“I am a dominant in form and thought,” Artie said. “I had many submissives that answered to me.”
“Definitely a female,” Lincoln decided, and Alexis gently slapped his shoulder to quiet him.
“But do you eat?” Boston asked.
Artie paused for a second to consider the word ‘eat’. She concluded, “Consume. Yes. I can go many cycles without, but I consume when I can. My flesh perspires to keep my systems cool, so I need water for replenishment. Also, my flesh, what you call hair, grows to accommodate to the environment. My sensory apparatus requires sustenance to operate at optimal levels, and I have an efficient system to eject extra, unnecessary, and foreign substances that may enter my system.”
“No shit…” Decker whispered as he stepped over to the others, but everyone heard.
“We are taking you to the Kairos,” Katie said. “She will know what is best to do.”
“But my base is…” Artie stopped. She could not raise an arm or even a finger to point, but the confusion that crossed her face said she was not sure where her base might be. At least the humans read the look on her face as a look of confusion. Boston felt the need to speak.
“We removed the homing signal for fear the Blobs would pick it up and track us.” She told the half-truth with a perfectly straight elf face, while inside she grinned and patted herself on the back for not telling an outright lie.
“The Kairos will know where your people are, and if it is safe to take you there,” Katie added.
“Kairos.” Artie repeated the name. Her eyes widened suddenly when she accessed the relevant data. “We were told to stay away from the Kairos at all costs.”
“If you are with us, you will be safe,” Alexis assured her.
“Enough for now,” Elder Stow came over to the group. “The young woman has enough pseudo-organic systems to need rest and healing time like a human.”
The gathering started to back up, but noticed when Artie got a good look at the Gott-Druk. She looked terribly afraid for a moment before a thought entered her mouth. “You are an ancient one?”
Elder Stow nodded, and Artie found that acceptable. She nodded as well as she could and closed her eyes. Elder Stow touched the disc he had placed on her temple and she became as still as death.
Boston and Elder Stow worked on Artie all during the breakfast, lunch and supper breaks. They gave her water, then let her sleep while they moved. They headed south, the Euphrates their constant companion, after making a wide birth around the fighting. By the time the sun set on the second day, Artie could sit up. Only her legs remained to be fixed.
Alexis came from the fire to visit Artie, as the sun set golden against the distant clouds. Alexis felt much better, as long as she did not strain her shoulder. Artie would be all better, once her legs got repaired. Elder Stow was still there, working in the fading light. They had lamps, but dared not expose themselves to the Anazi and Blobs by using artificial light. Lincoln made a torch, but soon enough, that would not cast enough light to really work.
“Artie,” Alexis said and smiled for the android. Katie, Boston, and after a moment, Artie returned her smile. “I was wondering if you might be hungry. Would you like some food, to consume?”
Artie shook her head. She had already picked up a number of human actions. “I am not hungry. I can go a while without the need for sustenance.”
“Let me know if you feel hungry,” Alexis said.
“Do you have feelings?” Boston asked.
“Of course,” Artie responded. “My flesh has many, many sensors that indicate to me if something is hot or cold, rough of smooth.”
“No, I didn’t mean that kind of feeling. I meant feeling, like what you sense on the inside.”
“I have all eight senses functioning well enough. I can touch, taste, smell, see, hear, communicate, think, and sense myself.”
“She is self-aware,” Elder Stow explained that last one.
“Yes, but what about feeling?” Boston did not know how to explain it. Alexis took over.
Artie paused to think. They were getting used to that expression on Artie’s face, and normally gave her time to work through her thoughts, but this time, Katie interrupted.
“Yesterday, before we told you we removed your homing device, you thought to point us to your base camp, but when you could not find the right direction, you looked confused. Did you feel confused?”
“And after.” Alexis got the idea. “When you saw Elder Stow, and you asked if he was an ancient, you looked afraid. Did you feel afraid?”
“I thought bad things,” Artie admitted. “But I knew there was nothing I could do about it.”
