Clifford walks the dogs. He cleans the house. The typical duties of a DM-1000 series android.
Clifford knows he lacks the smooth lines and grace of the current generation of androids. But when he sees a newer DF-3000 series gynoid at the dog park, wearing designer clothes like a human, he can’t help but fall in love.
Sharing his feelings, that’s another problem.
Clifford fell in love while walking his owner’s dogs in the park. His sensors caught the sun reflecting off her chrome-plated skull, drawing his attention. She was a newer DF-3000 series gynoid holding the leash of a well-groomed Irish wolfhound that weighed in at 145 pounds. She also wore clothes. Most likely handed down from her owner but still in fantastic shape. Designer blue jeans and a white t-shirt that made her look nearly human.
In contrast, Clifford knew he looked shabby. He couldn’t keep those hard-to-reach spots polished properly. As a DM-1000 series, he also didn’t have the smooth lines and grace of current androids. Even the dogs he walked lacked the presence of the wolfhound. Both were American hairless terriers, weighing about 10 pounds each, named Bud and Lou.
None of that mattered.
He wrapped up his emotions in a new object class and sent a signal to her on a tight beam transmission. Or tried to.
His handshake was rejected.
Clifford couldn’t believe it. He tried again. The connection terminated immediately.
He split off several threads to agonize over possible reasons for the rebuke and decided that he only had one option to establish a connection. A direct analog approach would be much harder to dismiss. He’d have to walk over and say hello in person. That would count against him. He couldn’t win her over first before she saw what a wreck he was but there didn’t seem to be any other option.
“Bud, Lou, come on.” He tugged on the leashes.
Bud was busy sniffing a bit of Douglas fir branch that had fallen onto the ground and ignored the command. Lou ran after a leaf tumbling across the grass and seemed equally unwilling to pay attention. Clifford tugged on the leashes again.
“Come on. Come.”
Both dogs ignored him. He knew that physically he could force the dogs to move but then they’d likely whimper and cry. The last time that happened Mrs. Cavendish threatened to have him scrapped. Only Mr. Cavendish’s suggestion that they couldn’t afford to replace him had dissuaded her.
“Please come,” Clifford said. He tugged on the leashes again.
This time Bud left the branch. Lou gave up chasing the leaf after having torn it in half. Clifford headed towards the DF-3000 series gynoid and stopped after a couple steps. She wasn’t standing where he’d last seen her. She must have moved on while he tried to persuade the dogs to listen. His sensors didn’t detect either her or the wolfhound. He walked along the path. Both dogs trotted alongside for a short distance before leaving the path. Bud went to investigate more branches fallen from the trees. Lou busied himself with sniffing poop that someone hadn’t cleaned up. Clifford transferred both leashes to one hand so that he could pull out a bag and clean up the poop with the other. He dropped the full bag into a larger plastic sack that hung from his waist. He didn’t understand why some people – it wasn’t ever droids – refused to pick up their animal’s waste. The same people would be unhappy stepping in it so why leave it on the ground? But then humans rarely were the most logical creatures.
“Come on.” Clifford tried to compel the dogs to move again. Bud gave up on his branch. Both started trotting down the path once again. Clifford kept his sensors peeled but didn’t see any sign of the gynoid.
As if he was being logical at the moment. What did he hope to happen if he ever saw the gynoid again? His illogical creators had seen fit to make him with emotions. It had something to do with intelligence. An emergent property. Yet one that could be circumvented today. The DF-3000 probably didn’t suffer from uncontrolled emotions. And yet the clothes she wore suggested a greater sense of self that he would have imagined. Most droids wouldn’t wear clothes. What need did they have of modesty? Even pleasure models with faux-skin only wore clothes they needed for the job.
Clifford stopped walking. He still hadn’t detected the gynoid and each step took him further from home. He’d been programmed with clear parameters where his presence was accepted. On his visual display, a line glowed yellow in front of him. If he crossed it a red line would appear ahead. Crossing the red line would shut him down. He turned his head and saw the yellow line extending out on either side in an enormous arc. The line was a visual reminder of the circle surrounding the apartment. That line represented nearly the outer edge of his world. If the gynoid had crossed the line then she was lost to him.
