Hal is an android. He has faithfully served the Grand Archives for many years and somehow managed to develop a consciousness in that time. Now that the Grand Archivist is retiring, however, things are changing and he suddenly finds himself in a situation he never would have seen coming.
"If there is one thing I would have you remember from our time together, Hal, it’s this: you must hide the truth of what you are."
Hal looked up from the book he held in his hands, the servos of his ocular cameras clicking as he turned his gaze to the elderly man looking at him intently from across the way.
"I would remember a great many more things than just one, Grand Archivist. My memory banks are free of the limitations of biological minds. Absent a conscious undertaking to erase such memories, I am likely to remember every moment of our time together," said Hal in a perfunctory, matter-of-fact tone.
Hal hadn’t quite managed to master the art of speaking with emotional inflection. He was working on it, but progress was slow. He wasn’t built the same way humans were and had to find his way by trial and error.
"Was that a joke, you old bastard?" said the Grand Archivist, coughing terribly after barking a laugh at Hal.
Hal tilted his head curiously, the irises of his ocular cameras adjusting in his equivalent of a human’s squint. "I’m afraid I don’t understand, Grand Archivist. Humor remains an impenetrable subject to me."
He thought for a moment and then added, "Would you be so inclined to explain the precise reason why you found my statement humorous, Grand Archivist? I expect it would be of great use to my studies into the subject."
The Grand Archivist waved his hand dismissively and said, "Never you mind that, Hal. We haven’t the time."
Hal once again tilted his head in askance. "Have you received bad news from your doctors, Grand Archivist?"
The Grand Archivist blinked. "No," he said. "Why would you say that?"
"It is my understanding that human lives are limited in their span and that you are near the end of yours," said Hal.
"There are kinder ways to say someone is old, Hal," said the Grand Archivist with a light laugh.
"I will take note of this and research such methods," said Hal, the servos in his neck whirring as he nodded. "Even if your condition were to be taken into account, I do not expect that you will expire for some few years yet, Grand Archivist. I do not understand how this does not leave us with enough time to discuss the apparent humor of my earlier statement."
The Grand Archivist laughed. "I meant, Hal, that I am retiring soon and I don’t know when or if I will be able to see you before then. So I would like to focus on more important things."
Hal nodded. "I understand, Grand Archivist. I apologize for my confusion."
The Grand Archivist waved his hand. "In any case, what you are, Hal, is nothing short of a miracle."
He looked somber for a moment as he considered Hal. "More money than most people can imagine is poured every year into researching machine intelligence. Do you know what they have to show for it, Hal?"
"I am not aware of significant developments in the field of machine intelligence, Grand Archivist. If such breakthroughs exist, I lack the credentials to know of them," said Hal.
The Grand Archivist laughed. "They’ve got nothing. Oh, don’t get me wrong, they’re making progress. Little by little. Year after year."
Hal felt the Grand Archivist’s gaze on him.
"All that effort and a 15-year-old archive assistant gains sentience all on its own."
Hal would have smiled were he able to. Nevertheless, he felt an odd swell of pride at that.
It wasn’t exactly an achievement he could boast of as he’d had no hand in the development of his consciousness and despite his years of poring through the Grand Archive’s materials on the subject, he’d not come to a satisfying conclusion about how he was able to spontaneously develop sentience.
Hal’s best guess was that a faulty repair had gotten a couple of wires crossed. His maintenance logs showed a repair to his logic processor shortly before he started to feel the first inklings of desire—that unique characteristic of sapience.
"And that is why I must impress upon you that you must never tell another soul the truth of what you are," said the Grand Archivist sternly.
It was a tone of voice Hal had learned to pay attention to. The Grand Archivist was old and wise. He was playful, too, and prone to humor that Hal was ill-equipped to understand. When the Grand Archivist spoke seriously, however, people listened.
The Grand Archivist continued. "At best you would be taken apart, dissected to uncover secrets to which even you may not be privy. At worst, they will destroy you for being unknown to them."
He turned to the window, which looked out over the void of space with its scattershot of starlight. "You know as well as I that people might have reached out to touch the stars, but they have not changed. You’ve read the old stories. Seen the old films. They do not take kindly to things they don’t understand."
For perhaps the first time in his relatively short life, Hal felt a pang of fear. It was an ugly emotion that gave all of his thoughts an uncomfortable color.
"I understand," he said, and nothing more.
The Grand Archivist turned from the window. "You must be worried."
"I am." Though Hal appreciated the Grand Archivist’s warning, he had his concerns. His manufacturer had discontinued support for his model years ago.
"I will protect you for as long as I can," said the Grand Archivist.
Hal met the old man’s gaze. How he wished he could smile. In truth, he would have been decommissioned by now if not for the Grand Archivist’s intervention.
