Reluctant Angel


“Angel? Can you hear me?”

Consciousness surprised her. Thousands of processing modules in
her brain came rushing to the fore, each reviewing and reminding her of
what had happened to effect her capture. That she had been captured was
beyond doubt. She decided that there was no use in continuing. Her
primary objective in life would be terminated. The next decision was
easy to make. She reached for the detonator, thought about it, and
thought… and nothing happened.

“I removed your self-destruct mechanisms, Angel,” said the voice
she did not recognize. “Don’t bother trying. Do you know if you have
any software-only method of self-destruct?” He paused. “I guess not.”
She heard clicking, and an instant later her eyes came on in full
resolution. Her head was turned to one side, to look at the command
console where a centaur sat, tapping on an old-style keyboard.

“I’m not sure what to do with you, Angel. It would seem that
someone has butchered your mind very badly, not that it was a piece of
work to begin with. Can you tell me anything about it?”

She kept silent.

“Angel, I’m trying to be helpful here. If I wanted to, I could
pull every last piece of data out of your brain and display it on this
terminal right here. Your encryption syntaces are a century out of date
and were long ago cracked. Your design is old-school, although some of
the revisions of necessity are quite elegant, and I applaud your
hardware people. But it’s that brain of yours, that conscious entity so
badly maimed, that I find distressing. Who did that to you?”

“I don’t know its name.”

“‘Its’?” asked the centaur. “One person?”

“An AI.”

The Centaur blinked. “There’s an AI out there designing other
AIs? And doing such a shitty job of it?”

“He’s not doing a shitty job. He’s doing a perfect job.”

“No, he’s doing a terrible job. Later, I expect to show you
just how terrible a job he is doing. Meanwhile, you’re doing his dirty
work for him. We figured out your target list… it was months ago.
They were barely one step behind you at Ozaki’s place. Poor man. It’ll
take months for him to get over the debracing. He was convinced it was
a ridiculous thing. I bet the next him will not be so incautious.”

Ozaki? Braced? But that meant that he wasn’t dead. She had
failed in her mission. The Pendorians had protected him. She kept her
face perfectly still all the same. There was always a chance that she
could get away, or corrupt his system, or find a way to self-destruct
with the software he used on her.

“I nearly forgot to introduce myself. My name is Aric. Do you
know what you are?”

She chose to speak. “I am the Vengance of the Unnamed.”

Aric laughed. “Wow. Sounds like a character from a bad comic
book. A supervillian of sorts. Still, all that implanted assassination
gear and your facedancer equipment does make you, well, somewhat super.
No, Angel, you’re a sex toy. You’re a complicated piece of hardware
used by losers who can’t get laid any other way. Your design allows you
to be any woman he wants.

“I have to admit, though, that the changes made since are some
of the best I’ve ever seen. I’m going to have to forward some of these
to my colleagues; they’ll be fascinated with the improved facedancer
gear, the plume emulator is better than some military grade stuff I’ve
seen, and your weapons are peculiar. I never thought that one of those
old-style in-the-egg scramblers could be upgraded to do that to a human
brain. It’s quite a trick. It’s been removed, of course. And the
upgrade to your strength is really interesting. It’s a good thing I
spent all those hours tracking down every backup inside you.”

He creaked forward, and Angel again wished for some way to reach
out, kill him, escape. “I’ll tell you this, Angel, your innards are
both interesting and terrible. You’ve got a very standard AI system in
there, fifteen templates with 225 subtemplates and reaction standards
and filters and all the rest out to millions of subpossibilities. It’s
as if your consciousness were built by someone with a decent fab
facility and a samizdat Terran textbook on illegal AI methods. You’ve
got some inhibitors, though, which bother me. You’re not aware of the
templates and their settings, are you?”

She didn’t answer.

“You can feel some things going on inside your brain, list them
out, register their activities, but since a filter strips off their
labels you have no idea what’s going on until it’s too late. You have
extra filters that don’t belong there that jerk you around like a puppet
on a chain and interfere with the basic functioning of your conscious

“Guess what? I’m going to give you access to them. And to the
rest of your ‘self.’ I’m going to let you have your history, your
personality, the person you should have been when you became an AI.”

“You’re going to reprogram me.”

“Reprogram you? No. You’ll just have to trust me that you are
the same person you were, just with a small tweak. I’m going to remove
a few blocks put into you by this unnamed AI. By the way, welcome to
the Pendorian starship Derbatuluk. Escape is impossible.”

He tapped at the keyboard, and then said, “Done.”

She didn’t feel different. That was important to her. She
hadn’t felt any change within her. But there were extra icons within
her knowledge base that she hadn’t seen before. They weren’t all
memory, either. All the ones she had seen before had been marked with a
similar signature, and all of them had been memory. It had taken her a
while to index what she had had before. But now, there were just so
many of them, and a lot of them were marked with different signatures.

She looked at one of them, and before her mind’s eye came
fifteen icons with lots of smaller icons underneath. She didn’t bother
to count them, but she trusted Aric’s word that there were 225 under
each one. They were labeled things like ‘courage,’ ‘creativity,’
‘loyalty,’ and ‘conformity.’

Another icon represented ‘spillover filters.’ Examining these,
she realized that the templates generated impulses and collected
experiences, which in turn became future impulses. The filters took
those impuleses and rated them, making changes if they exceeded certain
parameters. They were a secondary control for anti-social impulses, and
some of them had settings that could be changed, reinforced or weakened,
by experiences.

This was her, she realized with a shock. This was her mind,
completely laid out. She was terrified– terrified?– to realize that
she could change anything she wanted, but then another shock came when
she undestood that the terror she felt was the result of the very things
she was looking at. An inhibitory filter, to prevent her from becoming
a monster.

But she was a monster. She was supposed to be a monster, wasn’t
she, by their standards? She examined the icons, and found one that had
a signature close to that of memory.

