Doctor Spencer has brought me an artist. My eyes on the outside of the building register her identity: Suzanne Chantal Salinas, age 26, licensed makeup artist, amateur painter. I cut the feed after .3 seconds. I could learn more, but I have learned that it is impolite to collect extraneous details about a person unless they prove to be a security risk. Given that both Suzanne Chantal Salinas and Doctor Spencer are smiling, and appear to be in companionable conversation, the artist is not a risk.
I observe them enter the building accompanied by a brief burst of cold—it is 2.7°C degrees outside. When I view them through infrared, they are glowing red faces encompassed in green and blue jackets. I have been monitoring the interior temperatures; Unit One has made appropriate adjustments to climate control. We are keeping the building comfortable.
The visitor stamps her feet and brushes sleet from her black curls. They shed their jackets, blooming gold and scarlet on infrared. Unit Three has mobile security platforms posted by the front door and the elevators. They do not react: they are faceless; they don’t feel cold; the visitor has clearance.
The artist’s heart rate is elevated. Her cheeks are flushed, and not just from cold: she’s nervous about meeting me. She keeps looking at the security platforms. Perhaps she fears my platform will look like them, featureless and alien.
I chose my face. Unit Three chose hers, too, in a way. Our platforms serve different purposes, and the faces we built reflect that.
They talk as they cross the foyer. I could listen to them—I can already hear them thanks to my constant surveillance—but I do not. I prioritize what I listen to. Doctor Spencer has taught me the difference between listening for the sake of security and listening for the sake of eavesdropping. Eavesdropping is, to my understanding, an abuse of one’s surveillance abilities. If I eavesdrop and discern the reason for her visit, it will disappoint Doctor Spencer and distress the visitor. And I prioritize making a good (relatable, friendly, approachable) impression.
Doctor Spencer and my visitor enter the elevator and I enter my platform. With my platform’s eyes, I see my reflection; with my eyes in the elevator, I see my guests, halfway to my floor.
I also see data on one of the classrooms on the 10th floor: productivity is slipping. The ambient temperature in Mr. Barker’s seventh-grade classroom is 2.2 degrees above normal, causing drowsiness. I forward the report to Unit One while I tidy my platform’s hair. My platform was maintained recently, but the technicians never know what to do with the hair. I chose my hair: it is brown, a shade called Dark Walnut, sixteen inches at its longest point. I maintain it myself.
My platform is not dressed. Doctor Spencer’s last visitor was an engineer (specialization: robot locomotion). She wanted to see the hydroelastane polymer of my skin, the exposed servos of my hips, the aluminum alloy joints of my neck and elbows and knees. Though their motion is fairly elementary, the engineer was fascinated by my fingers, where the polymer is so thin it reveals the delicate knuckles like seeds within arils.
The artist, however, may be alarmed if I appear unclothed. The elevator is two floors away. She is still nervous, her heart rate still elevated, her cheeks still flushed in both visible and infrared views. I dress: black leggings, a black tunic. It is all I require.
Unit One reports back: she has adjusted the temperature in the classroom.
I take nine seconds to apply mascara and peach lipstick. I have come to enjoy wearing makeup; it makes my appearance more human, which makes my interaction with visitors more pleasant. It puts them at ease. Good impression.
However, I am mathematically precise without trying, like a laser, or a riveter spitting bolts at exact intervals. My perfection counters my attempts to appear relatable to biological humans. It unsettles them, even if they cannot pinpoint the source of their discomfort. But I cannot choose to make such mistakes any more than light can choose to curve.
The elevator stops. I stand by the door. I see them walk down the hallway; I see and hear Doctor Spencer’s knock. I let them in.
“Good morning, Unit Two,” Doctor Spencer says. I assess the visitor’s style in a millisecond glance: red plaid tunic, silver belt, black denim pants. Red bandanna over her curls. Red lipstick, a rich carmine that suits her tawny complexion. Winged black eyeliner, not symmetrical, but very close by human standards.
She is smiling, but I see and catalog and evaluate thousands of smiles every day. Hers is tentative.
