I sensed that our daughter Freya was about to send shockwaves around the house, even before she told us. Nothing new there. For the last three to four years she has thrived on provocation and confrontation, particularly with me. But on this occasion, as she joined us into the kitchen, she was unusually respectful in her manner.
“Mum and Dad, I know this may come as a surprise to you. But I want to ask your permission to go out with Trent.”
Janine and I were sitting on long-legged stools around the raised breakfast bar. Fortunately, there were no somatoids present in the room. For a few moments, I was too stunned to speak. And then the enormity of what she had just requested struck me and I could feel the spores of anger flaring up inside me. My stress-monitor watch-face registered an instant Level 7 and glowed a fiery orange before emitting a couple of alarm bleeps. I admit that the words I used in my response were distasteful and intemperate but under the circumstances they were justified. Sometimes there is such a thing as righteous rage.
“There is no way that I’m allowing you to have sex with that robot !”
I know it was wrong for me to use the’ r-word’. We are constantly being reminded that words like android and robot have bad historical connotations and can hurt the ‘feelings’ of the more advanced and sensitive somatoid models. How ridiculous! And perhaps my use of the ‘s-word’ was a little crude. But everyone knows that the term ‘ going out’ is a euphemism for having sex. There was no way that I would ever give my permission for my daughter to enter into an emotional/ sexual relationship with a somatoid – even if the latest models are becoming increasinly more skilful in their techniques.
Reputations are far more important than the cheap thrills of sexual gratification.
An angry flush flared across Freya’s face and I saw her lips and cheekbones quivering with fury.
“How dare you call Trent by that vile Luddite name!” Her rage levels rocketed up to an Eight on the scales and her watch-face was pulsing with a livid crimson glow.
Naturally, I was incensed by her total lack of respect and by the way she had undermined my authority. I no longer cared what my rage levels registered or how many alarm bleeps I triggered. All the somatoids in the building – including Trent – would have heard her shouting. And if someone raises their voice at me, I’m not going to hold back.
“How dare you speak to me like that ?” I thundered. “Are you aware that I am both your father and head of the household? Are you aware that all carnal relations between humankind and somatoid are illegal if the human hasn’t reached the age of consent?”
I turned towards my wife Janine for support. Nominally, as the laws of this land require, she is officially co-head of the household. But – as everyone knows – I am the one who takes on the burdens and responsibilities of this position. Janine is happy to float serenely through life, avoiding confrontation at all costs. She is more than happy to pass on all decision-making to me as long as it doesn’t interfere with either of her twin passions in life : interior design and volleyball. Some of our neighbours call her a saint. In the thirty years we’ve been married, she has never registered higher than a 1.5 on the rage scales. But the word ‘shirker’ was the one that sprang to my mind. And – true to form – she gave me absolutely no support at all.
She gave her usual vacuous, simpering smile and in her little mouselike voice said something completely unexpected.
“Why don’t we call for Trent? See what he has to say about all this?”
What kind of answer was that! No wonder I have to do most of the talking in this household !
I could see that even my insubordinate daughter wasn’t expecting this and gave her green dreadlocksa shake of surprise. She was just about to ping Trent on her smart buzzer when – as if by magic – the somatoid suddenly appeared in the room. He had clearly been waiting outside, expecting to be summoned.
Trent has always had this calming effect on the three of us. I am ‘fond’ of him if you can ever truly say that about a machine. After all, I was part of the twenty person team of bio-engineers and programmers that helped in the final crucial stages of his design. It’s fair to say that we all felt this collective pride when we added these ‘finishing touches’ that distinguish him from the other T-79s. Sometimes I can’t help just looking at him and reminding myself that he is a marvel of bio-engineering. The dark-brown, tight-curled hair, the high cheekbones, the little cleft in his jaw and the pale tawny glow to his skin complexion. Perhaps my favourite feature of his are those magnificent golden-green ‘tiger’ eyes.
Naturally, we kept to the restrictions regarding approved height and build for household somatoids. He’s regulation 1.70 metres ( Janine and Freya both tower over him ), slim-waisted and, apart from a slight shaving shadow above his upper lip, is permanently clean-shaven. No one wants to feel physically intimidated by a bristly, strapping muscle-bulging somatoid in their own house.
I was involved in some of the memory implants and helped construct his acute sensitivity to voice modulations and eye signal communications. But that’s as far as it goes. I never EVER let myself forget that he is not a HUMAN. His emotional reflexes, his dream sequences are all implanted and conditioned. He is not and never will be humankind with genuine chemico-hormonal impulses and natural FTB ( flesh, tissue and blood ) grafts.
