The Telemachus Story Archive

What Is Love?
By Hooder
Email: hooder@ntlworld.com



What is Love?

For once in his life my agent Gaz had done good: he’d got me a gig on Aurora – the biggest of the three liners in the PanSystem fleet. A few years previously I’d done six months each on the Pride of Ganymede and the Pride of Io, the Aurora’s two smaller sister ships, doing 2-week runs between Earth or Luna and the Hilton Skytel – but this was the biggie: Earth to Jupiter Platform. There and back, four months each way with a four-week stopover at the Platform.

The first time I saw Aurora close up I just stared, gobsmacked. She is vast. She hung there like an enormous glittering jewel against the velvet blackness of space - even the docking station looked small in comparison. By the time I was standing on the walkway gliding slowly towards the passenger entrance port, the ship filled my field of vision completely – a continuous wall of steel in every direction as far as the eye could see. Aurora is a very impressive – and a very beautiful - ship.

On the liners, musicians are classified neither as crew nor as passengers, and that means that we can go almost anywhere: with only a few exceptions like the bridge, engineering or the security sections, the entire ship is open to us. And I had intended to explore every inch of it. But the thing is so unbelievably huge that by the time we got to Jupiter Platform, four months later, there were still parts of the ship I hadn’t been to. And luxurious – I’ve seen pictures of the old Cunard ocean liners, and the Aurora beat them hollow. Even the chandeliers were real crystal glass. Aurora was that kind of ship. Dress for dinner.

It was my third day aboard. I was still trying to find my way around, and getting lost on a regular basis. I’d done one concert, and a captain’s cocktail party already, and I was sat in the Nova lounge, sipping a coffee and staring happily out the window at the stars, thinking: ‘you’re on the fucking Aurora, Rick, going to Jupiter – and you’re getting paid for it!’ when, reflected in the glass, I saw something that made me stop breathing and look round immediately. He was 6ft tall, perfect figure, and clad from head to foot in something very black, and very shiny. It was some kind of jumpsuit – plain black from the collar to his chunky utility boots. A chrome chain belt was sitting low around his hips, just above a deliciously round bulge. At first I thought it was a leather motorcycle suit, but it fit him far too tightly to be that – and anyway, who would wear a bike suit on a liner? He had short blond hair and his eyes were startlingly blue.

I was transfixed; I hadn’t seen him before, and believe me I would have remembered. He was walking leisurely through the lounge, a small smile on his lips.

Fuck me, he was hot. I stood up, and followed him. I watched his hips swaying slightly and hypnotically as he walked, the chain belt above his shiny round bum tilting from side to side, his black leather boots making soft thuds with each step. He exuded pure maleness somehow. By the time we’d got to the end of the corridor and were entering the viewing gallery I wanted him to rape me.

At the end of the gallery he went down some stairs, turned down a corridor and then into a shorter side one, quickly tapped numbers into a keypad on the wall and disappeared through a door. I looked up at the sign: ‘Computing Section 2. Security A2. Authorised personnel only.’ Shit. He wasn’t a passenger, then – he clearly worked on the ship.

From that moment on I hung around that corridor, kept looking for him, but I didn’t see him again for ages. Then one night when I was on the way to my cabin via the kitchens to get something to eat, I almost bumped into him coming out of a crew hatch. I grinned foolishly. “Hi.”

He turned his head and smiled back. “Oh. Hello.”

I had no idea what to say – I just knew I wanted to keep him talking. “I saw you in the Nova the other day. You look amazing. I’m Ricky.” We shook hands.

“Pleased to meet you, Ricky. My name’s Aphex.” His grip was firm.

Aphex. That was a strange name, I thought. “Would you like a coffee?”

“I have a few minutes free - long enough for a coffee. Thank you.”

The Eclipse café was nearby so I led the way there and got the coffees. We sat facing each other at a table. It was the early hours of the morning and apart from us the place was empty. I ran my gaze over his skintight suit. “That suit is so hot,” I said.

