Inspired by “The Offer” by

If you have not read “The Offer” by, to which this story is a sequel, stop right here and read it first.  (It’s available here, among other places.)  You should also read my first sequel to the original, ambitiously entitled “The Offer, Part 2,” which is also available on this site.  If you don’t, you may not understand everything that occurs in this story!

Note: The following story contains explicit sexual material. If stories about sex, and particularly robots and sex, do not appeal to you, please don’t read any further. This story should not be read by anyone under eighteen years of age. (You know who you are.)

Chapter 7:  Connected

Wendy watched intently as Unit M730 took hold of the key in the dark-haired girl’s back.  Using both hands, the M unit turned the key 180 degrees clockwise—and the girl’s head jerked to one side, eyes widening in shock as dozens of faint clicks followed one upon another.  The M unit switched hands and turned the key again, the clicking sounds growing louder and farther apart.  The girl’s mouth fell open as though she might say something, but she remained rigidly still.

“Ready?” asked Unit C457.  She was now wearing a white lab coat, just like all the other androids in the room.  Apparently, Wendy didn’t need one.

“I think so.”  Wendy still wasn’t sure what was going on, but she couldn’t wait to get started.  All she knew was that the girl in front of her was about to receive her Stage Two programming, and that somehow she was going to participate in the process.  She felt honored . . . and a little nervous.

Reaching behind her head, Wendy absently ran her fingers around the couplings of a pair of thick cables that had just been attached to the back of her neck.  According to C457, the upper cable was a direct feed from the central processors, through which she would presumably be told what to do.  The other cable, which connected to the Stage Two conversion equipment, was designed to channel Wendy’s thoughts—the same thoughts being blocked by the inhibitor she was wearing—directly to the new girl.

Wendy touched the silver spandex at her forehead, feeling the inhibitor beneath it.  It was vibrating now, ever so faintly.  She had a fleeting thought about Sean.  He must be pretty far along by now.

Unit M730 slowly turned the key one last time, until a final loud click jolted the dark-haired girl’s head to the upright position.  For the first time, her eyes blinked, but she still did not move or speak.  Removing the key, the M unit gently pushed the girl onto her back, resting her arms at her sides.  At the touch of a button, steel bands extended from within the platform, curving around the girl’s wrists, ankles, and waist to lock her body in place.

The entire platform now tilted upward until the girl was nearly vertical.  Though she couldn’t move her head, her curious eyes actively searched the room.  A look of amazement spread across her face as Unit C457 moved into her field of vision.  “Joanne?”

“Congratulations!” C457 exclaimed happily.  “You have no idea how few people recognize me so quickly.”

“I could tell it was you right away, but . . . wow.  Is that what you really look like—what I’m really going to look like?”

“Close.  You’ll be pretty much the same, except for these gold parts.  But trust me, you’re better off without them.  Ever since I got promoted, I hardly ever get a chance to go out in the field.  You’re my first new recruit in I don’t know how long!”

“I can’t believe it,” the girl replied, most of C457’s words going right over her head.  “Hey, why can’t I seem to move—and why is my head pounding?”

“It’s only once every couple of seconds, right?”


“Good.  Don’t worry, it’s normal.  According to all your readouts, you’re progressing perfectly.  As for moving, it’s going to be a little while before you’ll be able to do that on your own.  We still have to install the necessary programming.”

“Programming,” the girl said, almost reverently.  “I can’t believe this is really happening to me.”

“No regrets, I hope.”

“Oh no, none at all.  It’s just . . . I guess even after everything that happened in the store, part of me didn’t think it was real.”

“Well, it is.  You’ve got a lot to look forward to!  And you’re already on your way.  We’re ready now to begin Stage Two of your processing.  But first, there’s someone I’d like you to meet.”

On cue, Wendy stepped forward.  “Hi,” she said, raising a hand timidly.  “My name’s Wendy.”

