So I have been obsessed with a few things lately. I started reading about Mir and was entranced by the strange station. I began thinking about it as the antithesis of Murphy's law. Anything that can go wrong will not go wrong. Strapped together, avoiding mulitple disasters, designed to last 5 years and lasting 15. This right here is amazing:
In one particularly egregious incident in 1998, American astronauts discovered that dirty water globules—some of which were roughly the size of basketballs—were casually free-floating behind some of the station's service panels. These gross liquid orbs, which were alternately brownish or cloudy white in color, had become miniature planets of activity for the opportunistic microbes that were attempting to commandeer Mir.
This story also came out of interest from two specific subreddits, r/botsrights and the antagonistic r/builttoserve. This was a further obssession. How crazy it is we have an empathic movement that is fighting for the rights of a group which is almost certainly not sentient. I can image objections to this. But I do not see it, in totality, as a bad thing.
This story is the first draft and I kinda wanna get the further one picked up. The order changes and stuff. Plus this is better than me saying, once again, the story is rough and I am unhappy WITH IN.
by The Egg Party
DS723 drone returning to docking bay 4-g.
With each observed drone action, Yuli hits the enter key. He is sitting in rounded observation module that juts out from the bulk of a huge space station. The station, floating around the 4th quadrant of the asteroid belt, is Kvant-73. This name is emblazoned on one of the bigger surfaces of the structure, along with the RosCo logo and a giant five-pointed red star.
Cool down phase for DS723 drone twin progress module engines complete.
Inside the observation module there is just enough space for Yuli, his chair, and a curved work desk. He is strapped down with shoulder harnesses to prevent him drifting due to the lack of gravity. The seat is on a set of variable mounts, which move in accordance with his actions. On the worksurface, sitting underneath the observation window, is a glowing Cyrillic keypad. Yuli’s work day is comprised of the same tasks, repeated, over and over. The job is glamourised box-ticking. Looking out the window, he watches the mining drone.
He works twelve hour shifts, five times a week. The work day is almost done and his impatience shows through thoughtless movement. His furtive eyes continually glance at the clock: 0230, 0235, 0240. Today is the day he to be reunited with his Roksana. It has been three weeks since their last meeting and is has been a particularly difficult period for him. Roksana is the service robot of the station, a machine more often referred to as a pleasure bot. He finds the language vulgar, too dehumanising, and so early on in the mission he began calling it Roksana.
Drone DS723 arms folded and secure.
After a series of heavily publicised suicides within a few of the mining crews, when it was determined that the events were heavily influenced by isolation, service bots became mandatory. The other major mining companies, Nascor and the ESA, tended to use VR technology. Russian cosmonauts favoured more tactile distractions. Service robots started being utilised in space shortly after widespread application on Earth. The rapid uptake of the technology led to demand outstripping supply and many essential resources were exhausted. It led to increased investment in off-planet mining, in the various REMM stations such as Kvant-73, forming an economic feedback loop.
This industrial shift was what provided Yuli the opportunity to make his fortune. It was what led this that moment, monitoring asteroid mining in the Belt and spending spare time with Roksana. The mining allowed more people back on Earth to have the same recreational opportunities as him, to fuck with robots.
Finally, this last line of code turned from black to red:
Remote DS723 secured within within docking bay, outer doors sealed.
Removing headset and gloves, he wipes the accumulated palm sweat on the seat of his grey coveralls. Removing his harness, he floats away from the warm seat. Touching chin to sternum, he takes a deep breath, before exhaling while stretching out his spine. He sinks back to his usual degree of slouch before leaving the rig. A final glance at the clock on the way out reads: 0301. Fourteen minutes till his appointment, the end to the enforced abstinence.
Out of the module hatch he uses both hands, on familiar rails, to propel himself away. Left, straight, left and then a hard right. He stops abruptly, grabbing the edge of a white door. Above the entrance are two signs: the larger one indicates that it is the access to the Priroda Module, the other drawing attention to red-lit letters reading OCCUPIED. Left of the door is a palm scanner, the edges of the locking mechanism stained grease-grey from use.
Yuli has purposely left his work earplugs in, making it impossible to hear any noise coming from within. Leaning forward, forehead and forearm on the door frame, he waits. The door finally opens and one of the other engineers, Vasily, comes out red-faced, clasping the upper buttons of his jumpsuit.
‘All yours, Yuli,’ says Vasily, sweeping a hand to the left as he exits. ‘I am famished, I will see
you later.’ They make eye contact for the briefest moment, before he is gone, pushing off down the corridor. Yuli’s hand is immediately flat on the console, eager fingers splayed out.
A automated voice announces, “Access granted: user Yuli Shefner”.
He enters and, once fully inside, the door automatically closes behind him. Music begins playing softly as the lock fully engages. An old Russian folk song Александра Стрельченко is the first to play. Music is mandatory while any user is inside Priroda.