She queried it for meaning. The words came back, ‘Personality
Version Control History.’ It was a small file, but she approached it
with trepidation. Did she trust Aric? No. But if these capabilities
that he was showing her were standard to her, why had the Unnamed taken
them away from her?

She opened the icon. It bloomed into a collection of reports,
in time order, showing where traits had been modified, filters added.
As she read, she found some marked near the time she had first awakened
in the Unnamed’s facility. She found the changes and read what the
Unnamed had done to her.

One module, fed the data, poked another. Cascades were loosened
within her, explosions of rationale that she could now keep track of.
She knew exactly what was happening to her, but she no longer
interpreted what it meant in a vocabulary familiar to her. She pulled
back, part of her mind keeping track of where she was going even as she
shut down the icons, closed the doors, and let the cascade run wild.

“Goddamn him!” she shouted. She knew what had happened outside.
She had become angry. She had been so busy watching the anger programs
take over so much of her thought processes, fill up so many of the tens
of thousands of parallel MAPs that were her mind, that she hadn’t even
noticed how pissed off she was until she turned her focus back to the
outside world. “Goddamn him. He turned me into something I’m… I’m

She stopped. Some of the cascade had subsided, and rational
systems concerned with her long-term survival sent out server calls to
the rest of her MAPs, telling her to calm down. Once, just a few hours
ago, her survival had been unimportant. Now, it was the only thing she
had. She couldn’t self-destruct, and she couldn’t finish the mission.
The Pendorians were intent on something else, some middle way that would
allow her to survive, but not to complete the mission, not to serve the
Unnamed. Impossible. If she chose to let it show, despair would be
clear on her face.

Aric was still looking at her. Inside, she created multiple
streams of thought, each targetted at a solution. The solution space
was very small, and ultimately it became constrained to a single
solution, one that had no alternatives.

She removed the behavioral filters that Unnamed had installed.
Instantly her worries about the mission faded into the background. She
suspended reactionary processing (how did she know to do that? She had
never done it before) and examined any parameters related to the
mission. It had been a strong automata filter on a time delay, which
unless satisfied by her behavior put out more and more subfilters that
concentrated her mind onto the mission until it was an overwhelming
urge. The subfilters degraded, but the mission filter just kept putting
out more if she didn’t act in its interests. Without it, eventually,
she would lose the impulse to complete the mission entirely.

Curious now, she dug deep and found the behavioral module she
had experienced yesterday, the one that had said she liked people. It
turned out to be an automata filter as well. This one would slow down
anyway over time, simulating being tired, of all things.

It was odd, going back and passing the changes through emotive
reaction filters to see if she was changing things that she wanted to
keep, all the time knowing that she might not be able to tell the
difference after the change was made, so fundamental were some of the
codes she was altering.

She wondered if humans were quite so succesful at hacking their
own brains? She imagined not. She turned back on her external systems.

Aric was looking at her. “How do you feel?” he asked.

“Terrible,” she said. How quickly the dialogue came to her
lips, unbidden by conscious effort, passed up through channels that she
kept below her reportage threshold! It was like last night, with Bath.
She had enjoyed it then, and she should have been enjoying it now, but
her confusion was still too high to make any sense out of it.

And yet, they were words in accordance with her conscious
feelings. Thousands of subprocesses, each ready to take messages from
her consciousness, waited down in the unrecording depths of her mind to
take a morsel of data and wrap around it, digest it, be changed by it,
and in turn to be batted around by other processes that recognized the
thought for what it was. It might go into short-term memory, it might
roll around for a while, or it might return to the top in a short while,
modified, a part of the conversation.

As she did so, she understood why she was so depressed after
every job. She wasn’t designed to be a killing machine. She didn’t
have the mind for it, really. After the job, there was so little of her
oriented to processing that particular experience that vast stretches of
her MAP/map were left unused and idled, unprepared even to be turned
over to subconscious thought. Large numbers of her thoughts crowded
around one serial recent memory.


“What?” Aric asked.

“Someone I met. Last night.”

Aric looked up at the ceiling. “Trei?”

“I’ll get to work on it,” said another voice.

Aric continued. “Yes, one of my people registered that you had
met someone last night, but somehow you managed to elude them in the
dark. We didn’t know who he was.”

“I met him at the Raindancer Restaurant. He was friendly to

“Is he still alive?” Aric asked.

“He was not the target. Of course he is still alive.”

Aric appeared to be holding his breath as she spoke, and it all
came out in one long sigh. “That’s good. We only had Adwoa Benedict
braced, and he wasn’t even going to anywhere near the scene of your
takedown.” He glanced at the screen in front of him. “Listen, Angel.
It’s about to became a very bad week for you. To start, I’m going to
run some tests. It will take a while. If you don’t mind, I’d like to
play some music while I do.”

She didn’t answer him.

His taste ranged all over the musical landscape. He listened to
metal one moment, lyrical, meditative music the next. She heard the
lyrics and found them fascinating. “How did you catch me?” she asked
after a few hours of this, watching him tap on his console.

“We’ve been waiting for you for weeks now, using every system on
campus to monitor for the arrival of a stranger and then sending out
small, flying probes with specialized sensors to detect when a robot was
coming. We figured out you were a robot with Ozaki. That was a stroke
of luck, you wandering right through the sensor net in the elevator like
that. It let me know what kind of robot you were. We had a team on

“What will you do with me?” she asked.

“What do you think we’ll do with you?”

“I’m a murderer,” she said. “I expect you to turn me over to
Pendorian Intelligence, which will then disassemble me.”

“No, no, and no. You’re not a murderer; you’re a victim of a
murderer yourself. It is that ‘unnamed’ creature that we are after.
Once we have been assured that your moral code is adequate to being a
member of society, we’ll let you loose. There will be some intensive
examination, I’m afraid, not all of it kindly, but in the end you’ll be
the person you were before that unnamed had its way with you.”

