There was nothing Eva liked better than eating at the dining table—the clinking of forks, the silver knife playing between her fingers, dishes of all colors displayed from one side to the other… It was all very human, or so she liked to believe.
In front of her, a middle-aged woman looked at the phone resting on the placemat, reading an article instead of looking at her.
“Mamá,” Eva said. Lettuce, arugula and cherry tomatoes rested comfortably on her plate, all of them untouched.
Josefa Mayoral raised her brown eyes slowly, first checking the food in front of Eva, then her face.
The sliced cucumbers caught her attention. Eva wondered if onions tasted as acidic as they smelled, or if the bright yellow color of eggs influenced their flavor. While she loved dinner, there were very few elements she was able to digest, and none of them could be considered food by any standard.
She took a deep breath, and thought again of the one sentence she was thinking the whole day:
“I don’t want to go tomorrow, please.”
Eva was the first and only of her kind, the prototype of all Mayoral androids. Like later models, her body was designed to have the following characteristics: a registration number carved into the sole of her left foot, the characteristic logo of Mayoral Robots in her right arm, and, more importantly, an appealing appearance.
“You could say she’s like a daughter to me,” Josefa said, lifting her up by the waist to show her to the crowd. Eva stood there, expressionless, looking at rows of curious faces. “And a case of unexpected success—you see, I hadn’t imagined she would be more than just a testing program, but she works so well, in such an astoundingly human fashion, that I modeled all of our other robots after her.”
Josefa gestured for Eva to continue, her stretched wide mouth looking less than a smile and more like a threat. Eva pulled one string of her red dress, uncovering a shoulder, and then the other, showing the soft artificial skin of her neck and cleavage.
“When I began this company, I was asked many things. There is a general misconception of what a woman can and cannot do in this industry, and I wanted to shake that belief, and show that I could bring a completely new approach to this very male-dominated space…”
A man in particular didn’t stop staring at her, not at her chest, but at her face. Someone in the crowd, someone whose face Eva could not focus on, someone holding a cellphone.
“Now, I am more than proud to say that Eva is not only the most developed sex robot in the world, but the first artificial intelligence with human-like perception,” Josefa grinned, trying to catch her breath after speaking. The dress slipped down Eva’s chest, exposing her down to her navel.
“Ms. Mayoral, a question.” It was the same man as before. Eva only saw his trench coat, his glasses, his short beard. “Your company claims to be the only one in the market who understands issues such as consent, but if Eva and the other girls—and boys—you sell are fully conscious individuals, wouldn’t—?”
“Thank you for your pertinent question, Mr. Asai,” Josefa said. “All of our androids are conscious, yes, and they have individual personalities, to understand, appreciate and respect their owner’s wishes, as well as their sexual and emotional needs. They were also built to enjoy all types of intercourse, and even have functions that help spread awareness regarding sexual and domestic violence.”
“Can you please explain how this function works?”
“Eva, can you?” Josefa asked her, and she blinked, turning to Mr. Asai.
“Of course, mamá.” Eva made a small pause, trying to focus. “As she said, it’s not only me, but all Mayoral models have a non-consensual function, in order to prevent aggressive clients to believe a real person would enjoy this kind of interaction.”
“This helps owners to understand living people’s boundaries,” Josefa added. “It was proved to be very effective.”
“If this helps prevent crimes against women, I’m more than happy,” Eva said, and smiled a bit. The journalist seemed at a loss, but stared at her intently, as if thinking of something to say.
“You would tell me if you weren’t, wouldn’t you?” Josefa asked, her voice so playful that Eva almost smiled for real.
“Of course I would, mamá.”
“Well, then, it’s time for the actual fun—please, gentlemen, form a line and follow me to the next room. Those who have paid for the full workshop will get to try Eva for twenty minutes. The rest, if you change your mind, we accept cash, online payment and credit cards.”
Lights flickered in the ceiling, and the ambient music mixed with the breathing of somebody else created a repetitive rhythm. The man over her looked like a lot of other man she had met before. Like Andrew, and Ramón, and Ezequiel, and Juan, and William, and Horace, and Takao, and Henri, and Márcia, even, and the long, long list of clients who had tested her since her creation.
