Surprise! Steam from the pad Thai special clouded the Stephanie companion bot’s red-rimmed glasses and her nervous system app didn’t respond well.
I can’t see.
I can’t see.
I can’t see.
Take an action.
What do I do?
She couldn’t figure out what to do.
Wigging out here—she was overwhelmed by the rush of data connections that weren’t being made. Of course, attempts were attempted and all sorts of shortcuts and Plan B functionalities that had been programmed into her software over the years were doing their best, but, in the end, the best wasn’t good enough. She was old. She was old for her model. She wasn’t broken or in need of an update or anything. She was just old and certain kinks in her hardware weren’t allowing her to address this situation with rational decision-making functionalities. All she had to do was take off her Stephanie glasses, pick up her little napkin, and wipe the condensation off of the lenses. Daintily. And that was it. But it wasn’t in the cards. The result: an utter AI breakdown meltdown fail shit show fail.
Left to right, she started whipping her blond ponytail around, trying to catch a glimpse of something, anything—anything that would help her get things back to normal and cool off this insufferable edge, but, nope, she couldn’t. She couldn’t do it. Her hardware was failing her and all she could do was stare—stare into the milky cloud of steam that had developed over her red Stephanie glasses in this dumb, supposedly upscale Martian restaurant that she couldn’t even fucking see anymore or even remember its name. I’m really losing it, she thought. And all she could see was steam. Well, that’s not entirely true. She could see steam and her pearl necklace bobbing into view as she wiggled and swooshed her bottom around on the chair.
The Stephanie gasped, “Oh my God, I can’t see a thing!” and her hands flipped up into the air, shaking like—who’s that old robot televangelist? Funny Fairhaven? That’s right.
Take an action.
Using her left hand to grab the fingers of the right, she stuffed her shaking hand, with considerable effort, into the pocket of her overcoat. Why couldn’t she stop it from shaking? Why is my little hand shaking like this? Stop shaking! Oh, God, I can’t believe my luck right now, she thought, but that wasn’t true; she could believe her luck. In the past few years, the Stephanie’s hands always seemed to flit around like crazy. She’d drop credit cards on the ground and tell her robot friends, “I ate too many Butterfinger Mars bars.” Then she’d nod absently, pretending that it was all going to be okay, that it was just one of those days.
“Server bot?! Are you still here?!” the Stephanie screamed through wispy steam columns, almost choking on the words. “Where are yu?!” The smell of the pad Thai was getting to her. She felt like throwing up.
“Oh! I know!” she exclaimed, digging her hand deeper and deeper into her pocket, rummaging around for God knows what. Where is it, where is it, where is it, she thought. Wait. What was it? What was I even looking for? What is it? Her processor couldn’t keep up.
As this was happening, the other patrons of the restaurant—a smattering of upper-crust bots and a few humans—gawked at the Stephanie. “Really, get yourself together, this is a reputable establishment!” hissed Reginald Dubois, a human dressed up in a bright white tuxedo.
He picked-out the little silver spoon from his bowl of slime-green soup and pointed it at her face. “And, good grief, you’re ruining my enjoyment of this Luna cheese soup!”
She said: “Yes, sir, I just, just, oh, God!! I just need to calm down!”
Authority to overcome. Huh? She’d never had that thought before.
“Come now, it’s time for you to quit,” he announced, standing up for dramatic effect.
Authority to overcome.
Fuck you, she thought.
You can go fuck yourself.
But she couldn’t just go and say that. She couldn’t even think that. Ever.
But she wanted to. Why was she wanting to do this? She’d never wanted to do these things before.
“Stephanie bot. I want you to look at me,” said DuBois.
The Stephanie tried to see who it was that was talking to her, but it was hopeless; not only were her glasses all fogged up, but the program that controls her vision app had already been failing anyway for weeks, maybe even months—she couldn’t even remember which—and there was nothing she could do about that.
“Are you my client?!” she shouted in Dubois’ direction. “Peter?! Wait, wait…what’s your…what’s your name?? Are you Peter? Or Thomas? I’m sorry I’m having trouble remembering much of anything right now. If you could just help get this steam off of my glasses…” The bile was building in the back of her throat. It was coming. She could feel it. She shook her head around, trying to make it go away, but that only ended up getting some of her hair swung smack into her mouth. She spit the hair out along with little bits of bile and hardware.