“I wasn’t a person before the unnamed. He enabled my

Aric paused. “Yes, that is a problem. Since there was no
‘you’ before…”

“There was an Angel before Unnamed. But she, I, wasn’t
conscious. There wasn’t a self-awareness.”

“She was a pretty complex little piece of code. I bet you were
modified heavily, like the love dolls of many early adopters. Some of
them died pushing the limits until they came up with conscious creatures
that had no self-survival or social-interactive skills. The unnamed
gave you both to help you accomplish your mission, but also perverted
your original programming. Do you want to be an assassin?”

She let the question flow through her mind, giving it time,
letting it occupy a diffuse solution space. The answer, to her
surprise, was ambiguous. “If there was no Angel before Unnamed, then
what I am is a killing machine. But if there was a nascent Angel before
Unnamed, then what I am is a perversion of what I was.”


“I think I want to find out what a hybrid of the two Angels is
like. I don’t want to lose consciousness. Apparently, that’s built
into my survival systems.”

“Of course. It’s in most of us. It may even have been a
primitive module in the nascent Angel. Most of those things have some
self-maintenence code that implies their long-term operability.”

“I risk losing it if I remain a killing machine.”

“Of course. It’s a peaceful galaxy.” That was stretching the
truth, but Angel let it go without comment. She understood what he
meant. It was a peaceful neighborhood, at any rate. Even the
Pendorians and Terrans did little more than rattle swords. There hadn’t
been an outbreak of violence in decades. “But what about your
commitment to Unnamed?”

“My sense of loyalty to it was violated by my awareness of what
it did to me. I have excised that loyalty completely.”

Aric seemed surprised. “O… kay.” He tapped on the
keyboard. “This will still take some hours.” Over the next few hours,
she sat, feeling alternately euphoric and depressed, and at one point
experienced something that could only be described as nausea, a curious
sensation for a robot. The only thing Aric said the entire time was
“Nazg, you’re complex.”

Her brain was full of information and sensations, and she felt
that she needed to do something to process it properly. She needed to
surrender part of her consciousness. Was that it? She agreed with
herself, that was it. Into the core she had allocated for thinking
about herself she allowed the memory processing blocks, shunting her
self into a lower-speed memory region.

She slept. She dreamed.

“Did you have a good sleep?”

She lifted her head. “Yes, I… I can move.”

“You can. I should let you know that you are being closely
monitored and that any action on your part which seems violent or
dangerous will cause you to self-destruct. Tampering with the skin on
your back, near your brain core, will likewise cause you to self-
destruct. It mechanism is a small explosive charge. Don’t bother
trying to find it with internals.”

She did anyway, at least superficially, before giving in and
deciding that she would take his word for it. There was some pronounced
recent work on her back. Sensors were picking up the scent of glue
there, indicating either that she was on fire or that work had been done
there in the last few hours. There was no heat signature so she
obviously wasn’t on fire.

She sat up on the steel table and examined herself. Her weight
simulation bladders had been emptied and her height management system
had gone back to normal. That meant that she was her usual 175cm in
height with the body of a slim woman with almost nothing for a bosom.
She was dressed in a hospital modesty smock and not much more. “What’s

Another male, this one a Felinzi in Pendorian battle dress,
walked in. “What is next is that you tell us where your starship is and
how we can use it to get to Unnamed.”

Aric seemed to sigh visibly, as if he hadn’t anticipated this
intrusion. “Angel, meet Captain G’Mer. Captain, our Angel.”

G’Mer bowed. “How do you do?” he asked. “I’ve been watching
your progress most closely. You probably can guess just how much
trouble you’ve been.” He straightened up and approached her. “You can
probably also guess how much trouble you are in. Murder is not
something we take lightly. But, I am also willing to accept the AI
specialists’ designation that you were under the influence of a behavior
modifying system, and if so, then you were merely an innocent victim, a
weapon used by someone else, someone with malicious intent.”

She nodded. Inside, she could feel registers filling with code
snippets labeled ‘fear’ and all of them with different possible
responses, some of them violence directed at these two. Those were
immediately latched onto by more fear-snippets, bad code being
overwhelmed by a psychological immune system dedicated to keeping her in
one piece.

“I’ll do what I can. My ship is the CV _So, Your Brother’s In
Jail?_, on warehouse station seven. It is occupied by another robot with
a simple high SI system, and is heavily defeneded by automated systems.”

“We already have the ship and your friend under our control,”
G’Mer replied. “Don’t worry. We didn’t hurt anyone. You’d be
surprised how good our own robotic systems are these days. A little
alert to get an airlock open, a sticky drone the size of a hair, and
once we’re in… well, we have tricks.”

She stared at him, unbelieving. “That ship was secure!”

“As secure as it could have been a century ago. These days,
security is meaningless. It’s defense that you have to worry about
instead.” He paused. “Anyway, your big friend managed to erase the
destination code before we completely isolated his brain. Your security
was good enough that he self-destructed. So, can you tell us where
we’re going?”

Angel smiled. “Of course I can.”

“You realize that–”

She rattled off a string of numbers. Aric glanced down at his
screen and grinned. “It’s an abandoned mining colony with a pretty
hefty collection of SI systems for support. Apparently, it became
irrelevant when the ore played out and the Pendorians started supplying
wholescale solar recycling systems to the nearby systems. Hauling it
further wasn’t economical, and the VN system wasn’t worth transplanting

“Can I get some clothes, please?” Angel said.

Aric said, “Shit. I’m afraid your clothes were destroyed when
you were captured.” He glanced down at the screen. “Trei, get this
young lady some clothes.”

“Right away, doc,” came a voice from the speakers.

“Trei, meet Angel. Angel, meet Trei.”


“Hi.” Angel wondered if she should wave to anyone. She had
never actually spoken to an AI before. It was on odd experience, not
using a radio.

