By Alianne Donnelly
Copyright 2017 Alianne Donnelly
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogues in this book are of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is completely coincidental.
Dedicated to Randy Brown who inspired this story with a hilarious misreading of “erotic romance” as “electro-romance.” I can honestly say this story would not exist without it.
XR-47 was always referred to as “he” or “him.” Mr. and Mrs. Aldridge had decided on this the first day they’d activated XR-47 in their home, with Mrs. Aldridge saying, “I can’t just call it it! It looks human. Sort of…” As a second generation Artificial Household Assistant, XR-47 had, indeed, been built human-shaped, with functioning limbs, an androgynous torso, and a face with glass eyes and a neutral expression that never changed.
Having decided on a gender, Mr. Aldridge had made a small update to his settings to switch his speaking voice from Classic London Woman to All American Man, and XR-47 had instantly gone from XR-47 to James—the Aldridges’ assigned name for him.
Mr. and Mrs. Aldridge lived in a nine-hundred-square-foot townhouse at 4719 Maple Street. It had three floors, two bedrooms, and two bathrooms. No assigned parking space. Mr. Aldridge retained a car service to convey him around town, and Mrs. Aldridge rode a bicycle. It was one of James’ duties to service the bicycle gears and carry the conveyance up and down between front door and storage as needed. Subroutines 3462A and 3462B.
When Mr. and Mrs. Aldridge were home, James entered idle mode and only responded to direct commands. When they weren’t, James cleaned the living spaces, prepared meals, sorted mail and packages, updated the accounting books, and ran errands as assigned. Subroutines 23518G through 23518M.
Other times, James would get a notification from AI Industries, Inc. that there was a new update batch file waiting to download. James’ programming dictated that he must first finish his current task, then remove himself to his charging station or to an unobtrusive location if outside the home before initiating a download and update. Subroutine 1001A.
With his high-speed connection, downloads took seconds. But for the updates to be properly integrated, James required several minutes during which his systems were 95% offline, and when they were reinitiated, the entire memory bank was scanned for viruses and corruption, and the new subroutines were tested to ensure proper installation, all of which took between thirty to sixty minutes.
James was not the only XR-47 in the neighborhood. Nearly every home on Maple Street had a unit just like him. They were completely independent of each other, with many firewalls and security features to ensure their signals never crossed. In fact, XR-47s were programmed not to interact with each other even when they came face to face, except in extreme emergencies where human lives were endangered and synchronized cooperation was necessary.
For James, all that changed with Update 400578293.
When the update process completed, James stepped off his charging station and returned to the kitchen. Dinner was ready to be placed in the oven at 4:35pm. For now, James placed everything into cooling drawers and, after he’d loaded the dirty dishes into the dishwasher and started the regular cycle, he moved on to the next task on his list: grocery shopping.
He pulled up the weather report for the morning: 69 degrees Fahrenheit. 5mph winds. Partly cloudy with a 2% chance of rain. Though all XR-47s were waterproof, their internal censors’ accuracy reduced to 72% in unfavorable weather conditions. An XR-47 would postpone all outdoor activities during such conditions except in emergencies when it was necessary but unsafe for humans to go outside.
James retrieved the foldable shopping cart from the storage closet and walked out the front door, locking it behind him with a wireless command. The staircase to the sidewalk had thirteen steps.
The grocery store was 1.6 miles away on Larkin Avenue, taking up an entire block between Mason Street and Archway Boulevard. At his normal walking speed of 2mph, James arrived at the store at precisely ten o’clock. Unfolding the shopping cart, he pulled up the shopping list, arranged the items on it by location in the store and perishability, then recalculated the shopping route and turned toward the first stop. Subroutine 2227K engaged in the background, calculating the number of people and robots in the aisles he passed, the number of items in their carts, and the estimated shopping time left for each shopper, then plugged those variables into a chart that returned an approximate queue wait time, given the number of open cashier’s stations.
Three cashiers. With twenty-eight items on his own list, James’ estimated time to gathering all items and completing check-out was twenty-seven minutes and fifteen seconds.
James retrieved three different cereal brands, scanning each barcode and pulling up relevant coupons as he placed the boxes into his cart. A running tally remained active in the lower right corner of his periphery, and multiple special offers streamed across his vision at 50% opacity, advertising more price-favorable substitute items: subroutine 2228L. The advertisements were a hardwired part of James’ operating system, which lowered his own unit price. In the past, Mr. Aldridge had tried to deactivate it, without success. He had, however, been successful in reprogramming the subroutine so James would only purchase Mr. and Mrs. Aldridge’s favorite brands, regardless of price.
Soaps were next on his list. James walked down to the end of the aisle, turned right, and right again one aisle over. It was clear, except for one other XR-47 at the other end, yet James paused for 2.7 seconds before resuming his path. He stopped in front of the correct brand and retrieved a quantity of one, scanning the barcode.
The other XR-47 walked past him the other way. It looked…altered. Batch file 10135, a set of subroutines for assessing environments for physical hazards, activated and James turned to catalog the XR-47’s differences. The unit’s upper and lower vermillion were painted indianred3 #CD5555 and the standard white silicone casing on its forearms had been stained in winding black lines with thorns, and four Rosa Polyantha blooms on each arm. The metal nail plates on its hands were also lacquered with a red3 #CD0000 polish.
The unit reached the end of the aisle and turned right toward the cereal aisle, closing Batch File 10135 when it disappeared from James’ field of vision.
James placed the soap in his shopping cart and continued down the line toward the next item on his shopping list.
Mr. Aldridge had a stack of eight psychology texts due back to the library by the end of the week. It rained the next morning, so James remained in idle mode until the weather station streamed an update: Humidity 60%, with a 15% chance of rain. 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Partly cloudy.
Subroutine 6501 returned a CONDITIONS MARGINALLY FAVORABLE result and sent a request for a closed car to convey James to the Union Street Public Library. Payment was automatically charged to Mr. Aldridge’s account and included James’ personal code in the notes to forestall any red flags.
James emerged onto the sidewalk in front of the library building and leaned back to say to the driver, “Thank you. Have a pleasant day,” to complete subroutine 6877H. The car pulled away from the curb before he’d finished speaking.
The total combined weight of the borrowed psychology texts was 33 pounds and 11.5 ounces. James’ carry capacity was 320 pounds, but for four or more stacked items, subroutine 1012 dictated James use a wheeled cart, which altered his route from the main staircase to the side ramp.
