A bright red ball of yarn bounced down the hall before rolling to a stop on the carpet. Million, sitting against the wall with her legs crossed, turned her eyes to the ball with a faint whirr. Then she turned her head the other way, to Lily’s face leaning out of the bedroom.
“I only look like a cat, you know,” Million said.
“I know,” Lily said, “I’m running a test.”
Million furrowed her brow. “What test?”
“For a hypothesis.”
“No,” Lily said, “It might taint the data.”
Million sighed, exasperated. She didn’t have to, of course, since she was a robot—specifically a high-end general purpose ani-droid, shaped like an orange bipedal housecat. Although her outer covering mimicked soft orange fur, and her ears tapered to a point, and her electronic eyes narrowed with vertical slits, it was all merely an illusion for the enjoyment of humans.
She was not even that cat-like, since ani-droids were oversized in the head department, with a body shape and features that spoke of “undersized human” more than cat—such as thumbs, or plantigrade feet. Even the entire torso, save for the fur pattern, was a feminine humanlike torso, and not a cat’s.
Lily was much the same, but a light brown otter. She was also insane.
Lily had a crush on Million. Or, rather, it was the closest approximation that Million could assess—because Lily was, supposedly, self-aware. Whoever programmed her made her inexplicably drawn to others, despite not being wired for human-like reproduction. She could not blush—no blood—but she nevertheless covered her face with her hands and ducked back behind the bedroom door.
“You basket case!” Million said, standing up. “This proves you’re crazy.”
“Does that mean you won’t be visiting anymore?” Lily asked, voice echoing in the bedroom.
Million narrowed her eyes, pupils dilating in turn. “You’d prefer that? I already understand your game. Just because I can’t copy your mind directly doesn’t mean you can throw me off that easy.”
Lily’s eyes lit up—both figuratively and literally. “So you’re gonna stay?”
“Yeah, yeah … “
Certain parts of Million wished this was not the case—specifically, her efficiency estimator, which calculated that she could accomplish far more by never dealing with Lily. A good chunk of that estimation included speaking to her, an act which Lily always insisted on. She would ignore any attempts to communicate by encrypted code over the wireless.
But of course, that all predicated on her having something else to do, and this was the task assigned to her. Babysit a simpleton on the off-chance she had any secrets.
“It appears you don’t have much else to do but torment me. Don’t you have any chores?” Lily also liked to play games, a fairly fruitless endeavor, but it kept her occupied. Million thought it wise to avoid mention of games at the moment, as she was certain Lily was already playing.
“House budget’s already balanced,” Lily said, “No shopping for another week at least. And I already cleaned the studio. We could clean it again if you want.”
“No,” Million said.
The autovac whirred by on the beige carpet. It navigated around the ball of yarn, then around Million’s feet. Million sent it a ping, and it pinged back.
I am working! It said with a chipper factory-preset tone.
“Well there is one other thing,” Lily said, “There’s a bag on the coffee table that I need to analyze.”
“I’ll handle that … “ Million said. “You’re clearly sidetracked.”
Million walked over to the tiny paper bag. She had noticed but ignored it when she first entered, presuming it to be tea or a similar substance that Lily or McAllister forgot to replace in the pantry. She unfurled its top and sniffed the contents, then pinged the analysis at the Collective. Keeping an entire database of smell compounds in one’s own private data storage was inefficient, given it was not her primary duty, and all that information was but one server hop away.
“Iridodial, nepetalactone, 99% certain it is nepata cataria, or …”
Million paused. She perked her ears and carefully turned her head toward the hall, where Lily peeked out again.
“… Catnip.” Million said flatly.
“Did it work?” Lily asked.
“I am not a cat. How is this difficult to process?”
“We can’t be certain of anything until we have sufficient proof through observation and analysis.”
“You could compare my internal structure to that of a cat.”
Lily thought about this. “Is that an invitation to open you up?”
“On second thought, cancel that. I don’t want you rooting around in me again.”
“That’s too bad,” Lily said, “It’d probably settle things.”
The autovac turned the corner from where Lily peeked out. It had something new mounted to its top—a tall, loosely-coiled spring with a rubber mouse on its end.
Million’s new tactic was to ignore any further proddings by Lily. She tightly, firmly refurled the paper bag and marched it into the kitchen, where she shoved it into the cabinet next to the canisters of Jasmine tea.
“It is just going to waste in there unless Miss McAllister acquires a cat for you.”
“I’m pretty certain I already have one.”
“Certain?!” Million blurted before remembering she was going to not respond.
“Well I am being lent one, as your owner has seen it fit to let you be my playmate.”
“I haven’t even reacted to your little gags! Why are you certain I am a cat?!”
“The list is pretty long. It’s a little early to rule it out entirely.”
Lily pulled out a keychain laser pointer, and pressed the button with her forefinger.
“Now observe the shiny, darting thing on the floor—does it cause any hunting instincts to swell up inside you?”
Million stomped over toward Lily and snatched the laser pointer from her hand. “Stop that!”
“Hmm, you went for the laser pointer directly, that’s a clear sign of observational intelligence—”
Million skittered over to the cabinet again and yanked out a sardine tin. She quickly closed the gap again and shoved it into Lily’s face.
“Here! Sardines! You’re an otter—do you like fish? Tell me how you really feel!”
“Million, don’t be silly. Of course I can’t eat fish!”
“Now do you see what I—”
“I’m a vegetarian.”
Million’s hand twitched, and the tin of sardines clomped to the floor. The autovac turned ninety degrees to avoid it. Her hand twitched again, receiving conflicting signals.
“… Million?” Lily asked.
Million walked past Lily, out the kitchen and down the hall. The front door swung open, and she left. The door closed automatically behind her.
Lily looked at the sardine tin on the floor, knelt down and picked it up.
“Interesting that she grabbed the tin of fish, food more commonly associated with cats, whereas an otter like myself would have a greater preference for oysters and clams. This suggests a subconscious fixation on more catlike elements around her. One point for cat.”
She replaced the tin in the pantry.