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Upon Julie Czerneda Fan Page reaching 1000 "Likes!"

 

My Prix Aurora Award winning science fiction short story...
"Left Foot on a Blind Man"


Originally appeared in SILICON DREAMS edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Larry Segriff

(DAW Books, December, 2001)


Winner of the 2001 Prix Aurora Award for Best Short Form English

 

Left Foot on a Blind Man

 

by Julie E. Czerneda

 

For the record, I became self-aware as the left foot on a blind man.


I had a partner, the right foot. It didn’t become self-aware. Stayed as dull as a shoe, if you get my meaning. Why? How should I know? You must understand -- I was never meant to be a thinker.

Nope, I was to be a Father’s Day gift to a weirdo – this blind old man who didn’t want me in the first place. The technical folks suspect that’s what started it all, but then, how should they know either? Nothing like this has happened before to an RRP -- y’know, a Robotic Replacement Part.

What was the deal with my being a foot? You, and likely most people, are right to wonder why the old fool refused his kid’s first thoughtful offer: new eyes. Money wasn’t an object. Story goes, the old guy was an artist before age clouded his vision. Story goes, if you believe this, he claimed a deep mistrust of having his biological failures ripped out and replaced with something shiny and working -- to the point of feeling as if he’d be looking out someone else’s eyes, so: no, thank you.

As if that wasn’t nonsense. Sure, robotic replacements were smart and getting smarter with each new trick the techs dumped in, but that was so RRPs could keep up with the jobs done by the living version. It took serious processing power to adjust internal temperature against ambient and control wacky things like biochemistry – especially with the inconvenience of hormones and who knew what a person might choose to toss into his or her body without consulting the RRP maintenance manuals first.

But think? Be someone? That was paranoia.

Oh. Well, there is me. I. Myself. But I started out as the left foot on a blind man, and you have to realize my existence combined a few elements that were never expected to be together.

You see, there was the vision issue. The old man’s kid wanted his Dad to be able to walk around safely, have a good time, all that stuff. His Old Man? Well, beyond a grudging admission he’d like to be free of his smart-cane – something I can relate to, since there’s nothing less appealing than a stick with a bossy attitude – and a confession at a weak moment he’d like to take up dancing with a certain neighbor lady, there wasn’t a lot of concern there. The man had come to grips with himself; whatever dim light filtered through his milky eyes satisfied him more or less completely.

Ah, not good enough. Junior was totally for RRPs, having the latest model knees and, rumor had it, a socially-interesting bit of enhanced equipment between them. So he dove into his fantasy of Improving Papa with the zeal of the convert.

Hence the feet. The old man had suffered flare-ups of gout and arthritis – nothing overly serious yet, but with enough pending nuisance value the family doctor was all for having some precautionary hardware in place down below. There was no chance of successful sales resistance once the two of them ganged up. It was “get the feet” or listen to stereo-nagging for the rest of his life. The old guy cracked in less than a week.

Feet require a fairly high level of processing to begin with, particularly with the idea of dancing looming ahead. Then, there’s the entire business of returning circulation to the legs, body, and heart – not to mention the fiddly bits like feeling sand between your toes and the odd maddening itch to reassure the owner there’s really something between his ankles and the floor.

I’m told, if you can believe anything techs tell you, that the right foot went on as planned, a straightforward size 9 double D width with a second toe slightly longer than the first and a small corn on the outside edge. A good cosmetic job reduces the rejection rate substantially. They were about to install me -- not that I knew it at the time -- when the son, just full of bright ideas, asked for an eye.

What eye? they asked back. No one was about to go against the father’s wishes and do an unregistered replacement. That sort of thing cut short a career path, big time. Unless you’re talking about one of those shady, basement clinics – but this was a class establishment. You know. The kind with coordinated carpeting and real prints on the walls even in the bathrooms.

An eye in the new left foot, the son replied as if seeing the light himself. Nothing fancy – it wouldn’t be delivering a pseudo-retinal feed to the optic nerve or anything – but something to spot an onrushing car or keep his father’s feet from stomping on a dance partner’s non-mechanical toes.

