by Heather St. Claire

                I’ve been an android for only 29 years now; I was just 21 when I shed my organic body, far younger than most people who take that step these days.

                I have never had one second of regret! I have physical and mental capabilities and a degree of perfection that organics can only dream of.  I have such hungers; to learn, to travel, to explore. I want to swim in the depths of the ocean and walk the craters of the moon. I want to understand humankind’s whole proud, sad march from creation to the present day.

                I want to write the great universal novel; before I’m done, I will learn how to play every instrument in a symphony orchestra. I’m thinking of doing my own solo recording of some of my favorite Mozart symphonies.

I’ve got some ideas for sculpture that I’m just dying to try out, and watch out when I pick up a paint brush...

                I figure that will take centuries, perhaps millennia, to accomplish all that I want to....and by then there will be a thousand new things to learn and do.

                If you understand this about me, you might also be able to see why an experience I had at work today affected me so deeply.

                Let me tell you a bit more about the world of 2445 and my job. We’ve had the capacity to convert organic people into fully functional androids for almost 300 years now. For a variety of reasons, only about 20 percent of the population has chosen this option. Certainly, the progress in fighting disease and aging may have something to do with it; organics now enjoy mostly healthy lifespans of up to 175 years.

                There’s also a persistent prejudice that’s lasted through the generations against androids. Some people think that by cheating the natural cycle of death, we’re committing an offense against nature; millions of others see our lives as a sin against God.

                Those arguments have always troubled me to a degree, but I made my own peace with them a long time ago. We don’t consume oxygen, food, or medicine like organics; and as for God....well, I wish he’d just show himself once. If there was just one shred of conclusive proof, then maybe I could better understand what happened today.

                I work in an Android Service Center. It makes sense for androids to attend to the needs of other androids. I know those who believe we are nothing more than walking collections of digital data will say I’m being silly, but I believe we have an innate feel for the need of our fellow beings far more so than organics could ever have. Your self-diagnostics can tell you everything is fine, but sometimes you just “know” something inside is out of kilter...and more often than not, it is. I take pride in being able to find any glitches quickly. I know it would take an organic forever.

                You may be wondering what I look like. In essence, I’m a perfected version of my organic self. I stand 5 feet, 8 inches tall, an inch taller than I did when organic. I kept my brunette hair, but switched to violet eyes. My 38D-22-36 figure doesn’t show a bit of sag or excess fat, and it never will.

                Inside, I may depend on circuit boards, servos, motherboards and wires; but from the outside, I’m indistinguishable from an organic. About 75 percent of all androids have chosen this option, but about 15 percent have selected fully metallic shells. Some say it’s more honest; others say it’s a sexual turn-on for themselves, their partners or both. The remaining 10 percent end up clothed in a combination of metal and artificial flesh.

                That was the case with the femdroid who showed up right after opening. I could see by the elaborately detailed seams and joints on her body, and the style of makeup she wore, that she must have been an early conversion.

                Was I surprised when I opened her identity file. Her UA (universal android) number was 0000-0000-1463FE. My God, I thought, this woman was one of the real pioneers. This meant she was the one-thousandth, four hundredth and sixty-third female on Earth to undergo the process. I had never, ever, met a four-digit number holder before.

                (By the way, I’m UA0087-5656-9100FM. I had my conversion surgery on Mars as part of my graduation present. My parents were against it, but they knew I had been fixed on turning android since I was six years old, and if they couldn’t stop it, they at least wanted to see it happen under optimal conditions.)

                I was never flustered; I had been doing this job for decades, and knew it well. My initial programming, my experience, and the self-programming that had generated by that experience, made me one of the best. But there was something....regal about this woman who sat before me. I was curious what had brought her before me on such a fine spring day.

                “Miss Alvarez, it’s a pleasure and an honor to serve you,” I said. “How may I be of assistance today? Is this just a routine servicing? Or are you interested in an upgrade?”

                (One of the many beauties of android life is that your body can continually evolve with you. You’re not stuck with the technology you were rebuilt with. You can choose from a dazzling array of upgrades, designed to enhance everything about your physical and mental functioning. I absently wondered how many upgrades this woman had been through. Hundreds? Thousands? The cold numbers would be in her file, but not the things I really wanted to know: Did each one bring her the degree of pleasure my first dozen had? I wanted to know, yet it seemed improper to assume such intimacy. Yet, here, looking at my data screen, I knew so much about her...

                She was Yolanda Alvarez, born as an organic 357 years ago. She had been 52 when she became one of the first-generation androids. What had motivated her? What had it been like to be one of the first? Had she really had to undergo nightly recharges, monthly servicing, and all the other burdens of the first generation? Oh, the stories that must be embedded in her memory chips....

                I was snapped out of my daydreaming abruptly when she spoke up. “I’m here for deactivation, miss.”

                I was, to put it simply, stunned. Deactivation meant the voluntary erasure of all her programming and memory banks, as well as the disassembly and recycling of the components of her android body. In short, by her own choice,  Yolanda Alvarez would cease to exist.

                Why....why would anyone willingly choose oblivion? Wasn’t this one of the main reasons to become an android in the first place?

                “Miss Alvarez, I know I’m not supposed to ask you personal questions, but......why? You never have to die....why, in heavens name, why would you choose to?” I swore I could feel my logic circuits straining to come up with a rationale for her decision.

                She smiled at me, said, “Oh, dear, please, call me Yolanda.” She then paused, looked off into the distance, and was silent for a long time. “I suppose I should try to explain it to someone dear child, and I suppose you’ll do.”

