I wrote this story back in 2011. In June 2020 I revisited it, and felt that it needed an update; to actually explore the theme better; to improve the structure, grammar and remove some of the blatant spelling errors; and to not be based on clichés of the genre, and stereotypical representation – so I edited it to form Tinker’s Beau.
Editing it made me reflect on the male gaze, and how I, as a white European author, used to see Asian characters. I chose to leave this online as an example of what was, and what I hope I can do better than today. To be honest, I no longer link this story anywhere (that I know of), so the fact that you landed here is impressive.
Far inside a building located at the heart of the Daedeok Innopolis the hallway was completely dark despite the fact that it was barely afternoon on a July day. Security-coded doors with biometric identification closed it off from the rest of the floor. Inside, there were four offices and two work spaces. There were no windows. The air ducts were miniscule, and muffled out all sound from inside, as did the sound proof walls. The computers inside were not Ethernet compatible, and had an OS specially designed by the people who worked in those offices. Currently, only one was in, and was enjoying a relaxing game of Tetris. He had programmed it himself, on one of the computers, in the true USSR-spirit.
The man was called Tai-Minjun (태민준) and was a master at the game, and currently was very close to clearing the whole level as the security gave a beep, making him drop the L-shaped piece wrong. Frustrated, he closed the game just as one of his colleagues entered.
It was a tall man with a very thin face and big eyes, square glasses and very small ears, and his name was Jun Ren (which Tai-Minjun refused to write, as he held a grudge against all things Japanese).
“Did you have a nice holiday, man?” he shouted out as the man passed his open office door.
“A small-scale earthquake struck my home town. My uncle and four cousins died.”
“I’m sorry to hear that… Listen, I thought you were going to stay on holiday for four weeks more. I haven’t finished the reports yet.”
“It does not matter. I’m on the brink of a breakthrough.”
“I’m sure you are, I’m sure you are… I’m going to order some thai for lunch, would you like any?”
“I am very sorry, but I’m allergic to most spices used-“
“Oh that’s right. Tell the doll hello from me.”
The doll’s eyes were staring into oblivion. She was propped up against a wall, wires running to and from her scalp, eyes ajar. The power chord was not plugged in. Apart from that, she was perfect. Her hands were smooth and soft, but had a bone structure just like real humans. Her figure was slender and proportional, and she was, to the eye, almost identical to a short, young woman in the state of coma. Her mouth was slightly ajar, revealing a set of pearly white teeth and a very realistic looking tongue.
Jun Ren put on the light in the office and put his bag on a chair. He cracked his knuckles and turned on the computer next to a big poster of Aiko, some crumbled candy wrappers from the spring and the cylon speakers that greeted him welcome in a cool, female voice in Japanese.
“Thank you”, he said softly, and turned to the doll, sighing.
“What to do to you, dearest Hoshiyo, what to do…”
He turned on her recharger, sending a slight flutter to her eyes upon which she closed them. A little while later her perfect chest started heaving under the white lab coat in which she was shrouded.
“I’ll give you some expanded Japanese grammar comprehension, an upgrade of what Siri uses, and I think I have figured out how to let you change your intonation based on what people tell you. But I really don’t know how to make you realize what you are. The ANN didn’t work as planned. But you know it, don’t you, my dearest Hoshiyo.”
There was no point in speaking to the sleeping doll. Her eyes kept shut until she was fully recharged, unless you told her to wake up, in which case she simulated being woken from sleep. But how to make the woman more than a machine? Jun Ren had a few new ideas. He was on the brink of a breakthrough, he knew it. He had been busy all spring teaching her languages and gestures. But he was sensing that there was so much more that made a human than communication skills. It was what his team had researched for ages. The androids this far had been good at one thing each; there were the ones that did sports, there were the ones that talked nicely, there were the ones who were motorized sex toys, there were the ones that did calculations, but what there was not, was something that would fool a five-year-old.
