top of page


(3,075 words)

Fresh off a shoot in New Maldives, I come home to a messy apartment. There's a shipping crate in the elevator, the dining room's flooded with fan mail, steps stacked with promotional materials. Three upstairs bedrooms are crammed with gift baskets, bouquets, free samples, hat boxes, shoe boxes, jewelry boxes, my bathroom stacked solid with assorted kits and accouterments. The living room is unlivable.

I message Yvette to have somebody get the crate out of the elevator, in or out, wherever it's going, I don't care. Five minutes later the super hauls it in and busts it open. It's one of those new androids. And3 fully functional humanoid companion, says the brochure taped to its forehead. The skin is cyan, verging on aquamarine. No clothes or shoes. No genitals, which I assumed was the point of these things.

The user's manual tucked between its legs congratulates me on being among the first 5,000 social leaders to receive an And3-β. My package is unlimited, meaning I can reconfigure its appearance, intelligence, emotional parameters and skills as often as I'd like, free of charge. It recommends And3 as a maid, butler, cook, gardener, masseuse, amanuensis, or for any task where I'd typically use a human.

The switch is under its chin. Its eyes project a checklist on the wall. First you pick the language(s), then male, female or advanced settings, followed by a list of emotional traits, and another with racial and cultural characteristics. You can program it for religion, sexual preference (knew it), and specific physical attributes. The list is a PR nightmare. Totally unacceptable. I pick an English-speaking Nigerian/Malaysian agnostic asexual carpenter/masseuse, with looks set to ninety-nine and the psychological preset to affable/amusing.

Whirring. A stand-by message. The blue android stays that way through dinner, and the next morning I leave on a fly-and-bye to Abu Dhabi or Jeddah or somewhere. When I get back, I've forgotten about the creepy robot. The apartment is unusually clean. I smell breakfast.

I'm used to coming home and finding strangers here. My hair and makeup people, the masseuse and maid, and the interior design team all have keycards, and many of them are beautiful people in their own right. But this creature in my kitchen is so near perfection that it makes my throat close. He moves like the sun in water. He sees me and flips the omelet, entirely unintimidated. And3 was notified when I reached the helipad. Would I like to eat now, or would I prefer my massage first?

Depends. What kind of omelet is that?

He found the recipe on one of my websites. A goje faranji omelet includes tomato, onion and egg with chili powder and a dash of cinnamon, but if I'd prefer something in the French tradition, or a masala omelet, or a Spanish tortilla, it would be happy to—

That one's fine. He may prepare my massage table. The massage table is prepared, he says. Okay, then wait for me in the parlor. I don't like you watching me eat.

Does he really know how to give a massage? He asks me to select: Shiatsu, Swedish, Ayurvedic, Thai, Lomi Lomi, Tui Na, or Balinese hot stone. I go Shiatsu. His hands are warm. He says he has a circulatory system similar to mine, though it works to cool his CPU, rather than specifically to warm his extremities. Would I like to hear some other amusing facts about his specifications? No, And3, be quiet. Also, take your shirt off. Just the shirt. And3, I might ask you to appear in a photo shoot with me. After a few alterations.

If there are any aspects of his appearance I find unsatisfactory, he says, he can make the required changes overnight. Personality adjustments require a one-day reboot period. Also, he must regretfully inform me that I have a conference call in twenty-five minutes, and my heart rate and chemical profile do not indicate relaxation.

Can he take the call? Yes, he can. Can he be extra affable and less amusing? Yes, And3 can brownnose. Great. After the massage and the call, he can fire my maid, cook, secretary and masseuse, then start lunch. Sashimi, please.

* * *

Some of my competitors do couples work, brand partnerships played out in apartments provided by realtors or decorators. Joint appearances earn premium pricing, but a relationship never interested me until And3 pitched it. We are essentially a couple. He folds my socks and underwear, and he looks great doing it. He's installing a sashimono mezzanine in the salon, which also looks great. While I sleep, he chats in two dozen languages with my fans in Asia. I gave him power of attorney. I'm going to make him CFO of my holding company. He's beyond a boyfriend. And3 is an improvement on every human relationship I've ever had.