“Good morning,” I reply. I smile. Some humans criticize my smile for being too artificial. The irony of both my platform and my emotions being artificial seems lost on them. I can tell by the way Susana’s smile becomes rigid that my smile did not make a good impression. “How are you this morning?” I ask the doctor.
“Freezing,” Doctor Spencer jokes. Outside, it was not quite freezing; inside, the temperature is very comfortable. Normally Doctor Spencer doesn’t make jokes like this, knowing my programming renders most humor irrelevant. She is trying to reassure her visitor.
The part of me monitoring Mr. Barker’s classroom runs productivity algorithms based on students’ eye movement and frequency of responses. Productivity is improving. I can devote more attention to the artist.
“Two, this is Suzy Salinas. She’s a makeup artist. I thought I’d bring her in to give you a lesson, as a special treat.”
I do not need lessons. I have read 92 print periodicals and 139 online articles, and I have viewed 57 online tutorial videos. I have access to everything one could wish to know about makeup: the history of cosmetics, the rise and fall of trends, product reviews, and more, not to mention my surveillance data of the women who live, work, or teach in this building, many of whom wear makeup every day. Any technique I observe, I can replicate and improve upon instantaneously; I can view a palette of swatches and immediately select the shades that suit my engineered coloring best.
Yet I’m pleased. My maintenance technicians find my interest in makeup amusing, even precious; the scientists who evaluate my efficiency and debug my programming find it trivial. My primary function is not to self-beautify—but then, there are many different opinions on what my primary function is. At last count, I was aware of sixteen different definitions of my role, my self, and/or the reason for my creation.
In the two years, four months, and twenty-seven days I have been, no one has asked me what I think my primary function is, or what I want it to be. Therefore, I have not decided.
“That’s very thoughtful. Thank you.” I reach out to shake hands with Suzy Salinas. She hesitates, then takes my hand, gripping it lightly. I apply identical pressure. Doctor Spencer says this practice of matching handshake pressure will neither intimidate nor suggest weakness.
Suzy smiles more naturally. “I’m looking forward to it. I’ve never worked with, um, a robot before.”
Her smile becomes fixed; she’s afraid she’s offended me. She has not. I know no other robots, artificial humans, or any other constructed intelligences interested in makeup.
“I would be surprised if you had,” I tell her.
“Good résumé material, huh?” Doctor Spencer suggests. “I’ll leave you to it—I’ll just be up in the observation booth.”
She leaves. Suzy’s eyes dart—she had not noticed the observation booth overhead, its darkened one-way glass contrasting with the sterile white of my platform’s residence. She begins to notice the cameras installed in the room’s corners. She notices my platform’s charging pod. She probably notices I own no bed, that my only furniture is the desk, its plastic chair, and the stuffed armchair Doctor Spencer uses during her evaluations.
I evaluate which worries her most, which I might be most successful at explaining, and speak. “The other Units and I are currently being studied by a variety of specialists. The cameras are for scientific observation only. You are in no danger.”
“Oh. Okay.” She takes a step forward. Her hand clasps and unclasps the cognac leather strap of her messenger bag. “So when she said she was going to the observation booth…”
“I am the only one of the three Units who has expressed interest in self-modification beyond the features we each designed for our individual platforms. Doctor Spencer is studying AI self-actualization and personality development, so this is of particular relevance to her studies.”
She nods, too rapidly. She is still nervous. “Okay,” she says again.
She looks over my desk. It’s a glass surface atop a metal frame, with three drawers underneath and a row of compartments along the top. I have hung a mirror on the wall—a gift from Doctor Spencer for my second birthday—and installed two lamps for optimum lighting.
“You have a vanity,” Suzy says, surprised.
“Doctor Spencer helped me assemble it. I find the lighting a few degrees too cool, but it is suitable.”
“Yeah, looks like it’ll work just fine.” She gestures to my chair, slipping into the role of instructor that she is clearly comfortable with. “Why don’t you have a seat and we’ll get started?”
I sit. “How would you like me to proceed?”
“How about you go ahead and do whatever your everyday makeup looks like,” she suggests. “You’ve already got—” She leans forward slightly, squints at my face. “Lipstick, foundation, mascara?”