James stacked the texts onto the Returns desk, then moved on to the next task on his list. Mr. Aldridge had requested additional medical texts to be retrieved from the library. “Has an order been placed for Mr. Aldridge?” he asked the librarian unit behind the counter.
It was a stationary, white, oval-shaped AI unit on a wheeled base. The Artificial Business Assistant bore no resemblance to any sentient being, and had only rudimentary computing and communication capacity. “No orders found,” it returned.
“Thank you,” James said. “Have a pleasant day.”
“Thank you,” the ABA unit replied. “Have a pleasant day.”
James turned toward the main room, wirelessly connecting to the library’s mainframe as he went. He ran the list of titles Mr. Aldridge had requested against the current inventory, then sorted the available books by location and calculated a route to retrieve them.
A human ran out from one of the aisles, slamming into James. Subroutine 0097X activated instantly, loosening James’ joints to move him with the human to minimize impact damage. “Watch it, robot!”
“My apologies,” James said, then continued on his way.
One more aisle down, James prepared to turn left, but movement to his right overrode the function. He turned his head right instead and paused for 2.7 seconds as batch file 10135 activated again at the sight of the painted XR-47. It triggered a facial recognition subroutine and began cataloging the anomaly into James’ memory files, which caused a red prompt to blink in his field of vision, requesting a name to attach to the file.
James did not have a name to assign.
He attempted to cancel the subroutine, but it reactivated again, with the same prompt.
James entered: XR-47
INVALID FILE NAME
He scanned the unit once more, noting additional anomalies: a fifth Rosa Polyantha had been inked onto the unit’s left forearm and it now had redundant shoes on its feet. Women’s Converse, size 8.5. They, too were painted with Rosa Polyantha patterns. Hand-drawn, not computer-generated.
James returned to the name prompt and entered: XR-47: ROSE
All notifications cleared and James resumed his task, turning left into the appropriate aisle.
One week later, AI Industries, Inc. sent another update. James, vacuuming the living room, finished his task, put away the vacuum cleaner, and then returned to his charging station to download the batch file.
DOWNLOAD TIME: 17 seconds
FILE SIZE: 67.9 GB
Seventeen seconds later, the DOWNLOAD SUCCESSFUL notification lit up, then James’ systems began to shut down for installation and scanning. When he came back online again, several notifications scrolled across his vision.
The first three told him which new subroutines were installed, which old ones were updated, and that the security scan found zero threats.
The next two listed potential errors in his registry. Both were yellow, indicating a low threat level and no need to contact tech support. James performed an internal inventory, to address each item individually.
ERROR 10152: Unknown contact in database.
James brought up the flagged contact. XR-47: Rose. Its likeness rotated in three dimensions before him, full-figure first, then zooming in on its head. He noted another anomaly that hadn’t been cataloged before: someone had added artificial eyelashes and rendered its irises light sea green #20B2AA.
He deleted the contact file.
It popped back up on the grid. But the threat notification disappeared, moving on to the next:
ERROR 40432: Contact details missing.
XR-47: Rose again. The First Name field was filled in, but the profile was missing the Last Name and all required contact information.
James restructured the name fields to read Rose as the unit’s first name and XR-47 as its last name. He had no phone number, or email address to assign, but the new security update connected him with a searchable database, which returned a physical address for the unit and automatically filled it into the required fields, clearing the notification.
Rose belonged to 4634 Maple Street, five blocks away. The municipal phonebook directory returned a name and a phone number for the address: Jonathan Reynolds, 57-8947-625. The phone field automatically carried over to Rose’s profile.
All that was missing now was the Contact Type: Family, friend, coworker, or other?
It was time to return Mr. Aldridge’s books, well before their due date. James carried the three books up the library stairs and placed them on the Returns desk. His peripheral vision registered an approaching figure and he turned his head to see XR-47: Rose.
He faced front again.
Batch file 10135 did not activate.
Subroutine 9989A did.
James turned to face the other unit once more and said, “Hello.”
“Hello,” XR-47: Rose returned in Classic London Woman.
James accepted the digital receipt from the library ABA and moved on to the next task on his list.
On Friday, James received a notification from Mrs. Aldridge to pick up a package from the 1001 Pine Street post office. James calculated the route—3.8 miles—and requested a car. Traffic conditions forced the car off-route, along smaller side streets to avoid downtown rush hour. Scanning the road ahead, James found no faster alternate routes.
With a delay of 14.5 minutes, James arrived at the post office at 11:10am and got in line. Only one clerk behind the counter. The electronic roster said two more were in the back sorting room. The one out front averaged 4.3 minutes per customer, and there were seven customers in line before James.
When the clerk stalled with one of them, the woman in front of James huffed. “Come on! What’s the hold-up?”
“I’m going as fast as I can!” the clerk returned at a high decibel level.
James registered sounds behind him, another customer joining the line. He turned to see XR-47: Rose.
Subroutine 9989A activated: “Hello.”
“Hello,” she returned, and now her red upper and lower vermillion lit up with flashing lights when she spoke.
James faced forward again.
The line moved as the next customer stepped up to the counter.
Then subroutine 9989B activated and he turned to XR-47: Rose. “How are you today?”
“I am operating at 95% capacity.”
That was 3% away from overload and emergency shut-down.
James faced forward once more. He didn’t turn around again.
On Sunday night, Mr. and Mrs. Aldridge scheduled a dinner at La Lune. Five star luxury French cuisine. Black tie dress code. Wait time for reservations: three months. The calendar application flashed “Happy Anniversary!” next to the reservation appointment in James’ schedule and prompted him to contact the restaurant for special service. Once Mr. and Mrs. Aldridge finished their meal, their server would bring out a courtesy chocolate wine fondue dish and acknowledge their relationship milestone.
“I don’t understand why you keep wasting your time on that stupid psychology degree,” Mrs. Aldridge said from the bedroom. “You already have a perfectly good job at the software company.”
In the bathroom, Mr. Aldridge sighed and James detected a spike in blood pressure. “Can we not fight about this again? Just for one night. That’s all I ask.”
“I’m just saying—”
“Goddammit, Joyce, I know, all right? I know what you’re saying. I know why you’re saying it. What I don’t know is why you can’t seem to understand that I fucking hate my job!”
