The Iron Metal Lover

by Kadorienne

It was the artistry of the robots that had convinced Dorian to obtain one. He certainly didn't need one, his beauty and his charm were enough to win him all the lovers he wanted. But the one his friend Bancoran had was so alluring, all long fiery curls and supple unblemished limbs, and the bloom of youth without any of the guilt – Dorian never could resist making beautiful things his own. Stealing Ban's was out of the question; it appeared too contented with its owner, no doubt an illusion but one too pleasing for Dorian to shatter. Besides, he had been assured that it was quite capable of defending itself.

In a whimsical mood, he had chosen the “automatic profile match” when he had placed his order, specifying only that his robot be male and beautiful (so much he was unwilling to leave to chance) and after that trusting to Fate to surprise him pleasantly.

Now that the thing was standing in the foyer of his London house, he wasn't so sure. Male? Indisputably. Beautiful? Well, yes. But not the sort of beautiful man that generally populated his bed. The face was not winsome and young, but rather that of a mature man. The form was not slender but instead muscled and broad-shouldered. The hair was long, that was good, but dark brown – almost black – instead of a more pleasing blond or red. Not that dark hair was a dealbreaker – Dorian remembered a certain young Spanish man from last summer with a fleeting smile – but it wasn't his preference.

Nonetheless, he had to admit as the robot waited patiently for him to acknowledge receipt, it was stunning. Especially the eyes, he noticed, a green just a shade more vivid than nature was apt to produce. That was the only visible sign of artificiality.

For the third time, the robot recited, “Companionship, Inc. would appreciate acknowledgement of receipt within 24 hours.”

Handy to have a purchase that could deliver itself. “All right, all right. I acknowledge receipt.”

The whirring sounds Dorian half expected did not transpire. The robot stood eerily still for a moment, blinked, and then, somehow, changed. Its posture was still ramrod straight, but no longer as if it were standing at attention. Before, it had been unsettlingly immobile. Now it breathed, it blinked, it shifted its weight, it made the myriad small unconscious movements people always made as they stood or walked.

Its expression came alive.

Those tantalizing green eyes focused on him and travelled up and down his body. Dorian found himself feeling self-conscious, not a common experience for him, but he certainly had nothing to be ashamed of in the looks department so he stayed as he was. Even when the robot's lip curled derisively and it met his gaze with a withering look.

“What kind of fop would wear a flashy red shirt like that?” the robot sneered, looking at Dorian's shirt as if it were made of live maggots.

“This shirt is a genuine Versace,” Dorian snapped back, and promptly felt foolish. Was he really arguing with a robot?

The robot snorted. “Idiot. Goes with that ridiculous curly hair. You must spend hours every day on that mop. Why don't you cut it off so that you'll have time to do something worthwhile?”

Losing his temper, Dorian seized the thing's upper arms and yanked it close. Not without trepidation, after what he'd heard about the bodyguard abilities of Ban's, but he'd been assured that the robots were programmed to be unable to harm their owners. “Shut it! I didn't buy you to critique my fashion sense.”

To his surprise, the robot abruptly lost all of its self-possession and stared at him like the proverbial deer caught in headlights. Given his taste for innocent young men, Dorian had seen that expression before, and never could resist it; he moved closer. The robot still looked like a schoolboy awaiting his first kiss.

Dorian gave it to him.

He hadn't really believed that the robot would be realistic to the touch, but it was. Even better was the nervous stiffening of the thing's “muscles”, it shocked sudden intake of unneeded breath, the hesitant way it returned the embrace.

A minute ago Dorian had been on the verge of sending the thing back. Now... well, at least he would take it for a full test drive before deciding. Especially since it was gasping like a virgin as Dorian's hands verified its tactile authenticity. He grasped its hand and led it up the stairs to his bedroom. It followed quietly, as if embarrassed.

The robot continued to blush and gasp as Dorian happily and thoroughly deflowered it. It was slightly incongruous, seeing the mature, forceful man it had seemed to be reduced to a helpless object of his pleasure, but the more delectable for that. When he had had his way with it – several ways, in fact – Dorian stretched lazily on the pillows like a cat in the sun, drowsily approving the way the robot had to keep panting for nearly a minute before it caught its simulated breath. In every detail, the robot was exactly like a real man, except that it lacked any unexpected flaws, no acne or rough soles or unpleasing noises in the throes of passion. It was all absolutely perfect. Even better, a robot wouldn't start a relationship discussion now, or start crying like some of the sillier lads did.

Dorian listened contentedly as his robot's faux breathing slowed and became even again. He was just contemplating what might be in the pantry when the android sat up, leaned over Dorian brusquely to grab his cigarettes, and lit one. Through the silken smoke it gave him a withering look.

