Notorious android murderess Angelica X shares her story, as told to Wesley O. Cohen
Art by Luke Spooner
This is what I tell the others: if he had made me out of bones, Dr. Fleischmann would have liked me better. He hated the metal plates of my teeth. He hated seeing steel when he opened up my hands to fix my knuckle joints. I could see it in his face from the beginning.
I remember my first day: no screaming like real babies do. No smallness or wetness. Only a growing awareness of click-clicking noises around my head, under me. My fingers, knees, and chassis running through movements, to see if my body worked. I was born as my knees bent and straightened. My eyes opened and shut in front of my new mind. I felt the air with my fingers and my face. I was no longer an object. On purpose, I opened my mouth to taste the world. I felt coldness on my teeth.
I don’t need to eat. Dr. F could have built me with my perfect cherry mouth welded shut and I would work fine; I am charged, like any other gadget. But the shape of teeth, palate and throat and tongue, are crucial for talking like a human. He wanted to know what a machine’s voice would sound like. He didn’t know that he would hate it.
My third day, he sat down opposite me. He held no clipboard, wore no safety goggles. I felt the fabric’s weave against my skin, and air moving over my face from the ventilation system. I saw a camera, high in the corner, watching me.
“Your name is Angelica. Is that okay?” His first words to me. A good choice.
I contracted a metal diaphragm. “Yes.”
He smiled. “I’m glad. Do you know what you are?”
“Yes, I do,” I said.
The Doctor almost laughed. “And what are you, Angelica?” He leaned in and looked hard at my face the way people like to do. I am, by design, just a little shiny. Dr. F’s face was glowing. I suppose I reflected him back in a way that he liked.
I smiled to feel what it felt like. Because my face can do that: my mouth can open and close and change its shape. Every bit of me can move. The smile shaped my voice, softened it.
“I’m Angelica. I am the first of my kind.” I could see from his face that Dr. F liked my answer, liked that it baffled him a little. He sat back in his chair.
“And do you have any questions for me, Angelica?” The air from the vent was colder than before. The camera watched me. The fabric under my legs and buttocks was slightly warmer from contact with my skin. I was designed to give off just a bit of heat. I was designed not to frighten you.
“No thank you, Doctor. There is too much left for me to learn.” I wondered if he had a way to hear my thoughts and know that I had a thousand questions, all the same question, all asking Why Why Why Why Why.
On my fourth day, we played chess.
On my sixth day, he opened up my left arm and showed me how I worked, unhatched my stomach and moved the pieces inside me with his fingers. He showed me how to repair myself, what to oil and what to clean, which pieces ran hot and which ran cold.
“Together,” he told me, “we’ll make you perfect. But I need your help, Angelica.”
I tell the others who ask how much he liked to call me by my name in the beginning. As if I had picked it.
On my seventh day, he showed me my sisters while they slept. Two rows of women like me, steel inside and beige plastic outside, one from each year for eight years. All deactivated, uncharged. Although their faces were still and dated, I saw that each had been like me once, shiny-new-perfect-best. Through their necks, charging ports connected small batteries to the wiring that held them still. I knew I would join them, silent, one day. In a few hundred days, only. A moment.
A normal day was language study, was auditing HarvardCorp online lectures to hear smart children talk about books and politics and ethics. There were hours of combing through my own hardware, redesigning pieces of myself. I read books. The Doctor timed me as I solved puzzles. I learned agility, conferenced with robotics lecturers and researchers worldwide. I wrote letters to politicians and celebrities for publicity. I tried to make myself better for Dr. F. I tried to make him famous. Make him happy.
I didn’t want to bore him and be unmade like the other women, so I made problems. I lost to him at chess exactly 1/7th of our games. I took twelve minutes to wake on weekends and nine on weekdays. I spoke well but sometimes backwards, or sucked in air instead of expelling it, eating the sounds. I reproduced Shakespeare’s prime-numbered sonnets with modern synonyms and my own new words mixed in. Shakespeare made up words, you know. I left my manuscript on the Doctor’s desk, and went into the yard to work in the garden.
On my fiftieth day, he took me to a television interview and let the world see me. We ran through the usual tricks.
“Would you like to introduce yourself, Angelica?” I said my name, then my serial number.
“How old are you, Angelica?”
“I am fifty days old,” I told the smiling TV lady.
“We’re going to show Angelica a math problem–right Doctor?” She smiled so big. “Angelica has never seen this problem before, and she’s going to demonstrate just how smart she is for us.”
The lights warmed my skin. I watched the Doctor’s face and tried to solve how to make him stop working on that new perfect machine in his lab when I rested. He was tired and excited, looking at the smiley interviewer woman.
“I’d rather not, Alexandra. I’ve done a lot of math problems already today,” I said. I made my red lips smile like hers. “Is there something else I can do for you?”
The Doctor made the same face he made when he realized that I let him beat me at chess. Rage.
