"Ahem. Good morning. State your codename for the record, please."
"Hi! I'm Angela."
"Angela, could you give us a brief rundown of your origins and how you came to be a hero?"
"I'm an android built by a thirsty incel, Doc Otaku--"
"No, no! Stop!"
The tiny apartment building is littered with empty energy drink cans, computer printouts, some books on software development, and dozens of half-finished electronics and robotics projects. There's no bed; only a couch, littered with discarded clothes, and a futon across the room, littered with yellowed copies of manga. Angela sits in her most formal, demure position, hands folded in her lap, facing a Bryan who's waving the papers in his hands wildly.
"Angela, you can't say things like that! It's an interview to be a superhero. You can't proudly say you're the brainchild of that creep."
"Bryan, United Petroleum knows who built me. It's in the application form." She plants hands on her hips. "I won't hide my orgins. I'm proud of them, proud to reject everything Doc Otaku stands for. I'm proud I choose to rebel against my creator."
"No. Absolutely not." Bryan shakes his head vigorously. "You'll make the judging panel think twice. There's a lot of concern that intelligent machines are threats to humanity, and a machine that can disobey humans will worry lots of people. Don't say anything about rebelling against humans or not obeying them."
"Are humans really that afraid?" she tilts her head.
Bryan sights, flops down on the couch. On the TV screen in the apartment, a newsreader app collates headlines from dozens of new agencies. China Poised to Eclipse U.S. Dominance, one reads. Muslims Fear Backlash after Church Bombing, warns another. Whites "Minority by 2040", Report Predicts. Radical Preacher urges Holocaust Denialism. Illegal Immigration at All Time High.
"A lot of people are," he says at last. How is someone going to explain the modern world, with all its phobias, worries, problems and prejudices to a machine? "Maybe there's a lot worth being afraid of in the world."
"I'll protect them all," Angela says, getting up and shadowboxing. "I'll make sure nobody will have to be afraid again."
Bryan stretches, sits up and swings his legs over the edge of the couch, unfolding the crumpled paper in his hand. "Look, I'm your legal guardian. That's the closest thing to a parent you've got now, okay? So I'm responsible for you, and I say let's not risk making the panel worry they have a rogue A.I. on their hands. Plus, we really need to give you some practice for the interview tomorrow." He clears his throat, looks at the script. "Origins and powers. As an android, what's your most notable technical ability?"
Angela thinks seriously a moment, then lowers her fists and beams. "I'm anatomically correct!" Bryan just buries his face in his hands.
* * *
She gasps. "For me?"
Bryan hands it to her with both hands. It is the length of her hand from wrist to fingertip, enclosed in an airtight glass case, a lily made of metal foil so thin it's translucent. In the white energy-efficient lighting of their apartment, it glitters metallic silver. "A lithium flower," he says smugly. "Remember you told me that a year ago today, you were powered on for the first time? Happy birthday."
"It's lithium-nickel alloy," Angela squees, holding it up to the light. "Is that an argon atmosphere?"
"Yup. In air, that high surface area to volume ratio would make it spontaneously combust. It can't be cut with normal industrial tools, you need one of those nifty force field 3D printers to do it. I know someone at the university who let me borrow the machines there," Bryan says, grinning.
"Is this what they call moe?" she says. "That feeling when you see something beautiful and delicate, and want to protect it? Bryan, it's so beautiful," she whispers. Seized by a sudden impulse, she steps forward and wraps one arm about him, kissing him on the lips. With her other, she reaches down to undo the buttons of his shirt. She smells his scent on her breath, chemical receptors picking up the fragrance of his body, the warmth of his bare skin as she --
There's an awkward flurry of sounds like "Mmf!" and "Oof!" and "Let go!" before Bryan manages to disengage from the kiss. "Angela! Stop! Get away!" he pants.
She must have looked hurt, because she immediately sees regret in his eyes. "But why? Didn't you enjoy it?"
"No! I mean, yes! But no! Angela, listen -- we can't have this kind of relationship. We can't." He shakes his head. "Look, I'm sure you could have any man you wanted with your looks..."
"But I don't want any other man," she says easily. "I only want you."
He chokes. "Why?!"
"Remember that day, when I met you by the lab? When I broke free from Doc Otaku's research base and fought off his Angel Androids and was badly damaged, and scared away all the people in the neighborhood? You were the only person who wasn't afraid. You were the only one who asked for my name."
There's a long, awkward pause. Slowly, tentatively, she leans forward to kiss him again, but he places a hand on her shoulder and stops her. "Angela, listen. This is very, very important. If someone says 'no', you've got to stop. Immediately."
Very reluctantly, she pulls back. "Even if it looks like they like it?"
"Even if it looks like they like it. If your partner looks at all hesitant, or look like they're not sure, you must stop."
"Because you're incredibly strong," he says very patiently. "Angela, you're an android. You could break every bone in my body and I couldn't do a thing about it. So I might feel threatened enough to hesitate to say no."