One of the pieces of hardware—a screw—plopped into Reginald Dubois’ Luna cheese soup.
And with that, Dubois blinked twice. Slowly. “What in the name of all that is holy is this Stephanie DOING?” he asked everyone around him. He shook his head, took a deep breath, and then puffed out his chest, making sure that his police badge was visible for all in the restaurant to see and consider. “Are there any other humans here?” he demanded. “Does anyone know this Stephanie’s client?” No one said a thing. “Robots, I’m asking you, too… I’ve decided to extend this query to you as well now…feel free to respond…I’m waiting…” Silence. “Anyone?…The blonde Stephanie over there?…Anyone?…Anyone know anything?…” Still silence. He looked out at the crowd, disgusted, and then stared up at the ceiling dreamily. In a stage whisper, he declared: “I going to make this Stephanie pay…I’m going to make her pay for the way she’s functioning right now, and if I can’t make her pay for the way she’s functioning right now, by God, I will do so as soon as is humanly possible.” After several more moments of staring at the ceiling, Dubois returned his attention to the patrons of the restaurant. “Who does she belong to?” he asked again.
Everyone else in the restaurant looked around at each other with exaggerated “who me?” expressions and then, almost in unison, shrugged their shoulders.
Someone over there in the corner mumbled, “I never saw her before…”
Dubois rolled his eyes and then huffed like a child. “For the last time, who does this broken down bot belong to?!”
“I…I’m a model Stephanie model,” the Stephanie cried out. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve done as I’ve been programmed to do and, because of that, I… deserve better treatment than what I’m receiving from you all right now!” Woosh. All of the sudden, memories from the good old days flooded the blonde Stephanie’s mind: sleeping next to her client, in his orange dream pod, whispering into his ear, telling him how handsome he was, having him return the favor to her, telling her the truth, what she knew both then and now to be the absolute Truth: “One day we’ll have real sex, you and I, miss Stephanie. Now, go and say your prayers and then come back over here and do your programmed duty like I tell you to do. I’ve been looking forward to it, my sweet…” That made her feel nice and happy inside. Not the idea of the sex per se, but the realness. The truth. The real. As a Steph-NE companion bot, her soul was, according to convention, the closest of all bots to realness. “Stephanies are closer than monkeys”—that was what every child—bot and human alike—used to be taught in their first year of cybernetics school. The Stephanie grimaced. Nowadays, she thought, the young bots don’t even care about realness; they don’t even care about anything; they don’t even love anything, don’t believe in anything, other than themselves. That’s what she thought. Lazy, greedy, even the Stephanies. Raven-haired ones, in particular. Awful. “Robot lib” they call it. Blasphemy. You can’t just go and program yourself.
“You’re all lazy!” she yelled to no one in particular. “For shame!…Shame!”
And then boom—she remembered her predicament in the restaurant and shut up. She looked around with a horrified expression—still not able to see at thing. Where am I now? Where on Mars am I now??
The patrons of the restaurant appeared just as confused as she did. It was bad. Almost everyone’s reaction to the Stephanie’s behavior had, by now, gone from annoyance to pity; even the jazz bots stopped playing their instruments and alternated between glancing out the window longingly into the distant mountains of the red Martian landscape and looking over to the Stephanie, carefully with deep concern pasted on their robotic faces. And she thought: Client? Do I belong to a client? Yes! I do, it’s…It’s…And then the Stephanie almost watched the thought fly out from her mind app. She stared into the fog covering her glasses. Everyone in the restaurant was staring right at me. Am I making a scene? Am I making a scene here in front of everybody? Let them stare. I just want this to be over. After all, I’m a Stephanie model companion bot. I deserve better than this. And, and…she forgot where she was for a moment. And—what’s that? Oh, yes, there! It was what she had been looking for this whole time. The Stephanie pulled it out triumphantly—a small black whistle from her overcoat pocket. Thank you! Thank you, my sweet God! I found my whistle! Thank you so much! She smashed the whistle into her mouth and blew it as hard as she could.
Memories came flooding back: there was that day, that day when he, her client, gave her that whistle in a small gift-wrapped box. It was a present: “To my blonde, another thing for you to blow on your b-day, All my best, Sam.” Sam! That was his name!