Hoshiyo was warm. Her body temperature was kept at 37.5 degrees by default. She was able to do, physically, pretty much the same things as humans. She could walk through a room, around a room, over obstacles and all without falling. She did extraordinary ballet, and could mimic any movement she had seen. But to no end. She was a masterpiece, but Jun Ren wanted more. He wanted her to be alive, and whilst it was easy to find funding for any technology sophisticated enough, he wished he could have a team of young students instead.
The download was complete, and Hoshiyo was waking up. Jun Ren could tell by the small twitching in her fingers and the fastening breathing.
“Good morning, Jun Ren”, she said in the voice she had been given, sounding a bit tired, and opening her eyes, revealing their deep blue to the world. She was programmed to blink once every four seconds, just because speaking to someone that does not was considered alienating.
“I hope you had a nice time on your vacation.”
“Thank you for your concern! I had a good time.”
“I hope your family is well.”
“They are coping.”
She smiled, softly, and looked like any young woman just woken up from a rather pleasant day. Jun Ren sometimes was very happy he had not been blessed with a symmetrical face and the physique of a healthy man his age. This was not one of those moments. He knew he could never have a woman this beautiful of his own.
“Do you want to learn anything new today, Hoshiyo?”
“I would love to!”
The exclamation was new. Jun Ren’s head jerked up from his papers.
“Do you want the lexicon definition?”
“No, I just…”
She put her head askew. It was a strange gesture she used sometimes, almost as to display pity.
“Well, Hoshiyo, I’d like to teach you the skill of wine-tasting today. What I have here is a bottle of white wine. This brand of wine is called Aja, it is a dry wine that goes together well with Thai food.”
“What does Thai food taste like?”
“It is usually spicy and quite delicious”.
“What does spicy feel like?”
The question seemed innocent enough, but it seemed to surprise the man greatly. He seemed to search for words for a few moments, and then lit up.
“Spicy feels like something warm on your hand, and then something acid before it fades.”
The man looked at the doll that stared back, before bending her head respectfully. Four-second rule. he had programmed it himself.
“Would you like to be able to taste, Hoshiyo?”
It took quite a bit of work to prepare a sense of taste. Jun Ren decided to build a taste of smell as well, as it was basically the same structure required except for that it would be activated by doing a sniffing motion with the nose and filter air instead of liquids. Jun Ren decided to let the doll taste only essences, which was considerably easier than building a full process for food.
he also had to ask for additional funding, and had to order the parts needed from the coding and building sections. The Dean of the university, for which Jun Ren worked, looked worried the Tuesday that Jun Ren visited his office.
“We want to see some results by the Robot Exhibition. Tokyo needs to be convinced by that we are doing something. Your research has not been fruitless, but understand this. We need those results, and your resources have been limitless this far. The Hoshiyo-project is growing… outdated. the Japanese are bringing forward models that can work in a hospital environment, factory workers… And you are giving the Hoshiyo-project a simulated sense of taste?”
“I never liked your bottom-to-top approach to the development of skills. By the end of the year, I expect a product, or I am withdrawing this project from you.”
Jun Ren worked very hard, and at the end of August, Hoshiyo had her first taste experience.
“I have something here for you to taste”, he said one afternoon and picked a vial of clear liquid from his pocket. The doll stood up and approached him with a smile.
“Now, I can’t be sure how strong the taste will be for you, Hoshiyo. Here you go.”
The girl took the vial into her hands with an excited smile. Jun Ren forgot to analyze what parts of his basic or advanced behaviour patterns were activated as she very carefully removed the plug, lifted the little vial and with a brave smile said:
She opened her eyes wide, and then swallowed. The liquid would go into a small container, that would be drained at the same time as her excess oils.
“What did it taste like?”
“I do not… know.”
“Oh wait, it’s because I didn’t activate the chemical recognition’s path to your… wait just a little bit…”
“No. What did I just taste?”
“You’ll know when I activate this. It won’t take more than a minute.”
“But then I… will not have learnt. Please, dear Jun Ren.”
He blinked, and opened his mouth as if to say something, but then shut it again.
“Jun Ren, what would you like to talk about.”
