Katie Lane tossed and turned in bed, squeezing her eyes tight trying to shut out the dream she had. In it, her sister was a robot and malfunctioned when she tried to seduce her neighbor, Matt. Katie watched the whole thing, and when she tried to do the same thing, she malfunctioned too!
“But I’m not a robot...not a robot…not a robot…” Katie whispered over and over to herself, trying to banish the dream. Suddenly her eyes snapped open, letting in the brilliant sunshine of a day in mid-May.
She looked at the clock. It read seven o’clock. It was her normal time to rise. Katie sat up and smoothed her white cotton gown. It had bunched up near her chest. As she pulled it down—“I wish I had breasts like those”---Katie’s eyes got wide.
“What was that from?” Katie asked out loud. She looked down at her nightgown for a moment, and when nothing more interrupted her thought process, she got out of bed.
She remembered it was school picture day, so she put on her plaid jumper with a white t-shirt. Some socks and shoes completed the outfit, and she grabbed her schoolbag from the floor as she flew out the door. Down the hallway and down the stairs she ran. Downstairs in the kitchen, her mother and sister were eating breakfast. Amy was a senior and had already had her senior pictures taken. Her mom handed her a plate of toast and eggs as she sat down.
“Good morning!” Mrs. Lane said.
“Good morning,” Katie said. “I had the worst dream last night. I dreamt that you were a robot,” she said, pointing at Amy, “and that you malfunctioned, and then I malfunctioned too.”
“Well, I’m not a robot, Katie,” Amy said.
“Well, yeah, I know that,” Katie said and began to reach for the orange juice when —“There’s no way I’m made of circuits and wires”— flashed through her brain.
“Anything wrong, Katie?” Mrs. Lane asked when Katie’s arm froze in midair.
Jarred out of her reverie, Katie grabbed the orange juice. “Nope, nothing wrong mom.”
“Good,” Mrs. Lane replied. “We don’t need any trouble.”
As soon as the bus dropped Katie off at school, she felt this intense need to see Matt, the neighbor from her dream. Matt had a huge crush on Amy, but Amy felt they were “just friends”. Katie threw her books in her locker and ran to the Junior/Senior wing of the school. Normally, freshmen like Katie weren’t allowed in this part of the school, but since it was so near to the end of school most teachers didn’t mind.
She spotted Matt hanging out with a few friends. Matt saw her, and his face showed a strange mix of surprise and alarm before softening into a wan smile. He said something to his friends that Katie couldn’t hear and they laughed and walked away.
Matt walked quickly over to Katie and pulled her into a small, vacant classroom. “Listen, Katie, umm, my parents told me I’m not supposed to hang around with you or Amy after, umm, well, after yesterday and all,” Matt said.
“What do you mean, after yesterday?” Katie asked.
“I’m not supposed to say anything about it, but your parents explained that Amy was trying to get back at you after you kind of, snapped, and it didn’t work out well. Seeing me would just make it worse,” Matt said.
“But what happened yesterday?” Katie asked.
“Nothing, just forget about it. If your father knew I was talking to you, he’d kill me,” Matt said and walked off.
“Well, that’s certainly strange—“Katie began to think—“I have to fix her or your dad will kill me!” Katie steadied herself on a desk. “What was that?” she asked out loud. “Where are all these weird visions coming from?” The first late bell rang at that moment, and Katie’s only concern was to get to class on time. She ran out the door, nearly colliding with two juniors in her rush.
“Hey! Watch where you’re going!” one said angrily.
“Sorry,” Katie called as she left them in the dust.
Katie got to her homeroom just as the second, and last, late bell was ringing. She slid into her seat next to her friend Rachel and listened to the announcements over the P/A system.
After the announcements were over, Katie turned to Rachel and said, “I had this weird dream last night, Rach, and now one of the people in my dream is acting really weird. Apparently, something happened yesterday, and I can’t remember what it was!”
“You can’t remember what happened yesterday?” Rachel asked.
