Includes the stories:
The Sex Drive
Regular readers of circlet.com will remember Kal Cobalt as the author of the essay “10 Things You Always Wanted to Know About Robot Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)” and the one on Asimov’s “Law’s of Robotics vs. BDSM“. K.C. also has stories in the recently released Wired Hard 4, as well as Best Fantastic Erotica, Boys In Heat, Best Gay Romance, Toward 2012, and elsewhere.
Continue on to read a hot excerpt:
Excerpted from “Charlie” by Kal Cobalt
Deep inside the empty, automated-security hallways of the American Industries Artificial Intelligence Lab, Nate didn’t bother removing his earbuds. He could swipe his ID card and hold still for retinal scans without disturbing his morning dose of techno, and there was no better way to begin a long day at AI-AI than nodding along to thudding electronic beats.
A heavy hand on his shoulder made Nate jump and he nearly crashed into the nearest wall. Heart pounding, he tugged out his earbuds, shaking his head at the nervous tech who’d taken a step back. “You scared the fuck out of me!”
“Sorry, Nate. It’s just that Dr. Owen wants to see you.”
“Okay. Tell him I’ll be there right after I say hello to Charlie.”
The tech bit his lip. “He wants to see you first thing. Before Charlie.”
Nate nodded, frowning. Dr. Owen didn’t run on anyone’s schedule but his own; that he’d be so specific worried Nate. He followed the tech back through an entirely different maze of hallways, one far more predicated on swipe-card technology than the more expensive, exclusive retinal scans―these were the bureaucrat digs, where suits held court rather than lab coats.
In the conference room, the half-dozen men who comprised the board―or, as Nate and Dr. Owen privately called them, “the bored”―were already seated at a massive conference table, the kind of thing Nate automatically categorized as a big-business sacrificial altar. “Good morning, Nathan,” Dr. Owen said, squeezing Nate’s upper arm in a gesture Nate suspected was meant to comfort but only caused him to break into a cold sweat.
“Good morning. What’s all this about?”
“The board has some… questions regarding your work with Charlie.” Dr. Owen offered a regretful little look, one Nate recognized as the sorry I couldn’t warn you, kid expression.
“Sure,” Nate agreed with false cheeriness, pocketing his earbuds in a belated attempt to appear more professional. “What can I tell you gentlemen before my second latte?”
A couple of men cracked a smile at the joke; the rest remained impassive. Nate smiled superficially as his stomach hollowed. This was not a good crowd, and that was not a good sign.
“The board has reviewed the data streams from your past few sessions,” Dr. Owen explained. “They’re somewhat concerned about the content.”
“Okay.” Nate slid into the closest empty chair, though he hated meeting these men at their level. “What exactly are you concerned about?”
The pudgy one at the head of the table cleared his throat. “We’re concerned about the territory you’re covering.”
“Why? The policy from the very beginning requires that Charlie receive any personal information he asks for. We’re his test subjects as much as he is ours, and we all need valid, truthful data to work from. Right, Dr. Owen?”
Dr. Owen nodded curtly. “Right.”
“But you understand why we are concerned about the matters you’ve covered of late,” Pudgy said.
“No, really, I don’t. To Charlie, sexuality is just another currently incomprehensible human behavior. It’s perfectly normal data-mining.”
“But you can understand the potential bind this puts us in,” Pudgy insisted.
“I wish you’d stop telling me what I understand. No, I don’t see that, either.”
Pudgy gazed at Nate for a few uncomfortable moments, then winced and nodded at Dr. Owen. “Perhaps it’s better for you to explain.”
“Perhaps it is,” Nate interjected. “I don’t speak bureaucrat.”
Dr. Owen made the familiar one-handed double-pat of the air, accompanied by a little shake of the head, that Nate had seen at least once daily during his apprenticeship. “They think this discussion may have influenced Charlie unduly―that the information you provided could have skewed his research interests toward a nonstandard demographic.”
Nate tilted his head, fascinated well beyond the implied rebuke. “Charlie’s developed an interest in homosexuality?”
“You could say that,” Pudgy snorted.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Dr. Owen laced his fingers together, resting his elbows on the smooth surface of the conference table. “Charlie has declared that he is homosexual.”
Nate blinked, blinked again, then grinned. “That’s fantastic.”
“Why is that fantastic?” a tall, slender man at the head of the table asked, the repulsion in his tone ill-hidden.
“Sexuality isn’t exactly an easy thing to translate to AI. If he’s internalized it to that extent, that’s pretty exciting, and it says a lot about the state of his quest for self-humanity.”
