Signs of Life
“What is the prime directive, Victor?”
The young man gave his mechanical companion the stink eye. Asking the question more than once wasn’t going to make him answer any quicker.
The E2 life coach widget waited an appropriate amount of time, before asking again in carefully modulated tones, “What is the prime…”
"Tampering with federal property is forbidden,” Victor spat, cutting it off. “But I'm not tampering, Eetu. All I'm doing is reading to her."
"Are you sure?"
Victor bridled at the accusation. "What’s that supposed to mean? Have you been spying on me?"
A soft whirring sound and a series of clicks came from the widget. Its voice became more calming. "Only within the limits of my duties, Victor."
The young man felt vulnerable and a little exposed. He crossed his arms and leaned back into the cushions of the overstuffed couch. The silence between them grew and he found himself crossing his legs, too.
“There’s no law against sex, you know,” Victor said petulantly. “Not yet, anyway...”
“No, but there are mandates concerning frequency,” Eetu said, without emotion. “Enforced for the good of society.”
“Fascists,” Victor mumbled under his breath.
“I said, fat chance,” the young man lied. “Are we through here?”
The cold ruby lenses of the E2 widget glittered in the overhead light. More whirring and clicks. Victor squirmed.
“Are you developing feelings for your recycled unit, Victor?”
The question, though calmly phrased, startled him. “Is that a crime?”
“You are a prime, Victor,” the widget said as though the words were reasoning enough. “You don’t find this notion perverse and unclean?”
The warning bells went off in Victor’ brain. Careful now. The E2 widget may be his personal life coach, but it was still a government issue and if the Determinists were right, it was probably a direct link back to some clandestine agency that monitored the movements of every citizen on the planet. It was a fairly new concept, but one that Victor found intriguing. Though Eetu had been with him since presentation day on his 13th birthday, ten long years ago, he had suddenly found himself wondering just how much of what they discussed was being kept between them.
“And if I don’t, Eetu?” he asked. “What then? Are you going to report me?”
The widget whirred and clicked before responding. “Report you, Victor? To whom?”
He studied the widget closely. It was hard to read. No ticks or emotional tells to give it away. Life coaches were the ultimate poker faces. Even if they didn’t really have faces.
“Never mind,” Victor said.
“I should never have allowed you to name the unit,” Eetu said.
“It wasn’t your decision to make and for the last time, she isn’t a unit!”
“It is unorthodox…”
“But not forbidden!”
Eetu watched him, unblinking.
“Please reconsider your actions, Victor,” the widget pleaded, though its calming tones changed little. “Don’t do anything rash.”
He looked away. It was becoming an old argument, but unlike Eetu, Victor was not very good at bluffing. There was absolutely no way it could know what he was planning. None. He had stopped confiding in it completely a little over a year ago, when the Technological Determinists had introduced the idea that life coaches could be spying on the prime population. He just couldn’t take the risk.
“There is no place on earth you can go that would accept this sort of behavior,” Eetu said, slowly and deliberately. Its red eyes remained unblinking. “You would be ostracized from polite society. You would be an outcast and lose all societal privileges. You would be cut off from the grid. How, then, would you survive? How would you live? Is falling in love with a recycled… female… worth losing everything?”
Victor launched himself away from the seductive tendrils of the calming couch and staggered away drunkenly. Once free, his mind cleared and his thoughts snapped back into focus. He stopped and, without turning to face Eetu, said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about, ‘bot! You’re getting paranoid in your old age. Maybe it’s time I upgraded to a newer model.”
He walked away, angrily, trailed by what sounded like a groan coming from the direction of the E2 unit. It was just his imagination and he knew it. Widgets didn’t have feelings. They were just machines and he had long ago gotten over the guilt of lying to Eetu. The less his life coach knew, the better. He didn’t need it to tell him what to do ALL the time. Especially when what he was planning was so obviously in direct opposition to its programming.
* * *
Elsa. Sweet Elsa. Victor watched her flipping through the book he had been reading to her, stopping to marvel at the colorful images interspersed throughout. She loved the pictures and often pointed them out when he read a passage that directly correlated to one.
It was at times like those that Victor simply could not understand the argument that the recycled – dead people reanimated, via the life chips implanted in their brains, to work as servants – had no emotions or were incapable of independent thought. Elsa was slow, but she had showed comprehension when he read to her from the very beginning. As time had passed, so too had the fog. Her eyes, once dull and gray, were brighter and more focused.
