(published 29th April 2019)
‘I’ll be honest, Celia; the sex is fantastic, but when it comes to social situations, he can be a right dick. He’s juvenile; everything ends up being an innuendo. Phallic objects need to be avoided. I cringe if there’s anything around that’ll prompt the inevitable waggling in his groin area. Carrots, cucumbers, French loaves, bananas; you name it, he does the knob joke thing. Going to the supermarket is a nightmare. If I manage to steer him away from anything cock-like, he makes a beeline for the melons, picks two up and bounces them in his hands while smirking. In truth, I’ve given up. If we’re not having sex, he stays in the wardrobe.’
‘I read somewhere they learn from the owner,’ Celia said, flicking through a catalogue as she chatted on the phone. ‘Doesn’t the AI software adapt to be a bit more mature if you react badly to their behaviour?’
‘If only!’ Marcia snorted, her contempt obvious. ‘The AI learns about you, but it doesn’t change their character. Johnny knows which positions I prefer for sex, but he can’t understand why trying to feel me up in a restaurant isn’t acceptable. Until the erotic robot industry realises women don’t want the same things as men, the behaviour of the automatons is always going to be puerile.’
‘Rosie at my yoga class bought one from the middle-aged series, hoping he’d be a bit more restrained, but she said the same. They went to a gallery opening and he kept goosing her. It makes me wonder whether it’s worth the hassle.’
‘Well, Celia, you’ve got the gift certificate, so you might as well go for it. There are sites on the web selling recoded robot personality firmware. That might be worth looking into.’
Later that evening, Celia lounged on her sofa, sipping a glass of wine. The television seeped its advertisements into the room, selling VR holidays and euthanasia pods, but she was lost in thought. The conversation with Marcia had piqued her interest. If she could find a firmware patch to alter the character of a sex robot, could it be a compatible companion? Since the boom in AI-enabled erotic androids, it was difficult to find eligible men.
Trawling the internet, she found a sex robot forum, Smoking Hot Bots. Most of the code upgrades were to make female sex robots act in more bizarre and perverse ways; the subject of male robots didn’t get mentioned. About to give up, one thread caught her eye. It was about tweaking robots’ characteristics for homosexual relationships.
Most of the posts were inane drivel or derogatory comments about queers. Her heartbeat quickened as she read on. One poster claimed to have written code to make male sex robots more sensitive. The quality of the poster’s English was poor, but the post promised a firmware hack to make robots more interested in culture, art and healthy living.
Typing out her question, she hesitated. Was she making a fool of herself? The forum offered a degree of anonymity. No one would know who she was; she’d chosen an ambiguous user name. Pushing her concerns to one side, she clicked the ‘post’ button. Her simple question appeared.
‘Would it be possible to recode a male sex robot to be more caring and mature in a heterosexual relationship?’
The next morning, she poured herself a coffee and sat at the kitchen table, her laptop before her. There had been some overnight replies. Clicking the link, she scrolled down the page until she found her question. The first few comments were the inevitable abuse. Some offered to ‘sort her out’ while their robots were being repaired, while others called her a slut and a whore. However, there was also a message from the member who was offering the firmware. The post was brief: ‘Contact me by private message’.
Her initial question was whether he could write a patch to change the characteristics of a male robot in a straight relationship. The response was not only positive, but also asked a range of questions about how she wanted the automaton to behave, what level of intelligence it should have, even down what she wanted its name to be. He also needed to know the make and model she was purchasing. The message included a price for the firmware patch; it was very reasonable.
After work, with a large glass of wine in hand, Celia flicked through the sex robot catalogue. There was one which had caught her eye: Randy. She’d mentioned it to Marcia, whose reaction had been negative.
‘Celia, trust me, he’ll be announcing “Hi, I’m Randy” at the top of his voice, everywhere you go.’
Marcia’s comment was enough to put her off, but now it didn’t matter. Randy had a distinguished look, a good Burt Reynolds style moustache, his hair greying at the temples. He looked middle-aged, but still sporty and fit. It was his eyes and smile that attracted Celia.
Dropping the catalogue, she lounged on the sofa and imagined a night out with Randy, only his name would be changed to something classier, maybe something English, like Terrence. He would arrive in a smart suit, nothing too flashy, simple but elegant tailoring. They would visit Le Jardin for cocktails before moving on to the theatre.