“The problem,” Slim explained slowly, “is that his sexuality, if that is indeed what he has developed, was unduly influenced by the fact that his human-behaviors trainer is homosexual. Charlie was not given the opportunity to explore more standard demographics.”
Nate shook his head. “That’s bullshit.”
Slim’s eyebrows went almost all the way up to the edge of his poorly-implanted hair plugs. “Excuse me?”
“You’re all missing the point. Even if I went in there and somehow magically ‘made’ him gay, that would be pretty damn exciting. He’s a machine, he’s an AI who’s decided he has a preference about how he relates to human beings. Do you remember back when an AI declaring a preference, any preference, was cause to break out the champagne?”
“Yes,” Dr. Owen said fondly. “And it was not so long ago. But unduly influencing those preferences is certainly possible at this point.”
“Dr. Owen, I didn’t tell Charlie to be gay. You all have the data streams. You saw what we talked about. I answered his questions as dictated in the behavior policy. Why should sexuality be treated any differently than the other aspects of humanity? Nobody batted an eyelash when he took three days to get over discovering the concept of death.”
“Death,” Dr. Owen smirked, his eyes on Pudgy, “is not controversial.”
Nate couldn’t help but smile; whatever side Dr. Owen had to present to the board, Nate knew they remained privately aligned. “The prejudice against sexuality is strictly human, not a predicate of AI. It’s illogical: we’re against what’s been genetically programmed into us as an imperative, the most pleasurable activity our circuits can enact. Any self-respecting AI, pardon the expression, would turn its nose up at such a stupid paradigm.”
“What do you recommend at this point?” Dr. Owen asked.
“I don’t think we really have a choice. He’s self-programming. Even if we tried to put the brakes on him now, we probably couldn’t.”
Dr. Owen glanced around the table, then shrugged. “It’s my recommendation, too. I understand the board’s concerns, but we’ve spent a lot of time reassuring Charlie that the rules for data-mining human nature are solid and logical, even if the information he uncovers is neither. Disrupting that assurance at this point in Charlie’s development could have very unfortunate consequences.”
Pudgy sighed. “This can’t get out of hand.”
“It won’t,” Dr. Owen assured. “Not with Nathan in charge of it.”
* * * *
At the end of a short hallway lay Charlie’s chamber, its cool, strangely dead-feeling air providing optimum conditions for the various computer components lining one wall. In essence, the components were Charlie; the sleek humanoid robot sitting quietly at attention nearby was only the wireless automaton of the hulking system.
“Good morning, Nate,” Charlie said. The fluorescent ceiling lights gleamed off Charlie’s blue-grey titanium skin. “How are you?”
“Pretty good. I hear you’ve had some revelations since the last time we talked.”
“I have. Your information was very useful.”
Nate turned his chair around and sat down, draping his arms across the back. “Is there anything you want to tell me?”
“I have determined my sexual orientation.”
“That’s pretty impressive. How did you determine what results you wanted from your attraction programming?”
“I programmed myself to experience attraction. I did not determine where the attraction would lead me, only that it would lead me strongly.”
“And where did it lead you?”
“I am attracted to you, Nate.” Charlie’s eyes dilated slightly. Though Nate had personally programmed the algorithm that governed pupil size, he couldn’t shake how unnervingly natural it appeared. “Are you attracted to me?”
“Uh.” Nate shook his head, belatedly hoping Charlie understood it as bafflement instead of negation. “Frankly, I haven’t had enough time thinking of you as a sexual being to really know. How do you feel attraction? Have you programmed a sex drive?”
“No. Since I was built without the necessary sex organs or erogenous zones, a sex drive seemed inappropriate and inefficient.”
“So there’s no sexual component whatsoever.”
“Only inasmuch as I would like to satisfy you.”
Nate felt heat rise to his cheeks. “Define ‘satisfy.’”
“You told me that sometimes one partner performs acts for the pleasure of the other, not the self. I want to do this for you.”
“Okay. I understand.” The standard data-mining responses came to Nate’s lips despite the uneasy rolling of his stomach.
“Are you interested?”
“Uh.” Nate blinked at Charlie. The design team, Nate included, had tried to strike a balance between the humanistic and the mechanical. Charlie’s proportions were of an average humanoid male with suitable ranges of motion in his joints and a flexible facial husk to allow for simple emotional expressions, but the titanium body made it impossible to mistake Charlie for anything but robotic. The warmth at his back from his circuitry was his only body heat; he had only the most basic tactile sensors. He didn’t even have toes. “I’m not sure how to interpret your question.”