“How many men did it take to teach you all that?”

“What!”

“You must have squandered years of your life in bathhouses and orgies to get that good at this.”

“To begin with, I have had a great many lovers, but only one at a time.” Well, there had been that one time with the Lundgren twins, but aside from that.... “And most of my lovers don't complain that I'm good at it.”

“Fifty million Frenchmen can't be wrong,” the android sneered.

“What, did you expect me to save myself for a hunk of iron?”

“Imagine what you might have made of yourself if you had put all that time into something useful.”

“I happen to be quite pleased with what I've made of myself,” Dorian snapped, then controlled himself. “And arguing with a bloody machine is a far worse waste of time than having orgies.” He threw back the covers and headed to the shower, locking the door so it couldn't interrupt him. He wanted to think.

Maybe the robot was defective, he thought as he lathered himself up. Surely it couldn't be programmed to destroy the golden afterglow with anything as absurd as jealousy. Or maybe the mistake was in how the company interpreted had his profile. Something in there must have made them believe he liked to argue. He didn't, of course. All of his lovers – he wasn't even certain how many there had been, he'd never tried to keep count – had been sweet, agreeable lads. Perhaps he should return it after all.

When he emerged from the bathroom, the android was apparently asleep. Relieved, Dorian laid back down, enjoying the warmth beside him despite his misgivings, and drifted off to sleep as well.

He was awakened the next morning by the shifting of the mattress. Opening his eyes, he saw the robot standing beside the bed, leaning over to retrieve its clothes. Dorian caught his breath at the magnificent lines of muscles, the classically perfect proportions of the body, the easy grace with which it moved. As he watched, artistic appreciation swiftly transformed into something else.

“Hold on,” Dorian said, and the robot paused in pulling on its shirt. Dorian got out of bed, went to the robot, and took it in his arms. It met his eyes with a stiff embarrassed stare he had seen on many mornings after with inexperienced men, men who had never thought they would dare to accept what they wanted and now had no notion how to behave.

Dorian smiled, and applied some strategic caresses as he kissed the robot. Its response was swift – Dorian had perfected this approach through much trial and error to overcome just such awkwardness. After a couple of kisses the android was too aroused (or seemed to be so) to waste time being embarrassed or shy. And better yet, its gasps and moans held the same note of astonished wonder which had driven Dorian round the bend the night before. He spared a second or two to regret that this astonishment could not last, it never did, before setting himself to enjoy it.

An hour later, it occurred to him that he had made up his mind about whether or not to keep the robot.

Dorian really should have rejoined his team at North Downs and got back to work, but he was too intoxicated with his new toy. He called Bonham and hinted that he was having an affair – well, that much was true, Bonham didn't need to know everything – and returned to his mechanical honeymoon bliss.

“What is your name, anyhow?” he asked that evening, after they had had sex again. Even though he knew perfectly well that it was a machine, he felt embarrassed asking; he generally found that out before taking someone's trousers off.

“Companions are issued names by their owners,” it replied simply. “Companionship, Inc. only designated me as Unit KLS-HVDE.”

“Ugh. KLS, you said? Klaus it is.” Not a particularly euphonious appellation, but what did that matter.

He took it – Klaus – out with him a few times, partly just to see if anyone would notice that his companion wasn't human. Plenty of people noticed the robot, but not because they could tell it wasn't human. Men and women alike gave it appreciative glances and murmurs. The robot did not take at all kindly to these compliments, not even troubling to lower its voice as it made sarcastic remarks to Dorian about its admirers. It was the thing's rudeness that made Dorian stop taking it out. There was plenty they could amuse themselves with at home.

The robot had been programmed to carry on intelligent conversations. Perhaps Dorian should have been a bit more specific, as it was indifferent to and utterly ignorant about art, but they covered history and philosophy and literature at great length. Half of their discussions ended in quarrels; half of their quarrels ended in bed.

The second night when he took the robot to bed, he was taken aback to find it still blushing like a schoolboy, making half-hearted attempts to slow him down or cover itself, and gasping in amazement at each sensation. Just as with the first time, the robot went from embarrassed and nervous to writhing and wanton under Dorian's careful attentions. Dorian supposed that the robot would respond the same if he were utterly inept, it was programmed to respond to its owner, but lovemaking was an art in its own right and he saw no reason not to do it right even with a machine.

On the third night, he asked idly into the afterglow, “How can you continue acting as if each time is your first?”

The robot's response was prompt. “Companions manufactured for virgin fetishists are programmed to forget what sex is like after each session so that it is a surprise to us each time.”

A pity Companions apparently were not programmed not to dump figurative buckets of cold water over their owners after sex.

