Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Isaac Asimov - Robots of Dawn

  1. Humaniform robot - a robot that is as close to human as possible;
  2. Solaria, Aurora – Worlds besides Earth, inhabited by human beings, with far superior genetic structures and raised in more sanitised environments that Earth.
*           *           *
Daneel (a humaniform robot) led Baley (Earthman) into the room where breakfast was being served - it seemed more intimate than an ordinary dining room. It was small and plain, with no more in the way of furnishings than a table and two chairs and when Daneel retired, he did not move into a niche. In fact, there were no niches and, for a moment, Baley found himself alone – entirely alone – in the room.
That he was not really alone, he was certain. There would be robots on instant call. Still, it was a room for two – a no-robots room – a room (Baley hesitated at the thought) for lovers.
On the table there were two stacks of pancake-like objects that did not smell like pancakes but smelled good. Two containers of what looked like melted butter (but might not be) flanked them. There was a pot of the hot drink (which Baley had tried and had not liked very much) that substitute for coffee.
Gladia (Solarian woman) walked in, dressed in rather prim fashion and with her hair glistening, as though freshly conditioned. She paused a moment, her face wearing a half-smile. ‘Elijah?’
Baley, caught a little by surprise at the sudden appearance, jumped to his feet. ‘How are you, Gladia?’ He stuttered a bit.
She ignored that. She seemed cheerful, carefree. She said, ‘If you’re worried about Daneel not being in sight, don’t be. He’s completely safe and he’ll stay so. As for us - ’ She came to him, standing close, and put a hand slowly to his cheek, as once, long ago, she had done on Solaria.
She laughed lightly. ‘That was all I did then, Elijah. Do you remember?’
Elijah nodded silently.
‘Did you sleep well, Elijah? – Sit down, dear.’
He sat down. ‘Very well. – Thank you, Gladia.’ He hesitated before deciding not to return the endearment in kind.
She said, ‘Don’t thank me. I’ve had my best night’s sleep in weeks and I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t got out of bed after I was sure you were sleeping soundly. If I had stayed – as I wanted to – I would have been annoying you before the night was over and you would not have got your rest.’
He recognised the need for gallantry. ‘There are some things more important than r-rest, Gladia,’ he said, but with such formality that she laughed again.
‘Poor Elijah,’ she said, ‘You’re embarrassed.’
The fact that she recognised that, embarrassed him even more. Baley had been prepared for contrition, disgust, shame, affected indifference, tears – everything but the frankly erotic attitude she had assumed.
She said, ‘Well don’t suffer so. You’re hungry. You hardly ate last night. Get some calories inside you and you’ll feel more carnal.’
Baley looked doubtfully at the pancakes that weren’t.
Gladia said, ‘Oh! You’ve probably never seen these. They’re Solarian delicacies. Pachinkas! I had to reprogramme my chef before he could make them properly. In the first place, you have to use imported Solarian grain. It won’t work with the Auroran varieties. And they’re stuffed. Actually, there are a thousand stuffings you can use, but this is my favourite and I know you’ll like it, too. I won’t tell you what’s in it, except for chestnut purée and a touch of honey, but try it and tell me what you think. You can eat it with your fingers, but be careful how you bite into it.’
She picked one up, holding it daintily between the thumb and middle finger of each hand, then took a small bite, slowly, and licked at the golden semiliquid filling that flowed out.
Baley imitated her action. The pachinka was hard to touch and not too hot to hold. He put one end cautiously in his mouth and found it resisted biting. He put more muscle into it and the pachinka cracked and he found the contents flowing over his hands.
‘The bite was too large and too forceful,’ said Gladia, rushing to him with a napkin. ‘Now lick at it. No one eats a pachinka neatly. There’s no such’re supposed to wallow in it. Ideally, you’re supposed to eat it in the nude, then take a shower.’
Baley tried a hesitant lick and his expression was clear enough.
‘You like it, don’t you?’ said Gladia.
‘It’s delicious,’ said Baley and he bit away at it slowly and gently. It wasn’t too sweet and it seemed to soften and melt in the mouth. It scarcely required swallowing.
He ate three pachinkas and it was only shame that kept him from asking for more. He licked at his fingers without urging and eschewed the use of napkins, for he wanted none of it to be wasted on an inanimate object.
‘Dip your fingers and hands in the cleanser, Elijah,’ and she showed him. The ‘melted butter’ was a finger bowl, obviously.
Baley did as he was shown and then dried his hands. He sniffed at them and there was no odour whatever.
She said, ‘Are you embarrassed about last night, Elijah? Is that all you feel?’
What did one say? Baley wondered.
Finally, he nodded. ‘I’m afraid I am, Gladia. It’s not all I feel, by twenty kilometres or more, but I am embarrassed. Stop and think. I’m an Earthman and you know that, but for the time being you’re repressing it and “Earthman” is only a meaningless disyllabic sound to you. Last night you were sorry for me, concerned over my problem with the storm, feeling towards me as you would towards a child, and – sympathising with me, perhaps, out of vulnerability produced in you by your own loss – you came to me. But that feeling will pass – I’m surprised it hasn’t passed already – and then you will remember that I am an Earthman and you will feel ashamed, demeaned and dirtied. You will hate me for what I have done for you and I don’t want to be hated. – I don’t want to be hated, Gladia.’ (If he looked as unhappy as he felt, he looked unhappy indeed.)
