Things were pretty good until 2033.
In fact, things were really good until 2033. I was living in Pasadena, in those days. The weather was a weird, wonderful joke. I was twenty-five, hanging on to some leftover muscle from USC, driving a ’31 Chery Stallion and spending weekends in a haze of Stim. I was still doing the assistant manager thing at RoboMaxx, but the hours were decent and the employee discount truly rocked — fifteen percent off neuro upgrades, thirty percent off mech mods, thirty percent off cosmetic mods. My apartment was on the bombed-out end of Colorado Boulevard, but it was huge and the rent was comical and my neighbor was a shy, lovesick vegan named Grace who every Sunday would bake cranberry muffins and bring a platter over for me and Katrina to nibble. (And she really nibbled — I’d had a refurbished stomach mod installed on her the previous August.)
Weird, wonderful days. I hadn’t dated a woman — a human — since 2025. Susanna, with the dimples and nose hair, the half-insane laugh, the daddy issues. Oh, Susanna. She’d stood on her chair at Bella Vita and thrown a dirty napkin in my face and said that my soul was ruined. She said that I was psychologically retarded, that I was as emotionless as a bot.
So the thing was, I didn’t miss women. I didn’t miss the childish flirting, the stupid, expensive gifts, the ridiculous countdown to sex, the endless phone calls and v-chats, the pitiful obsession with money, money, money. How could I miss women? I had my job, I had my apartment, and I had Katrina.
In the mornings, after I left for work, Katrina would do her recharge thing, then mop the floors and scrub the spotless tub, disinfect the toilet, iron my pit-stained undershirts. In the evening she’d cook dinner — pasta and Mexican and simple stir-fries, since I’d never bothered with a cooking upgrade — and afterwards I’d flop on the sofa with a Stim, and Katrina would start a swaying, humming striptease, her skin caramel-colored and glossy, scarless. She’d flick her g-string at me with her big toe, and she’d giggle. Pretty soon I’d command her over and we’d get started, me with one eye on the holo, Katrina with her eyes pinched shut and hair whipped into a nest, until eventually she’d look at me with a coy, cat-like grin. "You should finish," she’d whisper. "My power is pretty low."
"Flip over," I’d say. "Position thirteen. Activity level high."
Of course she had 1500 SPI skin and Sugaku touch sensors. She had actual human hair — Indonesian hair, from the lowlands outside Jakarta — and human eyebrows, human lashes. A Bose voice box let her sing like a
She smiled shyly. "I feel all tingly. I guess you upgraded me, huh?"
soprano, growl like a convict or moan like a desperate virgin. She had top-end MicroMo servomotors, electroactive actuators in the soft, sensitive places.
And of course she was gorgeous. I’d spec’d her out as a cross between Irina Porozka and Ginger Newton, with grace notes from the old-school beauties: Hayworth, Monroe, Loren, Jolie. But her fingers were ten millimeters longer than factory spec, her eyes three millimeters wider. She was better than human: more beautiful, crushingly beautiful. Even the hard-core modders at RoboMaxx held their breath when she strolled past.
I don’t know why I decided to upgrade Katrina. It was August, a hot, pointless Saturday. We were at Federal Mart buying a new q-blocker. The geeks tracked me down in the parking lot, and the taller one, the one with the blood-colored Mohawk, threw his pathetic pitch. "It’s not experimental — it’s pre-release. Big difference, dude. I mean, technically it’s beta, but essentially it’s a finished product — we’re planning to roll it out in November. Just in time for Christmas, or whatever."
Mohawk’s sidekick was a nervous Filipino with big nostrils. He started babbling about neuro-temporal networks and linguistic trees and contextual tags and runtime efficiencies. He claimed the upgrade would improve Katrina’s reasoning performance by an order of magnitude. He claimed it would improve her perceptual skills to near-human levels.
I told him I wasn’t sure I wanted near-human levels.
"She’ll be more tuned in to your moods — to what you want. She’ll read you better, dude."
That, I wanted. That I seriously wanted.
They led us to a moldy basement laboratory on the Cal Tech campus, made me sign some papers — a liability waiver, I later learned, for voiding Katrina’s warranty then Mohawk powered her down, jacked her in, zapped the upgrade, rebooted her mesh. She blinked woozily; then her eyes focused on me. She smiled shyly. "I feel all tingly. I guess you upgraded me, huh?"
The first thing I noticed about Katrina was that she stared at me — during breakfast, during dinner, during sex — and when I issued her a command she paused for a brief second, whiffs of passive aggression rising from her smell emitters. Her technique was unchanged, but there was a glimmer in her eyes, a certain injured pride, that sent me into hard spasms of ecstasy.
One Saturday six weeks after the upgrade we were lazing on the sofa watching Shame! The sun was melting into a pink pool; I’d had four Stims and was floating on a gloriously exhausted buzz. Katrina rose from the sofa and stood in front of the holo. "You’re blocking my view," I said. "Move it." She stared at me, her left eye twitching — her VisCor vision system fritzing out, I figured — and then her eyebrow arched into a frown.