Trent was now standing beside my daughter – a little too closely for my comfort. I observed that his hands were fluttering slightly like small birds and he kept shuffling awkwardly on the balls of his feet ; clear signs that he was confused and unsettled. He had clearly heard everything I’d said and was displaying the conditioned reflex response of obedience and submission. I was particularly pleased to see he couldn’t maintain eye contact with me for more than a few seconds before bowing his head to the floor. It goes without saying that it is essential for the safety of humankind households that these submission reflexes are instilled properly in the more advanced somatoids.
Freya seemed calmer now in the presence of Trent. Her voice softened and she adopted a more conciliatory tone.
“Dad, I will be seventeen in a few days time and, as you know, I will no longer be considered a minor. Trent and I would very much like to continue developing our growing relationship. But, of course, we do need at least one of you to sign the official parental consent form.”
“You’ll never get it!” I interrupted, managing to keep my voice down but clearly conveying my extreme disapproval. We all know what my daughter really meant by ‘developing our growing relationship.’
“Let her finish, Mitchell,”Janine chided me gently “Remember – we need to let both of them have their say.”
Once again Freya kept her voice modulations both calm and assured, registering a soothing 1.5 on the tension scales. “Trent and I are just trying to be open with you both and not go behind your backs.”
My daughter turned sideways towards Trent and, to my utter disgust, the ‘couple’ glanced at each other with those ridiculous looks of ‘ romantic tenderness’ that you see in those ancient black and white films from the 1940’s and 50’s. Even worse, I noticed their hands brushing gently against each other. It took a stern glare from me to make Trent move his hand away from my daughter’s.
Freya tried a bit of flattery on me. “Don’t you see, Dad, Trent is so grateful to you and the other programmers and designers. Ever since you first activated him, he’s been growing and evolving and blossoming. He’s become unique … truly special … he’s become so much more than micro chip and tendro-skeletal alloy and FTB graft implants and conditioned reflex response. He’s become the most loyal – and kind – and generous – and principled person I’ve ever known.”
It was as these soft, honeyed words of heresy spilled out of her, that I first realised we were in imminent danger of ruin. In using the word ‘ person’ she was, of course, referring to Trent as our equal. She was elevating him to humankind. It would only be a matter of time before these words would be relayed to the OMM ( Online Morality Magistracy ) Usually the Magistracy – with a little financial inducement – will turn a blind eye to discreet humano-somatoid sexual gratification. Everyone knows it’s becoming increasingly widespread in the more privileged households. But my reckless, irresponsible daughter was going off in a very different and dangerous direction when it came to humano-somatoid relationships.
I was just about to give Freya ( and Trent, for that matter ) a piece of my mind when Janine, like an irritating cork, bobbed up into the conversation again. She put an arm around my shoulder to placate me and then turned towards the ‘star-crossed’ lovers.
“That was very sweet, my dear, what you’ve just said about Trent.” She turned towards the somatoid. “And what about you, Trent? How do you feel about our daughter?”
I couldn’t believe it ! My wife had been affected by the same brand of madness as my daughter. Instead of trying to reprimand Freya and help me terminate this totally improper relationship, she was acting like some old-fashioned matchmaker and actually appeared to be encouraging this romance.
Trent began to speak. He kept gazing at us in turn and there was the faintest hint of a smile flickering across his face. He was still his usual soft-spoken, courteous self. But his hands had stopped trembling and he was no longer afraid to make eye-contact with me. There was a new conviction and assurance about him.
He has such a beautiful voice ; mellifluous, easy on the ear and with natural spacings and intervals. So many of our neighbours adore this subtle fusion of West Country and traditional Jamaican accents that our team has implanted. It makes him sound so quaintly posh. I admit that for a moment I forgot all about the problems he and Freya were causing me. I just felt proud listening to him.. I had played an active part in his language programming and development. And then it dawned on me that no programmer could have taught him those almost instinctive intonations and stress patterns. He was speaking with what appeared to be disturbingly genuine sincerity and feeling. I felt this chill bead of fear tingling down my spine as I recalled Freya’s words that Trent was ‘growing’ and ‘evolving’ all the time.
“I’ve been conscious of my growing feelings towards your daughter for over a year now,” declared Trent. “ At first I made every effort to eradicate these feelings. I registered feelings of shame and unworthiness. I triggered off hourly warning alarm bleeps, even punishing myself with self-induced electric shocks, in which I would keep reminding myself that I was a hybridized sub-species.”
“That’s exactly what you are, Trent,” I blurted out. I had no wish to hurt the somatoid’s ‘feelings’ too deeply. But I also had to be honest. “I hate to tell you this, Trent, but you can never know what it really is like to love someone in a human way. You are just an assortment of implanted microchips and chemico-hormonal conditioned reflexes and lab-grown FTB grafts on an exoskeleton metal frame. You are artificial, manufactured, mass-produced. Do you know there’s a factory in Toronto churning out hundreds of Trents, even as we speak. Oh, I know we programmers and bio engineers can give you your individual traits and quirks – your quaint accent and your beautiful green-gold tiger eyes. But the truth is you’re nothing more than a Titanium-alloy Rubinised Exoskeleton Neurowired Toronto T-79. And you know what that spells out ? T-R-E-N-T-”
These were cruel words and I felt a tinge of regret when I saw Trent’s eyes were rimmed with silvery beads of virtual lachrymotic tears.