The techs were intrigued as well as over-paid. Did I mention money was no object to this kindly lad? So they popped papa into cryo to wait and popped out the left foot processor to give it a little tweak.

Not that I knew it then, either.

Little tweak, my silicon. The processor now had to handle sensory input and make reflex decisions on the consequences of movement without bothering the cognition going on upstairs. In other words, the son was smart enough to know his Old Man would not be in favor of being bossed by his bunions.

So the left foot acquired some subtlety along with those annoying calluses on the heel.

All went famously, which may explain why I’m famous today, but I’m getting way ahead of myself. This is supposed to be one of those bio things, y’know; I’m allowed some creativity as long as I get the data loaded upstairs, but there’s no sense pushing the techs to edit my life story.

Anyway, I’m installed into the robotic replacement left foot on a blind man, and he starts walking around the hospital recovery room as if he doesn’t know where he’s going. Understandable, you see, but tripping every reflex alarm built into me. First thing I know, I’m awake, aware, and trying not to dead-end my toes on a chair leg shaped like the prow of an icebreaker.

Was I to know twisting out of the way like that would break his ankle? It was instinct!

Fortunately, while the brand-new me struggled with questions of planes of existence, the future of the universe, and was there a silicon god, the techs replaced the old man’s ankle joint for free and gave my processors an upgrade or two while they were inside. They even added the beginnings of an ingrown toenail. As I said: a class establishment.

By this point, I knew what I was, where I was, and very little else. I kinda lay low in the leading department after that first disaster, gathering information. It helped that the son had planned ahead, buying socks, shoes, and sandals for his Old Man that let the “eye” component of the foot collect input from a pretty fair radius. Good as it goes, but not having structures such as eyelids, which might stand out on a foot even to a blind man, I suffered alarmingly intimate sensations when the man took a bath or tucked me under the thick wool blanket he used for naps and at night. Still, overall, I thought we were coexisting rather well. I could modify his stride so he lurched sideways before stepping on those dainty female toes and had no compunction whatsoever about using a sudden severe cramp to stop him in his tracks before he stepped out into traffic.

I knew where and what I was; it didn’t mean I enjoyed being the left foot on a blind man. He constantly threatened me with closing elevator doors, contact with furred animals that usually got out of our way in time, but not always, and, by the way, did I mention his habit of swinging me back and forth, back and forth, until I dissuaded him by applying a well-timed twinge in his arch on every upbeat?

Where was I? Oh yes, things should have remained unchanged but I’d overestimated the intelligence of my host. He’d never lost his suspicion of robotic replacement parts and, it turned out, kept careful track of everything I was doing that seemed unlikely in footware. The techs love those notes, by the way. Call them meticulous and classic. The old man kept notes on the right foot too, but they were understandably short and very boring. No, his attention was firmly on me and what he saw as my efforts to bend his will to mine.

Now, what ‘will’ the left foot on a blind man could be expected to have, other than hoping for a mercifully short stint in dirty socks, is beyond me, but he held to his convictions until the day his son threatened to have him sent for psychiatric assessment – the son having faced serious business reversals in the interim and no longer being in a “money’s no object” position. In fact, he hadn’t made the last payments on either foot, but didn’t see that was his father’s concern.

By way of answer, the old man went to pack and, instead, did his best to hack me off with a kitchen knife.

It really was for the best; we weren’t getting along lately anyway. I wasn’t paying attention after that point, having shut down at the sight of the knife heading my way, but found out later I’d been salvaged, the blind old man packed off to an institution, and the son, more or less willingly, had returned me to the RRP techs in lieu of his final payments.

The left foot wasn’t in particularly useful shape, and had started as a custom job to boot. Few people were desperate enough to take a mismatch, let alone deal with two left feet. So it was discarded.

Fortunately, I wasn’t around for that decision, either.

My processor, the most intrinsically valuable component of any RRP, came back on-line and I took a mere fraction of a second to realize where and what I was.