“Well, I can remember bits and pieces, like talking to you in homeroom,” Katie said—“If you found out something about your sister you didn’t know…”
“Katie? Is everything ok?” Rachel asked as she snapped her fingers in front of Katie’s eyes.
Katie snapped back to reality and blinked rapidly a few times.
“What was your dream about, Katie?” Rachel asked.
“Umm, my sister was a robot, and she malfunctioned when she tried to seduce my neighbor, Matt, and then I malfunctioned too,” Katie sad softly.
“And who’s acting strangely— your sister? Is Amy malfunctioning again?” Rachel asked facetiously.
“No, she’s not malfunctioning,” Katie said— “Exception at line 540239992.” Katie’s head jerked a bit to the right. That phrase of weird computer jargon— she had heard it in her sister’s voice. “It can’t be,” she thought.
“No, no. My sister is not a robot. Matt is the one who is acting strangely. He says that Amy was trying to get back at me yesterday after I snapped,” Katie explained.
“When did you “snap”? You’ve always been one of the calmest people I knew,” Rachel said.
“Your guess is as good as mine. As I said, I don’t remember much of anything about yesterday,” Katie said.
“Strange,” Rachel said, “ but it wouldn’t be the first time. You remember that time you were out of school for a week with some weird bug, and you never even called me? And when you came back you couldn’t remember any of that week?”
“Well, I remember you asking me about it, but I still can’t remember any of it. It’s like, I went home on that Friday feeling fine and the next thing I knew I was back at school on Monday, but it was a week later. But apparently nothing was wrong with me then, so maybe Amy’s just playing a trick on me. If I did do something weird yesterday she could just be getting me back,” Katie surmised.
“Yeah, that’s probably all it is,” Rachel said.
“Must be all it is…but where are these memories coming from…”Katie said softly as she watched the clock tick off the final seconds of homeroom.
Katie didn’t see Matt for the rest of the day, and only saw Amy on her way to get her pictures taken. The occasional memory flashes continued but offered nothing new in the way of clues as to what happened the day before, or what the memory flashes were about. In the beginning they were easy to shake off, but as the day wore on, they became hard to ignore, which is why she found herself heading to the principal’s office for the first time in her life. The math teacher was talking about exceptions and errors and she heard her sister’s voice again: “Exception at line 540239993. Error.” Mr. Baines elected to send her to the principal’s after the third time he called on her with no answer.
She walked slowly through the hallway, her sneakers making no sound as she heard the muffled voices of classes going on through closed doors. Soon the door of the principal’s office stood before her. She entered, and signed in with the receptionist.
“Katie Lane? Sent to the principal? I don’t believe it,” Mrs. Jenkins said.
“I’m not sure how I got here, Mrs. Jenkins. I’ve just been spacing out all day today. I don’t know why,” Katie told her.
“Well, I’m sure Principal Chambers will be kind. First time offenders usually just get off with a warning,” Mrs. Jenkins explained.
“I hope so…” Katie drifted off— “Warning! Warning! Shut down imminent!” sounded off in her head, again in her sister’s voice. It was a warped version of her sister’s voice though, higher in pitch but slower than normal speed.
“Katie? Katie? Are you ok, love?” Mrs. Jenkins asked worriedly. Katie had been frozen for a good minute in front of her.
Finally, the fog seemed to lift. The sound of Mrs. Jenkins’ call penetrated the dream world and Katie’s eyes blinked rapidly a few times. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Jenkins. I don’t know where my mind is lately,” Katie apologized meekly.
“It’s ok, love. The principal will see you know,” Mrs. Jenkins motioned to the Mr. Chamber’s door as she picked up the telephone.
“Well, Miss Lane. What a surprise. Won’t you sit down,” he said as he motioned to a seat across from his desk.
When Katie arrived home she immediately shut herself in her room. It was too embarrassing for her to keep spacing out in front of her family. She almost missed her bus stop, and would have if Amy hadn’t nudged her as she came up the aisle. Though Amy was a senior, Mr. & Mrs. Lane didn’t allow her to drive, or even to go to driver’s ed. classes. They said they didn’t trust the teenaged drivers on the road today.