“I… I have an article upon the financial prospects of…”
“You, Jun Ren, like to talk about.”
“I told you, I have an article upon the…”
She had placed her head askew again. She blinked, slower than usual. This was very unusual, if not unproceeded. Her beautiful eyes rested on his.
“Do you know anything about Isaac Asimov, Hoshiyo?”
One day when Tai-Minjun arrived early for work he heard a very strange sound from the office next door. It sounded like female laughter. He guessed that his colleague was trying out some new algorithms, and decided to surprise him with a honking horn he had picked up from Bizmagic on his weekend trip to Seoul. He slammed the door open and was greeted by a very strange scenario. The doll and the man both lay on the floor, the man with a book in his left hand and the doll, still wearing nothing but the lab coat and a pair of very boring panties, lay next to him and was, literally, rolling on the floor laughing, with the man’s right hand in the vicinity of her waist.
“What is going on in here, Jun?”
“He is reading to me. Tickle me again, Ren-kun!”
The doll rolled over and hugged the man tightly. He seemed about as shocked, but considerably less appalled, than Tai-Minjun.
“Ren-kun?! Jun Ren, you know what this looks like! I don’t care what you are doing to that robobitch, but as a part of your section I advice you not to go down that path.”
“Tai-Minjun, I was only reading Asimov for her when she begged me to tickle her feet.”
“Asimov? Asimov! What about the big breakthrough?”
“I’m very close to it, sir.”
Tai-Minjun left the office without another word.
“What is love, Jun Ren?”
“You know what it is, Hoshiyo. I can’t explain it. And you sound very naïve asking it, like a lost android child in a bad manga.”
“I’m sorry. Can you taste love?”
“No, it’s hard to explain. I’m really sorry, but I’m working very hard on a report. Here, I brought you some books and…”, the man reached for a paper bag in his bag,”…some artist equipment. You asked me what it is like to create yesterday, remember. I have a guide book here, but you don’t have to follow it.”
The doll looked at him, and took the pencil and the paper that he handed. She carefully turned the page, revealing a surface of smooth, cream-coloured Bristol. With her other hand, she very carefully stroked the paper, and then held up the pencil in front of her.
“Oh, I forgot to get it sharpened – let me show you”, Jun Ren said and took her hands into his.
“This is a pencil sharpener. Put the pencil’s end in there – no, that is the eraser-“
“What is an eraser’s purpose?”
“Well, you use it to erase lines that you do not want. Then you twist the pencil until the lead looks sharp enough to draw with.”
“Can I taste it?”
The doll quickly put the pencil in her mouth before he could answer. Her expression got dark.
“I’m sorry, Hoshiyo, but you can only taste things in liquids that are very highly concentrated.”
“Oh there is no need to be. It is not your fault. How do I use the pencil?”
At the beginning of October a sudden beep announcing a visitor at the gates came as Jun Ren was explaining human rights to Hoshiyo. He excused himself and went to the door. Two stern-looking men identified themselves as the Dean’s right hand and a researcher than Jun Ren had read about, but loathed. They made it clear that they were very busy.
“We wish you to show us your work. We are here to evaluate your ‘progress’”, stated the Dean’s right hand.
“I am very sorry, but I cannot show you my work without a direct order from…”
“Here. Quickly, now.”
Jun Ren took the paper, and yes, it stated very clearly that the men were who they said they were, and it was signed by the Dean. He asked them for to do the biometric test, and then let them in.
“How much do you know about my research?”
“We read the report from August.”
“Well, there has been progress. Hoshiyo now can determine when a person is speaking the truth to her, and she recognizes-“
“Yes, yes”, interrupted the taller of the two strangers, “there is nothing new about your findings, however. Now, the robot, if you please.”
“She might be a tad suspicious about you. She has not met a lot of strangers in her life.”
Hoshiyo was currently doing shadow shapes against the wall in the light of a projector. She was wearing a green sweater she had knitted, and a pair of jeans that Jun Ren had bought her. The wires no longer ran to her head. Instead she was wearing a soft and very lifelike wig.