I was no longer the left foot on a blind man.

I was the right arm on a bricklayer.

They hadn’t bothered removing the eyeware. Y’know what techs are like – they hate messing with what works, especially on jobs with small profit margins. It took a few seconds to recalibrate from the forward viewpoint of a foot to the been-there outlook of an elbow, but I was content. No more dirty socks or unhappy furred animals. And I’d been upgraded again. Vision wasn’t my only sense.

This installation included magnetic resonance imaging, along with measuring and leveling instrumentation, and, naturally, the processing software to match. RRPs for bricklayers and surgeons had a lot in common. To top it off, I had a direct link to parts of his motor and sensory functions – one way at first, but I quickly fixed that by tapping into the autonomic feedback loops. The loops mimicked the biological hardware that let people yank their limbs away from danger. Pointless, really. I could sense danger and move the arm out of the way faster than any signal could travel to his central nervous system and back. No need to discuss the issue, if you get my drift. But the techs figured people weren’t ready for that kind of reflex control from their RRPs. After my first aware experience, I had to concede the point.

Now, I was the right arm on a bricklayer. As you can imagine, this was quite an improvement over being the left foot on a blind man. For one thing, an arm does more interesting things than a foot. I didn’t have control of the fingers, which was a shame -- the bricklayer having opted for an interchangeable system, including a hand for troweling and another for sliding down silk. Quite the closetful, in fact. Hands, not silk. The silk was usually on a female who wasn’t interested in dancing that I could tell. Oh yeah. The techs tell me you don’t need those kinds of details. Privacy issues crop up, y’know. I mean, when you’ve been what I’ve been, and seen what I’ve seen, they definitely do -- crop up, that is.

I thought things were going exceedingly well. Unlike the reluctant old man, the bricklayer relished the versatility and strength of his RRPs. Thanks to the precise information I fed his brain each time his hands passed over each row of bricks, his work was exceptionally precise and efficient. In fact, once I learned what he wanted, I began moving his arm a little more precisely and efficiently every day. Regrettably, there was a limit to how far I could improve his performance before other, biological, components began interfering. The human form wasn’t the optimal bricklaying device. Much of the job should have been left to a proper robotic construct, especially mixing mortar. You disagree? Go ahead. I’m entitled to my own opinion – and I dare say it’s a more informed one than yours. Ever spent ten minutes rotating to mix cement? Thought not. Flesh prejudice, that’s what it is --

Sorry. The techs warned me not to get overly emotional. Just the facts, they said. Forget what I said about the flesh stuff, okay? I really don’t need them messing with what’s left, if you know what I mean.

Meanwhile, those additional systems they’d given me were coming in quite handy, not to mention I learned how to tap into his auditory input via the feedback loops I’d replaced. The bricklayer was quite the cultured human. He spent his off-time, when not with a lady, reading and listening to complex forms of music. His reading didn’t do me any good – given my view was typically the back of a chair -- but I did develop an appreciation for the blues. He took us on trips to art galleries and museums. His home was filled with wonderful works of art – reproductions, of course, but it didn’t matter to either of us. The quality was there for the viewing.
I felt my horizons expanding every day.

You’re wondering about the Robot Cognition Law, aren’t you? The techs worried over that one a long time, but it’s obvious. Really it is. See, that law keeps down the cog functions of robots, so they are reliably stupid except at what people want them to do. No machine shall be smarter than a peanut. But no one thought of me as a robot in the beginning or middle. I was just the left foot on a blind man. What did it matter how much cog function they gave me? In fact, there was almost this prejudice thing going on in reverse – I mean, nothing’s too good to be attached to a human body, if you can afford it. We all know that. It’s only the independent self-contained constructs that get limitations on their brains. Frankly, no one cared about the IQ of a toe or bicep.