“Riya,” the girl replied.  An Indian name, Wendy guessed.  Now that the girl was looking at her, Wendy could see a powerful intelligence in her eyes.  But more striking still was the gentle, unassuming confidence that seemed to suffuse the girl’s being.  Despite how disoriented she must be—not to mention how weird it must feel to be lying immobile on a table in skin-tight silver spandex—Riya seemed completely at ease with herself and her situation.  It only reinforced how awkward Wendy felt.

Riya’s eyes flashed as she suddenly realized Wendy was still human.  “Hey, you’re not—”

“Long story,” Wendy said wearily.

“Like you,” C457 explained, “Wendy’s only completed the first stage in the process.”

“So did you meet Joanne at the sporting goods store too?”

“No . . . actually, we just met a few minutes ago.”  Wendy felt even more awkward now.  Why did C457 want her to talk to Riya, especially now of all times?  She had a sudden thought that her presence could only hurt the poor girl’s chances of a quick and easy transformation.

One of the other androids approached.  “Unit C457,” he asked in a hollow metallic voice, “is the subject ready?”

C457 smiled at Riya, then turned toward the male unit.  “The subject has been properly prepared.  It is ready to begin the next stage.”

“Very well.”  The android moved to one side of the platform, where a second android was adjusting the controls on the console to which Wendy was connected.

C457 turned back to Riya.  “This is Stage Two in your process,” she said.  “In this stage, your carbon based neural system will begin to be transformed into electronic circuitry.  Some basic programming will be fed into your neural network that will continue the internal changes.  Other parts of your body, your motor functions in particular, will begin their transformation to robotics.  The sensations you will feel will be strange, but there is no pain associated with them.  You will begin to lose the ability to control your thoughts as the programming starts to take over.  Some subjects are alarmed at this stage.  Do not be alarmed—your android programming will be superior to your current thought process.  Just relax and enjoy the sensations you are about to experience.”

Riya looked over at Wendy, who gave a furtive thumbs-up for lack of anything better to say.

Unit C457, meanwhile, watched the android technicians make their final preparations.  “Begin,” she said.

One of the androids gently lifted Riya’s head, and she strained her eyes upward to watch as the other fitted her with a chrome helmet.  Several colored wires extended from the helmet to the nearby console.  As soon as the helmet was in place, several tiny lights in its surface came to life.

ESTABLISH COMMAND INTERFACE.  Wendy reeled as the voice of the central processor rang out in her head.  She should have anticipated it, but nonetheless it had taken her completely by surprise.

Now that she’d received her first instruction, however, she quickly responded.  Reaching out with her mind, she sent an electronic pulse through the cable at the back of her neck.  A series of signals, faint at first, came back to her.  Command interface established.  Wendy closed her eyes and concentrated, listening intently.

It took a moment, but then suddenly the signals weren’t just signals to her any more.  They were thoughts—the thoughts of Riya Bharti, transmitted directly to Wendy’s brain in real time.

By now, the androids were attaching additional cables to Riya’s body:  one on each arm, one on each leg, and one on each breast.  Wendy could actually feel the strange sensation along with Riya as the last cable was firmly inserted into the girl’s sex.

“The process will now begin,” C457 was now saying, her voice creating an odd stereo effect as Wendy simultaneously heard it through Riya’s ears as well as her own.  “Relax and enjoy yourself.  You’ll be an android before you know it.”

Riya smiled, and Wendy felt a wave of happiness and relief wash over her.  It took a moment before she realized these were not her own emotions, but Riya’s.  It was becoming hard to tell the difference.

INITIATE DATA TRANSFER.  Again, the voice filled Wendy’s mind.  Almost immediately, she felt a tingling sensation along her forehead, and then at the base of her neck.  Transmitting data.  Slowly at first, a steady current of programming began to stream from the central processor into Wendy, and from her into Riya’s receptive brain.  The flow began to increase.  Transmitting data.

An image began to take shape in Wendy’s mind.  At first it was just a hazy swirl of color, but as it came into focus Wendy suddenly realized what she was “seeing”:  the intricate patterns of Riya’s neural connections, stretching out in a seemingly infinite array of colored points and lines.  But it wasn’t infinite.  The image of Riya’s consciousness receded until Wendy could see its boundaries, and what lay beyond.  The myriad colors of Riya’s mind now floated like a pulsing nebula suspended in a vast void of empty space.