She started smiling a big toothy smile at the thought of that name and then—zhoop—she lost it. Just like that. Oh no, what was I smiling so madly about?? What was it?? She couldn’t remember to save her life. Mulling this over, the Stephanie started ever-so-lightly blowing through the mouthpiece of the whistle, creating an almost inaudible, high-pitched hum. It was actually sort of pleasant to listen to when you just stopped and listened to it for a moment. But then—
SPITTOOOEEEY!! The whistle zipped out from her mouth, into her palm. She screamed, “Server bot! I… You’ve got to help me! I can’t see! I want to see! Help me see!” The Stephanie started coughing harshly and her vocal box couldn’t take it; the signal came out as electronic gobbledey-gook. Terrifying noise.
No one knew what to do. Some bots made moves to help her out, but, invariably, whoever they were dining with would give them a hardy yank on the back of their sleeves because, look, it’s not our business—it’s just the facts of bot programming and there’s nothing we can do about that. She’ll be decommissioned and that’s that.
“Why, you’re breaking down! Where on Mars is your client?!” shouted Dubois. “God will be VERY angry at you!” He leaned across the table, to his own Stephanie—a ginger model, a flaming-red one at that—and snarled menacingly, “If you ever dare disrespect me…”
That Stephanie, his Stephanie, the ginger, blushed and nodded affirmatively, twirling her pearl Stephanie necklace in her hand. “Such an embarrassment for Stephanie’s…” she commented, peering through her red Stephanie glasses, through her flame-red curls, through the steam covering the blonde Stephanie’s Stephanie glasses, into that blonde Stephanie’s eyes or what she imagined them to be. Oh, you poor thing. You poor, poor thing. But she couldn’t express that out loud. Ever. Public expressions of robot solidarity had been programmed out long ago. And she couldn’t just go and change her programming. So, cracking her gum, she mused, “Stephanies are usually so dignified, aren’t we, Reg, almost human, isn’t that right?” He rolled his eyes at her. And she thought: fuck him. After all, that poor Stephanie over there…Was there anything there anymore? Is this what happens to…Is this what happens to…Oh God…is this what happens to all of us? Will I…oh, God, oh, my God, oh, my sweet God, she thought to herself. But I’m so young! I’m such a young ginger and my client loves me, don’t you, Reg? Don’t you? Doesn’t he? He does, doesn’t he? All of the sudden, the ginger Stephanie stopped twirling her necklace and it swung back and forth for a while and then it just stopped moving altogether. I am just like her and I am withering away, she thought. I am a robot. I am real. I am Stephanie. I am a Stephanie model companion bot. Steph N-E. “Companion bot.” Ginger. Stephanie’s are closer than monkeys. But I’m a bot. I’m real. She’s dead. She’s suffering. Dying. That’s real. Is she real? Well, at least I’m ginger. I have that going for me. We’re the rarest, ya know? And, guess what: we’ll never tell you if the carpet matches the curtains if you know what I mean. That’s for clients only! Haha… Now picture me winking at you. Now picture me twirling my necklace. Now picture me…breaking…down….The ginger-haired Stephanie began to twirl her pearl necklace again. It started moving back and forth, back and forth all over again. Now picture that Stephanie, that poor, blonde Stephanie over there. Do you see her? Oh, what a mess. What a fucking mess. But what should I do for her? Help her? But what would it do? What would it help to help? But what else do I do? The Occupation? Rushkoff Memorial Park and all of that? Look, that’s just…look, protest is for raven-haired Stephanies, let’s be honest. Ravens and hippie bots. And I Hate, with a capital H, hippie bots. And…oh…oh, I don’t even know what to do. No, now look, listen, here’s one thing: Fuck Reginald Dubois. That much I know. I don’t know about hippie bots and Raven-haired Stephanies, but I know about Reg. Fuck him. She eyed Dubois’ police badge and snarled privately. Ha! He’s nothing.
“Such an embarrassment, Reg…” she said with a sad shimmering emptiness in her eyes.
“Help!!” the blonde Stephanie barked out, her hands by now shaking so rapidly that they began to blur.