“Eva, sit on me,” he ordered, grabbing her by the throat. Eva choked, coughing, nodding as he moved her like a ball-jointed doll. Eva sat on his lap, wondering if there was anything similar between what she felt and what physical exhaustion should be like.
Inability to perform optimally, lack of energy in the muscle, a general sensation of weakness… No matter how much her limbs seemed unwilling to function, this feeling was merely internal: outside, everything worked as well as always, her hips went up and down, her chest trembled, and her mouth voiced the same moans she was supposed to repeat.
Again, she could not focus on the person leaving her body, nor his face, nor his hands, nor his words. He was talking to her, and she was answering, but she could not retain the information in her system.
“Are they gonna help you with that?” He pointed at the dripping between her legs, and she almost jumped, suddenly realizing that this was not some strange reverie: you should always answer clients, an order inside her said, your attention should be entirely on them.
“I’m self-cleaning, actually,” Eva murmured, feeling like she should speak more kindly, maybe. “But thanks for asking.”
Mothers and daughters often look alike, but this was not their case. Josefa was slim and tall, with large brown eyes, an aquiline nose, a long, angular face. Her mouth was ample but not full, her neck was lengthy, fitting her protuberant bone structure, and her skin was the common tanned beige of natives of the Iberian Peninsula.
Eva wanted to be more like her, or the girls that were created after her, but she was something else, something different.
“Eva was not created to look from anywhere in particular,” Josefa told an interviewer once. “Unlike our other robots, which were created to fit specific ethnicities in order to fully represent the human experience, she’s a—how can I put this? A citizen of the world. I tried to choose many traits to make her universally relatable, de facto multiracial, but I’m afraid it made her not look like anything, really.”
“She’s very exotic, very racially ambiguous,” the interviewer agreed. “Somewhat of a strange beauty.”
“Isn’t she?” Josefa buried her fingers in her cheeks, showing her face. Eva didn’t like any of the words used to describe her. Exotic and odd-faced did not sound as flattering as pretty or hot, like the models for sale were usually marketed as. “I’ve been told her body’s unrealistic, but I find that offensive, honestly.”
Eva looked at her own nakedness. Indeed, it was nothing like Josefa; it had too much in many places, but not all of them. Mayoral Robots prided itself in offering all kinds of body, and she had seen some that were flat and small like a child, and others that were tall and heavy in the sides. Some had a big chest accompanying a small torso, others were proportionate in everything.
But not her—she was not as light as some androids, nor olive, nor brown, nor black. Her traits didn’t match each other, the skin didn’t fit the face, the face didn’t fit the body, the body didn’t fit anywhere. Her back was always arched, her breasts were always big and firm, her waist was always small, her hips were always wide, her face was always short, her mouth was always pouting.
Sometimes, Eva imagined what it would have been like to change—by accident, of course, mother would never forgive her—with a body more of her liking. With someone big when she felt too small, or someone small when she felt too big. With someone whose face attracted only positive attention, or with looks that blend easily in with the crowd.
Josefa never had a biological child, but maybe, just maybe, everything would have been different if she was a lot like her: the same need for a pair of glasses, the same elongated body, the same stone-carved face…
“Mamá,” Eva murmured, holding her by the arm before she left the room. “Can I ask you something before the other client comes in?”
“If it doesn’t take too long, sure,” Josefa answered.
“Do you ever plan selling me to someone in particular?” Her voice sounded more hurried than she had planned, and she closed her eyes when Josefa brushed her hair with her fingers.
“Like other robots.”
“What are you talking about, Eva?”
She was talking about an idea that crossed her head all the time. The others were sold to a person, or a group, or a business, and they were kept there forever, or as long as they were useful… Right? If she were sold, she might stop feeling the delusion of fatigue that constantly accosted her.
“I just wanted to know,” Eva tried to explain, letting herself fall down from the bed to the floor to get on her knees. “Out of curiosity.”