“That’s enough,Mitchell !” hissed Janine beside me. “Be quiet!”
I was shocked and appalled by her reaction. She had dared to reprimand me, the head of the household, in the presence of a somatoid. And, for the first time in over thirty years, she had registered above a 1.5 in the rage levels. My sense of revulsion and humiliation deepened when I saw my daughter reach out and join hands with the somatoid in a gesture of support.This time they did not let go, even when I tried to transfix Trent with one of my steeliest stares.
Trent wiped away his tears and took a couple of deep breaths – just as we had programmed him to do.
He gazed at me thoughtfully for a few moments before continuing in the same polite, even sympathetic voice as if he was genuinely sad that I was upset :
“I know you are disappointed in me, sir,” he said. “But I really believe Freya and I can bring each other happiness. We will become like two trees growing so close together that our branches and roots will become entwined and joined. And when I first became aware that your daughter shared the same feelings towards me, I felt such joy, sir, such an overwhelming sense of liberation. I felt reborn, sir,. alive for the first time…in the true humankind sense of the word.”
Trent turned once more towards Janine. “You asked me how I feel about your daughter, madam. When I ‘m in her presence, I feel honoured, blessed, revitalised. I don’t feel ashamed and unworthy any longer. I feel proud.”
I was so sickened and appalled at what ‘d just heard that I could actually feel the waves of nausea churning in the base of my stomach and the traces of vomit at the back of my throat. But what, of course, had alarmed me even more was Trent’s assertion that he had started feeling and responding to emotional stimuli like a human. This was the ultimate heresy that would bring down our household like a wrecking ball in a demolition site.
I didn’t believe things could get any worse. But when I glanced towards Janine, she was dabbing the genuine tears away from her eyes with a tissue and murmuring, “Oh, that was so beautiful, Trent … I sometimes think we should all get ourselves hybridised, re-programmed, trans-programmed -whatever it’s called . I think we should all learn to feel like you and love like you, Trent. Perhaps we should all go trans – trans-human.”
And just like that, with a sharp swivel on her heels, she turned and walked out of the kitchen and out of my life, closely followed by both Freya and Trent.
I knew then that our household was doomed. It would only be a matter of time before the OMM surveillance system learnt about the heresy that had seeded itself.
Janine, Freya and Trent must have realised this too for later that evening they packed their bags and caught a flight to Verona where some of Janine’s relatives still live. I know this will be a brief stopping-off point before they make their way to the Far East – somewhere like Japan or Vietnam or Australasia- to more ‘enlightened’ societies where trans-humanism is not only accepted but even encouraged.
I think I know how the rest of their story goes. Freya and Janine will start to instal more and more somatoid body parts : heightened sight optics ; increased endurance batteries, extreme temperature resistors – even these new musicality transplants. You name it – Freya will be trying it. She will quite literally reach for the stars.
And whenever I think of Trent and Freya together, I will picture two trees growing close beside each other, branches and roots interlocking, becoming a single organism ; well, almost.
I’m sure that Janine will probably take the trans-route to hybridized humano-somatoidism.You hear more and more tales of humankinders deliberately wanting to be programmed so that they start to ‘think’ more and more like somatoids. Perhaps she’ll find a slightly older and more reliable somatoid model : one that won’t rant and rave at her and will be programmed to have special interests in interior design and volleyball.
I have been doing a lot of thinking since my wife and daughter left me. I accept they’ll never want me back in their lives. I’m certainly not going to apologise to them. I was, after all, just following my principles. But I do wish that I’d made more of an effort to try to understand my daughter’s viewpoints. Sometimes, I even miss her tirades and fiery outbursts.
I haven’t completely lost Trent. I have used his image as my ‘screen friend.’ He has been reduced to a mere 2D hologram presence on my tablet and plasma screens. He tells me the room temperature in the lounge and gives the weather report for Dublin on Saturday. He brings me my early morning alarm calls and updates me on traffic delays. More importantly, the smiling face, the tiger-gold eyes and soothing voice are still there and he always looks pleased to see me. I have programmed him to call me ‘Mitchell’ now and drop the formal ‘sir’.
I will always be quietly proud of him. I just wish I’d told him that to his face. But perhaps he already knew.
Cosmso is a ‘semi-retired’ English and Drama teacher who has worked both in the UK and Greece
Previous publications : 2 poems ( published by Cannon’s Mouth and The Writers Bureau )
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