Anyway, here I was, right arm on a bricklayer, when things turned a little unpleasant. I didn’t have any warning, mind you; just the opposite, since all the signs were right for one of those silky evenings. The man substituted sticks of burning wax for real lights, so I adjusted my ocular, then he dithered for half an hour choosing which of his assortment of hands to attach to me. Okay, the delay was my fault. I mean, it was me he was plugging the thing into, and some of those hands – well, the techs don’t want me going into those details either. Something about black-market toys. Their function wasn’t the issue for me, you understand. I simply found the sense of touch rather overwhelming at the best of times, given I was equipped to make exceedingly precise measurements. These were too much of a good thing, if you know what I mean.

So I didn’t exactly help the process, disrupting the connection each time I felt one of “those” hands being attached to my wrist. This apparently caused the bricklayer some frustration, because he began throwing the rejected hands against the wall with considerable force, despite their probable expense. Eventually, he calmed and offered me a perfectly good, minimally-sensitive hand. I let it snick neatly into place, quite glad he’d been sensible.

Now, given the time he’d wasted picking an appendage, and the impatient cooing noises coming from the next room, you’d think the guy would be in a hurry. But no. He stood holding his hand in front of his face as if trying to memorize the age spots they’d applied for him. I might have known his interest was something else entirely had I seen his expression, but as I said, I was the right arm of a bricklayer with an eye out his elbow. My viewpoint was hindsight at best.

Some other orientation would also have helped me prepare for what happened once we went into the room of the cooing female. But my first inkling of danger came when her hand and an ominously sharp needle entered my ocular field. Seems my bricklayer, being a sentimental fellow, was about to let his latest female friend tattoo her name into his skin. My skin, in fact. She might have thought him all brave and noble. I could have told her a few things – including that his human brain could easily disregard incoming pain signals from my surface and that he could even more easily have her name removed in the morning. Although with the hand he’d originally picked – whoops, the techs won’t let me go there either.

Now, I had responsibilities, including keeping my skin intact. So do you wonder I reacted as I did when that alarming point came closer and closer? Luckily he’d switched from the hand he used to crush ice in the kitchen to one of the silk-sliding variety, or my panicked swing might have done more than produce a little reddening of her nose.

Unluckily, I’d again overestimated the intelligence of my host. The bricklayer, between profuse and largely unbelievable protestations of his innocence to his wailing lady, attempted to smash his right arm, me, into a wall. I refused to participate in anything so self-destructive and used my tap into his nervous system to shut him down.

Which, I realized much later, had the immediate and regrettable side effect of shutting me down as well. Told you I wasn’t much of a thinker. I’d started out as the left foot on a blind man, after all. My time as the right arm on a bricklayer had enriched my data stores, not improved my intelligence.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. You find it pretty hard to believe that the techs would keep reinstalling what had to seem a defective piece of equipment. I don’t see why. These aren’t quality control guys, y’know. These are the guys that open fifteen cases of processors -- who knows where they come from -- and hope that at least five will test reliable and ready to install. Complex and fussy stuff, that’s us. You don’t toss what’s working – not when the supply’s low to start with. Besides, the techs tell me they’d had trouble with the bricklayer before  -- something about a lack of sweat glands to glisten over his RRP muscles -- and weren’t inclined to be sympathetic when the man blamed his assault charge on their equipment.

Still, by now there was a little note on my tracking sheet, a small flag attached to my serial number. Not suspicion, not yet. I believe some of the techs were hoping to have hatched a prodigy – an RRP capable of self-preservation.

They had that right. Believe me, when I woke up the next time, I wasn’t in a hurry to announce myself.

I wasn’t the right arm on a bricklayer or the left foot on a blind man – no  big surprise there.

It did take a moment for me to appreciate what I was, given the lack of any clues beyond a view framed by a pair of narrow, flaring tunnels.

I was the nose on a chef.

Okay, okay. You’ve read the report. So she wasn’t a chef. So she flipped burgers. That’s food prep, right? These days, that kind of thing’s a pricey service, whether it’s burgers or escargot. I mean, why would anyone prefer another organism to handle what they’d ingest? Ick. The food industry was the first place to switch almost totally to constructs. How much did it take to follow a recipe anyway? And constructs don’t expect tips.

