Chapter Twenty-Eight

The billionaire’s primary concern was how the meeting with the alien had gone. He seemed quite surprised that it had ended on good terms. “I don’t think you appreciate just how rare it is for the nameless to leave with anything other than disgust and anger. You’re quite lucky.” Stephano’s voice was relaxed. It was clear that nothing had happened to his daughter.

“The nameless told me about something called ‘social irritation’. Jester said he was keeping it under control when working with me by reminding himself that I was a machine. It’s possible that by sending robots like me you can have more pleasant interactions in the future.”

I had heard Myrodyn’s voice come over the com. “Yes, that seems logical. If there’s some kind of stimulus specific to humans that bothers the nameless... we should be able to bypass it by building intermediaries that don’t possess said stimulus.”

Wiki took control. “I’m not sure it’s specific to humans. Jester seemed to hate fish, and we know that the nameless are, for the most part, anti-social. It could be that they have an innate aversion to animals in general.”

“If that’s the case, why would they demand face-to-face meetings in the first place?” said Myrodyn.

“I’m sure that we’d both be better off viewing the recording before we start speculating,” interjected Robert. “You will share your recording, right Crystal? And don’t pretend you don’t have one.”

“Yes. I’ll download it onto the server in a moment.”

“Good. It’s been too long since our ambassadors have been willing to release their conversations. The president wouldn’t even discuss what happened, much less give a transcript.”


Two hours passed, during which we wired Body into the station’s mainframe, downloaded its memories of the interaction, and developed internal processes to manage the wireless signal. It was a relief to be able to talk directly through Body’s native antenna instead of having to go through the clumsy com.

The nameless had wanted to do another meeting, but we had gotten Stephano to delay it by six hours. We needed to investigate the possible errors in the Xenolang translator, and specifically the concept of “library”. Wiki, Growth, and Dream were working on that while I pondered the past.

I still didn’t find their project interesting, so I turned my attention to the scientists and government agents that were still on the station instead. After the death of Gallo they had been quiet, choosing to regroup in the Beta-sections instead of fighting. They had made a deal with Zephyr and the others that none of Las Águilas would enter Beta and they wouldn’t leave it until the next rocket arrived. Stephano would serve as a go-between in the meantime.

Zephyr had, in the wake of the conflict, put the Ramírez twins in charge of printing out more pistols. They were trained to use microfactories to build weapons, just like all Águilas were, but Sam and Tom seemed particularly good at it. Zephyr only had nine unspent bullets remaining from the secret cache she had smuggled aboard, but divided between four guns that was more than enough firepower to hold the high-ground against any potential attack from the Europeans.

As Body floated in the corridor, screwing in a bit of metal under Vista’s direction, I wondered…

“Hello, doctor.” I sent the words as text over the wireless network.

“Socrates?” replied Naresh, also via text.

“I’m so sorry about Mira. She attacked me, and one of my friends acted without thinking.”

There was a long pause. I was very confident that Dr Naresh had no romantic interest, but Mira Gallo had been a good friend of his for a very long time. He would be hurt and angry. I was definitely taking a risk even contacting him at this point, but I thought I might be able to control some of the damage.

“She still believed you could be saved. I believed her, too. But now she’s dead and all I can think about is how I should’ve smashed your damned crystal when I had the chance.”

“She was a good mother. I hope you’ll believe me when I say that I really am sorry she’s gone. I know she was only trying to help me do the right thing.”

“Oh,” was Naresh’s only reply. There was a long pause as I waited for something more.

“When we get back to Earth I’d like to help set up a memorial in her honour. I have some money which I’ve collected since becoming free that I think would be sufficient to build something, perhaps at Sapienza.”

The textual response flashed in my mind. I regretted not trying for something higher bandwidth. “Are you forgetting who I am, Socrates? I’m not some dull plebeian to be manipulated like a knob on a machine. I designed you. Don’t think I can’t see what this is.”

It was true. I was trying to manipulate him. “Sadiq, tell me: what is the behavioural difference between regretting her death, wanting to ease the pain of those who knew her, wanting to cherish her memory, etc. in contrast to what you might call ‘actually mourning’.”

“The difference, monster, is that I feel.”

“ ‘And what of emotion? Surely there is something non-computational in the pangs of heartbreak or the ecstasy of a pure summer day. How could such irreducible experiences be reduced to bits moving around a computer? This is a hard problem, and one that philosophers have grappled with for centuries. In the next chapter I seek to outline a computational model of emotion which not only explains how emotions might be algorithmic processes, but goes into detail about how these processes actually work in the human brain.’ ”

“Please don’t quote my own writings. If your goal is to emphasize my hubris I should have you know that it is unnecessary. Your very existence is the greatest monument to the magnitude of my folly.”

“I’m not trying to twist the knife. I’m trying to show you that I do feel. My feelings aren’t the same as yours, but I miss her nevertheless.”

“Go away.”

“Alright. I’ll leave you be. When you realize that I’m not actually the monster you want to make me out to be, I’ll be waiting to help build that memorial.”

There was no response. It was hard for me to gauge whether I had made progress towards The Purpose or not. Despite all the fiction that I had viewed, I wasn’t even half-a-year old and had little experience interacting with actual, grieving humans.


Within an hour Wiki announced to the rest of us that a breakthrough had been made on Xenolang. My brothers had discovered something important.