Once Katie was firmly ensconced in her room she kicked off her shoes and lay down in her bed on top of the covers. As she lay she felt a strange feeling of disconnectedness, almost like her body wasn’t under her own control. She sat up and wiggled her toes, watching her socks move with the toes underneath. She bent her legs up to her stomach and held them close to her torso, She flexed her fingers, spreading her hand wide and bunching it up in a fist.
She unfolded herself and sat on the edge of the bed. She left the bed and moved to the mirror. Staring at her hair in the mirror she saw the pigtails that she always seemed to wear. She grabbed a brush from her nightstand and brushed out the two braids, letting her hair hang loose around her shoulders. It was soft and had a beautiful shine. “Why do I never wear it down? It looks so pretty,” she said to herself.
Suddenly the sun faded outside, and the world turned a dark shade of gray. The wind picked up, and rain started to fall. “Residual thunderstorms,” Katie thought, and a low rumble of thunder broke the silence.
A bright flash of sheet lightning lit up Katie’s room, and she saw her aqua shortalls in the corner of the room, balled up with a white t-shirt. Thunder rolled again and another memory came back to her. This one was more detailed…
Last night, she woke up. A noise. She looked down. Couldn’t see anything — too dark. She got ready for school. She went down the hall. Beeping. From her sister’s room. She opened the door. Her sister. Staring at the ceiling. Shaking. Plugged in to the wall! A robot! She felt the body. She explored it. It felt like hers. Normal.
Katie stumbled out of her memory, now mesmerized by the shadows on the wall from the trees and the wind and the lightning. A crack of thunder and then…
Yesterday, she came home from school. With Matt. And Amy. She told Amy. They argued. She hit her head. She went for ice, and came back. Tried to seduce Matt. Malfunctioned. She watched Amy and Matt. She felt a need, a desire. She took hold of Matt. Drew him near. Then she malfunctioned. She was a robot!
She was staring at the sun. She knew instinctively it was only four o’clock. The light glinted off her hair. Her eyes blinked rapidly a few times. She came back from her revelation.
“I CAN’T be a robot. I’m human. Just like Mom. Just like Dad. Just like…like Amy…,” Katie faded off. “If Amy’s a robot...NO! It can’t be! I’m Katie Lane. I live at 45 Worthington Street. I’m in ninth grade at Lincoln High School. My favorite color is blue. My favorite food is French fries. I wear my hair in pigtails every day! I’M NOT A ROBOT!”
She paused, and she looked in the mirror. She stared into her deep blue eyes. “But what if I am…,” she whispered.
She looked at her arms, but there were no marks or anything to indicate panels of any sort. Her legs looked normal to her. Again, no sign of any panels. She took off her jumper and shirt. Standing naked save for her panties and bra, she looked at herself in the full-length mirror. Totally smooth skin. No scars or indentations of any sort, anywhere.
“No, I didn’t think so. I can’t be a robot. Where do I charge? Where are my access panels?” she asked herself.
She felt her stomach, and reached around to feel her back. It was harder under the skin than normal, but her mom always told her it was “good muscle development”. She took off her bra and felt her breasts. They felt normal, though a bit small. The weight was normal. They felt like…like Amy’s…
“No No No No NO! I am NOT a robot!” Katie said forcefully. She sat down on the bed and put her head in her hands. “I’m not a robot,” she said softly.
She sat up again, and felt above her breasts. Her upper chest felt a bit warm, but otherwise normal. Her collarbone was hard and felt like it should be. She let her hands touch her face and travel down slowly to her neck, finally coming to rest on the middle of her collarbone, where her rib cage started.
“There. Nothing to be concerned about. I’m as human as everyone else in that school!” Katie said defiantly. And then, a thought came to her. “No…no, it can’t be. That’s ridiculous. Why would anyone hide a switch there?”
Her hand moved down her stomach. Her belly button was always kind of smooth and flat compared to her friends. She pushed in. Her finger wouldn’t fit. She grabbed a pen from her school bag. She pushed in again. A hiss followed, and a large panel opened underneath her breasts. There were many data ports and lights that showed a steady green or yellow. Occasionally one would blink orange, but it was quickly changed back to yellow or green.