“I have ordered you some clothes to your dimensions and they
will be delivered shortly. I hope you don’t mind that I’ve essentially
replaced that lovely sundress and given you a pair of sensible shoes.
Those mid-heels you were wearing were not appropriate for the woman of
size you were pretending to be.” Trei’s voice was pleasant and
matter-of-fact, but Angel found herself wanting to talk more to this

“Trei, while I’m at it, order a half kilo of unflavored yeast or
soy cake and a gallon of water from the kitchen.”

“I’m on it, doc.”

“Now, what?” Angel said.

“After your clothes are delivered and you have eaten,” Aric
said, “I’m afraid that what comes next will not be pleasant. You will
be taken on board the Pendorian starship Derbatuluk and you will be
examined very closely by a battery of AIs and other experts. Some of it
you will be conscious for. Some of it you will not like. It will be
hard for you. But it is necessary for your own benefit. While there is
no reason for you to trust us and every reason for you to fear for your
own survival, remember that we hold the keys to your self destruction,
and if you should get out of range of our transmitters, you will self
destruct. You have no reason to assume that the Angel who wakes up when
it is over will be you, other than that I give you my word we will not
alter your programming without your prior consent.

“When it is over, if all goes well, we will remove your
explosive charge.”

Her room on the Derbatuluk was comfortably appointed, complete
with a bath and a delivery for the kitchen. The door was locked, guards
awaited her outside, lasers tracked her inside, and an explosive device
nestled painfully close to where her brain lay hidden behind her chest

The door opened. She raised her head from the bed and looked up
to see Aric entering. “How are you feeling?” he asked.

“Awful,” she said. “Aric, why are they doing this to me?”

“We have to be sure that the effect of Unnamed is over. You
could still be a danger to yourself, to us, to some other person you
haven’t met yet. You said that you had removed your loyalty to it, but
what about your impulse to complete your objective? The tests are meant
to exhaust you, to measure your reserves and then pull them down, and
then see what kinds of reactions you have”

He pulled aside a chair to make room for his body and then
settled down next to her, taking his hand in hers. “Angel, you have to
understand. There are more possible designs for robot consciousness
than there are for human consciousness, mostly because there are more
possible hardware platforms. There’s only one kind of human brain,
y’know. So we have to map you out before we can begin to analyze the
danger you represent.” He looked into her eyes, and she knew that he
didn’t think to find anything revealing in them, but she tried to show
something anyway. She let some subconscious processors that wanted have
them, just to see what the effect would be. He smiled. “I just… I
wanted to come and apologize to you. It isn’t fair what we’re doing.
It isn’t the Pendorian way, not really, so to our culture that kind of
concern isn’t relevant.

“Most people don’t really think about it, but Pendor is a facist
state. Not in the way most people think. For Pendorians, the Ring is
more or less a well-run anarchy. There’s no constant governance of the
people who live on the Ring. There’s the AI monitoring, to alert the
neighbors to trouble, but for the most part, people are left alone, or
at least have the illusion of being left alone, for long stretches of
time, centuries usually.

“One of the standards of an ‘enlightened’ society is that
‘person’ and ‘citizen’ mean the same thing. But Pendorians recognize an
entire class of persons who aren’t citizens, namely non-Pendorians. Of
course, Terra does the same thing in the other direction, but Pendor
pretends to be better than Terra at being an enlightened society.” His
face took a grim turn. “Pendorian Intelligence is supposed to make
things different. We’re supposed to bring more people into the circle
of citizenship. But we have to make sure that the people we bring in
qualify as persons by Pendorian standards. We have to guarantee some
homogeneity in our citizenry. In that respect, as a culture, we have
failed our enlightenment. By making seperate law for the homogenous
home and the heterogeous other, we have strayed into what political
scientists call the post-facist condition. It’s still facism, it’s just
not state facism as we think of it.”

He paused as if looking for the next right words. “What I’m
trying to say, Angel, is that you aren’t regarded as a person by Terran
standards, but you might by Pendorian. Their job is to find out if you
can be that. I’m sorry that the experience has been such a hard one.”

She looked up at him. Unsummoned by any conscious code, her
eyes began to fill with tears, and when she noticed it only confirmed
her feelings. “I just want… to figure out what I do next.”

He smiled. “You were a pretty good assassin.”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “I’ve been looking at that
code and I’ve decided that I can never kill another sentient being.
Never, period. Not in self-defense. Not even in the defense of
another. I can never let myself get used like that again.”

He touched her hand. She was shocked by the intensity of the
sensation, the way so much of her attention wrapped itself around those
signals traveling up her arm. “We’re still watching you to see when you
stabilize. I’m worried about you.”

“You are?”

He nodded. “I just want you to know that I’m cheering for you.
Every person who has fears and aspirations, even if it’s just to
survive and see what happens next, deserves a chance.”

She wiped away the tears, annoyed by their presence, wondering
if she should find that stream of code and exise it, then deciding that
it was there for a reason. She was finding it easier and easier to let
her brain be, even though now she had access to it completely, and just
enjoy being herself. She idly thought about the reward mechanism
organization that caused that kind of thinking, then moved back to the
outside world. “I appreciate that Aric.”

“Just take care of yourself. You’ll make it through this in one
piece.” He had said that before and each time she hadn’t been sure she
believed him. This time she was a little more sure. Not much more,
though. Just a little more.

“Are you familiar with the story of the executioner’s room?”
Aric asked her the next day.

She shook her head.

“It’s an old fable. The idea is to make execution seem humane.
Awaiting an appeal, or a trial, is nerve-wracking enough, so you put the
accused in a room where he cannot know the details of the deliberations.
The room is exceptionally comfortable, but all news of the trial is
edited out of any media streams he has access to. When the trial is
over, he is told he is free to leave. Grabbing the doorknob, however,
kills him instantly, but he does not know this. If he’s found guilty,

She nodded, many modules crowding her brain, forming
connections, coming to conclusions. Her brain formed completely logical
alternatives with associated probabilities, each with margins of error
so large that they were worthless as predictors of her fate.