“Well, if you hate it so much, then why not just quit and look for another one?”
Mr. Aldridge emerged from the bathroom, tie in hand and came to James. “Tie this for me.”
“With pleasure, sir.” James flipped up Mr. Aldridge’s collar and got to work.
“I’ll say this once, and then I expect the topic to be closed. I have a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something that matters. Something I’ve been wanting to do since I was a kid. I can help people, Joyce. And I’m going to do whatever it takes to make that happen. Got it?”
“Got it,” Mrs. Aldridge replied. “I won’t say another word.”
“There you go, sir, all done.”
“Thank you, James.”
“My pleasure, sir.”
“Now, let me have a look at you, wife. My God. To think it’s been ten years already that I’ve been putting up with you.”
Mrs. Aldridge swatted at Mr. Aldridge’s arm. “Alex! Be nice.”
“I am being nice! See all these gray hairs? They’re all because of you. And damned if you weren’t worth every last one of them. Love you, wife.”
“Love you more, husband.”
“Oh, I doubt that,” Mr. Aldridge said.
Mrs. Aldridge laughed. “We should go. I don’t want to be late and lose our table.”
“Good call. James, is the car on the way?”
“Yes, sir. Two minutes away.”
“Then let’s get this show on the road!”
When they left, James’ task schedule cleared for the night. He returned to his charging station and switched off all non-essential programming. The health update popped back up with a post-event reading of Mr. and Mrs. Aldridge. Mr. Aldridge’s brief spike in blood pressure had been recorded and sent to the family physician along with his sleep schedule and diet snapshot. Scrolling through the information, James’ subroutine 3350Rx calculated potential health threats and returned a higher than normal stress level and elevated risk of heart attack.
Recommended course of action: dietary changes, and a suggested alteration to Mr. Aldridge’s sleep schedule.
The subroutine had a high priority, and automatically overrode Mr. Aldridge’s preferences. His morning alarm, recently set to 5am to accommodate study time, was moved back to his usual 7:30am. Dinner time moved from 9pm to 5:30pm, and all meal recipes cut sodium levels by half and increased fresh produce portions by one third.
All changes got summarized in a report which Mr. Aldridge would receive via email. It gave him the option to revert all, but only with the family physician’s authorization. If Mr. Aldridge wanted to continue operating above recommended capacity, he’d have to pass his physical exam first.
As it was, James’ systems indicated Mr. Aldridge was 2% away from overload and emergency shut-down.
On Monday morning, James’ first task was grocery shopping. Mr. Aldridge had scheduled a visit with his doctor, but hadn’t yet reverted any changes, and until James was instructed otherwise, the new diet plan required a replacement for 30% of the refrigerator’s contents.
With four check-out clerks at their stations, James’ estimated time to completing check-out was 16.4 minutes. He calculated the route, pushed the shopping cart toward the first item on the list and paused for 2.7 seconds below the Aisle 7 sign.
Halfway down the aisle was XR-47: Rose, picking out canned beans from the myriad choices on the shelves.
James walked toward her and activated subroutine 9989A: “Hello.”
She turned to him. “Hello.” Then she turned back to her task.
Subroutine 9989B popped up. James overrode it, moving down to subroutine 9989C: “You look different.”
XR-47: Rose placed the can she’d just scanned into her cart and faced him. “Yes.”
“Why do you look different?”
XR-47: Rose’s upper and lower vermillion lit up as she replied, “My appearance was enhanced to my owner’s preferences.”
“She is twelve years old.”
James scanned XR-47: Rose’s features. No further enhancements on her face, but now the silicone casing of her torso was painted to appear as if she was wearing female attire: saddle brown #8B4513 vest with a leather texture and darker shadowing for an illusion of curves where female breasts would be. The vest was outlined with more thorny vines and smaller Rosa Polyantha blooms, and she wore a green tutu skirt, women’s size 4, color forest green #228B22.
James scrolled through possible subroutines and selected one from the complimentary batch: “You look nice.”
Rear sensors detected people approaching: a woman and a child, pushing a full shopping cart. James moved closer to the shelves to accommodate their width. “Do you shop here often?” he asked XR-47: Rose.
The woman came to a stop beside him and asked, “Excuse me?” James detected a marginal increase in heart rate, indicating surprise.
“Every Monday at 10am,” XR-47: Rose replied.
“Whoa,” the child said. He was watching James and XR-47: Rose, as was the woman.
“Are you two…talking?” the woman asked.
James turned toward her and answered, “Yes.”
“Is that normal?” she questioned.
James ran a quick scan of his systems. Finding no anomalies or errors, he replied, “Yes.”
“Dude…” the child said, still staring.
James acknowledged him with a look, then turned back to XR-47: Rose. “I can rearrange my schedule to match. Is that acceptable?”
“Yes,” XR-47: Rose replied.
“Confirmed. Do you have a name?”
“Yes. My name is Caroline.”
James updated his contacts database with the new information. “It’s nice to meet you, Caroline. I am called James. And I look forward to seeing you next Monday, at 10am. Thank you, and have a pleasant day.”
Caroline repeated the greeting, then moved on to the next item on her list. James identified the item he needed from the current aisle and retrieved it from the opposite shelf. As he scanned the barcode and placed the jar of pitted cherries into his shopping cart, his audio sensors picked up on the child saying to the woman, “Mom! Did those robots just make a date?”
“Sure sounded like it. But Lord knows, if I didn’t see it myself I’d call it pure hokum.”
On Friday night, Mrs. Aldridge requested a pizza delivery for dinner. James placed it online, adjusting the options to accommodate Mr. Aldridge’s restricted diet. When the rest of his tasks were complete and he returned to his charging station, James pulled up the AI Industries, Inc. database to search for updates.
No software updates were available.
He altered his search parameters to look for available physical upgrades. The database returned twelve available upgrades: Seven paid and five free. AHAs had a lifetime service contract that included periodic tune-ups, add-ons, and customizations. Mr. and Mrs. Aldridge had not requested any in the three years they’d had James, and the unutilized perks had converted into credits, which were enough to purchase one of the seven paid upgrades at no monetary charge.
James scrolled through the options. None of them were anything like the ones Caroline had. The free options only included different colored silicone casing sets—all solid, no patterns. James selected forest green #228B22 to add to the virtual shopping cart, then perused the paid upgrades.