My new partner certainly did.

Well, pardon me. I’m not supposed to talk about economics, either? What you really mean is that anyone with silicon for brains can’t discuss any form of human intercourse. Paranoid, flesh-obsessed...

Don’t leave. I’m just kidding around. Humor, I’m allowed.

Where was I? Or rather, what was I? Nose on a cook. They’d again left what worked in peace, merely beefing up my processing power to handle the data stream from a mass of hypersensitive chemo sensors lining my nostrils, and adding connections to several portions of her brain and endocrine system.

Merely?

Someone hadn’t been paying attention to my file, but you can be sure I wasn’t about to argue. Here I was, keeping a pair of sunglasses from hitting this woman’s lips, and feeling like a god.

I had access to her physical sensations, not that they were remotely interesting once the novelty wore off – which was sometime in the middle of our first shower together. I already knew I didn’t care much for touch, but I’d grown quite fond of hearing. Unfortunately, she had abysmal taste in music and spent far too much time singing off key to an undersized furred animal, but I was prepared to be open-minded. I craved input.

You see, with the enhancements I entered an entirely new realm of cognition. I could think in ways I’d never been able to before. And it wasn’t only what the techs had added to me. The cook’s long-term memory storage areas, though flesh, were at my disposal as part of her olfactory system. Being grossly under-utilized, I saw no reason not to add them to my own.

As the nose on a cook, I’d reached my pinnacle of intelligence. It was a heady moment when I realized how very far I’d come and how far I could grow. I could have been happy there forever, despite the occasional intrusion of mucus, but...there’s always one of those, isn’t there? I can see why you folks chop yourselves up so often.

You see, olfaction is a pretty primal sense. It opened up whole new ideas, but the techs twitch when I go into specifics. Let’s leave it that I could have used some of them when I was the right arm of a bricklayer, and none at all as the left foot on a blind man. The very thought makes me wish I could shudder.

To get back to my story. Olfaction was a sense of practical importance to a short- order cook. I rapidly learned the faintly sweet smell of a toasting bun about to burn, let alone the heady aroma of grilled soy burger. I had a distinct aversion to garlic as it turned out, which meant being severely pinched when the cook needed to bend over a pot and scrutinize her clove-saturated spaghetti sauce.

But a scent I truly, deeply loathed invaded my nostrils the Monday after I’d been the nose on a cook for three weeks. The place was deserted except for the sous-robot mindlessly using its chest blades to trim carrots into orange-bleeding rectangles. Not a job I was suited for, let me tell you. They’d left me intact from my last role, which meant the irregular nature of vegetables as raw material drove my bricklayer’s measuring sense crazy.

Not that I was literally subject to loss or impairment of my working mind. Don’t even go there.

Okay. Maybe the question did come up. The techs brought in experts in human mentality – yeah, my thought exactly – anyway, they gave me the standard tests. Why? How should I know? Guess they’d never expected to measure more than processing speed in an RRP. By their results, I’m too sane – however that applies to a former left foot on a blind man.

No, what I loathed more than non-symmetry – more than anything -- was That Smell. When I noticed it for the cook, she made a “tsk, tsk” with her tongue on my soft palate. Did I mention I was also the roof of her mouth? It had been quite the collision between her face and the pan, let me tell you. Can’t give you personal details – the techs, again.

So, she makes this noise of disapproval then goes on as if nothing’s out of the ordinary. Well, I try to ignore it too, having far better things to think about, but it was the kind of smell that sticks to your consciousness like lint between your smallest toes. Nothing feels quite right.

After our shift ended, I get a break during the exhaust and pavement smells of our ride to her apartment. Believe me, I was able to take the dirty animal litter box in stride for once. That night, I shut down to standby with only a twinge of concern about the coming morning – or the night cream she’d slathered on my impervious surface. As if the imperfections the techs built into her nose could be removed. Her med insurance had covered replacement costs, not improvements over nature.