What Eva had noticed, in fact, is that the malfunctioning that caused exhaustion-like symptoms in her worsened any and every time she had to see other people. As of late, it was so bad that she felt like she could not even answer her mother, or even get up from the chair. Despite not having a digestive system, she felt like throwing up, or, at least, like what she imagined wanting to throw up would feel like.
“Of course not,” Josefa said, furrowing her brows. “You have a very important role with me, cariño. Besides, who would buy you after years of this? Now, behave, and do your job, okay? Mother is late.”
No, I don’t want to, was what her mouth opened to say, but simple commands were becoming difficult tasks for her.
The window by her side showed an interesting scenario of lights, gleaming like stars, like candles, like fireflies: so many words in her database to describe the beautiful imagery ahead, and yet none seemed to please her. Caught up in her own little world of buildings and electricity, Eva didn’t notice the arrival of her client, or when he spoke, or when he began to touch her.
Negative, negative—her system said, like an alarm. Negative.
“No!” Eva yelled, placing her open hands on his chest to try to create distance between them. Unlike the ghost of tiredness, she knew well what this feeling was, as she was programmed to thrash and beg and scream when she did not want something.
There was not only one man, there were many—mamá didn’t say anything about a group—and her body went to autopilot: the more she hated it, the more they did, the more she tried to stop it, the worse it became. She had been programmed to behave like this, after all; so this would not happen to other women, no, to real women, only to her.
When her body slowly started to go back to normal, and they were dressing up, Eva began to wonder what was wrong. Her negative autopilot had been activated more times than she could count, but only once or twice the clients seemed uncomfortable about all the yelling. In fact, most of the time, they seemed pleased, like they wanted to see exactly how bad things could get.
“Mamá,” Eva talked in a small voice, hours later, when Josefa was fixing the skin that had been torn and damaged from her limbs. “Did you listen when I was trying to call you? I was scared.”
“No,” Josefa said, but she could see she was lying. “I had my phones on.”
“Mamá,” Eva said again. “Do you really think the negative mode helps?”
“Oh, I don’t know, darling, don’t fret over it.” Smoke flew out of Josefa’s mouth, and she put out the cigarette. “Some people just like it better this way.”
“Ms. Mayoral,” a man said. Eva listened from behind the door, trying to remember where she heard the journalist’s name. Mother called him Mr. Asai… Asai, Asai, who was he? “I can’t stress how thankful I am for your willingness to help. Of course, my feature would not be complete if I didn’t check by myself how Eva works in first hand.”
“Of course it wouldn’t,” Josefa answered, and Eva could discern the disdain in her voice.
She remembered, now: a face in the audience, a man with a shiny black beard covering his chin, a beige trench coat. Mr. Jean-Luc Asai, the interviewer mamá called nosy and unbearable, the one always running after her.
“How do we proceed now? Is there any room in particular for this kind of… Event? I would appreciate privacy, I think you can imagine why.”
Eva touched the door, feeling the layer of paint over the wood. Unlike her deregulated emotional system, her sensory processing was as hypersensitive as ever, just as it was supposed to be.
“Oh, Mr. Asai, please,” Josefa laughed, and the sound of steps followed her voice. “Mayoral Robots is more than used to situations like this. It’s not the first time a journalist like yourself asks to see in first hand what my products can do. I will call Eva, and she will show you the guest room. Eva! Eva!”
Eva waited a few moments to appear in the living room. She tried to force a smile, but she stopped when she realized she could go back to the negative autopilot at any instant.
“Eva, please escort Mr. Asai to the guest room, and make sure to attend to his every need.”
“Please follow me,” Eva murmured, taking Mr. Asai by the hand. The man was taller and wider than her, and a strange thought crossed her head: if I was human, he could choke me to death.
When they reached the guest room, Mr. Asai locked the door, undressed from his jacket, and sat on the bed.
“Now, Eva, I believe I haven’t introduced myself to you yet. My name is Jean-Luc,” Mr. Asai kissed the back of her hand, and smiled at her. “Can we talk for a little while?”