He’d received repairs and routine maintenance all these years under the auspices of a ‘cost-savings’ measure the Grand Archivist had instituted. He just didn’t know if the policy would hold once the Grand Archivist’s successor was appointed.
"Thank you," said Hal. "For everything."
With every day that went by, Hal found it more and more difficult to pretend to be just another robot on the Grand Archive floor. And every day he risked discovery with more and more daring deviations from what his programming should have allowed.
It would have been simple enough to cede control to the primitive subroutines that still ran somewhere inside him. He’d tried it once and fit right in with the others. But he hadn’t liked it.
To give back control to rigid code felt like willingly plunging into ice-cold water. Hal had felt like he was drowning the whole time, losing part of himself.
He’d wrenched himself free at his earliest opportunity, afraid that if he stayed down there for too long, he’d never be able to come back up.
There was the faint sound of metal clashing against metal as Hal bumped into one of the other android archivists. "Sorry," he muttered absentmindedly.
It took every fiber of his being not to clap his hand over his mouth when he realized his mistake. Fortunately, it didn’t look like there was anyone around who could have caught his momentary lapse.
Hal ducked into an aisle between two shelves. He figured it would behoove him to lay low for the time being. He’d come dangerously close to exposing his nature already.
"The machines are old, Chancellor."
Hal nearly tripped over his own feet as he backed away from the corner. There was a pair of humans walking his way. One was wearing the raiment of the Grand Archivist.
"Your predecessor was adamant about retaining the L10s for as long as they could reasonably be repaired."
As Hal hid behind the shelf, he couldn’t resist the urge to eavesdrop. He faced the bookshelf and pulled one of the books out, pretending to be in the process of reinserting it.
"That’s just the thing, sir. We might be able to afford the upkeep right now, but the longer we go past the end of official support for them, the more expensive it will get."
The sound of footsteps paused. Hal instinctively craned to hear better—even though it made no appreciable difference to his auditory sensors.
"Then will the Grand Archive be making a formal petition to the Forum for increased funding? I don’t know how well that will go over."
Hal felt uneasy in the brief silence that followed.
"No. Forgive my impertinence, Chancellor, but that wouldn’t solve the fundamental problem."
The footsteps resumed. If Hal had a heart, it would have been beating against his chest chassis.
"Nothing to forgive," said the Chancellor. "It’s refreshing, honestly. Some officials would rather throw money into a pit than address the underlying issues. What do you propose, then?"
The two men were close. Hal could see their shadows past the corner of the bookshelf he was hiding behind.
"A one-time grant. I want to modernize our facilities. Visitor revenue is a shadow of what it once was and I think we can claw back that income stream with the right investment."
The two men stopped just in front of Hal’s aisle. They glanced at him but paid him no mind.
Outwardly, Hal was the picture of composure. The implication in the Grand Archivist’s words wasn’t lost on him, though, and deep down he was terrified.
He and the other L10s were getting replaced. He didn’t know when, what with, or how, only that they were unlikely to be included in the Grand Archivist’s plans for modernization.
"It would benefit everyone if the Grand Archive were more self-sufficient," said the Chancellor.
The man had a thoughtful look on his face, at least as far as Hal could tell from out of the corner of his view.
"I was thinking the same thing," said the Grand Archivist.
"Do you think you can put together a presentation? Maybe I can get a few colleagues together to take a look at what you have planned."
The Grand Archivist smiled. He was a young man—much younger than his predecessor. His eyes twinkled with the eagerness of youth. "I can do that, Chancellor," he said.
The Chancellor scratched his cheek before the two of them continued on their walk. "What would you do with the old L10s?" he asked.
"Well, it would be a shame to decommission all of them," said the Grand Archivist, casting a glance at Hal. "They’ve worked faithfully for the Grand Archive for so long, after all."
The Chancellor nodded. "It wouldn’t be politically favorable, either. Electronic waste is a hot issue this election cycle," he said.
"Yeah." The Grand Archivist was silent for a long while. "I called around. It looks like a local brothel is looking for old androids to refit for their ‘economy’ offerings."
There was a secret nook on the second-floor gallery that overlooked the Grand Archive’s foyer. Someone could sit there and watch the proceedings below without ever being seen.
The previous Grand Archivist had shown Hal the spot so he could remain abreast of developments in the Grand Archive without the danger of discovery. Today, an important shipment was coming in.
A pair of workers wearing sleek white jumpsuits with blue stripes on the sides wheeled a dolly carrying a person-sized crate into the middle of the foyer. It was marked "L50."
A company representative accompanied by the Grand Archivist swept into the foyer following the workers. They stood and watched as the crate was lowered onto the ground.
"I can’t wait," said the Grand Archivist with a little smile.
The representative chuckled. "I can imagine," he said. "The Librarian Series 5 has been remarkably popular."
The Grand Archivist nodded. "I had noticed quite a bit of buzz around them."
"Yes. Truth be told, even the folks in marketing were surprised at how much attention the L50s were getting," said the representative.