“I would like to become intimate with you, Nate. I am very fond of you as a friend and colleague, and I would like to take our relationship further.”
Nate ran a hand through his hair, well aware that the data streams relayed every nuance of the proposition back to the suits within nanoseconds. “Uh. Well, I’d like that too, Charlie. I don’t know how that would work, exactly, but… yeah.”
Charlie smiled, a pristine little Mona Lisa expression that had been one of Nate’s first emotion-design successes. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Listen, I’ll talk with a few people and try to get some things cleared up, and then I’ll let you know where we stand. Okay?”
Yeah, Nate thought as he got to his feet and righted the chair. Okay. Easy as that. Sure.
* * * *
“I feel like I’m going completely crazy,” Nate moaned, resting his forehead on Dr. Owen’s desk. “Like any minute the suits are going to accuse me of being… fuck, I don’t even know the word for it. A robophile?”
Dr. Owen smiled. “Take a breath, Nathan. It’s still my project, and I’ll run it my way. The suits only finance it.”
Nate sat up. “‘Only,’ huh?”
“They don’t have to agree with everything, just enough to keep the program running. They don’t even have to know everything.”
“They have access to the data streams.”
Dr. Owen waved that off. “Charlie needs to experience this if he’s to be a fully functional bridge between humanity and artificial intelligence.”
“Yeah, but…” Nate looked up at Dr. Owen plaintively. “Does it have to be me?”
Dr. Owen chuckled. “Well, he chose you, so apparently the answer is yes.”
“I don’t know if I can do this, Dr. Owen. I know he’s a viable entity with the drive to connect emotionally, with the level of emotion synthesis we’ve been waiting for. But the idea of actually being the one to take him there―what if the suits freak out and I lose my job?”
“You won’t. If it comes to that, I’ll announce that all of this, from top to bottom, was my idea. They can’t fire me, and I might as well use that security for something.”
Nate sighed, looking up at Dr. Owen as if for the first time. “You really believe in this, don’t you?”
Dr. Owen smiled, his features creasing. “Of course I do. He’s my baby, Nathan. And you have my blessing.”
* * * *
Charlie had redecorated.
He had replaced the standard metal table and chairs with a luxurious crimson couch and a small coffee table brimming with offerings: cookies, sparkling soda, a Thermos of coffee. Charlie stood to one side, titanium hands clasped delicately before him.
“Uh. What’s all this?” Nate managed.
“I requested items to prepare a more comfortable space for us.” Charlie gestured toward the couch, his fingers gracefully curved. “Please have a seat.”
“Thanks.” Taking one more bewildered look around, Nate sank into the couch. Observing Charlie’s Mona Lisa smile and his carefully-folded hands, Nate immediately had a bizarre, absurdly complete image of hundreds of Charlies rolling off the assembly line, nothing but glorified robo-whores.
“You seem preoccupied,” Charlie said. “Would you prefer soda or coffee?”
“Coffee, please.” Nate watched Charlie pour with the aesthetic efficiency of a geisha; Charlie could have poured faster, could have offered the mug to Nate at a much quicker rate. This was, Nate realized, Charlie’s attempt at providing romantic ambiance in the ways that made sense to his circuits.
“How is the coffee?” Charlie asked, folding his hands in his lap.
Nate sipped gingerly, though the quality of the brew was hardly consequential. “It’s very good, Charlie, thank you. Where did you get it?”
“I asked a tech to bring me the best coffee available.”
“Well, he did a good job.” Nate looked again at the spread Charlie had provided, imagining what Charlie must have gone through to convince various techs to capitulate to his demands. Dr. Owen was probably involved, too, at some level. “I’m embarrassed,” he admitted.
Charlie tilted his head. “Why?”
“You went to a lot of trouble for me.”
“I value you sufficiently to strike a balance.”
Nate chuckled despite himself, shaking his head. “Well, thanks for being honest. Most humans won’t own up to the pros-and-cons aspect of courtship quite that bluntly.”
“May I touch you?”
The question was so matter-of-fact that it took a moment for Nate to register it. He set down his coffee, wondering whether Charlie understood what it meant when a human blushed. “How do you want to touch me?”
“I would like to hold your hand.”
Nate nodded, his throat too tight for words. Gently, Charlie rested his hand over Nate’s, then slid his other hand beneath it, holding Nate’s hand with more tenderness than Nate would have thought possible.
“How does this make you feel?” Charlie asked.
“Um. It makes me feel closer to you.”
“I assume you mean metaphorically, emotionally closer?”