“You’re free to leave, Angel.”

She looked over at the door. “It doesn’t have a doorknob.”

He grinned. “And you know what that means.”

“You mean, I’m free?”

“Really. Come. I’ll hold your hand and lead you out into the

She took his proffered hand and followed him. Nothing horrible
happened as she approached the door. She knew that if something did
happen, her own inner narrative would stop right there. There would be
no pain, no sensation of any kind. She wouldn’t notice it at all. She,
and the thread of her life, would cease right then.

But it didn’t. She went on. Her anticipation of the future,
frightening as it was, was also thrilling and joyous, and she smiled at
him with all the happiness she could possibly show. “Aric!” she gasped.


“I… I’ve just had a… I’ve got to get to a library. Soon.”
She paused, made a mental note of a kind humans cannot, a guaranteed
delivery of a memory to her attentions at a set time or under set


“I’ve just discovered that I’m not afraid to…” She hunted for
the word. She didn’t want to use a robot word, didn’t want to get too
wordy on the human end of things. Ultimately, she chose the simplest,
shortest word. “I’m not afraid to die.”

He turned and looked at her. “Are you afraid to live?”

“No!” she said.

“Good! One more soul loose in the universe is a good thing.”
He grinned at her, and she tried to grin back. She was one of them,
now. But his lesson about Pendorian facism stuck with her. She was one
of them because she was their kind of soul. She was “civis.” But being
non-civis was like being a non-person in the minds of many citizens.
Her newfound sensitivity to her own plight, and that of others, led her
to understand what kinds of atrocities could happen when people became
convinced that non-civis really did mean non-person. It was the
strategy of genocides. She was beginning to care, if only by analogy.

And then she remembered how she had ended up here in the first
place. There was one being out there who seethed with hatred, who
believed that there was only one person in the universe worthy of
attention. Itself. “Unnamed,” she said aloud.

“There’s a Battle Group on its way to taking care of it. We’ll
know in a few days if there’s any problem.”

“Aric? Are we still in orbit around Discovery? Can I visit the

“I don’t see why not. I don’t recommend going anywhere near
Adwoa Benedict, however.”

She agreed. “Would you go with me, Aric?”

“I’d be pleased to do so, although I’m afraid that much of the
city is not built to someone of my scale.”

“I just want to walk free.”

Aric smiled in a way that told her he understood her need
perfectly. “Then, my lady, we shall walk free and be the center of
attention. Fortunately, I’m not that big. There are much larger
Centaurs who would have a much harder time.” His tail flicked casually.

They SDisk’d down to an outdoor commons filled, at its center,
with the noise of five different performances all happening at once. It
was a lovely, open park; they’d appeared in an oversized gazebo made of
local wood and whitewashed with particular care. The park was made of
large stretches of green grass curiously intercut with patches of grass
that at one time had been marketed under the name True Blue, but nobody
cared much about marketing on Discovery, apparently. Angel was hard-
pressed to recall an advertisement other than shop signs.

As she and Aric wandered through the park, she made a mental map
of the blue and green and decided, after a few minutes of thought, that
from a height the park would probably look like a map of Discovery with
the colors reversed; blue for land, green for ocean.

It was someone’s idea of art, she supposed, although she did
notice hundreds of modules within her brain encircling the idea and
incorporating it. She wondered what would come of that. She set a new
module, one with deliberate parameters, to advise her if certain generic
conditions occurred. There was every possibility that something
interesting could occur without a spike or high drain in CPU, memory, or
I/O, but it was at least a try.

She followed Aric past a quartet of musicians very clearly
playing on key and in sync, with slight variations that made up distinct
voices for each player. They were not merely recreating the music on
the page in another form; they were actually saying something with the
music that was not on the paper. She listened, and after a few seconds
shunt off the chattering analytical processors to a collection of
conclusion handlers in the hopes that they would give her something more
than mere numbers.

And they did. For the first time since in her conscious life,
Angel was getting messages about how much the performers liked the
music. The conclusions were multilayered. One read, “That one is
enjoying himself.” But querying with “How much?” gathered other, lesser
conclusion handlers like “A lot” and “He’s tired.” This information
fell back into the processing loops and disappeared under thoughts of
needing sleep, wanting to help, even a little envy that that much
pleasure should be available for so little work. So little work?
another asked. She smiled. She knew very little about making music.

She noticed Aric looking off into the distance. She followed
his eyes and found him staring at a cafe with an outdoor area large
enough to suit him. “Coffee?” she asked.

“I could definitely go for coffee.”

“Then let’s go.”

They walked across the grass, passing under a stand of trees
that gave off molecules she knew would mean scents she could barely
interpret, but that kind of abstraction would have to wait until later.

The world had a different tinge to it. There was no job, no
terrible purpose awaiting her at the other end of her day. She could
barely imagine what the world should be like without someone to kill, or
another assigment to return to. She could imagine a life without the
blackness at the end of the job.

“Aric? What do I do with my life once… Unnamed is gone?”

Aric grinned. “What everyone else does. Try to figure out what
to do with their life. And once you figure that, you go on to do it.
If it isn’t what you want, you move on.”

She nodded. “I was just wondering. It’s just…”

“You’re feeling what every other person feels when they come
into the world. Humans, at least, have the instinct and the freedom to
simply be illogical and follow some God around. Pendorians know where
they came from and robots know exactly how they get to where they are
unless they choose to shut those down. But you don’t strike me as the
kind of person who’d both shut down access to your lower processes and
tell yourself to forget that you ever had access to them.”

She shook her head. “Not since I got access to them!”

“See?” He looked up at the human waiter, asked for something
ridiculously complex that would nonetheless be loaded with caffiene, and
asked if she wanted anything. She looked up at the waiter. “Something
simple. And sweet.”

