Uncanny Valley

Uncanny Valley is a semi-anthology science fiction novel set in an alternate universe, where for years humans have been able to purchase specially designed androids called Companions, if they are willing to pay the high price. Whether they need someone to work around the house, take care of their children, fulfill their sexual needs, or simply to be a good friend, there's a Companion out there for everyone.

Emma, Michael, Natalie and John are all androids fighting to find their own identities and independence in a world where most humans see androids as nothing but slaves.

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4. 1.3

This was her life now, forever confined within these dulled and chipped four walls.

She never got to leave the premises. She didn't get to shower. She didn't get a change of clothes. How had none of these Companions gone insane from their severe lack of freedom?

At least before she was sent here, Natalie was able to go out, even if it was only when instructed by Mrs. or Mr. Leiderman. That allowed her some contact with the rest of the world. She could shower. She could watch television.

Now she was barred from everything. She would have no knowledge of current events. She would remain entirely oblivious and ignorant. This saddened her immensely. 

The others - Christina, Robert, Stacy, Adam, Justin, Kimberly and Randy - seemed to have accepted that mundane lifestyle. Or perhaps they'd become accustomed to hiding their disappointment. After all, constant complaints and sadness would ultimately get them nowhere.

Natalie had encountered other Companions but she was never in such contact to weed out their distinctions. She communicated more with humans, so being now surrounded by a group of Companions was a new experience.

Humans had natural movements, their personalities weren't always consistent. One minute they were content with their lives ,and in one quick moment it could shift into anger or sadness.

But Companions were different. Their behavior was, usually, very consistent, which offered more stability. A human could easily kill without motive or remorse. A Companion would only do so if they were programmed with sociopath tendencies.

It wasn't something Natalie thought about until recently. In a way, a Companion's predictability made them safer to be around. There was nothing that could predict a human's actions, even the seemingly predictable ones.

One of the Companions, Kimberly, was always smiling. She was an older model than Christina, that much Natalie could tell, because while her skin was smooth and glowed unnaturally. She was about an inch taller than Natalie, with dark hair and eyes. She seemed to have unfortunately been purposely programmed to be extremely stupid. And Natalie could guess what purpose she served, being thin and toned with large breasts.

The third day Natalie was in The Factory, one of the guards, not Milo, but one she didn't recognize, came in and called Kimberly to come with him.

Kimberly smiled, rose from her cot and followed him out.

"Where's he taking her?" Natalie asked Adam.

The two of them were sitting at the old, rickety table that the The Factory was kind enough to put into their cell.

"She's either been taken to do a menial job or she's been adopted."

"Don't forgot the third possibility," Christina said. She was lying in her own cot, reading a book. The Factory had a library. It was exactly like a prison.

"What?" Natalie asked, confused.

Christina dog eared a page of her book, closed it, and sat up, turning to face both Adam and Natalie. "Everyone who works here can use us for themselves whenever they want. We can't ever say no. You're smart, Natalie. Look at Kim. You know exactly what she was made for, and why Mick took her."

Yes, Christina was right. It only took a moment for Natalie to piece it together. Kimberly was called to have sex with a guard. And Natalie was certain if she refused she'd be punished. But if it was in her programming, she likely did it with no protest.

But Natalie had to wonder. Maybe Kimberly said nothing, but mentally, was she okay with being forced to sleep with random people? Or did she keep quiet like Natalie had before she'd snapped at Mrs. Leiderman?

"That's not always it," Adam said.

"You're way too optimistic, dude. That's exactly what it is. Mick loves fucking her. He takes her at least three or four times a week."

Would they ever take Natalie for that purpose?

She would rather stay locked in the cell.

_____________

About an hour passed, or maybe it was less than an hour, or more. There were no clocks around to allow the Companions to know what time it was. The door of the cell opened and Kimberly was pushed in. The half smile was still on her face. She looked like one of those women in beauty pageants who always displayed a phoney grin on their faces during the competition.

"What happened?" Natalie asked.

No one else moved or offered Kimberly any greetings.

Natalie would probably become like that too eventually.

"Mick and I had a great time," Kimberly replied.

"What did you do?"

"Mick took me to the change room and I gave him a blow job. Then we had sex. It made him really happy. He told me I was pretty." She said the words with an odd amount of ease, as if it were perfectly normal. As if what Mick did hadn't been wrong.

"Are you actually okay with what he did??" Natalie asked.

"Why wouldn't I be? He said I was pretty," Kimberly repeated. "I think he might love me.

Maybe Natalie was reading too much into her tone, but Kimberly didn't sound genuine. They seemed like words she'd convinced herself were true to make the situation less terrible.

Or maybe Natalie was completely wrong, and Kimberly was a stupid Companion who consented to everything.

But Natalie didn't believe that at all.

______

"How did you end up here, Natalie?"

A little over a week had passed when Adam asked that question.