Afterwards, he would have reserved a table at Bohemia for dinner. They’d walk home along the river. She’d pour him a nightcap. Brushing a stray hair off her face, he’d kiss her tenderly before taking her hand and leading her into the bedroom…
The gift certificate covered the cost of a basic robot. If she wanted to add an ability for it to eat and drink, she’d have to pay extra for the optional ‘sustenance’ functionality. Most women did without, reserving the automatons for sex, but it made sense to include a few social options, considering the firmware upgrade. For the first time, she felt positive about owning a sex robot.
She made a list of the characteristics she wanted Terrence to have. He should be cultured and interested in the arts, with an appreciation for fine dining and wines. Softly spoken, well mannered, he had to be mature and caring. Those latter two qualities were underlined, several times. She sent the message and waited.
A PayPal request for payment arrived the next day, and less than an hour after she’d transferred the money, a download link popped into her email inbox. With trembling fingers, she visited the sex robot manufacturer’s website and selected Randy. After adding the optional extras, she entered the gift certificate code, making up the difference with a credit card payment. An automated email told her she’d receive a delivery date in the next few days.
On the day Randy was being delivered, Celia got up early. After breakfast, she sat looking out the window, waiting for the delivery van. Would her neighbours know what she’d bought? Hopefully it wouldn’t come in a box with, ‘Randy, your AI-enabled fuckbuddy’ emblazoned on the side. Just before lunchtime, a white van pulled up outside and two men in overalls got out. The box they carried up the stairs was the size of a man.
Randy was dressed in a red checked shirt, blue jeans and cowboy boots. He looked like a Country and Western fan from the 1970s. Clothing aside, he was as distinguished as he’d looked in the catalogue, and once dressed in better attire he’d cut a dashing figure.
Bursting with excitement, she telephoned Marcia.
‘He’s here,’ she giggled.
‘Has he fucked you yet?’ Marcia asked conspiratorially.
‘No. I haven’t even worked out how to do the firmware upgrade.’
‘Celia, you’ve got to let him do you as Randy, just to see what it’s like. Pretend he’s a bit of rough you’ve picked up for a quickie. There’ll be plenty of time for Terrence in the future.’
‘You should, most definitely,’ Marcia said with a chuckle.
As Randy powered up, Celia was excited, intrigued by how the robot would behave. Unsure whether the initialisation process was complete, she poured herself a glass of wine. When she turned, Randy was watching her every move.
‘Hi there, little lady; I’m Randy,’ he bellowed. Celia laughed, remembering what Marcia had said.
‘Randy in name and randy in nature,’ he shouted with a leer, pointing to the erection stretching the front of his jeans. Approaching Celia, he gave her behind a slap before pulling her close. As his hands mauled her buttocks, she stopped laughing, pushing him away. Randy hesitated, then unbuttoned his fly. It gave her the opportunity to dart forward, but as she tried to hit the power button behind his ear, he grabbed her again.
‘You like it rough, sweet buns?’
‘Sweet buns? I’ll give you fucking sweet buns, you creep,’ she spat, pushing Randy away again. The robot hesitated, the override default programming creating the standard hesitation mode, the inactive 30 seconds initiated if a user reacted negatively to the automaton’s advances. Celia used the opportunity to switch him off.
Even as a bit of fun, the crude approach of Randy wasn’t pleasant. Changing him to Terrence was a task that needed completion, without delay.
Celia read through the instructions to upload the firmware upgrade. It seemed straightforward; while the quality of the English was poor, there was a flow diagram of the various menus and commands. The process was quick, although the supplied notes stated the initial reboot might take some time.
With Terrence rebooting up, Celia poured a glass of wine. The episode with Randy had left her stressed, so to calm her nerves she put on some music. As the gentle melody of Gymnopédie No. 1 by Erik Satie filled the air, she leaned back on the sofa and closed her eyes, letting the lilting piano refrain wash over her.
Lost in the music, she realised it had been some time since she’d rebooted Terrence. Looking over at the robot, his eyes were closed. However, his facial expression had changed. He was smiling. Then she spotted a minuscule movement, his fingertips tapping in time with the music. He was not only listening to Satie, but he was in the moment, savouring every note. She watched him until the music ended, and as silence filled the room, he opened his eyes.
‘Oh, hello there. Who do I have honour of meeting?’ His voice was gentle and rich, sophisticated.
‘Hi, I’m Celia.’
‘Celia,’ Terrence repeated. ‘Celia, originating from the Latin caelum, meaning heaven. Such a pretty name for such a pretty girl. I’m Terrence.’
‘Why thank you, Terrence. I’m pleased to meet you.’
Terrence rose and took Celia’s hand. As she stood, he kissed her twice, once on each cheek. Stepping back, he seemed to notice his clothes.