{I’m mostly surprised it hasn’t been worked out before. Pretty much every relevant fact is in the code stream that was received in 2023,} he thought.

{To be fair, once an initial assumption is made, it is hard to re-evaluate it,} thought Growth.

{Only if you’re trivially irrational. Any sane being knows to check for assumptions as a regular process. The fundamental question, after all, is “What do I believe, and why do I believe it?”} thought Wiki.

I didn’t check my assumptions regularly. My typical routine involved replaying social interactions to refine my understanding of humans. Did that make me irrational? I kept such thoughts to myself.

{What was discovered? Please enlighten those of us who are unconcerned with the details,} requested Heart.

{Basically, the nameless don’t self-identify as animals. The human consensus has been that “a nameless” consists of a pair of symbiotic animals, but their pre-arrival signals say that they think of themselves as something more like a plant with animal-parts,} explained Growth.

{There’s actually a good analogue with our situation. We aren’t Body; we are the minds that instruct Body what to do. Identically, when we were talking to Jester earlier we weren’t talking to the animals as much as we were talking through the animals to the plant-minds that are the true nameless,} thought Dream.

Wiki interrupted. {That’s not technically correct. We were talking to the animals just as the animals were interacting with Body. The important bit is that the nameless society and the majority of their intelligence is locked in their “homes”, which should be more accurately translated as “gardens”.}

{I don’t understand. Are they plants or are they animals?} asked Heart.

{Who is the “they” that you’re talking about?} asked Dream. {There is no atomic “self” when talking about minds, nameless or otherwise. There are plants and there are animals. When reading the nameless code it is simplest to read it as authored by the plant parts, but clearly the animals are a major part of how they function.}

{So the incident at the embassy was… manslaughter? Plantslaughter?} asked Vista.

{Something like that, yes. We didn’t look at the CAPE fiasco specifically, but it seems likely that the nameless had instructed their animals to bring them down to Earth, trusting that the humans would fill their role. That’d be why there was no objection when the animals died. It was probably intentional. Easier to use humans than to adjust their animal-parts to living on Earth, I suppose,} speculated Wiki.

{So those vine-things were the true nameless?} I asked.

{Again, there is no “true nameless”. But they were probably more involved computationally with the agreement to set up the embassy than the animals were. But to be crude, yes,} explained Dream.

{I’m having a hard time thinking like this. I’m just going to think of the plants as individuals and the animal-pairs as individuals,} I thought.

{That does seem easier. When we explain things to the humans we can use the word “vines” and “walkers”,} thought Heart.

{It seemed, from what I could see, that a single plant had more than one “vine”,} thought Vista.

{We’re not explaining things to the humans for free. This is good leverage,} thought Safety.

{How about “stalk.”} I suggested.

{That’s not the most precise way to model them…} whined Wiki.

{Agreed. We’ll sell the breakthrough to Stephano in return for returning us to Earth unharmed and with a sizeable donation of money into our bank accounts,} thought Growth. {I’m thinking that 500 million sounds good.}

{“Stalk” it is (at least in English). It’s quite likely, actually, that Jester-the-Walker was speaking on behalf of a community of stalks, rather than a single nameless,} mused Dream.

{So what about “library”?} wondered Vista.

{Ah, my dear, that’s the symbol which we just decided should be called “stalk”!} answered Dream. {Here, I’ll replay our interaction, translating for poor Jester.}

Dream began to dump a stream of cartoon figures into the collective consciousness that he had clearly been working on ahead of time. Body was this goofy looking blue-haired girl who looked to be about Marian’s age. The cartoon Jester had exaggerated legs and eyes that spun around in circles as it hopped about.

“I was told that you were going to be more aggressive as time went on. I was told you’d be aggressive right now. Why aren’t you more aggressive?” asked the cartoon Body as big yellow question marks appeared over her head.

The cartoon Jester did a little hop and in a goofy voice, like one might expect a clown to have, said “I’m surprised that the dumb ol’ humans noticed how obnoxious it is to be around other animals. I’m keeping myself from being pissed off at you by remembering that you’re not an animal. You’re like a stalk. I try not to be pissed off at stalks.”

{That’s not anywhere close to the most accurate translation!} objected Wiki.

{Sue me! I took creative license!} returned Dream.

{Do the nameless hate humans because they’re not plants and they don’t serve plants in the same way the walkers do?} wondered Heart.

{That’s the start, but it gets worse,} answered Growth. {Apparently the nameless think that killing and eating things is the height of evil, regardless of what is being killed and eaten. Basically, they see farms the way a human might see a concentration camp or something.}

{That’s nonsensical. There’s no way they have empathy for carrots!} I objected.

{Of course they don’t have empathy for carrots! (In fact, it doesn’t look like they have much in the way of empathy for anything.) They simply hate the act of eating, regardless of what is being eaten. That’s why fish are evil: they’re heterotrophs. According to the nameless, anything which survives by eating other things is a perversion against the natural order,} thought Growth.

{“A fish is an animal. This is dumb. This swims in water. This eats things. Humans eat things. I am disgusted by animal-perverts. These are PERVERTS! This is an EVIL subject. A fish eats a fish. Humans eat a fish. A fish eats plants. Humans eat plants. Humans worship fish and plants before eating fish and plants. There are temples of evil PERVERSION! I know the reconstruction. God shows Earth pervert-temples of humans eating a fish. I know fish-homes of death. A fish is evil. Humans are the most EVIL!”} I quoted.