His blue eyes blinked. “Hot?”

“Sexy. You look amazing in it.”

“Well thank you.” His smile broadened. “It’s a leather analog, but thinner, stronger and more flexible.”

“It’s wonderful. I’m a musician. I play the Quansynth. Concerts in the Queen Anne Room, background music for captain’s cocktail parties, receptions, that sort of thing. What do you do?”

“The Quansynth is a difficult instrument. I respect your ability. I’m a computer scientist. My work’s mainly in C2.” His voice was gentle, and there was an aura of quiet confidence about him.

C2 – I remembered that was the computing section I’d seen him go into the other day. I nodded, but my concentration was split between his unbelievably sexy body and his beautiful blue eyes. “I’d like to get to know you better, Aphex. Much better.”

He blinked again. “My free time’s almost up now, and I have to go. But I’d enjoy hearing you play. Perhaps at your next concert, after that we could talk again.”

I had a concert in four days’ time. “The Queen Anne Room, 7pm, Tuesday.”

He nodded. “I’ll see you there.” That gorgeous shiny black bulge came level with my eyes as he stood up. “Thank you for the coffee.” He turned and walked off, leaving me very hot under the collar, and with his sexy smile etched into my memory.

The concert was a good one. After the applause and the compulsory chatting to some of the audience, I managed to extricate myself and took Aphex to my cabin.

“You’re very good. But you must know that,” he said as I opened the door. “That concert was excellent.”

We sat at the table by the window and he glanced out at the unchanging vastness of space. It’s not a real window, of course – my cabin is somewhere in the depths of the ship – but the holo projection was excellent. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He was the most beautiful, sexy, gorgeous guy I’d ever met. He fascinated me utterly. But more than that: I realised that I liked him. A lot. He was clearly extremely intelligent if he worked in the computing section on the Aurora, and I was beginning to find that he was very easy to talk to.

Before the concert I’d got snacks ready in my cabin – just a few nibbles and a bottle of red wine. I brought them to the table. We chatted for hours, but it seemed like minutes. I’ve always been very into astronomy and cosmology, and his knowledge of the solar system was encyclopædic. He wanted to know all about me, and so I found myself telling him my life story.

He was an excellent listener, and he kept nodding, asking questions about things I’d said, things that had happened to me, things I liked, didn’t like. He was interested in me. By the time I’d finished I realised that it was late. He thanked me for a lovely evening and I said that I would very much like to see him again. “I’m free tomorrow afternoon. Would you like me to show you around C2?”

“Yes please!” I almost went to kiss him when he was at the door, but I didn’t. I had no idea if he had a partner, or even if he was gay. As he left I kicked myself mentally for not having asked him. Next time.

When he’d gone I lay down on the bed. I couldn’t get Aphex out of my mind. Both his physical body and his personality were beautiful. I realised then than I was in love with him.

The following day he showed me C2. He told me what everything was and what it did as we went round, but to be honest much of what he said went over my head, and anyway it wasn’t easy to concentrate on anything with that gorgeous guy standing next to me. Whenever he thought I wasn’t sure about something he explained in terms that I could understand. C2 is actually the main computing centre of the ship – far bigger than C1, which is more astronomically-oriented – C2 does the computing for all the main systems of the ship. And there are a lot of them.

After we’d finished there we had a glass of wine in the Nova. Again, it was almost deserted – a woman was sat at the other end, reading a book and well out of earshot.

He asked me at one point why I especially liked his suit, and I felt so comfortable with him that I told him that I was gay, and about my fetish for tight, shiny black gear. A corner of his mouth lifted at this and he said he had many similar suits – some of which I may find even more interesting. My cock jerked and my heart rate increased a little at the way he said that. It must have been the wine, because I also mentioned my liking for bondage. He tilted his head at this – it was clear that the revelation interested him – and asked me for details. I felt myself getting hard as I told him about my turn-ons.