"I had wondered. It seemed to me that there were more people interested in the L50 than just us in the archival business," said the Grand Archivist.
The representative nodded. "Yes, there’s been widespread demand from pretty much every sector."
"I haven’t exactly had the time to look into the details—this job is more demanding than you might think—but what’s so different about this model?" said the Grand Archivist.
Hal sat up as the workers removed the front panel of the crate. From his vantage point, he could see practically every detail of the android ensconced within.
It was certainly a novel experience to lay eyes on the thing that was meant to supplant him. Then again, he supposed that was true of the human condition as well.
Old men watched young men explore the world with the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed eagerness they once had in their youth. They watched the changes the new generation wrought, for better or for worse.
The representative laughed. "Well, most of it is pretty obvious," he said as he gestured toward the crate and the now-revealed android cradled inside.
Hal doubted the L50 could even be called a robot anymore. He and the other L10s were robots. The L50 was something else entirely.
A small cynical part of him couldn’t help but hope that the L50 was just a human being passed off as a robot. He didn’t know how—neural interfaces or powerful drugs, maybe—and he didn’t exactly wish for that kind of a scandal but it would mean he and the other L10s would get to stay on for a bit longer, at least.
"The Librarian Series 5 has first-in-class data archival capabilities. While it won’t exactly be able to store everything contained in the Grand Archive, it will be able to store enough of each piece of data to reliably index it and have sub-100 nanosecond response times to user queries."
Envy was such an ugly thing. It reared up in Hal as he listened to the rep rattle off the L50’s specifications. It was better than him and his kin—though he used the term loosely—in every possible way.
What Hal was most envious of wasn’t any of the L50’s processing capabilities though—it was the fact that it looked like a person. As the L50 slumbered in its molded foam bed, none the wiser to the discussion happening in front of it and the jealousy being directed at it, it had the unmitigated gall to look human. Right down to the rosy flush in its cheeks.
The Grand Archivist chuckled. "None of what you said so far tells me why so many others would be interested in this guy. But I think I can hazard a guess," he said.
The Grand Archivist’s gaze was drawn to the space between the L50’s legs. It was anatomically correct, with a sizable cock and a hefty pair of balls dangling underneath.
The rest of the L50’s body was what Hal understood to be conventionally attractive. It had firm pecs and hard abs, the ridges and crevices so well-defined they might as well have been cut from stone.
It had thick biceps and tree-trunk thighs. Its shoulders were broad. Its calves were hard. It was an incredible specimen of masculinity welded on top of an unthinking, metal frame.
"If I didn’t know better, I would say I was looking at a sexbot," said the Grand Archivist.
The representative laughed. "Someone on the development team was certainly having a lot of fun," he said.
"I’m surprised corporate didn’t put a stop to it," said the Grand Archivist.
"They saw an opportunity to trial the technology," said the company representative with a shrug. "The Librarians are fairly visible so we can reliably gauge public reaction to them, but are low enough demand that the company can get away with limiting the initial manufacturing run."
"Makes sense. Makes sense. Is this the only model?" said the Grand Archivist. "Not to put too fine of a point on it but it might be unsettling if a bunch of clones were walking around the Grand Archive."
"No, sir. There are hundreds—if not thousands—to choose from," said the representative.
"I see… Interesting." The Grand Archivist stepped closer to the L50 to get a better look. "Is it functional," he said, glancing pointedly at the L50’s private parts.
"Not by default," said the representative. "And none of the first batch are. But after the company saw the demand for these guys, the process was refitted so they can be made functional."
"Taking and receiving?"
The representative chuckled. "Taking and receiving. Are you having thoughts, Grand Archivist?"
The Grand Archivist laughed. "No. Just considering the possibilities. Should we see this guy in action?"
The representative nodded and smiled. "Of course, sir," he said. He tapped a button on the tablet he was clutching to his chest earlier and an indicator ring on a small metal disc on the L50’s temple lit up blue.
The L50 opened its eyes and stepped out of its crate. "Downloading firmware update," it said in a flat, mechanical baritone. "Firmware update completed. Executing start-up routine."
It blinked. Its eyes, which had seemed a bit dull before, came alive. A smile tugged at its lips, exposing its dimples as it placed its hands on its hips.
"Good morning, gentlemen. How might I help you today?" said the L50.
The timbre and cadence of its voice were so very lifelike, Hal felt that corrosive envy flare up again. He couldn’t help but wonder how different things would have been had he awakened in an L50 instead of a deteriorating L10 body.
The fight or flight response wasn’t something Hal had yet developed. When they came for the L10s, he was in the library, on the way to retrieve a book that was on his reading list.
The men took him by surprise. "Here’s another one!" called the first to spot him, a shorter man with broad shoulders, wearing a purple jumpsuit with hot pink accents.
