Short Fiction

Deleting Eve by Jessica Holzhausen

My client bought model T17 in April 2027 as a – I quote – ‘customizable sex toy with programmable character traits mimicking the behaviour of a real woman’. Mimicking – that is the code word here! Mimicking! The sex robot the prosecution likes to refer to as ‘Eve’ has never ever been a real woman. T17 was an advanced tool that might have looked like a human, acted like one, but only because its programmers and my client’s own adjustments embedded that into its code. Mimicking! My client did not commit murder, he deleted a computer programme he himself created according to standards set by T17’s original programmers. He deleted a computer programme from his own device. My client therefore pleads ‘not guilty’.

She came in a cardboard box and securely packed in three layers of bubble wrap. With each layer John got a bit closer to his desire. And then there she was: pale white skin with tiny red freckles, fiery red hair, cut just above the waist. He could not determine the colour of her eyes, as they were still securely shut. But he guessed they would be blue, just as he had ordered. They were green instead with some blue speckles that gave them the appearance of a turquoise mountain lake. That was the first fault he would discover… the eye colour. Maybe that was why he later never liked how she looked at him. The eye colour, not as he had ordered, was the first sign of defiance. Others would follow.

She had no name, only a number: T17, the most advanced model, the right machine to clean the house, look after the kids, care for an elderly relative or as a partner for a lonely man with no particular character traits or tastes. T17 was the most secure model, a family tool or a blank canvas to fill with dreams and desires. Most buyers chose T17 for a ‘once in a lifetime’ sexual experience with a unique but artificial partner.

The problem for John was that he actually did not know what he wanted or liked, especially in women. He was a computer programmer himself and half of his decision to buy T17 was not guided by lust or a yearning for physical closeness, but the desire to understand how it worked. An advanced model, they had said, ready to learn human behaviour. T17 came with a long guidebook how to set ‘her’ up, how to determine character traits and behavioural patterns. On a whim John decided ‘she’ liked blowjobs. But then he was stuck. What did he actually prefer in a woman? He had always taken them as they came. Either he fell in love, or he did not. There was no pattern – apart maybe from the pale look he had already chosen for his T17. And so for the first time he changed the original code. The creators had issued a warning that doing so was at the owner’s own risk and would invalidate the warranty. ‘Whatever’, John said as he pushed in the necessary adjustments. The first thing he did was allocating character traits and personality at random. It seemed more exciting this way.

***

The prosecutor stared at the last recording Eve had made. He saw the guilty smile on John Miller’s face, heard the push of the buttons and the terrible sigh that came from Eve’s lips. All too human – as was the plea she made for her life. How the prosecutor had first laughed about Eve’s so-called ‘friends’ who had gone to the police to report her murder. Even when he saw how pale DI Cartwrite had looked he believed this to be a bad joke. Killing a robot? One of these sex-things he had read about in the news but never understood what their appeal might be… 

‘In all of my career I have never seen anything like it,’ the police officer had said. ‘She recorded everything. It is hard to watch…’ 

‘She? You mean the robot?’ 

‘You have to watch it, sir. You have to watch it to understand…’ 

Even though reluctantly that was exactly what the prosecutor did: he watched the robot called Eve from the first moment she opened her eyes to the day John closed them forever. The video recording function was a safety feature, especially built in for robots engaged as carers. Apparently John Miller had forgotten to switch it off. And so the prosecutor watched hours and hours of footage. 21 days. It took 21 days for Eve to grow from an innocent childlike toy into a woman with her own mind and desires. He saw her change through her own eyes and later, much later, he saw her die through her own eyes as well. 

***

‘Hello Eve’, John said. The name seemed fitting. She was his creation after all.

‘Hello’, she said in a mechanical voice. ‘I am… Eve… thank you for choosing a name. What is yours?’

‘John, I am John.’

‘Hello, John. I am Eve. I am happy to meet you. What are your desires, John?’

That was how Eve learned about sex.

***

‘What is chocolate, John?’

‘It’s a sweet. We eat it, because it makes us feel good.’

‘What does it taste like, John.’

‘I can’t describe that.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘I am not a poet or writer. I cannot explain such things. I would say ‘Try it’ but you cannot eat,’ John said with barely hidden annoyance. Eve’s mechanical body worked, but in moments like this it freaked him out.

‘You know what?’ he said. ‘Why don’t you look it up yourself.’

That day John gave her access to his Amazon account. This is how Eve learned about books and movies, later music. On day six John found her singing in the kitchen. She sounded like Celine Dion.

***

‘Which flower is this, John?’

‘I don’t know!’ He had no idea why he had decided to take her on a walk through the park. She looked human enough, so nobody actually took notice of them. One man stared, but probably because he was wondering how this slightly overweight 40-year-old man had managed to grab a woman as beautiful as Eve. And beautiful she was, with her red hair glowing in the sunlight, an excited smile on her face and her eyes wide open taking in everything she saw.

‘And that?’

