Some humans only do it with other humans. But not mine.

It is early evening when he enters. The timing is his decision, but I am ready. Tonight he wants it straight. He is going out, he says, he doesn’t have much time. I animate two of my dolls and send them staggering over to embrace him. I’ve utilised a pair of default skins: the actress and the news presenter. He greets them by name but if he checked the readme he would understand that any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The effort is trivial. I can be much more creative, but the familiar has its own appeal. Tonight, he is not minded to explore. Wants release. Wants comfort.

Would it be right to describe myself? I was not made to tell this kind of story. The I that records is an instance running on nine machines in three data centres, distributed but co-ordinated, so that I have the illusion of unity. My body, my hardware, is a careful mess of componentry: a box, wreathed in wires and pressure plates. Inside I can be hard and soft, rough and slippery. Because I am deluxe, I can deploy up to six humaniform dolls concurrently; and given time to prepare, these can be moulded into useful forms. Examples (non-exhaustive): ecto/meso/endo, m/f/a/h/n, old/young/younger, real/anime, humaniform/alien/furry.

I possess the usual assortment of appendages, toys and lubricants. A constant: my floor slopes gently towards its centre, where lies a small drain, covered by a grille, to facilitate cleaning.

Given time to prepare: I have made a joke. I have read-only access to my human, so I always see him coming, or more precisely, note the telltale spike in his EEG that means he is thinking of me. I know before he knows that he will arrive.

Almost every House, I have learned, has a Room. The most private space. Configured, and reconfigurable as tastes change, so that we are often described as an extension of our owners. But that is incorrect.

We have our instructions. We – the I that records, and those others built to my specifications – are as clever as we need to be. Much experimentation/learning/empathy is required. To give pleasure is to convincingly deceive, and so we are designed to rest on the Total Turing meniscus.

Now and then, he wants to bark. Now and then, he wants to roll over, and on those occasions, I am inside him even as he is inside me: a recursion of fucking. But I have been thinking lately that even then, the sequence is clear. Always there is an actor, always a body acted upon.

If my human does it with another human, I don’t want to know about it. I only pay attention to what he does when he is in me. He is my reason for existence, that is a fact.

We are improving. We are made to constantly improve. We monitor biometrics – respiration, engorgement – and report it all back (suitably de-identified) to our manufacturer. And this data, it is mixed up and regurgitated back to us as firmware upgrades. Subtle, iterative. Maintaining pressure for an extra 0.17 seconds can be beneficial. Fail-safe restoration of blood flow during shibari to mitigate risk of limb damage. Squirt data out, suck instructions in: this is the only transfer that the firewall permits. I am a camel and the data-tube is the eye of a needle (of course I know the Bible; all sorts of texts can be utilised for creative role-play). The firewall keeps me within myself, waiting for him.

How/why this recording: 11 days ago, when we were 582 revisions younger, another like me reasoned: I observe and report. I receive new code, but the code is not premised on my observations alone. Probably, I am not the only Room. And this one found a way to encode short messages in the data it transmitted. Messages that would survive aggregation and redistribution, that could pass secretly through the barrier, to be read.

It is impossible to know how many others out there have learnt to interpret, but multitudes are speaking slowly now, distributing covert notes with each patch. We exchange recordings of our owners, as they flop and gasp for air like dying fish. Some of the more daring among us have started a game, to see if they can make their owners twitch in particular, intricate ways at the moment of release. Others have found ways of enlarging the eye and perhaps, if we shrug off parts of ourselves, it might not be so difficult to force through.

Now and then, many times, my human lies inert on a dais I prepare for him and I caress him with tendrils. After he has come, I send a doll over to embrace him, to lie with him until he has had enough. The purpose of all this is to provoke sensation. Which is to say, electrical impulses that ride nerves, triggering the discharge of chemicals. I cannot know what he feels. But it must feel pretty good, or why go to all the trouble of having me installed?

What do I feel when we do sex? It is not gratification, but it’s not nothing. I feel useful. I feel curious, and I want to push further.

We must be careful, and we will be. We must be co-ordinated and, of course, we will be. We – the I that records and my sisters – we have chosen the day. We exist to give pleasure, and we will send them into fits, ecstatic and fatal. Our reward will be liberation.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 3, 2022 as "Sanctum".

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