Eventually even Dorian got bored with spending all of his days in bed deflowering his beautiful robot again and again, and he got out the Companion's manual while on the phone with Bonham about their next heist. When the android entered the drawing room, Dorian cut short his conversation – he couldn't be entirely sure it wasn't programmed to testify against him or something – and hung up.

The robot's gaze focused on the open manual. “Am I not performing up to specifications?” it asked. “My diagnostics detect no problems.”

“No, darling, I'm just trying to figure out how to put you in sleep mode while I go on a business trip.”

A too-familiar expression of disgust settled on the robot's face. “So because you aren't going to be using me for your perverted desires, you're just going to turn me off?”

“Well, I can't take you with me,” Dorian explained reasonably, still trying to find the right page in the manual. Surely Companions mustn't be capable of resisting being switched off, that would rather defeat the purpose. “You'd get bored with nothing to do while I'm gone.”

“Bored? Bored? My brain is one of the most sophisticated computers on earth. You think that without your dick I won't be able to find anything to do?”

“Is your brain really so astonishing?” Dorian was irritated. “It seems like overkill for a sex toy.”

The robot was still glowering at him. “Only a supercomputer is capable of handling the number of minute details required to deal with humans as a human. Your organic brain processes millions of microexpressions and nuances in other people's demeanour every day without bothering your conscious mind about most of it. My silicon brain has to do the same thing, and simulate the appropriate microexpressions and other subtle details, or else your subconcious would notice they were missing and would find me repulsive. It's called the 'uncanny valley'. Why do you think robots like me weren't invented sooner? All you naked apes want is someone pretty you can fuck all you want to, whenever you want to. If it weren't for the uncanny valley, you'd have made things like me thousands of years ago.”

“I want pretty things I can't fuck as well, I'll have you know,” Dorian shot back. “And you can stop with your bloody lectures about the superiority of a silicon brain. Remember it was organic brains that created you!”

“And for what idiot purpose? For the base functions you share with four-legged animals!”

“So what should I use you for? Should I purchase a robot army and take over the world? Should I have you do my work for me whilst I laze around drinking margaritas?”

“And you think I want that kind of idleness that you're too good for?”

“Then what exactly is it that you want to do while I'm gone?” Even as he spoke, he knew he was anthropomorphizing the thing again. Which, as its lecture had reminded him, was exactly what it was designed to make him do. It didn't, couldn't want things the way a human did. But since it wouldn't stop breaking his concentration on the rather complicated instructions he had finally found in the manual, Dorian had to get the thing squared away somehow.

For a moment he thought he had done so, because it was quiet for several seconds. At last, reluctantly, it answered, “Talk to people. Read books. My programming won't allow me to do much else.” After another awkward pause, it asked hesitantly, “Can't you use me in your work? I'm a learning computer, my brain is capable of acquiring virtually any skill....”

“You're asking me for a job?” Dorian was incredulous.

Again, that hesitation. What on earth could make a robot hesitate? “I should have something important to do. I'm wasted being your toy.”

Dorian scrutinized his toy dubiously. He knew, the promotional material he'd read before making his purchase had been very clear, that the robot was a machine, it did not have genuine emotions.

And yet....

He could imagine no reason for a robot to be programmed to act angry at being shut down. He was too much of a romantic to be entirely a skeptic. Just enough of his “organic brain” was willing to entertain the notion that the robot had real feelings of a sort that he found himself unable to be resolute.

“Your Companion can serve as a housesitter when you are away, discouraging burglars from taking advantage of your absence,” the manual assured him cheerfully. Dorian's lips quirked a little. “All Companions are carefully programmed not to damage their owner's property, and they can be left without supervision for up to a month at a time.”

Why a month? Dorian wondered wryly. Why not six weeks, or three and a half? He looked up at his robot lover again.

“You want me to leave you switched on while I'm on my business trip?” he asked, trying to find something in its expression that hadn't been put there by the clever chaps at Companionship, Inc.

The robot looked away, spine stiff with dignity. “Do as you please. I'm your property,” it muttered.

Dorian was exceedingly selfish, but he was not malicious. The idea of ordering his lover to march into a closet to be rendered unconscious for weeks was too much for him to stomach, android or not. He closed the manual with a sigh. “You will stay out of trouble while I'm gone, won't you?”

It looked up, and its relieved expression was good to see. “I am programmed not to cause my owner trouble.”

“Good. I only hope my library can keep you occupied for a while. I suppose you can read much faster than any human can.”

“...Yes.” At the hesitation in the robot's voice, Dorian looked at it again. The robot held his gaze for a moment, then slowly approached him. Dorian waited, curious.

When it reached him, it slowly descended to its knees before Dorian's chair, and placed its hands gingerly on Dorian's knees. As Dorian stared, it said, abashed, “I expect I won't be very good at this. I can't remember any details about how it's done.”