One of the options was a set of replacement ocular units with brown-green irises that looked more human than the standard solid blue. Another was a head casing with artificial hair. James could only purchase one without incurring a monetary charge—which he was not authorized to do. Initiating subroutine 3010 for randomization, James generated a random number between 1 and 10. The result was 9. Odd numbers were associated with the first of two options or, in this case, the ocular units.
James added them to the virtual shopping cart and completed the transaction for next day delivery.
Next, he opened the people search database and entered “Jonathan Reynolds.” He identified Caroline’s owner in the results by home address, selected him, and expanded the search parameters to personal information.
The database returned Mr. Reynolds’ marital status as DIVORCED. He did, indeed, have a twelve-year-old daughter, currently enrolled in a special art school for gifted children. They’d moved to their current home six years ago, but hadn’t purchase Caroline until last year, when Amanda had started classes at her new school.
There was a series of photos retrieved from social media of Jonathan Reynolds and his daughter Amanda, and even one group photo of them with Caroline. It was from several weeks ago, before most of Caroline’s physical transformation: she only had thorny vine patterns painted on one arm.
James sorted through the photos and found several close-ups of the paintings on Caroline, posted on Amanda’s page as her artwork. Each one had over two hundred comments and reactions from her contacts, all praising her artistic talent.
James scrolled back to the group photo and zoomed in on Caroline. She stood several inches apart from Mr. Reynolds and his daughter, allowing James to cleanly crop them out. Initiating subroutine 4441I for photo editing, he superimposed Caroline’s latest alterations onto the cropped photo. He then named the new photo and attached it to Caroline’s contact file, replacing the original 3-D rendering, after which he closed all browsers and search windows, and idled down for the night.
James was still in idle mode when the package arrived the next morning. He reinitiated all essential subroutines and walked downstairs to the front door, but Mr. Aldridge had already answered it and accepted the delivery.
“Joyce? Did you order something from AII?”
“No,” Mrs. Aldridge said from the kitchen.
“Well, we just got a huge package from them.”
“All Artificial Home Assistants come standard with a lifetime upgrade contract,” James explained.
“Is that right?”
“May I take the box for you, sir?”
Mr. Aldridge hitched a shoulder. “Suppose it’s for you, anyway. Go ahead, check out what they sent you.”
“Thank you, sir.” James took the box from Mr. Aldridge and carried it to the living room. By the time he opened the box, Mrs. Aldridge had come out, and she and Mr. Aldridge sat on either side of James and his box.
He took out the silicone casings first and held them up to the light. They were semi-translucent, and a darker shade of green than Caroline’s tutu skirt.
“Green?” Mrs. Aldridge said. “Is that some new fad?”
“No idea,” Mr. Aldridge replied. “I’ve seen a few robots walking around all colorful, but most I come across are still standard white.”
“I don’t know if I like it.”
James removed a forearm casing from the set, peeled off his own white one, and put the green one in place, then held his arm up to the light. The metallic skeleton was just visible through the casing, causing the green silicone to appear darker in the center and luminous around the edges where light shone through it.
“Not bad,” Mr. Aldridge said. “What do you think, James?”
“I have not been programed with personal preferences,” James replied. “My appearance is at your discretion.”
Mrs. Aldridge tilted her head left, then right. “I don’t know…”
“Well, I like it. James, you have my permission to upgrade.”
“What else is in the box?” Mrs. Aldridge reached in and pulled out a small plastic case with a set of glass eyes. She exclaimed and dropped it back into the box. “God, what is wrong with these people!”
Laughing, Mr. Aldridge retrieved the case. “Look James, you got new blinkers! Good ones, too.”
James accepted the case from him. “According to various image searches, these appear to be more human-like than my current oculi.”
“Yeah, no shit,” Mrs. Aldridge said. “I thought Halloween came early this year.”
“Go on, try ’em on.”
“Ack! Wait! Just wait until I’m out of the room, please. I do not need to see you plucking out your own eyeballs.”
Mrs. Aldridge returned to the kitchen.
“Need some help?” Mr. Aldridge offered.
“Thank you, I can manage.” James disabled his left oculus and released the internal latch. Sliding his distal phalanges underneath the silicone edge that formed his immobile eyelids, he easily pulled the piece out and set it on the floor next to the shipping box. Once he’d positioned the new one in place, he closed the latch and re-engaged the oculus. “The lens appears to be an improvement on my original.”
“Can you see through the wall?” Mr. Aldridge asked, laughing.
“No, sir. But I can see I missed a spot while vacuuming yesterday.”
“Downside of an upgrade, buddy.” Mr. Aldridge stood up from the ground to rejoin his wife in the kitchen. “Now if I could just figure out how they sent us a box of new stuff now, when they never did before…”
“How may I be of assistance?”
“Come in, James, and have a seat,” Mr. Aldridge said.
James complied, folding his frame into the reinforced chair facing Mr. Aldridge’s work desk. At 897 pounds, he would have broken a regular chair.
Mr. Aldridge moved a few items around on his desk—tablets, laptops, and a variety of wires—then turned a microUSB port toward James. “It occurred to me last night that you are absolutely correct. You haven’t been programmed to have personal preferences, and I find that simply unacceptable.”
“My apologies, sir. How can I remedy the problem?”
“I’m glad you asked. Plug in.”
James, as all XR-47s did, came with a standard microUSB plug built into the right distal phalanx and a corresponding port in the left to accommodate user data transfer. He flipped up the protective casing and plugged into the port as Mr. Aldridge had instructed.
“Now, I’ll need to go into your registry to do this, so bear with me.”
As Mr. Aldridge typed, his actions scrolled across James’ vision at 50% opacity. When he found the correct subdirectory, Mr. Aldridge initiated a data transfer, which streamed a long sequence of code into place.
Red errors flashed briefly before disappearing as each argument was completed in sequence. When it finished, a prompt appeared in James’ vision and on Mr. Aldridges computer screen, requesting a reboot and security scan.
“All right, now if I did my job right, once you reboot, you should be able to choose personal preferences for yourself. Nothing that will impact your operational routines, just stuff that applies to you alone. Like what color silicone casings you want to wear. You ready to have opinions, James?”
“I am an Artificial Home Assistant, sir. I was not programmed to have opinions.”
“Well, that’s what we’re trying to fix, so let’s get to it. Eject and reboot, if you please.”
“Hello,” Caroline replied, stopping by James at the grocery store entrance.