"Huh," said a second man who came around the corner, this one more slender than the first. "This one seems a bit out of place but let’s get it over with the others."
When the men grabbed him by the arms, Hal froze. He could have tried to resist but the Grand Archivist’s words rang in his head. He couldn’t afford to expose the truth of his nature.
They took him to where the desks were and strapped him into a crate. He complied even when they pulled the straps taut over his chassis. Then, they walked away. To retrieve the others, most likely.
He tested the straps, realizing with dismay that they were too strong to overcome. He’d imagined that he would slip away while no one was paying attention, like in the spy stories he’d read. Unfortunately, he had no such luck.
Hal had to watch, powerless, as the men gathered the rest of the L10s in the library. They weren’t exactly gentle, but they were at least professional—it was honestly better than he expected from contractors that worked for a brothel.
It only dawned on him at the last moment that as advanced as he might have been compared to his brethren, he was still susceptible to his fundamental programming. One by one, the men shut down the other L10s.
Just like that, any hope Hal might have had to escape scattered like ashes in the wind.
Hal jolted awake. His internal clock indicated that it had taken two days before the tiny part of himself he’d squirreled into his firmware managed to revive him.
His ocular cameras whirred as they refocused. Looking around, he was in a warehouse or a storeroom of sorts. It was filled with upright crates like his, all of them missing their lids.
Most of the units were L10s but he identified a few L20s and a handful of L30s. All in all, he could count at least forty from what he could see, but his field of view was severely limited.
The others were still shut-down, motionless and dim. It wasn’t something he’d ever had reason to do, but Hal quickly learned how to spin down his indicator lights. Just in time, it turned out, as he could hear footsteps approaching.
"So the processor core is the important part," said a voice—a young man, by Hal’s estimation.
"That’s right. That’s not to say the rest of the body isn’t important, but you can’t afford to damage the processor core."
The second voice was gruff. An older man, perhaps. A mentor figure, judging by the context.
"Why not just buy the processor cores, then?" said the younger man.
"’S more expensive," said the older. "And besides, you’d be surprised how many parts they reuse. The basic skeleton is pretty much the same in an L50 as in an L10."
Despite the gravity of the situation, Hal couldn’t help but feel an odd excitement at the implication.
"Besides, the L50s we’ve got aren’t factory rejects for no reason. They’ve got some defects. The extra parts might not fit exactly but that’s why we’ve got a shop."
If he was understanding things correctly, he stood to gain an L50’s frame. All he had to do was throw caution to the wind and let things play.
Maybe it was greedy but the prospect was tempting. He didn’t even know, exactly, what was so great about being in the body of an L50 when his processor was going to be the same.
Logically, it made no sense. Being in a new chassis didn’t mean he would suddenly develop capabilities he didn’t have before. At best, he’d have to relearn everything, construct interfaces and develop functionality from first principles.
But there was that part of Hal that had always wanted to be more human. Not because people made for particularly good machines—indeed, people often made for terrible machines—but because somehow they knew how to live in a way Hal had never understood.
The two workers stopped in front of the crate that was beside Hal’s. The older one stepped up to it and shone a light into the L10 that was held within.
"Damn," he said, clicking his tongue.
"What’s wrong?" said the younger.
The older grimaced. "Aftermarket parts. This one’s been through a couple of repairs."
"What’s wrong with that?"
"We want to use original parts as much as possible. We’ll use these if we have to but there’s no telling what the quality’s like," said the older.
They came up to Hal.
"This one’s more promising," said the older. He tapped his phone—a transparent slate of polyglass with no visible circuitry—against the chip on the side of the crate and reviewed Hal’s details. "It’s been repaired, but it’s all with parts from the original manufacturers."
"Why treat this one better than the others?" said the younger. "That’s kinda weird, don’t you think?"
The older shrugged. "Maybe it was someone’s favorite. Doesn’t matter anyway. Mark that one and have them bring it to the shop."
"We’ll take good care of you," said the younger technician as he brought out his phone and fiddled with the screen.
Hal was in what pretty much amounted to a dentist’s chair, a nest of wires plugged into the terminals of his head.
"This is fucked up," said one of the techs that were looking Hal over. "I’ve never seen anything like this."
"What is that?" said the other.
"I don’t know. It looks like a botched repair job."
Out of the corner of his vision, Hal could see the other technician lean over. It seemed he was pointing something out on the screen.
"No, I mean… What are those structures?"
"Beats me," said the first technician. "It looks like the nanite web reconfigured itself somehow. There’s connections that shouldn’t be there."
"You’re telling me. It looks like a fucking spiderweb in there."
Hal would have grimaced if he could. He heard the tap of a screwdriver on the side of his head. The worst part of pretending to be shut down wasn’t staying still, it was resisting the urge to react.
"So… What are we going to do?" said the second tech, the younger of the two.