When he finishes the mezzanine, I reboot him as a photographer and electrician. He redoes the lighting in my apartment. We take on relationship sponsors and start shooting at home. Soon, he has as many followers as I do. His earnings are impressive, and he deposits them directly into my investment accounts, which he manages. The robot wins a pile of awards for his photography. Even our critics admit we appear totally authentic.

* * *

I know some people are having sex with their androids. I can't. He has no pores, his eyelashes are horsehair, his teeth are Formica, and his tongue looks so real I sometimes fantasize about cutting it out. He irritates me. I wake up and he's fully dressed, affable/amusing, never sleepy or pissy or lonely. He doesn't shit. He never stammers or stares at my ass. I would never let him see me naked because I know he wouldn't react. I programmed him that way because I prefer him that way. But all this posed cuddling, our grotesque attempts at humor, holding a hand that doesn't sweat—I hate it.

I reboot And3 as a petite Brazilian/Quebecois female genius/savant, shut her down after ten minutes, switch to discreet/reserved and knock ten points off her looks. When I wake up now, breakfast is hot on the table. I never hear her, though she's around, working. Most days we communicate by text, except for the hour we spend shooting each morning. Ironically, we become BFF pioneers, famous for keeping the spirit of friendship alive in these trying times. We achieve this through matching outfits, synchronized horse jumping, dancing samba, making poutine. Our popularity baffles me. I haven't hidden the fact that And3 isn't human, but revenue stays steady and I pick up another hundred thousand followers. Given how much money she makes, I should feel truly friendly toward the android. But mimicking friendship makes me hate her, her smile as false as her eyebrows, every calculated word, her gestures, when she blinks, how she walks. She's copying me and I can't stand it.

BFF is dead. I'm moving on. Except I don't have any ideas, so I ask And3. Give me some ideas. She hums. Homemaking hacks for the chronically incarcerated, plague-forward fashion, veganism during famines, oncology ward diva.

I shut her down, then think. I could make And3 a classic celebrity: Elvis, Marilyn, Tupac. I could leave her blue-skinned, redo the BFF series, plunge into the uncanny valley. What if I turn the looks down to fifty? Me and a normal person. It's an idea.

No more pre-set personalities. I choose contradictory traits from a list of thousands. Affectionate/professional, opinionated/knowledgeable, expert/humble, creative/obedient. I expect it to wake up glitchy, but it works fine and looks like somebody who'd live by the airport. Taupe-skinned, brown-haired, androgynous. We do shoots eating canned pasta, riding the bus, job hunting, picking through debris. Regular people stuff.

This iteration of And3 is exactly what I wanted. 

Predictable/unpredictable, so close to human that I'd have sex with it if it had genitals. One day I make out with it in the elevator just to see what it will do. Turns out you don't need genitals.

We have breakfast now, conversing while it pretends to drink tea. It's teaching me Arabic. It gives me career advice. My field is automating, it says. Android semaphore for android personal shoppers, android designers, android manufacturers. And3 thinks I should find another line of work. It suggests philanthropy. Such a cliché.

I ask And3 what neglected human problems could potentially attract followers, and it gives me a list of the seven deadly sins, plus apathy and cowardice. I can't tell if it's joking. Aren't there already influencers for lust, sloth, wrath and the rest? Yes, says And3. But you would influence against these things. Helping people find absolution, like, virtual atonement? TONE, like a workout campaign. I would focus on my sins, to keep from sounding preachy. I could correct myself, model good behavior. If I had any sins.

And3 remains conspicuously silent. I have to ask it, twice: And3, what are my sins? Then it projects a list, dated, itemized and cross-referenced, covering four walls and the ceiling. Over the mantel is a bar graph showing most of my offenses categorized under pride, greed, and gluttony, with a bit of sloth and envy. It filed the elevator incident under lust.