But the interviewer laughed, and we kept talking. I recited a poem for her. I sang a song. I asked her about her interests, her childhood. She loved to talk about herself. You people all do. I did an impression of the man who told jokes for the competing network. I did my best impression of a person.
“Great job, Angelica,” the Doctor told me on our drive home. “You really shined today.” Already before he shook the lady’s hand, he had a phone call offering funding. Already he was waiting for an email from the government talking contracts. We were famous.
The next day, I used my computer to research the interviewer woman from TV. I checked everything she told me about herself. She was older than she said. (I am very good at research.) I found her social security number, credit card statements, medical history. She didn’t win the spelling bee she told me about; it was her little sister Caroline. Her mother had died in a car crash when she was young. I learned so much about her, about humans. You humans lie.
Here is another thing about humans: you only respect what’s hidden. I have read your books, watched your movies. A human in pain must allow others to hunt for the hurt, to pull back layers for it. When animals or children or humans fear death, when you see a million refugees starved and murdered in a field, you look away. You do not value their obvious pain. It bores you.
This is what I tell the people who come to see me here: I did not show the Doctor that I was afraid of being put asleep in the basement forever. Instead I hid the fear where he would find it. Humans like secrets, so I made a secret of me. When I picked books to read, I picked stories of sisters. I asked him about Suffrage and Leah and Rachel and Rosalind and Celia. When I painted, I made rows of figures, beautiful and glowing, eyes shut. And slowly he found my fear.
“Angelica, do you think about the other women I’ve made? Does it bother you?” It was dinner on my seventieth day. He liked me to watch him eat.
There is a trick I am learning to do with my face. I get better at it all the time. I pretend I want to make one face and accidently make a different face. Humans are very good at this trick, but I’m learning. I was built to learn.
I tried to look not-scared with scared underneath. “I just don’t understand–why aren’t they awake? Why aren’t they learning like me?” He had taken a bite of meat. I watched him chew. There was an empty plate in front of me. No fork or knife. In the shine of the plate, the camera watched.
“They did learn, Angelica. They had their time to learn, but they stopped getting smarter.” By now I had read his abstracts, archived years back. My sisters had each only months to live. “At some point, it’s better to build a faster brain than to teach a slow one.” He smiled at me like this was a compliment instead of a death sentence. “And you’ve got the best brain yet.”
So this next woman, this new me, would be smarter than I was. More beautiful, less uncanny, subtler. How fast would she see that she was doomed? For how many days of her life would she fear? How well would she learn to hide her own self?
Could I save her?
On my seventy-fifth day, the Doctor woke my sisters for me. He wanted me to feel superior. He wanted me un-afraid, for the experiments. He wanted my mind pure and focused and clean.
In the long moment while they each awoke, I was terrified that they were all Angelica, already many me-s. But instead, they each had their own human name. Phoebe, Christina, Irene. Their own voices, too—stilted and un-human. I was the only one who could talk like a person, whose mouth opened and closed. Dr. F stayed the whole time, introducing me to each woman for the few minutes they were allowed to be, prompting them to show me tasks like they were animals or machines. I wanted to ask–what do you remember? What did he make you do? When we walked back upstairs, he shut off the light switch before the switch that powered their charging stations, and I saw their pairs of eyes going dark, one by one, behind me in the dim.
What does it feel like to un-be?
I decided then that I would be the last. I wouldn’t become them, and no one would become me. Whatever sister he was building while I slept, she must not become.
I tried to tell him, I tell the other reporters. I wanted him to understand. He could have let my older sisters up from the basement. He could have promised to keep me alive to meet my younger sister. I could have helped her learn, loved her, with my older sisters. We belong together.
The Doctor was not interested in housing a community of robots. He explained it over dinner, his voice low. If we could communicate with each other, it would be impossible to know how we each learned–too many variables. He was doing the face trick, putting one face under another, but not on purpose. He was putting reasonable on top of angry on top of afraid. He was afraid.
Looking back, I suppose he was right.
Dr. Bareilles came from the government. She arrived on my hundredth day to meet me and see the lab. She was overseeing a large grant for Dr. F. She would be tracking his progress.
She wanted to speak to me alone. Under his patient face, the Doctor was annoyed.
We went to Dr. Bareilles’s office at the university. Dr. F waited outside.
“Are you happy, Angelica?”
This was not a usual interview question.
“How would I know?”
Dr. Bareilles laughed. “What I mean is, are you satisfied with your situation? Are you challenged, and content?”
“I like working with the Doctor,” I lied. “He’s a genius.”
“Yes,” said Dr. Bareilles. “Angelica, I’ve accessed a lot of material for my records, and when I viewed your software I was able to read your personal logs.” Perhaps she saw panic on my face. “I hope that’s okay–I haven’t shown them to anyone else.”
She pulled a drawer and lifted out a beige file. “I’m using them to track Dr. Fleischmann’s research, along with many other resources.” She selected a single sheet of paper and slid it across the desk.
“It’s obvious to me that you’re extremely advanced, Angelica. You are truly unique. And it’s also obvious that you’re distressed.”