She must have thought so, for she reached out to him and stroked his hand. ‘I won’t hate you, Elijah. Why should I? You did nothing to me I can object to. I did it to you and I’ll be glad for the rest of my life that I did. You freed me by a touch two years ago, Elijah, and last night you freed me again. I needed to know, two years ago, that I could feel desire – and last night I needed to know that I can feel desire again after Jander (another humaniform robot). Elijah – stay with me. It would be –‘
He cut her off earnestly. ‘How can that be, Gladia? I must go back to my own world. I have duties and goals there and you cannot come with me. You could not live the kind of life that is lived on Earth. You would die of Earthly diseases – if the crowds and enclosure did not kill you first. Surely you understand.’
‘Please, Elijah, I must explain something to you. I don’t think you understand what happened last night. Will you be all the more embarrassed if I do?’
Baley wondered how Jessie would feel and what she would do if she could hear this conversation. […] He should be thinking of Earth’s danger and not of his wife’s, but in actual fact, he was thinking of Jessie.
He said, ‘I’ll probably be embarrassed, but explain it anyway.’
Gladia moved her chair, refraining from calling one of her robotic staff to do it for her. He waited for her nervously, not offering to move it himself.
She put her chair immediately next to his, facing it in the other direction, so that she was looking at him directly when she sat down. And as she did so, she put out her small hand and placed it in his and he felt his own hand press it.
‘You see,’ she said, ‘I no longer fear contact. I’m no longer at the stage where all I can do is brush your cheek for an instant.’
‘That may be, but this does not affect you, Gladia, does it, as that bare touch did then?’
She nodded. ‘No, it doesn’t affect me that way, but I like it anyway. I think that’s an advance, actually. To be turned inside out just by a single moment of touch shows how abnormally I had lived and for how long. Now it is better. May I tell you how? What I have just said is actually prologue.’
‘Tell me.’
‘I wish we were in bed and it was dark. I could talk more freely.’
‘We are sitting up and it is light, Gladia, but I am listening.’
‘Yes. – On Solaria, Elijah, there was no sex to speak of. You know that.’
‘Yes, I do.’
‘[…] On a few occasions – only a few – my husband approached me out of duty. I won’t even describe how that was, but you will believe me when I tell you that, looking back on it, it was worse than none.’
‘I believe you.’
‘But I knew about sex. I read about it. I discussed it with other women sometimes, all of whom pretended it was a hateful duty that Solarians must undergo. […]’
‘Did you believe them?’
‘Of course I did. I had never heard anything else and the few non-Solarian accounts I read were denounced as false distortions. I believe that, too. […] I think Solarian women believed what they said and really did despise sex. They certainly sounded sincere enough and it made me feel there was something terribly wrong with me because I had a kind of curiosity about it – and odd feelings I could not understand.’
‘You did not, at that time, use robots for relief in any way?’
‘No, it didn’t occur to me. Or any inanimate object. There were occasional whispers of such things, but with such horror – or pretended horror – that I would never dream of doing anything like that.’
‘You told me of that. Sex with Aurorans was unsatisfactory.’
‘Yes. It made me think that Solarians were right after all. […] It was not until Jander that I understood. It is not sex that they have on Aurora; it is, it is – choreography. […] There is nothing unexpected, nothing spontaneous. On Solaria, since there was so little sex, nothing was given or taken. And on Aurora, sex was so stylised that, in the end, nothing was given or taken either. Do you understand?’
But then I met Jander and learned to use him. He was not an Auroran man. His only aim, his only possible aim, was to please me. He gave and I took and, for the first time, I experienced sex as it should be experienced. Do you understand that? Can you imagine what it must be like suddenly to know that you are not mad, or distorted, or perverted, or even simply wrong – but to know that you are a woman and have a satisfying sex partner?’
‘I think I can imagine that.’
‘But why me, Gladia? Why not someone else?’
‘No, Elijah, it had to be you. We came and found you, and you were helpless. Truly helpless. You were not unconscious, but you did not rule your body. […] I was there when you were warmed and treated, bathed and dried, helpless throughout. The robots did it all with marvellous efficiency, intent on caring for you and preventing harm from coming to you but totally without actual feeling. I, on the other hand, watched and I felt.’
Baley bent his head, gritting his teeth at the thought of his public helplessness. He had luxuriated in it when it had happened, but now he could only feel the disgrace of being observed under such conditions.
She went on. ‘I wanted to do it all for you. I resented the robots for reserving for themselves the right to be kind to you – and to give. And as I thought of myself doing it, I felt a growing sexual excitement, something I hadn’t felt since Jander’s death. – And it occurred to me then that, in my only successful sex, what I had done was to take. Jander gave whatever I wished, but he never took. He was incapable of taking, since his only pleasure lay in pleasing me. And it never occurred to me to give because I was brought up with robots and knew they couldn’t take.’
‘And as I watched, it came to me that I knew only half of sex and I desperately wanted to experience the other half.
‘And you said to me, “Gladia, please, I must sit down.” Oh, Elijah, it was the most wonderful thing you could have said to me.’
Baley felt himself flush. ‘It embarrassed me hideously at the time. Such a confession of weakness.’
‘It was just what I wanted. It drove me wild with desire. I forced you to bed and came to you and, for the first time in my life, I gave. I took nothing. And the spell of Jander passed, for I knew that he had not been enough, either. It must be possible to take and give, both. – Elijah, stay with me.’

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