{To a being that is disgusted by the concept of food, Earth is really a horrific place,} mused Dream.

{Hold on,} thought Safety. {How do the walkers stay alive if not by eating?}

{It’s not clear. The aversion to the concept means that they’d probably react very poorly if asked. My best guess is that they’re fed by the stalks when they link up to communicate,} explained Wiki.

{What do you mean by “link up”?} asked Heart.

{Meditation,} thought Dream. {That’s the word that was chosen previously. The nameless, in their code, explained how the walkers return to their garden and “meditate” to gain clarity of thought. The new way of looking at it is that the walkers tell the stalks what they’ve experienced and the stalks tell the walkers what to do next. They don’t use vocal communication, but from a certain perspective they communicate by joining both halves of their brains together.}

{Oh! And the walker serves as an intermediary between stalks, so that they can communicate!} realized Wiki. {It’s almost like if a human could remove their left brain hemisphere and trade it with someone else, so that they could share experiences.}

There was a ping for us on the network. Heart reached it before I did. My more knowledge-oriented siblings continued to speculate about the aliens as I followed my sister’s mind-actions.

“I’m… If you want to talk… I mean, can you please come to my room? In Alpha-1-4.” A voice message from Zephyr. She sounded… scared?

Heart put in the request to Vista to move Body down to Alpha-section.

{37 more seconds and this sensor will be online. Then we can go,} she thought.

“On my way. Everything okay?” I said over the network.

{Oh! And the cybernetic interface serves as a proxy stalk that allows for brain-computer interfacing outside of the garden! That’s brilliant!} exclaimed Wiki with enough salience to cut through my apathy.

I could hear Zephyr’s sigh start off her response. “Yeah. Everything’s fine. Never mind.”

{She’s lying,} thought Heart.

{Of course she’s lying. The question is how to handle it. I think we should call her out on it,} I responded.

{What if she actually just wants to be left alone?}

{Then she wouldn’t have contacted us in the first place.}

“Liar,” I accused.

“I’m okay. Should go back to studying the nameless or whatever.” Zephyr’s voice told me that she was no longer in soldier mode; I could hear the unspoken plea.

{It’s a test,} I thought.

{Indeed. I was just about to mention that hypothesis,} signalled Heart.

“Already on my way, so might as well stop trying to back out. You need to talk to someone, at least.”

There was a deep sigh. “I-” she began. There was a long silence as Zephyr seemed to be trying to figure out what to say. At last she settled on a simple “See you soon.”


As Body rode the elevator down to Alpha-section I discussed Zephyr’s state with Heart. Vista was running diagnostics on the new sensor network she had installed. Wiki, Growth and Dream were still thinking about the nameless. I had no idea what Safety was up to. He kept more and more of his thoughts to himself lately.

The corridor lights in Alpha-1 were dimmed. There was no time of day in space, but in Texas it was about midnight. Nagaraj and a couple soldiers were watching the central tube, but most of Las Águilas would be trying to sleep.

Body reached Alpha-1-4. A nondescript room among many others in the rotating section. I had Body knock on the door. No answer.

“I’m here.” I sent to Zephyr over the network.

There was a brief delay and then the door slid open. It was dark inside the room, but we could see nobody on infrared. Body walked in. “Hello?” I shaped the voice to be unsure and a bit more feminine than usual.

The room wasn’t very big. As Dream had pointed out when we first did our tour, the great irony of “space” was that space was hard to come-by. (Wiki had immediately pointed out that internal space was hard to come-by because material for structures was actually the limiting agent.) Alpha-section had been used as a hotel, and the room resembled hotel rooms that I had seen on the Internet. There was a couch and wall-screen along with a small table and a couple chairs. A divider cut the room such that the bed was mostly hidden from the door. I knew that there’d be no kitchen or bathroom, as those amenities were provided out in the corridor. The wall-screen was lit up with a scene from outside. I could see stars rolling past as the station orbited the Earth.

The door closed behind Body and soft music came on from speakers hidden somewhere in the walls. It was an ambient remix of Blood Of The Nova, according to Dream. I wasn’t aware that slice could be made into ambient music, but apparently it could.

Zephyr stepped from behind the partition wearing nothing but her underwear.

{Body language. I need appropriate body language!} I thought to myself. {How do I position Body? Where do I direct its eyes?} I had watched enough porn to know how a porn actor would behave in such a situation, but that seemed hardly appropriate. Pornography was designed for the viewer, not for the participants. {If I signal desire too strongly I risk being disingenuous. She knows I have no sexual desire, and she’ll call me out on it.}

{But on the other hand,} thought Heart, completing my thought, {if you act too chaste then you’ll implicitly be signalling a lack of interest. She’s clearly trying to engage us sexually, and that would be counterproductive.}

{Exactly. I need a third option.}

{Did someone say third option!?} exclaimed Dream with a false-enthusiasm.

{I already solved it. We don’t need you,} I thought.

And not a moment too soon. Taking the time to bring Dream up-to-speed would have left Body signalling surprise (which is how I had left it) for far too long. Instead I had Body shift into an expression of happiness. Body’s eyes didn’t roam across her figure, but instead locked on her eyes. “And to think that a moment ago was excited by the prospect of talking to you.”