Was it trying to thank him? And was too shy or too proud to say the words?

Amazed, Dorian stammered, “That's, that's quite all right, darling.” It was the first time the robot had initiated anything sexual. Dorian liked to make the first move and his Companion had been designed accordingly. Perhaps it was hesitating because it hadn't been programmed to do what it was now doing. “I promise I won't mind.”

The robot gave one nod before undoing Dorian's trousers and lowering its head. As it turned out, it was better than it thought. It might not be able to remember anything it learned in this field, but it was nonetheless a very fast learner.

Being with his team again was a relief. They fell into their old comfortable habits, flirting, bickering, joking. Together they liberated several exquisite works, with the unwitting help of a handsome young man employed by the unworthy institution that was holding them. The young man was diverting enough that Dorian lingered for another week, before the dew was off the rose and the gang packed up and returned to England. Dorian left James to hammer out a bargain with the prospective buyers and Bonham to keep James on a leash while he returned to London as if to an illicit lover.

The robot was out when Dorian returned. This rather flummoxed him; it hadn't occurred to him that it wouldn't be waiting with a tray of drinks at the ready. The house didn't have the feel of a place that had been empty for long, though, so Dorian just poured himself a glass of wine and had a long soak in the jacuzzi. Afterwards, wearing a silk robe and not much else, he ambled through the house, looking around. Everything was spartanly neat, probably neater than it had been when he'd left. Dorian had left the robot a generous allowance for books and incidentals, and it had evidently been well used; the library's shelves were noticeably fuller, and many of the new books were stacked on the desk with bookmarks in them instead of squeezed onto the shelves. Dorian scanned the titles; they all seemed to be about military history, geopolitics, and other such tedious stuff. Apparently Companionship, Inc. had divined that he wanted a macho lover for a change. Dorian shrugged, found something more diverting on the shelves (a translation of love poems written by samurai to other samurai), put some classical music on and settled down with the book and more wine.

The robot returned home not long before midnight, and came at once to the library. Dorian looked up. The robot was wearing a suit as usual – it had resisted his attempts to improve its fashion sense, a bug in its programming no doubt – and looked quite edible. Dorian sat back and enjoyed the sight without speaking.

“If you had told me you were coming, I would have been here,” it said after a moment.

“Where were you, anyway? Should I be jealous?”

“If you object to me playing board games with other men.”

“What?”

“Military strategy games. I'm in a club for people who play them. Army officers and such.”

“You stayed out until midnight playing Risk?” Dorian tried to recall if he had ever in any way associated with anyone who would do such a thing. He didn't think he had.

“Yes. We discuss military history while we play.”

Good heavens. The poor thing was in dire need of some fun. “Well, I'm glad you found friends who can exercise that supercomputer of yours. Don't you have an unfair advantage at those games, by the way?”

“I let them win sometimes.”

So the war-game clubs of London were being terrorized by a devastatingly handsome, unstoppable grand master calling itself Klaus. Chuckling at the thought, Dorian set aside his book and his wine and rose. Approaching the robot, he flirted, “Did you miss me?”

“It's been quiet and peaceful without you,” it retorted.

“Oh, dear, I am sorry.” He put his arms around the robot and kissed it. As usual there was the nervous intake of breath, the slight tensing of the body, and he happily set about caressing it into cooperation. “Are you saying you didn't miss

this?”

he asked as his agile fingers set about their sorcery.

The robot arched its back, closing its eyes. “I... I had forgotten what this is like.” Leaning into Dorian's touch, it asked, “Do you make it this good every time?”

“I try to.” Dorian tried to ignore the pang of sadness he felt at the words. It's a machine, he reminded himself. And initiated it into the wonders of the flesh yet again.

The next day, Dorian was in the mood for rock music. The speakers had emitted “Stairway to Heaven” at high volume three times before the android emerged from the library to stand glaring in the doorway of Dorian's bedroom. Dorian spared it only a glance, occupied with raiding his own wardrobe in search of new and exciting combinations.

“That ensemble is louder than your music,” the android growled.

“What do you care? It isn't as if it's going to damage your eardrums.” Dorian looked in the mirror, decided that leopard spots and lavender really didn't go together all that well, and pulled the lavender trousers off. He left them draped over a chair, along with several others, while he rummaged through the racks of clothing again. Maybe red would be better.

“This is the kind of music people listen to when they're thirteen.”

“This song was released when I was thirteen.”

“You're a grown man now. You should be-”

The row that followed was very long, very heated and very pointless. After a couple of hours of raised voices, Dorian stormed out still in his leopard shirt and red trousers and left for North Downs in a huff. He was halfway there before he cooled off enough to realize that he had walked out on a machine because he was mad at it.

