I found, as time went on, that my emotional responses became more normal. That is to say, the odd detached feeling that I had experienced went away.
Doing an autonomous diagnostic I found that I could examine my "system software"; I could actually examine the computer code which made me who I was, and it looked like I could alter it, too.
There was a library of information in my computing core which explained all the functions of my software--even the ones which were obviously of Kelv'v'aran origin!--and I could see that my internal software was self-modifying code. It allowed my operating system to self-adjust itself.
I still didn't understand how Alyssa had done it, but the Kelv'v'aran code was obviously at the root of it.
Anyway, after about six months had passed, I found myself with approximately normal emotional responses. I still had a lot of trouble with sexual attraction--I couldn't stomach the idea of being attracted to a man--but the device drivers for the female genital module were designed for some pretty specific behaviors.
I couldn't decide what I wanted the code to do, either. Oh, I knew that as a female I should prefer the company of men, but my habits said otherwise; being sexually attracted to men just felt wrong to me, no matter what my actual hardware was.
Since I had no trouble being antisocial--I had been so for a long time, before this--I kept to myself and did my own thing. I kept up the vehicle repair business, but I rarely went into town and almost never left my property. It kept me from having to deal with the issue of what my sexuality, ultimately, would be. (That did not keep me from performing certain...experiments...but that's not something I'm going to discuss in detail.)
At the end of August, I found that I needed to go to town for some shop supplies; so I fired up the old pickup truck and headed for the auto parts store.
"Hey, Bill," I said as I came into the store.
"Mornin', Cassie. What'cha need today?"
"Gasket shellac, and another bottle of anti-seize," I said, going to the appropriate aisle. I knew the place fairly well. I set the containers on the counter, then headed back into the aisles. "I also need some high-zinc...yeah," I said. I carried a case of 5w-30 to the counter and set it aside the other items. "Have you got a carb kit for a 1981 Caprice?" I asked him.
"Let me check," he said. Bill ambled back into his shelves, and a couple of guys came into the store.
"Holy crap, lookit her," one of them said to the other.
"Hello, girlie!" The other one said.
I raised an eyebrow and picked up the gasket shellac, pretending to read the label.
"Cassie, I've got two of 'em in," Bill said. "It's $36.50 with tax."
"All right; I'll take it."
"That'd be George Miller's car, hey?"
"Yes," I said with a smile. "What's the total?"
Bill rang it up and I paid him, then began to collect my purchases.
"Need help?" One of the other guys said. He looked like he was maybe eighteen.
"No, thank you," I said.
I drove home, still feeling their eyes on me--well, it still made me feel wrong, somehow, to be female. I'd been a few months past sixty-five when I died; and I'd been female for all of half a year. Being a man was a hard habit to break.
Alyssa was waiting for me when I pulled up at the garage. "Bill called from the parts store. He would like you to call him back as soon as you can."
"Did he say why?"
I went to the house and made the call. "What's up, Bill?" I asked him.
"Those two boys that were in here when you were, they were asking about you," he told me.
"Do you know who they were?"
"Nah, they weren't local; they said they were from Hadley, just passing through. I sold 'em a rebuilt alternator, so I expect they had car trouble--look, I'm just sayin', they made me kinda nervous."
"Okay, thanks, Bill. I'll be careful."
I hung up the phone and sighed. I hadn't been followed; anyway crime was pretty nonexistent these days--jobs were relatively easy to find, and anyone who wanted to work could, and there were no jobs that paid only subsistence wages. There was a lot of work to be done and not enough people to do it. Economically, people were still cheaper than machines were.
I should have thought that through a little farther. Again, my habits said "man"; I wasn't worried about my own safety.
I went back out to the shop and had gotten the carburator off the Caprice's engine when another car pulled up. I took it over to the workbench as someone ambled into the shop.
"Hey...I hear you fix cars."
"That's right. Have a problem?"
"No, I just think it's really great that such a hot chick knows how to fix cars."
I looked up from the carb; it was one of the kids from the parts store.
"I'm very busy, here," I told him flatly. "I don't have time to chat." He kept moving towards me; I set my hand on the screwdriver I'd just set down. "You should leave now," I added.
"I just wanted to get to know you," he told me, still moving forward. He was only about four feet away from me; and a sudden sound behind me reminded me that he'd had a buddy--
Something ricocheted off the back of my skull.