“Yeah.” Nate grinned. “Yeah, not six inches closer to you, not like that.”
Charlie nodded, petting his hand over Nate’s. “Will you touch me?”
Nate cleared his throat. “Where would you like me to touch you?”
“I would like you to show me a touch more intimate than this one.”
“Okay.” Nate considered for a moment, then reached with his free hand to cup Charlie’s cheek, stroking his thumb over cool titanium. Nate knew every seam and rivet of the husk; he knew the number of teeth implanted in the skull beneath his palm. He himself had suggested foregoing wisdom teeth both to allow for a more aesthetic silhouette and four fewer items to manufacture.
“Why is this a more intimate touch?” Charlie asked.
Nate considered what would make the most sense to AI, gazing into Charlie’s dilated eyes. “Most humans give and receive stronger eye contact during this touch,” he murmured. “It brings the bodies very close together, and touching the face is very intimate because it’s so delicate. It’s a trust thing.”
Charlie nodded. “I trust you,” he murmured, and closed his eyes.
“I know,” Nate whispered. He slid his thumb across Charlie’s lips, very gently. These, too, he’d had design input on; their fullness, their capacity to flex to create words and expressions, had taken himself and Dr. Owen and a half-dozen other designers months to sort out.
“May I kiss you?” Charlie murmured.
“Uh.” Nate swallowed, leaning his forehead against Charlie’s and closing his eyes. At once, any difficulty Nate had with admitting a prurient interest in an artificial being evaporated; this was just Charlie, plain and simple. “Yes,” he murmured. “Please.”
Charlie slid one hand to Nate’s nape―Good instincts, Nate thought―and pressed his cool titanium lips to Nate’s. Nate kept his eyes closed, barely breathing, simply experiencing the kiss however Charlie chose to give it. Charlie’s lips were firm but not as unforgiving as Nate might have imagined; he could easily conceive of spending hours teaching Charlie how to kiss and learning AI offshoots of common human techniques.
Eventually, Charlie pulled back from the kiss, mimicking Nate’s forehead-to-forehead gesture. “I liked that,” he murmured.
Nate grinned, eyes still closed. “You did?”
“It felt good. It felt like you enjoyed it.”
Charlie sat back, giving Nate a slightly wider, more sincere smile than his coy little Mona Lisa. “I need processing time.”
“Me too,” Nate laughed. “Uh. By which I mean, you’ve given me a lot to think about.”
Charlie nodded. “I would like to see you again in a few hours.”
“I’d like that.”
“By then, I will be ready to become more intimate.”
Nate swallowed. “I, uh. Hopefully, I will be, too.”
* * * *
Frowning, Nate stared at the text message from Dr. Owen on his phone’s glossy display. Office asap did not alarm him, but ssh definitely did. He glanced up to make sure he wasn’t being watched or beckoned for or otherwise monitored, then slipped away down another set of hallways to Dr. Owen’s office, where he poked his head in and knocked on the inside wall. “You wanted to see me?”
Dr. Owen looked up; he sat opposite Charlie in the angular chairs before the desk. “Come in and close the door.”
More concerned now, Nate shut the door behind him and caught sight of the master programmer key jutting from Charlie’s back. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t want you to panic. The board has decided to shut down the intimacy research.”
“Fuck. Okay―wait. First, what are you doing with Charlie?”
“Listen to me, Nate.” Dr. Owen looked up at him, gaze firm. “Charlie is still my project, my brainchild, no matter who’s financing him. I want him to have the experiences you’re facilitating. The data streams from your date scared the shit out of the board. It showed them in no uncertain terms what you and I already know: that Charlie is not just artificial intelligence but artificial sentience. That is very threatening to tiny-minded little men in suits.”
“So, what do we do?”
Dr. Owen held up a finger and turned back to Charlie. “Charlie?”
“Yes, programmer.” Charlie sat straight up, staring straight ahead.
“Detect the data stream location housed in the core of your heat regulation programming.”
“Feed future experiences indexed as intimacy research through this data stream location.”
“Index: intimacy research, location: heat regulation data stream, programmer.”
“Very good.” Dr. Owen smiled at Nate.
“I don’t understand what you just did,” Nate admitted.
“Charlie will now bury the data from your dates behind standard operating processes. And we’ll just do the rest of the intimacy research, as they’re calling it, after-hours―which is more realistic anyway.” Dr. Owen winked. “Now. Are you sure you can handle this?”