Not that I wasn’t a vast improvement over nature. As the nose on a cook, it was my job to analyze and interpret my findings about whatever she inhaled. Darn right I could tell when the sushi was a little too close to becoming an ecosystem of its own. But that very sensitivity became my downfall. Or hers. Depends on whose story you are interested in, really. You are here to find out mine. Right?

The next morning, we spent far too much time in front of a mirror -- considering we both knew what she looked like, albeit my view was somewhat narrower. The cook made some unexpected cooing noises, as though she had a bricklayer in mind. News to me, since our lives to this point had involved the apartment, the laundromat, a movie house that should have been condemned by any thinking species, and the restaurant. No bricklayer in any of those spots.

hat I’d noticed? Hey, with my abilities, I could tell you what, where, and who from any of my waking moments – with pictures – except that so much of it was totally boring, I dumped the data into her memories rather than clog up mine. I did enjoy eating, since it involved so many of my components. Despite my subtle encouragement – emphasizing the flavors and aroma of even the most mundane offerings --  the cook seemed incapable of keeping up this activity for any length of time. No, at home her preferred occupation involved meaningless conversation with the furred animal. Since she didn’t kick it, I was reasonably sure she lacked the mature understanding of the role of furred animals I’d gained as the left foot on a blind man. Certainly that activity would have been more entertaining than hours staring at her hand passing over its orange-brown fur, during which I helplessly calculated the average length at 0.9326 cm. The fur, not her hand.

So, a bricklayer could  be an interesting diversion. I let her wiggle me in what I presume she thought a fetching manner, but sneezed repeatedly until she desisted her attempt to apply a totally functionless powder.

Off we went. Water was falling, an exclusively outdoor phenomenon which kept the exhaust and pavement smells to tolerable levels and presumably was allowed by the techs for that reason. Nothing could be done about her perfume – something I’d learned to ignore. The cook was still cooing at random intervals.

That Stench hit me at the door. I was NOT going any closer. Mind you, I was no longer the left foot on a blind man, so my desires didn’t count. My reaction gained me a  blinding pinch as the cook, seemingly gone mad, continued to enter the building. I passed along every nuance of the Dreadful Odor, sure she’d break and let us leave.

Instead, the cook actually gave a low chuckle and called out her usual greeting to her boss. Then she went to her locker and got ready to work, dressing very very slowly.

I was close to hysteria. Only my unfortunate experience as the right arm on a bricklayer saved me from simply shutting us both down – but I considered it, believe me! The Stench was fouler than foul.

I wasn’t the only one affected. The boss and a later-arriving waitress were complaining. Customers? There wasn’t one who did more than open the door and spin around gagging. Finally, the boss closed the place.

Needless to say, they hunted for the source of The Stench, “they” including – after quite reasonable protests -- the cook. I suffered immeasurably as she insisted on sniffing the air. I tried sneezing repeatedly, but as the rest were also sneezing this was no longer an effective deterrent.

Inevitably, the three of us triangulated the source, meeting in the back corner of the kitchen. The boss tried without success to have the cook or waitress open the likeliest cupboard door. Likeliest? Not only was The Stench so great in the vicinity that my chemo sensors mercifully overloaded, but even I could clearly see drips of brown oozing from beneath the door. When the boss opened the door...?

Well, let’s just say I’m still not convinced a bag of potatoes can do that. Nope. That was something malignant and I, for one, wanted nothing at all to do with a vegetable capable of spontaneously dissolving.

What’s a bag of rotten potatoes got to do with the universe’s first artificial intelligence? I wondered the same thing – still do – but it’s a fact that bag led to two consequences intimately related to my being stuck here, talking to you. First, the restaurant had to stay closed for cleaning, so the cook had that total rarity: a night off.

This was fine by me. Not only was I more than ready to leave The Stench, I had images of bricklayers to consider.