Although my chassis was close to mil-spec, the hardware had not been designed for severe duty. Several error messages popped up in my mind, warning me that my balancing system had been disturbed beyond auto-correction and that I would have to lay down to allow it to recover. I fell over, right into the arms of the one in front of me; and before I could do anything they had me laid out on the floor.
"Jesus, did you have to hit her so hard? What if you killed her?"
"Relax, she'll be fine."
"Gimme your knife." The one in front took the knife and started cutting off my clothing, pausing to grab a handful of breast. "Damn, lookit those tits!"
The balancer was taking its own sweet time to recalibrate--well, I estimated it wouldn't take long enough for them to get started. I let them think I was unconscious, thinking, Damn it, I liked that pair of pants.
"Okay if I go first?" The one in front said, fumbling with his pants.
He was just kneeling between my spread legs. His buddy was holding my wrists; I easily pulled out of his grip and slammed my open palm into the center of the first one's face. He fell back, gurgling, his nose fountaining blood, as I pulled my other hand towards my navel.
Now off balance, the other one got my free hand in the center of his gut, propelling him over me and into his buddy.
I rolled to my feet and faced them, crouched low. "Are either of you still able to fight?" I taunted.
The second one got up, holding his gut but standing, and he pulled out a knife. "I'm gonna gut you, bitch," he said.
"Bring it on," I told him with a cold smile.
He feinted and struck, and I didn't bother to react; the knife sank into my abdomen, just below my solar plexus, damaging one of my coolant reservoirs. He twisted the knife, and then his eyes went wide when I didn't react. I gave him an extra moment to realize that something wasn't right; and then I reached up and broke his neck.
I hadn't actually intended to do that; I had intended just to lay an uppercut on him--but I hit him hard enough that his chin rotated past vertical, and his neck emitted an unpleasant "pop" as it broke.
He fell over like a sack of oats, leaving the knife in me.
For a moment I didn't know what to do, exactly. If I had been human, the obvious thing would have been to leave it there until a doctor could remove it--but I wasn't, and if a doctor got a look at me, the jig, as they say, would be up.
I evaluated the damage to my coolant reservoir. It was one of several; finally I decided to pump the coolant out and close the valve, then let the material auto-repair. I had not lost much coolant into my abdominal cavity, and what was there would be transported back to the cooling system by the housekeeping nanobots; once the reservoir was empty I removed the knife.
It took only a few seconds for the skin to seal, and it left me with a small trail of coolant running down my belly. The stuff was a lot like automotive transmission fluid, I noticed.
The first one was laying on the concrete and twitching. Like his buddy, I had hit him harder than I'd thought; it looked like I had driven his septum into his brain.
"Well, I've got to call the police," I said to myself, so I went to the house.
<* * *>
By the time an officer arrived, the first guy had died. I had changed my clothes, keeping the shredded ones to show the police. The knife, however, I had carefully poured transmission fluid onto, and left a jug of the stuff laying there, as if it had been knocked off the bench in the fray.
I had also been careful to trigger a few subroutines.
"...so I hit him. I didn't know what else to do," I sobbed. "I didn't mean to kill him!"
"It's all right, Miss Watson; it's clearly self-defense," the officer said.
"Boss, I got an ID on this guy. He's Marco DeMonceau, from Hadley. Wanted for suspicion of robbery," the officer's partner said, holding up the guy's wallet.
"Hmm," the officer said. "That puts an entirely different face on the matter. Did we search the vehicle?"
<* * *>
Alyssa watched as the coroner's van drove away. "You killed them?"
"It was self-defense," I said lamely. I still didn't know how I felt about it.
"It proves that you are more than a robot," she told me.
"I suppose it does."
"A robot could not have killed them. A robot could not even have harmed them."
"A robot would have to have let them rape it?"
"They would not have to rape a robot; they could just tell the robot to have sex with them."
"What if they didn't know it was a robot? Besides, rape isn't usually sex; it's violence."
Alyssa looked at me with those mauve eyes. "I think the answer to that question is philosophical at best. A robot would not resist such action, regardless."
"What about the Third Law?"
"Sex is not harm. Not even forced sex. The robot would only try to avoid damage," she said. "It could not fight back, but it could run away."
I sat in my favorite chair and tried to think. I hadn't needed the air conditioner all summer; the past few years had had very mild summers and bitter cold winters. "I don't know what I feel, Alyssa," I said at last.
"I am unable to help you."
#299: Singularity, part XVI
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