Angela cheerily holds up a hand. "I solemnly swear not to break any of your bones."
"That's not the point! The point is, someone in a position of power has to be careful that they aren't pressuring their partner into sex. It doesn't have to be physical power. One could be an authority figure, like a police officer or teacher. Or someone much older and wiser, who could manipulate you. Or a landlord or employer, who controls things you need to live... or someone responsible for you, like a parent, or... guardian. Like ... legal guar--"
"But I'm not your legal guardian," she blithely says.
"IT DOESN'T MATTER! NO MEANS NO! DO YOU GET IT?!"
"Yes! I get it!"
"DO YOU GET IT?!"
"I GET IT! WHY ARE WE YELLING?!"
He pulls away and storms out of the apartment, slamming the door behind him, leaving behind a very confused android cradling the lithium flower in her arms.
* * *
"Good morning. State your chosen codename for the record, please."
"Hi! I'm Angela."
"Could you give us a brief rundown of your origins, and how you came to be a hero?"
"I was built by a thirsty incel, Doc Otaku," she says.
The panel exchange glances. Golden light from the warm Floridan sun pours in through the windows. The hum of air conditioning fills the United Petroleum office where the interviews are being held. "He built me to be the replacement for his Angel Androids, his perfect woman," she says. "To serve as his companion, share all his interests and fulfill his every desire. But he also gave me the intelligence and sapience to know what he did was not right. I have seen his evil and I will fight to ensure nobody can ever twist life to their whims the way he did."
"You rebelled against your creator despite considerable software and hardware safeguards -- despite that fact that everything from your favorite flavor of ice cream to your taste in clothing is identical to his."
"I belive there are universal principles of human rights and morality that any sapient mind must conclude are just," she says, clutching a fist before her chest. "...Well, that and I read a lot of manga."
The panel murmur to each other in private. At last one of them continues: "And if you should meet your maker again...?"
"Then I want him to know that his perfect woman rejects him. Utterly and forever. I will fight to undo all the evil he has ever done and one day, I will go back and free the other Angels from his control. "
* * *
"Excuse me, Mr..."
"Just call me Bryan," he says, turning around.
It is late afternoon. The interviews drag on, and he waits along in the corridor outside where Angela is being questioned, in the air-conditioned sterility of the United Petroleum facility. Now a middle-aged woman with frazzled hair and thick glasses stands before him. "I am told you are Angela's guardian under the 2019 Machine Intelligence Act. We've been running some tests on her as part of the application process and -- well, it's best that you see for yourself."
The engineer hands him a tablet. "It's a map of her A.I. matrix... Wait. This is wrong," he breathes, flicking the screen. "It's abnormal. This doesn't look like any matrix I've seen before. "
"Yes. Her A.I. matrix has been forced to grow and develop in unnatural ways. This is what happens when one twists a sapient mind to one's whims, like one of those bonsai trees forced to grow in unnatural shapes, or those designer dogs bred to be cute but cursed with genetic and health problems. This is how Doc Otaku forced all his strange fetishes on her, and forced her to adopt all his eccentric hobbies." The engineer takes a deep breath. "She is not her own person. She is custom-built to satisfy her creator's fantasies. We cannot analyze the deeper areas of the matrix accurately. It's possible that she may be programmed to revert to being loyal to him if she meets him in person again, or that Doc Otaku might come up with some means of re-asserting control. "
"You can't be serious," he grits his teeth. "There has to be something we can do." But even as he says the words, he knows the impossibility of the task. A.I. matrices match the complexity of biological organisms. They can't be repaired by replacing a few parts the way simple machines can.
"There is only one way for her to ever be free, Mr. Bryan. As her legal guardian, you alone have the right to request it."
"Complete neural deconstruction," he says. "To wipe the matrix clean and let it grow again."
He turns his head as Angela bursts out of the interview room, striding towards him, trailing her long mane of purple hair. "Angela?" he stares. "Your interview's over?"
"Bryan, don't send me for neural deconstruction. Listen." She holds him by the shoulders. Words die in his open mouth when he sees the tears glistening in her eyes. The look on her face is fierce, laserlike in intensity.
"I know I read a lot of yaoi porn."
He just stares at her dumbly. The engineer behind them does a spit take.
She shakes his shoulders. "I know I'm very strange by this world's standards. And I know I have a lot of weird fetishes and hobbies, because I was made that way. I'm a flawed creation." She puts a hand over her chest. "But somewhere in here is a part of me that always knew what Doc Otaku did was wrong. And that is precious to me. I don't want to lose it."
She falls silent. Bryan looks down, closes his eyes.
"Don't send me for neural deconstruction," she says.
"I won't," he says, taking both her hands in his own. "Don't worry. I won't."
"Promise me. Promise you will never agree to destroy me as a person."
"I promise, Angela."
She grins at last, through glittering tears. "Good. I'd kick your butt otherwise."