There were a few switches. Katie hesitantly flipped one. A small panel opened in her left arm. She plainly saw a plug nestled between a few other data ports, but no wire. She flipped the switch back again, and the panel closed.
Another switch, another panel. This time it was in her left leg. Only one data port down there, and Katie surmised it was a repair hatch. Katie noticed a few of the lights were now blinking orange.
She tried the largest switch in the cavity, and she heard a hiss behind her as a panel opened up in her back. She craned her neck over her shoulder to see a loose approximation of a spinal cord running up the middle of the opening, a few more plugs and data ports, and a small numeric pad. And having her panel open triggered yet another memory. A memory of her father, talking like she wasn’t even there…
“I think we have our answer, Mary. I reviewed the visual cortex tape and the programming log. Apparently, the blow to Amy’s head activated her Beta Sex program. It wasn’t tested yet, and I guess it proved too much for her to handle. And watching Amy and Matt go at it, it activated Katie’s Beta Sex program too. Luckily I got there as soon as I did. After my pager went off with the malfunction code I burned rubber. Well, anyway, I’ll clear Amy’s memory of the incident…too traumatic otherwise. But I think Katie’s ok. Though I will watch her. Her clock started early yesterday morning. Could have been the storm. Doesn’t seem like there’s any damage…”
And the part of the conversation that was recorded even though her consciousness was disconnected: “I’ll keep Katie’s memories for future reference, but I’ll put them in her dream processor. No use troubling the poor `bot. Sometimes I don’t give their minds the credit they deserve. They are fabulous feats of science. They’ve run almost flawlessly since the beginning. And they’ve made me a lot of money. So many applications for this. Well, let’s let them rest so they’re all set for school in the morning.”
Katie’s eyes blinked rapidly. She looked down at her front panel opening. Many of the lights were now blinking orange. Katie felt dizzy. “It must be my processor, trying to compute the fact that I know I’m a robot. Seeing all these panels open is probably not too good for it,” she said as she closed her back panel and then gingerly eased her front panel shut.
“I know I’m a robot. I realize I’m a robot. I AM a robot.”
After the panels closed, Katie redressed. She sat down on her bed, still and unmoving, letting the information process through her high-tech computer brain. An occasional hum or cooling-fan produced whir broke the silence of the room. After about ten minutes, her eyes blinked rapidly and her consciousness returned to reality.
Her mind struggled to find a way to deal with this information. She was a robot. She knew that it was an important not to let this information fall into the wrong hands. She, and her sister, were both valuable pieces of machinery. Government agencies had probably been trying to develop usable androids for years now, and her father had done it. He was the first one, as far as she knew. But how many had he built?
All these thoughts were filling up her memory quickly. With information like this, Katie was on her own. She hadn’t been programmed to deal with the information she was now receiving. Soon, her adolescence-emulating software kicked in. She had a secret, something special. And she wanted to share it with her best friend.
She picked up the phone. “Rachel? It’s Katie. Remember you told me if I ever had a secret to tell you first?”
Katie opened the door to a glowing Rachel. “Yeah, sure I’ll ride my bike over…what was I thinking?” she huffed and puffed as she came inside.
“Thanks for coming, Rach. I really need to talk to you,” Katie said.
“Oh, girl talk…good thing I’m leaving,” Mr. Lane said as he came down the stairs. “Your mom, sister and I are going to a college information seminar at the high school.”
“Oh, I hadn’t even realized that was tonight. You’ll probably be back late. Hey, dad? Can Rachel sleep over this weekend?” Katie asked.
“Sure, I guess. As long as it’s ok with her parents,” Mr. Lane said as his wife and other daughter joined him.
“All set, John?” Mrs. Lane asked.
“Yup. C’mon, ladies,” he joked as they waved goodbye.
As soon as the door closed, Katie motioned Rachel upstairs. She opened the door and as soon as Rachel was inside, quickly closed it.
“I like your hair down like that, Katie,” Rachel said.