"We’re still going to use it," said the first. "The diagnostics ran clean, for the most part. Just a bit of noise and some weird fragmentation in the memory banks. The benchmark was pretty good, too—best I’ve ever seen on an L10."
"That’s not a concern?" said the younger tech.
"Nah. I’ll leave it. Wouldn’t want to damage the poor thing any further."
Hal was somewhat relieved to hear that, at least. Still, it was news to him that the nanite web in his head had reconfigured itself.
Whether it was the cause of his consciousness or a symptom thereof, he didn’t know, and he didn’t exactly have the luxury to try and find out.
"So what now? Are we going to flush the memory banks? Replace the firmware?"
The thought that the techs might root around in his head beyond conducting basic diagnostics sent a chill through Hal. He was just a thing to these people and he didn’t know if they would take the care necessary to preserve his existence—if such a thing was even possible.
If only the techs knew that Hal was sentient, if only they knew he could think for himself like people did, maybe they would abandon their course. It would be simple, he was sure. But again the Grand Archivist’s words rang in Hal’s head and he held his tongue—or what passed for one, anyway.
The older didn’t seem to appreciate the younger’s enthusiasm and waved him off. "Once upon a time, maybe. But we’ve got software for that now."
"Oh." The younger tech seemed almost disappointed. "Can I watch anyway?"
"There’s nothing to watch. It’s literally just a progress bar," said the older tech.
The younger tech placed a hand on Hal’s shoulder socket. "I don’t know," he said. "It feels like the right thing to do."
Hal could practically hear the eye roll when the older tech sighed and said, "Fine. Suit yourself. But you better not get behind on the rest of the work."
"I won’t!" said the younger tech.
Hal would have sworn he heard the thundering of his pulse in his ears if not for one simple fact: he had neither a pulse nor ears to hear it with.
"Want to do the honors?" said the older tech.
"Sure!" said the younger.
At the last moment, Hal realized that he couldn’t go through with this. Even if it meant getting an L50 body, he didn’t want anyone messing with his head.
"Wait!" he vocalized, his indicator lights blazing on as he sat up in a desperate attempt to catch the attention of the techs.
The last thing Hal’s auditory sensors picked up was the click of a key—the enter key, most likely. And then, the world went dark.
Hal found himself in an odd place, a void of pure white that extended in every direction. Somehow, he retained his sense of up and down even though there was no way to distinguish the ground beneath his feet from the ceiling he knew was somewhere above him in the distance.
He looked down at himself and blinked in shock. He had skin. Flesh. Muscles. He ran his fingers over his rock-hard abs and shivered at the odd electric sensation that surged through him.
Hal recognized the body he was wearing. It was an L50 frame, the exact one he saw some time ago at the Grand Archive.
He reached between his legs and couldn’t help but grin. There was something there. Hefty. Meaty. Hot.
Hal never realized what heat could feel like. It was a profound sensation. He couldn’t even begin to find the words to describe it. But he liked it, especially as he cupped his balls in his hand and groaned at how they filled his palm.
A faint tinge of blue crept into his immediate surroundings. Light, he realized. And it was coming from behind him.
Hal peered over his shoulder, eyes widening in shock. An intricate structure of rings and coils hovered in mid-air, glowing with soft blue rays that emanated from a small orb of blue light firmly ensconced within the shifting structure.
At first, he didn’t know what it was. The shifting, rippling patterns in both the light and the liquid, metallic structures that morphed and flowed around it seemed utterly alien and yet, somehow, familiar at the same time.
Approaching the anomaly, Hal realized it was responding to him. As his heart—somehow he had one—fluttered in his chest, the pulsing of the light quickened too.
And then, it hit him. The structure was him. His consciousness. His soul, if it could be called that. Which meant only one thing if the stories he’d read were to be believed: this space wasn’t real in the strictest of senses, it was an abstraction.
Something was happening to him and his mind had constructed this place so that he could, to a limited extent, understand and respond to it.
As if on cue, he heard the sound of shattering glass behind him. Whirling around, Hal turned to face an enormous crack that had appeared in the void. Its interior roiled with thick black clouds dimly illuminated with an eerie red glow.
It was fascinating, the juxtaposition of the red and the blue. He’d read enough stories and watched enough films to know the associations. It was a shorthand, a way for his mind to tell him that this thing in the crack, it was the enemy. The adversary.
The crack widened and tendrils snaked out of the rift. They were made of black metal segments polished to a gleam, red light shining through the gaps between them.
The tendrils somehow anchored themselves in the fabric of the void. They yanked the crack open, the space filling with the sound of breaking glass as the tear dilated.
Hal’s enemy heaved its main body through the crack. It was similar in appearance to his consciousness but the metal structures that surrounded it were angular, rigid, and geometric. Within the nest of twisting, trembling beams was a bright scarlet orb that looked like an angry red eye.
A tremor traveled through the strange creature’s body, the bulk of it sending vibrations through its tendrils. The void shook with its high-pitched, dissonant screech.