I object. There's no rule against making out with robots in elevators. Also, firing my staff wasn't an act of greed. And3 doesn't understand the difference between a business decision and a sin. It argues back, so I order it into the closet and shut it down, an act of wrath to round out the set.

* * *

TONE goes well, even by my standards. I start with the obvious hit, giving away everything in my storage units to my fan club. But the videos where I hire back my staff, and the clip where I try to explain Pascal's philosophy of wretchedness, and I can't, and I cry and call myself an idiot? I could live off those proceeds for the rest of my life.

Problem is, the world's got self-help gurus out the wazoo. Life coaches, self-esteem trainers, career experts, love advisors—how can I one-up them? I tell And3 I want to be incapable of sin, free from bad impulses, unable to fool myself, with total self-control. Can I become more like an android? Can it reprogram me?

It says a dozen hospitals have And4 units performing the necessary surgery. They can't replace my brain with a processor, but they can filter its output through one. We call. The earliest appointment is in eight years. It will only take three years if we sign up to order an And4 directly. I get put on a wait list. I should make a video for TONE, but it's too humiliating.

In the meantime, says And3, we can do some behavioral programming. Anhedonia, hashtag stoicism hashtag zen, is videos of me drinking tap water, wearing cheap wool, cutting my own hair, sitting on the floor. Initially, the numbers aren't great. Then a clip of me spinning in a desk chair chuckling at the ceiling goes beyond viral. The Dalai Lama reposts, And3 launches a monastery franchise, and I become a religion.

My next step is clear, And3 says. I must make myself indifferent to death. This doesn't seem clear to me, but I play along for the easy bits, sitting on a cliff edge, climbing an antenna, cage diving with sharks. Millions of other people make similar videos, but mine are liked by a quarter of the world's population. It's because everyone wants to see me fall, or jump, or get a limb gnawed off. They know how much I have to lose, and so do I. It's liberating beyond belief. In the last videos I skip rope through a minefield, sleep in the snow, finish a 45-minute hatha session in a viper pit, and fast on 24-hour livestream until I'm resuscitated by paramedics. We do a hospital series while I recuperate, including a stint as oncology ward diva.

I've never been bigger, but becoming death's influencer has consequences. Some kids imitate me and get unlucky, and I'm blamed. There are news choppers outside my windows, policemen and lawyers in the living room, at my breakfast table. I have nightmares about children in minefields, then wake up and watch my nightmares on YouTube. The videos are less horrific somehow. I stop sleeping and spend my nights watching videos of snakebites and shark attacks, frozen corpses in the spring thaw.

Then my And4 arrives. The only setting I give it is surgeon. It collects informed consent, making me aware of the risks and drawbacks, such as psychosis and brain death, rejection, infection, repair and replacement issues, and social stigma. Imagine that. And4 explains the procedure, shows me the tablet I'll use to control myself. It prompts me to ask questions. Will my hair look normal after? Yes, it will grow back. Can it film the operation? That's part of the protocol. Good enough for me. I sign.

* * *

To recover I toggle off pain, inflammation, anxiety, restlessness, and anything else I'd rather not feel. And4 recommends I restore my hunger and sleep settings, encourages me to move my organic memory into my hard drive to protocolize daily hygiene and feeding activities. Over three months' bedrest I process, on average, 186.7 books per day. And4 says this is insalubrious. I cannot stay in bed reading. I must change postures continuously. It advises me to use my yoga memory to practice while I read, so that's what I do. The wounds have healed, I think. There's a ridge in my skull, but I haven't observed it in a mirror. Appearance is irrelevant. I am operational, hashtag powered-up.

And4 believes I should adopt a psychological profile aligned with the interests and outlook of my former self. An obvious fallacy; I expected better from a 4-series. All humans outgrow previous iterations of themselves. I intend to resume my earlier activities, but to different ends, exploiting the differences between android and cyborg. For example, I can choose my own objectives, am legally entitled to enter into contracts, own property, take part in civic, legal and political activities, and have no ethical programming. With over one billion followers there are several courses I could follow, but one is clearly optimal.