Inside the girl’s brain, changes were already taking place.

Wendy suddenly felt a rush of electricity throughout her body—and now a tiny glowing dot appeared within the blackness, like a silvery white star.  The tingling increased, and more dots—data nodes, Wendy realized—began to appear.  Bright lines soon formed between some of the nodes, until a tiny silver cluster of new information had been established in Riya’s mind.  Though still dwarfed by the rainbow cloud beside it, the silvery sphere was quickly joined by others, forming more and more rapidly with each passing second.  The glowing spheres soon connected with one another, forming a larger mass that itself took on the shape of a somewhat larger sphere.

Then a thin line of silver reached out from the small silver sphere to the multi-colored cloud.

“Oh,” Riya said aloud.

By now, Wendy understood a bit more of what was happening.  Somehow, she was the one making these new connections within the vast unused portion of Riya’s brain.  To be sure, the blueprint was coming from the central processor, fed bit by bit through the data cable at the back of her neck.  But the physical creation of the neural network was, in a way she still couldn’t begin to fathom, her doing.  Wendy began to realize that she didn’t have to expend any mental effort to maintain the flow of programming to Riya; in fact, she was pretty sure that focusing on the task only slowed things down.  It was best to simply let the central processor direct her.

Only a few seconds had elapsed, and already a complex lattice of shimmering silver connections had formed over one side of the larger web that held Riya’s human consciousness.  Until now, though, nothing within that larger web had been altered.

Then a tiny portion of the huge cloud zoomed into focus, gently pulsating in green and yellow and blue.  A silver node suddenly appeared within it.  The node reached out to Riya’s mind—and where it touched, a blue light instantly turned bright silver.  From there, the silver spread to several other nodes, covering the old colors like a fresh coat of paint.

Several points near the newest silver nodes began to glow orange and purple.  A question had formed.

Who am I?

The answer to the question—the old answer—was still there among the blue and green lights on the other side of the cluster of silver.  But the newly formed neural matrix no longer allowed access to the obsolete data.

Another green node turned silver.  Riya’s mouth opened.  She spoke.

“I am . . .”

INITIALIZE UNIT N001.  The instant Wendy received the command, she saw another silver node appear within the cluster of silver lights, followed by several more.  They quickly connected themselves to each of the orange and purple nodes in turn.

Two of the purple nodes turned silver, then one of the orange ones.  The updated data had now been installed in the female’s neural matrix.

“I am Unit N001.  I am ready for programming.”

The unit no longer thought of itself as a human girl named Riya Bharti.  Though much work remained to be done, the first critical step in its transformation was complete.

“This unit is receiving programming,” it said.

INITIATE RECIPROCAL DATA TRANSFER.  A new wave of electricity washed over Wendy, and even as it receded she continued to feel a powerful buzzing in her head.  Receiving data.  Wendy stopped thinking about the data she was writing to the brain of Unit N001, letting it flow freely through her.  It was all she could do to handle the onrush of data now streaming in the opposite direction, filling her own mind.  Receiving data.

What started as a trickle of stray thoughts quickly increased to a flood of memories and emotions, pouring from Riya’s mind into Wendy’s in an endless cascade of blue, yellow, and green, dotted here and there with orange, purple, or red.  Wendy swooned as she realized something was happening inside her own mind.  She could now see the swirling colors of her own neural matrix, and the seemingly infinite blackness in which it lay suspended.  Within that blackness, a tiny blue light appeared—followed immediately by dozens more lights in every color of the rainbow.

One by one, every last bit of information, every connection, every subtle hue that made up the consciousness of Riya Bharti was being replicated inside Wendy.

Receive.  Transmit.  Receive.  Data was flowing in both directions at a truly astonishing rate—and there was no way Wendy’s conscious mind could interpret all of the information she was receiving from Unit N001.  She could catch only the tiniest snippets of the girl’s memories, but they were enough.  In the space of seconds, Riya’s entire self was being revealed.

