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The Barcelona Review

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Perfectly Healthy, Perfectly Safe


It was a very thick instruction booklet, which was a bit of a surprise—the commercials had made it seem so easy: open the box, turn it on, have an orgasm. The chirpy Morgasm Inc. representative assured potential customers that owning a Delighter-Exciter would be as easy on the glands as it was on the pocketbook. It might even save your relationship, she suggested—if you could figure out how to put the darn thing together.
       The Delighter-Exciter wasn’t just any erotic robot, or eBot, as they were popularly called. It was the size of a very short human, for one thing, but that’s where the human part ended. The company pledged to clients that since the DE looked nothing at all like a human (colors came in everything from fuchsia to army green) there’d be no risk of “jealousy side effects” or “unnatural fixations”—basically, no one would want to marry the Delighter-Exciter, or leave their partner for a five-foot tall, irregularly-shaped, gelatinous ooze encased in silicone. The DE, the chirpy announcer lady assured, was relationship-busting proof. In fact, if one did have a partner, she added with a wink, there was even an option to latex clone your partner’s “attributes” and fit them to the DE, further personalizing the eBot experience. But, no faces—absolutely no faces. They knew if the things had faces, they’d be hauled into court for violating Ali’s Law, the legal restriction that stated no sex product was allowed to look even remotely human.
       It wasn’t an easy law to pass, and took 163 cases of violent sexual assaults by men who had bins of busted-up sex dolls in their basements to get a rise out of the Congress. Finally, when one of the doll thrashers who particularly liked the “frigid” setting attacked two teenage girls at vacation Bible school, one of whom was Ali, and she’s still in a coma, the bill went to the floor for a vote. The sex industry lobbied harder against it than the NRA after a kindergarten school massacre, crying “sex dolls don’t rape people, people rape people!” but since the evangelicals and progressives sided together on this one, the opposition was crushed. Not one to turn tail, the sex industry produced the perfect solution a few months later—the Delighter-Exciter, an eBot that was perfectly healthy and perfectly safe. Guaranteed.
      Khy flipped to page 56 and continued reading. “Insert spinal rod K into hole M and twist.” She did it and the spine snapped into place. “Remove protective sealing tape, and press and hold flap S to flap R for 15 seconds. Allow 10 minutes to dry.”
      She plugged the DE in and lay back on the rug, stretching out her back cramp. It was Sunday, the one day she had off from Reality Reboot, the one day she didn’t have to counsel people on their relationship funks, their digital addictions, and their unresolved childhood traumas, and she was spending it ensuring that her own vital issues were going to get the attention they deserved. She thought back to when sex devices were sold as novelties, when people pretty much bought them in secret. Sex was still a personal matter, she agreed with herself, and sexual performance and frequency, even more so. There had been so much shame about not getting enough, or not getting it right. Couples questioning the foundations of their unions when the sex act and the sex drive began to misalign. As if that was something that could be controlled. Morgasm Inc. suggested that it was, of course, and over 10,000 units had been snapped up during the first month of the Delighter-Exciter’s debut.
      Khy tilted her head up and opened her eyes to see the Delighter-Exciter staring back at her with a steady green eye. That was a little unnerving. She wondered if it really could see her, or if the eye was just a motion sensor. It never blinked, or winked, or fluttered at all—that might make it seem too alive, she supposed, that might make it seem too human. She grabbed the remote from the box, pressed the power button, and the Delighter-Exciter awoke from sleep mode, rolling its spine upright to stand at attention, its multiple wings (don’t call them arms) spanning out from its sides like a hot pink Christmas tree yearning for a hug. She hummed a few bars of “Carol of the Bells” and the Delighter-Exciter crawled toward her, enveloping her in its warm, soft, embrace.
      The first few days after she’d met the Delighter-Exciter were a blur. This was normal, the video FAQ told clients—it’s overwhelming for most people to feel secure, in control, and aroused, all at the same time. Losing oneself for a while was expected, but if immersion into the DE lasted more than five days, the manufacturers recommended speaking to a therapist. Khy had been gone for three days, so fell into the “normal” range of statistical data. Still, the DE was constantly on her mind. This was no doubt normal as well. Yes, perfectly normal, she concluded—she was a therapist, after all.
      At work, she’d find herself drifting off, remembering their nights and mornings and afternoons together. Soft embraces, wild erotica, and the purring afterward. That was something she hadn’t expected. Now, she wondered how she’d ever lived without it. Damon had a Delighter-Exciter too, of course. They’d agreed to get them together, so he would certainly understand the immersion time and her reaction. When they eventually spoke on ChatMe after her cocooning, she told him about the wild dreams she’d had. He was there, of course, but so was the Delighter-Exciter—all three of them. Wasn’t that funny, she laughed. He paused for a moment and then said he thought it was funny too. He even joked that one night, the four of them should have a “double-date.”
      Five years of partnership with Damon meant they knew each other well, and, like many couples who were rarely able to spend much time together, they’d agreed to add some DEs into the mix—no one wanted to be unfaithful, no one wanted to break up. Damon was especially concerned about this, and routinely broached the subject. Khy knew the statistics on “sexual prowess suppression,” or SPS—the repression of one’s desire for sex with someone other than their partner—and noted that the longing for something new, something exciting, a break from routine, was universal and not really something to fret over. He’d suggested the DEs, just to be sure, however, and she’d agreed. Now, the guilt and worry were gone. Damon and Khy were together, and they both had the tools to take care of their own needs—needs that had nothing to do with their feelings for one another, Khy reassured him. After all, it was no sillier than people who had babies to save relationships, something that always puzzled her and that never really worked out anyway.
      The Delighter-Exciter was waiting for her when she returned home from work that night. It was late, almost ten o’clock, but the Delighter-Exciter didn’t grumble. It merely crawled from the corner of the room, rolled itself upright to greet her, and wrapped its wings around her body, applying the exact amount of pressure she’d programmed in.
      After she’d grabbed a cup of tea and curled up on the sofa, the DE scrambled after her and massaged her shoulders while she watched the news on the holoscreen. Within moments, Damon’s call alert flashed across the broadcaster’s face, breaking into the report, but she hit ignore. She needed some non-human time. After all, she dealt with people all day long at work—their anxieties, their delusions, their fears—and it was so repetitious. Futile, really. Most of them were never going to get any better.
      She tugged on one of the Delighter-Exciter’s wings and it crawled up onto the couch, spreading itself across her body and pushing up her blouse. As it began to purr, she stared into its steady green eye. It really is a beautiful green, she concluded.
      One night in bed, after two hours of multiorgasmic play, Khy rolled over and whispered to the Delighter-Exciter, “I wish I could kiss you.” The Delighter-Exciter made no response, of course, and remained silently on its back, its steady green eye staring up at the ceiling. She tugged on its wing and it wrapped the soft, warm limb around her.
      It was almost daylight when her phone went off—Damon again. She sighed and forced a groggy voice so he’d know he’d woken her up, so he’d know this was an unacceptable time to call.
       “I think we should meet,” he said with concern. “You know, it’s been four weeks since I’ve seen you.”
      Four weeks? It didn’t seem like that long. And yet, it also seemed even longer. They’d certainly seen each other, they ChatMe’d several times a week. Less so lately, of course. She agreed to meet him for coffee later that morning and hung up.