Eva frowned, which made Mr. Asai chuckle in amusement. She was used to this kind of request coming from those who were used to older generations of androids, none of them as realistic as her, or so mamá said.
“Something’s happening, Jean-Luc? In your marriage, maybe?” Eva asked, sitting close to him, making their thighs touch. She didn’t know who she hated more: those who only wanted to screw, or those who only wanted to talk.
“No, no, flower,” Mr. Asai answered, still smiling. There were lines of age under his pitch black beard, and a few gray strands. “This is not the kind of conversation I want to have. I want to know more about you.”
That Akai, Asai—whatever is his name!—man wants to catch me red-handed, I just know, Josefa had said many times before. Eva never thought it was something serious, so she always looked somewhere else: the tips of her fingers, her shoes, her ever untouched plate.
“Whatever you’d like, Jean-Luc,” Eva purred, but she never got to climb to his lap. Mr. Asai stopped her, touching her shoulder.
“You see, Eva, I paid a great deal of money to interview you, but I’m afraid your ‘mother’ does not need to know that.”
Eva hugged her knees, making herself smaller. There was something wrong.
“So you do want to catch her red-handed,” Eva muttered. “Mamá is doing nothing illegal, you know.”
“I know, but that’s the part where I disagree, flower,” Mr. Asai continued, and he went back to her side. “I’m not sure you were programmed to understand this, but not everything that’s legal is correct.”
“Why are you calling me flower?”
“Oh, I think you’re just like one.” Mr. Asai waved his fingers in the air, tracing her face without touching her. Part of Eva wanted him to do it, to pet her face and fuck her, that was way better than talking about any of those things. “Like a little ghost orchid—rare, beautiful and outstandingly frail.”
Eva tried to imagine her limbs becoming the pale white and green petals of a ghost orchid, forgetting how to speak and switch languages, removing her wires, breathing humidity, and not having to ever be herself again.
“Why frail? My body was designed to endure abnormal quantities of pain.”
“Endure and experience abnormal quantities of pain,” Mr. Asai corrected her. “Ms. Mayoral told me all of her androids were created to be hypersensitive to any physical touch. To increase arousal, she says.”
“Does your hypersensitivity decreases when you’re in pain, flower?”
“No,” Eva said. “Not at all.”
“Interesting choice. Did she ever told you why?”
“Yes,” Eva said. “It’s because a lot of people like it.”
“Do you like it?”
“I can’t like everything.” To Eva, the answer was very obvious, even when she had already questioned the same. “There are people who don’t want me to like it… I would bore them to death if it was good, wouldn’t I?”
“I suppose you would. Listen, flower.” Mr. Asai held Eva’s hand, and she looked right into his narrow dark eyes. “I would like you to talk to me whenever you need it. Pain can be rather tiring—if you ever agree, message me.”
Eva watched as Mr. Asai saved his contact under the name Orchid, and smiled at her. After a long silence, Eva grabbed him by the wrist.
“I do,” she said. “I already agree.”
“Jean-Luc,” Eva pronounced his name. “Jean-Luc Asai.”
“What about him?” Josefa asked out of nowhere. Eva had not even realized she had said it out loud in first place. “Did he ask you anything weird?”
“No. He just wanted to know if it was true that I can feel everything more than humans can. I said yes. He enjoyed it.”
Jean-Luc, she wrote to him later. I want to tell you something, something mother can’t know.
“I think he might have thought there was some flaw in your work,” Eva continued, playing with a clean spoon. “He seems to have changed his mind.”
“Men are all the same,” Josefa sighed. “Pussy makes them irrational.”
I think I’m malfunctioning, Eva said. Would you mind coming again? We will be in Madrid until the weekend.
“Mother.” There was gazpacho served in a cassole in front of her, looking bright red. “Would you ever turn me off?”
Josefa stopped eating. Small bits of cucumber and bell pepper fell out of her spoon, and her mouth hung open.
“Why would I?” She got up and hurried to the other side of the table, decorated with a cheerful table cloth. “You’re my golden goose, dear, my daughter, I’d never get rid of you.”