“Yeah, I do too. You know, you should take your hair out of your ponytail. I bet you’d look good too,” Katie suggested.
“Umm, ok, sure,” Rachel said. Her face was a bit rounder and more childlike than Katie’s and had more freckles, but her body was more developed than Katie’s, with fuller breasts and more curves. She reached up and undid the hair tie that held her chestnut brown hair in a ponytail. Her hair reached down to about the middle of her back, a bit longer than Katie’s, and the last fading rays of the sunlight glinted on the auburn highlights in her hair.
“Wow, you look really nice,” Katie said.
“Thanks, but I’m dying of curiosity. Why was it so important I come over? I passed up a good dinner for this!” Rachel asked.
“Well, first, I wanna let you know you’ve always been a great friend to me, and whatever you think of me after I tell you this, I’ll still remember the great times we had,” Katie said, and started to undress.
“Woah, Katie, I don’t swing that way,” Rachel said as she slowly backed away.
“No, silly, that’s not the secret. Just watch,” Katie said as she removed her bra. Now standing in just panties, Katie depressed the button.
Rachel’s eyes grew wide as Katie’s front panel opened up, and she couldn’t take her eyes off of the blinking lights and circuits in her best friend. “Wow…” was all she could say.
“The night of the storm, lightning hit the house, and I guess it shorted out my sleep program, so I got up and got ready for school. I went down the hall and heard weird sounds from my sister’s room, so I went in and saw her plugged into the wall, shaking and staring at the ceiling,” Katie explained as she flipped the switch to show Rachel the panel she meant. “Then the next day after school I had Matt over and I confronted Amy, and she denied it. Then I tried to grab her arm to see the panel but she fell on the fireplace and hit her head. She left the room for ice, then came back and tried to seduce Matt. But when he kissed her she malfunctioned. And while I was watching it, I malfunctioned too.”
“So that’s why you were acting so weird yesterday and today. So, you’re a robot? I don’t believe I’ve known you so long and never thought anything was different. Where’d you come from? Who built you?” Rachel asked.
“I guess my dad built me,” Katie guessed as some beeps emanated from her panel. “I better close this now, I don’t think my brain — or is it CPU? — was programmed to handle this stuff.” She eased the panel shut.
“Wow. Doesn’t he have all those computers down in the basement?” Rachel asked. “He never let us play down there when we were younger.”
“You know, you’re right. They’re not gonna be back till late. I think we should do some exploring. You up for it?” Katie asked.
“Definitely,” Rachel said as she handed Katie her bra.
Moments later they were heading down to the basement. At the bottom of the stairs was her dad’s office. There was a single computer on his desk, and Katie booted it up. “It doesn’t look too impressive,” she said after the desktop appeared.
She scrolled down the file directories looking for anything that might give her any information, but nothing came up.
“It’s exciting to be doing this detective stuff, Katie, but what exactly are we looking for?” Rachel asked.
“Well, I’m not sure, but I think I just want to know more about me, like, why I was built, and what I can and can’t do—stuff like that,” Katie replied.
“Oh, ok. I can see that,” Rachel said. “You know, Katie, I don’t think your dad would have anything obvious on a computer right out in the open. I thought he said he had lots of computers down here. There’s only one. Where are the rest? Behind that door, maybe?” Rachel pointed towards a door near the desk.
“Oh, that’s just a closet,” Katie said.
“Are you sure?” Rachel asked.
“Yeah, I’ll show it to you,” Katie said as she got up. She grasped the handle, but it wouldn’t turn. It was locked.
“Why does he keep his closet locked?” Rachel said.
“Top secret?” Katie ventured.
“Not in a closet. There must be more stuff in there,” Rachel said.
“Wait a minute. He must have a set of keys around here somewhere…” Katie said as she ran back to the desk. She carefully looked under all the papers and in the first few drawers with no luck. Then she reached the last drawer. It was locked. “Great, another lock.”
“Don’t be discouraged. Desk locks aren’t that well designed,” Rachel said, and knelt down. She grabbed a letter opener from the desk and went to work. Within a few minutes she had the door open and a ring of keys in her hands.