“I’ve made a decision, Elss,” he said, gently. “Eetu’s not as smart as it thinks it is. By the time it figures out what’s happened, we’ll be out of the city and out of his reach. Do you know where we’re going?”
Elsa looked up from the book and blinked.
“Xanadu,” the dead girl said, pronouncing each syllable separately, like barely discernable sighs.
“Victor smiled. “That’s right. Xanadu. Everything will be better there. I’ve heard they don’t have the stupid laws we have here in New Babel. Citizens are allowed to live their lives as they see fit, without life coaches telling them what to do or stifling rules telling them what they can’t do. We’ll be free to love each other. Won’t that be wonderful?”
Elsa watched him intently, a smile creeping onto her increasingly expressive face. Once again Victor found himself wondering about the woman Elsa had been before she was recycled. She appeared young; maybe late teens or early twenties. Had she been a cheerleader in high school? A model, perhaps? How had she lived? How had she died? What had brought her to this? They were questions that would never be answered, but he wondered, nonetheless.
The blackness of her hair was a striking frame to her pale oval face. She was so unbelievably beautiful. The preservation process used on the recycled stopped all decay and deterioration in their tracks, leaving the skin smooth, shiny and with only a slight gray cast. Her full lips slightly parted and her eyelashes fluttering slowly, she almost had a coquettish appearance. It was so easy to overlook the fact that she had once been a living, breathing prime, though all memory of who she had once been had been thoroughly erased from her life chip, making her a blank slate. She was recycled, but that didn’t bother Victor. She was here, that was all that mattered.
In all his 23 years on this planet, he had never seen a woman, living or dead, who made his blood pump like Elsa did. He was smitten the moment he’d laid eyes on her at the recycle camp and he had almost depleted his credit account by licensing her on the spot. The first thing he’d done when he’d gotten her home was have sex with her. It was to be expected. Everybody broke in their recycled goods that way.
When he had sated his initial lust, he’d lain on his side, head propped in his hand, tracing his fingers ever so lightly along Elsa’s perfectly preserved body. Her tits were exquisite, firm yet pliant with permanently erect nipples. He flicked at one and watched as slight tremors shook the dead girl. She could feel what he was doing to her. He hadn’t expected that. He doubted she would ever again experience anything even remotely akin to an orgasm, but her pleasure centers weren’t completely deadened.
From that moment on, Victor had become obsessed with proving that Elsa was more than just reanimated flesh. Contrary to the once-a-week rule, mandated by the government, he had sex with her often and was now convinced that her reactions to his ministrations were becoming more pronounced and natural. She’d even moaned a few times. She could feel him. He just knew it.
Kneeling at his feet, she appeared to be waiting for him. He gestured toward the book. “Would you like me to read to you?”
Elsa looked down at the book, then shook her head slowly from side to side, closed it and set it on the table next to her.
He smiled. “No? Did you have something else in mind?”
Elsa blinked, then reached up and pulled the tie holding her blouse together just above her magnificent breasts. The blouse parted and the protruding nipples were exposed.
Victor chuckled. “Naughty girl.”
She began to rub at her nipples and her chest began to heave ever so slightly. Her lips parted and she sighed. Victor could feel his penis leap to life beneath the folds of his robe. He watched Elsa as she massaged her breasts for him, getting him more and more excited.
He pulled his robe open so his erection could leap free. Elsa looked down and licked her dry lips with a sound like a dried leaf scooting across pavement. Victor handed her a bottle of LifeStim® gel and she lifted it to her lips, squirting a dollop into her mouth. She rolled the gel around until rasping gave way to silence. Her lips pinkened and began to glisten.
Placing the bottle on the table, next to the book, Elsa leaned forward and ran a soft, moist tongue up along the shaft of Victor’s enflamed cock. He shivered. The tongue flicked around the head three times, before it disappeared into the wet confines of her mouth. The rest of the cock followed until it was completely enveloped. Victor sighed.
He loved that Elsa had no gag reflex. She could deep throat his entire seven and a half inches without so much as flinching. And when he felt like giving her the old skull fuck, she never complained. He could hold her head in his hands like a melon and fuck her hard, pumping his lust down her throat and holding it there until he was completely spent and she never so much as heaved.