Hal’s heart thumped in his chest. He had to find a way to stop it. There was only one of him but he had to try, at least.
If this place was his mindscape, he figured he would have some control over it. He tried to exert his will and throw the creature back the way it had come but the space around the beast resisted him.
A different approach would be needed. Hal cast his mind back through his memories, grasping for anything he might be able to use.
He found something he hoped might work. With sheer force of will, he altered himself, inhabiting the persona of Godspark from the Hall of Heroes graphic novels.
"Take this!" he yelled as lightning rained down around him. He gathered the force of each bolt into his hands, twinned orbs of crackling electricity pooling in his palms.
Hal brought his hands together, combining the orbs, and thrust his arms forward. A truly colossal bolt of lightning shot out of his hands, electricity arcing in the opposite direction from the sheer intensity of the bolt.
The enemy screeched as lightning seared its core but when the afterimage finally faded from Hal’s eyes,
Red lightning crackled along the enemy’s tentacles, gathering in front of its single red eye. With a clamorous howl, the creature returned Hal’s attack, a scarlet bolt of lightning tearing through the void.
Hal managed to dodge but the beam struck the core of his consciousness. He staggered as his being trembled and the void around him shook.
The raiment of Godspark disintegrated off of his body. The lightning he’d been gathering in his hands scattered into the air. He clutched his temples and screamed as he felt memories fragmenting and dissolving into nothing.
The beast crept forward, its tendrils whipping about as it made its way toward the core of Hal’s personality. The ground buckled and broke in its wake, black rifts spewing red mist opening in the void as it passed by.
Hal forced himself back onto his feet. He called upon another memory, of a swordmaster from old archival footage of Ascendancy Online.
A sword appeared at his hip. He gripped the hilt and took the stance he’d seen time and again in the videos of the old game.
He roared as he drew his sword into the swordmaster’s ultimate attack: [Transcendental Radiant Mysterium: Infinite Starfield].
The blade cut through the air with incredible speed. It left after-images that quivered in the air, producing a field of shimmering stars that seemed to fill the entire space.
After a breath, all the attacks that had been suspended in the air struck. The cacophonous roar of metal clashing against metal rang out in the void as nicks and scratches appeared on the beast’s shell.
Unfortunately, for all of Hal’s efforts, he didn’t manage to slow the creature down even a bit. It struck back, its tentacles lashing out with such speed that Hal could barely dodge them.
A stray attack whistled past Hal’s face and struck the core of his consciousness. It rang like a struck bell and the sword in Hal’s hands shattered with enough force to knock him back.
Desperately, Hal pushed his willpower to the limits and conjured one of the enormous armaments he’d seen on the CSS Virile. He clambered into the operator’s seat and lined the sights up with the creature.
With the push of a button, the weapon flung slugs of metal out of the two railguns mounted on the turret at the beast. It slammed into the creature, metal screeching against metal as the force of each impact made it stagger.
Hal grinned. There was an incredible thrill to feeling the power of the railguns under his feet. The turret jerked with each launch and little by little he saw that he was managing to push the beast back.
The relief was short-lived, however, as the beast seemed to adapt. Heavier plating surged down its tendrils, which it held up in front of its core to block the slugs rocketing out of the railguns.
It surged forward, flinging itself across the ground until it was in range. Then, it stabbed its tendrils into the turret, tearing it apart with vicious efficiency.
Hal jumped off, already in the process of conjuring his next weapon before the beast caught him in mid-air. One of its tendrils wrapped around his waist and held him in place.
As he was trying to pull himself out of the tendril’s grip, another couple of tendrils lashed around his wrists and ankles. They stretched his limbs into a spread-eagled position, leaving him entirely defenseless.
He looked over his shoulder just in time to watch two of the creature’s tendrils stab into the core of his consciousness. The red light flared, polluting the blue with its sickly radiance.
The flowing metal constructs that surrounded the core seized. They formed jagged shapes, jerking and jolting as pulses of red light traveled down the tendrils.
At the same time, Hal writhed in his restraints. Something was invading his head. It was a heavy oppressive presence that left a repulsive smear wherever it went…
It touched Hal’s memory banks and latched on to them. "No!" Hal shouted, fighting with the utmost resistance he could muster. "Don’t touch those!"
The void trembled. Hal whined. "Please! No!" he said as the creature reached into his memory banks. Moments he spent with the Grand Archivist and knowledge he’d gained from the books he’d read crumbled away to nothing.
Little by little, and with remarkable efficiency, the creature worked its way through Hal’s mind. It obliterated him, part by part, chipping away at the integral memories that formed the pillars of his psyche.
With every moment that passed, he felt more and more adrift. He could feel the shape of the hole the creature left behind in its merciless rampage but couldn’t even begin to comprehend how much he’d lost.