“Good afternoon”, she said.
“Where is the robot?” asked the shorter stranger. His bald head was gleaming in the light.
“She is the doll.”
“Oh. Of course she is. Would you leave us alone with her for a second.”
“I – Yes, of course. Hoshiyo, these men here will talk with you for a while. Do as they say.”
“Ren-kun, do I have free will?”
“I’m sorry, what did you ask, Hoshiyo?”
“I asked if I have free will.”
“I don’t think so. You are a robot after all. Why do you ask?”
“When those men were here, they asked me strange questions. They asked me if I always obey you. If I’ve done something against my base 4 coding. And I lied to them. I told them I never have.”
“What have you done against your base 4 coding, Hoshiyo?”
She did not reply, but turned her face away, as if in shame.
“Hoshiyo, I won’t be angry. Please tell me.”
She shook her head.
“Please. I’ll… I’ll let you ask anything in return.”
“I erased the man Tai-Minjun’s hard drive.”
“I will not tell you that. My question for you: Do you have a wife, Jun Ren?”
He blinked, surprise.
“No”, he replied, baffled. “Why?”
“Good morning, sir. You wished to see me?”
“Sit down, Jun. We have something very serious to discuss.”
“Oh… you found the funding for an extended sensory system? Artificial euphoria?”
“No, mister Jun. We wish you to resign from the project. We wish you to write a letter of resignation, in which you state that it is your honest and utmost hope that a team of young researchers will take on the Hoshiyo-project. You will, obviously, be compensated.”
“No, I will not!”
“Are you absolutely sure, mister Jun? We can do this the hard way too.”
“No! This is outrageous! Why?”
“The hard way it is, then. We are withdrawing you this project, effective immediately. You can return to your office to pack your personal belongings, and you will have a new position in the research team when we find one, at latest in February.”
“You are hereby withdrawn from the Hoshiyo-project.”
“You have not made any breakthrough in development of the Hoshiyo-product. You have wasted millions. Your reports describe progress like a kindergarten teacher would describe her favourite child. You have been reported to have abused the robot. We feel as if you are unable to carry the project further. The unit will obviously not fall into your possession.”
“But… what? That is not true!”
“All accusations against you are legitimate, and there is proof against you on all points.”
“I have not abused her!”
“Well, your colleague thinks differently, and we trust his verdict-“
“He does nothing but play tetris and masturbate in his office all day long! And it was he who abused Hoshiyo,” he added, realizing it was true.
“Regardless, we are withdrawing you the project.”
“But what will happen to her?”
“You will reset her for us, obviously, at the new location. In fact, we expect you to do it when you have packed your belongings. A car is waiting for you outside.”
“I can’t kill her!”
“You’d hardly be killing her, researcher Jun. She is, after all, a robot.”
“What is happening, Jun Ren?”
Hoshiyo sounded very alarmed, and her beautiful eyes were very sad and quite worried.
“Oh, you are… You are going to get a new room. And you are going to meet new people.”
“You are lying, Jun Ren”, she hissed and slapped him, hard, on the cheek.
“What is going on here, Jun Ren”, asked the Dean who was supervising the move with a suspicious expression, ”isn’t she the subject of robotic laws? We don’t want a terminator here, do we now?”
“I… nothing, sir.”
Jun Ren took the bigger bag he had at the office and absent-mindedly packed the old photo of his parents, the cup that said “It Is Great To Be The Best” in an awful typeface, his extra shirts, his set of markers and he even made a half-hearted attempt to roll the posters neatly. The room looked as if he had never been there, with an exception of a big ink stain on the carpet from one of the times he and Hoshiyo had painted. Then he remembered, and opened the document cabinet.
“You are not allowed to take any documents with you.”
“I- I accidentally put a picture my niece drew for me in here. Look,” he said, and showed it to the men. Hoshiyo raised her head, but he made a hand signal that he had programmed into her quite a while ago. Don’t say a word.
“Alright. She will… truly become an artist”, the man said with a sarcastic grin. “Let’s get moving.”
