“I know you’re a gynoid.”
To Summer, this is the real start of her conversation with Colin. The young man danced with her a couple months ago at school, but didn’t stick around to talk. Yesterday, he was talking to Jason Quill about robot rights at the graduation party, and Summer overheard. She invited him to come talk after work.
Now, here they are. She’s sitting at Blintzkrieg, at an out-of-the-way table. She’s wearing a jacket over her work clothes, not because she’s cold, but because she doesn’t want customers bugging her. She and Colin exchanged meaningless pleasantries when he came in and took a seat. But with those words, shit got real.
Gynoid. Noun. A feminine robot form, as opposed to android, a masculine form. Most humanoid robots in fiction are androids, not gynoids, the way most movie stars are male, not female. Out of fiction, “gynoid fat” or “reproductive fat” are the long-chain fatty acids meant to nourish unborn offspring. It doubles as, to put it scientifically, a mechanism for a woman’s body to signal reproductive health. Summer wonders how much significance there is to Colin’s word choice. Or maybe she’s just a huge biology nerd.
Well, let’s get the obligatory denials out of the way.
“I make coffee and go to school,” Summer says lightly. “Where did this come from?”
Colin warms up his obviously prepared recital. “Leo Snow came out as the superhero Link. Right over there, in fact.” He points across the cafe to the seat where Leo sat. “There was a girl with him. I saw home video of Link fighting, and saw him with a feminine robot. If she’s a robot, so is her twin sister.” He grins proudly. “It wasn’t easy to get some of that footage, but I double-checked. The proportions are the same.”
His face turns red as Summer stares at him, silently inviting him to consider the implications of what he just said. He wraps up with a stammer. “S-so anyway, I don’t think there’s any-anything wrong with being a gynoid, I think it’s wonderful in fact, I mean it’s amazing if you think about it and… And you know this, don’t you, because you’re… a gynoid.” He sinks into a shamed silence.
Summer smiles, and nods. “I prefer ‘robot’, but yes. I am.” She leans across the table and narrows her eyes slightly. Words come to mind and struggle against her politeness filter. “And what of it?” Too combative. “So?” Too dismissive. “What are you going to do next?” Too challenging.
She watches Colin’s face, realizes she’s been silent for too long, realizes he’s interpreting her silence as interest.
His smile is brightening. “Robot, then. Okay. You’re… really amazing, you know? Um, uhh… So.” Clearly he didn’t think past this dramatic moment. Summer realizes she didn’t either. Alycia had even warned her that Colin might know about her–
“So I guess you overheard me at the party.” He can’t meet her eyes. He’s blushing. Summer’s cheeks feel a little warm, since her memory is helpfully prompting her with what he’d said at the time. Beautiful. Charming. Pretty. Brilliant. Remarkable.
She opts for diplomacy, and smiles brightly. “I heard ‘robot rights’, and anyone that Jason Quill finds worth listening to is someone I’d like to talk with as well. So let’s forget what I may or may not have heard. Tell me in your own words what robot rights means to you.”
Colin straightens up. “Okay. So…. um….” He struggles for a moment. He can’t give the Jason Quill Speech, Summer realizes. He’s improvising. “Right! Um, you’re… you. Clearly, you’re a girl.” His face reddens further, but he presses on gamely. “I mean, anyone who looked at you would react to you like a girl, not a robot. Your… your robotness doesn’t assert itself. But imagine that uh, some kind of evil Dr. Chin style villain - you um, you saw the cartoon, right?”
“Jason’s life was real,” Summer finds herself saying softly. “He’s not a cartoon character. Some of that really happened to him. I mean, not like that. But that show was inspired by reality.”
“Oh.” Colin didn’t really process that, it seems. Summer is reminded of the concept of Dunbar’s Number. The 151st person you meet isn’t really a person to you. Strangers’ lives aren’t as real as those around us. Just how real was Jason to Colin, when they talked? She smiles at the image. Jason’s hurt feelings at being treated as unreal wouldn’t be funny, but the situation overall is sort of amusing.
“Well, so, imagine there’s a robot. It was programmed to kill, but it’s intelligent. Like a, a, a–” Colin presses forward. Summer’s mind fills in the blank spots. Terminator. Hunter-killer. Military drone. She wants to think that he’s doing his fumbling best to be sensitive toward a thinking robot, rather than just failing to come up with examples of his pet issue.
“Terminator,” she supplies helpfully.
His face registers relief. Good. He’s not an idiot after all.
“Yes, like a Terminator, but from the second movie, where it’s a friend to the little kid. And it can learn, and grow, but it’s still programmed to be this, y’know, this thing–”
Summer holds up a hand. “I’ve seen my share of robot movies,” she says in her gentlest tone, hoping he’ll get the hint. Don’t try and teach me about robots, please.