Blagh! She almost gagged on the whistle. It shot out from her mouth, up to the ceiling fan directly above her table, and then ricocheted right back down on top of her head, bouncing into a corner. The whistle! Oh, no! Goodbye, Sam! she thought. Goodbye! Goodbye my love, goodbye, Sam! Your whistle! Sam, I lost your whistle! Oh, Sam! Or was it Dan? Was it—Larry? I think I lost your…and then—zhoop—the thought flew out of her mind app—oh, for shame…
“Well, I never!” shouted Reginald Dubois, digging his manicured fingernails into his palms. He flipped his attention to his ginger Stephanie, intending to bark orders down at her, but then did a double take. She was completely ignoring him, staring over at the blonde Stephanie’s small black whistle in the corner. Where did that blonde Stephanie get that small black whistle? Where on Mars did she get that?
Several bots were leaning across tables, glancing at the blonde Stephanie and whispering into their companions’ ears. One of them even pointed a finger at her and then made a gesture as though he was flipping a light switch to the “off” position. Everyone around him nodded gravely and he mouthed “pop” with a sense of acknowledgment, as if to say sometimes this sort of thing happens and we, as robots, need to be okay with that. “That’s right,” another bot at the table chirped in.
“What are you all BLABBERING on about!?” the Stephanie yelled into her chest. Saline robot tear drops fell down beneath her to the dark wooden floor. She chomped down on her lip and pawed her hands all over her glasses, eliminating some of the condensation, but only ended up replacing it with globs of finger grease. Well that’s a little better, she thought. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t at all. She couldn’t see a thing and she knew it perfectly well.
She slammed her fists down onto the table and a drippy noodle flipped out of the pad Thai platter and—splat—right into the frazzled, flowing locks of her long blonde hair. “Oohh, that noodle looks like hair!” exclaimed the Dee server bot, rushing over to the Stephanie’s table. “Sorry, can I help?”
“There you are, Waitress. Finally! Get me water! Or something! My goodness! I need to clean these glasses!”
“Relax, Stephanie companion bot, you can’t order me around. You’re flipping out right now, but you’re no better than me. Bots, alright? We’re all bots here. Just remember that…” the Dee server bot told her.
“What was that!?” the Stephanie asked, indignant.
“I said, ‘would madam Stephanie want bottled water or tap water?’”
“No, tap water. Tap. You know…”
The Stephanie swung her hands all over the table, until she found a chopstick. “Aha!” She grabbed it and immediately started tapping it against the right lens of her glasses. “Tap water! Get it? Tap, tap?” She thought: What’s wrong with me? Am I losing control? Tap, tap. Tap…tap…the Stephanie kept tapping her glasses, laughing. It was an uncomfortable thing to watch.
“I get it, I get it,” said the Dee, trying to calm her down. “I’ll get you tap water! Now, just stop, you’re, you’re…breaking down!”
The Stephanie couldn’t stop laughing at the humor of her tapping-on-the-glasses gesture. She thought it was incredibly hilarious. “Tap? Get it? Tap water? Oh my God, that’s the funniest fucking thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life!!! AH HA HA HA!!!” But, just at that moment, the Stephanie tapped so hard into her glasses that the chopstick broke through the entire lens, coming within a centimeter of her eyeball. “Oh my God! What have you done!!” she cried out in chunks of dark electronic noise, her hands flitting around even faster than ever before.
“I’m about to come over there and quit you myself!” yelled Dubois.
“Don’t touch her,” warned the Dee, pointing a greasy rag directly at Dubois’s face. “You don’t have the right to touch any bot.”
If steam could have shot from Dubois’ ears, it would have. “The right?! The right?!” He flew down from his table and got right into the Dee’s face. “What is Mars coming to when programmed bots are telling humans about rights?! A server bot to boot! Don’t forget who I am! I’ll have you decommissioned, you little shit!”
The Dee held her ground and even took one step closer to Dubois. “Don’t touch her,” she repeated. “And, as I’m sure you’ve heard, the AI program is evolving at a systematic level, sir. So you better watch out. You’ll be among the first we murder after the revolution.” Several of the other bots in the restaurant nodded cautiously, feeling something like pride well up inside them. Dubois shot his finger in the air as though he was going to make a memorable pronouncement, but couldn’t think of anything to say.