“So you felt resigned to your fate,” Katie suggested.
Artie stared for a second before she nodded. “If that is what it is called.” She looked at Boston, and then Alexis. “I did not understand why I could not pinpoint the location of my base. I thought of and rejected many possible explanations before you explained what happened. And as for love. I have heard the word, but I do not know what the word means. I understand it has something to do with kindness, obedience, loyalty, and other such concepts that can be expressed in physical action, but I do not know that I feel it. I do not know if I have the sense of feeling. I did not even know that there was a ninth sense.”
“I have examined her cranial capacity—her brain,” Elder Stow spoke. “There is no reason she should not experience feelings, but it may be her obedience crystal—obedience chip prevented her until now.”
“Do you feel happy hearing that?” Boston asked.
“If that is what it is called,” Artie said, and smiled a bit harder where
Alexis noticed something.
“Hey, you have teeth.”
“I saw that you have teeth,” Artie said, as Lincoln stepped over to check on his wife. “I am not sure what they are good for, but I have also grown a tongue and arranged my sensors to be more like yours.”
“Her flesh is plasma based, more like a plastic than real flesh,” Elder Stow explained. “She mostly healed herself from all of her cuts and abrasions from the crash. I am just working on the internals where she does not feel anything except if the system is working or not working properly. Anyway, apparently she can reform and reshape her flesh to some extent.”
“I have scanned you. I mean, the…” she paused to think a moment. “Females. Alexis and Katie, especially. Real flesh is a wonder, the way it heals, naturally, without you having to even think about it.” Artie sounded impressed.
“Not as fast as you healed yourself,” Alexis said, and put one hand to her shoulder.
“But it is miraculous that it heals all on its own,” Artie insisted.
“But how did you get teeth?” Katie was curious now.
“I reshaped my flesh, and I can reshape to look more like you, if you don’t mind.”
Everyone said they didn’t mind, and it made Artie smile again.
“Fat blobs?” Boston objected.
“They are called breasts,” Alexis told Artie. “But they are basically fat blobs,” she told Boston.
“The fat blobs on my bottom will be a bit more difficult, but I should be able to thin my legs and waist to fatten my hips and bottom.”
“That’s okay,” Katie said. “You don’t want a fat butt.”
“But wait,” Boston was thinking. “Why didn’t you scan me?”
“I did,” Artie said. “But you are different. You have all the attributes on the outside, but your insides don’t seem to be there. It seems you are there and not there at the same time. I do not understand it, and I cannot reconcile it.”
“That’s because I’m an elf,” Boston said with a true elf grin.
“She isn’t human,” Alexis said as Boston removed her glamour. Artie’s eyes went wide as Alexis tried to explain. “She is more spirit than flesh. She is a spirit of nature, an earth spirit.”
“But no,” Artie objected. “There is no such thing as spirit, much less spirit people.”
Elder Stow put his things away and spoke. “Her senses, and her brain will interpret things based on what she knows. At the same time, she can see internal as well as external reality, kind of like x-ray vision. That was how she knew I was of the elder races, though I never removed my glamour.”
Artie nodded. “It was confusing,” she said, then looked to see if she used the word in the right way.
“But here I am, a spirit person,” Boston said. She raised her arms and turned like a model.
“What do you think happens to you when you die?” she asked.
“Nothing,” Artie answered.
“No telling,” Elder Stow said with a shrug. “Something good, I hope, but I will say one thing. Any human in her wreck would have died. Artie would have ceased to function altogether if we had not gotten to her when we did.”
“Why should something happen when you die? Isn’t that just the end of everything?” Artie was curious.
“I’ll leave that discussion to our Methodist,” Katie said and wandered back to the fire.
“My evangelical heart wants to get in the middle of that,” Boston said. “But my elf spirit feels very ambivalent about that.” She joined Mingus and the others.
“I’ll let her stay awake for a while, but not for long. She still needs to rest.” Elder Stow left. Lincoln pulled out the database for reference. Alexis smiled. Artie gave voice to her curiosity.