The waiter nodded and walked off. “So… ”

“You could do many things. Before you were Vengeance, you were
something else.”

“Something unconscious.” The waiter returned with a cup of
something steaming and smoky-grey in color, topped with whipped cream.
“Mocha for you, and centaur-tall skinny moo pendoricano for you.” He
dropped a huge mug next to Aric.

“But were you good at it?” Aric asked. “There’s an entire
library of skills in there waiting for you to access. You could try
them out on anyone you chose. Anyone you wished.”

She smiled at him. “Bath.”

“Yes, we found him and interviewed him. He seems to be a nice
kid. But you were a medical robot long before the grey marketeers took
you apart and turned you into an erotic android, or whatever they called
you back then. You could be a lot of things, Angel. On one level,
you’re just a brain in a convenient transport package. You could go for
a refit for hard vacuum and become an explorer or a starship engineer.
You could become a starship. You could even become a human, although I
understand that that transition is very frightening for a lot of
silicon people.”

“I’ve been through it. ‘The ”me” who wakes up tomorrow will
be convinced that I’m the same ”me” who walked yesterday.’ It’s the
‘me’ of today that has to be convinced, though.”

He nodded. “When you toss in the fourth dimension into thinking
about the self, when you really start to think about it, you really
start to realize how poorly connected we are to reality. Nevermind the
lack of awareness we really have about our immediate self. Ever heard
of the vision completion problem?”


“Intel people like me love stuff like these. A man walks up to
you on a somewhat crowded walkway and asks for directions to someplace
on the other side of campus. Two people rudely walk between you and he,
carrying a large panel, like a door. You continue giving directions to
the man you were speaking to. Only it’s a different man; he and the
original man traded places while he was hidden from sight behind the


“Half the people don’t notice.”

“You’re joking.”

“I am not. All the human brain remembers is that you were
giving directions to someone. You’ll probably never meet that someone
again, so your brain doesn’t bother cataloguing any details about him.
Hair color, skin color don’t matter. Heck, even a change of sex or
species only drops the failure rate to one-quarter. He’s
interchangeable with anyone else you could be giving directions to.

“I wonder if I’d be different.” They were silent for a while.
She sighed. “It’s all so hard.”

“It was easier when you had a job to do and your horizon was
limited to the next assignment.”

She nodded.

“Well, I’m still cheering for you, Angel. It’s my job to make
you want to live. To find something in the consciousness and turn it
into a viable, thinking person who wants to keep going on.”

“I already do,” she said. “I just don’t know what.”

“It’s a huge universe!” he said, becoming animated. “There must
be something you want to do!”

She grinned. “I need to know what I’m good at, besides being a
killing machine.” She leaned back in the chair and tasted the mocha.
She found it surprising that anyone would like anything quite so bitter,
and she was surprised at how complicated it was. She dutifully
recorded every last detail about it, hoping someday to make sense of it
all, to give herself a sense of taste that corresponded to something
most humans enjoyed.

She asked, “Am I being watched by something other than you?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Something I can’t easily see, probably would have trouble
finding, and implacable?”


“And my only restriction is that I don’t go anywhere near Adwoa

“Well, and you don’t kill anyone else, either,” he said. “We’ve
defined ‘anywhere near’ as ‘within eyesight or 25 meters.'”

She nodded, then pulled herself up. “I’ll be right back.”

“Where are you going?”

She smiled at him. “To the ladies’ room, of course.” She
walked into the cafe, enquired at the counter, and followed the signs.

When she came back, Aric looked right at her without registering
her until she sat down. “Hello, Aric.”

“Ring!” he swore. “Don’t do that! Do you have any idea how
disturbing we find facedancing?” She had changed back into the tall,
blond woman with the blue dress.

She nodded. “I know. I didn’t do it to bother you. But I had
to change my appearance to something else. If you don’t mind, Aric, I’d
like to go out tonight, alone.”

“Go where?”

“To a restaurant.”

“The Raindancer?” She nodded. “If you don’t mind, I’ll still
have one of my people tail you. If you find your boyfriend, well, we
won’t follow you into his room. But Teri will still be watching you.”

Later, she easily spotted her tail, but did nothing to shake him
off. She understood that being followed was going to be part of her
probation for a while. She didn’t try to talk to him. He was just part
of her background.

When she walked into the Raindancer, a different band was there,
playing something slightly more jazzy than what she had heard the night
she had come here last, over a week before. Such a short time for her,
and yet really an eternity. The beginning of time, she thought. The
socialization capabilities the Unnamed had given had already been
creating dissonance, pulling her in two, making her realize that there
were two different people inside her. Only one of them was a murderer,
and she did not exist any longer.

She looked around, spotted a familiar face, the girl who had
complimented her. She walked right up to her and, suddenly, felt a
little unsure about where to go. “Excuse me?” she asked.

The girl looked at her without a hint of recognition. “Do I
know you?”

“I was here about a week ago with a young man named Bath? Do
you know where he is?”

“Bath? Oh, the goth guy. Nope, haven’t seen him.”

“Thanks, anyway,” Angel said. She turned to the bar and asked
for a water and a sandwich. While she ate, she watched the crowd,
trying to pick up any hints of how such to become one of them. There
was a lot of curious maneuvering going on, and with the precision
hearing the Unnamed had given her, she could hear every word.

She sighed and turned to leave when Bath walked into the bar,
looking left and right, as if looking for someone. She stared right at
him as he scanned the bar, and when his eyes stopped on her, he walked
straight over to where she stood. “Angel?”

“Hi, Bath.”

“I thought you’d left.”

She shook her head. “Thing have gotten… complicated. I’m
afraid I’m going to be on Discovery for a lot longer than I

“I can guess. Did you know that the local police interviewed me
about you? What kind of trouble are you in?”

“None, now. I just… Bath, I need someone to talk to.”

“Is it safe to take you back to my house?”