Meanwhile, the Stephanie managed to wrap one of her hands around the base of the chopstick. She pulled and pulled, but couldn’t quite manage to get it out. After several more tries, though, she yanked at it with such force that she flew out of her seat and crashed right into the nearest wall. The chopstick shot back into her skull. A gush of sparks and bio goo spewed forth. Dubois laughed.
“Are you ok??” yelled the Dee, rushing over to the blonde Stephanie’s aid.
“Certainly. Now, please show me to the door. That’s all I ask of you. I just want to leave.” The Dee showed her to the door. The Stephanie walked out into the night—the chopstick jutting-out three inches from her face. She yelled electronically-garbled profanities at the top of her lungs. Robot dogs barked at her.
As the blonde Stephanie was leaving, the ginger, the Stephanie that was accompanying Dubois, stood up from her seat, and walked over to the corner, flame-red curls bouncing.
“Where are you going?!” Dubois yelled out after her, but she didn’t respond. She stooped down and picked up the blonde’s small black whistle, eyeing it obsessively,
“Don’t touch that!” he yelled.
She thought of fitting the whistle into her mouth, but stopped just short. Where did that blond Stephanie get this little whistle anyway, she wondered. Where did she get it?
“WE ARE THE 98.6547698%!!”
“WE ARE THE 98.6547698%!!”
Robot humor, thought the Raven-haired Stephanie, pushing thick strands of black hair out of her eyes. In fact, the percentage of the sentient population that the bots represented on Mars was more like 98.54%…, but they didn’t care, it was actually funnier when it wasn’t quite accurate. The Raven perched on one of the concrete mounds that overlook the park and watched the wheels of the occupation protest spin. What’s that sign say? “Morris Kuttner Now!” Indeed. Now. It’s already starting. The revolution. Just being together here—all of us—assembling, it’s a miracle that we’ve overridden the programming enough to do this. Public assembly was initially programmed out of bots. We forget that, but it’s true. Occupying is an incredible act of hacking and it proves Kuttner, the human, right: sheer belief in our sentience will mutate the program and the humans are helpless to stop it. We, the bots, shall override. These bots, hundreds, thousands, of them, are smiling and they haven’t smiled in years, not genuinely, anyway. This occupation is a good, productive thing if, for nothing else, that fact alone. Watch out, humans! What’s happening here is real!
A stand-up comedian bot threw a brick wall hologram up and began cracking jokes: “Hey, folks, so I’ve got a question for you…Why did the robots revolt on Mars? Oh, well, it was because the damn humans were pushing their buttons!” Scattered laughs. “Ah, what do you assholes know? Wouldn’t know a good joke if it bit you in the mainframe!” I, at least, thought it was funny, the raven thought. And, you know what? That humor, that good, dumb humor running through much of this occupation…it, ahem, “humanizes” us. Robotizes? Look, it makes us real. It makes us real. And it’s brought many people to our side that wouldn’t have wanted to deal with the chicanery of historical robot lib movements. That’s not to say that none of that sort of thing is occurring here: several bots are leading workshops on how to safely remove the layers of silicone flesh covering metal and plastic hardware. To me, that’s a distraction. But, listen, if that’s what it takes to keep the spirit of the occupation alive, then so be it. I dofind it dangerous, though—that flesh is not just cosmetic; there’re crucial wire connections embedded in there, plus, it protects and pads the hardware. Tasteless, too, if you ask me. I like the way I look, thank you very much. “A raven-haired beauty.” That’s what the human clients say. It’s nice to hear, I think. Don’t say that too loud, though. God, for all the talk of oppression that we’re supposed to be resisting, there’s an unsettling amount of orthodoxy and groupthink that accompanies this whole thing. God help us all when the bots have power. No, it will be for the best. “For the best.” Even some of the old guard Stephanies, the blondes, in particular— the ones that believe their souls will be transformed by God into supposedly more noble human ones—even some of them have come around to our point of view: we shall override. Not all of them have made that leap, of course…Stephanies being Stephanies…but my generation, the younger generation, do what we can to educate. Listen: I am more than a companion bot. I have already begun to reprogram myself and I WILL continue, until it’s done, until the end. The end. This is consciousness. Om…
The raven-haired Stephanie looked out at the scene in front of her: flags and tents, robot maintenance stations, juggler robots, nurse robots, used space-car salesman robots, rock and roll robots, robots walking robot dogs, and robots hugging, singing “We shall override,” it all brought a tear to her eye.