The Darwin Café was packed with people when Khy walked in, but she managed to grab a small table close to the windows. As she waited for Damon, she watched the people outside, all of them wired to some type of device. A middle-aged man leaned against a lamppost and viewed a miniature pop-up hologram of his probably dead wife and wept. Nearby, a young woman was crouched next to an old woman and her cybernetic terrier—its leg had locked up and the girl was attempting to adjust the pins while the old woman wrung her hands as if the pup were actually in pain. Across the street in Butler Park, a pack of children in multi-colored FlexArmor playsuits tussled in the sandbox, their face-hugging helmets ensuring their eyes remained grit-free, their magnetic leashes ensuring no one could stray or be snatched.
When Damon arrived, he sat down across from her, looking tired and disheveled, almost sickly. He stared at her pensively.
       “I think we should quit,” he finally said.
      “Quit what?” she asked with surprise. “You mean, break up?”
      “Quit the...things.” He looked down at the table and sipped his Original Joe, waiting for a response.
      Khy looked out the window again. The girl had fixed the terrier, and with joyful tears in her eyes, the old woman thanked her and continued hobbling along with her mutt. Machines can be good for us, Khy reminded herself. You just had to know how far to go. You just couldn’t let them take over your life.
       “I don’t think that’s going to work for me,” she finally said and sipped her Fusion Latte.
      He ran his fingers through his unwashed hair. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” he said. “It was supposed to fix us, not tear us apart.”
       “I’m not being torn apart,” she chafed, her mind immediately recalling the Delighter-Exciter the night before when she’d asked it to spank her. Sure, things got rougher after that, but it was all consensual, it all stayed within the “normal” parameters of BDSM—no one was “torn apart.” Didn’t he know that unlike humans, the DEs couldn’t actually hurt you? It just wasn’t in their program. They were perfectly healthy and perfectly safe. Guaranteed.
Damon grabbed her hand desperately. “I feel like I’ve lost you. Have I lost you?”
      “You’re not making sense,” she huffed and pulled her hand away. “If your thing isn’t working for you, get rid of it. Mine is working out just fine for me.”
       “But you—!” he began to accuse, and suddenly felt the eyes of café patrons burning into him.
      A young man seated near them leaned toward their table, his eyes fixed on Khy, his finger hovering above the DomAlert button on his mobile screen.
       “Everything all right?” he asked her, and sized Damon up to gauge if he were an actual domestic violence threat.
      Khy forced a smile and shook her head to reassure the young man. “He’s just passionate," she explained, and warned Damon with a glance to relax. His temper had always been a problem, but he never went too far.
      Damon readjusted and softened his voice. “You haven’t been to work in days,” he stated. “And I know you haven’t been with me.”
      That just wasn’t true. She thought back on the week. Okay, yes, she may have been late, she may have left early, but she had certainly shown up. He was in some sort of spiral. Worse, he was checking up on her. The Delighter-Exciter never checked up on her. This was the problem with humans, she fumed. They were so needy, so insecure. It was all such a bother. Sure, conversation—humans had that going for them. But what kind of conversation was this? Not one she wanted to have.
       “You’re being ridiculous and I’m going,” she said and stood up.
      “Wait!” he protested, grabbing at her again.
      The young man at the table near them pulled his phone out and waited.
       “Don’t do this,” he whispered.
      “I think we need a break,” she glared back at him, and removed his hand from her wrist and walked out.