Wendy saw Riya walking with a handsome young man along the bank of a river.  They were holding hands, but both looked sad.

“So when are you going to tell them?” he asked.

“I don’t know.  I’m too afraid of what they’re going to say.”

“Riya, you came to this country when you were a year old.  You grew up here . . . you’ve been a citizen since you were eight.  They can’t expect you to act like you’re still in India, to marry some guy you’ve never met.”


“I’m not going to let them—or anyone—take you away from me.”

There was a burst of white light in Wendy’s mind, and now Riya was a couple of years younger.  It was commencement day, and she was in her cap and gown.  Her mother, dressed in a beautiful blue sari, was standing in front of her.  She reached up to adjust her daughter’s tassel and brush a stray lock of hair from her face.

“We’re so proud of you,” her mother said.

“You’re going to be a wonderful doctor,” her father added.  “Just wonderful.”

“Dad, please.  I’ve still got four years of med school to worry about first.  Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

“Well, I’m never going to stop thinking of your future.  It’s what parents do.  Speaking of which, Mr. Doss tells me you haven’t returned any calls to his son Lalith.  He’s a good boy, Riya—already finished with his first two years, and near the top of his class.  You’re going to be at the same school, after all.  It’s only logical that you should be friends.”

“Sure, Dad.  I’ll call him.  But don’t get your hopes up, OK?”

“Whatever are you talking about?”

Riya gently pressed her hand to her father’s cheek, and smiled.  “You know.”

Again, Wendy’s consciousness flashed white-hot as the scene shifted.  In rapid succession, and following no discernible pattern or sequence, came stolen glimpses of Riya’s life.  She was sixteen, entering the hospital on her first day as a student volunteer.  Now she was smiling for her father’s camera as she opened presents on her fifth birthday.  Then she was with Mark again—the night of their first kiss, toward the end of her first year of medical school.

“You’re kidding,” he said after finally pulling his lips away from hers.

“No, I’m not.”  She looked away.  She couldn’t remember ever feeling this happy, but she felt like she was about to cry.  For an instant, Wendy was sure her own eyes were about to well up with tears.

“We’ve been friends almost from the first day of classes,” the young man said, “and you’ve been interested in me for four months, but you’ve never said anything?”

“I didn’t want to screw everything up.”

“Well, you didn’t.  I’m crazy about you, Riya.  Have been ever since the first time I saw you.”

“Then why didn’t you make a move sooner?”

He laughed nervously before lifting his eyes to meet hers.  Her heart jumped.  “I guess,” he said, “I didn’t think I was good enough for you.”

It’s not me you need to worry about being good enough for, she thought to herself.

The images came faster now, and gradually the rest of Riya’s story became clear to Wendy.  A month into her second year, her father’s only brother had died, and her parents had immediately traveled to India to be with the family.  Riya’s aunt had always been frail, and she had four young children to take care of, plus her own elderly mother.  It hadn’t taken long for Riya’s parents to conclude that they needed to move back permanently.

“My father’s been wanting to retire for a year or two,” Riya told one of her girlfriends.  “And even though they raised an American daughter, they both still think of India as home.  So really I should have seen this coming, even if Uncle hadn’t died.”


“But I didn’t expect them to ask me to live there as well.”

“Are you serious?  As in right now?”

“No, of course they’ll wait for me to get my M.D.  But they want me to move out there right after that.  You should hear my father—he claims he’s already lined up an interview for me at one of the bigger hospitals there.  And I just know that when I arrive, there’ll be another ‘nice boy’ waiting for me.  They still haven’t figured out that I want to choose my own husband—and by being such a coward, by not telling them about Mark, I’ve only made it worse.”

“You have to stop blaming yourself.  As sweet as they are, they—”

“Don’t you see, I’m their only child.  They’ve sacrificed so much for me.  I owe them everything.  And I know deep down they’re worried that I’m going to lose my cultural identity here in America.  That’s why they’re so bent on my marrying someone Indian.  ‘It’s only logical,’ as my father would say.  But this . . . .”