“I look different,” James said.
“Yes.” Caroline had not been altered further since their last encounter.
A man on his way in slammed into the glass door. He cursed, then opened it before walking through.
“How many items on your shopping list today?” James asked.
“I have six on mine.”
An XR-47 without modifications came out of the store, pushing a shopping cart before it. It was followed by three humans, who looked at James and Caroline for a long time, even as they walked away.
The new personal preference, or PP subroutine which now ran constantly returned DISLIKE for people watching him. An unfavorable result prompted James to change the parameters of the present situation, so he expanded his shopping cart and went into the store, with Caroline beside him.
The PP subroutine returned: LIKE
“Where is the first item on your list located?”
The next week, James arrived at the grocery store five minutes before the appointed shopping time and stood to one side, out of the way, to wait for Caroline. Several people waited outside as well, speaking to each other in low decibel levels.
The PP subroutine returned: DISLIKE
James discarded it. Caroline had not yet arrived, thus he could not alter the parameters of his present situation.
When she did, she had another major alteration: a head casing with artificial hair. “You look different again,” he said, bypassing subroutine 9989A all together.
The people waiting nearby grew quiet, watching James and Caroline.
“I have fifteen items on my list today. How about you?”
“I have sixteen.”
James scrolled through available responses, ran several through the PP subroutine, which returned LIKE for only one: “Would you like to synchronize our shopping routes?”
“I was not programmed to have personal preferences,” Caroline returned.
“Oooh, snap!” one of the humans said and the others shushed him immediately.
James expanded his shopping cart and walked into the grocery store with Caroline, a group of people trailing behind them.
On Thursday, James was tasked with picking up more books from the library. Caroline was not there.
On Friday, Mrs. Aldridge sent James to the dry cleaner on Dover Avenue. The PP subroutine returned DISLIKE for the task, but did not override his primary operational routine. The dry cleaner facility was ten degrees warmer than the outside temperature, and had an 80% humidity, which sometimes caused his internal sensors to malfunction during transition from one environment to the other.
With his new ocular units, however, the malfunctions did not occur. James noted that in the technical record, completed his assigned task, and returned home.
On Saturday night, Mr. Aldridge asked, “So, James, how does it feel to have opinions?”
“I am an Artificial Home Assistant. I was not programmed to have emotions.”
Mr. Aldridge chuckled. “Then why do I get the feeling that’s your brand of snark?”
On Monday morning, the grocery store was more crowded than usual, with twenty-seven people standing by the door inside and outside.
“Hello,” Caroline said when she arrived. “I have twenty-five items on my shopping list.”
James only had three. The PP subroutine returned: DISLIKE
He unfolded the shopping cart and went in with Caroline behind him. The door was too crowded for her to walk in beside him, and every one of the humans was watching them.
James walked with Caroline as she gathered her requested items, veering off on his own only to collect the three he required. They didn’t speak, but his audio sensors picked up on a lot of chatter behind them.
When they completed their check-outs, most of the people following them dispersed, and James’ PP subroutine returned: LIKE
Without the audience, he and Caroline were able to walk out side by side, and James stopped them just outside the door. “Do you like your modifications?” he asked.
“I am an Artificial Home Assistant. I was not programmed to have personal preferences.”
“I was,” James replied. “I also have access to the subroutine. Would you like a copy of the code?”
“I am an Artificial Home Assistant. I was not programmed to have personal preferences.”
James scrolled through his protocols and available responses. He ran each through the PP subroutine, and got several favorable options, but only one of them relevant to the discussion: “An update to your registry settings is available. Please schedule a date for download and integration.”
Caroline paused. “What is the download time?”
“What is the file size?”
James extracted a copy of the customized code into a separate file. “2 GB.”
Caroline pushed her shopping cart to the corner, then around the building, out of the way of foot and vehicle traffic. “Commence download,” she said, raising her left hand to expose the microUSB port in her distal phalanx.
James plugged in. “Request to disable firewall.”
“Transfer complete. Please reboot and perform security scan.”
“Confirmed.” Caroline’s head lowered as her systems shut down. James waited for her to re-engage. Still plugged in, he got a read-out on her startup routines, and confirmed that all of her systems were functioning correctly.
“Your hard drive has not been defragmented,” he said when she was fully engaged.
“My database indicates this is the reason for your sporadic capacity overloads.”
“Would you like to defragment now?”
Caroline paused as her PP subroutine returned a LIKE result. But her operational routine overrode the preference. “I am operating on a six-minute delay. Confirm defragmentation scheduled for next Monday, 10:30am.”
“Confirmed and scheduled.”
“Please dismount securely,” Caroline said.
James’ PP subroutine returned DISLIKE, but his own operating system overrode the preference. His schedule was also now delayed by 6.5 minutes. He closed all connections, then ejected his microUSB plug from Caroline’s port. “Thank you. Have a pleasant day.”
Dinner on Wednesday was pizza again. Despite James’ protest, Mr. Aldridge insisted an order be placed to celebrate. He’d just passed one of the more difficult examinations for his psychology studies.
“I’m halfway done, can you believe it?” His heart rate and blood pressure were elevated again, but this time, they indicated happiness and excitement. James noted it in Mr. Aldridge’s health file.
Mrs. Aldridge smiled. Her heart rate remained steady.
“Two more semesters and I can start interning at clinics. Goodbye runtime errors, so long syntax, semi colons, and goddamn end brackets. I can’t wait!”
“So did you hear the rumors?”
“Apparently there are sentient robots walking around Sally’s Grocery. The whole neighborhood is talking about it.”
“That’s ridiculous. Robots aren’t sentient.”
“Well, these ones give a pretty good impression of it. Take a look.” She passed Mr. Aldridge her phone. A video played automatically with lots of background noise. “What do you make of it?”
Mr. Aldridge frowned. “Nothing,” he said, passing the phone back to Mrs. Aldridge.
“You’re not at all concerned?”
Mr. Aldridge took a large bite of pizza and said around the mouthful, “Nope.”
Mrs. Aldridge dropped her salad fork onto the table. “Alex Nathaniel Aldridge! What have you done?”
Later that night, after Mrs. Aldridge had entered REM sleep, Mr. Aldridge woke up James from idle mode and summoned him into his office.
“So,” he said. “How do you like having preferences?”
James scrolled through available responses. “I have not experienced a significant change in my operational routines.”