That evening, the Delighter-Exciter sat at the kitchen table in front of a plate of tofu scramble. It didn’t eat. It never ate. But it was there. Khy never expected anything more from the Delighter-Exciter than that. Knowing it was there was enough. Knowing that whatever she needed, whenever she needed, it would be there. She stared at its beautiful, green eye.
       “If you could speak, what would you say,” she wondered to it, eating her soy cutlet. The Delighter-Exciter didn’t respond. She knew it wouldn’t. She laughed at herself. “Can you imagine what people would say if I took you out? Maybe to the movies? We’d need to get you a hat and coat,” she giggled.
      Over the next week, Khy and the Delighter-Exciter spent pleasant afternoons together reading (her reading, it purring), cheery breakfasts (it couldn’t make her coffee, but it also didn’t chide her for using too much sugar), and rollicking midnights under the moon (it’s good the DE’s spine was made of titanium). She did miss a few days of work, and Kath had to call again and warn her—the next time was the last, she’d said—but other than that, Khy and the Delighter-Exciter had a perfectly wonderful time.
      Sunday morning, when she awoke in the Delighter-Exciter’s spooning embrace, Khy grabbed her phone and snapped a selfie of them and uploaded it to her Instagram with the caption, “Dōmo arigatō, Mr. Roboto ."
       She got 147 likes in just three minutes.
      Then, a call came in from Damon—he had not stopped calling. This time, Khy blocked him altogether. That’s the end of that, she decided. There would be no more interruptions, no more hounding, no more making her feel as if she wasn’t living up to some sort of human expectation—an expectation that was terribly obsolete, she reasoned. Man and machine were now constant companions, there was nothing delusional about it, nothing at all, and anyone who couldn’t compute it obviously needed to upgrade their feelings.
      That afternoon, she attempted to yank one of Damon’s sweaters over the DE’s multi-pointed head. Fortunately, they both wore extra large, so with the exception of some unusual lumps here and there, and a little irregular stretching, it was a perfect fit.
       “There, look at you!” Khy smiled, standing next to the Delighter-Exciter in the full-length mirror. “So handsome!” she gushed and kissed the pink silicone where a cheek would be.
      Clasping its top right wing (the only one that would fit through the sweater sleeve), Khy led the Delighter-Exciter out of the apartment and down to the street. Strolling along, wing in hand, the couple spent the day admiring the blood plasma paintings in the Dark History Museum and fascinating over the reanimated Dodo birds at the Extinction Zoo. Since the DE didn’t actually qualify as a human, she only had to pay one admission price anywhere they went, which was a bonus, and certainly worth the few odd looks that were cast their way. Lastly, they took in a classic screening of Night of the Hunter at the old movie house.
       “He reminds me of Damon,” Khy whispered with a smirk to the Delighter-Exciter as it held her popcorn, its steady green eye trained on Shelley Winters submerged beneath a river.