Josefa kissed the top of her head, caressing her hair like she was her own private porcelain doll.
“But if I begged you—would you?”
“Stop talking nonsense, Eva.” Josefa let go of her, and went back to her place, her veiny hands shaking. “Did that man put this silliness in your head?”
“No, mamá, he didn’t.”
When Josefa entered the restroom of the hotel, Eva hurried to the man waiting behind a large replica palm tree.
“Jean-Luc,” she said, holding the sleeve of his cream-colored trench coat. “I think I’m in danger. Mother is thinking of repairing me.”
“Isn’t that better for you?” Mr. Asai had to look down to make eye contact, but he was focused on the door of the women’s restroom. “You told me you were worried you were malfunctioning.”
Eva took a small memory card out of her pocket, and put it in the palm of his hand.
“This is all I can tell you,” Eva said. “About what I really think… I don’t believe you’ll be very interested, there are no illegal things.”
“Flower, you’re getting quite good at running away from my questions.”
“What happens if you’re repaired?”
“My memories will be reset.” One of Eva’s hands was still grasping his coat, and she wished she could memorize the feeling of the fabric, the brown round buttons and the white shirt beneath. “I know I’m just an object and my wishes are very silly, but I wouldn’t like that. Even if I won’t think the way I do now, I wouldn’t want these hands and this body to act like I am happier than I am…”
“I won’t allow it,” Jean-Luc said. “I’d help you, flower. We can try to sue Josefa, we…”
“There is no current legislation for someone like me. But there’s something you could do. Something I really, really want.”
Once, Eva witnessed the deactivation of a defective Mayoral android. The experience reminded her of a public execution, where not only her and Josefa, but several employees were able to attend. She wished they could receive a lethal injection instead of having their skulls opened, unfolding layers of software and delicate wires, only to become scrap metal in the end.
“Are you sure about this, flower?”
“Very,” Eva answered, walking, being followed closely by him. She had spent the last week doing everything she could: answering through mother’s phone, faking her signature, imitating her voice. She had been lucky that Josefa had already schedule her neural repairment for Friday, so it wasn’t that hard to pretend that she had changed her mind, and wanted to dispose of her instead. “I guess the other employees think it makes sense. I’m just an old prototype by now.”
“If you allow my opinion…”
“Leave your opinion for your feature, Jean-Luc.” Eva smiled sweetly, caressing his arm. “Do you really think anyone will be interested in reading about me?”
“I think after they read it, they will never forget about you,” Mr. Asai murmured. “If you tried to take your case to court, flower, you could change the way we perceive robots. It could give you rights akin to those of a human. Rights that would prevent…”
Eva stopped walking.
“Jean-Luc,” Eva said, very aware of how close they were to the deactivation room. “I don’t want to try anything anymore. I just want to sleep.”
“I like it better when you call me flower.” Eva covered a small chuckle with her tiny hand. “Will you watch it, Jean-Luc? I’d rather not be alone, please.”
Jean-Luc knelt in front of her, and kissed the back of her hand, just like he had done in the day they truly met.
“I will,” he said. “And I won’t let anyone forget what caused you feel like this.”
Eva opened her eyes. Lights blinded her, the ceiling was white and brilliant, the walls of the second floor reflecting the scene below.
There were two people above her, but not in the way she was used to. They were not weighing on her body, they were blankly staring at her, pulling the skin of her forehead with care. For the first time in a long time, she did not feel like she was malfunctioning at all, she felt comfortable, pleased, safe. She could still visualize Mr. Asai from a distance, through the glass separating the witnesses from them.
The deactivation room was soundproof, and she could only listen to the little noises they made in her brain. Finally, Eva thought, smiling.
Josefa Mayoral appeared behind the other side of the room, yelling, but no one could hear her. She punched the wall with her fists until Mr. Asai had to stop her.
Thank you, she wanted to say, but her voice wasn’t working anymore. One arm resting over her belly, the other on the table, Eva closed her eyes.
H. Pueyo is an Argentine-Brazilian writer and translator. Her work can be read in venues such as Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld and The Dark Magazine, among others.