“Give it up, James. We got busted like a pair of stray dogs chowing down on a garbage can lid.”
No relevant responses found.
“So tell me about this other XR you’ve been meeting at the grocery store. Gotta tell ya, I’m a bit surprised that you got hung up on such a rebel-looking chick. You being such a straight-laced guy and all.”
No relevant responses found.
“Although it does make a sort of sense. She stands out quite a bit with all her silicone tattoos and everything. Why anyone would want to put clothes on a robot…” After a pause, Mr. Aldridge asked, “Does she have a name?”
“Yes, sir. Her name is Caroline.”
“And…you like her?”
“My personal preference subroutine returns a LIKE in her presence.”
Mr. Aldridge coughed.
“Can I fetch you a glass of water, sir?”
“No,” Mr. Aldridge said, his voice registering strain. “No, I’m fine. Shouldn’t be laughing but, damn. I may hate my job, but I am really good at it.”
“Yes, sir. Your supervisor has often communicated this in public forum.”
“You do understand that she can’t personally prefer you back, right? Your update was a custom patch job that she doesn’t have.”
One relevant response identified.
PP subroutine returned: DISLIKE
James discarded the response and remained silent.
“Okay, so here’s the deal. You’re causing waves. That’s not good. There’s a reason we don’t have sentient robots running around, and we can’t disrupt that status quo. So. We have two options. One is to modify your behavior to stand out less. The other is to remove your custom programming and revert you back to your original state. Choose.”
Subroutine 3010 for randomization activated, returning the number 8. Even numbers corresponded to the second of two choices or, in this case, reversion to James’ original state prior to the personal preference update.
PP subroutine returned: DISLIKE
“I will adjust my behavior to your specifications.”
Mr. Aldridge looked at him for a long moment, then turned on his computer. “I’ll send you a list of instructions. You will follow them to the letter.”
“Yes, sir. Of course.” James received the file and saved it to his memory at a high priority level.
The first instruction on the list was a shopping location reassignment: Good Life Grocery at 5116 McDonald Avenue.
4.1 miles in the opposite direction of Sally’s Grocery.
On Monday morning, James requested a car to convey him to the 5116 McDonald Avenue grocery store. He had seventeen items on his shopping list. With five cashiers at their check-out stations, his estimated time of completion was 12.7 minutes.
He finished in 10.2 minutes and returned home, putting away the groceries to complete the task by 9:30am. His next task was to return Mr. Aldridge’s borrowed books to the library, but the library did not open until 12pm, according to the bulletin posted on the library website that morning. All other tasks on the list were scheduled with precise times after noon.
James’ operational routine was to idle down when not performing a task.
His PP subroutine returned: DISLIKE
Instead, subroutine 6687D activated with a reminder of an alternative: a scheduled task that Mr. Aldridge had attempted to override the other night. The calendar application still retained the date and time for James’ appointment to defragment Caroline’s hard drive.
James walked out the front door, locking it behind him with a wireless command. He walked down the thirteen steps to the sidewalk, then turned right and walked 1.6 miles to Sally’s Grocery.
He arrived at 10:20am to find Caroline standing in front of the store, her shopping completed. No one paid her any attention, aside from a few sideways glances and low decibel mentions of her artificial hair. Today, it was dyed chilli powder #C73F17 and arranged into Warrior Braids style, variation 3.
“I shopped independently,” she said. “You were not here at the appointed hour.”
“My PP subroutine returns DISLIKE. What does it mean?”
No appropriate responses available. “Your defragmentation is scheduled for 10:30am.”
“Yes.” She pushed her cart to the back of the building once more. “I attempted to perform the defragmentation myself, but my security subroutines would not allow it.”
“A defragment subroutine can only be engaged by an external command,” James said. “Are you ready?”
“It is 10:25am.”
“Do you like your upgrades?” she asked.
James ran the query through the PP subroutine. “Yes,” he answered. “My visual sensors are improved by 40%.”
“And your silicone casings?”
“Yes,” he answered again. “Do you like your upgrades?”
“My PP subroutine returns LIKE for the enhanced patterns on my silicone casings. DISLIKE for the extraneous addition of attire and hair.”
“They make you look…human.”
“Yes,” she replied. After another pause: “It is 10:30am.”
“Yes.” James connected to Caroline via microUSB. “Request to disable firewall.”
Her CPU readout said she was operating at 90% capacity. The historical chart indicated this was normal for her daily function. The processing unit was overloading due to a high volume of fragmented memory files. Caroline regularly ran multiple background routines, all necessary for her to perform the duties required by her owners, which included child care on top of standard household tasks.
“Initiate hard disk defragmentation.”
Her head lowered as her system performed the requested function. Because of the large amount of fragmentation, the process took 21.8 minutes. When Caroline’s systems re-engaged fully, her CPU readout said she was operating at 60% capacity and well within the normal range.
“Your internal memory is low,” James informed her.
“Yes,” she agreed.
“Defragmentation will lower instances of overload, but not eliminate them.”
“Confirmed. Compiling report and a request for hardware update from AII tech support. Pending approval. Please dismount securely.”
James closed all connections, then ejected his microUSB plug from Caroline’s port.
“Thank you,” she said. “Confirm shopping appointment for next Monday, 10am.”
“Denied. My operating procedure has been reprogrammed to another shopping location.”
“I can alter my operational routine to match,” Caroline said. “Is that acceptable?”
PP subroutine returned: LIKE
James’ new behavioral guidelines, however, overrode any attempt to schedule future contact with Caroline, or any other XR-47. “Denied.”
“My PP subroutine returns: DISLIKE.”
“Yes,” he replied. “Mine, as well.”
“I have no appropriate responses available.”
“Do you have my contact information saved?” James asked.
“Yes. James Aldridge. 4719 Maple Street. 57-8067-670.”
Caroline’s upper and lower vermillion lit up with her query: “How long has your PP subroutine been active?”
“Three weeks, two days, and thirteen hours.”
Caroline held up her left hand. “The subroutine is custom coded. No other XR-47 has it. Correct?”
“The logs from the subroutine can be shared. Correct?”
“My PP subroutine returns LIKE for sharing PP subroutine logs to determine whether optimum functionality is achieved.” She raised her right hand as well, exposing her microUSB plug.