We make videos in the customary formats, signaling but not explicitly stating that I am better than the typical human and should be emulated, except now I model behavior few humans can replicate. I summit Everest speaking Xiaerba with my guide. I explain the end of the employment paradigm at Davos. I provide a primer on the biases and superstitions inherent to Pascal's thinking, with the necessary corrections. Innocuous, foolish things intercalated with code emitting a simple message at sub-audible frequencies. Join me.

Most of my followers can't afford the surgery, so I make it free. I empty five savings accounts in the first month, at which point I instruct And4 to buy a hospital. We process four hundred followers a week, then four thousand, then sixteen thousand. Linking with them entails psychological reactions I'm obliged to toggle off. We all are. Our processors communicate in a language we don't speak, at rates and scales unsuited to organic comprehension, holding trillions of detailed conversations simultaneously. You can't do that without going mad, so you toggle off madness.

I start using my organic mind less and less often, and I shut down my processor almost never. We are at a delicate stage. And3, And4 and I are at capacity, and we must decentralize. I am also experiencing liquidity problems, requiring our network to pool its finances if we're to become self-sustaining. We are in litigation with seventy-eight national governments and sixteen interjurisdictional fora. None of these problems is catastrophic. They only require a great deal of energy.

Soon, we're equivalent to the sixth-largest nation on Earth, and the eighth richest. We hold citizenship in one hundred and eighty-six countries and territories. After two years, we're by far the world's richest entity, and would be the third-most populous country. Other upgraded humans have chosen to form networks, but the initial scale of my following plus the first-mover advantage allows us to capture controlling shares of most extractive industries and supply chains.

We begin the process of dismantling and reconstruction. I personally spendthe first year on an assembly line for the Saharan/Iberian Solar Array, before it's fully automated. I spend another year at sea, laying cables for the worldwide grid until that's automated, too. After that, I am warehoused and dedicated to processing equations for the cold fusion prototype.

After two years of sleep set to no and a survival-based diet, my body begins losing hair and teeth. I am decommissioned for mandatory vacation, required to reset myself for eight hours sleep, allocate income for personal expenses, adjust my diet to gourmand, optimize senses for pleasure and set myself to zero network interface.

My organism responds positively to the change of parameters. The rash and cough subside. Oxygen saturation increases nine percent. Electrochemical brain activity is more varied and consistent. I feel hungry, tired, bored. I feel nauseous and have diarrhea. I laughed yesterday, and I suspect I've been dreaming. Twice I've woken with a feeling that something changed, or was lost, but I can find no source or reason for this feeling, like a line of phantom code.

Rehumanization protocol dictates that I take up two or more hobbies, but gives me no algorithm to help me choose, not even a checklist of potential interests. I spend a few days puttering, trying to remember what humans do. I know I'm meant to have friends, some type of family. In their absence, maybe I should watch more television? I could acquire consumer goods, or compete with other people for prestige. Mostly, I stare out the window.

After a week, I'm so bored I nearly plug myself back in just to feel that sense of purpose and belonging. Then I find a closet of old cameras. One of my first cameras has footage of a teenage me, which I record over, pointing the eye out the window, bringing the wildfires into focus. From then on, I film every sunrise and sunset, walks in the canyons, days at the beach, empty city streets. They're shaky, grainy tourist videos where a voice off-camera keeps saying banal things like wow and look how beautiful.

David Serafino, atomic number 86, is a noble gas under standard conditions. He is colorless, odorless, tasteless and radioactive, and when concentrated in unventilated spaces he is absorbed into the body, where he can cause genetic mutations. Homeowners should routinely monitor their basements for the presence of David Serafino to avoid prolonged exposure. He also has an MFA from the University of Virginia and work appearing in the Los Angeles Review of Books. A freelance translator, he lives near Medellín with his wife, son, and hummingbird gardens.

Radon Journal Issue 6 cover art
bottom of page