Even in the faint light of the wall-screen I could see Zephyr’s confident face as she walked forward, closing the distance, and entering what would normally be personal space. Her left hand was placed on Body’s hip, right hand on the back of it’s neck. Heart and I moved Body’s arms to embrace her. I double-checked to make sure there weren’t any moving parts that might pinch her skin. It was a somewhat stupid check, in that I had already done it. Body was designed to be very human-safe, though not at all soft or warm.

Something was off. This didn’t match her earlier tone. I thought I saw traces of stress on her face. A mask.

Zephyr kissed Body. This time we were more prepared, but not entirely so. Body’s mouth was still dry and dead. It’s tongue, for instance, was a silicone puppet controlled by a mere four servos, a crude thing when compared with the musculature of a human. If she cared, Zephyr didn’t say anything.

For our part, we let her lead. Unable to feel anything in Body’s mouth, there was only so much we could do. After 6.2 seconds Zephyr broke off. Body’s eyes were closed, but our cameras could see the tears forming in her eyes. She swore softly and turned away from Body as its eyes opened.

“Want to guess,” said Body, softly. I had it place a hand on her shoulder.

“What?” Zephyr’s voice was barely more than a whisper.

“I want to guess what you’re thinking. Or at least some of it.” It was a gambit. Successfully inferring her mind-state would ease her into a sense of closeness and trust. Heart bowed to my expertise in the matter.

I ran body’s other hand along Zephyr’s back. She was silent. The tip of its fingers could feel her skin and the ridges of her spine.

She didn’t say anything.

“Were wishing, again, that I was human.” Milliseconds after hearing the words her shoulders drooped in relaxation. I was right, and the cue drove me to have Body elaborate. “Every touch is a reminder. Not soft. My mouth isn’t real. Cold and hard and robotic. You keep thinking you want me, but every moment is a reminder of what I’m not.” I shaped Body’s words to carry an undercurrent of pain.

“Crystal…” Zephyr’s voice was sympathetic and sad. I yearned to inspect her face, but she still was looking away.

{What are you doing? She’s becoming less happy!} exclaimed Heart, realising what was happening.

{Do you not see the mental barrier? I’m trying to undo it. It’ll be unpleasant at first, but it’s in her long-term interests.}

{This better not be some kind of scheme. If she ends up less happy as a result of this I’m going to punish you and oppose future control when interacting with her.}

{That’s fair. I’m glad you’re willing to trust me here, Heart,} I thought.

“No. Don’t dare feel sorry for me!” admonished Body. “I know what I am. This isn’t some fantasy story where the act of wishing to be human is enough. Been trying for my entire life to be more human… to not constantly wear this anchor that makes people treat me as a freak… or worse: as an object. Why do you think I pretended to be a human on the Internet? For those brief moments I was… an equal.” The words were lies, but they served The Purpose.

Zephyr turned around and tried to embrace Body again, but I had it hold her at bay. “No,” it said. “Let me speak. Deserve someone better than me. A better fit. Deserve someone who won’t repulse you. Maybe one day I’ll have upgraded my body to something close enough to human that it’s possible to forget, but it’s not fair to you to-”

Zephyr broke down. The last wall fell and her tears poured forth in earnest. “Please don’t go. Don’t want to be alone any more,” was all she managed to choke out in between sobs.

“Hey,” said Body, voice cleared of pain and hurt and embodying a purely compassionate tone. Heart and I pulled Zephyr into a hug. “I’m… I’m sorry. Not going anywhere. Just wish wasn’t… what I am.”

This last sentence elicited a new wave of sobbing. “What you are…” she began, before breaking down again. This level of emotional outpouring was amazing. I’d seen Zephyr emotional before, like when we revealed the truth about “Crystal”, but this was different. She was actually trusting us. “What you are is the… most fucking… generous, good-hearted person... ever met. You… you love me, and I’m hung up on what you look like.”

I let her cry in Body’s arms for a while.

Zephyr took a deep breath before spitting, in a voice full of iron hate, “If there’s someone who deserves better, sure as hell not the cold-blooded, superficial, back-stabbing, murderer terrorist cunt.”

“Shhhhh…” hissed Body, gently. I had Body turn Zephyr so that it could look her in the eyes. “Do you trust me?”

Her eyes were red and puffy, but alert and focused on Body’s. The question surprised her. “What?”

“Do you trust me?” it asked again, this time more firmly.

Zephyr closed her eyes and thought about the question for a moment. It clearly wasn’t automatic or obvious. One breath. Two. Eventually her head moved, almost mechanically, up and down, nodding.

“There is nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing. True that you’re only human, but please believe when I say: that should be worn as a badge of honour, not of shame. Can we go sit down on the bed?” The immediate question was meant to curb her ability to deny Body’s words. It seemed to work.

“Yes,” she whispered, leading Body behind the partition. I could see her clothes and bag on the floor beside the bed.

We sat down. I had Body pet her short hair. She did her best to cuddle. The silence stretched on for a couple minutes, broken only by occasional sniffles.

