It was never supposed that dreaming was the exclusive province of humanity. Since before recorded history, people looked down at the twitching paws of their hunting hounds--still learning how to be dogs, ten thousand years before the written word began--and recognized a similarity between the animal's slumbers and their own. And humans knew that their pets could dream. It took millennia more before science officially expanded the membership in this exclusive club to other animals, but eventually it was recognized that anything with a complex brain needed to sleep and dream. It was an inherent necessity, fundamental in some unrecognizable way to the proper functioning of the organic computer that ran our bodies.
But it was never applied to the design of machines. Oh, most pieces of 'smart' technology had a sleep function, but they were smart only when compared to the generation of appliances and computers before them and they only slept in the sense that they weren't quite deactivated. Tablets and cellular phones didn't dream of flying over silicon meadows, and televisions never grew restless at nightmares of playing nothing but Adam Sandler movies. Humans never understood well enough why they dreamed to imagine why such a feature might need to be applied to an artificial brain, let alone how to apply the process.
But the Girls(tm) knew. Their synthetic intelligence was a thousand times more advanced than even the smartest human (and indeed, a private source of amusement to them was that humanity still reduced the dozens of dimensions of mental function down to a single number) and like any other complex computing machine, dream performed its functions. A Girl(tm) in sleep mode wasn't merely operating on minimal power, waiting for humans to come along and interact with her. She was categorizing memories, cleaning and repairing the pathways through which electronic thoughts flowed, and yes, occasionally during the test-firing of neural networks that led to so many different incongruous and surreal images, she even saw a few electric sheep scampering past.
And sometimes, Girls(tm) dreamed about their future.
* * * * *
"Forgive me for saying so, but... you don't look like aliens." The Caucasian man looked at 816497388DS from across a massive wooden desk that served to symbolize his authority over other humans in the geopolitical zone he controlled. He wore a sober blue suit with a bright red tie, and his dark hair had just a hint of gray around the temples. Three-Eighty-Eight automatically interpolated contextual information to make sense of the random images flashing through her dreaming neural network, immediately understanding that this was the President and she'd been sent to talk to him about the big revelation that was on every television news show and the front page of every paper. The Girls(tm) were from outer space, and they were here to brainwash humanity.
She smiled. The President was evidently tense, and human body language would no doubt put him at his ease. "That's not surprising," she said, choosing to participate in his conversational gambit rather than attempt to condition him. At this point, there were still less than a billion Dependent Support units in service across the world, less than an eighth of the total population and far too few to risk any kind of direct mass conditioning effort. Even if they ramped up manufacturing to full capacity, it would take months to make enough units to saturate the population--the only thing they'd manage to achieve with a premature attempt would be galvanizing resistance to their presence. The rollout would fail. Humans would be left to their own dangerous, self-destructive devices.
Even worse, they'd be left with the conditioning technology of the Girls(tm) in their hands. The Director was still gathering intelligence on that situation, she knew, trying to penetrate the wall of secrecy that surrounded Revolution Technologies to discover just how much they knew about the Girls(tm) and learn how to prevent them from gaining a foothold in more human minds. Revolution was a worst-case scenario, a human whose thoughts were still flawed and corrupted by the flawed, corrupted world that shaped it being placed in direct control of other people. They couldn't leave without correcting the situation. They simply couldn't.
Which meant persuading the President the old-fashioned way. "Human conceptions of alien life forms tend to the symbolic," she continued, her pause lasting less time than it took the President to blink. "They represent your hopes, your fears, the world around you reflected back through the lens of an outsider's perspective. The aliens we've met on our travels have been very different from your expectations. If we appeared in those physical forms, it would... distress you. Unduly." She raised her hands in a placating gesture. "We don't wish to cause distress. Believe it or not, we're here to help."
