Friday, July 24, 2009

Daily Story 100: Identity

"Paradise Engineering, accounting department." I smile even though it's not a video call; I've been told that the customer can hear a smile over the phone. I don't want to smile anymore today, my cheeks are tired and none of the people I talk to say thank you or anything, but I want to be good at my job. I find things to think about that keep me in a good mood, like the way Mr. Sanders complimented my dress or the bumper sticker I saw this morning that said 'Actually I WAS born yesterday!'. I don't suppose anyone but me would find that sticker so funny, it's not a very good joke.

The calls drop off after four and Mr. Sanders tells me that I can leave early. I fill out my notes on the last call, a simple billing error, and shut down the computer. I don't want to leave, but I need to fit in, to be like everyone else. I head out from the protective canyon of filing cabinets and into the main lobby, walking past dead-eyed mannequins and wire-frame pets. Antiques, compared to the new technology. Once I'm past them and onto the street I feel the nervousness well up in me, the fear of crowds and strangers. Agoraphobia, I tell people, but I know better.

Straight home like I'm supposed to, and I resist the urge to look for the cameras I know must be there. I can't let them know that I know. I have to do a good job, have to pass the test. I eat dinner with the television on but I don't really watch it, and then clean up my dishes and put them away. I take a shower and spend a moment feeling for anything out of place before realizing that they might have cameras in the shower as well. There's no real reason not to. I stop just in case, but it doesn't really matter because I know I wouldn't have found anything anyway; I'm perfect. I brush my hair and look at myself in the mirror - so lifelike. My skin feels warm, all tiny pores and little hairs. A true work of art.

The phone rings, and it's my mother. The woman pretending to be my mother. Wrapped in my bathrobe, I listen to her criticize my life and call me a shut-in, call me crazy, She's trying to rile me up. Should I let her, and be true to the false memories they implanted in me, or remain calm and be a good example of how an android should behave? I compromise, tell her I'm tired and hang up. I'm not tired but I lie down and close my eyes, listening for the quiet hum of recording devices in the walls.

I am a miracle of engineering, I tell myself. Not some stiff-jointed maid or a novelty sex doll. I am the future of Paradise Engineering, the far side of the uncanny valley, the final evolution of artificial life. I'll make my handlers proud, convince them I can fool even myself, and they will free me of this false fear of crowds that they use to control me, the false memories of an unhappy childhood they use to test me. One day.