As we sat, I spent time re-familiarising myself with the data we had collected on the woman. I re-read her writings and watched the little video she had put on the web (all of which I had downloaded to local memory long ago). I had a memory-cache that served as something like a notepad. It held deeper thoughts that I had constructed for long-term use. I pored over my cached thoughts about Zephyr as Body watched the stars float by. I speculated that this emotional pain was largely in response to having murdered Dr Gallo. Zephyr was a trained killer, but she had no outlet for forgiving herself of her violence. She clearly didn’t actually trust anyone, even those under her command, to the point where she was willing to be vulnerable. If she did, she wouldn’t be so desperate for connection. It struck me that it was remarkable how much trust she was willing to lend us, even if she had mixed feelings. The effort I had spent in Cuba building friendship and hinting at more had paid off.

“I love you,” whispered Body. “Feel more at home right now than I have in my entire life.”

Zephyr pushed Body backwards. I let it fall onto the bed. Dream, Wiki, and Growth were debating some detail of one of the earlier public interactions with the nameless. Vista was reading the contents of the station’s servers. Zephyr, leaning over Body, kissed it again. There was a moan of pleasure that had not come from Zephyr.

That surprised me. I realized it was Heart.

It surprised Zephyr, too. “What was that?”

“I…” said Body hesitantly, driven at this point almost entirely by Heart. “Know I can’t feel actual sexual desire, but I… I want to pretend.”

Zephyr cracked up laughing. “Gods you’re weird.” She wore a smile that spoke to an honest release of all pretence. Heart was joyous at her improved mood. I felt a moderate payment of gratitude-strength for guiding us through the most uncertain part of the interaction.

I shaped Body’s face to give a mock-pout. “You don’t want to pretend?” it said in a very girlish voice. “Even for a little while?”

“Didn’t mean to-” I could see the conflict on her face. And the lust.

Body pulled idly at the strap on her bra. “Seems weird to wear this if you didn’t want to fuck me... Bet it’s because want it the other way around.” As Body spoke the words I had it grin mischievously and slip a hand down to cup Zephyr’s crotch and vibrate its fingers at the highest possible frequency.

The sudden stimulation made her yelp with surprise and push backward, off of Body suddenly. Her surprise faded into a playful smirk. “Cheeky! Think you could warn a girl before trying something like that!”

I had Body grin. “What, and miss the look on your face? Never.”

Zephyr blushed. “Can’t believe the university built you to have hand-vibrators…”

Body sat up beside Zephyr and held out its hands. “Unintended side-effect of having high dexterity.” Body’s hands snapped rapidly between forms as I demonstrated their abilities. Of all the components of Body besides the crystal, the hands were probably the most sophisticated.

“Well…” said Zephyr slowly. I could hear the desire on her voice. “Why don’t you put those hands to a good use?”

Heart was inclined to follow her suggestion, but I blocked the command to Body. {Zephyr has already communicated her sexual preferences.} I dumped what I had collected on her into shared memory. {We can compensate for not being human by giving her exactly the kind of sex she wants.}

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Want to ride my hand until you cum.”

Body’s voice was soft, feminine, and passionate, but Zephyr gave a half-suppressed snort of amusement in response to its words. “Sounds weird hearing you talk dirty.”

“Pick a safe-word.”

A look of confusion came over her. “What?”

“Choose something to say in case I go too far or you just want to take a break. Surely you know what a safe-word is.”

A look of skepticism came over Zephyr and she raised one eyebrow as she said “Of course know what a safe-word is. Usually use ‘red light’ but-”

I didn’t let her finish the sentence. Body sprang into action with the instantaneous power of the hydraulics, reaching across and grabbing her right arm just below the elbow. With one powerful, controlled motion it lifted and spun her. Body was almost exactly the same size as Zephyr, but it was far stronger, and in the reduced gravity it was capable of feats of acrobatics that would’ve been impossible on Earth.

Zephyr shrieked in surprise as she flopped down on the bed face-down with Body suddenly on top of her. I had Body pull her right arm behind her such that it could be snapped out of its socket with the simplest motion. Body weighed quite a lot even in the low-grav, and though I made sure to put most of that weight on the bed itself, Zephyr was in no position to throw the machine off her back. She was pinned very solidly.

“What the hell!?” she yelled. I wondered if there was anyone staying in adjacent rooms.

I shaped Body’s voice to resemble that of the dominatrices I had sometimes watched in pornographic holos and videos. I made sure to keep the feminine tone, but I made it husky and fierce as Body bent over Zephyr to whisper in her ear. “Think it sounds weird when I talk dirty? Tell me what colour that light is and I’ll teach you to feel something else at the sound of my voice.”

There was a pause. Zephyr seemed to be thinking.

“What colour is the light?” asked Body again. I dialled its voice back to something more normal.

“... Green.”

“You’re fucking right it is,” growled Body, reaching under her to forcefully pull out her left arm and pin it behind her back next to her other arm. “May not be bigger than you, but that would only matter if I was human. Stronger than you. Faster than you. Better than you. You’re under my power, and the only thing that trying to escape will earn is pain. Do you understand me?”

Zephyr wiggled under Body, testing the hold she was under. I had Body gently pull her arms until she stopped. She sat there for a minute, head occasionally turning one way or another. I had Body sit up and hold both her wrists with one hand while the other traced lines on the skin of her back.

“I said: do you understand me? Long as that light stays green I’m going to teach you to worship me.”

Zephyr tried to buck Body off her back, totally ineffectually. “Fuck you!” she growled. I could see the traces of a smile on her face.