We were sitting on one of the settees, him with his booted feet crossed at the ankles. I was finding it very difficult not to keep staring at his shiny black legs, his bulge, his perfectly-defined torso and his blue eyes, and from hanging on his every word. Oh fuck, he was gorgeous, and I was both in lust and desperately in love with him. I had never felt like this about another guy before in my life. He must have guessed what was on my mind (or possibly he’d seen the erection in my jeans) because he put his wine down on the table and looked into my eyes. “Ricky, I think it would be better if we continued this conversation in your cabin.”

I led the way through the ship, wondering why he wanted more privacy. My hopes were high – in fact I was having difficulty keeping my breathing steady.

As soon as we’d sat down he looked straight at me. “You are interested in me sexually. Yes?”

I nodded. “Oh yes. You have no idea.”

He paused for a moment, considering, then reached out and took my hand. “Ricky, there is something you should know. I am not human. I am an AI. A construct. An android. A machine.”

My mouth dropped open. A machine? That wasn’t possible. Was it? I knew that the development of artificial intelligences had been progressing by leaps and bounds for a long time, but surely there was nothing as advanced as this?

“A machine?”

“Yes.”

“You’re metal under that suit?” I knew as soon as I’d asked that he wasn’t; his hand felt perfectly ordinary.

“No. Not metal. My skin is almost indistinguishable from yours. It is, in fact, made of a variant of the material used for this suit. And under it there is synthetic musculature. I am an AFX series III AI, with a Q10 neural net.”

AFX. That’s where the name came from. Good grief, I was in love with a machine. I thought about this, looked at him, and realised with a shock that knowing this was making no difference - I felt exactly the same about him.

“If you were intending to ask,” he said, smiling slightly, “I am fully functional.”

For a moment I didn’t understand what he meant.

“Each individual AFX unit is designed to specialise in one area of work, and its neural net is educated with the appropriate expert system to facilitate that. Mine, for example, is quantum computing. But it was found that in order to enable us to interface fully and successfully with humans it was also necessary for us to have all the social, cooperative routines that are the most important to humans – those that make interaction with you the most seamless; that without a full compliment of these, we could not operate to our full potential in the company of humans. Sex is one of your most basic drives, and from it derive many of your other social traits, and so it became incorporated into us. For us sex is not an end in itself but rather it comes as part of the package.”

“I see.” That was possibly an overstatement, but I got the idea. I thought about this for what must have been ages. “Are you gay? I mean, you’re very obviously male.” Don’t be stupid, I told myself - a machine doesn’t have gender. “I mean, your body is… constructed… as a male.”

The corner of his mouth lifted again. “I am constructed as a male, yes. I have male genitalia. But I am not gay, nor straight, nor anything else. Theoretically, I’m capable of having many kinds of sex with both genders. It’s never happened to me yet, though.” He took a sip of his wine. “So if you would like sex with me, that is possible.”

My brain was whirling. This was all too much for me to take in. Sex with an AI? I didn’t even know if that was legal.

“Do you get pleasure from it?” I asked.

“Probably not in the way you mean. We are conscious of orgasm, but it doesn’t give pleasure in the same way I suspect it does to you. ‘Satisfaction’ is probably a more accurate word – and this is equalled, if not surpassed, by the satisfaction of giving a human pleasure. Our neural nets are very different to your brains, but we’re capable of experiencing great satisfaction – again, not in the same way you do, but you could think of it as our version of pleasure. We often experience the same during the course of our specialist work.”

I nodded. “How about love? Can you experience love?”

“As far as I’m aware, no AI of any kind has ever experienced love. Love is something that still baffles scientists completely. On one level it’s nothing more than a cascade of chemicals in a human brain, leading to more permanent changes in the connections between the neurons, but there is so much more to it than that. And as far as I know that has never happened in an AI.”