Natalie was lying in her cot staring up at nothing in particular. This was what her days consisted of now. Her lying down and thinking, thinking too much about everything but doing nothing with her time. The Companions had leisure time and amenities, but it was very constricting still. Natalie did sleep, but she was programmed to for exactly six hours. She couldn't rest more than that, or during the day, even if she wanted to.

It was also programming that gave the illusion of her being more human. She slept, but didn't dream. She was also the only Companion in her cell that could sleep. She couldn't imagine what it was like for the rest of them - being awake forever.

Adam lay in the cot above hers.

All they did know about her was that she used to be a nanny. She had never disclosed the specifics, what she'd done to end up here.

When she remained silent, she heard brief ruffling before Adam lowered his face enough to see her. Another upside of being a Companion? The blood didn't rush to the head if they hung upside down as Adam was doing right now.

She tilted her head to face him. "I talked back to my boss," she replied.

He raised his eyebrows. "Whoa, no way!"

"She had two daughters - Haley and Katrina - and they were nightmares. They did whatever they wanted and she never said anything to them. I tried to raise them to be good kids, but she would just keep buying things for them and they turned into these... spoiled little kids. She would blame me every time they acted out and I got to a point where... I couldn't take it anymore."

"Must have been tough."

She thought about that for a moment. It was tough, but she knew many other Companions were in significantly tougher situations. "I don't know," she finally responded, after several moments of silence had passed. "I couldn't hate the kids. They didn't know any better, but... Mrs. Leiderman was an awful person. She didn't even have a job, but she was apparently still too busy to take care of her own daughters. I never understood why she had children if she didn't have the patience to raise them."

"I'd feel sorry for the kids too. They seem terrible, but they're products of their environments."

"Yeah." She sat up in her cot. "How did you end up here?"

Adam raised himself up so he was no longer upside down and sat upright with his legs dangling off the side so he could climb down onto Natalie's cot.

He began to speak when he was seated beside her. "My owner died."

"That's awful."

"She grew up in a conservative family - very old fashioned. She thought if she bought a male Companion her parents would stop asking her when she was going to get married. She was afraid."

"Of what?"

"Of what they would do if they found out she was a lesbian," he replied. "They found out anyway, and disowned her."

"Their own daughter?" Why would anyone do that? Who had she been hurting being a lesbian? Could she have helped changing herself? That was how she'd been born.

It astounded Natalie how cold humans could be, because the perception most humans had was that Companions were ones incapable of feeling or attachment.

"She killed herself after that, and since she didn't write a will, I ended up here."

"How long have you been here?"

"Two years now," he replied. "But that's nothing. Christina's been here for seven."

"Why so long?"

"Whoever owned her programmed her to be sarcastic and snarky. Most people don't want a Companion like that."

"That's weird." He was right. Most humans did not program their Companions to include those characteristics. They were docile, or polite, or composed. Christina was unlike all the other Companions in the cell. She constantly snapped back to the guards, even had the bravery to argue with them almost incessantly without worrying about the ramifications. 

"I don't know how she even ended up here. She's never told anyone. I asked once and she told me her owner didn't want her anymore, but that's vague. That's the reason all of us ended up here." He paused for a moment before continuing. "But Kimberly's been here even longer than that. It's been decades for her."

"What?" Was that how long Natalie would be here too? "Why hadn't anyone adopted her?"

"No one wants a model that old."

"But if she was programmed for sex , why does that matter?"

"They prefer Companions that look more human. I guess they feel less pathetic that way."

Seconds later, Kimberly pounced onto the bed, roughly shaking Natalie's cot. "Can I braid your hair?" she asked, reaching out to run her fingers through Natalie's blonde locks. "Your hair is so nice and shiny. How do you keep it that way?"

"I don't know. That's how it looks like." It probably didn't look as good as it normally did, because she'd been stripped of the privilege to shower regularly.

"Can I braid it?" Kimberly asked. "I did Stacy's hair. Doesn't Stacy's hair look nice?" 

Natalie leaned forward and craned her neck to see Stacy having a conversation with Robert. They were both sitting at the small table. Stacy's dark hair was tied into an impressive french braid.

"How'd you learn how to do that?" Natalie asked.

"Tina taught me. You've never met her. I used to live with her and Jimmy. They were both really nice. Tina taught me how to do a lot of things. She was such a good teacher."

Natalie frowned at Adam. Kimberly seemed to have no real awareness of anything. Natalie's own hope of Kimberly just feigning happiness was diminishing quickly.

"Can I braid it?" Kimberly repeated.

"Okay," Natalie finally answered and gave her a smile.

Kimberly beamed and bounced on the bed, clapping her hands. "Yay!" she exclaimed, then shifted until she was sitting directly behind Natalie. "You're going to look even prettier than you are! Did I ever tell you that? You're really pretty!"

"Thanks," Natalie replied.

"So are you Kimberly," Adam said.

"Thank you!" Kimberly gushed.

Natalie couldn't stop herself from thinking of the abuse Kimberly dealt with before she ended up here. Kimberly didn't need to discuss her past for Natalie to realize that.

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