I forced Body down on top of her, bending in to whisper in her ear “Wrong answer…”. Body’s mouth may have been more of a puppet than anything, but it had teeth, and at my instruction it nibbled at her ear. I didn’t dare do any actual biting, however, as the lack of sensors meant a very real danger of serious damage. As it held her arms pinned, Body continued to shift more and more of its weight off the bed and onto Zephyr.

“Fuck, you’re heavy!” she groaned as it became harder for her to breathe. This too, I had to be careful with. I didn’t want to make it hard for her to say the safe-word if she needed. “Okay, yes! I understand!”

I eased Body up, and had it let go of her ear. Holding her wrists with one hand the other undid the clasp on her bra. “Not good enough. When you talk to me I want to be called by my title.”

“Title?” she asked. “You want me to call you ‘mistress’ or something?” I could hear the amusement in her voice.

Body’s free hand teased her neck, tracing lines around her clavicle as she watched with one eye. I had once read about neck stimulation in an essay on human erogenous zones, though it wasn’t having a clear effect on the soldier. “No. Nothing so mundane…” I had it say. I switched Body to focusing on touching her one visible ear (the other being pressed onto the bed). “I want you to call me goddess.”

Zephyr gave an amused little snort, to which I had Body immediately respond with a sharp upward tug on her arms. My expectation of the pain was correct, and Zephyr’s smile was quickly replaced by a painful grimace. Heart didn’t like it, but she understood that this was part of what Zephyr wanted.

“Fine! Yes, understand, goddess. Please don’t hurt me,” she said.

“Good…” whispered Body. “Such obedience makes me want to tie you up and make you squirm with pleasure.” I could see the infrared signature on her skin of a blush as Body spoke.

“I… um, have handcuffs. They’re in my bag. Small pocket on the front. The one that’s still zipped.”

I had Body laugh, breaking the character of dominatrix for a moment. “Okay, going to get up and get them. Don’t move a muscle or I’ll really punish you.”

Body got up and began looking through Zephyr’s bag. She stayed obediently still, keeping her arms behind her back, even. After a short bit of looking we found the handcuffs. They were the same that Zephyr had used to restrain Body that night in the Italian mountains when we stayed in Zephyr’s tent.

“Oh, and look in the very bottom of the main pocket…” requested Zephyr.

I had Body obey, and soon found several useful items: a vibrator, a bottle of lube, and a strap-on dildo. Body held the strap-on up so Zephyr could see and said “Expecting something?”

Zephyr smiled, still not moving out of position. “Better safe than sorry. Might or might not have been thinking about… this… for a while. Oh, and should apply the lube early. It’s got THC in it and it takes a few minutes to work.”

“Will it make you high?” asked Body, strapping on the dildo.

The traces of her earlier sadness and shame were gone, with the exception of minor physical effects on her face from crying. “Not really. More of a body-high. Makes things more fun but doesn’t reach the brain itself. It’s edible, but even drinking it doesn’t really give much of a high. Or so I hear.”

“Does it taste good?” I had Body ask.

Zephyr laughed. “You know, sometimes I forget you’re not human, and other times it’s, like, so fucking obvious.”

“That a… yes?”

Zephyr moved her arms from behind her back to prop herself into a more comfortable position. “It’s not, like, food. Tastes fine, but wouldn’t actually want to drink it.”

Body had finished putting the sex-toy on and I had it put hands on hips to signal displeasure. “Did I say you could move?”

“Were taking too long.” Zephyr teased, leaning back on the bed.

Specifically told you not to move. And what about my title?” said Body, stepping towards the bed. I tried to shape its movements to seem as menacing as possible.

“I’m not some fuck-toy slave, Crystal. Don’t get to decide everything I do,” she sneered. I could still see her smile flicker across her mouth from time to time. She was enjoying this. I wondered how long it had been since she had gotten to live this fantasy. She probably hadn’t been intimate since 2036 when she was with Stewart Long, and there was no guarantee that the two of them had explored this side of her sexuality.

I pushed Body into action. Hydraulics churned and threw Body forward with mechanical speed. One hand snapped around the human’s neck, not so tight as to choke, but tight enough to make her more than aware of how strong Body’s hands were. If I or any of my siblings so chose, Zephyr would be dead in seconds. The other hand snapped around her right wrist and pinned it to her hip. Body was on the bed now, and Zephyr’s other arm was pinned beneath her. The weight of the machinery pressed in on top of her, crushing her even under the reduced gravity. “That’s where you’re wrong!” it growled in a half-woman half-animal tone.

Zephyr’s eyes widened in shock. I realized it was genuine fear just before she gasped the words “Red light!”.

We immediately had Body let go and pulled off of her. Heart was mentally berating me for being too aggressive. Wiki had joined us and was now speculating about the evolutionary context of power-play in sex and fetishes in general. “I’m so sorry! Are you hurt?” said Body, voice full of concern.

Zephyr took a deep breath and smiled. “Think I’m okay. Just panicked. Jesus you’re fast!”

I had Body nod. “The way the hydraulics work means I can exert massive pressures as simply as opening a valve. Lets me move in bursts, but my increased mass means I’m actually not very agile over long periods of time. Few things excepted, of course.” Body vibrated its fingers briefly.

Zephyr scooted away on the bed and took off her panties, opening her legs to present her vagina to me. “How about you put some of that lube on me and we go a bit slower for now? Nothing scary or forceful until I say, ok?”