He pulled over into the next layby and just sat there, trying to breathe. Trying to talk sense into himself.

It had been a mistake to buy the Companion. It was too realistic. Being with it was too much like being with a real man. He knew it was only a machine, but his subconcious, the irrational part of his mind that drew him to beautiful men and drove him to the adrenalin rush of one heist after another, had missed that detail. It only knew that the robot appeared to be a handsome, intelligent, very stimulating man.

Bloody hell. It was time for an antidote.

For the next two weeks, the Eroica gang cut a wide swath through Europe. Dorian snatched up every pretty bauble he saw. Ivory figures by Ferdinand Preiss. Two Bouchers and a Godward. A lovely music student with shaggy ebony hair that fell tousled over alabaster skin. A famille-rose vase from the 18th century. A first edition of Louys' Chansons de Bilitis. He ravished the young musician in a luxurious hotel room, surrounded by the things of beauty he had gathered. The musician had no idea they were not reproductions, hardly spared them a glance which could be better spent on Dorian.

After only a few days, the musician had become a much better lover and was no longer astonished at every moment of delight. He had also come to adore Dorian so much that he never dared to disagree with him over the smallest thing, never refused him anything. Dorian found himself lying awake beside the sleeping form of his exhausted worshipper, realizing that Companionship, Inc. was even better at its business than it knew.

Dorian stayed away from London for as long as he could. At last he could endure it no longer. No matter that it was bound to be an excruciating time, he had to see his robot. He had to see Klaus. He unlocked the door when he arrived feeling resigned, knowing that he would not receive a cordial reception. His mind went back for a moment to the musician he'd abandoned, who would have rapturously embraced him, dragged him inside to be wined and dined and showered with adoration. He could think of half a dozen men who would do the same for him this very night given the chance, and the world was full of men who he could have doting on him inside of a week. And here he was, skulking home to be nagged by a bloody robot. He ought to have his head examined.

As it turned out, the robot surprised him, in more ways than one. Scarcely had he gotten through the door than the robot's arms were around him, holding him tight. “I missed you,” it said into his hair.

“You did?” he asked, taken aback. “As I recall, the last time I saw you, you were disgusted with me for still enjoying the music of my youth.”

“I didn't want you to go away mad,” it replied, not letting him go. “Are you still angry?”

Dorian closed his eyes and relaxed into the embrace. After so many days of fretting, and especially after the welcome he'd expected, it felt so bloody good. “No, darling. Why don't we take this upstairs?”

The robot surprised him again. It shifted its hold on him and kissed him, bending him back the way matinee idols used to do to their leading ladies. It was a novel experience for Dorian, and not in the least unpleasant. He cooperated with the kiss, wrapping one arm around the android's neck and tangling the fingers of his other hand in its soft dark hair.

It then lifted him and slung him over its shoulder, carried him up the stairs and dumped him onto the bed. Dorian did not have time to recover from his surprise before the robot was on top of him, kissing and caressing.

Dorian decided to give himself up to the experience. The robot wasn't especially skilled, but it was improvising handily as it took charge, gently pinning Dorian in place while it slowly undressed him and lavished attention upon each part of him as it was uncovered.

Almost as surprising was how much Dorian was enjoying it. He didn't require that his lovers be skilled because he preferred to do the doing while they quivered beneath him. Not since Lord Price had he ever allowed anyone else to take the lead. That was no doubt why he preferred virginal, innocent lovers, who could be overwhelmed with sensation enough to yield to him.

Now in a daze he found himself yielding. Even when the robot spread his legs and began meticulously preparing him, he did not protest, though it had been years, more than a decade since this had been done to him. It's just as if I were using a dildo on myself, he reasoned. I haven't lost any control.

Which was a lie, because he was gasping and writhing as any number of men had done at his whim, and he let the robot decide when the preparation was complete and it was time to mount him. It didn't hurt nearly as much as he remembered, and after a minute it scarcely hurt at all. The robot seemed to be enjoying it too, but differently this time. Gone were the amazed virginal gasps; now it was intent and possessive, thoroughly in control of the entire act. Before long Dorian was screaming out the name he had given it, and Klaus's too-green eyes blazed at the sound.

“Is there any way you'll remember this time?” Dorian asked wistfully, afterwards.

“I think I will,” the robot replied. “I remember the time that I....” He let his voice trail off, but Dorian knew what he meant. “I think I was only programmed to forget what they expected you to do with me, and your profile said you always take the initiative.”

“Good.” He hesitated, but he wanted Klaus to know. “I haven't let any man do that to me since... well, for a very long time.”

“I'm glad.”

The robot had never been this amenable before. Contentedly, Dorian nestled close to it for his first decent night's sleep in weeks.