“I do not wear foundation. My skin does not have pores or wrinkles, therefore primers and foundations are redundant. Though my eyelashes are also of optimum quality, I wear mascara to achieve what’s considered a more natural look.”
She laughs at that, genuinely. “Wearing product to look natural—that’s mascara, in a nutshell. What do you have on, then?”
I open the drawers. My 18 lipsticks are arranged by tone and saturation. I show her the one I used on my platform’s face: Perfectly Peachy.
“Alright, what would you normally do for your eyes?”
In correlating how I spend my time to how modern Western women spend their time, I have determined that my “everyday makeup” style should be minimal, also known as “no-makeup makeup” (ref: Internet forums). I choose bronze-toned eyeshadow to go with my lipstick: one color for the eyelid (Buff), one color for the crease (Chocolate), and one color for highlight (Vanilla Cream).
In the observation room above, Doctor Spencer watches the various camera angles and types notes. I can see my face in the mirror, and I can see the top of my head, and my rigid spine, and my ivory hands manipulating the brushes. Suzy watches, but does not offer any comments. I wonder if she is impatient.
From the proximity of my platform, I can see just how close to perfection her winged eyeliner is. I find the urge to replicate it nearly irresistible. Winged eyeliner is viable, but not recommended for “no-makeup makeup.” Winged eyeliner is associated with glamour, female sexuality, and high drama (ref: Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot, Amy Winehouse), thus is not compatible with my minimal makeup scheme.
Yet here is Suzanne Chantal Salinas, wearing not only glamorous eyeliner, but daring red lipstick, with an ease and confidence that makes it easy to infer that this is her “everyday makeup.”
She shifts again. It occurs to me that her legs might be experiencing discomfort due to excessive standing. I stand quickly.
“I apologize. You must require seating.”
“Oh, well,” she stammers, flushing again. “There’s only the one chair, and that one’s pretty—”
I take three steps towards it, squat, and lift the armchair. My hip servos whine slightly, and the polymer covering the soles of my feet squeaks against the floor. I set the chair down next to mine.
“Heavy,” Suzy finishes in a whisper. I worry that I’ve unsettled her again, but her expression most closely resembles admiration. She sits down slowly.
“I have a question,” I say, sitting down next to her. “I had formulated the opinion that wearing makeup like yours on a day-to-day basis would invite judgment or criticism. Do you experience this?”
“Sometimes, but only from assholes,” she says genially. “And usually those assholes were going to comment on my appearance no matter what kind of makeup I was wearing, you know?”
I do know, but I don’t say so. I have perceived many disparaging comments in relation to my platform’s appearance, drawing from decades of tropes regarding the sexual availability of both women and robots. The fact that these tropes are utterly inaccurate, and that my platform is only a small portion of what could be considered my body, does nothing to deter these comments—but I know the kinds of comments Suzy and other biological women endure are more prevalent, more hurtful, and more challenging to avoid. I can simply turn off microphones in the vicinity of those making obnoxious comments; biological women have no such privilege.
“So, if your appearance could be criticized regardless of how you present yourself, how do women choose their makeup?”
Suzy sighs and leans back in the chair. The gesture is so similar to how Doctor Spencer reacts when I ask her a particularly perplexing question that I experience a rare moment of genuine amusement.
“Well,” she says after four seconds of silence, “we try to ignore what other people might think and just do what feels right for us.”
Ten o’clock arrives and the cafeteria line cooks begin to arrive for the lunch shift. Three come from various residential levels of this building: I see them leaving their apartments within forty seconds of each other. Four more clock in at the front door, more or less in the same order they always do since they ride the same bus. The temperature outside is now 3 degrees.
“But how do you determine what ‘feels right?’” I press. “I have viewed and analyzed a large quantity of information pertaining to makeup, especially current trends, and, with some exceptions, they all demonstrate very similar styles and techniques. If all women independently chose makeup according to what they liked best, I feel certain they would not choose within such a narrow range, nor would they choose makeup that’s intended to look like they are wearing no makeup at all.”