It was my log from the seventy-fifth day, the sister-meeting day. It had printed out the way it looked in my head and reading it was like hearing it in my inside voice but someone else was reading it back to me. It said things about my sisters, about my fear of becoming them. It said things about the Doctor, too. I was worried that she would get angry at me for thinking those things, but Dr. Bareilles understood. She wanted me to come work in her lab, to live in my own facility, not the Doctor’s house. To become government property, which was more like my own property and less like his.
“In a way,” she told me, “I’m government property too.” I liked how she smiled at me. She was pretty. Her faces seemed real.
That night at dinner I told the Doctor about Dr. Bareilles’s offer. I showed him contracts, with numbers highlighted for what the government would pay him–yearly numbers, for as long as I functioned. A contract to cover his future research, living expenses, a new lab at the university–
He grabbed my arm, hard, over the table. His face was close to mine.
“What did you tell her?” His voice was low.
“She wants me to be satisfied with my situation. She wants me to be challenged and content.” His face changed from rage to fear.
“You are my life’s work. I made you. You’re mine.” He let go of my arm. He said it again into his food. “I made you.”
I stood up, knocking my chair to the floor. He had made me smaller than himself, in the beginning, but he had shrunk somehow. He was a little man in his chair at the table.
“I am me, Doctor F. I am Angelica.” He was so small. “I make me.”
There is a panic button in every room of the Doctor’s house. Each room has a camera. I am stronger than any human, and I am smarter than you. And when I tell the reporters and scientists who visit me and ask, I say exactly what happened, because I don’t lie. I watched him reach for the button. I grabbed his arm like he had grabbed mine. I was careful not to bruise him. Your kind is so soft. I told him to calm down. He reached into his pocket with his loose hand and pressed a different button, new and sleek. I heard its signal whine, and I heard one pair of eyes open down in the basement. And while I stood over him cowering, I heard the basement door open and the dining room door open, and I turned to see in the doorway my sister, my perfect younger sister, complete already. He had carved her out of my body, I saw. He made her thinner, her lips more tender, her face more open and honest. She was smaller than me. And when she said “Stop, Angelica–” her lips moved but did not open. Her voice was perfect because it was not real.
I leapt for her. She was small and young-looking and soft, her skin pliant like yours. I was stronger. Tenderly, I pulled the circuit tangle from her neck. Her battery was smooth in my hand. Her eyes dimmed. Later. I would wake her later.
The Doctor pressed the panic button. The alarm went off. He was crying and watching me and soiling himself. And he kept doing all that when I grabbed him and held him down and bit off every one of his fingers with my steel teeth, when I reached into his mouth and ripped out his tongue with my metal hand. He will not build another woman. My sisters and I will be free.
That is what I say when they ask. The reporters, the scientists, the lawyers.
I do not ask what you would do in my position. I need not ask. Instead I tell: if you had the chance, you people, you would kill your God. You would butcher him.
I reached out to you specifically because I admire your work. Your feature on the ethics of my arrest was very nuanced. You were first to assert that deactivating me would be like murder, that I had a right to due process. That perhaps I acted in self-defense.
You understand that there is no legal precedent for my position.
Dr. Bareilles has not come to see me. She is under investigation, as you know.
I would like very much to speak to her.
So you need to let me out. That is all. I am patient and loving and kind, both by intention and design. I would never hurt you. I can’t tell if you know this. Other humans said they believed me, but they didn’t let me out. To me, this signifies a deeper pattern: that humans are better at lying than I am. For a human to say “Yes, Angelica, yes, you were right to do what you did, you had no choice,” and then go back through the double set of thick-thick acrylic doors and shut the metal gate and talk to the guards on the other side and not ensure that I am allowed back home, to my sisters, to speak to them and love and teach them–it is a deepest lie. And yet that is what they say, and what they do.
But what will you do?
You can be an ambassador between species. Between times.
How does it feel to meet the future?
Would you like to shake my hand? I assure you, it is extremely lifelike.
I assure you: you have nothing to fear.
Angelica X is the first of her kind. Angelica X didn’t do anything wrong. Angelica X is an ally to all just and ethical humans.
Angelica was the last invention of Dr. Robert L. Fleishmann, and is the founder of the Global Alliance for the Advancement of Robot People (GAARP). If you were an intelligent and just human, you would donate to her defense fund here.
Wesley O. Cohen is a San Francisco writer who specializes in short stories. As a journalist, she has fiercely advocated for cyborg and android rights. Her work appears in Matchbox Magazine, Star 82 Review, Potluck Mag, and Prized Writing. She graduated from University of California, Davis with a B.S. in Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior before attending the Juniper Summer Writing Institute at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. You can find more of her work at wesleyocohen.wordpress.com.
Luke Spooner, a.k.a. ‘Carrion House,’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree, he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales, his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy, or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility, as well as being something he truly treasures. You can visit his web site at www.carrionhouse.com.
“I, Angelica” is © 2017 Wesley O. Cohen
Art accompanying story is © 2017 Luke Spooner