‘Oh my, I must apologise for my appearance. What must you think of me? I look as if I’m off to the rodeo!’
‘It’s fine,’ Celia giggled. ‘Look at me.’
Terrence looked at Celia; not a lecherous look, but an appreciative gaze which made his smile even broader.
‘Delightful; just delightful.’
The afternoon turned into evening as the two talked. Every conversation was a pleasure, whether they discussed art, literature, travel or food. Terrence was a good listener, and when he spoke it was always interesting. Celia rustled up a light supper, and over a glass of Pinot Noir they talked more. Terrence showed a genuine interest in her.
As the time passed, Celia grew anxious about the inevitable climax of the evening. Reminding herself that Terrence was a robot designed to have sex with its owner, she decided to be blatant.
‘Well, Terence; it’s time for bed,’ she said.
Checking his watch, he replied, ‘Sorry; it’s late. I hope I haven’t kept you up.’
‘No, it’s been lovely, but now I think it’s time to …’ She left the sentence unfinished, and he smiled at her, a joyous smile.
‘Good night, Celia. Sleep tight,’ he said.
‘Aren’t you coming too?’
‘I think I’ll just read for a short while.’
Celia stood, nonplussed at his attitude. Then it dawned on her. He was being a gentleman, giving her time to prepare herself. In the bedroom she undressed, brushed her hair, applied fresh make-up and selected her lingerie. It was black silk, classy and elegant, not tarty. She’d bought it a few years ago and had never worn it. As she removed the labels, she smiled to herself. Tonight was the night. Prepared and ready, she laid on the bed in a seductive pose, waiting for Terrence to appear.
Morning sunlight filled the room. On top of the duvet, dressed in her finest lingerie, unmolested, Celia was alone. Pulling on a robe, she headed into the kitchen. Terrence sat at the table, a cup of coffee in hand, reading one of her poetry collections.
He looked surprised by her presence. Then his frown melted into a smile.
‘Hello there. Who do I have honour of meeting?’
‘It’s me; Celia.’
‘Celia, originating from the Latin caelum, meaning heaven. A pretty name for a pretty girl. I’m Terrence.’
‘I know, Terrence. What happened to you last night?’
‘Last night?’ He seemed puzzled. ‘I don’t know about last night. I’ve only just got here.’
Celia sighed and said, ‘Listen; we’ll talk about it tonight. I have to go to work.’
‘Bye then,’ Terrence said, returning to the book.
Celia made herself coffee and went back to her bedroom. Washed and changed, she returned to the kitchen for breakfast. As she entered, Terrence jumped up.
‘Hello Celia; did you have a nice day at school?’
‘Terrence, I’m just about to—’
‘Do you want a horsey ride?’ He dropped to all fours, shouting, ‘Saddle up, little Missy. Get on the bucking bronco.’
‘Terrence, this isn’t appropriate.’
‘C’mon,’ he said, almost imploring her to take part. ‘You know you love the horsey ride. Saddle up.’
In that moment, she could see the hurt in his eyes at her refusal. He was offended, upset, and she had no choice but to straddle him. As she did, he whinnied and set off around the kitchen, her balanced on his back. It was weird, uncomfortable, bit then she laughed. It was fun. After ten minutes she told Terrence to stop and headed off to work with a smile on her face.
Terrence wasn’t a typical sex robot, and it would take time for them to work each other out. If the upgrade had wiped his AI data, she would have to start training him from scratch. It wasn’t a bad thing: he would adapt to her life. It would take time, and she had plenty of time. She had to buy him some clothes; the country and western style didn’t suit him.
After work, they went to the local shopping centre. As they strolled from store to store, Terrence lifted her up, sitting her on his shoulders.
‘Please Terrence, put me down,’ she hissed, her facing flushing with embarrassment.
‘Aww, you usually love the aeroplane ride.’
‘No,’ she growled. ‘Put me down.’
As Terrence lifted her off, something snapped in her head. Why should she care what other people thought? Men hadn’t been interested in her, she only had a few good friends, and Terrence made her smile.
‘Wait. Okay, aeroplane ride,’ she said, laughing as he lifted her back onto his broad shoulders.
Terrence ran along the walkway, making an engine noise with his mouth. He zigzagged around people who stared with shocked expressions on their faces.
‘Arms out,’ Terrence shouted. ‘Make the wings.’
Celia put her arms out and Terrence sped up, running faster, the engine noise louder. As if she was ten years old again, Celia laughed and laughed as the pair ran through the mall, out of the doors and off down the street.
Later they sat in a coffee shop, sipping hot chocolate.
