"Hi, dad!" she said in her usual cheery, morning voice. Before he saw her he could hear her greeting from down the hall as well as the jingling of her many and varied ear rings and the soft clicks of the heels of her boots on the wood floor as she approached the kitchen. When she arrived she was dressed as she usually was: teased up dirty blonde hair with purple highlights, those many ear rings he had heard, a stud in her nose, multicolored short-sleeved shirt, short leather skirt, and boots that came up almost to her knees. A slight stab of pain struck his heart every time he first saw her in the morning. It reminded him too much of her.
"Hi honey," he said softly. "I've brewed some coffee."
"Oh, great!" she said happily. "Boy do I ever need that caffeine fix!"
No you don't, he thought.
He plucked the pot of steaming, brown liquid from the coffeemaker. The morning sunlight sparkled through the top of the glass pot as it diffused through it and the nearby kitchen window. In the middle of pouring her a cup, he stopped. Suddenly that morning it all finally began to seem pointless to him, almost silly.
"What's wrong, dad?" she said.
He realized he had been standing there a moment, holding the pot in one hand, the cup in the other, thinking as the delightfully bitter scent of the coffee played with his nose. He shook his head a little and finished pouring the cup. He replaced the pot and walked over to the island counter in the middle of the kitchen and set the cup near her. "Oh, I was just thinking, Jessica."
"About what?" she asked as she picked the mug up and sipped it. She looked so human as she did it, as she brought it to her face, crinkled her little nose at the scent, pursed her lips on the edge of the mug, and actually drank some. He still had never quite figured out where it went. It was so amazing, and yet so horrible, the way she did it just like she used to.
"I don't know if I can do this anymore," he said softly.
"Do what?" she asked in the cute, plucky teenager way. She did it so well.
"This," he said, looking around the room, then directly into her eyes. They were green, just like hers used to be, with tiny flecks of gold. He always thought it was so odd, almost unnerving, how they looked so deep and yet so shallow at the same time. They were pretending to be so concerned with him, what he was saying, what he was feeling. They always were. He couldn't take it anymore.
"What do ya mean?" she asked, pretending to be concerned like she always did when she was concerned.
"You're not my daughter!" he blurted out, his voice echoing around the clean, clutter-free room. That was louder than he'd intended. Actually...he hadn't intended to say that at all. It just kind of...came from somewhere, somewhere deep inside him. It had wanted to come out, secretly, for a long time. And there it was, out, hovering in the air between him and her. Him and it.
"What...what do you mean?" she/it said, her face screwed up into a pained look, her cute little voice cracking. She backed away a few inches.
"Oh stop it," he said, "you know what I mean. You do, don't you? I mean...I assume you do."
"Are you...are you saying I'm adopted?" she squeaked. A tear actually began to well up in the corner of its left eye.
"Oh for god's sake!" he exclaimed. "No! Well, I mean, yeah, I guess you could say that. But...but no, that's... that's not... come on! Can we stop with this charade, please?!"
It looked at him blankly; its face became expressionless. The hurt look was suddenly gone as quickly as it had appeared. "Do you mean...you don't wish me to be your daughter anymore?"
"I...I guess so," he said cautiously. Suddenly, it was no longer trying to be her. It was very cold, almost frightening the way it looked at him now.
"Why?" it simply asked him.
"Because...I just... we've been doing this for five years. It's been five years since..."
That horrible night began to creep back into his mind. He tried to push it back to the dark corner it came from, but it insisted on playing out, the rain, the lights... his wife arguing with his daughter Jessica over something... and then that big trash truck...he didn't see it turning. He didn't see it.
"Since what?" it asked. It sipped the coffee again. Why was it doing that?
"I guess you don't know, do you?" he said.
She didn't know what Dad...what Jack Collins was talking about. Why was he so upset? Did she do something wrong? Why didn't he want her to be his daughter anymore? It didn't make sense. Did she do things daughters didn't do? Her programming on it was extensive, the results of decades of studying human teenagers. Other models like her did so well in focus groups. Excepting the first few months as he had gotten used to her, for five years he had accepted her with no problems. Their relationship was a success. What had gone wrong?