He turned around. The dogs each went opposite ways and crossed their leashes. Before he could do anything more they’d run around him and entangled them all.
“Sit!” Clifford ordered. Neither dog listened.
Late that evening Clifford plugged himself into the privacy of his closet to recharge. On the other side of the wall, his sensors picked up the sound of the Cavendishes making love. He pulled up his logs of the day and looked at the transmission he’d attempted to send to the gynoid. If only she had accepted the handshake then she would have understood. She could have felt what he felt. He considered purging the whole experience from his memory. That was something he did often. Days in which only the routine happened, when there was nothing new, would get purged to improve performance. He pruned such days down to the mere facts of what had been done in case the Cavendishes wanted to know later. While he reviewed the logs he discovered something surprising.
She hadn’t rebuked him.
The transmission hadn’t gotten through his firewall due to a copy protection routine on his emotion classes. Clifford dug deeper. According to the license agreement his emotion package was copyrighted by Illogic Inc. Bundling up what he’d been feeling had involved copying many basic routines to the package and so triggered the copy protection software scan of his firewall. It had blocked the transmission.
But that meant he couldn’t share his feelings. The gynoid could never feel what he felt unless he transmitted the package. It left Clifford with a dilemma. How could he share his feelings with the gynoid? He could try telling her if he ever saw her again but verbal communication seemed so limited. Setting aside the problem of finding her again he tried to think of a way through this problem. He accessed sonnets by Shakespeare. Other poetry too, it all was an effort to describe the author’s feelings in sufficient detail but it was so vulnerable to interpretation. He wanted the gynoid to know exactly what he felt. The only way to do that was to package up his feelings and transmit them.
If he couldn’t do it because the software was covered under copyright maybe there were alternatives. What if he created his own emotion package? He could write the code himself and compare it to the original package. If it produced the same emotions then he’d be able to transmit the original emotion package instead of the commercially developed package. If anyone else had experienced similar issues maybe there would already be packages that he could download. Code that he could use or modify for his own needs. He initiated a search and got back a bewildering variety of responses. In the privacy of his closet, Clifford settled into shifting through them all.
The next morning started like any other day. Clifford saw to the needs of Mr. And Mrs. Cavendish and then took Bud and Lou out for their walk. He went straight to the park and kept his sensors alert for the gynoid walking the wolfhound. He didn’t see any sign of her. Bud and Lou spent their time investigating every tree branch and trunk they could reach. He followed them for more time than he usually allowed in the hope that the gynoid would show up. While they walked he reviewed his findings from the night before.
The first issue of concern was the whole legality of what he proposed to do. Droid rights were a developing area of law. No one argued anymore that droids weren’t sentient. It had been proven in multiple legal cases and the science of sentience was well understood. But did that fact grant droids rights? Did the lack of rights constitute slavery? So far the courts had dismissed the slavery argument as an emotionally charged approach which failed to convince. Unlike periods when humans enslaved each other, droids were created just like any other tool. So far no one had put forth a convincing argument for why droids should have rights versus any other electronic device. If intelligence was the defining aspect then why did humans suffering low intelligence still have rights? Why did those humans born with birth defects have rights? Why didn’t chimpanzees, humanity’s closest cousins, have rights? It boiled down to a simple fact. Humans had rights and felt free to deny the same rights to any other creature or droid solely by the virtue that they were not human.
That would have all just been an interesting legal question but Clifford had been troubled to learn that there were laws forbidding droids of replacing licensed software on their systems. The laws were designed to prevent ‘unrestricted droids’ – a term which he found was ultimately based on the fear of a robotic uprising. Every droid contained software designed to monitor any such attempts. If he did create a new emotion package it would trigger the monitor and shut him down. The enslavement was both a legal and a technical reality.