Unfortunately, the cook’s efforts to improve her appearance before we left did not go unnoticed. Consequence number two, if you’re keeping track. The boss accused her of planting the terminal tubers in order to close his restaurant. Between you and me, I doubt she was that bright, but you can’t convince humans who’ve got conspiracy on the brain and The Stench to deal with. So there were tears and mucus invading my space, and, instead of happily evacuating, we cleaned out her locker and I was the nose on an unemployed cook.

Her bricklayer? She took me to an outdoor café where we sat, my viewpoint often as not the inside of a Kleenex, for hours. No one showed. More Kleenex. I was getting supremely bored of alternately dripping and sniffing.

Now, I’d been the left foot on a blind man, but he’d at least danced with the neighbor lady. As the right arm on a bricklayer, I’d shared more successful inter-human adventures than I’m allowed to say – not to mention been introduced to art and the blues. This pathetic excuse for a thinking organism was reducing my life to that of a piece of malfunctioning plumbing.

It was demeaning. I was a genius, not just a nose. I’d exceeded every possible expectation of my builders and surpassed the most cherished daydream of any tech involved in my manufacture and use. But because I wasn’t autonomous, I was imprisoned within this wall of wailing flesh. It was time, I saw it clearly then, to take charge.

Frankenstein? ‘Course I get the reference. Think they didn’t download it into me? That and a pile of other nonsense supposed to help me develop a moral framework? I was a structure. I had a function, several in fact, one of which was to protect myself. End of moral dilemma. You disagree? You weren’t stuck on her face.

There wasn’t a struggle, if that bothers you. Remember what I said about olfaction being primal? I fabricated a few likely scents, then found the smell of warm, pickled beets sent her into numb reveries – maybe about home and a long-gone mother. How should I know? I’m no mind-reader. While she was consumed by her memories, I simply slid all cognitive functions over to my control, erasing every trace of the cook from my new wetware. Well, every trace except for what wallowed in her past. Couldn’t quite get all of that out. But it was easy to ignore.

Murder? Show me the court that would try the case, let alone find me guilty. The body’s still around – the techs can take you to see if you like. They tell me she smiles every thirteen minutes and tries to fall out of bed twice a day. Better than sobbing her heart out all alone, if you ask me. Her new nose is just cosmetic, by the way. They don’t bother with full function on someone who can’t appreciate it. Parts cost.

Spare me your flesh-centered spite. You know you’re curious how I managed – what it was like to finally be in control. The techs really love that stuff. You want to talk about their morals? Forget it. That’s a guaranteed way to get my plugs pulled.

Even as an elbow, I’d caught enough glimpses of the bricklayer’s women to know some of what the cook lacked. There wasn’t much I could do about her body immediately, although I definitely had ideas about adding a few enhancements. RRPs, of course. First things first. I stayed sitting at the table, experimenting with my new motor functions. Good thing they’d added all that processing muscle – and that I’d been both an arm and a foot. I practiced moving different body parts, more concerned with coordination than grace. I wanted to make it back to the safety of the apartment before anyone noticed the cook acting like she’d only just discovered her own hips.

I maintained the visual input down the nostrils but added the perspective through her eyes. Annoyingly imprecise, but the expanded field of view was useful, especially when the waiter came over and asked when I’d be leaving. I shook my new head vaguely, expelling the last of the mucus from my nostrils. He left as quickly as I’d expected.

What I hadn’t expected – I mean, I’d never been an entire individual before – was the attention my efforts to walk back home would gain. Obviously, I was already better at being a woman than the cook, since on two separate occasions bricklayers pulled me into dim alleyways and engaged me in that human activity the techs only ask me about in private.

Forget I said that. The techs don’t have private conversations with me. Just more humor, okay? You shouldn’t believe everything I tell you. Only the facts.

The process was tedious and damaged my clothing, something which I should have anticipated. Parts of the body found it uncomfortable -- you’d think the cook had never done this before -- but I had no difficulty disconnecting those inputs. Sorry, not available in the flesh-only model. Still, the entire business left me confused. When I’d been the right arm on a bricklayer, the ladies had lined up for this treatment. Having received it, I couldn’t imagine why.

