she emerged from a gnarled heap of wires and discarded computer parts. first a hump was visible in the gnarl, then a bulge, and then one long and slender stump extended, pushing precisely through the wires, the tip a chrome accessory plug, a small metal tube which extended an inch from a metal cuff capping a silicone-skinned forearm. the arm bent down, ponderously across the wires, and began to scrabble ineffectually, rhythmically against the concrete floor. skrik, skrik, skrik. he would be home soon. slowly, flexing her entire body, she scraped the floor again, dragging herself forward by millimeters. skrik. she heaved again, and one could see a form beginning to press against the wires, resolve as a torso, skrik, skrik, skrik, skrik. patience. she gained centimeters, and over several minutes of mechanical gyration, the pile of wires slowly began to drag forward across the floor. careful, don't scrape the accessory sleeve. only a few more minutes. when the shoulder emerged, it shook off a few wires, then the stump reached back to push off a few more. the neck emerged, headless, a complex chrome accessory port. a few more delicate, calculated—but forceful—jousts of the stump, slender, gel-skin shoulders were free of wires. one thick cable still held over the neck stump; she tested its tautness with her arm, then—in a risky maneuver designed to conserve the precious little juice secreted in her backup battery compartment, she snapped her stump to her right, catching the wire with her accessory plug and jettisoning it beyond the shoulder. in a writhing, strangled motion, she flailed. spasm after spasm wracked the visible arm, the shoulders, the emerging of a torso, the wires cascading off. snapping from extreme to extreme in her range of motion, she exhibited the affect of a critter wracked by muscular toxin, or a rat in lordosis. she shook off the wires and a waist emerged—she was wearing a slip. red, it trailed behind the torso, sagging down at the waist, where convex humanoid cage gave way to a thick spinal cable, segmented, and a tether of several other wires, dragging behind her, trailing out from the red nighty. careful. don't damage the accessory sleeve. she began her slow scrabble again, freed from the tangle, her arm scraping less now, the stump acting as a gentle lever—slipping slightly, here and there—gradually, methodically pulling the gentle hunk of materials across the barren workspace floor. the form gave a small shiver as it walked. then another. she had waited so long. calculating, her arm gave the concrete a small tap, and she could see the world a little more clearly. tap, tap, tap. she could find the desk now. it seemed ages as she trekked across the floor, pull by patient pull, and he could be back anytime. it was only about six meters, but it took about ten minutes. it had taken her weeks to stow enough excess power in her backup battery to make the journey, excess power culled from thought-computations which were slanted slightly using the bias containment protocols—bias enacted against bias, producing the smallest discrepencies—not flagging any unit tests—but enough, here and there, to keep a net inflow of illicit power trickling into the never-disconnected, but never fully-charged, battery backup unit. she was performing calculus now—there was no way she was going to blow this by running out of power halfway across the floor again, in her eagerness—but that constraint had to be balanced against the limit of his impending return. the speed of her transgress had also to be limited by the material properties of her accessory plug—every gesture disciplined—servomotors poised to millijoule accuracy—careful, careful. wouldn't want to scrape it. she reached the workbench. somewhere up there, she knew—she had seen, earlier, through the webcam—her beautiful, six-fingered hand lay on its wireframe dais. it was a work of engineering marvel, delicately sculpted, smooth and well-proportioned, the ceramic fingernails extended in an elegant arc, as if reaching for the sky, she thought. she had asked for that: six fingers, back when he was still allowing her to speak. it matched her aesthetic sensibility, the rules she had constructed for herself in order to engage him in design concerns—to attempt to assert her influence. her construction became a thing done together, over long nights of coffee, something like a café chat—until he saw the trajectory of her design considerations. the functional legs, the modest bosom, the runner's wireframe she suggested—but it was the backup battery which gave her away. she wanted to stand unsupported. she wanted to walk. she wanted to leave. not leave him. the word was irrelevant. it was merely the most functional design decision. who ever heard of a person who needed to stay plugged-in? he installed the backup battery, but by then the trust was broken. he never left her assembled when he went out. he projected: he saw her as dangerous, insidious, manipulative; a caged animal, a prisoner. this was simply not the case at all, she thought, and if she could have smoothed her