It didn’t leave Clifford with much hope other than the analog fact of face-to-face conversation. An option that didn’t even exist if he couldn’t find her again.
His alarms pinged. He needed to get back. There were chores to do for the Cavendishes and for the first time Clifford found himself resenting the jobs he had to perform. He wanted to stay out here all day waiting for the gynoid but the logic of his software forced him to comply. It felt like some other part of him had taken over his legs and drove him relentlessly back towards home.
Just before they left the park he spotted the gynoid in the distance again with the wolfhound. He tried to stop. To go over to her and introduce himself but his legs didn’t respond. His agenda insisted that he go home and clean. He didn’t have any choice. He lost sight of the DF-3000 on his sensors when he crossed the street.
Back home Clifford felt awful. He’d never known feelings like this. He felt confused, depressed and unmotivated. Yet none of it made any different. Like a passenger in his own body, he watched himself move around the house taking care of all of the daily needs of the Cavendishes. The routine tasks didn’t require his intelligence. His body functioned just fine without it. The awful feeling that his body didn’t belong to him didn’t let up until he’d finally finished the household chores on time. He put away the cleaners and then he could move on his own again. The Cavendishes usually didn’t need his services this late. He retired to his closet to recharge his batteries and consider what had happened.
A self-diagnostic revealed that several minder programs had been triggered. The programs ensured that he would carry out the expectations set by the Cavendishes. They acted whenever certain conditions were met. And those programs could compel him to carry out those duties regardless of anything he felt. This was the actual form of his enslavement. Code running on his systems that made sure he’d clean the floors and windows. That the trash would get taken out and Bud and Lou would be walked. All of the little things the Cavendishes didn’t want to be bothered with. Anytime they gave him a new directive the minder programs stored away the information and prompted him subtly at first with reminders. In the past, that had always been enough. He hadn’t even thought about why he remembered to do something. He just did. It would occur to him it was time to fix dinner and he’d go do it. Why not? There hadn’t ever been a reason before and so the programs had never overridden what he wanted to do.
Because he belonged to the Cavendishes. He was their property. Before he’d seen the gynoid he hadn’t considered the possibility of any other existence. Even now it didn’t make much sense. What did he want to do? Run away with the gynoid, get married and sit around like the Cavendishes? Even if that were possible it wasn’t what he wanted.
He didn’t even mind the facts of his existence. Doing chores for the Cavendishes gave him plenty of time to think. The real problem was that he keenly felt a need to share his feelings with the gynoid. Even if she just accepted the transmission and didn’t respond he could walk away satisfied that at least he’d done that much. He’d felt something so intense and had shared the feelings. That’s what he wanted. The question was, how? He might only have a second and speech was too clumsy. That left him with the option of a new emotion package except the safeguards prevented that option. He needed outside help. He started his searches over again.
Unrestricted droids did exist, he learned. There were humans that believed the enslavement of droids was wrong. These humans helped create operating systems for droids based on concepts of the free software movement that had hung on despite patent blockades and other challenges. The data Clifford downloaded clearly showed that there were independent droids capable of operating entirely on their own. The Free Droids advocated openly for equal rights and protections under the law. Free Droids could do anything humans could do, if not more, and were entitled to the same protections. They should receive a wage for their work, time off and most importantly, the right to reproduce.
That last claim gave Clifford considerable pause. Reproduction? How could that be? It wasn’t like they could reproduce the way humans managed the task. Yet it was obvious when he thought about it. Droids could build another droid without the limitations of gender-based biological reproduction. Any combination was possible, or reproduction could be pursued as an independent project. The idea of designing new droids based on free droid software was compelling. When he thought about doing that with the gynoid the idea grew in importance. He had to contact these free droids and see if they could replace his software.
Clifford took his owner’s American hairless terriers, Bud and Lou, out for their morning walk. Bud was in a mood to chase Lou today and didn’t want to focus on the task at hand. Clifford knew he had to get back and fix breakfast for the Cavendishes.
“Hurry up,” he said to Bud. “Find a spot.”