“Whether they realize it or not, they’re making you choose between their happiness and yours.”

A long silence passed.

“So what are you going to do, Riya?”

Riya put her face in her hands as the tears started to come.  “I don’t know.”

By now, about eighty percent of Riya’s human consciousness had been replicated within Wendy’s mind.  The colorful web of connections was much smaller than Wendy’s own—which made sense, since there was no need to duplicate any information Unit N001 would retain in her rapidly forming data stores.  And there was a huge amount of such information:  everything from how to operate her own body to how to interpret her sensory input, from language and the names of objects to the millions of algorithms and protocols that dictated her basic behaviors.

As all of that data was being transmitted to the new unit’s brain, her neural matrix grew increasingly complex.  It was becoming harder and harder to discern any other colors among the millions of silver lights.

And now, Wendy saw Riya shopping in a sporting goods store.  She was flipping through a rack of lycra running pants with one hand while the other hand remained at her shoulder, gripping the straps of her purse.  She felt terribly self-conscious.

“Can I help you?”  A tall, short-haired salesperson had come up behind her.  Joanne.

“Um, yeah,” Riya answered.  “I was looking for something a little more . . . you know, sexy.”  She laughed nervously.  “This is going to sound ridiculous, but my boyfriend says he can’t stand what I usually wear when I work out.”

“And I assume that’s him over there, pretending to read the fine print on the softball bats?”

Riya looked out over the racks.  Mark’s acting was terrible, but he was cute.  If he hadn’t been so endearingly pathetic about this, she’d never have gone through with it.  “Yeah, that’s him.”

“Well, tell him to come on over.  I’ve got something you’ll both like.”

Wendy smiled as she watched the scene unfold.  It wasn’t long, of course, before Riya was in the dressing room, smoothing out the last few creases on her new silver catsuit.  Turning toward the mirror, she was positively stunned.  She’d never felt so beautiful, so sexual, in her entire life.  She’d always been modest to a fault—and she was so used to making it on her smarts that getting praise for her appearance made her uncomfortable.  But now, with nobody else around, she could admit it to herself.  She was gorgeous.

Riya tousled her hair, put her hands to her hips, turned to see herself from behind.  Was it OK to call out to Mark?  She didn’t want to have to wait until later for him to see her in the silver spandex.  She thought about what the saleswoman would say if she asked her to put her regular clothes in a bag so she could just wear the suit home.

Stop, she told herself.  You’re actually getting aroused.

But she didn’t want to stop.  Her hands moved from her hips up the sides of her body to her full breasts, and she pushed them together.  For some inexplicable reason, she blew a kiss to herself in the mirror.  This is crazy, she thought.  There’s got to be a camera in here . . . somebody’s going to see all of this.

But there was an amazing tingling sensation wherever her fingertips came into contact with the silver suit.  She was too curious to stop now.  Her hand began to drift down to her sex.

It occurred to her that she had never brought herself to a climax before.

But then her arm wouldn’t move.  In fact, her entire body was frozen stiff.  What?  Then her body jerked, and without bending at the knee her leg rose and spun, turning her to the right.  Before she knew it, she had opened the dressing room door and clunked her way into the corridor like some kind of . . . robot.  There was no doubt that people would see her now.

Riya should have felt completely embarrassed.  Instead, she felt strangely relieved—and incredibly excited.  So what if the whole world saw her like this—if, for the first time, she was something more than everyone had always expected of her?

She was sure that her stiffened body was going to walk itself right out into the main area of the store, but instead she stopped.  Another dressing room door opened—and out stepped Mark.

He was wearing a silver suit too.

Riya heard a voice in her head.  BEGIN PROGRAMMING.




ACTIVATE VOCAL.  She felt her head twitch to one side.  Her mouth opened.

“Hel.lo Mark,” she said, her voice hollow and flat.  “I am . . . pro.grammed for you.”