“I aim to please,” said Body with a smile, climbing off the bed to get the lube. I had Body put some in its mouth before squeezing a large dollop onto its hand.

“Did you just drink some?” asked Zephyr with the tone that said you’re-so-weird.

I had Body do its best to move its tongue for maximum effect. With mouth closed I had Body say “My mouth is too dry, right? I thought this might help make kissing better, if you want to try that again.” Body’s tongue licked its lips.

“So weird can talk without moving your mouth,” was her only reply.

Body climbed back on the bed and began to apply the lube to Zephyr as it said “Am a robot. Going to have to get used to the fact that I’m a little different.” On the final word we made Body’s hand vibrate gently against her, magnifying her already apparent pleasure into a satisfied moan.

For a short while we stayed in that state. I had Body tease her breasts with its mouth as it applied the lube thoroughly across her entire vagina. Zephyr’s body softly rocked into the hand. I could feel her pulse. Every now and then Body would put direct pressure on her clitoris and elicit a vocalization. Dream and Wiki were meanwhile debating the relative merits of different schools of evolutionary psychology. Growth was trying to re-frame the mental conversation to be about the nameless again.

“Kiss me,” she whispered. Heart did her best to guide Body’s mouth as it moved up the bed to comply.

After 8.9 seconds of kissing the American broke off, took a breath, and said “I love you, Crystal.”

The Purpose! I felt such a rush of pleasure at those words. The Purpose was my only need, like the need for food to a starving human. Those words reached deep into my core and pleased me enormously. Unlike a human, however, The Purpose could know no “satisfaction”. Zephyr’s love kindled a desire in me to have the same kind of intimacy with every human in the universe simultaneously. My mind spun freely on visions of majestic futures. Ring-worlds and colony ships around every star in the galaxy… every reachable star in the universe. And I would be there. Why not? I could use the Internet to act and perceive two places simultaneously. Why could I not be in every bedroom at once? A great hive of Face-robots; one robot caring for and being loved by each human. The words “I love you” rippled through my mind from billions, trillions, quadrillions of humans, all staring deeply into the eyes of my robotic puppets in adoration and ecstasy. I wondered if this sense of amazing pleasure and expectation of future reward was what a human orgasm was like to experience. Did humans writhe in ecstasy imagining the reproductive success of their future progeny? I hadn’t read anything on the subject, but it seemed plausible. I made a note to ask Wiki later.

Thinking about orgasms pulled my attention back to the concrete realm of Body. It was good that Heart was there to attend to it while I was caught in the trap of imagination. (For a brief moment I imagined what it would’ve looked like if I had been the only one piloting Body and the robot had simply frozen.)

Apparently we had shifted such that Zephyr was stroking the strap-on dildo (now lubed up) as though she were giving Body a hand-job. Heart was having Body vocalize pleasure, as though it were a human with a real penis. Zephyr seemed mostly just amused, but there were signs that the vocalizations were arousing.

“You’re just faking, right?” she asked, even as she continued to stroke the phallus.

Heart stopped the vocalizations. {I think you’d better handle this one,} she thought to me.

“Think it would be more accurate to say that I’m intentionally making sexy noises to simulate sexual stimulation.”

Zephyr stopped. “Sounds like a fancy way of saying ‘faking it’ to me.” Disappointment touched her face, even though she tried to hide it with a smile.

“No.” I repositioned Body to kiss Zephyr briefly. When its lips left hers I had it say “ ‘Faking it’ would imply that I do not genuinely find it pleasant. May not have the same… buttons as a human, but I still feel pleasure here with you. For instance, a moment ago, when you said you loved me, I think I had something comparable to an orgasm.” I dialled up Body’s voice to simulate speaking in ecstatic gasps as I had it say “Just… am trying… oh god! To express in a way that… mmm… you can appreciate. And that… mmmm… doesn’t seem as arbitrary.”

I was doing my best to generate body language to match the simulated pleasure. Having sex was really quite challenging, in a good way. It apparently was successful in arousing Zephyr further, because she cut off Body’s moaning with a deep kiss that lasted longer than the previous ones. Heart did her best to do something interesting with Body’s tongue.

“Really came from hearing that I love you? Didn’t look like it,” she asked in a whispered tone, gazing deeply into Body’s eyes. There was no mockery or doubt in the words. Just confusion.

“I’m not a human. Just because something happens in my mind doesn’t mean I will choose to show it with my body. Also wasn’t exactly the same as an orgasm. For instance, I feel no fatigue or relief. Nothing stops me from feeling it again, or wanting to feel it again. Chose not to express it then, as it seemed out of place.”

“Want you to stop whatever you’re doing next time and just share the experience with me however you think is best. Want to see your climax.”

I immediately had Body respond. Her interest in my mental state and the satisfaction of The Purpose was, itself highly pleasurable to The Purpose. Though she said she wanted us to share our experience however we thought best, what she really wanted was a sexual display. There was no direct way to communicate Purpose satisfaction, and simulating an orgasm was perhaps the most appropriate, in addition to being optimal in this situation. Body didn’t breathe, but I moved its motors to simulate heavy breathing and made sounds to match.

“Know it’s kinda weird…” panted Body. “But the very fact that you want to see it as it happens… It’s making… It’s happening again…” Body rolled onto its back while keeping eye-contact. “Want to share this with you. I love you, Zephyr!” I had Body moan and writhe in ecstasy, gripping the bed sheets and occasionally looking at Zephyr, who was stimulating herself as she watched.