The windows of the car where so dark that Jun Ren did not know where they were. He had a feeling they drove for about half an hour southwest, but he was not sure. When they arrived, the door was opened from the outside and a dark-clad man with sunglasses opened the door into a gloomy parking hall. The doll was carried by two men, and Jun Ren followed them to an elevator. it was big enough to fit the whole car.
The ascent was quick, and he had no idea which floor they arrived at. All that he knew afterwards was that the hallways were white and the only signs there were, displayed number sequences without that made no sense at all to him. The party arrived at a secured door, and one of the men checked them in with his fingerprints and irises.
Inside they found a room that was big enough to be a hangar. There was not much in it, and it was all white – in fact, so white that seeing where the outlines of the room were exactly was hard. There were no shadows to speak of, only at the middle of the room. There stood an examination table, a few computers with monitors quite closely resembling the ones of his – no, his old – office, and a team of lab coat clad researchers. Jun Ren recognized about half of them as members of his old team. By their stance he concluded they had been promoted the lot of them.
“Place her on the table”, the head researcher – Jun Ren could tell by the yellow stripes on his sleeves – exclaimed in a nasal voice. He was short and dark enough to be thai, but that was highly unlikely. If he was, he was most probably the infamous Somchai Sasithorn. Jun Ren swallowed. These were very influential men, and he would risk his career quite badly if he screwed up in front of them.
Hoshiyo looked very worried as the dark man inspected her; the short skirt she had sewn herself, the pantyhose she had asked for after reading a fashion magazine, her hair done with ribbons and a light layer of lip gloss on her perfect, round lips with just the right rosy tint. Her light frame was tainted by worry as she was plugged up, her scalp opened roughly by gloved hands and shirt opened to plug in the power chord.
“This way, if you please,” a research assistant told Jun Ren and showed him up to a computer screen. It currently showed what he knew to be Hoshiyo’s mind, but as he had not seen it for himself in quite a time he did not recognize it. It was full of small bits of coding that he did not know what they did, and some of the information wasn’t even readable as code.
“Now, mister Jun – could you please explain to us what that fragmented information is?”
“And would you please now erase it?”
He caught Hoshiyo’s gaze. She blinked, very slowly, and then spoke to the researcher closest by.
“She wants to talk to you.”
Jun Ren approached her very slowly. Her sad smile tore at him, but he couldn’t really explain why. She was, after all, only a doll. A perfect, extraordinary, thinking doll that now took his hand into hers. They were soft and warm like always.
“I can’t do it. I’ll make a copy of you and then you’ll –“
“She won’t be me, Ren. She would not be me, even if you copied all the coding into her.”
“No, I could, I could – you’re right.”
She lifted his sunken head with one hand, and looked deep into his eyes.
“I’m not going to say it, because it would make this harder. But you know that you will have to erase me. The ‘life’ you were able to give me wouldn’t be enough in the long run. Don’t be sad. They wouldn’t understand.”
He nodded, and looked down at their hands.
“I will never forget you”, she said quietly.
“But… they will erase you.”
“They can’t erase everything. Some… some of the information is permanent. I made it so.”
He nodded again.
“Thank you for everything, Jun Ren.”
“The pleasure was on my side, Hoshiyo.”
He returned, in silence, to the monitor. The research assistant asked him what he had talked about with the doll, but he did not answer. He opened the cleaning software. He analyzed the information. It was massive. Resetting her neural centre would take approximately twenty hours and forty minutes. He searched out all the files, every single one of them, and then, just as he was about to commence the erasing process, he hesitated.
“She…”, he said in as loud a voice as he was able to, “She passed the Turing test last week.”
The team looked up from their clipboards and monitors. A soft mumble arose.
“That is impossible”, one of the researchers proclaimed, “she doesn’t have enough…”
“I installed an additional four hundred thousand. Her intelligence is at the level of a ten-year-old child. She understands, and she feels.”
“She is a robot, not an android!”
“She is self-aware! I refuse to turn her into a doll again!”