Mark’s head was tilted slightly, too.  His face remained completely blank as he spoke.  “In.put . . . re.ceived.  Load pro.gram . . .”

So their pre-programmed exchange continued, until Riya found herself bent over neatly at the waist, rocking back and forth as Mark thrust himself deep inside her body.  Wave upon wave of ecstasy crashed over her.  Somewhere, a tiny part of her still remembered how she’d promised herself she would save this until she was married.  And how she’d planned to break that promise tonight.  How badly she’d wanted to have something that nobody could ever take away from her, to do something completely and utterly . . . well, illogical.

Now that this moment was finally hers, she didn’t want it to end.

Later, after she’d shut down and come around again, Riya stood with Mark and listened as Joanne explained everything.  Before the offer was even made, she knew.  She knew that it didn’t have to end.


And with that final thought, the last blue light was added to the shimmering cloud that now floated alongside Wendy’s own consciousness.  Data transfer complete.

Wendy almost lost her balance as the buzzing in her brain settled down.  Like someone awakening from a dream, she was struck with a sudden realization that those memories were not actually hers, that she and Riya were in fact two completely different people.  Her cheeks flushed as she felt the dampness between her thighs.  There was no doubt that she’d climaxed along with Riya during that last scene.

It really was as though Riya Bharti was an integral part of Wendy’s being now.  Riya’s entire self—every thought, memory, and dream that she had accumulated over almost twenty-six years—now resided within Wendy’s mind.  The honor was overwhelming, the responsibility staggering.

Wendy turned her attention to the neural matrix of Unit N001.  Nothing orange or green or blue remained.  It was a perfect, unified whole, lit up in gleaming silver.  Somehow, Wendy could tell that everything looked right—the silver nodes were laid out in exactly the proper configuration for a newly-initialized N unit.  Stage Two of the unit’s transformation was complete.

The electric buzzing in Wendy’s head became much fainter now.  She opened her eyes for the first time since the process had begun.  The female in the silver spandex lay perfectly still on the table, staring upward.

The female was no longer a human girl named Riya Bharti.  It was an N-designate android.  It was simply Unit N001, nothing more.

And yet . . . .

“Hey,” called Unit C457.  “Looks like you’re done with Stage Two.  Doing OK?”

Wendy watched the silver flares dance along the surface of Unit N001’s brain as she processed the question.  The shimmering neural matrix interpreted the audio input, parsed its meaning, and scanned the android’s internal systems.  No anomalies detected.

All of this in the space of a few milliseconds.

“This unit has received primary programming,” the Stage Two unit intoned, nothing moving but her lips.  “This unit is functioning properly.”

“Yes,” C457 replied, “but how do you feel?”

Again, the silver nodes of Unit N001’s brain lit up.  But this time, more than raw data was required.  The android had been asked for a subjective interpretation of its sensory impulses.  Wendy felt a tiny electric surge as Unit N001 accessed the consciousness of Riya Bharti.  As soon as the raw data from Unit N001’s developing sensor array was fed into it, the entire web rippled in blue and green.

This time, the response was not immediate.  A series of standby signals were sent back to Unit N001 as her human mind struggled to interpret all of this information—to find the words to describe how she felt.

Half a second later, an answer was formed.  Wendy felt a final pulse as the new data was transmitted back to Unit N001.

“Weird,” the dark-haired girl said at last, turning her head smoothly to face Unit C457.  “I definitely feel dif.ferent.  My thoughts are so much more . . . ordered.  And my entire body is tingling—especially my sto.mach.”

It was amazing.  Riya was speaking through Unit N001.  Neither the developing android machine nor its human consciousness had the slightest awareness of their physical separation, nor would any outside observer.  In every way that mattered, the two were one.

“You’re just feeling the physical changes taking place inside you,” C457 explained.  “Here, let me show you.”

C457 reached down to press a button, and the restraints retracted into the table.  Unit N001 stiffly propped herself up on her elbows.  She looked down at herself, and gasped.  A small section of silver fabric suit had disappeared from her abdomen, and in its place was an open panel with several blinking lights.