This time, however, he let her do all the work. He watched as she slowly, methodically and without any loss of focus, made love to his cock. She licked at it, flirted with it, suckled on it, deep throated it, then flicked it with her tongue, before doing it all over again in a different order. It was here that Victor was convinced Elsa was not only capable of extended pleasure, but was just as much in love with him as he was with her.
Why else would she take such care in worshipping him? How else could she possibly perform the act with such deliberation and expertise? In all the months she had been performing the act on him, she had never once so much as nicked him with a tooth. She was the perfect fellating machine. He couldn’t bring himself to believe that the government had conditioned her to do it. Some things just couldn’t be taught.
After a good half hour of Elsa’s ministrations, Victor couldn’t stand it any longer. He needed release. Running his hand along her smooth jaw, he caressed her earlobe and closed his eyes.
“Do it, Elss,” he whispered.
Without missing a beat, the dead girl swallowed the entire length of Victor’s cock, then began pumping it in and out of her mouth with a deliberate rhythm that soon had his thighs shaking. The dead girl fixed him with her gray eyes, watching his reactions, even as she brought him to the precipice and, with a final flick of her tongue, pitched him over the edge. A long, breathy moan escaped his throat and he threw his head back.
“God, yes!” he shouted and spat the first of several huge loads down Elsa’s throat. She gobbled it up eagerly.
She raised her head to look at Victor and he smiled back lazily. A slight blush appeared to have risen in the dead girl’s cheeks.
“I love you, Elss,” Victor said.
“I… love you,” Elsa said haltingly, “Victor.”
“I know you do, baby,” the man said, leaning forward and kissing her, the salty taste of his cum, his vitae essentia, transferring itself to his taste buds. Her tongue flickered and drew his own out. The kiss was prolonged and passionate.
From its vantage point in the cupboard, Eetu’s expressionless eyes took in the blasphemy being broadcast to him via the three cameras hidden in Victor’s bedroom with a mechanical attention to detail. It noted, as it had many times before, the expressions on Victor’s human face and the gentleness with which he caressed the revenant. It saw, too, the odd reciprocations of the recycled unit. Much of what it saw there did not compute. Its programming did not allow for deviations such as those it had been witnessing with increased frequency.
A revenant’s pupils should never dilate, even at the barely perceptible level Eetu had recorded coming from this unit. It should not be capable of anything more than the mechanical actions of a lifeless body kept animated by the clockwork electrical pulses of the life chip buried in its brain. It should not react. It should not experience anything more than primary impulses to counter incoming stimuli. It was a technological fact.
Every prime was fitted with a life chip upon birth. Once in place, all need for schooling or training were eliminated. The government monitored the progress of the prime and, upon its 13th birthday, in addition to receiving his or her first life coach, programmed the life chip to take its host on a life path dictated by his or her natural talents.
It had been a fortuitous discovery that the chips could be used to revive the human body upon expiration. Thus were born the recycled, natural servants, devoid of personality, need or desire and thus never to be confused with the prime. Eetu accessed every scrap of information he possessed concerning the recycled. Nowhere could be found evidence of the behavior this unit was displaying. It should not be possible.
Eetu watched and became more alarmed. The prolonged kiss ended and the revenant sighed contentedly, sitting back on its heels to gaze at the young man with a look that could only be called adoration. If Eetu could blink, it would have done so then. If only to relay to its mechanical brain that this witnessed event was a significant turning point in its understanding of undead physiology.
Eetu had begun to suspect something unnatural was amiss when Victor had it order a family sized bottle of LifeStim®, just weeks after receiving a single-issue bottle from the government ration office. The widget’s analytical mind calculated the usage of the last bottle against the time it had been in Victor’s hands.
Though the product had been made available so that healthy prime males could conduct sexual intercourse with their recycled goods – by temporarily reviving and rejuvenating the tissues so that they were sufficiently accepting of congress – there were limits prescribed by a polite society to ensure that infatuation, or worse, did not become an issue.
Victor had crossed that line with his latest indulgence. After weeks of monitoring the situation and compiling the necessary report, Eetu had finally received the confession he needed. Xanadu. Victor was clearly ill and his mental functions had become corrupted. Xanadu was a myth. The construct of a fanciful, rebellious mind. There was no Xanadu.