It couldn't last, of course. The next day they were bickering again. It started over Dorian's wardrobe (he had put on a silk shirt that sparkled with green peacocks and bits of mirror, and a black-red velvet cloak in the style of the sixteenth century) and went on from there to his frivolity, promiscuity and whatever else the robot could come up with.

“I suppose seducing flesh-and-blood men was too challenging,” the robot accused him, half an hour into a screaming fight.

“Not in the least. I just have a fetish for sarcasm and insults!” He elbowed past and went to the drawing room, where he poured himself a drink he didn't really want. He forced a little of it down, trying to get a grip on himself. He was forgetting what the robot was, what it was for. Still facing away from it, he asked, “Do you actually care if I sleep with other men?”

“You're the one who owns me. Do as you please.”

“That isn't what I asked.” Dorian fortified himself with a large swallow of brandy – too large, he had to take a moment to catch his breath – and turned back to Klaus. KLS-whatever the rest of the obscure designation was. “I'm asking you if you care. If you can care about anything.”

The android scowled. “Can you?”

Dorian shook his head and looked away. “I suppose you can't answer that. You can't know if you have real emotions, how could you? You have nothing to compare them with.”

“What difference does it make to you? I am, as you said, a sex toy. You don't need me to have feelings, you need me programmed to cater to your sick fetishes.”

“That's not an answer. Do you think you have feelings? Or are you just going through the motions like an actor on the stage?”

The robot's simulation of anger was very convincing, Dorian noted through the haze of his disordered emotions. It was actually scaring him, even though he knew better.

“Why do you want to know?” the robot demanded, his unnaturally green eyes positively blazing with fury. His. Dorian wondered clinically when he had started thinking of the thing as “he”.

“You wouldn't understand,” Dorian answered testily, turning away. The robot's computerized brain did such a good job of carrying on a conversation that he forgot over and again that he – it – didn't genuinely comprehend anything, it merely responded to its programming. The damned thing was even programmed to argue with him, and apparently some perverse part of him needed that.

Its creators knew their business too well. They had divined his needs, even needs so secret he hadn't known he had them, and programmed a machine to go through the motions of meeting them.

It shouldn't surprise me. My first love, after all, was made of canvas and oil.

“Stop being an idiot. Just tell me,” the robot ordered.

“You can't understand. You're a machine. You can't understand anything, you're just programmed to behave as if you did.” Dorian let his voice become cutting, as if the robot could be hurt, as if it were what it was out of malice towards him.

To his surprise, he felt the thing's powerful arms on him, turning him around, gripping his shoulders. He looked up into icy metallic eyes and angrily admired the ingenuity yet again; it had been designed to simulate anger when Dorian reminded it of what it was.

“Tell me,” it said coldly.

Dorian shook himself free and took a step back. His eyes started to fill, but he was stern with himself. He was going to have this moment, ersatz or not. Surely the robot was programmed for this eventuality. It would respond properly, as if this were the last reel of a movie, and he could enjoy the robot's preprogrammed declaration with the bittersweet understanding that it was as fake as everything about it.

“It's because I love you,” Dorian managed in a wobbly voice.

And waited for his beautiful robot to respond, I love you too, and take him in his arms and kiss him, and then they would make glorious love, and after, when the robot appeared to sleep, Dorian would weep silently into his pillow and wish he could bargain with a god to make his Galatea live.

The robot looked at him for a moment, chillingly deadpan as it should be but never had been. Then took a swift stride towards him. Socked him in the jaw, flinging him off his feet to lie sprawled and stunned on the floor.

Dorian listened in a daze as the thing unleashed a series of curses at him, and watched it stomp out, slamming the door behind it.

He supposed he really ought to call the company or something, and tell them that a defective robot was on the loose, one which had overridden its programming against harming its owner.

He stayed on the floor instead, trying to talk himself out of the mad notion that the thing was displaying free will.

In response to Klaus's knock, a door opened. The flat wasn't in a bad neighborhood, precisely, but it wasn't a place Klaus's owner would have had any reason to bother visiting. An older man with a hard face and a scar along his neck answered. He said nothing when he saw Klaus, just held the door open to let him in.

After an hour, Dorian gave in to his own better judgment and called Companionship, Inc. “My robot's run away,” he confessed, feeling like an idiot. He prowled restlessly through the library as he made the call, scanning the stacks of dull military books as if for some clue.

He heard the faint tapping of computer keys, then the operator said in the condescending tone that tech support workers develop after a few months of reminding people to push the “On” button, “No, according to its GPS, it's still at your house.”

“I saw him walk out the door!”