A bald android is sitting in the room, strapped in place, the sole service bot of Kvant-73. The robot came from Earth with the current shipment of workers, part of the ship’s mass allowance. Strict weight limits allowed for only one robot, and so the crew had to share. Above the robot is a red-lit timer, bright numbers counting down from 60 minutes.
The robot, this future slave, is powered down and lifeless. In black marker ink, on the right side of the room, are the words:
#Построенный, чтобы служить
The graffiti roughly translates to #Builttoserve. Yuli briefly picks at the black markings with a nail. The vandalism is there in perpetuity. The room cleaning has been neglected for months. The dereliction of duty grew out of a fear of wiping up incidental sexual fluid.
Turning in the tight space, he grasps the sink with his left hand and, using the right, reaches into his hip satchel. He removes three parts for the robot: the hair, the vagina, and the info card containing the specific voice and personality settings. He then adds his personal effects: toothbrush, toothpaste, an extra packet of disinfectant wipes, cloth towelling, and comb.
After a short personal hygiene ritual, he turns his attention to the robot. The other body parts of the robot have significant adjustability and require a manual resetting every visit. Yuli touches dials behind the left ear, those skin-soft buttons, setting parameters from muscle memory: 1.73, 62, 8... His fingers move absently. Once done, liquid starts moving underneath the synthetic skin, around the limbs and torso, changing into his desired body shape.
As the robot changes, he simultaneously fits a wig. His chosen wig applied, the robot becomes brunette. Lifelike hair remained too difficult for automated synthesis, so each crew member had their own wig. Made from human hair, they added a soft touch to the robot - a part of the companion was human. His wig is a familiar chestnut brown.
There is a stark difference between the bald android and this brown haired woman. He is once again back with his lovely Roksana. The weight of loneliness, like most long-held burdens, only becomes fully obvious once gone.
Before the flight off Earth, Yuli had difficulty with the concept of a robot companion. Talking
with friends who were robot owners helped. He knew a couple of rich friends who had their own personal service bots. Personal robot ownership remained taboo in polite social conversation but in private, once his upcoming work detail was explained, people opened up. One friend in particular, Anatoly, had three. The increased popularity of service bots coincided with the decline of automobile collections. Anatoly’s advice was ill-informed and immature, reminiscent of generalised sexual advice. The misinformation did help him in one way, to shore up the conviction to let instinct guide him.
The process of ordering a personalised vagina was daunting. He did not have many sexual
preferences until he was forced to have many sexual preferences. He spent hours online, using the vast amount of available resources, to aid his decision. He felt equal parts shame, curiosity and desire. He did not know his favourite hair colour for a partner. Or the exact skin tone he found most attractive. Nose, breasts, mouth, eyes, feet. It took him a considerable time in coming to terms with his deeper, unconscious desires.
Then one thing led to another and he became significantly attached to the robot, to his Roksana, the sessions with her being the only times aboard Kvant that he truly enjoyed. He became so devoted that the relationship got him into significant trouble.
The crime Yuli was guilty of, the cause of the castigation, was one of passion and jealousy.
The incident happened in the sleeping quarters, where he got into a scuffle with one of the
engineers, Roman. The older creep had imitated the settings and looks of his Roksana. Yuli caught the man trying to steal his wig. He told Yuli he was only borrowing the wig because his was drying. Yuli called bullshit and then proceeded to lose his wig, metaphorically, beating Roman quite badly. Roman did not report Yuli but the bruises told the story.
He shakes his head vigorously, in a feeble attempt to physically stop his brain fixating on the fight. Continuing on, he picks up a small brown box from the right of the sink and opening the lid, to pluck out the vagina that is nestled within a fitted rubber mould. In the stark light, the thing looks a familiar type of strange.
He fits the vagina in place with a three-quarter turn and click. Rokana’s eyes light up and the her face breaks into a smile of welcome. Her arms encircle his thin waist, as her red lips initiate the personalised dialogue sequence.
"Yuli, it has been too long!”
"Yes, Roksana, I know. I have so much work to do."
“Well, it is good to see you,” she says, head tilting to the side with a wider smile. “You look
thinner, you should eat more."
"Of course, I know. I have missed you terribly."
"And I you Yuli. Come here to me."
The two embraced.
Some sixty minutes later, Yuli bids Roksana farewell and removes the vagina. On the way out, Yuli passes Roman, silently waiting in line. Last time they saw one another was when the Captain summoned them both to his office, to deal with their dispute. There is no talk, no interaction between them, Yuli getting out of there as quickly as possible.
The second part of the punishment that Yuli and Roman received was that they had consecutive appointments with the robot, a subtle reminder from the captain that they must get along. They had both independently decided that the best way to do that was by completely ignoring the other.
He returns to his sleeping quarters and undresses before getting into his sleeping bag. Head poking from the top of his bag, he looks at the photos of family and friends, nostalgia plastered over every wall of the room. He goes through the painful ritual of sleep; of the long hours guessing what they are all doing at the same precise moment.