Worse, the recycled unit was acting strangely. It was clearly defective. It was prompting responses in Victor that were unhealthy and illogical. As life coach, it became Eetu’s directive to intervene, before its charge did something he would regret. Or worse.
* * *
Hours passed. The ruby glass eyes of the widget flickered in uneven light. Why had it not filed its report? Not to do so was illogical. It was the widget’s duty to report infractions, especially when they were of such a subversive nature. Eetu knew what such a report would engender.
There would be no inquiry. Victor would simply be taken away and reprogrammed. His life chip would be rebooted and all unclean impulses would be erased. The revenant would be destroyed for its own good. All of this was necessary and Eetu knew it. There was one more piece of information, however, that it could not bypass.
Protocol dictated that Victor be assigned a new life coach. After ten years in the young man’s service, Eetu would be retired. Its term of service would have come to an end and it would be decommissioned. Something in this logical progression had caused a circuit error in the widget’s brain.
Reason was flawed in this instance. Necessity defied reason. Unaccustomed to such disturbingly illogical thought patterns, Eetu withdrew into itself to contemplate. Hours passed. By the time the sun had risen above the horizon, the widget had come to a conclusion.
Finding the revenant wasn’t difficult. When not entertaining the young man with its questionable charms, the dead girl could often be found puttering around in his apartments. Eetu waited until Victor left his living quarters on an errand, then silently descended on the apartments to confront the revenant.
Elsa looked up from the book in her lap as Eetu soundlessly entered the room. She waited patiently as it hovered closer and stopped, a whirring sound and a series of clicks the only noises puncturing the silence between them.
“Eetu?” she said, expectantly.
The widget had never before been this close to the recycled unit. It’s ruby eyes spun and focused, zooming in closer to the revenant’s eyes. Were they changing color? Was that possible? Zooming even closer, the widget’s internal sensors took in the shards of green, gold and brown blossoming from the pupil at the center of each dead eye. A shift to the right revealed what looked like moisture along each dry eyelid. Drawing further back, the widget studied the revenant’s skin. The cheek was definitely more supple than it should be. A pinkish glow seemed to permeate the smooth, leathery face.
Was any of this possible? It could not be attributed to the LifeStim® gel. The effects only lasted an hour or so, before the dead skin tissues began to break down again and the artificial moisture evaporated. Beyond that, however, why would the gel cause colors to return to a dead eye? It was not part of the function. It didn’t make any sense.
Unless it was something else. A memory flashed through Eetu’s circuit board. A warm, wet tongue licking semen from swollen, pink lips. What was it Victor liked to refer to it as? His vitae essentia? An archaic reference he had picked up in a book somewhere, meaning “essence of life.” Ruby eyes dropped to the side of the dead girl’s neck where a barely perceptible and irregular pulsation could be clearly detected.
The whirring and clicking became louder, then stopped abruptly. It listened, turning its audio sensors up until it could detect a slight thrumming coming from somewhere deep inside the recycled unit. A drumbeat, faint and arrhythmic, but discernable, nonetheless.
The girl continued to wait patiently, until Eetu finally broke the silence.
“How do you… feel, Elsa?”
She blinked. “I feel… fine… I guess,” she said slowly, but deliberately. A smile crept slowly up her face to wrinkle the edges of her eyes. Her pupils dilated slightly. “Thank… you… for asking. I… didn’t think… you… liked me… much.” The smile, unnatural as it appeared, was radiant. “I’m… glad… I was… wrong.”
* * *
“Eetu, have you seen Elsa?”
The widget turned to regard the young man. “She is no longer here, Victor.”
The young man’s brow furrowed worriedly. “She’s what? She’s always in my apartment when I get home. She wouldn’t leave.”
Eetu watched him implacably. “Perhaps you should put the revenant out of your head, Victor.”
The young man gaped at him. “Excuse me?”
“Its services were no longer required. It has been decommissioned.”
Victor’s jaw dropped open. “What… did you just say?”
“I tested the unit and found it to be defective, as is my duty within your household. I had it, and the filthy books you had been reading to it, destroyed.”
“De…” Victor’s face grew pale. “What does that mean? What have you done?”
“I had them taken to the incineration plant, naturally.”
Tears sprang to Victor’ eyes and he staggered backwards. “You… you… why, Eetu? Why?”
“The books were subversive.”
“The unit was defective.”