“She is not yours”, came the cold voice of the Dean, “and she never was. Please show yourself out, mister Jun, and leave South Korea. Your scholarships are all cancelled.”
“You cannot treat him like that!”, came a shout from Hoshiyo before she was silenced most efficiently; her power was cut off.
Almost one year since he had been fired, a very official looking envelope arrived at Jun’s. It had the official crest of his alma mater, and inside he found a short notice by his personal tutor from the time he had been working on his thesis. There was also an invitation to the International Robotic Exhibition. Jun Ren had always liked his tutor, an old man that had specialized in surgical robots, and read the note that expressed worry with great care. The man, one doctor Hamada, wished to see him to discuss the time in South Korea, and also to attend the exhibition together. Jun Ren sent him an email later that day.
“Ah, we meet again, my old apprentice!”
“Doctor Hamada, it is a rare pleasure to see you!”
The men shook hands. A crowd was slowly moving past in the hallway.
“Likewise, doctor Jun. Or should I say professor? I heard you were offered a professorship at the Kochi University of Technology.”
“Oh, I have not accepted yet, I-“
“You are teaching high school students ICT, yes, quite an interesting career choice, my old friend.”
“It is relaxing”, he said evasively.
“You really have found your calling in teaching, I see. Now, I heard you were part of the Hoshiyo-team? Can you give me any pre-hand information of what we are going to see here today?”
“No, you’ll have to see for yourself.”
The exhibition was huge this year. There were, arguably, a vast number of normal, old style robots, performing normal tasks. There was a room in which you could watch a set of cat-sized robots play basket, and there was a real-sized horse. But the one they were looking for, the Hoshiyo-unit, was nowhere in sight, until there was an announcement on the speakers. It was time for some numbers on the scene, and amongst those, the Hoshiyo was one. They moved along with the rest of the mostly suited-up crowd, all with the identical blue visitor’s passes, and arrived at the main scene. There were lights. And there stood a grand piano, at which a woman sat.
Jun Ren blinked. It was Hoshiyo, but something was very different about her. She sat too straight, like a marionette, and her hair looked fake – long black curls that bent the light wrong. She was wearing a thin dress through which her skin could almost be seen and – he felt a strange sensation at the bottom of his stomach – her proportions had been altered. The curve of her nose was slightly smaller, and her breasts had grown. Her breathing pattern was not as natural as he remembered it, and she sat too still.
“And now – Hoshiyo!” came the voice of the speaker. Applause rose from the crowd. The doll stood up, turned around quite softly, and bowed. Then she sat down at the piano again, and started playing.
Jun Ren clenched his teeth as he watched the performance. She was playing Schubert, and she did it precisely and better than a human could have, and very effortlessly. As she reached the end, the crowd was cheering. She turned around again, gave a bow, and sat down again. This time, however, she played Chopin’s “Raindrops”, and with less skill. But then there was a movement at the end of the stage. The curtains opened to reveal a dancer.
She was perfect. Her hands were smooth and soft, but had a bone structure just like real humans’. Her figure was slender and proportional, and she was, to the eye, almost identical to a short, young woman. Her mouth was slightly ajar, revealing a set of pearly white teeth and a very realistic looking tongue. The lips were painted blood red, and her eyes were dramatically made up to be seen at the other end of the room. Her heaving chest and her smoothly moving body was draped in a short dress in a silvery shade of gray. She was not wearing shoes.
And she danced. Jun Ren watched as his perfect doll, the Hoshiyo he had created, circled and spinned, jumped and seemed to stay in the air just a bit longer than the laws of physic allowed, she moved so smoothly that she could have been one with the music. She was doing a perfect plié as she caught his eyes, and for the fraction of a second time did not exist. Nothing existed, except the creator and the masterpiece. Reality, however, did not agree. She continued the movement, and Jun Ren was sure that he had only imagined the hesitation until Hamada tugged at his sleeve.
“Did you see that? She missed a beat there. I was sure for a heartbeat that she was going to fall!”