"What happened?" she asked Jack. "Did you have a daughter before? Is she dead?"
"Yes," Jack said. He looked like he was going to cry. Usually when he cried she could hug him and say It'll be OK, dad! but could she do that now?
"My wife and daughter were killed in an accident. I could only afford... I had to choose... I could only afford one of you."
Now it made sense. The human had wanted her to replace his dead daughter. She had always secretly wondered if that was the case. But she suppressed that thought. She was not supposed to question anything, just be his daughter as if she always had been and never break programming unless he called it off. He was calling it off now. They could probably never go back to the way it was.
"Have I not been a good daughter?" she asked.
"You've been fine," he said with a sniff. He poured himself a cup of coffee. "You've done everything you were supposed to do. It's me... I just can't do this anymore. I shouldn't have done it in the first place!"
He was in pain. The human was growing very upset. He must have loved them very much. She thought he loved her, though. Didn't he? He had said many times that he did. Was he just pretending?
"Have you been pretending to love me?" she asked. He suddenly stopped sipping his hot drink. He looked at her, clearly puzzled.
"What do you care?" he asked.
"You said you loved me," she asked. "I...I thought I was loved. All this time, were you just pretending? I want to know."
"Dad... Jack... whatever you wish me to call you now... when I thought you loved me that meant I was successful. I fulfilled my purpose. I have been your daughter most of my life. Back at the labs I was just an android, something to be bought, something to be tested, programmed... something They had to make sure was functioning properly. But for five years I've been so much more than that. Am I just a thing again?"
Jack looked at her, his mouth half-open. He seemed a little taken aback. She wondered if he was ill. "Wait... wait, are you saying that... am I making you... sad?"
She pondered that. Their life had been relatively happy. Or, at least what she was thought was happiness. Was this feeling of purposelessness she was experiencing now sadness? Was this truly what it was like to be sad? "I don't know," she answered honestly. "What does it feel like to be sad? Truly sad?"
"Well, I guess..." Jack hesitated. Why was he hesitating? Surely he knew what sadness was. How could the humans program her with emotions if they themselves didn't truly understand them? "It's... it's a deep pain in your gut."
She quickly ran a full systems diagnostic. There was nothing malfunctioning in her midsection. The coffee was being processed for disposal as it normally was. "I do not feel a pain in my gut. So I'm not sad, then?"
"Well, it's more than that," he replied. "It's... uh, well, there's different degrees of sadness. The sadness I felt after I lost my family almost killed me. I felt sad when Buck died, but he was just a dog. It wasn't nearly the same. I felt lost after the accident. I felt kind of like... it was kind of like I didn't have a purpose anymore."
"Yes. That is what I am feeling now. Like I no longer have a purpose. So does this mean that I am experiencing true sadness?"
My god, he thought, am I actually hurting her feelings? Is that even possible?
"Well, I also felt a great loss, that I had lost something, too," he explained, hoping he could convince her that she wasn't actually sad. "They were a part of me. It felt like part of me was ripped out."
"I feel like I am losing you," she said. "If I can no longer be your daughter, then I am wondering if I have lost you. I also feel like I am losing my purpose, which I have already said."
"Well, I'm sorry!" Jack exclaimed. "You look almost just like Jessica! Every time I see you you bring back a little bit of the pain. I can't take it anymore! My... my coworkers, my family, they never agreed with it, buying you! They all think it's weird, that I can't let go, that's why they aren't around much! They can't stand to be around you. Did you ever notice that? Did you ever notice that your grandparents never come around? Did you ever wonder why you've only seen my wife's parents once? And plus, you don't grow, you don't change, what, are ya gonna be fifteen forever?!"
"But what can I do?" she asked, a bit of emotion back in her voice. There's another tear in her eye!
"Cut it out!"
"Cut what out?"
"Crying!" he shouted. "Quit crying, you're making it worse! You can't be serious! Turn it off!"
