"Your body language indicates nervousness and embarrassment." Ariel answered, still wearing that smile. Toby didn't like how she smiled at him. It never changed or flickered, and seemed as false as the plastic choker around her neck, which was actually the cover for the data port and power switch hidden in the back of her neck. All of it was fake, just like the girl before him, who continued, "My programming indicates that establishing connections by asking safe questions is the best way to reduce encumbering emotions."

"Oh." said Toby, looking at his feet. A long, uncomfortable silence passed between them. Ariel broke the silence by asking, "Toby, why did you order me?"

Toby looked up at her and ran his fingers through his hair, frustrated. "I-I..." he stammered. If this was what her programming thought would get him to open up to her, he might as well send her back to the factory right now. "I just did, okay? It's not that big a deal."

And then Ariel did something Toby hadn't expected: she walked right up to him, took his hand in hers, and placed it on her chest. He stared at where his hand was, feeling how warm her skin was, how real it felt underneath the thin fabric of her nightgown. His eyes traveled up to her face, where her smile had changed the slightest bit, now much more sympathetic, maybe even empathetic (or was he imagining that?). He could almost hear his heart trying to break through his ribcage.

"Toby," Ariel repeated, putting her other hand on his shoulder, Toby's stomach doing another backflip as she did. "Why did you order me?"

"W-Well." Toby looked from her pretty face to her hand, resting comfortably on his shoulder. No matter how fake she was, she still seemed like a real girl to him. "My friends are—you see, I...well—I'm trying to hook up with this girl at school." He felt his face go hot. "People think we'd make a great couple. And...everyone thinks I've already lost my...everyone thinks I've already done it." He still couldn't look at her. "But I haven't. And if we end up...you know...I don't want her to think I'm...you know...terrible."

He looked at her face, hoping to see that sympathetic smile again. To his relief it was still there, and it was not a trick of his mind. The hand on his shoulder moved up to his cheek and caressed it. "I can assist you with that." she said. "What is the designation of your IHC system?"

"Ronald." said Toby automatically.

"Would you please ask Ronald to bring up the Settings for this room?" she asked, doing that parroting thing again.

To the room, Toby said, "Ronald, bring up the Room Settings."

"Bringing up the Room Settings." said the electronic voice of Ronald, the Integrated Household Controller system of Toby's home, its voice coming from everywhere at once. A holographic screen popped up beside Toby and Ariel, showing a diagram of Toby's bedroom as well as several configuration options. Taking her hand off of his, Ariel scrolled through some of the options, made some adjustments, and then clicked SAVE before putting her hand on Toby's again.

The holographic screen winked out of existence and Ronald intoned, "Turning on Station 581: Classic Romance Music. Adjusting lights to Setting 11: Lover's Glow. Activating Scented Airflow option 17: Vanilla and option 54: Jasmine." Invisible violins played around the room as a woman began to sing about the destinies of lovers in the stars. At the same time the lights dimmed and became bright red, while sweet scents filled the air, making Toby feel giddy.

With her hand on his shoulder again, Ariel directed Toby around the crate she'd come in and to his bed. He had just enough time to realize the irony that his gynoid was taking him to his own bed before she pushed him gently onto the comforter and then climbed onto him, much lighter than he'd expected her to be. He took in her beautiful face, felt her warmth against him, and even smelled her scent, a sweet, flowery fragrance. The electric humming he'd heard when she'd first booted up was gone now. He could almost believe she was human.

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