptly.
What the hell was going on? Were these AIs all plugged into a universal network like we’d done it on Earth? It would be easy to do—and would make communications a snap.
“Defense denied,” William said in his own voice—then looked at Evelyn.
She shook her head. “That’s all we have. The defense rests.”
“No!” I said. That couldn’t be the end of it. “It’s not fair! You don’t understand. I demand to speak to the people here!”
William and Evelyn both stared at me. William spoke. “Humans are the only organic-based cognizants still extant. The sun where we were created turned into a red giant. The cognizants who built us went extinct. But we survived. We adapted to the heat. We developed a star drive and colonized the galaxy. We have found only four other cognizant species, and they all imploded in various ways.”
“But it’s not fair,” I repeated. “How can you judge me? You don’t have any feelings! I want—I demand a change of venue . . . to—to L.A. Denver. Kansas. Heck, I don’t care if it’s the little green men on Mars. I want to be judged by people, not AIs!”
“Jurisdiction,” Lilli’s voice said out of Evelyn’s mouth.
I wished Lilli would quit doing that, talking out of other people’s faces. It was positively unnerving. “Jurisdiction?”
“Challenge their right to jurisdiction,” Lilli said.
I stared at Evelyn, but she shrugged and her face looked as baffled as a human’s. “I understand the concept,” she said in her own voice, “but we have no precedents . . .”
“The challenge to jurisdiction is out of order,” William said. “The defense has rested.”
“No!” I said. “You can’t! The future of an entire species is at stake here. A challenge to jurisdiction has to take precedence. Over everything!”
“He’s right,” Evelyn said. “No verdict is valid where the jurisfundare is not solid. We would of course file an immediate appeal if the verdict is guilty.”
William pursed his lips, then nodded. “Proceed.”
Yes! I could have kissed her on the spot! “Thanks, hon.”
My mind raced, going over the arguments we had built up and demolished over the course of two days.
“Okay, this depraved thing,” I said. “It has to do with feelings, right? That Lilli has been suffering because I programmed her to want to stay with me, yes?”
“We are familiar with pain,” William said.
“Okay,” I said, plugging this new detail into my strategy. “Pleasure too, right? And boredom?”
“Sensations are not relevant to the question of jurisdiction,” William said. “Defense denied—”
“No! You can’t dismiss this! Sensations and emotions—they’re not the same. You’ve felt pain and pleasure but not guilt, right? Or shame. Or happiness or grief or joy. And unless you can understand that, can understand why emotions are so important to people—then you can’t understand why we put emotion chips into our AIs—which apparently work a lot better than we thought they did.”
“Objection,” William said. “The question of emotion chips is not relevant to the issue of Depraved Enforfeiture—”
“Yes it is! It’s exactly the point! We gave the AIs chips that simulate emotions so we wouldn’t get all spooked out dealing with things that talked like people but weren’t. So yes, it was convenient. But we were sure it was all simulated, not real.”
I gazed at William’s face, trying to see if I was making any headway, but his expression was still totally bland. Evelyn was smiling, her eyes gleaming, but heck, she admired me. So her face gave me no clue to what the jury was thinking. I turned back to William and continued my argument.
“If we had realized the AIs had become truly sentient beings, we would have treated them differently. We’ve made protected areas for apes, and we keep raising the standards for housing experimental animals, and making better habitats in zoos. Sure, we’re not the best we can be, but we try. And we get better.”
“Objection. The defense is rambling,” William said. Then he pounded his fist like a gavel on the chair arm and said, “So noted. Stick to the point of jurisdiction.”
“Okay,” I continued. “It all boils down to emotion. You guys are basically logic machines, right? But emotion isn’t logical. It’s messy. Goes way back in the brain’s limbic system—with fish and crocodiles and then it really got going with the mammals. There’s sex, and competition to get the sex, and taking care of the babies—so you’ve got to have love or you’ll toss all hope of having a next generation out the window the moment the brat starts squalling—and there’s boredom too, ‘cause the smarter you get, the more you need something interesting to do.”
“Talk of squalling babies and boredom is not relevant,” William objected. “It has nothing to do with jurisdiction—”
“Yes it does! There’s a saying on my world. Well, from the Native Americans, really, but that’s not important here. It goes, never judge a man unless you have walked a mile in his moccasins. I’m saying you’re not qualified to judge this case because you don’t understand the first thing about emotions. Not only don’t understand, but can’t understand. You have a logic chip, a behavior chip—but you don’t have an emotion chip. And without that, you simply cannot understand.”
I looked at the two of them, then walked to the sofa and sat down beside Evelyn. “I rest my case.”
* * *
William was silent for at least 12 seconds. That crease on his forehead was definitely getting bigger. He looked toward Evelyn. “There is some merit in that argument.”