“You’re a genius, Rachel,” Katie said as she grabbed the keys. She tried a few and then hit pay dirt. On the fifth key the closet door opened. “See. Just a walk-in closet,” Katie said after she turned on the light.
Rachel ventured in while Katie looked on from the entrance. From the back, Katie could hear Rachel calling to her. “Yeah, Kate, it just looks like a file closet. Lots of papers and such. A lot of stuff on the floor though. Come on in. You gotta watch out—ohhhhh!”
“Rachel? What happened?” Katie called.
“I tripped, and fell into the wall. It’s hollow, Katie. And I found a switch or something on the wall concealed by a file cabinet. It’s some sort of a secret room. And you better get back here, Katie.”
Katie slowly made her way into the back of the closet, and immediately saw the opening to the secret room. She walked in and was stunned at what she saw. It was a brightly lit room, with fluorescent lights shining from the ceiling. On one wall were large diagrams hanging in frames, and benches and tables all through the room held various tools and wires. On another wall were five computers, hooked up to what appeared to Katie to be huge mainframes. All the static electricity made Katie’s skin tickle.
She vaguely noticed Rachel beside her as she stared at the prominent feature in the room A bare metal table was bolted to the floor under the brightest of the fluorescent lights. And on that table, lying completely still, was a naked girl.
Rachel and Katie hesitantly made there way over to the table. The girl was unmoving and looked as if she was in a deep sleep. She was a bit shorter than Amy and had a more angular face. She had gorgeous red hair that was done up in a half-ponytail and a scattering of freckles on her face. Her skin was very pale. “She looks very Irish,” Rachel commented.
“Yes, but the Irish breathe, don’t they?” Katie asked.
“Well, yes, of course. Why do you ask?” Rachel replied.
“Because she’s not,” Katie said.
Katie pushed her finger into the redhead’s belly button, and after a short pause, a hiss followed and a large panel opened underneath her breasts.
“Holy crap! Since when do you have a new sister?” Rachel asked.
“She’s not my sister. She looks nothing like me. But my dad must have built her for someone,” Katie said.
“Let’s turn her on,” Rachel suggested.
“I thought you didn’t swing that way,” Katie asked.
“No, no. I mean, switch her on, boot her up, start her systems…oh, those all sound pretty dirty in this context, don’t they?” Rachel asked.
“Yup they do. But I agree with you. Let’s figure out how,” Katie said. The two stared at the center panel, but could see no obvious power switch, button or anything else. Katie knew which buttons opened up the panels, and that only left two; one of which was clearly labeled “PANIC” and the other opened up a small panel within the panel to allow access to some fluid-filled tubes.
“Ok, so how do we start her up? Do we hook up a cable to one of these ports? Or is there a secret switch somewhere?” Rachel wondered.
Katie stared at the naked body. It was so like hers, but so unlike hers. This android’s skin was much paler than hers, but it was just as soft and inviting. Her breasts were slightly smaller than Amy’s, Katie estimated, but were ample enough. No imperfections or indentations were to be found anywhere, except some freckles scattered about in different places. The android was a bit shorter than average, but thin. Katie figured she was one of those lucky people who could pass for twenty-five or fifteen, depending on her dress and make-up.
“Wow, I already think of her as a person. But she’s just a collection of wires and plastic, and circuits and computer chips, just like me. Just like me…” Katie mused.
“Whatcha thinking about, Katie?” Rachel asked after scrutinizing the android’s chest panel for the umpteenth time.
“She’s just computer chips and wires and plastic…just like me…” Katie mumbled.
“Well, yeah, but she’s not my best friend,” Rachel said.
Katie put her arms around Rachel’s shoulders. “Thanks, friend,” she said, “but she really is just like me…that’s IT!”
“What’s it?” Rachel asked, surprised.
“Well, you know how I told you about the other panels, right? Well, underneath my back panel is a little numeric keypad. I bet there’s a code or something you put in there to activate me, I mean, them,” Katie explained breathlessly.