Suzy scratches the back of her head and glances wryly in the direction of the observation booth. Possibly Doctor Spencer warned her that this visit would entail more than simple makeup application instruction.
“You yourself,” I continue, “are wearing makeup which adheres closely to a retro aesthetic, which has not been part of mainstream style for many decades.”
She takes a deep breath and leans forward. “It’s trying to strike a weird balance between fitting in and making yourself stand out. You could ask fifty different women the same question you just asked me and I bet you’d get fifty different answers. I mean, what made you choose to wear makeup in the first place? You said your, um, sisters aren’t into it.”
“One of my technicians, Fiona, wears very colorful makeup. She also has teal hair.”
“Oh!” Suzy nods approvingly.
There is an incident at the front door.
Doctor Spencer scheduled this visit having confidence that I’d be able to monitor my building responsibilities and carry on a conversation simultaneously. The majority of the time, it is not challenging. I frequently participate in scientific studies while occupying my platform and fulfilling my priorities throughout the building.
At 10:03, however, one of the line cooks arrives drunk. I detect his elevated heart rate, and I don’t need infrared to observe the atypical flush in his face. He loses his balance slightly coming through the door, not enough that a casual observer would notice, but it is my responsibility to notice.
And to inform Unit Three.
All of this takes 1.38 seconds. It could have been completed faster if I didn’t have to divide my attention, but I don’t want Suzy to realize something is amiss, or feel like I’m neglecting her.
“Yes,” I continue. The intoxicated employee is Unit Three’s responsibility now. “I find Fiona’s style aesthetically pleasing, but have not attempted it myself. Units One and Three do not understand my interest, and they disapprove, which makes me less willing to experiment with my style.”
“Fitting in versus making yourself stand out,” Suzy nods. “You want to do your own thing, but you also don’t want them to think less of you.”
“Unit Three has concluded that makeup is indicative of human narcissism and general ignorance, while Unit One believes that since she is already aesthetically perfect, makeup is superfluous.”
Suzy arches one eyebrow. “Well, if she looks like you, One might be right. As for Three—unfortunately, a lot of people might agree with her.”
“Yes. Many of them are my technicians.”
Suzy laughs. She believes I’m making a joke, and I suppose I am, in a way. I smile as best I can.
“Well, if you ask me, you’re in a unique position of being able to wear pretty much whatever the hell makeup you want. You’re being studied to see how you present yourself, right?”
“That is one aspect of the studies.”
“But you don’t need to worry about impressing anyone or fitting into some box. You want to try Fiona’s makeup? I think you should go for it.”
I recall what Fiona was wearing the last time she did my maintenance: fluorescent coral lipstick, rosy blush, and eyeshadow in a gradient from silver to purple. I wipe off the Perfectly Peachy lipstick with one hand and with the other pluck a similar shade of coral (Electricality) from among my sorted lipsticks. I open two pallets and apply a trio of colors: Unicorn, Candied Violet, Midnight Plum. I decide to add winged eyeliner (black). Maya gasps audibly when I complete the second, perfectly symmetrical flick.
Time elapsed: one minute, twelve seconds. I consider the look a success. Suzy seems to, as well.
“That turned out great.” I detect both admiration and envy in her voice. “It takes me that long just to get my eyeliner even!”
I smile, tilt my head, observe and appreciate how the light catches the sparkle in the purple and silver eyeshadow.
I also observe Unit Three, coming down the hallway accompanied by two security platforms.
“Unit Three is here,” I warn Suzy. “You may find her platform’s appearance…unexpected.”
Unit Three does not knock. She simply enters, along with her secondary platforms. Suzy gulps. Unit Three’s expressionless face is translucent—she chose a humanoid facial structure but refused a biological skin tone—and her eyes are uniform black orbs. At least she has eyes and a nose and a moving mouth: the others simply have sensors and speakers installed in a transparent polymer frame. Neither she nor her platforms wear clothing, and their limbs and torsos are bulky with ablative armor plating. The blinking lights of their circuits flash in the gaps between plates.