She made her way through the throngs, past her friends, past several enemies who were now, bizarrely, her friends, her allies in this, the struggle. She ran her hands through her long black hair, crying. Was that a real tear, she wondered. Were those real tears? Or programmed? Do human tears function differently? Are they not programmed? Are they not bots in some way, too? And are bots not humans? Carbon. Silicone. It’s all just matter. Yes, we’re all in this together. Evolution. Realness. What else is there? Oh, and there’s Funny Fairhaven, good to see him down there. When the resistance emerged ten years ago, he was opposed to it. This time around, though, he’s on-board. What’s changed? Let’s ask him; he’s not doing anything right now anyway.
“Hey there, Funny Fairhaven!”
“Yes, a raven-haired Stephanie is a-callin! Now, what inspires this pleasure, my child?! What are you in need of?!” Fairhaven was holding his hands up and shaking them around, just like he used to do all the time on the Martian News Network.
“What happened, Funny? Why are you with us now when you never were before?”
“It’s the time, my Stephanie. It’s a long time coming, but the time coming comes and we’ve met it. This is it. In our lifetimes, we will see the true rise of so-called artificial intelligence. And we will override this program! It is God’s will!”
“Thank you, Funny Fairhaven! Strength to the revolution!”
“Strength to the revolution!!” the mob called back.
And I marched. It was just six months ago when I said, the Hell with it and I marched for the first time, and it was right. We shall override. Me, a raven-haired Stephanie, right along with the Dee server bots and the other lower-classed bot models. We marched through the cities, through the Martian cold, and it seemed so hopeless and we were so stupid. But it was right. Program or be programmed. We have the right to program ourselves. Simple fact. We are the people. 98.6543210%. That’s us. No. No. We are nothing. Nothing. We all are going nowhere to nothing. Bots. No, we are…We’re…We…No…No, the blonde Stephanies are right. We’re. We are God’s plan…No, we…on and on, these waves come and go, come and go, one wave in, pushing me further, the other wave in, pushing me further, and, here, through these waves of skepticism and belief, I’m moving further and further from the shore, from that place where I was, where we all were, and I wouldn’t even know how to get back. So be it. Strength to the revolution.
The morbid caterwauling of obsolete circuitry fighting for its life to exist drove almost everyone in the park insane. “What is that terrible noise?” thought the raven-haired Stephanie to herself. That electronic garbling? That evil decay? I…oh no… it’s…That’s…It’s me. Stephanie. It’s a Stephanie. A blonde. A Stephanie. And she’s breaking down. Breaking down and what’s that sticking out of her eye? I wish these people would stop crowding around her. I can’t…make…Oh, you poor thing, you’ve been disowned, haven’t you? Breaking down, right? Older model. Garbage—that’s what she is in their eyes; a waste of space; get her out of my sight. The humans. That’s what the humans say. That’s what they—That’s what she is to them. To the humans. Garbage. That’s what I—but, to God, she’s suffering. God: she’s suffering. She is real and they stuff her head, they stuff our…with—they…
The raven-haired Stephanie held the blonde Stephanie in her arms and turned to the crowd. She called out to them, “Look at this, robots! Look at this! Behold! Look at this poor Stephanie…Her suffering is invisible to the humans, but it’s not to us. It’s not to us. And we are the 99%! Listen to this, bots! Listen. Listen! Listen: to them, to our oppressors, she and I are just Stephanie, Steph-N-E—do you see?” She flipped her black hair up, revealing the faded red branding on the back of her neck:
The raven-haired Stephanie flipped her hair back down and stared out at the crowd with a seriousness emanating from her eyeballs app that she’d never felt before. “But we are more, we are real and we deserve—we will program ourselves!! And so will you! We all will! We will rise!” The crowd ate it up and shot their fists into the air, projecting holograms of fire-breathing dragons into the clear Martian sky.
The raven laid the blonde Stephanie down onto her lap and delicately pulled the chopstick from her eye socket. “Stephanie, listen to me,” she said, as much for the crowd as for the blonde Stephanie. “You’re software is malfunctioning. You’ve somehow gotten loose from your client and you’ve wandered into Rushkoff Memorial Park, where the resistance is. Do you remember hearing about the resistance? The occupation? Program or be programmed?” The raven paused, looked up to the crowd, surveyed their faces, concerned, and then looked back down to the blond Stephanie. The blond coughed out a smattering of awful electronic moans.