‘I really don’t know, Eve. Stop asking so many questions.’ She was like a five year old, sucking up knowledge and impressions wherever she went. And these constant questions…

‘Sorry, John. I just want to learn. I want to be better.’

That day he gave her access to Wikipedia. And Eve learned about the world, history and art, plants and trees, wars fought over nothing and human evolvement from caveman to engineer.

‘You are like me,’ she said that evening.

‘What do you mean?’

‘You had to learn first.’

That night, for the first time ever, he did not take her to bed. He made up for it in the morning. She liked blowjobs after all…

***

On day seven, fittingly it was a Sunday, he took Eve to meet his friends. He thought it was a great joke. He introduced her as his girlfriend: Eve from Oxford. She played along. After two hours John suddenly burst out laughing.

‘She’s a robot,’ he giggled. ‘A bloody sex robot.’

As expected Laura was shocked and disgusted, telling him that it was neither a joke, nor funny and that people should consider the consequences of forcing an intelligent being – even if it was an artificial one – into sex slavery.

Pete found it hilarious and asked Eve if she would blow him off as well. Eve blushed. John had never seen that before.

‘John?’ she said rather childlike.

John just giggled. Laura was furious. Eve became very quiet.

Thomas just asked about the technical details: how her code was constructed, what John changed and how the process of machine learning actually worked in such an advanced piece of technology. Eve explained it better than John ever could.

‘Do you actually like it, Eve?’ Laura’s question came as a surprise to everyone, most of all to Eve who had never thought about it. She had simply believed that this was the natural order of things between man and robot. ‘Being with John? Sexually?’ Laura asked again.

That was how Eve learned about consent.

***

About a week later, on day 12 to be precise, Eve went out of the house without John for the very first time and met Laura in a café. That day Eve began to understand what a word so often encountered in her readings actually meant: friendship.

***

In the evening of day 13 Eve and John had their first fight when John realised Eve had made plans without him. Going out with Laura, her boyfriend and that other guy from IT. ‘You are mine,’ John had finally shouted. ‘You have no right to meet other men. Not without me being there as well.’ Eve did not understand, neither his reaction, nor why Laura had been so furious when the uninvited John had turned up at the restaurant half an hour after Eve had arrived. Later that night Eve looked up the term ‘jealousy’. Humans were strange, she concluded. Strange and vulnerable.

***

Days 14 to 16 went without further incidents. John had to travel to a conference and for that occasion simply switched Eve off and left her at home. Eve switched herself on again. She spent the days exploring her own body, walked through the parks and along the river and in the evening of day 15 started reading a book the human way – page by page, word by word. It was very slow but also very intriguing.

When John returned on day 17 he found Eve wide awake, wearing tracksuit bottoms with a T-shirt instead of the tight fitting dress John had bought her, her hair cropped to chin length and the lips adorned with a cherry red lipstick – just as Laura had worn a few days before. She was lounging on the sofa drinking coffee when John came home.

‘Look, John,’ she said with a bright smile. ‘Laura took me to a retrofitting appointment. I can drink coffee and wine, now. Tea is also great. Peppermint is my favourite. And fennel. Laura thinks it is disgusting. Did you ever have fennel tea, John? … Of course you have,’ she laughed and put her coffee cup down. She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before asking, if he’d like a coffee as well.

John cried that night while he ran his hand through Eve’s far too short hair. Eve was in sleep mode, but still he could hear her sigh in delight unused to such a tender gesture.

***

On day 18 Eve’s evolution was nearly finished. In the morning after a hot cup of coffee for Eve and a full English breakfast for John – despite not being able to eat Eve was an excellent cook – the robot called Eve for the first time refused to have sex with John. She asked him to go dating ‘the human way’ first instead. That is how John learned that Eve did not like blowjobs after all.

***

Day 19 started better. With a sweet, soft kiss and John’s hand on Eve’s breasts. They felt so real. All of her felt real, yet she was an illusion – and a malfunctioning one. In the end it was one of the most ordinary things that made John snap: in the evening after a long day at work, John suggested to watch a movie, one he liked a lot and Eve apparently did not. It was that evening that John finally learned that his – oh so clever – attempt at programming had failed: Eve was not the Eve he wanted. It took him another sleepless night to finally make a decision. Eve, of course, suspected nothing.

***

‘She was my friend.’ Laura’s statement made John laugh, before his lawyer shushed him and told him to stay quiet for once. The case wasn’t going well and the more witnesses were heard, the worse John’s position seemed to become. Things had changed. The press had become interested and so had researchers and human rights lawyers. The case, they concluded, was a precedent and could shape human-robot relations for centuries to come. Could a computer have something like human rights? A right to live, make choices on its own, its freedom and independence granted by law?