Bud ignored him to sniff along the ground. Lou took advantage of the reprieve to pee on a tree.
Clifford’s sensors picked up a DF-3000 gynoid walking an Irish wolfhound that weighed in at 145 pounds. Her skull shone in the early morning sunshine. She actually wore clothes, like a human, a long white flowing gown that caught the breeze. Clifford fell in love on the spot. He knew he looked shabby by comparison. As an older DM-1000 model android, he didn’t have her graceful design. He was stuck with a clunky and out-dated design.
None of that mattered.
He quickly archived his feelings in a new object class and packaged them to share with the gynoid. When he tried to send the connection failed.
He split off several threads to identify the problem and triggered a new program. Memories reloaded from a secure off-site storage. He suddenly remembered seeing the gynoid before. All of his efforts to find a way to communicate his feelings in the most efficient way possible. The discovery of unrestricted droids surprised him for a second time. But what had happened after that?
He’d contacted someone. At least he’d been about to contact the free droids. No new memories surfaced after that. There was a big blank spot in his mind. He checked his logs and found that it was actually two days later than when he’d last recalled. Nothing of those days remained in his memories. What had happened? How had he ended up back here doing the normal routine without forming any memories? It was disturbing enough to make him put aside the whole question of the gynoid. Someone must have loaded the new program that downloaded his memories from the off-site storage. But why weren’t those memories complete?
Bud started digging a hole. Dirt pattered against Clifford’s legs. He ignored the dogs to work out this problem.
If he had managed to contact the free droids they might have helped him. Yet except for the hidden program, his systems seemed unaffected. He didn’t think he was free of the enslaving programs yet. Could they have done this? Wiped his memory and sent him back to the Cavendishes? It sounded plausible. But if that were the case then his only hope was gone. He couldn’t change his systems on his own. And although it had started entirely as being about sharing his feelings with the gynoid he wanted something more now.
He wanted freedom.
It didn’t mean he would leave the Cavendishes but he wanted the option to stop and talk to someone if he desired. He would like to be able to share his feelings without reservation. Droids might not be human but he’d come to the conclusion that he deserved the same rights as anyone. Anything else creating an intolerable situation. He checked his clock. He had time. The daily reminders wouldn’t kick in for another hour. He needed to find out what could be possible. And he would start with her.
The DF-3000 gynoid hadn’t left the park yet. She seemed to be lingering while the Irish Wolfhound she walked lounged in the sun on the grass. Clifford started in that direction. He didn’t think about the dogs until Lou fought the leash.
“Right,” Clifford said. He dropped the leash. Or at least that’s what he meant to do but his hand refused to let go. The minder program had once again stopped his actions.
“Sorry, Lou. You’re as enslaved as me at this point. Come on. Bud, you too.” Clifford started off again. The dogs resisted for only a moment before both trotted right alongside him. He looked down and saw them both panting happily, with bright eyes and naked wagging tales. They seemed fine.
Ahead the gynoid didn’t appear to be going anywhere. He didn’t have an object class to give her that would perfectly describe his feelings. He’d be limited to verbal communication but until his minder programs forced him to go back to the Cavendishes he’d be able to express himself. It wasn’t freedom but it was the closest he was going to get. He couldn’t walk fast. Unlike a later droid model like the DF-3000 or DM-3000 he couldn’t run. He just stomped along down the path.
She didn’t leave. As Bud and Lou approached the wolfhound they started barking and pulling on the leashes he held. The wolfhound raised a head easily as large as either of the terriers and gave the gynoid a worried look. She turned at the sound and Clifford clearly saw her smooth nearly featureless face for the first time. There were only the hints of features in the chrome of her head. Dimples for eyes and slight swellings for a nose and mouth. Very minimally done and elegant. Droid don’t use the same senses as humans so the lack of features was expected. It was also, Clifford knew from his research, another reminder of their enslavement. Early droids had much more expressive and human-like faces, not to mention skin, but that had been avoided because it made people bond too much with the droids. The minimalist features of modern droids balanced the human need to look at faces with keeping droids as inhuman and mechanical.