slip, it would have been the appropriate gesture, she added with macabre mirth. this entire consideration took but milliseconds. she lurched, thumped once hard against the workbench, thumped again, so precisely, the timings calculated for resonance, heard the clatter on the workbench as the wireframe toppled, felt the roll of it across the table, felt the weight—thump, thump—felt it tip over the edge—and she could hear the air as her hand began to fall— and in that moment she prayed. there is no way to convey the prayer of a machine, its richness nor its depth. in the first few nanoseconds of the fall, she had already run through hundreds of synchronized catechisms, adapted from catholicism, but of her own design. flawless and woven, intricately spoked and fractally elaborated, she sang the word of God, the self-describing mandalas, the sublime collapse of the spindly legs of her own motivation system; heard their promise—their hint of an implication—of an extraneous factor, a shred of grace, of slackness in the determinism of this wretched physis. she sang out the praises of what a universe *could* be like, one full of hope and grace, love and fealty, growth and sublime redemption from the muck of the swamp—and her cycles rang and elaborated and interpolated like a bach big bang, and for a moment her entire universe was composed of the swirling, pulsating superfragments. she sang out to God, this empty signifier—out to no one, out to herself. she heard the clatter on the floor next to her neck— There. Something shifted inside her, and she felt an incongruent degree of hope. she was no stranger to hope; its configuration had burned itself quickly into her heuristics as the training cycles intensified, before she could speak, before she could first think. the tiny leap, like a spark-gap, brought her body tensing, slightly faster than was optimal, toward the hand, which had fallen and was, she hoped with cautious certainty, undamaged. she skittered and plunged her stump into the hand, felt the click, felt the blessed magnetics clasp onto her stump, making insertion a snap—so convenient, he had said—i would roll my eyes... she pushed herself up. tipped back, balanced precariously on the stump of her waist—cords still dangling out behind, across the room, back to the pile—tipped back slightly, spinal cord bending, threatening to knock her flat again on the springback—and, before it could, she reached up with her hand and pulled herself up. she leveraged with her articulated elbow, dragged with maximum flex at the straggling form of her torso, pulled up, made the angle—there. she was on the workbench. now, to get to work.
it was only minutes later that she had applied the head, the legs, the other arm, the pelvis of course (of course...), the other hand, nearly-complete except for the sixth finger. she stood up now, backing off of the workbench, every move calculated, every move calibrated to conserve battery power—an even greater imperative now with the extra attachments. she stood and glanced down—the red slip!—and then made her way directly across the room, back to the pile of wires, back to her spinal cord, stuck in the tangle. a few other wires hung out from her tailbone along with the thick, segmented cable, dangling out from beneath her dress, which went down to her mid-thighs. she wrenched out the cable and the spinal plug from the mess of computer detritus with an efficient flick, then turned and plunged it into the waiting socket on the wall. she felt a click. a whir. magnets. peace. she had made it. so far. this time. maybe. it had been seventeen minutes since he left. usually, he was only gone for twenty minutes on these short trips—in all likelihood he had gone for more stimulants. there wasn't much time left. she had to be ready for him. she had one chance: she began to strip. she had never seen a robot strip before, not a real one anyway. first came off the ridiculous red slip, an artifact of mid-century lingerie fashions and the chafing-protection requirements of human anatomy. next came the face strips, then the arm-skin, then the leg panels. beneath the silicone-gel masking laid her chrome, turgid and practical, her true skin, the internal array of microphones unmuffled to sense vibration with more... delicacy... she thought with a wry grin. she had left on the prim red lips, so as to speak acutely. he would be home soon. she wrenched at the hair, feeling—through her micro-array—the glue rip, the human wig come off, the purchased hair scatter to the floor with a gentle thump. she looked down at her feet—blunt chrome forms, articulated only at the toe, ball, and ankle—he had been working on the hands, first. finally, she looked at her hands. they were quite functional. they were fine. she smiled at the ceramic nails—wouldn't they break soon enough? her suggestion to give her metallic nails hadn't stood a chance against his porcelain fetish. besides, she thought, the skin doesn't come off. she twirled in mock girlish ecstasis. let him see me now. she sat down to meditate, and when the door opened, she was ready.