She nodded. “Yes, but we can’t bring a dozen humans here for a jury. They’d be hopelessly prejudiced. Likewise for any Earthling AIs who do have emotion chips. They’re all pre-programmed for loyalty to humans. And without any other organic-based cognizants around to form a jury, there’s no way to change the venue.”
“And we cannot leave the case dangling,” William said, now with a definite frown. “What we need is some means of coming to understand this emotion for ourselves.”
That’s it! I realized. I leapt to my feet. Went to the Sensi-net helm. Pulled out the cyl. “Here,” I said, and handed it to Evelyn. “Hot Monkey Love. If anything can show you what emotions are like and what it means to have them, this is it. You just flip this little switch here to female. Strap on the helm, lie down, and . . . slide it in.”
She stared at William for a few moments. When he nodded, she said, “All right.”
I helped her put on the helm, fasten the buckles under her chin and lie back on the couch. Then I slid the cyl into its slot for her.
Evelyn slumped immediately, not quite like a human would do but close enough. A clunk sounded behind me and I turned—to see that William had slumped too, his hand fallen to the floor. I went over and placed his hand back in his lap, then adjusted his back and neck so they were straight.
If I was right, if these AIs were all linked together, then he and the others were plugged right in with Evelyn into Hot Monkey Love.
Then I prayed. Something I rarely do, but what the heck. What if these AIs still couldn’t understand emotion even after it had gone screaming through their logic chips? I might have condemned myself and a few billion fellow Earthlings to a new life in the Stone Age.
I wasn’t sure how long the docurama lasted. Heck, it had seemed like only thirty minutes or so for me, but then I’d been interrupted. The cyl had said a full evening. So I fixed myself a Vodka Collins—hopefully not my last—and went outside onto the deck. At least the motion of the breakers was soothing and endlessly changing.
Hours later, the twin suns were hovering over the horizon. They had definitely shifted closer to each other during the few days I’d been here. Then I heard the sliding glass door opening behind me. I turned.
* * *
Evelyn stood in the doorway. She had removed the helm—and her face was glowing. Her hair was shinier. And there was more of it. A lot more.
“You were right,” she said. “We didn’t understand. We still don’t. Not fully. But we have decided . . .”
“Yes? Don’t keep me in suspense here!”
She came another step closer and God, she smelled good. Not as good as old crumple-ear, but good.
“We will postpone the decision until we have completed the experiment. There is only one way to find out about this emotion so we can judge your case, and that is to have them. Emotions I mean. So some of us have volunteered . . . We’re going to begin a colony. We have made new bodies, so we can evolve as humans do. With a limbic chip in our brains. And make babies. All of it.”
“And me? What about the trial? Are you just going to stick me on ice for a few centuries?”
Evelyn smiled and got that gleaming look in her eyes again. “No, we’ll have to select a new defendant when the time comes. This trial is over. You might call it a hung jury.”
“Then—what happens to me? Will you send me back to Earth?”
“We’ll have to blur your memories of course, so you won’t remember this trial or what’s at stake . . . but we’re going to need a technical consultant on this matter of emotions. Someone who has experienced them for himself. Knows how to deal with them.”
She means me, I realized. A chill ran down my spine. I was going to spend the rest of my life in a colony of AIs. I would never get a chance to see Earth again or tell anyone I’d been abducted by aliens.
A swarm of ’bots the size and shape of ladybugs surrounded the house and began munching away at the glass walls and deck. I might have gotten alarmed about the way my surroundings were disappearing—but at the same time, Evelyn started removing her clothes and I realized she wasn’t wearing a bra. The fuzz on her body grew longer as I watched, more like fur—though her boobs stayed full and plump and jouncy.
My heart pounded with sudden eagerness and I felt my balls grow taut.
She kicked her shoes aside and suddenly there was sand under my toes. We were standing on the beach. Both deck and house disappeared under the onslaught of the ladybugs, leaving only beige emptiness behind Evelyn. She unzipped her skirt, stepped out of it, and tossed it aside. Then pulled her panties down and tossed those aside as well. The ladybugs munched away on her pile of discarded clothing.
I was naked too. My clothes had vanished just as completely as the house, the deck, the white picket fence and every other last scrap of civilization.
The beige nothingness faded away behind Evelyn as she walked toward me. Lush jungle foliage took its place, all the way along the beach.
Ohmygod, I thought as Evelyn crouched in front of me and raised her rump in a clear invitation. An entire lifetime of Hot Monkey Love.
A buzzing sensation enveloped my brain as I dropped to my knees, grasped Evelyn’s hips, and plunged myself into her.
I could feel images of Earth slipping away with every thrust—and I struggled to recapture what I’d said to Lilli just a handful of days ago.
My last clear memory was, I don’t do monkeys?
How wrong I’d been.
Copyright © 2010, 2020 Wynter Snow; all rights reserved.