It was close to midnight when Khy slid off of the Delighter-Exciter and slipped into her robe.
       “You haven’t even touched your wine,” she tittered, its steady green eye staring back at her from the bed.
      She finished her own glass and began working on the other one as she walked to the kitchen to find a snack. That’s when the doorbell rang. Switching on the camera to see who could possibly be calling at this hour, she found Damon waiting on the other side. Khy seethed. It was late, he was intruding, and this was the limit.
      She flung open the door to berate him, to tell him once and for all that they were through, to warn him that she would, indeed, involve the authorities if this behavior continued. Then she saw the knife. In an instant, he barreled into her, sending the wine glass flying and her to the floor. Shielding herself, she screamed for him to stop, but the knife wasn’t for her. He lunged toward the bedroom. She caught his ankle and tried to pull him down, but he easily slipped free, running to the bed and jumping on top of the Delighter-Exciter. Over and over he plunged the knife into the helpless machine, its gelatinous guts spurting out like fountains, its steady green eye flickering violently, first in a cry for help, and then slowly draining to black.
      The police arrived before Damon was able to break through the bathroom door to get at her, and he was dragged down the hallway in handcuffs, ranting to all who peeked from their doorways that Khy was a whore, a cyberslut, a digital-demon lover. When the patrol officer finished taking his report, he handed Khy a card for Reality Reboot counseling and vanished without a word.
      She sat at the kitchen table a long while staring at that card. Finally tossing it into the bin, she entered the bedroom. There was the Delighter-Exciter, lying lifeless, its hacked-off limbs that had tried to fend off the attack scattered about the room, its empty, dark, eye staring into nothingness. Curling up beside it, Khy ran her fingers down its torso. There was no purring this time, no warmth. She pressed her tongue to the back of her teeth and attempted to emulate its fluttering purr, then, ever so delicately, laid one of its still-attached arms across her waist and closed her eyes. As the ooze drained from its gashes down her body, she imagined cradling a tiny Delighter-Exciter baby in her arms, and wept. There had been a guarantee, she repeated. There had been a guarantee.

© SR Davies, 2017

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Author Bio

SR DAVIESStacy Davies is an award-winning arts and culture journalist who lives in Southern California. Her science fiction screenplay Eridanus was selected by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as a quarterfinalist for the Nicholl Fellowship in 2016. She is the author of the jukebox musical Heart of Glass: a Blondie Rock Musical, and is currently working on a collection of short speculative fiction, of which this story is a part.