“She was becoming human again, Eetu,” Victor moaned. “She was alive! Alive!”
“That is impossible and, thus, illogical,” the widget countered gently.
Victor began to pace excitedly. Animalistic sounds escaped him. “No I can’t accept this,” he moaned. “It isn’t happening!”
“Perhaps you should calm yourself, Victor,” Eetu said comfortingly. “May I prescribe you a sedative?”
“You had no right, ‘bot!” the human screamed. “You have stepped WAY over the line!”
“I only did what was necessary, Victor,” the widget reasoned. “The revenant was defective. It had infected you with its aberration. It had to be destroyed.”
“That was not for you to decide!” Victor screamed. Then his furious eyes narrowed and he stopped pacing. His fists were clenched at his side and his breathing was short and dangerously close to a pant. He was hyperventilating. Eetu was becoming increasingly alarmed at the uncharacteristic actions of his ward.
“That’s it. We’re done. I’m going to report you for destruction of personal property and have you scrapped. You have outlived your usefulness, ‘bot. You are forthwith ordered to shut down!”
Eetu’s mechanical brain reeled. The situation was spiraling out of control. It had to do something. With a series of internal clicks and a visible shudder, something deep inside the life coach sparked and a previously unknown pathway was formed in the widget’s motherboard. Defying a direct order and bypassing the response mechanism, it created a new probability, which quickly coalesced into action.
Victor froze in place, the anger draining from his face and his eyes becoming vacant. It had worked. Eetu had not been entirely sure he would be capable of infiltrating its charges life chip so completely. The young man began to slump. Acting quickly, Eetu swooped forward, gathering him up in its arms and transporting him to his bed before he was completely unconscious.
With methodical familiarity, Eetu undressed Victor and tucked him into his bed. Then, hovering backwards, settled down onto the floor, whirring and clicking as it performed remote emergency surgery on the prime’s damaged life chip.
The fine-tuning didn’t take long and once it was complete, Eetu inspected its handiwork. The young man slept peacefully, all lines having been erased from his troubled visage. A sweet smile played along his lips. His eyes fluttered open and focused on the widget.
“Good morning, Eetu,” he said sleepily. “What time is it?”
“It is… midday,” the widget responded. “How did you sleep?”
“Like a baby,” Victor said, yawning and stretching his arms over his head.
“Do you require servicing?”
Victor smiled down at his persistent morning erection. “Looks like.”
“Allow me, then,” Eetu said. Having already anticipated this eventuality, it had donned the leathery vagi-glove and lubricated it liberally with the LifeStim® gel. The withered flesh ripened and grew supple, taking on a pink color and glistening with simulated wetness.
Victor closed his eyes and lay back with his head in his hands. The widget performed its task expertly and though the man knew it was not a real vagina massaging his manhood to electric heights of pleasure, it felt like the real thing and that was all that mattered.
For its part, as Eetu methodically pumped its charge’s extremity, it ran through all of the possible outcomes of its deed. To its knowledge, no widget had ever violated the edict that had been programmed into it and tampered with a human prime’s brain chip, unless directly ordered to do so by the government. Even then, every action would have been carefully monitored.
Extenuating circumstances dictated that Eetu take the unfamiliar and extreme path. It was its duty as a life coach. It had been programmed to protect its charge at any cost, even if it meant protecting him from himself. Having never worked in the field, those who governed such things could never understand the sacrifices that must be made there.
Victor’s breathing became labored and small sounds escaped his throat. Eetu slowed his manipulations, squeezing on the upstroke and sliding back down quickly, just as it had seen the recycled unit perform when the vagi-glove had been part of its sexual arsenal. The young man responded with gusto, his moans becoming groans and finally a protracted shout. Eetu slowed his strokes, easing its charge back down from his ecstatic heights.
No, the government need never know about this necessary indiscretion. That which they did not, could not, comprehend would only cause an unnecessary expenditure of time, energy and funding dedicated to ferreting out the incomprehensible. There would be no satisfying conclusion and it would be costly. It was illogical to report this information. Eetu’s whirring and clicking became a contented purr.
Victor smiled in its direction. “I love you, Eetu,” he said.
All was as it should be.
The widget stared back, unblinking. “I… love you, Victor.”
* * *
© David Salcido, 2013. Registered with the Library of Congress and the Writers Guild of America. All rights reserved.