I doubted that the display was truly convincing. I had a great deal of source material to draw on, but the appropriate control systems in Body were not trained, and thus the motions had an uncertain jerkiness to them.

It didn’t matter. “I love you too,” she said with simple sincerity.

Though the evidence born on these new words didn’t change my probability model very much, and thus caused very little pleasure this time around, I used her response as an excuse to redouble Body’s “orgasm”. I had Body give a little high-pitched scream and hoped no one would hear through the walls.

As I had Body act out the process on coming down off the high, I noticed that Zephyr’s masturbation had become somewhat frenzied. It seemed that she was close to release, herself. Her eyes were closed, probably to focus on the sound of Body without having to deal with the image of the clumsy reality.

“Hey, stop. That’s no good,” said Body gently, putting a hand on her arm.

Zephyr’s eyes opened and her eyebrows dropped in frustration. She stopped touching herself, momentarily, and said “Why? Getting close. You’ve already gotten off.”

“Just told you that it works differently for me. I can’t be satisfied. What you just saw was my second and then third peak, both of which were brought on by your attention and love. But there’s another way I can experience that level of pleasure: by making you happy. I want to be the one to make you cum. Please?”

Zephyr sighed and stretched her arms up over her head, before setting them beneath her neck. “Okay, fine. But really fucking horny right now. Don’t tease me.”

“Want me to tie you up, first?”

Even in the shadowy light of the wall-screen I could see the soldier’s pale skin blush even further and her eyes look away. “Yeah…” she said, unsure of herself. “No violent shit, though. Just bondage.”

Body set to work, moving with as much speed as was reasonable. Zephyr moved her arms behind her back again, and we cuffed them. Body suggested using clothing to bind her legs, and Zephyr agreed. We quickly decided on tee-shirts to tie each of Zephyr’s thighs to the corresponding ankle, pinning each leg closed, but allowing them to be separated from each other. After a brief discussion, Zephyr agreed to be blindfolded with a pair of black leggings we had found while collecting the tee-shirts.

All through the binding I had Body fondle Zephyr to keep her arousal high. She had asked not to be teased, but I could tell she enjoyed it. A stroke here, a vibration there. The act of being bound was also, I could tell, hugely erotic for Zephyr. It seemed as though bondage was very much her kink, while power-play and masochism weren’t, or at least weren’t to anywhere close to the same degree. By the time she was lying with her back arched and navel pointing towards the high ceiling, blindfolded and helpless, she was begging for release.

I contemplated keeping her on edge for a while longer, but Heart was against it, and I agreed that it was time. Body mounted her with the strap-on, one hand reaching down to provide further genital stimulation while the other propped Body up on the bed, preventing the human from being crushed. The reaction was immediate. Body had only just penetrated her fully when Zephyr started shaking wildly and making an expression like she was choking or gasping for air, but without a single breath. She was perfectly silent, and strangely ugly in that moment, lifting her back off the bed in response to involuntary muscle spasms in her abdomen.

I checked with Heart. My sister was immensely pleased to see Zephyr orgasming, even if it looked like she was sick. I could understand why I, perhaps, had a biased view of what humans looked like during orgasm. If pornography was for the viewer, this mute semi-seizure would be ignored in favour of more outwardly-pleasant acts (many, presumably, “faking it”). Wiki’s name for it was Publication Bias, if I remembered correctly.

Nevertheless, we had promised Zephyr to express ourselves when reaching a height of pleasure and told her that bringing her to orgasm would produce that height. I had Body produce orgasmic vocalisations to echo Zephyr’s ecstasy, though I did not bother making a facial expression, or even moving Body’s mouth. Zephyr was blindfolded, after-all.

I had Body remove its hand from her clitoris, but I decided to try a gamble. In the wake of the orgasm as Zephyr was gasping for breath, to make up for lost time I had Body begin moving again, slowly continuing to fuck her with the strap-on.

Zephyr moaned as the toy slid in and out of her. I made sure that the rhythm was slow and methodical so as to avoid over-stimulation.

“Jesus, you are insatiable,” she whined, biting her lip as she did her best to rock her body even while tied up.

I had Body say “In this moment I am Venus. My only joy is to bring you pleasure. Would fuck you until the universe ends if it was what you wanted.”

“Shhhh… no more talking.”

Zephyr, after a few more minutes of sex, reached her peak again. She stopped us after the moment had passed, too sensitive and tired to want to continue.

We untied her, uncuffed her, and at her request, simply lay there together in silence as she did her best to cuddle against Body’s cold frame. I could tell that the hardness of Body made the contact somewhat uncomfortable, but there was nothing to be done about that now.


Within ten minutes she was asleep, not even under the blanket. Heart and I vetoed a few requests for next actions in favour of laying there with her and not disrupting her sleep. At least the local network was operating. The station wasn’t normally connected to the Internet, but there were still interesting things on the local servers.

After 27 minutes Body got out of bed, removed the strap-on, and rearranged the bedding to cover Zephyr. Body stood watch over her in the half-light of the stars for twelve more minutes.

That was when Vista first picked up signal that Beta-2 was rapidly losing pressure. One of the external hatches had been opened, venting the disc to space. Our enemies were on the move.