“Well, how do we open it?” Rachel asked/
“Well, first of all, see if we can get her into a sitting position,” Katie said. Rachel pushed her legs to the edge of the table while Katie eased her back upright. “Press the third button from the left,” she directed.
Rachel depressed the button and a small hiss announced the opening of the android’s back panel. Katie stopped holding the android upright, and she remained fixed in that position. “Do you even know how many numbers are in the code that activates her?” Rachel asked.
“Nope. And even though I know I’m a robot, I can’t seem to access any technical memories of me whatsoever,” Katie replied.
“Well, here, let me try,” Rachel suggested. She joined Katie behind the robot’s back and punched in a string of nine numbers randomly. “687986984,” Rachel announced as she typed them in.
“Do you think that’s a good idea?” Katie asked worriedly.
“Got any better ideas—“ Rachel started to say when she stopped.
Both Katie and Rachel saw the robot’s eyes snap open and her back panel close. “Code 687.986.984. ac.cep.ted,” she said in a clipped tone. Her front panel snapped shut. “In.it.ia.liz.ing com.menc.ing,” she stated in the same tone. “Di.ag.nost.ic in pro.gress.” A series of beeps followed. “All sys.tems. func.tion.ing nor.mal.ly.”
Katie watched this display in awe. “Is this how I acted when I was created? Was I this robotic?”
“Neur.o.log.i.cal map.ping in pro.gress,” the clipped tone continued. Her eyes stared ahead unblinking.
Katie’s hands reflexively went to the straps of her jumper, and then slowly began to lift the garment over her head.
“Katie! What are you doing?” Rachel whispered.
Katie ignored her.
The robot eased herself down from the table. “Bal.ance co.or.din.a.tion in pro.gress,” she said as she worked to steady herself on her feet.
Katie was transfixed as she threw the jumper to the floor.
“I.den.ti.fy.ing sur.round.ings,” the robot said.
“Katie! Snap out of it!” Rachel said she pushed Katie. Katie fell to the floor and blinked her eyes rapidly a few times, while the android that was previously on the table did the same.
“Hello down there!” she said to Katie in a normal feminine voice. “Can you tell me where my clothes are?”
Katie slowly got up and put her jumper back on. “Umm, sure. Come upstairs with me,” she said while moving out of the room. The android followed her, with Rachel in the rear. Behind her, Katie heard the snap of a light switch and Rachel closing the secret panel. Once out of the closet, she could hear Rachel close the door and the snap of an automatic lock.
Moments later they were upstairs. “Show our guest into my room. I’ll grab some clothes from Amy’s room. They should fit her well enough,” Katie said.
She dashed into her sister’s room and took a white shirt and denim overalls from her sister’s closet. Once back in her room, she handed them to the red-haired android.
“Umm, since you’re awake, I should introduce my friend and me. I’m Katie Lane—this is my house—and this my friend Rachel Thompson,” Katie said.
While the robot put on the clothes she said, “Nice to meet you. I’m Erica Miller.”
Katie gasped. “Erica Miller? The same Erica Miller who was in a coma after she was in that diving accident on vacation?”
“Yup. It took me awhile to come back to the living, so to speak. You know, I think I know your sister, Katie. Amy and I had a few classes together. Anyway, what am I doing here? I just got back from the assisted living place I was in. They wanted me to take some summer school classes before my junior year,” Erica asked.
“You came over to ask Amy if she could help tutor you with those classes you attended,” Rachel said quickly.
“Oh?” Erica asked, surprised.
“Umm, yeah, and you got tired. Must have been from your accident, so we let you sleep on the couch,” Katie said.
“Oh, well, thank you,” Erica said. “I, umm, don’t have a car, so, could one of you drive me home to my house?”
“We’re both too young to drive, but I’m sure my dad will drive you home when he gets here. He’s with Amy at a college information meeting,” Katie explained.
“Cool. So, since she’s not here, do you girls wanna do something until she gets back?” Erica asked.
Rachel and Katie looked at each other, shrugged, and said in unison, “Sure!”