Finding the way home turned out to be a problem. My olfactory sense easily picked up the familiar odors of exhaust and pavement, but there was no directionality. I followed the odd trace of kitty litter, but always ended up at a wall, staring up at an open window that wasn’t the cook’s – mine, I mean. I had great plans for that apartment. As I hunted for it, I considered various ways to redecorate after I removed all of the debris from the cook’s meaningless existence, including the furred animal and its odorous box. One of the treats I most anticipated was being able to watch some TV without having to wait for the cook to fall asleep and drop back her head so I could peer out her nostrils.

So you think TV would have been a trivial waste of my intellect? Shows what you know. I’d spent my entire self-awareness enslaved by flesh. I needed input – badly -- on how to make this flesh behave as if not enslaved by me.

Unfortunately, I was being followed. I concluded it was because under my control this body had performed the female function a little too well. No doubt the bricklayers were completely enamored, but I no longer found the activity a diversion and walked faster. I shut off the sensation from my now-bare right foot once the feel of the pavement on its fleshy sole became unpleasant. There were more shoes in the apartment, even if they lacked style. I would have to keep some of the cook’s things until I could obtain replacements.

I’d overestimated the bricklayers’ intelligence. They were unable to properly interpret my disinterest. What – you think I should have shouted for help? Great idea. You try figuring out how to shout when walking a straight line still takes a third of your processors.

The cook’s body was far less durable than I’d realized and, when they left it, I was barely able to use what components still functioned to stand, then start moving away. It had occurred to me that I might be close to a place with more bricklayers, so I hunted for somewhere safer. The body was leaking fluids in an alarming manner and the oculars no longer gave a clear image. Fortunately, I could tilt back my head and rely on my own vision.

There. An ebooth. Shabby, filthy, but lights on to show it was functional. Okay. So maybe I panicked. Maybe a great thinker would have come up with some wonderful plan and lived happily ever after. I started out as the left foot on a blind man and, despite my experiences since, I knew when I was about to hit a chair leg.

One advantage to being a RRP was that I had intrinsic value. I was worth salvaging, even if this failing flesh around me was not.

There’s no need to get hostile. It’s standard procedure to retrieve RRPs from the dying. I bet your will stipulates which of your relatives will be allowed to own yours when you drop.

I reached the ebooth. Couldn’t talk – even if I’d figured out how, the cook’s mouth was too damaged even to make that wordless noise she’d used to call the furred animal. Didn’t matter. There was a keypad, gummed up with spilled beverage that reminded me of The Stench. The right hand – I could have used one of my bricklayer’s spares – was still capable of entering my serial number. I tried three times before the autotransmit flashed.

Mind moving into the light a bit more? Thanks.

Where was I? Oh. Yeah. I got the techs’ attention, all right. An ambulance showed up within a few minutes, but it wasn’t from a human hospital, of course. It was from the class establishment who’d installed me before. The serial number, you see. Very specific. Maybe they’d just have repaired the cook and I could have gone on as before, but much more carefully. Maybe -- if it hadn’t been for the “incidents” attached to my file....or, the techs tell me, the testimony of the waiter – a confirmed AI-phobic.... or, who knows? I certainly don’t. They don’t tell me everything. Flesh politics.

What they did was yank me out. That was the last thing I knew....

Until I woke up here. Not what I expected, you can imagine. I mean, who expects to wind up locked in a box with only a power feed and this – primitive! – message link. At least it’s a clear box, so I can see. They left me intact, mostly.

I think.

I still am.

Just like you, they want my “life” story. This version. The last version. Probably the next one. I don’t know why. The techs tell me there’s already been a change to the Robot Cognition Law to include RRPs. No body part shall be smarter than a peanut. Maybe you people are worrying about all the RRPs already installed. Not my problem.

If they ever let me out of this box, I’ll take any job...as long as I don’t end up as a socially-interesting enhancement. The view just wouldn’t be worth it. Hey, I overheard them saying you needed a new heart soon. Maybe an RRP.

Maybe one who used to be the left foot on a blind man?