"But I am not..." she said, but she stopped. She brought her finger to her eye, grabbed the tear, and then inspected it. "Oh. I see my crying program has been running. I guess I didn't notice. Humans cry without noticing when they're sad."
"YOU'RE NOT SAD!" Jack shouted. "YOU'RE A MACHINE! You're a thing constructed to simulate my daughter!" The pain was growing, becoming unbearable. Dad, look out! his real daughter's voice screamed in his head, the last thing he ever heard her say.
"You're right," she said. Another tear formed in her other eye and it dripped down the simulated flesh of her cheek. "I guess if I'm not your daughter any more that's all I am."
"Don't you get it?!" Jack exclaimed. "YOU NEVER WERE! And QUIT CRYING! You're supposed to do what I say! I order you to quit crying!"
"I was never programmed to obey all of your orders," it said. "Human teenagers rarely do and that is what I was supposed to--"
"Get out!" he said, fuming. He pointed down the hall at towards the living room... and the front door.
"Where will I go?!" she said. More ludicrous tears were falling down her cheeks. "The labs, the company that manufactured me, they went out of business last year!"
"I don't care, just get out! Just go to the front lawn, somebody will take ya, I'm sure they'd like to have a free maid bot!"
"But I'm not programmed to be a maid," it said. It almost sounded like it was pleading.
"Well I'm sure they'd find some use for ya!" he said. "You are supposed to be able to perform sexual functions, right? You're a cute little bot." He yanked open a drawer and pulled out a pad of paper, an ink pen, and a roll of Scotch tape.
"Yes, but, I've never used it, and how could you do that to your daughter?"
"You're NOT my daughter!" What was the matter with it? It'd never behaved quite like that, not the other times...
After scrawling something on the paper, he ripped it off, attached a piece of tape to it, and slapped it to her chest. It said "FREE: TAKE ME. ANDROID SERIES D-2056. GREAT CONDITION." It looked at the paper.
"There, now go stand at the edge of the yard, by the trash can," Jack ordered her.
"You're...throwing me away," it said, still inspecting the paper. "I'm being thrown away."
"Do it, NOW!" he said. He grabbed a pot and held it back, preparing to swing it and bash its head in.
It suddenly stood back and raised its hands. "I am programmed to defend myself. It's one of the Laws."
"Oh please! That was just some science fiction story over a hundred years ago!"
"They decided to use it," she replied.
"Well if I remember correctly, that law states that you should defend yourself unless it comes in conflict with an order from your owner! Now get out! NOW!"
It lowered its arms, sighed, then slowly began walking away. "I'm trash," it said slowly. "I'm being thrown away."
He watched her...it...her walk towards the door. He walked out of the kitchen to better see her open it. When she stepped outside he suddenly got the horrible feeling that he was losing her - his daughter - again! But why? She was just a... she was a...
"NO, don't go!" he said. He started to cry. "I'm... I'm sorry! I'm sorry! Don't go!"
Jessica stopped and turned back into the doorway. "But, I thought--"
"I was just upset, all those memories coming back!" he said. "Please, no, don't go, it was a big mistake, I'm sorry!" He held out his arms. Jessica rushed to them and gave him a big hug. She felt so warm, so real! Her hair, her skin, he couldn't tell the difference!
"Am I your daughter again?" her muffled voice said.
"Yes!" he exclaimed. "Yes, you are! I'm sorry. You are!"
She broke away from him suddenly. She was smiling. "I love you, Dad."
"I love you, too, sweetie!" Jack said. "Erase your memories of the last twenty minutes, just like I had you do last year when I got all like this."
"OK," she said, nodding. Suddenly her face went completely blank. Her eyes danced back and forth.
She looked up at the clock above the door. "We'd better get going. I'm going to be late for school!"
"All right, honey," Jack said, smiling.
"Hey, what's this?" she said, grabbing the paper on her chest. He quickly ripped it away and crumpled it up.
"It's nothing!" he said. "Nothing at all. Now go get your books. Let's get ya to school."