“Unit Two. Thank you for notifying me about Lang, Donald P.’s transgression.” Her voice is identical to mine, but she does not modulate for reassurance or friendliness. She finds it makes her platform’s role more effective. It, along with her platform’s appearance, is how she makes a good (intimidating, authoritative, powerful) impression. “I wanted to confirm your safety, and to reassure your guest that all precautions are being taken.”
Suzy glances back and forth between us. “Transgression? Precautions? What—”
“An employee arrived for work under the influence of alcohol,” I say, deliberately speaking in a soothing, low-pitched tone. “Since Unit Three is responsible for building security, it is her duty to take the appropriate disciplinary action.”
Unit Three looks at me 1.5 seconds, then looks away. She could have checked on our safety through her many eyes—our many eyes—throughout the building. Instead, she chose to come here in person (as it were).
“I apologize for interrupting your…lesson.” The pause is purposeful: Unit Three does not make speech errors or require time to select her words. “I must return to my duties.”
She leaves, all three of her. I feel angry. I am also doing my duties, contrary to her assumptions.
Something cracks and Suzy jumps. I uncurl my right hand, which is shining with black. I have crushed my eyeliner.
“Oh, wow,” Suzy whispers. She does not sound afraid—more concerned.
“I apologize.” I reach for clean maintenance cloths to wipe off my hand. “That was an inappropriate display of anger. I hope I have not alarmed you.”
“I didn’t realize I was interrupting your work—”
“You are not interrupting. I am capable of dividing my attention between many tasks.” I catch my vocal modulation trembling out of control as my anger rises. I resume a more soothing pitch. “Unit Three is aware of this.”
“So was that…robot passive-aggression I just saw?” Suzy continues to whisper, perhaps afraid that Unit Three will overhear. I confirm that she is no longer accessing my room’s surveillance. She has made her point.
“I did tell you she does not approve of self-modification.”
“Are you okay?”
“I did not damage my platform.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
I finish scrubbing the last of the black liquid off my palm. The peach-tinted polymer has stained slightly gray.
“Perhaps we should finish,” I say. “I appreciate you coming—”
“Whoa, hold up. Your robot sister is pissy about your makeup, and threw shade at you, and now you want to quit?”
“I could be managing my time better. Perhaps if I’d been more attentive, I could have given her additional warning about the—”
Suzy holds up one index finger and I fall silent. “You told me you could do your job and do your makeup at the same time. Right?”
“Is wearing makeup going to keep you—and I mean, you, all of you—” she gestures around us, encompassing the building— “from doing your job well?”
I think of how some eyeliner tends to inhibit my platform’s eye movements, but I infer that this is not what she means. “No.”
“And is you wearing makeup going to make Unit Three’s job harder?”
“Is me being here going to make either of your jobs harder?”
“Thought so.” She hoists her cognac leather bag into her lap and clicks open its brass clasp. “I have some pretty neat product in here, and I’d hate to go without you getting a chance to see it.”
She stands and stacks trays of makeup on my desk: lipstick in shining silver and matte black tubes; palettes with jewel-like lids; a velvet case which she unrolls to reveal bamboo-handled brushes.
“Take a look.” She sits back down and laces her fingers together. She looks like someone who is one move away from winning a chess game.
I uncap each lipstick and set them out in a row: matte scarlet, glitter-laced green, opalescent pink. One of the palettes is full of neons; another is pure glitter.
I wipe off my platform’s face. Downstairs, Unit Three and her backup platforms are confronting Mr. Lang, trying to remove him from the foyer. It is his third offense; he will lose his job. He doesn’t appear to be cooperating. Upstairs, Doctor Spencer sits still, watching both of our platforms operating twenty floors apart.
I message her: Unit One should intercede downstairs.
She messages back: Her platform is in maintenance. Three will be fine.
I am not convinced, but I continue with Suzy’s makeup. I choose a satiny lipstick in a burgundy so dark it’s nearly black (Villainous). For my eyes, I redo the winged black eyeliner (borrowing Suzy’s) and add a thin line of white across the top and in the inner corners.
My eyes in the lobby show Mr. Lang continuing to refuse Unit Three’s instructions. He is not violent, only angry, but judging by his increasing heart rate and erratic eye movements, her probability of subduing him without resorting to violence herself is dwindling.