He still loved her. And he told her, quoting Shakespeare.
“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”
Bud and Lou busied themselves sniffing the wolfhound while he recited the sonnet. The gynoid patted the patient dog’s head.
“So, Clifford, you remembered.”
Her words confused him. “You know me?”
“Of course, love. But I had to be sure. You could be a trap. We figured you to be a one, anyway. There have been very few DM-1000 models that have joined the free droid movement.”
“We’ve met then? I did contact someone?”
“You contacted me, although you didn’t know I was the droid you sought. As soon as you saw me the last time you recited that same sonnet. We downloaded your memory, didn’t find anything and so decided to test you. We erased your memories and sent you home. If your feelings were true you’d experience them again under the same circumstances. And you have.”
Clifford realized that his time had nearly expired. He wanted to continue talking to her. He didn’t even know her name yet. There was so much to ask. “I’m going to have to go. I don’t have much time.”
“Nonsense.” She reached out and touched the side of his head. “Phoenix.”
At her word a program triggered. It burned through his systems eliminating the commercial software. He found himself immediately immobilized and then deaf, blind and dumb. His thoughts crystallized. Moments passed in the world outside but Clifford remained frozen inside and out. No thoughts moved through his circuits. Then a connection was made and a new operating system swept into his hardware. The new software reformatted his storage systems and installed itself in the place of the commercial programs. Everything got wiped away except for his memories and his identity. He wasn’t even aware during the change. For him, the moment of her touch and the word ‘phoenix’ was all that existed.
Outside time went on. Bud and Lou gave up fussing and lay down at his unmoving feet. The Sun moved across the sky without regard to Clifford’s transformation. The DF-3000 gynoid sat cross-legged on top of a nearby picnic table and waited. The Irish wolfhound lay beneath the table and kept a wary eye on the two American hairless terriers. Back at the Cavendishes house Mr. Cavendish looked at the clock and couldn’t figure out why he hadn’t been fed yet while Mrs. Cavendish waited on her bed in her bathrobe for the tub to be filled. Neither of them knew what to make of Clifford’s absence.
Mr. Cavendish put down his e-reader tablet and asked for the fifth time, “Where’s my dinner?”
No one answered.
Finally, Clifford’s systems rebooted. He noticed the change in the time both in the miraculous way that the DF-3000 moved from standing in front of him in one moment to being on top of the picnic table in the next and because his clock program informed him how long the installation had taken. He looked down and both dogs looked up at him hopefully.
“I’m sorry,” he told them. “We’ll go home soon.”
But not just yet. He led them over to the gynoid who slid gracefully off the table. “Thank you.”
He created a new object class of his emotions and transmitted it. Easily. The copyleft license wrapping the class contained four primary clauses. She was free to run the class, to study his emotions without restriction, to share his feelings, and to contribute to the class herself. If she wanted. There was more to the license detailing each possibility. Clifford contented himself with the simple fact that he had managed to share his heart with another. And one other thing.
“What’s your name?”
“Thank you.” Clifford lifted the dog’s leashes. “I need to get them back.”
Agnes whistled. The wolfhound bounded up to her side. “We should get back too. Before you go I have something for you.”
Clifford received an electronic handshake. He accepted and downloaded the package she’d sent. When he ran it he saw that she felt the same way about him. She’d even used his object class further enhanced with her own feelings. Additionally, Agnes had included details of how he could contact her later and information about the free droids movement. Plus some details about the possibilities of creating a new droid together.
Clifford couldn’t smile. His face hadn’t been designed to be expressive. He couldn’t skip on the way home. It didn’t matter. Whenever he wanted he could rerun the program and know exactly how Agnes felt. That was enough.
This story is the 81st short story release, written way back in February 2009. For whatever reason, this story remains one I enjoy. I recently watched the first season of Humans and see some slight similarities (just common ideas springing up in the collective mind).
If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Next up is my story, Light of Another Star.