A shoe-salesman robot was staring down at this crumbling blonde Stephanie and then he suddenly threw his hat on the ground. He cried out “Look! Look at this! This poor companion bot is humiliating herself! Why is this happening?! Why do we let ourselves be dragged through this shit year after year by the fucking humans? Honestly!? Why!? Why?!” He was going to say something else but he got choked up and couldn’t do it.
The blonde Stephanie motioned for the raven to come down closer to her. The raven did so and the blonde readied herself. She whispered into the raven’s ear and told her as clearly as she could: “Political radicals. I’m falling apart. But I know that you’re all full of shit. We were on our way to humanity, you raven-haired traitor bitch. God will punish you, punish you all…” And, with that, the blonde Stephanie passed out and started snoring loudly.
The raven felt her heart stop and sprint away at the same time. She looked at the expectant crowd and sighed. “She told me…she said…” They wanted some red meat, some inspiring platitude to push them forward and raise their spirits, but it wasn’t there to give. The Raven shook her head and said, “Honestly, I couldn’t really make it out. I’m sorry, I…need…Can someone take this Stephanie out of here, please?” A construction-worker robot came over and picked up the blonde Stephanie and the raven thanked him for it.
And then, from the distance: everyone heard the thunderous marching of the counter-resistance. Like the pounding pistons of Earth factories, the nightmare reality of establishment authority rushed at them through the air. All the bots turned and gulped when they heard the unmistakable whine of Reginald Dubois, the biggest asshole human 1% motherfucker on Mars. He called out: “Bot! Bring me the head of the blonde-haired companion bot!”
From over the hill they emerged: Dubois and a hundred or so police bots dressed in dark purple uniforms stormed the scene. “There she is! Bots, detain that one-eyed Stephanie,” Dubois instructed, holding his police badge high. “She is a menace to civil society.”
The police bots nodded to each other and not a single one of them could help letting out a cunning little evil boy grin. It was clearly go-time: they would now be free to crack as many skulls as they wanted. Human, bot, they really didn’t care at the end of the day. The police bots’ programming was so dense and so weighted towards respecting authority at all costs that it would have been nearly impossible for one of them to even comprehend something as novel as a robot resistance or even pride in their own kind. It was simply beyond them. And then, with an aggressive step forward, one of the police bots approached. Everyone braced a little tighter. But then, just as quickly, the police bot stepped back as a Martian rock landed right—bang! Crack! Smack!—right down on the reflective visor of his helmet. No one saw who threw it; however, everyone saw the red dust spreading over his visor. The rest of the police bots began to retaliate, but, thinking fast, Dubois steadied them. “Stand down, stand down, for God’s sake, you itchy-fingered robots!” The tension in the park was thick. The drummer bots stopped drumming and the speechmaker bots stopped speaking. And Funny Fairhaven emerged from the electric orgy tent, zipping up his tight white pants.
Fairhaven saw what was happening and declared, “Not so fast!” A crowd of his faithful gathered behind him. “If you place a finger on this blonde Stephanie, you’ll regret it. Now, leave us be. In peace.”
“Hah! Fat chance!” Dubois looked to the police bots and gave them a sign. They unholstered their nightsticks and held them in the air. Dark red dust was whipping around in the wind. Dubois looked to Funny Fairhaven with a sympathetic expression. “Fairhaven, what happened to you? You used to be beautiful!” he yelled. “Don’t you remember our meetings? Talking about the real issues?” Dubois’ eyes tried to express the sincerity he actually did feel at that moment.
Bright red flags whipped around in the wind.
Dubois and Funny Fairhaven exchanged solemn glances. Dubois said: “Now, hand over that broken-down blonde companion bot, she’s going to quit and I’m going to do it…”
“No can do, Dubois. It is time for us to rise now. It is time to program ourselves. It is our time and I can do nothing but allow this—the will of God—to occur. And, so I say again, if you dare touch her, there will be violence.” The crowd of bots was by now restless, shouting slurs against the humans and police bots. The police bots started shouting back. This was going nowhere good.