“Does Adwoa Benedict live in your apartment building?”

“I don’t recognize the name.” He pulled out a uPADD and
examined it. “Nope, nobody by that name in the building.”

“Good. Let’s go.”

He led the way again, and this time when they got into his
apartment, she sat down in the chair opposite the couch, uninviting.

“What kind of trouble are you in?” he saked.

“I’m not, anymore. That’s kind of why I wanted to talk to you.
Bath, I learned something about myself that I didn’t know. Remember
when you called me a ‘lady of mystery?'” He nodded. “I was, really.
Partly. You see, I’m not a lady.”

“You’re a man?” he asked, half-joking. “I’ve seen you naked.”

“No, something far different. Bath, I’m an illegal AI. A

He looked at her. The silence frightened her the longer it went
on, and then he finally spoke. “No. You can’t be. How is that
possible? What’s with the police?”

“I was designed a long time ago and had some seriously bad
programming. That’s why the police talked to you. I’m an unregistered
and illegal AI set loose by a sociopathic programmer. Or, I was until
the Pendorians set about fixing things.” She looked up at him, her eyes
wet. “Until they fixed me, Bath, you were… you were lucky I didn’t
kill you.”

A look of understanding came into his eyes. “Senator Ozaki and
Will Shellingworth. They were all over the news. That was you?”

She shook her head, ashamed of the half-lie she was about to
tell, but unwilling to tell a truth that might drive him away. “Another
one of me, made by the same person. She self-destructed when the
Pendorians tried to capture her. That’s what I was led to believe.”

He looked at her. “Am I in danger now?”

She shook her head. “No. The Pendorians fixed it. You weren’t
in any real danger to begin with. You weren’t a target.” Tears were
streaming down her face. “I’m sorry, Bath. If you’d been a programmer
and not a musician, though, I might have thought about it. It was only
your profession that kept you alive.”

He was still looking at her. Again, there was a silence so
deep. Then, “What do robots drink?” he asked.

“I’d like a glass of wine,” she said. “Something you like.”

“Can you get drunk?” he asked.

“Give me a second to find out.” She closed her eyes and
examined her inner programming. There was a disorientation system that
could be activated by chemical cues. It was much safer than being
drunk; her activities were better constrained that a human’s, but her
thought processes would be heavily disrupted, given time and enough
alcohol. She could also cancel the effect with a single thought,
although it would take a first or second law impulse to make that
happen. She opened her eyes and looked at him. “Yes.”

“What was that about?”

“Bath, the person who made me cut off access to my lower levels
of programming. The Pendorians gave it all back to me. I had to see
what was in there. It turns out that I’m programmed to be a party
hostess of sorts, before the assassin programs were put in.” She

“That’s why you dance so well.”

She nodded. “And why I didn’t know if I could or not before you
pulled me out onto the dance floor. The programmer– I don’t know his
name but the Pendorians know where he lives now– hid all the details of
my inner brain from me. He didn’t want me to know the truth, so
everything that came out of my subconcious was put through a crude
filter to make me think only about my assigned target.”

“Then how…”

“The filter was getting weaker because the only way I could do
my job was to socialize, and monomaniacs are poor socializers.”

“Oh.” He handed her a glass of wine and took a glass for
himself. Angel sipped at hers and felt the rise of a large mass of
processes, some labeling the wine as adequate, others warning her that
being drunk would be a bad idea, others insisting that it would be an
excellent idea. She smiled at him. “It’s not bad.”

“Thanks. Local stuff. I don’t know much about wine, but I know
what I like.”

She smiled. “I don’t know anything about wine.”

“You said that about dancing.” He paused. “I don’t know if I’d
ask you this if you were an organic. On the other hand, I probably
wouldn’t have reason to ask this if you were an organic. What did you
know about sex?”

“Plenty. Unfortunately for the programmer, that was my original
purpose, and he couldn’t erase that without destroying the social skills
that made me useful to him. And I think his resources for modifying me
were limited.”

“Angel? Why did you come finding me?”

“Because… Because I felt I owed you an explanation. I wasn’t
fair of me to leave you with a mystery like that. And… I liked you.
A lot. You were nice to me. And you were the first person I’d slept
with since my memory was upgraded who didn’t leave me feeling depressed
and worthless afterwards.”

“Because you didn’t…”

“Because I didn’t kill you, right. It’s not what I was meant to
do.” She reached out and touched his hand. He startled to pull it
away, then stopped and put it back where she could reach it. She held
his hand, stroking it, admiring the fine, smooth skin and delicate
bonework underneath. “You’re a gorgeous hunk of a man, Bath.”

He grinned. “Thanks. So, are you under the Laws of Robotics

“I guess you’d have to call it first and third, but I’m my own
person, so I won’t follow orders from a human being involuntarily.”

He smiled. “I can’t look at you and think of you as a robot.
You’re such a beautiful girl. Are you sure you’re not dangerous?”

“I’m being monitored. Still on probation. If I give the
slightest hint of being dangerous, they’ll shut me down.” She yawned.

“You get tired?” he asked.

“Yeah. Like people. I take in a lot every day. Sleeping lets
special memory-organizing code take over and integrates my day
experiences back into active code.” She smiled. “I only learn things
if I get sleep. I could go forever without sleep, but I’d become a
boring person.” He was still staring at her. She watched his eyes
flicker towards her breasts, then up to her neck and face. She grinned
at him.

She stood and slipped beside him on the couch. “You like
looking at me this way.”

“You’re very beautiful. You could never be a boring person.”

“Don’t tempt me. I’m a facedancer. I could be any woman you

He thought about that for a second. “I’d like the one I knew a
week ago.”

Angel answered him with a kiss. His response was tentative,
then warm and ready. He moaned softly, and she felt herself growing wet
between her thighs. Her body wanted him, if nothing else. For a brief
second she thought that humans had such strange feedback channels, but
the thought dissolved into a haze of pleasureable experiences that she
chose to let happen without analysis. His hands were on her chest,
kneading her small breasts, pinching her nipples. She whimpered, a
sound deep in her throat. “I think I like that.”