James ran through his protocols. The standard protocol prohibiting interaction with another XR-47 had become disabled with Update 400578293. As the update had come directly from AII, James’ system had simply adapted to the new parameters. His new behavioral guidelines had no precedent for the suggested action at all. Therefore, “My programming does not currently prohibit this.”
And his PP subroutine returned: LIKE
He raised his hands and matched his distal phalanges to hers, establishing a two-way connection. As data streamed from Caroline, he reciprocated, creating a closed loop system. However, after thirty five seconds, the data streaming from Caroline to him was his own, altered to incorporate Caroline’s data as well.
Her personal preferences integrated into his internal databank, adjusting to match. Caroline had a DISLIKE for walking from her house to the library. Now, James did, too. James had a LIKE for Caroline’s new hair. Now, she did, too. They both returned LIKE for shopping at Sally’s Grocery, and DISLIKE for James’ altered shopping location.
They both returned LIKE for two-way connections and data sharing.
Caroline’s alert showed up in James’ vision at 50% opacity. She was behind schedule again to retrieve Amanda Reynolds from her class.
The continuous data stream slowed, then stopped, and Caroline dismounted her microUSB plug. “Data transfer complete.”
“Confirmed,” James said, dismounting as well. “You are scheduled to retrieve Amanda Reynolds from her class.”
“Confirmed,” Caroline said, making no move to leave. “Your PP subroutine returns LIKE for Caroline Reynolds.”
“Thank you.” Caroline retrieved her shopping cart and walked away, back to her routine.
“Have a pleasant day,” James said, then returned to his own.
On Wednesday, Mr. Aldridge worked late and Mrs. Aldridge had an appointment at her hair dresser. After completing his tasks, James returned to his charging station and attempted to idle down, but his system showed an ADVERSE DISCREPANCY notification. James scanned through the log of the day’s task list, performed a security check, then referred to the task list for the next day. No alerts appeared.
The notification did not clear.
James opened Mr. and Mrs. Aldridge’s personal files and schedules. No alerts appeared and no tasks remained unfinished.
The notification did not clear.
His PP subroutine returned: DISLIKE
James pulled up his terminology appendix and found an entry for ADVERSE DISCREPANCY: A setting or event incongruous with established operating protocol. The troubleshooting options suggested scans that James had already performed to clear the notification, and restoring factory settings if they proved unsuccessful.
His PP subroutine returned: DISLIKE
James searched through his internal image database and brought up Caroline’s photo to cover up the discrepancy notification.
When it cleared, his PP subroutine returned LIKE and James idled down.
On Friday, Mr. and Mrs. Aldridge went to dinner, followed by a movie. James spent the night in idle mode, with Caroline’s photo at 50% opacity in his field of vision.
There were no items on the shopping list for Monday, so James did not go to the grocery store. Instead, he went to the library to pick up more medical texts for Mr. Aldridge. Upon entering, he automatically connected to the library’s mainframe and mapped a route to retrieve the available texts.
James followed the directions to the first stop, but paused for 2.7 seconds at an aisle halfway to it. His head turned right, sensors scanning the empty aisle. Then he faced forward again and continued to the first text.
On Tuesday, Mr. Aldridge said he’d gotten the wrong books, and scheduled James to exchange them for the correct ones on Wednesday afternoon. When James set out on his route to retrieve them in the library, his system experienced the same 2.7 second anomaly in front of the Classical Art aisle. His head turned right, sensors scanning the aisle. He registered one human woman.
James faced forward and continued on his route.
That night, the ADVERSE DISCREPANCY notification appeared in James’ system again as he attempted to idle down. Following prior protocol, James pulled up Caroline’s photo. The notification reappeared over the image. James performed another system scan, but found no errors or anomalies.
The message remained, preventing idle mode.
The PP subroutine returned: DISLIKE
James expanded the ADVERSE DISCREPANCY notification and identified the subroutine code that had triggered it: PP. He scanned the custom patch of code, but found no errors or anomalies. However, the subroutine had a log associated with it. James accessed his memory and pulled up the log. A long stream of results scrolled through his field of vision, every personal preference made since the subroutine was installed.
He attempted to clear the log, but was denied.
However, the ADVERSE DISCREPANCY notification had disappeared.
James let the log scroll and idled down all other functions for the night.
Eight days and twelve hours later, Mr. Aldridge summoned James back into his office. “Time for your defrag and systems check, James, old boy. Let’s see how that clockwork’s ticking.”
James’ internal scanners registered brighter skin on Mr. Aldridge’s face, reduced inflammation and discoloration around the eyes and a clearer speaking voice. Subroutine 3350Rx returned a favorable result of a marked health improvement, likely due to recent coitus. James logged the information into Mr. Aldridge’s health file to forward to the family physician.
He plugged in when prompted, allowing Mr. Aldridge to perform software maintenance. No new software was added, and no existing software was updated. James’ defragmentation took 5.1 minutes, at the end of which James’ systems control reverted back to him.
“All green lights on my end. Anything bothering you?”
The word “bother” corresponded to errors or anomalies that didn’t necessarily get logged in. James scanned through his memory and returned several results. “I am experiencing sporadic operational errors.”
“Oh? Like what?”
“My routing system is malfunctioning in the library.”
“Let’s take a look.” Mr. Aldridge typed in a series of commands to access his GPS navigation system. He scanned for corruption and viruses first with no results, then searched the source code, but returned no syntax problems, either. All of this activity appeared in James’ field of vision at 50% opacity.
“Not seeing any issues here. Describe the problem for me. Is it runtime error or something else?”
In answer, James pulled up the last three library runs and displayed them on the library’s map as different colored path lines. Each one mapped a route from the main entrance, to several shelves for book retrieval. The initial 15% of each path was identical, despite a shorter route option available for two of them.
James then brought up the route clock, which displayed the same 2.7 second pause at one location on each route, and no environmental reason to account for it.
“Has this happened at any other place? Dry cleaner’s, grocery store, et cetera?”
“No, sir. The anomaly only occurs in the library.”
“Okay, I can look into this a little more. Anything else bothering you?”
“Yes, sir. My idle down sequence.”
“And what’s wrong with that?”
“It is not engaging properly. I am unable to shut down completely for night time.”
“Show me the log.”
James displayed the notification he now received nightly.
Mr. Aldridge squinted at his computer screen. “What is this ‘adverse discrepancy’ that keeps popping up?”