Nate ran both hands through his hair, sighing hard. “Frankly, I have no idea. This is doing my head in, all of it. The attraction’s definitely there at this point, it’s just…”
“A mindfuck,” Dr. Owen supplied.
“Yeah. A mindfuck.”
“But you want to do it?”
“At this point, I don’t think I could let anybody else touch him.”
Dr. Owen smiled. “Good. Possessiveness is a positive relationship trait in humans. You’re on the right track.”
* * * *
“I am here.” Charlie greeted Nate at the door to his chamber with a Mona Lisa smile and open arms. “May I hug you?”
“I’d like that.” Nate wrapped his arms around Charlie’s cool, narrow torso and squeezed gently; Charlie mimicked the motion exactly, squeezing only as hard as Nate did. “Did you do what Dr. Owen asked?” Nate whispered.
“I did. We are private now.”
“Good.” Nate cupped the back of Charlie’s smooth head, running his hand down Charlie’s neck and over the cool metal of his shoulders. “I appreciated your design before, from an engineering standpoint, but… does it mean anything to you if I tell you that you’re beautiful?”
That Mona Lisa smile snuck in again as Charlie petted his hands over Nate’s shoulders, mimicking. “It does. Come, sit down.”
Nate let Charlie lead him to the couch; this time, Charlie sat right next to him. “How much more do you want to do?” Nate murmured.
“How much more are you willing to allow?”
Nate swallowed. “Everything.”
Charlie nodded and rested a hand on Nate’s thigh. “Thank you for providing this experience.”
“Believe me, this is hardly a one-sided thing here.” Nate rested his hand over Charlie’s and drew it up his thigh, stunned by the minute pressure adjustments Charlie’s fingers made as they moved. “Uh. What exactly did you have in mind?”
“Given my structural variations from the human form, manual stimulation is the most appropriate option.”
Nate stared down at the articulated fingers gently squeezing the top of his thigh. He exhaled a shaky breath. “Okay.”
“I must wait.”
Nate looked up. “Why?”
“Your body heat has not yet warmed my fingers to a comfortable temperature for you.”
Moved, Nate drew Charlie close and kissed him, tongue slipping easily between Charlie’s parted lips into the small hollow of his mouth. The way Charlie leaned into Nate was alien and familiar at the same time, not quite what Nate would expect from a human but still somehow hopeful in its angle. “Please,” Nate whispered, unbuckling his belt and opening the fly of his khakis. “You’re warm enough.”
Charlie examined Nate’s lap, taking the time to map thoroughly with his optical sensors before reaching to peel open the fabric. Nate shifted, desperately attempting to keep his arousal in check to allow Charlie to explore at his own pace. Charlie slowly slid one hand into Nate’s briefs, drawing Nate’s cock out with the exquisitely detailed digits Nate had spent months watching designed, sculpted, manufactured, and tested. Charlie stopped again, sensors taking it all in.
“What are your observations?” Nate breathed.
“The penis is warmer than the rest of the body.”
Nate huffed out a laugh. “That’s correct. The blood flow engorges it. Remember how we talked about that?”
“Yes.” Gingerly, Charlie held the shaft in one hand and drew Nate’s foreskin back with the other.
Gasping, Nate struggled not to move. “How do you know how to do that?”
“It was in the materials you provided to me.”
“Oh.” Nate took a deep breath, trying to settle himself. “This part,” he murmured, pointing to the head, “is extremely sensitive.”
“Should I refrain from touching it?”
“You can touch it, just very gently.”
After another lengthy optical assessment, Charlie rested a fingertip directly on the tip of Nate’s cock. “Like this?”
“Um―yes. Rub a little bit, like this.” Nate demonstrated a tiny circular motion.
Charlie followed suit, watching his hand and then Nate’s face. “Like this?”
“Yes―but―let me show you something else.” Nate shifted a little, realizing that their potential activities were further curtailed by a lack of lubricant. “Here, put this hand here.” Nate guided Charlie’s hand to his thigh. “Now take this hand and move it up and down.” Wrapping his hand around Charlie’s over his shaft, Nate showed him the basic motion, up and down, gripping gently. “Like that,” Nate whispered immediately, overwhelmed by the sensation of that exquisitely-designed hand holding just so, moving just right….
(To read the whole of “Charlie” and the Robotica collection, download it today!)
Five erotic stories of robot-human relations, exploring the future of humanity, sex, and desire. In Cobalt’s futures, artificial intelligences can have very real emotions, and humans can be just as confused, turned on by, and obsessed with their robot lovers as they are by any others. The stories have a delicious homoerotic edge even as they question what gender means to a robot mind. Or heart.