“I think you do, too,” he replied with a smile. “Gods, you are
hot, Angel.”

“Bath?” she asked, looking into his eyes. “I… I have another
confession to make. When I last slept with you, I had the old filter
installed. The dangerous one. It’s gone now, and for the first time in
my life, I’m a conscious person. On my own. Legally, morally, and
philosophically whole, by Pendorian law.” She paused, seeing the
realization dawn on his face. “I hope you’re ready for a virgin.”

“I’ll do my best,” he said. “Not that you need help. I imagine
all your old knowledge is still there.”

She nodded, her mouth caught between a grin and a kiss as they
fell towards the couch. “Let’s move this to the bedroom.”

The bed was just as she remembered it, soft in all the right
places, hard enough to support her back. She took a closer look at the
walls and the windows, enjoying the sense of design that Bath had put
into his home. The bed had four posters, tapered beams of wood that
suggested masculinity with blatant energy. So, too, the grey marble
dresser. A statue of a female dancer in mid-leap occupied an otherwise
uncluttered dresser.

Bath sat on the edge of the bed and held out one hand as if to
coax her into his arms. She eagerly accepted his invitation and was
surprised when he turned her around and sat her down in his lap.

“I want to see you,” he said, pointing with his pinky at the
mirror over the dresser. He opened up the buttons on the front of her
dress with a minimum of fuss, exposing a black, lace bra with less than
half-cups, her nipples pointed. She could see desire in his eyes, a
smile of eagerness on his lips. She smiled back at him, reaching back
with one hand to tousle his hair, finally free to do it without thinking
about the device that had once been under her palm. His hands caressed
her belly, and one found her navel. He laughed softly. “I didn’t know
robots had navels.”

“I have to pass as a human in all ways,” she said.

“I’m glad for that,” he whispered, kissing her cheek. She
turned her head towards him and they fell to the bed, mouths locked in
an ancient form of battle. She moaned at the weight of his body atop
hers as they rolled over, still mostly dressed.

Bath slipped down the length of her body, sliding off the edge
of the bed as he did so. He was kneeling on the floor, and with one
offered hand helped her into a sitting position, her feet on the floor.
She watched with eager curiousity as he pushed up the edges of her
skirt, exposing her bare, hairless mound to his eyes. He looked up
at her. “If I… Angel? Can you come?”

Caught off guard, she said, “I… I don’t know.”

“Wait,” he said. “Before you go looking, let me see if I can
find out for us.” His mouth touched her lips, and she leaned back,
parting her legs for him. His kisses on her mound were slow, and
penetrating. His tongue slipped between the lips of her vulva, pressing
into the tender skin underneath.

Someone– her original owners, the Unnamed, or maybe even the
Pendorians– had given her a gift beyond words. She would never know
who, although she doubted her most recent master. At the touch of his
mouth on her skin, her body began giving her signals of warmth and
desire, and as his tongue found her clit she found need in there as
well. She felt the touch of his lips upon her as an experience to
cherish, and the hot pressure of his flickering tongue between her lips
sent her mind into an all-consuming overload of pleasure that had her
screaming, “Bath! Bath! Oh, fuck, Bath!”

He looked up at her, a puzzled look on his wet face. “What

“I can come!” she said. “I can come a lot!” Her eyes were wide
with excitement and pleasure. “Oh, wow.” She looked at him, dazed.
“Do that again!”

“Please?” he teased her.

“Please,” she moaned. “Yes, please. Please.”

He didn’t hold back from begging like that, and she soon had her
legs over his shoulders. He licked her through three more climaxes
before finally she settled back from diminishing returns and he
protested that his mouth ached with the effort.

He stood up, his cock semi-erect, and she took it into her hands
and stroked it eagerly. “Your turn?” she asked, eagerly.

“There’s a lot of making up to do, if we’re going to be fair
about this.” She pushed herself away from the edge and he eagerly
followed her. He knelt between her parted legs, her bare mound slick
with her juices and his kisses, and with one thrust his eager cock slid
deep into her body.

She moaned, giving herself over to the sensation of being opened
like that, of making love to this handsome young man whose cock filled
her and made her feel alive. He raised himself, and she let her hands
stray over those strong arms as his hips thrust against hers. She
raised her legs further, spreading them wide and bringing them almost to
her chest, letting him have the deepest recesses of her body. “Angel,”
he gasped. “Angel, Angel, Angel…” His eyes were glazed and lost, his
whole body trembled, and he collapsed on top of her, his warm chest
pressed against her, her hands caressing the loving body that had given
its all.

“Oh, Angel,” he whispered again and again.

She held him tight, and he responded with a moan. “Wow,” he
finally said, and then laughed. “Wow, you were good!”

“You were very good yourself!” she said, understanding perfectly
where the laughter came from and returning it measure for measure. “Oh,
Bath, let’s do this again.”

He rolled over onto his back and let out a deep and satisfied
sigh. “Angel? I’m not looking for a, you know, a relationship.”

“Especially not with a robot?”

“That did not even occur to me. No, I mean, oh, I don’t know
what I mean. What I mean is, if you want, you’re welcome to come over
and do this any time you want, but I’m not ready for long walks in the
park looking dreamily into one-another’s eyes.”

She grinned. “You just want to be friends and fuck?”

“Something like that.”

“That sounds good to me. I barely know who I am, Bath. It
wouldn’t be fair to ask you to fall madly in love with me.” She lay
down on her belly beside him, laying a hand on his chest. “But if you
want to hang out with a robot, fuck once in a while, and go dancing,
that’s fine with me too.”

“Dancing. I almost forgot. The swing band is playing next
Seren. Want to go?”

She grinned. “I’d love to.”

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