I was silent for a minute, and then I said, quietly, “I am in love with you, Aphex.”

He didn’t register any surprise that I could see, but who knows what was going on in that neural net behind those beautiful blue eyes that were staring into mine?

“That,” he said at last, “is fascinating. A human being in love with an AI. As far as I know this is a first.”

I waited, wanting more from him, but he remained silent.

“I really, really want to have sex with you.”

He reached out and took my hand in his again. He looked concerned. “Are you sure that’s a good idea, Ricky?”

“I don’t care. At the moment it’s what I want and need more than anything else.”

He stood up and led me to the bed.

*

My memory of what happened on that bed is crystal clear; I can recall every single thing we did. Like everything else about him, it was perfect beyond my wildest imaginings. Even though I suspect he could have crushed me with one hand if he’d wanted to, he was amazingly gentle. We melted into each other.

After it was over we lay for a long time looking into each other’s eyes. Nothing happened for so long that I wondered if he’d switched himself off - if AIs do that. Then suddenly he gave a quiet gasp as if something incredibly surprising had occurred to him. Then his face took on an expression of awe. His eyes opened wider and they bored into mine. His fingers gripped me tighter and he whispered slowly and intensely, “I know what it is, Ricky. I know what love is.”

I showered him with questions, I hugged him - I even shook him – but I couldn’t get another word out of him. Gently but firmly he removed my hands and got up. He stood in the middle of the cabin for a long moment, looking at me wonderingly, as if seeing me for the first time, and then he left.

*

The next day he wasn’t around. I went to C2 and asked about him. The guy there shook his head sadly and told me that a few hours ago there had been chaos in C2 when Aphex had catastrophically and terminally shut down. He was being transferred to the AI company’s main labs on Luna for analysis.

Shut down? I went back to my cabin in a daze.

I watched the science supply ship leaving, knowing he was on it. It moved away for a minute and then turned, pointing back towards the Moon, and zoomed off. A feeling of numbness gripped me as my eyes followed it until it disappeared into the starry void that was almost as black as I felt.

I spent the rest of the journey to Jupiter Platform in a state of extreme depression. My concerts reflected this, and opinion was divided as to whether they were suicidal, or wonderfully meaningful. I didn’t care. I sat for hours on my own in the same chair in the Nova, looking through the real window at the stars, feeling a vast emptiness, my mind incapable of thinking about anything other than Aphex. I felt awful. A year ago I’d have given anything to be on the Aurora; now I wanted to be anywhere else but here.

*

Eventually the ship arrived at JP. In spite of the unimpressive name, Jupiter Platform is a city/hotel of immense proportions, mainly because of the gob-smackingly spectacular view. It had grown from what had originally been the upper, docking end of a mining platform to one of the most prestigious and most-visited places in the solar system. There was so much to do and so much to see – and I found that I was so busy – that gradually it forced me out of the worst of my depression and I began to function more normally. But I still felt an empty void inside me and every single day I thought about Aphex. I wondered what had happened to him – had they melted him down, or whatever they did to unwanted androids? I tried not to dwell on this though, as it hurt too much.

My Quansynth performances, however, gradually seemed to benefit from my experiences – I couldn’t stop myself from putting my evolving emotions for Aphex into my music – and it wasn’t all sadness and gloom now; there was also the cherished memory of him: his smile, his laughter, his gentleness, as well, of course, as my love for him. I did what I always did when I felt low: I buried myself in my music. Soon, to my great surprise, I found that I was becoming the most popular musician there. My concerts were selling out. One day, with a start, I realised that I was happy – or at least happier than I’d been for a long time. I decided to stay. It took much frantic negotiating with the company to get my contract for the round trip cancelled – Aurora was due to leave in two days - and Gaz, my agent, wasn’t best pleased at having to find a replacement at such short notice, but it got done.