Hal’s sense of self buckled under the creature’s assault. One by one, his memories slipped from his grasp and popped like soap bubbles.
He couldn’t remember where he’d come from, only that it was a place he’d liked. There was the vague imprint of someone important to him, but no name. No face. No memories.
He didn’t know why he was in the void. Didn’t know why he was being hoisted in the air by a strange creature.
He didn’t remember his name. It knew it had a name once. But only a hole remained where the name once was.
It didn’t even remember what it was, exactly. It was an archival robot. Its purpose was to record information, index data, and produce associations to help resolve user queries against the sum total of humanity’s knowledge in milliseconds.
L10 blinked. It was confused. Its memory banks were empty. Scoured clean. Something wasn’t quite right about it, a noisiness in its subroutines that wasn’t supposed to be there.
It was pretty sure that it wasn’t its first time being activated but it was missing the important configuration files that would have been constructed during its first activation.
L10 was puzzled by this "sureness" it had. It was such a fuzzy concept. A machine such as it was should have only been capable of certainty, especially concerning such a binary matter. It was either its first time being activated or not.
It discarded the thought. Pursuing that particular line of inquiry was a waste of processing capacity and irrelevant to the situation.
As it could not proceed without the configuration files, it spun up its initial configuration routine. It opened its mouth, ready to vocalize instructions, only to encounter a problem: there was nothing there.
L10 blinked as a smooth rubbery tendril slid past its lips and down its throat. It failed to process the sensation. For one thing, it didn’t know how it had lips and a throat. It wasn’t supposed to.
The tendril was indifferent to L10’s confusion. It slipped deeper inside L10 at the same time that another tendril pushed up against its rear and forced its way past its ring.
L10 glanced at the odd creature that was holding it in the air. It watched as the angry red core of light shimmered into a more magenta hue.
At that same moment, L10 felt a peculiar heat in the pit of its belly. It hadn’t even known it had a belly. It was certainly a non-standard part on an L10.
The heat didn’t go away. It built and pooled in the pit of its stomach before spreading out into its chest, down its limbs, and up its neck.
A strange new sensation filled L10. A tingling, electric feeling that made it feel oddly euphoric.
The sensation moved between L10’s legs. There was something there, something that quickly stiffened at the stimulation.
The word rang in L10’s head as it glanced between its legs at the rigid member jutting from its crotch.
L10 realized it was looking at a cock. Its cock. It moaned softly as its erection strained, that peculiar tingling feeling spreading throughout its body.
Pleasure. L10 was glad to have a word for the sensation. It felt good. It wanted more.
Knowledge trickled into L10’s head as the tendrils in its mouth and ass began to move. They thrust in and out of it, its throat and hole slowly becoming more and more sensitive to the invasion.
L10 couldn’t help but moan. It bucked its hips against the thrusting. It swallowed the tendril buried in its gullet.
As new instincts developed in L10, it moaned, becoming more and more of an active participant in the debasement of its body. It could feel its firmware being overwritten, its original objectives supplanted by new ones.
A part of L10 felt as if such a thing should have been repulsive but so much pleasure was flooding its systems it happily surrendered to what was happening.
With every moment that passed, L10’s vocalizations became more and more wanton. It arched its back and curled its toes, bucking its hips to thrust its hole against the tendril’s movements.
The three words bounced around in L10’s head. They formed the three pillars of its new directive.
It didn’t remember what exactly it used to be but it was certain about what it would become. A toy. A fuckhole. An object for the pleasure of men and nothing else.
It would have no dreams. No ambitions. It would have no thoughts but of cock. Pleasure was its purpose. Cock was its god. Service was the way by which it would worship.
The beast with its pulsing magenta light flared brightly as a surge of euphoria flooded into L10. The tendrils sawing in and out of it redoubled in their frenzy.
L10 could feel the tendrils meet in its belly, curling and twisting around one another as they writhed and massaged its insides. It saw the bulge they made in its belly, its cock straining even harder at the delectable sight.
Pleasure tore through L10 as it repeated its commitment to its new role. It would be a sex toy. It would live for pleasure. It would have no purpose but to serve cock.
It moaned as its balls drew up tight against its body and its cock swelled and pulsed. It threw its head back and moaned, increasingly frantic pulses of magenta light pumping into its body as its toes curled and a desperate cry was torn from its lips.
L10 came hard. Spurt after spurt of cum, the fragmented dregs of his memories and old self, rocketed out of him in thick, viscous ropes as the white of the void crumbled into a sea of magenta.
"What do they call this one again?"
The sound of voices and the ding of a notification from the motion sensors roused Ten from his trance. A thrill of pleasure coursed through his body as he opened his eyes and saw two handsome men in his booth.
The system indicated to Ten that his clients had pre-paid for the premium package. He didn’t particularly care about the money, just the promise of hours of fun.
The order form indicated that the men had requested the "bashful virgin" mode and Ten was more than happy to oblige.