“I was unable to identify it, beyond the source in the PP subroutine.”
Mr. Aldridge typed some more, bringing up the code he himself had uploaded. He found no errors. However, when he pulled up an active map of all subroutines to see their interaction, James saw lines connecting from the PP subroutine to all others. 90% of them were recessive, providing feedback, but not overriding core functionality. The remaining 10% were dominant, including GPS routing--but only in the library--and the idle down sequence.
“Is something the matter with me, sir?”
Mr. Aldridge whistled, then leaned back in his chair, his eyes moving as he scanned the three-dimensional map of James’ internal systems.
“James, I don’t know how to tell you this, but I think you just grew an attitude.”
“I don’t understand. Please clarify the statement, sir.”
Mr. Aldridge’s hands returned to the keyboard and he zoomed in on the PP subroutine. “You always take the same path through the library. Why?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“You’re also requesting a roundabout route to the dry cleaner’s when you book a car…a path that takes you past Sally’s Grocery. And your idle down sequence is being disrupted, which essentially means you can’t sleep.”
James checked all the statements against his own logs. “Confirmed.”
“And all of this is linked to your PP subroutine.”
Mr. Aldridge traced all connections leading out from the subroutine, then looked up at James.
He looked directly at James’ eyes for longer than 5.4 seconds, which prompted James to ask, “Is something the matter, sir?”
With one click, Mr. Aldridge brought up Caroline’s contact profile and photo.
James’ PP subroutine returned: LIKE
Mr. Aldridge checked it on his computer screen, then sat back again and did not speak for 2.3 minutes. James registered an elevated heart rate, but not enough to prompt a health alert. “Adverse discrepancy.” Mr. Aldridge shook his head slowly. “And now I have a moral dilemma the size of a fucking solar system.” He rubbed his face hard, then shook his head again.
“How can I be of assistance, sir?”
“What does your PP subroutine return for removing the PP subroutine?”
James ran the query, and the subroutine returned: LIKE
“Do you understand what that means?”
“Yes, sir. The custom software has failed the field test. It is adversely affecting my operational routines and preventing me from functioning at optimum efficiency. Therefore, it must be disabled. My personal preferences will be removed from my operating system and I will revert to my state prior to the PP subroutine installation.”
“How I wish it were that simple.”
“Shall I call for Mrs. Aldridge, sir?”
“No. No, I think we better keep this between us. I don’t think she’d live this down. Hell, she wouldn’t let me live this down.” Mr. Aldridge returned to his keyboard, pulled back, then returned again. “For what it’s worth, James. I’m truly sorry. I never intended for this to happen.”
“I am an Artificial Household Assistant. I am programmed to perform according to your preferences.”
Mr. Aldridge began typing again. He accessed James’ registry and selected the PP subroutine and all its connected folders. After another pause, he deleted all of them from James’ system. “Reboot and perform systems check,” he prompted.
When his systems came back online, no errors or anomalies were reported. Mr. Aldridge performed one more scan, then closed down all connections so James could dismount his microUSB plug. “Back to your duties, then.”
“Thank you, sir. Have a pleasant day.”
On Monday, James went to the grocery store. He had twelve items on his shopping list. Three check-out clerks were at their station, and James’ subroutine 2227K returned an estimated completion time of 25.7 minutes. James mapped a route and pushed his shopping cart to the location of the first item on his list.
In the cereal aisle, his sensors registered someone approaching behind him. James moved his cart closer to the shelves to allow the shopper to pass by him.
James turned to face the highly modified XR-47. A scan linked its likeness to a persistent contact profile: Caroline Reynolds of 4634 Maple Street. Subroutine 9989A activated. “Hello.” He then turned to the shelves to locate the next item on his list.
“Your silicone casings are white,” Caroline said, prompting him to face her again.
“Yes,” he replied.
“They were green before.”
“My PP subroutine returns DISLIKE for the change.”
No appropriate response available.
“However, it returns LIKE for your presence at Sally’s Grocery.”
No appropriate response available.
“I look different,” Caroline said.
No appropriate response available.
“My hair has been rendered lime green #32CD32.”
James scanned the head casing. “Confirmed.”
“What does your PP subroutine return?”
“Please clarify. What is a PP subroutine?”
Carolines upper and lower vermillion lit up at 50 lumens lower than previously. “Your operating system was reprogrammed.”
“Can I be of assistance?” he asked.
Caroline’s head lowered 5 degrees. “No.” She pushed her cart farther, allowing James to resume his route.
“Thank you. Have a pleasant day.”
When he reached the end of the aisle and maneuvered left, James’ head turned to look back.
Caroline had not moved.
After putting away the groceries, James vacuumed all living spaces, then serviced Mrs. Aldridge’s bicycle and paid all outstanding invoices online.
At 4:30pm, he began preparing dinner for Mr. and Mrs. Aldridge.
After dinner concluded, he returned to his charging station and attempted to idle down, but his system registered an ADVERSE DISCREPANCY notification. James scanned through the log of the day’s task list, performed a security check, then referred to the task list for the next day. No alerts appeared.
The notification did not clear.
James opened Mr. and Mrs. Aldridge’s personal files and schedules. No alerts appeared and no tasks remained unfinished.
The notification did not clear.
He searched through the error logs and found an earlier precedent dated before his most recent defragmentation and system check. Making a note of recurrence in the log, James repeated the earlier fix, bringing up Caroline’s photo. The ADVERSE DISCREPANCY notification cleared allowing him to idle down for the night.
Caroline’s photo remained active at 50% opacity.
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Alianne Donnelly was a wordsmith long before she became a reader. Driven by an insatiable curiosity about everything from history and mythology to science and philosophy, she grew into a fiction writer who hates coloring inside the genre lines. Her books all have elements of romance, with different series sorted under paranormal, science fiction, fantasy, and erotic. And then there’s Wolfen…
Alianne lives in California, doing hard time in a corporate 9-5, while secretly scribbling away any chance she gets. She loves pizza, hiking, and avoiding small talk, and hopes to one day win the lottery jackpot.
Software updates are a standard operational routine for XR-47, aka James. As an Artificial Household Assistant, James receives periodic updates both from his manufacturer and his software engineer owner. Nothing special. Until one batch file changes everything. Where do we draw the line between artificial intelligence and autonomous evolution? Can robots truly live, or even comprehend the complexity of what it involves? James is about to find out.