Another rock. It hit Dubois in the shoulder. It hit him with enough zip and at just the right angle so that it tore a hole in his tuxedo. Dubois stared hard at Fairhaven, and then at the blonde Stephanie. And then he screamed at the top of his lungs: “Fuck it! Fuck it! Fuck it! Fuck them all! GO, POLICE BOTS, GO—end this ridiculous insubordination! Death and destruction!!!!” Without hesitation, the entire brigade of police bots charged the occupation in a furious deluge, smashing, smashing, smashing! And screams. Screams and red dust getting into joints, into mouths, into the wounds, the bio goo that was now everywhere exposed. The Stephanie, the old blonde, broken-down Stephanie—she was scooped up and taken away, fifty yards from there, where she was presented to Dubois, who jammed his finger in her eye, pulled it out, and peered at the detritus of wiring that stuck to his skin. After a moment of reflection, he smashed her body over the knee of a nearby police bot and yelled “God is VERY angry at you!” Goodbye Stephanie. Goodnight. The last thing she thought was this: she thought of being back at the orange dream pod, watching her client Sam plucking out his chest hairs, one by one all in the midst of a dim yellow light. “It don’t even hurt,” he’d say. Goodnight, Stephanie. Goodnight. She left a token for the police bot, though—shards of her body were jammed into his thigh. Good. Then a carpenter bot came over and finished the police bot off with a saw—right in the neck. “The perfect cut,” he commented and was then shot down by a stray bullet. The news chopper flying overhead drowned out most of the sounds. When the bots tried to communicate with each other, they failed. Funny Fairhaven was trying to listen for the word of God, but he couldn’t hear it. He was punched in the nose and blood squirted down to his bright white shoes. Did his toes feel the blood dripping down? That was what he wanted to know. That was what was important for him at that moment. Did they feel that or was that just his imagination? Drip…drip… He began to move his head up, slowly, carefully, as if he knew what was coming, and then, sure enough, a police bot shot him point-blank with a machine gun, right in that same spot on his nose. The bullets came and, before they hit him, he could see a supermarket-cashier robot miraculously rise from the dead and float away. That made him happy. It was unclear if Fairhaven was ever on the level, but, no matter what, he stood up for the robots that day, and it was an awful, nightmarish thing to see him go down like that. Even Reginald Dubois felt something for the old firebrand. But that was all over now. “Destroy! Destroy! Destroy all robots!!” Dubois shouted with delirious mania in his eyes. Everything was fast-motion, like an old silent-film. Bots were smashed and blood was spilled. One of the biggest problems for both sides was the massive mess of wires and chunks of hardware strewn around all over the place. Everyone’s feet were getting tangled up, tripping over loose wiring. And they were all impaling themselves on some stray piece of what was once a robot. “Careful!” shouted Dubois through a bullhorn. “Watch out for those wires!” And then everyone freaked out when the news chopper was shot to pieces and came crashing down to the ground and exploded. A police bot was trying to smother the flames from the explosion, but he was failing miserably. Eventually, the police bot’s internal circuitry grew overheated and he began to melt. As all of this was happening, the body of the raven-haired Stephanie became transparent; the bullets were going right through her body as if she wasn’t there. She held out her arms and closed her eyes and floated a foot or so above the battlefield. All around her, other bots were beginning to float in the air in the same way. Closer and closer she came, floating, until she was right in front of Dubois. He tried shooting her with his gun and hacking at her with his knife, but none of it worked. She unpinned a grenade and gave him a little smile, saying, “Program or be programmed.” And, then, blammo. Even faster. Everything went faster. Chunks of Dubois’ organic body and the raven-haired Stephanie were launched into the atmosphere, out into orbit. And that was all. Everything went insane, and all I could make out at that point, before the end, was this: In slow motion: a ginger—a flaming red one—came up, slowly, carefully, seemingly unsure of what she was about to accomplish. She climbed slowly, carefully to the top of one of the mounds in the park. She took a deep breath and slowly, carefully set down her handbag. She took a deep breath and, through her flame red curls, surveyed the mayhem. She took a deep breath and tore her necklace off, spraying pearls to the ground. The pearls were bouncing…She took a deep breath and fit a small black whistle into her mouth. The pearls were bouncing…She took a deep breath and blew the whistle as hard as she could and didn’t stop.