‘We still need to get you some clothes,’ Celia said. ‘Those don’t suit you.’
‘I do need new clothes,’ Terrence replied, downcast.
‘We’ll get you some, tomorrow.’
‘I need them sooner,’ he said, a concerned look on his face.
‘What’s wrong, Terrence?’ Celia asked, worried about his sudden change of mood.
‘I’ve just peed my pants.’
Armed with a glass of wine, Celia telephoned Marcia and told her the story.
‘He wet himself? Are you sure?’ Marcia said, incredulous at what she was hearing. ‘The robots with a sustenance upgrades empty their hoppers into the toilet. I did read about someone doing a water-sports upgrade, but that’s for piss games, not wetting your pants in public.’
‘He seemed so dejected after it happened.’
‘What? Are you telling me knew he’d pissed his pants?’
‘He knew all right.’
‘Something’s wrong, Celia,’ Marcia said with authority. ‘You need to talk to whoever did your firmware hack. They’ve created a retard.’
The next morning, Celia went into the kitchen to make coffee. Terrence was already there, a cup of coffee steaming on the counter before him. Flicking through a book on fine art, he smiled when she entered the room.
‘Celia, what’s your favourite truck?’
‘Truck? I don’t know—’
‘Mine’s the Magirus Deutz.’
‘What are you talking about?’ Celia stood looking at the robot. He looked happy, unconcerned, very different to the Terrence of the previous evening.
‘I wonder if you can do gardening in heaven,’ he said nonchalantly. ‘I’d like to do a bit of gardening.’
‘Listen, Terrence, do you want to talk about last night?’
Terrence looked up from the book, excitement on his face.
‘Gossip? I love gossip. What happened last night?’
‘You know; your accident?’
‘I didn’t have an accident last night,’ he replied, confused. ‘I couldn’t have done. I’ve only just got here.’
After showering and dressing, Celia made breakfast. As she moved around the kitchen, she was aware of Terrence watching her, his gaze intense. When she looked at him, he winked and said, ‘You’re a very pretty girl; what’s your name?’
Celia sighed and turned her attention back to the pan of eggs, ignoring him.
‘You’re new here, aren’t you?’ Terrence said. ‘The other girl seems nice, but she steals from me.’
‘You haven’t got anything worth stealing,’ Celia snapped.
‘No; not now I haven’t,’ Terrence said.
As Celia turned to face him, the sadness on his face made her swallow back the angry words she was about to unleash.
Celia logged on to Smoking Hot Bots and posted a private message detailing the unusual behaviour of Terrence, asking why it was happening and what could be done to stop it. Then she headed off to work.
Terrence was in the kitchen when she arrived home.
‘Hello darling; how was school?’ he asked, his mood positive. Ignoring him, Celia poured a glass of wine and went into the living room. Settled on the sofa, she opened her laptop and navigated to the forum. A private message notification appeared.
Taking a sip of the chilled wine, she clicked the link.
“Dearest; thank you for message. My English isn’t good, but I am hoping this help you out. You ask for mature man; mature is old, I think. You also ask for caring. I check this on Google. Caring is a type of home for the old people. It says most old people in caring home has dementia, so I model the firmware on this. I think you wanted to nurse your sex robot. You tell me this is not what you want do, so I help. Attached a patch for correcting this. It will reset to default setting. It will stop all problems. Thank you.”
Right-clicking the link, she saved the file to the desktop. At least she wouldn’t have a senile sex robot any more.
‘Have I upset you, darling? You seem to be annoyed with me.’
Terrence stood in the middle of the living room. His face was the epitome of sorrow, his eyes glistening as tears welled up. He knelt and took her hand, his grip comforting.
‘I really am sorry about whatever it is I’ve done,’ he said. ‘You’re so very special to me, and it breaks my heart to think I’ve somehow hurt you. Is there anything I can do, anything at all, to make you happy again?’
Celia looked into his eyes. They were like windows into a world of confusion, a sad and lonely place. In that moment she felt his pain and understood the doubts haunting him, the angst he was experiencing, his need for reassurance.
With her free hand, she closed the lid of the laptop, and said, ‘Horsey ride?’
Peter Caffrey is a writer of fiction with an absurdist leaning. His novel, The Devil’s Hairball, is currently available, with a new novella, The Butcher’s Other Daughter, scheduled for later in 2019. His work has appeared, or will shortly appear, in Infernal Ink, Horror Sleaze Trash, Danse Macabre, Schlock!, Weird Mask, Literally Stories, the Marbella Times and Twisted Tongue, amongst others. He drinks too much, exercises too little and is unlikely to change.