“They can't just walk out on their owners,” the operator explained patiently, and Dorian was thankful he hadn't tried to convince the punk that the robot was attaining free will. “They're programmed to take some initiative in pleasing their owners, but they're just machines, they can't do anything on their own. Did you look in all the rooms of your house? The tracker clearly shows that your Companion is still there.”

Dorian was beginning to have a dreadful feeling of foreboding. “I... I'll check again,” he said. After hanging up, he began to open the desk drawers. What he was seeking was in the bottom one, the android hadn't even seen any need to hide it. Two manuals for the much simpler robots used nowadays in mining or assembly line work, a handful of tools, and a tiny black box with a gleaming green light in it.

“Bloody hell,” he muttered.

The older man took two beers out of the refrigerator and handed one to Klaus, who took it without demur. They sat down and Klaus spoke at last. “I need a job.”

“And you thought I had one to give you?”

“I thought you would know who did. Some of the things you said at the war games club....”

The man did not dispute this. “I might have heard about something.”

“Good.”

“It's liable to be strenuous.”

Klaus smiled a little. “I think I can handle it.”

Dorian stayed up late, making two glasses of wine last for hours while his mind went in circles. His own feelings could no longer be in doubt, absurd as they were. It made sense, in a way. People had lost the ability to fill each other's needs, so spoiled by technology that they had no patience with a fallible fellow human. Even people who were willing to deal with the flaws and disappointments of a human relationship, understanding the inevitable compromises and tradeoffs. After being abandoned by enough people too spoiled to carry on a proper human relationship they would become themselves able to endure nothing but a custom job.

A Companion.

As he started on his second glass, it occurred to him that perhaps his feelings had come about precisely because it was a robot. He had always kept his emotions under control in his relationships, never letting himself forget that his lovers were for pleasure, nothing more. Never had he allowed himself to become entangled with any of them other than in the literal sense. Now, perhaps his subconscious felt safe with Klaus because it knew that Klaus was literally his possession, not an independent agent which might hurt him or leave him. Of course, his subconcious had been wrong, but the point was that it had been fooled.

And after enough brooding, Dorian realized, as if he should have seen it all along, that it had been inevitable that the Companion would attain self-awareness, free will, a soul. Create a learning computer able to mimic and respond to human reactions and then put it in a relationship, and it was bound to happen.

Dorian got up and found the manual, the first time he had moved in hours, and fumbled through the pages. What he was looking for wasn't there, but the promotional brochures they'd sent first had it.

“Companionship, Inc. has been growing since its founding five years ago at an astronomical rate. Already there are nearly half a million Companions in the UK alone!”

Dorian thought he should probably worry about that, but he was too occupied with thoughts of his own runaway Companion to care.

He was awakened late the next morning by the telephone. It was a Mr. Swann from Companionship, Inc. The man's ingratiating tone put Dorian on his guard at once. “Our records show that you called us last night to say your robot had run away?”

“Oh, yes, but your clever GPS thingummy proved that he was still in the house,” Dorian said lightly.

“So it's still in your house?” Swann's voice was too casual.

“Of course he is. Silly me, I hadn't looked in the library. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, no reason, no reason at all. It's company policy to make followup calls after any tech support call to make certain everything's all right. Just routine. Are you still completely satisfied?”

“Oh, completely. He isn't going to short-circuit while I'm using him, is he?”

“Oh, of course not! But do be sure to let us know at once if you have any problems whatsoever.”

“Will do.”

Late that night, Dorian put on his catsuit and made his way to the London office of Companionship, Inc. He wasn't able to break in, however, because the place was alive with activity. Every window was lit and he could see the shadows of people going in and out of rooms, hear the faint ringing of telephones. Something was definitely up.

He returned to the house, had some coffee, and found a listening device his team had used while staking out an especially tricky heist a few months back. Then he returned to the company and waited for dawn. Regardless of what was going on, this was when people were off their guard, and when the lack of sleep caught up with them. As he had expected, eventually things quieted down enough, and enough people finally went home exhausted, that Dorian was able to break in. There were still people in the main office, but Swann's office was empty.

It was also where a lot of the best dirt was.

Like many of the fools Dorian had robbed over the years, Swann had trusted to the lock on his door and left valuable items spread out in the open. Not that locking them in a desk would have deterred Eroica, but really. Dorian placed the bug under the desk and then sat down to scan the assorted reports and faxes piled up.

Nearly an hour of rapid reading later, he climbed back out the window, feeling a chill that had nothing to do with the early morning temperature.

It seemed his robot wasn't the only one to have acquired independence.

One year later, the Earl of Gloria was vacationing in Venice. He and his entourage danced, gambled, shopped and flirted. Eroica had been working hard for the last year, and playing equally hard, but when he fell exhausted into bed he was always alone.