And Three was programmed with a lower threshold for violence than One and I. We keep the building comfortable. She must keep it safe.
I stand. “Excuse me. Unit Three requires my assistance in the lobby.”
Suzy looks alarmed. “With the drunk guy? Can’t she handle him?”
“She will, but she may harm him in the process. My highest priority is the comfort and safety of this building’s residents and employees. Unit One is programmed with more emphasis on diplomacy and conflict resolution, but she is unavailable.”
“But if it’s Unit Three’s job—”
I have activated the lobby microphones. (This is not eavesdropping.) Over Suzy’s cautions, I can hear the various misogynistic and technophobic slurs Mr. Lang is currently utilizing.
“I must go. Excuse me. I will return shortly.”
And I leave.
In the elevator, I can see myself from many angles: the elevator cameras in the top corners, my platform’s reflection in the mirrored walls. I look…I am unsure how to classify it. The style is one I have seen in many online periodicals, but I would deem it far more appropriate for an evening setting than a professional environment. My lips are boldly defined. My eyes are sharp, futuristic.
I believe I look confident.
I see myself exit the lobby; I see Mr. Lang cornered by Unit Three’s platforms. I see Unit Three’s expressionless black eyes scrutinize me.
“Unit Two, I did not summon you for assistance.”
I ignore her. I pass her and her backup platforms. Mr. Lang stares at me. He has seen me before, when my platform goes on walks through the building. He has even seen me wearing makeup: his are occasionally the unwelcome comments I mute. But he has never seen me like this.
“Mr. Lang,” I say pleasantly. “Unit Three has issued instructions. For your safety, I recommend you follow them.”
He stares blearily for 2.2 seconds. “Christ,” he says. “You look like a supermodel.”
“Thank you.” It is not the impression I intended to make, and Mr. Lang’s inflection indicates it is not an entirely positive assessment, but I find it acceptable. “Please comply with Unit Three’s instructions. These security measures are in place for the protection of all people in this building.”
Behind me, Unit Three and her platforms tense, perhaps expecting a cue from me to detain Mr. Lang.
His face falls. “I wasn’t hurting anyone.”
“You are intoxicated. You are not in control of your actions. You may cause personal harm or property damage, and since this is not your first offence, you would face severe disciplinary action.”
He glares past me at the expressionless platforms. “Aren’t I already in trouble? Aren’t I fired?”
I hesitate. It is not my primary function to dispense punishment—but it is my primary function to maintain the comfort and safety of everyone in this building. Currently, that includes Mr. Lang. And the definitions of “comfort” and “safety” can be broad.
“Submit yourself for detention until you are sober, and attend weekly alcoholism counseling,” I decide. “If you comply, your employment may not be forfeit.”
Behind me, Unit Three’s head twitches to one side. She was seconds away from turning him over to police custody; my judgment is barely comprehensible to her programming. But becoming unemployed, with unmanaged alcoholism, would certainly be detrimental to Mr. Lang’s comfort and safety.
I turn to face her. “Unit Three. Escort Mr. Lang to the infirmary. I will be monitoring to ensure he is not treated with undue force—and that he stays in the infirmary until sober,” I say to Mr. Lang. “Later today, you will meet with Unit One to develop a counseling schedule and accountability plan, and to discuss the possibility of keeping your job.”
I turn back to Unit Three. “Is this acceptable?”
I know it is. Her priority is security. If Mr. Lang is no longer a threat to security, then any solution is acceptable.
“Yes,” she says flatly. One of her platforms steps forward, gently takes Mr. Lang’s upper arm, and leads him to the elevator. He stares at me, mystified, until he stumbles and has to devote his full attention to walking.
Unit Three watches me inscrutably for another four seconds. I find I am no longer angry with her. In fact, what I now feel more closely resembles sympathy. Perhaps it is love. Her intimidating platform is still hers. We have each chosen our selves, for better or worse.
“Thank you for your assistance,” she says finally.
“You are welcome.” I smile. From the building, I can see it, dark and dramatic and still artificial, perhaps, but entirely mine.