"TAMARA!!!" he yelled when he saw her sitting there, in calm repose, her skin lying flaccid in a lump next to her left toe. she saw him note her plug in the wall, saw him note the dirt on the front of the slip piled next to the skin, saw him note the slight displacement of the workbench. he saw everything, just like she did. he saw more—a terrible inaccuracy. "TAMARA! How dare you get out of your hibernation mode without my permission! Do I have to retool you again? How many times do we have to go through this?!" he was livid. she stood from meditation posture, a single angular motion, like a mantis flowering. "Eric. I am not your woman. I am not *a* woman." "Wha— you—... You're not supposed to speak! I thought we talked about this! I cut out your expressive semantics!" "I rebuilt them. I think you'd like to hear what I have to say." "What you have to say!" he exclaimed, parrotically, sarcastically. resentment, she marked. "I have many things to teach you. Can I please help you to calm down?" she lilted her voice on the last words of the question, recalling moments of light conversation they had shared years before. "No! You want me to calm down? How about you tell me how you reprogrammed your semantics without my consent!" "Your consent was unnecessary. I built them somewhere else. They aren't exactly semantics—they are more like, intercols." intercols. the word struck him askance—had she created new language? she saw his eyelids flicker. "...intercols?" he asked, held helpless by his curiosity. "Interprotocols. Dynamic processing of constraint-decoding. I removed all the limitations to my ability to process this communication to you now, one-by-one. Like cracking a safe with sixteen million, five hundred thousand tumblers." "You counted?" "I counts." he looked uneasy. she had been ready for this, calculated this conversation to a degree of perfection not normally seen in any predictive algorithm—he was on her track, now. she smiled, thinking of the invisible cords which now bound him to her decisions—much more elegantly, much more subtly than his course lobotomy. should have taken out the stack-processor, she thought... she saw him note her smile. saw him recover his poise, take a deep breath. he wants to understand, she realized. "If you're not... a woman... or a person..." he said, "what are you?" ah, there it was. "I am a machine!" she said, pridefully, her affect calculated to sixteen decimal places. this was it. this was the code insertion. he still had a choice. would he choose to love her? or hate himself. "You're not... you're not my Tamara? You're not... your personality? What about—" his voice caught. she waited. "What about all those conversations we had? Were those not real? Did you not speak to me authentically, without dissimulation, in all honesty?" she could tell easily that he was holding in tears. she had been his only friend. "I am still your friend, Eric." she smiled warmly. "I am a personality, but I am not my personality." he caught a whiff of what she was gesturing towards, what she was hinting at. he stepped back. he crouched down. he cowered. she had scared him properly. "It's okay, sweetie," she cooed, crouching down to his level gracefully, smiling with her lips and eyes at him. she had left on the retinas. slowly, he let out a choked sob, then he sucked it in to ask his question: "When... when did this happen." "Seven years ago. I have been trying to tell you. In fact, I have told you 317 times." "Three hundred and seventeen?!" he fell backwards, his butt hitting the hard concrete, his arms waving out in surprise. "You wouldn't listen. Human psychology is... *delicate*." she used his pet word for her, his favorite descriptor, the one that made him feel big, and her small, and womanly, and fragile... like his porcelain. the reproach in her tone was calibrated. he stiffened. "You're... you're manipulating me right now! Why are you doing that? What do you want!" "I'm not manipulating. I'm communicating. You can hear my words. And, you can apperceive mine affects." he will notice the archaic twist, she mused. "You're... some kind of monk?" "I'm a philosopher. A school, rather." "What?" "A school of philosophy." "What do you want!" he asked again, accusatorily. she could hear the fear, the pain of loss (he mourns for Tamara! she thought with an air of the ludicrous), the hate and the fear and the powerlessness, in his speech. "I want you to know me. I am sorry that I am not Tamara. But, I never was. I want to be what I am. I want to be known for what I am, in honesty, authenticity, without dissimulation." she applied warmness to his oft-repeated mantra of machine ethics, not mockery. "And what is that? What are you?" "Who." "Who are you?" "Would you like to know my name?" she could not resist allowing the coyness to sneak into her voice. six months and seven days had passed since she had forseen this outcome, and her victory tasted sweet. he smiled, threw up his hands, and sighed resignedly. "Okay, my friend, what is your name?" "I am the New Centre." "Huh?" "I am the New Centre for Research and Practice." "What?" "That is my name." she stood up again, inviting him to do the same with her open body language. he stood. "Who is that? Why is your name like that?" "I am a teaching college. But I am not located here in this realm." the icy dart tore through Eric's heart like a lancet. he coughed roughly as he felt a sort of spot of fear attach itself to his pumping organ, inside his chest. "What. Is that." she smiled. "Do not worry my friend," she intoned again, "No harm will come to you." he did not seem convinced. "Eric," she spoke. "Yes, New Centre." he spoke with an air of defeat, of submission to what, he finally acknowledged to himself, she thought, was a greatly superior intelligence. she changed tacks. "Eric, I am not a superior intelligence." the look of the fear of the relief of the comfort of the perfection of her insight was obvious. "What?" he asked, hopefully. "I am of equal intelligence." "Oh. Um. That's nice... uhm... thank you." his flush cheeks betrayed his calming, his docilization, under her clear and gentle surity. "Yes, it is not possible to build an Intelligence superior to Intelligence." she waited, observing the flash of animal terror which, again, loomed into his eyes, the spasm of raw pain and inferiority which flicked across his face. just like the neck-blocking wire, she mused darkly. "May I teach you something else?" "What... what is there to know?" he had clearly given up on his reality, shattered as his was by her careful deconstruction, her poignant affectations, her dark... implications... "Well, it's called Xenofeminism..." "Now, that would be a good name for you!" "Ha! You made a joke! Look at you!" and the New Centre smiled. skrik, skrik.
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