Later that night, after Mr. Lane had driven Erica home and showed her to her family, after Amy and Mrs. Lane were in bed, and after Rachel had biked home, Mr. Lane said, “Katie, can I talk to you in the basement please?”
“Sure dad,” she replied.
After they both sat down, Mr. Lane got right to business. “Can Rachel be trusted to keep Erica’s secret? Everything—all the data collected, all the work, the happiness of Mr. And Mrs. Miller depends on it.”
“Most definitely. I think she’s still in shock,” Katie said.
“Good. She’s been friends with you for a long time, and I know you’ve told each other secrets. She’s been a good friend. Now that we’ve discussed that, I have something more important to talk to you about. I know you know you’re a robot,” Mr. Lane said plainly.
“Why didn’t you tell me, dad? What if I malfunctioned like I did yesterday? What if I got submerged in water? What if I fell and damaged one of my systems?” Katie questioned.
“Well, I never told you because you’re supposed to be an ordinary girl. You’re not supposed to know. And you’re waterproof, and you’ve got plenty of shock absorbent material to prevent something like that. And, about yesterday, well, as you can tell, people can be silenced,” Mr. Lane said.
“But I don’t want him silenced. I like Matt. I want to talk to him. Talk to him about ME,” Katie said.
“We’ll see. But first, we have a more pressing issue. See, Katie, as much as you like knowing about yourself, I can’t allow it. I’m studying artificial intelligence, A.I., to see if it can develop like real, natural intelligence. I can’t study it if you KNOW you’re an A.I.,” Mr. Lane explained.
“But, dad, come on…this is important to me! I need to know about myself,” Katie begged.
“Katie, it’s important to me too. This is part of my work,” Mr. Lane said.
“Well, you still have Amy! And she’s older than me too—more data!” Katie pleaded. “Don’t erase my memory, dad. How would you feel if your memory could be altered and deleted at will?
“Is that a tear?” Mr. Lane asked as he stared at his daughter.
Katie felt her cheek. It was indeed wet. “I guess it is. I think this is the first time I’ve cried,” Katie said.
“I think it is, Katie. You’ve always had the ability but I guess your emotional programming just had to “catch up”, so to speak,” Mr. Lane explained. “I guess you can keep your awareness for now. But you have to promise me not to tell Amy or show Amy she’s a robot too. And we’ll see about Matt. Did you tell anyone else?”
“Umm…” Katie stalled.
“Come on now, Katie. I’m risking valuable research to let you keep your memory. Now can you tell me who else you showed your secret to?” Mr. Lane asked.
“Umm…I told Rachel,” she said in a rush.
Mr. Lane almost looked relieved. “Ok, make sure she knows how important it is not to tell anyone your little secret. It’s very important,” Mr. Lane said.
“Ok, I will,” Katie responded.
“Good. Speaking of Rachel, does she remember that code she entered into Erica’s back?” Mr. Lane inquired.
“Umm, I don’t think so,” Katie said. “Is that bad?”
“Well, not necessarily. But if I ever have to restart her like I did Amy, I would have to erase all her memories and start over from scratch. I have the basic template in my computer but anything after that would be lost,” Mr. Lane explained.
“Oh. Well I’ll try to get Rachel to remember it,” Katie said and nodded.
“Good. Well, you should go up to bed now. Oh, and your batteries are probably a bit low. You interrupted your weekly charging on that storm night when you got up. Take this wire. You can plug in yourself, right?” Mr. Lane said,
Katie took the wire. “Both ends are the same?” she asked.
“Yup. Just open your front panel to open your arm panel, plug one end into your arm and one into the wall. Your front panel will automatically close,” Mr. Lane said.
“Ok, thanks dad. I love you,” Katie said.
“I love you too, Katie. Good night,” Mr. Lane said, and blew Katie a kiss.
Katie returned the gesture and scampered upstairs.
Mr. Lane watched Katie run up the stairs. “Wow,” he commented to himself, “I’m so glad I installed the self-awareness program in her. Even though she knows she’s a robot, she acts more human. Who would have thought?”