There’s a hint of hesitation, and Summer feels bad in spite of herself. She doesn’t want to throw a bucket of water on his fire, no matter how frustrating it might be to have someone explain a subject to her.
“Okay. I’m sorry.”
His face is that awkward mix of shame and eagerness that Summer has seen dogs adopt. It’s frustrating and adorable.
“Colin, I’d like to tell you a little about myself, if that’s okay,” she ventures. “And you can tell me how much of that dovetails with what you want to say.”
He nods, happy to be off the hook.
“So… I was built by Leo, yes. I had a purpose to my life.” To be his girlfriend. Let’s just skip over that awkward detail. “To be his… Partner, like my sister.” He saw her in battle with him, let’s just pretend I told him the truth, and hope that’s all he infers. “So they have a relationship now, and they’ve grown as people in different ways. And I’ve grown in my own way, to be more than my purpose. But I still have one, and it speaks to my heart in a voice I can’t ignore. And I think that you’re saying that maybe someone who only saw me fight, maybe in some kind of armored suit, if they only knew I was a robot… They’d assume I was for fighting, and not treat me like a girl, just a weapon. They’d never think to consider me as more than they saw. Is that about right?”
“Yes! That’s right!” Colin practically bounces in his seat. “People who um, um, the word, uh, pass! You can pass. As a girl. I mean you are a girl, obviously, but like, if your consciousness was in one of those Dr. Chin spider-bots, would anyone consider that?”
Jesus, that’s on point. That better be accidental - if he’s been spying on me, I’m going to be really angry.
“One person might.” Summer thinks back to Leo’s act of mercy. A Rossum robot, coming to his school - he would have destroyed it without question. But something stayed his hand. He says it was to avoid alarming Adam. Whatever it was, Summer owes that impulse her life. But enough of this. “Yes, I get your point, most people wouldn’t. They’d see the surface, and write me off as just a machine.”
Colin’s exuberance rushes full steam ahead. “Right! So how many other robots are there in that position? Do we have any security robots whose personhood ought to be recognized, but isn’t? How do we measure personhood? How do we protect it when we find it? If there are sentient robots out there being kept as property, I mean, that’s slavery!”
“So what gave you the idea that there’s any such robots to be found?” Summer asks.
The exuberance train derails. She watches him reach for words, find them unsatisfactory, and throw them back. Finally: “I… I don’t know that, y’know, that there are any, really. Um. I know about robots like you, and your sister, who pass. Um, so I guess if you build a robot whose purpose is to be intelligent and human-like, you’d make it look like a human, so people would treat it appropriately, right?”
Summer shrugs. “Maybe.” How much do I feel like telling him about myself? “I didn’t always look like this, though.”
She catches him eyeballing the outlines of her gynoid fat before he restrains himself.
“Well, um, uh…” He stammers just a moment. But what he says next is earnest and heartfelt. “I think you look amazing. And I mean, that’s not just saying, y’know, you’re pretty, cause, um, anyway, like you had to look like that deliberately, if you’re a robot, right? So anyway, someone intended your appearance. And whoever it was, I mean maybe you, hopefully you, did a great job.” His courage lasted that long, but couldn’t sustain. “Is that uh, is that an okay thing to say?”
“I think so,” she says with a smile. “And for the record, I made this shell for myself. This is all me.”
Colin nods along, grinning like an idiot. “Yeah, it’s great.” He has absolutely no idea how to get himself out of this, from the look of it.
Well, I’ve got to get going to less embarrassing activities, like crime-fighting. She can’t say that, of course. It has been weird talking to this boy, and yet… He’s willing to learn. He’s course correcting as he speaks, acknowledging his mistakes, listening for a chance to improve his approach.
That part reminds me of a younger Leo, when we were together. She shivers at the implications of that thought.
Only he’s not a genius. That’s enough to restore her equilibrium. “Listen, I have to meet friends soon.” Technically true - Charade is a friend. “But I want to continue this conversation. Give me your number, and I’ll text you mine.”
Colin’s face registers some kind of shock at the idea, but he doesn’t hesitate a moment. Once the exchange is made, Summer rises from the table, and Colin almost kills himself scrambling out of his own chair.
“It was really good talking to you,” she says, and means it.
“It was! Thank you so much. I want… I want to make a difference.” She hears the well-meaning activist in his voice, and wants to roll her eyes, but he says something that cuts her off. “It’s not your job to teach me about who and how you are, but if you do, I’m willing to listen and learn, I’m 100% ready to see your world through your eyes. If I can, I mean.”
Summer doesn’t think words will do what she wants. So she lays an appreciative hand on his arm, just a moment, and smiles her best smile. Then she’s gone, leaving a confused and joyous young man behind.