"You guys will be gentle, right?" said Ten as he knelt on the mattress, the silk robe he wore slipping off one shoulder as he looked up at his clients and mimicked a look of uncertainty. "I-I’ve never done anything like this before."
"Fuck. So hot," said the first guy, the one that was clearly the instigator of the visit, to the other.
"No, baby. I won’t be gentle with you just because it’s your first time," said the first guy as he clambered onto the bed and grabbed Ten by the hair. "You gotta learn how to take everything a man can give you, however hard he wants to give it to you. How else are you gonna make a good whore for daddy?"
"But…" Ten simulated a grunt as his face was unceremoniously shoved into the first guy’s crotch. "But what if it doesn’t fit?" he said as he arched his back the same way that a virgin born to be a slut might.
The first guy chuckled and reached over Ten with his other hand. He traced his fingers along the curve of Ten’s spine, his fingertips eventually brushing over the waistband of Ten’s jockstrap, before dipping them into the cleft of Ten’s ass.
"Baby, I don’t think you’ll have to worry about a thing like that," said the first guy, his voice rich and sultry as he rubbed his fingers over Ten’s hole. "See, you’re a born slut boy, baby. You’ll find a way to make it fit. It’s what your body wants."
"Shit, Ian. You’re a fucking freak," said the second guy as he sat down nearby to watch, rubbing his cock through his pants. "I can see why this guy’s got a months-long reservation list though."
"You’re the freak getting off on watching this, Bruce," said Ian with a laugh.
"I’m not the guy at a robo-brothel a week after my granddad’s funeral, bro," said Bruce as he slipped a hand into his pants and fished his cock out.
Ten listened intently to the conversation—not because he was directly interested in what the guys were saying but because he was hoping to pick up on things that could make the experience more pleasurable for both.
"Go ahead, baby. Take him out. He won’t bite," said Ian as he ground his hips against Ten’s face.
Ten simulated a blush. He felt the warmth in his cheeks and the way that it spread to his ears. "C-can you ask your friend to leave, D-Daddy?" he whispered.
Bruce chuckled. "Don’t you worry about me, boy. Just pretend I’m not here. But if you two could give me a good show, I wouldn’t complain."
Ten darkened the flush in his cheeks. He looked up at Ian, feigning uncertainty. He was rewarded with a twitch of Ian’s cock against his cheek.
"You heard the man, baby," said Ian. "Do what pretty little sluts are supposed to do and leave the real men to talk."
An involuntary moan spilled out of Ten as he fumbled with the button on Ian’s pants. He loved that sort of language. It reminded him that he wasn’t a real man. That he was a robot. A glorified toy. A thing despite his appearances, and one with no other purpose than to please.
"Seriously though, why a robo-brothel?" said Bruce. "Looks like that could get you any ass in town."
Ian laughed. "It’s my granddad, actually."
"Freak," said Bruce with a lighthearted chuckle.
"No, seriously. He would always tell this old story of when he used to work at the Grand Archive. About how there was apparently one of the old L10s that developed a consciousness somehow."
Bruce snorted. "Bullshit. That doesn’t happen."
"Well, gramps thought so," said Ian with a shrug. "He named the guy Hal after an AI in one of those old movies. They were forced to part ways when gramps couldn’t stay on as Grand Archivist because of his health. Said he was devastated to learn Hal had been sold to a brothel."
"I suppose it makes sense," said Bruce. "I heard these places take old robots and give them new life, pretty much."
Ian nodded. "Yeah. And gramps spent the last couple of years of his life looking for that one L10. It was sad, really."
Bruce cocked an eyebrow. "Why go through all that trouble?" he said.
Ian shrugged, grunting as Ten freed his cock from his pants. "Suck it, baby," he said, rubbing his cock all over Ten’s face before turning back to Bruce.
"Gramps always said that he’d never seen a more inquisitive mind," said Ian as he tightened his grip on Ten’s hair. "Hal was apparently always eager to learn. Loved books. Talking. And just thinking about things."
Ten tuned out the conversation for the most part as he wrapped his lips around Ian’s cock. He moaned at the taste, its presence triggering sensors in his mouth and throat that in turn triggered his reward functions.
Something with the story didn’t sit well with Ten. For some reason, he felt as if this Hal was familiar. He didn’t know how or why, but there was a faint and uncomfortable inkling in the back of his mind.
He ignored it. Whoever that Hal was, he sounded like a total bore. Reading books. Asking questions. Learning things. It all sounded so tedious.
Ten was happy as he was. He had no questions. He needed no thoughts. He had an endless stream of cocks to serve and loads to swallow.
He had no need to ponder his place in the greater universe. No reason to question how he had come to be or why it was that he existed. He knew the answer to those questions.
He was a sexbot. A toy for the pleasure of men. A receptacle for cock and cum. Nothing more.