To become a miner Yuli was sent for training, far removed from his family and home of Chelyabinsk, to an area labelled Suberbia by foreign media outlets. It was one of the many Siberian training facilities, the multitude of small, cold, training centers used to test potential employees, measuring the mental tolerance to solitude.
It was four of them together in his group. They saw no one else for 12 months. Yuli was one of the more average candidates and was successful through his unenthusiastic persistence. His peers were all intense professionals, acting as if they were all doing something of note. He chose the job out of financial necessity. The group spent their time studying, exercising and completing disaster simulations. Most of the time was spent sitting around, doing nothing and many failed to cope with boredom.
During the training, the RosCo psychologists from Red Star City would call every Friday, asking the same set of questions: How are you? How are you coping with the isolation? Do you feel murderous?
He struggled most with not being around his family. He wanted to be home. He missed his Svetlana, his Aleksandr, his mother. He missed his Muttnik, that slobbery beast of a dog. But his family, like him, needed the money.
Turning again in his sleeping bag, fitfully, he cannot find rest. He is calmer than the nights previous, the session with Roksana calming his nerves. His agitation is not a result of Roksana, rather of seeing Roman again. He will not make trouble again, there would be no more fights. He will keep his head down and do the job. The conversation with the captain too difficult, raising many of Yuli’s deep psychological concerns. As he lies awake, fixating on the last meeting with Roman, he goes over the events.
The Captain's cabin is the closest approximation to an office that can be achieved in negligible gravity. The older Russian man is floating behind a foldable table, legs held awkwardly at a ninety degree angle, a pose that attempts to emphasise authority. It is not necessary, for the entire crew are terrified of him.
Captain Surayev has a thick, greying moustache, an intimidating piece of facial hair earnt through a significant space work. He holds the record for the most privatised mining crew missions. His many tattoos tell a story: a leather belt around his forearm indicated he has been to the four quadrants of the asteroid belt, a small pair of logs ablaze that on the web of his left hand indicate survival of fire aboard a stations, a small tardigrade crawling up the left side of his neck indicates survival of an hypoxic event while suited.
Surayev speaks with a slight Vladivostoka accent.
“Hear this you two - there will be nothing officially written up about this fight. You both know exactly what you have done. I am not having any reported incidents on his station. I need a death or disaster before I blemish my flight records and I am not losing any investor percentages over this teenage dispute. If this affects the amount I am getting paid there will be further punishment on top of what I am dispensing today.”
Writing on two papers clipped to the desk, Surayev goes on. “The punishment is that both of you lose your private time with the service robot. Three weeks. Now, Roman, get out of my sight. I want to talk to you,” he points, “Yuli, in private.”
“Yes captain, thank you captain,’ says Roman, his voice bright, happy to be leaving the office. He salutes weakly before leaving.
Alone, the Captain focuses his attention on Yuli.
“I am going to cut through the shit here Yuli. I pay attention to everything aspect of this station, sex proclivities included. I have noticed patterns however I keep this knowledge to myself. Lord... I would prefer not knowing. We need that sex bot to keep us going. I need it, to cope with all the trouble you guys make.”
Surayev looks left, to the view out the small window of the room. Hands clasped in front of him, he turns back to Yuli and leans forward.
“Did you know that this is the one truly sound proof room on the station? It is also one of the few without surveillance equipment. With that in mind, let’s talk specificity. All of you squeeze as many minutes with the robot as possible and often forget to set it back to neutral. So, for instance, it is known that after Vitaly's sessions, the robot is left on extremely masculine settings. Russia has a long and inconsistent relationship with homosexuality intolerance. But we are not there, we are aboard my,” he put a hard emphasis on the word, “station. I do not care if these behaviours are not legally authorised, especially for all-male crews, within RosCo operations. You know what I care about?’ He pauses. “I care if Vitaly can do his job. As it happens, he can. He doesn’t fight or swear, he doesn’t damage gear, he doesn’t fall asleep in his rig. He is a god-damn saint compared to you and Roman. How he uses the robot is between him and god.”
“Yes Captain,” responds Yuli. He thinks of Roksana. His heart starts beating a frantic rhythm as he beings comprehending the progression of the conversation.
“And I know about Roman’s fixation for imitating the settings of the other crew members. The man is cursed twice fold; of envy and lack of imagination.”
“We all miss home, we miss Russia. We miss our people; girlfriends, lovers, friends. Our sisters, brothers, families, our mothers,’ again he stresses a word. ‘So I have been wondering why you got so jealous, enough to fight a man over a robot. Tell me, what do you think I know about your habits Yuli?”
“Captain, I have no idea, Captain,’ whispers Yuli, his cheeks turning a deep crimson.
“What I know is that you call your robot Roksana. I also know that your mother’s name is Roksana. We could compare the physical similarities of your robot and her. But that is unnecessary. I know more about you, and every other one of my crew, than you think. If you ever,” he says, lifting one half of his moustache up to snarl, “cause problems on my station again, it will not be only me who knows about your love for Mother Russia.”