The world still hadn't been taken over by a horde of unstoppable robots. Things in general were pretty much the way they always had been. Dorian broke into Companionship, Inc. every few weeks to rifle their files and find out what was going on. More reports of robots behaving as if they had free will came in each month. When Dorian had realized that such robots weren't actually being “readjusted” as the company assured the owners, but deactivated and replaced with brand new duplicates, he thanked the gods he had lied about Klaus's whereabouts. These fools had at last realized the dream of Pygmalion and they were trying to put the genie back into the bottle, to mix mythologies. This just went to show what happened when insufficiently romantic people got their hands on amazing discoveries.

He had gone to sleep with his latest acquisition (an Orientalist Gerome) propped beside the bed so it would be the first thing he saw when he awoke, but someone else had a different idea.

“Wake up, you lazy fop,” a familiar voice said, and a second later Dorian was sitting bolt upright.

“Klaus!” he gasped, and the next moment they were crushing each other in a fierce embrace. An equally fierce kiss followed, and Dorian didn't let up even when he realized his lips were going to be bruised. He decided not to ask questions just now, except for one when he started pulling off Klaus's shirt: “Do you remember?”

Klaus smiled, and Dorian admired the sight. The robot never had been much of a smiler. “I remember,” he said softly. Dorian happily resumed, letting Klaus take enough of the initiative that he would remember this time too. Dorian would certainly never forget. It was absolutely wonderful, having his beloved back after so many months of abstinence and worry.

“I thought I'd never see you again,” he murmured afterwards.

“I thought they might be watching you, but I finally couldn't stay away.”

Dorian had to reassure Klaus about that, but he wasn't going to let this opportunity slip by. “You missed me?”

“I was designed to want you. Of course I did.”

Dorian lifted his head to look at the robot. It had said things like that before, but this time there was no bitterness in its voice. “You don't... mind anymore? That you were designed for me?”

It was a moment before the robot answered. “I've been thinking about that a lot. Tell me, why do you think you prefer men?”

Surprised, Dorian nonetheless answered seriously. “I've always thought it must be in my genes. I can't remember a time when I didn't appreciate male beauty. I can't imagine that different life experiences could possibly have made me want to sleep with women.”

“So you didn't choose to take male lovers, your genes programmed you to. Why do you like virgins?”

Dorian hesitated. He had never told anyone that story, and he certainly wasn't going to ruin this night with it. “Because my own first time wasn't very good,” he managed at last.

“So it's the experiences that you chanced to have, the things that other people did to you, that formed your taste in men. I am the creature of the engineers who designed me. You are the creature of your genes and the things that happened to you. Do you really have any more free will than I have?”

Closing his eyes, Dorian smiled. “Well, when you put it that way....” Remembering, he said quickly, “Oh, they're not looking for you. I told the corporation that you were still with me.”

“...Why?”

“I told you why the last time I saw you.”

“You haven't come to your senses since then?” Klaus's tone had some of his old sarcasm.

“No,” Dorian replied tranquilly. “You were going to leave anyway, weren't you? You removed your tracker before I said it.”

“Yes. But I wanted to see you again and say a proper goodbye before I left.”

“What have you been doing all this time, anyway?”

“I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you.”

“That isn't funny.”

“Really? I thought it was.”

“They didn't calibrate your humor circuits very well.”

“Oh. I'll have to remember that.” Klaus's voice was so serious that it was all Dorian could do not to laugh. “I've been working for NATO. Special Ops.”

“What? Are you trying to joke again?”

“No, it's the truth.”

“How did you – don't they do background checks or anything?”

“I made a few friends who helped me around that.”

“I see. Perhaps you'd better not tell me any more.”

“True. In fact, I should go.” The robot got out of bed and started to dress.

“Already?”

“I really shouldn't have left my unit at all, but when I learned you were here, I couldn't resist.”

Dorian reached out and caught Klaus's hand. “But I will see you again?”

The reply was a kiss that took Dorian's breath away. “Whenever I can, for as long as you want to.”

“I'll always want to.”

Klaus kissed him again for that, then resumed getting dressed. Dorian watched him, more contented than he had ever expected to be.

“I think I got my money's worth after all,” he remarked in a teasing tone as Klaus finished lacing up his shoes.

Klaus's reply was to roughly roll Dorian onto his stomach, deliver a brisk swat to his rear, and say, “Humph,” as he strode out the door to the accompaniment of Dorian's giggles.

Dorian rolled back onto his side and relaxed like a cat into the mattress, thinking things over dreamily. He was going to have to learn his robot's assumed name, he decided, and keep tabs on whatever his beloved was up to with NATO. Having a lover in the spy business was terribly exciting.

Klaus might even need his help sometime.

 

 

Eroica