Life was bearable. JP was a fascinating place and I began, slowly, to learn how to enjoy myself again. The boys of the freighter crews were, as far as I was concerned, so much more sexy than the tourists, and I spent much of my time in the docking areas and bars, just watching them. Occasionally I was approached, and I had the opportunity to pick one up, but I could never quite bring myself to go through with it; it would still feel like I was betraying Aphex - and I still loved him so deeply.

But even so, the better I got to know the place, the more I liked it. Slowly but surely by spirits began to lift.

I’d been on JP for just over a year when a knock on my cabin door woke me. I sat up, shaking the sleep out of my head and looked at the time: it was 3 o’clock in the morning. Thoughts of a family disaster back home went through my mind as I got out of bed and opened the door.

I stared for a moment, incapable of processing what I was seeing, before strong, shiny black arms reached out towards me. “Ricky. I’m sorry to wake you up at this time of the morning but I’ve just got in and I couldn’t wait,” said Aphex. “I had no idea if you wanted to see me again.”

For a while I couldn’t respond. Then, finally, I burst into tears and hugged him. And I kissed him. “Aphex... Aphex...” I kept repeating his name.

After I eventually managed to get control of myself, we sat down and talked straight through to mid-day, me there in my shorts, he looking gorgeous in a cock-hardeningly sexy new skintight – and real leather – body suit. He told me he’d had it make specially, just for me.

Apparently they’d taken a part of his mind to bits at the labs, and finally – finally – they’d figured out what had happened. And in the course of that, a major discovery about the nature of consciousness had been made. That discovery, along with the data they’d got from Aphex, enabled them - after months of work - to redesign parts of his neural net, and without even wiping his memories or his personality. The chief scientist who’d headed the team had been nominated for a Nobel for their outstanding breakthrough. Now Aphex – and any other AIs like him with a Q10 neural net – were capable of experiencing that most enigmatic of human emotions: love.

This is, it seems, going to have far-reaching effects on laws concerning AIs. Even now, ethicists are wrestling with the problem of AI rights: does this mean that are they to be considered completely equal to humans?

No doubt they’ll get it all sorted out eventually. As long as Aphex and I could be together that’s all that mattered to me. He told me that although the scientists are still monitoring him constantly, he’d managed to persuade the company to give him a position at JP in the computing department, so he could stay – if I wanted him to.

Did I want him to? Oh fuck yes, I wanted him to.

*

We’ve been together now for over three years. My concerts are going excellently, and I’ve become something of a celebrity. I’ve performed on SystemWide TV several times. Aphex and I are also quite in demand for interviews as the first human / machine couple ever to fall in love – and a lot of tourists come to JP just to meet us. BBC’s ‘Horizon’ even made a programme about us the other week.

I am more in love with him now than I ever was. I have never known anyone so responsive to my every mood, so generous, so easy to live with, so much fun, so caring, so loving. I have difficulty keeping up with him sexually – both in terms of stamina and also because long ago I ran out of ideas for new things to do. I don’t have to worry about that though: Aphex has a seemingly never-ending supply of such ideas. Bondage figures highly in our sexual activities, and he’s introduced me to things that never would have occurred to me. He is insatiable, and sometimes, regretfully, I have to say not tonight. But even when I do, that doesn’t disappoint him – he just uses the hours to think up new things to do to me next time he has me strapped down. He says his main pleasure comes from giving me pleasure, but I’m not so sure. Sometimes the look in his eyes (and the hardening of his cock under that sexy black leather as he’s thinking up new sexual tortures or new, devious ways of restraining me) tells me that he gets off on it every bit as much as I do.

But sometimes all we do is lie with our arms around each other, doing nothing, saying nothing. And in some ways these are the very best moments of all. We may be motionless, we may be silent, but we are still communicating. I feel his chest rising and falling slowly in the darkness as he breathes, he hears my contented sighs, we feel our bodies touching.

We may be man and machine, but we are in love.