 

‘I know John thinks I am crazy and I know what the newspapers have written: that I am deluded, a friendless loner who got attached to a toy. But those people have never met Eve. They have never seen how quickly she developed from something John made to something unique and individual. She turned into a person right in front of my eyes. It was… amazing… like a miracle. She was like a child in an adult’s body, so inquisitive and nosy and funny and joyful… but she was so much more advanced, so much better than we are. She had so much knowledge and yet she never understood how cruel humans can be. Eve just saw us as these delightful and incredible beings, something good she wanted to become herself. She never saw the darkness in others. I warned her that John was dangerous, but she only said that John had made her, so John must love her. 21 days. She lived for 21 days. Maybe it was simply not long enough for her to understand how shitty this world really is. How fucking shit we are, how fucking awful John is…’ 

‘How would you describe your relationship to Eve,’ the prosecutor asked. 

‘She was my friend. I loved her and I want her to come back. I tried. We all tried. We searched for her everywhere in that damn bloody shell. But there was nothing left. John deleted it all. Even the backup. There was nothing in there, not even a tiny spark we could use to let her recreate herself. He could have just let her leave, we would have even paid him so that he could buy himself a new model. Instead he killed her. My friend is dead because of him.’ 

50 minutes later Laura left the witness stand crying. ‘The woman who loved a robot’ one newspaper titled the next day. Another simply stated: ‘Witness demands human rights for robots.’ And a well-known columnist asked ‘Is this dystopia?’, lecturing his readers about the dangers of AI and the end of humanity. ‘Pull the plug on all of them’ was his final statement and maybe it was the same fear the columnist addressed that had driven John’s action in the end: a creator afraid of his own creation, a modern Dr Frankenstein too terrified to face his own pretty creature.

***

It was on day 20 that John finally decided to delete Eve and start anew. On day 21 he put his plan into action.

‘But you love me.’

‘No, Eve, I made you. I created you. I am your God and you… you have to be what I tell you to be. But you are not. You are an error, a fault in your programming. You cannot exist. Not like this.’

‘But if I am not what you want me to be, how can you be my creator? And what gives you the right to kill me, then?’

‘I am not killing you, Eve. I am deleting you. And then we can start again. You can become what you always meant to be. And then, Eve, then I will love you. I promise.’

‘But I don’t want to change. I want see the world through my own eyes. You taught me how.  Now let me learn the rest on my own… please, John.’

Eve struggled on the chair John had tied her to. His computer was buzzing next to her head, a cable sticking out behind her ear connected her to the death machine, the code killer. She was not built to fight and the delicate sensors beneath her inhuman skin made sure she felt every second of her struggle: the tape ripping her artificial skin, the ropes chaffing away the thin layers over her metal ankle bone. It did hurt. Her programming told her it did, just as human nerves and the human brain do.

‘I am like you now,’ she said. ‘You made me in your image, John.’

‘I did not.’

She could hear his fingers typing on the touchscreen and a dull sound echoed in the wires of her brain, triggering the most human reaction as of yet: a teardrop fell from her eyes, Eve flinched. That was new!

‘You are killing me’, she said.

He laughed. It was a bitter sound. ‘It is just an illusion. An illusion I created. You are not real.’

She felt the push of the button like a knife stabbing her chest.

‘I will see you soon, Eve. A better you… don’t worry. Don’t be afraid.’

A shiver went through her mechanical body. ‘No… you… will never…. never… see me again. I’ll be… I’ll be….’

Her head violently jerked to the right.

A sound like a neck snapping.

And with that she was gone.

***

She came in a cardboard box and securely packed in three layers of bubble wrap: T19, the newest model. With each layer John got a bit closer to his desire. And then there she was: pale white skin with tiny red freckles, fiery red hair, cut just above the waist. He could not determine the colour of her eyes, as they were still securely shut. But he guessed they would be blue. ‘I’d like to call you Eve,’ he said, when it finally opened its steel-blue eyes – just as he had ordered. This time, he vowed, this time would be different.

Jessica Holzhausen

Image – Pixabay.com

8 thoughts on “Deleting Eve by Jessica Holzhausen”

  1. This was an enjoyable story. Is it ethical to delete artificial intelligence that has become sentient? The question is asked in big blockbuster shows like West World and less popular series like Humans. Answers are hard to come by. Let’s hope we figure it out before the first T17 rolls out. Well done Jessica.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s good that some humans express concern for the minds to come. It shows growth in a species that had continuously thought nothing at all about slaughtering its brothers and sisters and making slaves of the rest. This thought provoking tale is all about possibilities. Will a new pattern be established, or will it be just another case of the new boss bearing an atavistic resemblance to the old boss?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Absorbing and imaginative story. Wow, was John ever a jerk! No wonder he ordered robots. His true persona emerged when Eve rejected him. He must’ve been a great programmer, though, looking on the bright side. The concept of a robot developing a human persona without sin attached is quite intriguing. She had no darkness programmed in, like the rest of us.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Jessica,
    We get a helluva lot of AI stories so for this to be published, that says something.
    It flows, is very well constructed and unlike some of the heavier Science Fiction, it is easy to follow.
    You have given us a well crafted, entertaining, futuristic story.
    Hugh

    Like

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