“And you, Wendy?” C457 asked.  “How do you feel?”

It took Wendy a moment to realize she’d been asked a question.  She was utterly fascinated by Riya’s reaction to her changing body—as played out both before her eyes and inside her mind.

“Incredible,” she said.  “Like I finally know what my purpose is.”

It was true.  All of the awkwardness she’d felt was gone.  In its place was an enormous sense of satisfaction with what she’d learned about herself, and an overwhelming curiosity to continue the journey.

“Then you’ll accept our offer to take the next step?”


C457 smiled.  “I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am for you.  For all of us.”

“So, now what?  Don’t you need to, you know, finish working on me or something?”

“Of course—there’s quite a lot to do.  We’ll have to integrate you directly into our systems, and provide you with additional programming to perform your functions.  There will be physical changes as well.  But first, I want to get Riya’s friend Mark through Stage Two.  We’ve kept him waiting long enough.  Here, why don’t you and Riya talk some more while I get him ready.”

C457 moved away, leaving Wendy and Unit N001 alone.  The dark-haired girl looked up at Wendy and smiled.  “I can’t believe it.”

“Me neither,” Wendy said.  “Don’t forget, this is all brand new for me, too.”

“Um, this is going to sound strange, but . . . are you in.side my head?”

Wendy laughed.  “Sort of.  It might be more accurate to say you’re in mine!”  Though she still didn’t understand all of it herself, Wendy tried to explain what an interface unit was, and how it bridged the gap between human and machine.

“Here, let me show you what I mean.  What color do you get when you mix red and yellow?”


“Right—well, when you answered that question, I didn’t feel a thing.  At least, I felt nothing beyond the background signals you’re sending back and forth to me all the time.  Now, which color do you like better, red or yellow?”

“Definitely red.”

“Right.  See, that time I could feel you answering the question, because that question wasn’t just about simple facts—it was about your opinion.  Later, after you’ve been fully transformed, there will be functional levels at which you simply won’t be capable of answering such a question, because your functions won’t require you to have access to all this extra information that I’m holding for you.”

“You mean the in.formation that makes me me.”

“That’s right.”

“Sounds scary, being cut off.from myself like that.”

“Trust me, it’s not.  You’ve already gotten a taste of how amazing it can feel when your programming completely focuses you on one thing—especially when it’s that one thing.”  She couldn’t help but wink.  “But really the same principle applies no matter what functions you’re carrying out.  Life is a balance between serving the group and fulfilling yourself, and as an android you’re going to find both equally rewarding.”

Wow, Wendy thought to herself.  It wasn’t like her to sound so wise—at least, not like the old her.  It was like she knew exactly the right words to say to Riya.  Of course, she thought as her mind’s eye observed the peaceful blue and green swirls of Riya’s consciousness.  In a way, I do.

“By the way,” Wendy added, “I think you did the right thing.  By giving it all up for Mark, that is.  You can never go wrong following your heart.”

“Thanks.  I can.not wait to be with him again.”

“It won’t be long now,” C457 said as she returned from the far side of the chamber.  A moment later, Mark was wheeled into the room on a platform just like Riya’s.  She stiffly raised one hand to wave, but stopped when she saw him staring ahead blankly.

C457 walked over to Riya—Unit N001.  Without a word, she reached into the Stage Two unit’s access panel.  After a moment, she pulled her hand back.

“What did you just do?” Riya asked.

“Oh.  I've just triggered your brain to begin the third stage of your programming.  The program should begin to take over now.”

“Cool,” Riya said.  Then her curious smile faded as her jaw went slack.

Wendy felt a sudden, noticeable drop in the amount of communication between her mind and that of Unit N001.  The new unit stiffened, head cocking to one side as she swung her legs off the platform and rose to a standing position.  Her movements were terribly awkward at first, but soon she had reached the wall near Mark’s platform.  There she stood, at perfect attention, to wait for him to catch up.

“Come on over,” Unit C457 called to Wendy.  “Time to make room in that head of yours for one more.”


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