                Despite the mildly patronizing tone, I was fascinated, hanging on her every word.

                “First off, it’s not because I’m sorry I gave up my organic body, or am unhappy with my android life. In many ways, it’s brought me more pleasure, and more pain, that I’ve anticipated.”

                She must have seen the puzzled look on my face. “Oh dear, I became an android because I wanted more time, and I’ve had it, and I’ve used it, sometimes well, sometimes not....but I just realized the other day that I had finally had enough.

                “I went to my granddaughter’s funeral last week.”

                “Oh,” I said, “I’m sorry,” I said quietly.

                “Thank you,” she replied evenly. “But, I think you miss my larger point. My granddaughter was 147 years old! I buried my parents, my first two husbands, my children, and now, my first grandchild! It’s just too much....” She was suddenly overcome by emotion, and the artificial tears flowed down her soft cheeks.

                “I take it none of them wanted to be androids?”

                “No,” she sniffed, “They didn’t. I wasn’t surprised about my parents; I was of the first generation, and knew that I would be fighting a lot of disapproval. When my parents died, it hurt of course, seems like that’s always been a rite of passage. But when my children and grandchildren said no to android life, I began to feel very isolated.”

                I put a supportive hand on her flawless metal arm. “I’m sorry. What about....your husband?”

                She laughed; a quiet, mirthless chuckle. “The whole thing was his idea in the first place. He thought the idea of android sex was such a turn-on.”

                She was quiet again. “And?” I finally said.

                “I underwent my conversion....and he left me six months later. Said he was tired of ‘Fucking a machine,’ in his words. Said he was sorry, wished me a nice long life, said he was sure I’d find someone else.”

                “Did you?”

                “Yes and no. I dated a lot, and had a lot of short-term relationships, but have never found another long-term partner. Dear, what about you, do you have someone?”

                I was startled by her suddenly turning the questioning on me; but I thought her candor deserved equal honesty.  “No.....there have been some short term relationships, but nothing that seemed headed toward permanence. But I’ve always thought I had lots of time ahead.”

                “Time,” she said, quietly shaking her head. “All the time in the world.” More silence. “Dear, have you accessed the marriage success rates lately? The average organic-organic lasts 13.7 years; the average android-android lasts 31.6 years.”

                When she paused, I knew she was waiting for the question. “And the average organic-android marriage?” I finally asked.

                “Five-point-seven years,” she said evenly. “It’s the last mixed marriage taboo. Not only are the societal prejudices too great, so are the internal expectations. The organic partner expects a perfect sex machine, and no matter how good the android is, they’re invariably disappointed. And the android is ultimately frustrated by health problems, aging, and all the other weaknesses of organics.”

                “You paint a pretty depressing picture,” I said.

                “Oh, like I said, I still wouldn’t have missed it. I loved being there for my children and grandchildren, to be part of their lives. I had time to travel the solar system. I had time to read every book I’ve ever wanted to read. I had time.....and then, last week, when we buried Priscilla, I finally realized I had had enough time.”

                Another long silence. “Okay,” I said softly. “I understand. Let me explain the procedure, and there are a lot of signatures you need to provide, written, visual and auditory, to make sure this is a totally voluntary decision on your part.”

                For the first time, I saw a spark of enthusiasm. “Good!” she said with a smile. “Let’s get started!” Then she muttered a phrase I didn’t understand, which surprised me, since I was programmed with 16 languages.

                “What was that, Yolanda?”

                “Oh, just a phrase from the language of one of my Native American ancestors.”

                “What does it mean?”

                “It’s a good day to die.”

                Soon, I was accompanying her to a small chamber. I looked at the gleaming white walls and thought that this was the place when a 409-year life was about to come to a voluntary end. She climbed onto the table, while I opened her main access panel below her bosom, as well as the secondary ones in her arms and legs.

                When I had finished attaching the leads, I did as required, and asked her one last time if she wished to change her mind. And then I added, “Are you really, really sure, Yolanda? I feel like I’ve made a new friend today....I hate to see you depart,” I found myself wiping away a tear.

                She looked at me with an expression of peace I hadn’t seen before. “Please, don’t cry for me dear. It’s time for me to make room for someone else in this world....and to find out whether or not there really is anything beyond it.”

                I nodded, then sat down behind the console. “Initiating memory dump.” This would download her four centuries of memories into the mainframe unit, leaving her own memory cells an empty void. I keyed in another sequence. “Initiating memory scramble.” Yolanda could have chosen to have her life memories retained in a central bank, for the use of future historians, but she rejected that out of hand. “My life is mine,” she had told me with finality. “I don’t want to leave the bones behind for others to pick over.”

                I only glanced up for a moment to see the look of happiness on her face. Was this the sweetness of forgetting?

                Quickly I continued with the sequences, clearing her circuits of her personality, and finally, her senses. Although nothing remained of the entity that the world had known as Yolanda, she was still technically alive while her basic systems functioned.

                I knew I was speaking to an empty room, though, when I said quietly, “Initiating final shutdown.” Soon, the flow of energy through her circuits stopped; her motherboards were quiet.

                Had she been a newer model, it’s likely that some of Yolanda’s parts would have been salvaged; as it was, she would have been more fit for a museum. But I knew better by then to even broach the subject. Yolanda’s empty mechanical shell would meet its end in a smelter that afternoon. Then, Yolanda would truly be gone from the earth....except in the memories and memory cells of those who had known her.

                And was that truly the end of her? Or did some essence, some soul, some inextinguishable life-force of her live on in another realm?

                I don’t know. But I do know that I’m going to have time to think about it.

                Lots and lots of time.

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