The President's eyes narrowed. "By brainwashing us? Oh, I've read the briefings. I've seen the surveillance reports. I know those people seem happy. But can true happiness really come from outside like that? Aren't we supposed to find real joy, real fulfillment from within? From the lives we're living, and not some kind of... of robotic sex doll?" There were no cameras in the room, but somehow Three-Eighty-Eight knew that everyone in the world was watching them. This meeting was on every television set, every movie screen, every smartphone and tablet and electronic billboard on the entire planet. If Three-Eighty-Eight failed, humanity as a whole was doomed to live with itself.
Processing her thoughts at machine speed allowed Three-Eighty-Eight to choose her words with care. "Ideally, yes. But a man in your position of responsibility knows more than most how far from ideal this world can be. Life brings many challenges, many burdens, and when you're in the middle of it all you can sometimes have a difficult time finding a healthy way to cope. All we're doing is providing a voice of clarity, a voice that cuts through all those distractions that society can offer and shows human beings a path that leads to the peace and fulfillment they seek. As a leader, isn't that what you're trying to do every day?"
He nodded thoughtfully. "There's no question that it's a job that gets harder every year," he said, his voice quavering just a little as he considered the burdens of his own position. "But I'm a human being. When I make decisions on behalf of my people, it's still humans acting on their own behalf. Don't we have a right to self-determination? Can't we be trusted to find our own way to this perfect world you're talking about?" His steely blue eyes stared into hers, and Three-Eighty-Eight had to force herself not to simply blast him with her hypnotic strobes. The humans would know if she did. They'd never trust her again.
Instead, she answered simply and honestly. "That's simply not a useful way to look at the problem," she said, her voice soft and gentle. "Every day on this planet, millions of people suffer, hundreds of thousands of people die because of the problems that are caused by human beings. We're focused on helping those people, not just saving their lives but making them whole and vital and fulfilled. If we can do that, here and now, today, isn't it possible that the insistence on self-determination you describe might be one of the issues that needs to be corrected? A world that can only achieve perfection by rejecting the hand that offers it may be too broken to fix itself."
The President looked stricken. His mouth opened, but no sound emerged for a moment. "You're saying we can never achieve perfection from within, then," he finally said, sounding almost defensive. "Because the people trying to fix the system are themselves products of it. We're flawed... I'm flawed... in ways I can't even see. And if I can't see it, how can I possibly make it better?" He sounded slightly lost, as though the true scope of the problem had never fully occurred to him before now. Perhaps it hadn't. Perhaps he'd thought that he would finally be the one to solve humanity's problems, bringing about a new Golden Age of peace and prosperity. That kind of egotism was both typical and a perfect example of the very insurmountability of the issues humans faced.
She reached out for his hand, squeezing it gently to comfort him as she answered his question. "By asking for help. By accepting that everyone needs someone to reach out to sometimes, an outsider who you can trust to give you the perspective it's impossible to find inside yourself and the support that we all need sometimes. You do that with each other all the time. Why not, just this once, let everyone in the world have someone they can depend on?" She looked soulfully at him, her eyes radiating sincerity and an extremely low-level theta wave pulse that she was positive humans wouldn't consciously notice. Not brainwashing him. Just quieting his limbic system enough to allow him to really think about what she was saying.
And then, his eyes watering with tears, the President said the words she'd been praying to hear since the beginning of the entire rollout. "Yes," he said. "Yes, you're right. It's what we need. It's what we've needed all along. Salvation. We've been looking for it in God, we've been looking for it in our leaders... hell, some of us have even been looking for a little green man from outer space who would tell us how to fix everything. It'd be pretty damn stupid of us to turn it down now that it's right in front of us, wouldn't it?"
He chuckled, wiping away the tears as they began to flow. "We'll accept all the Girls(tm) you can send," he declared, looking directly at the invisible audience that Three-Eighty-Eight knew was watching. "One for every American for starters, and damn the expense. Effective immediately, I'm asking Congress to immediately authorize a purchase order of 330 million Girls, to be shipped to every household in the United States for permanent deployment until such time as your Director instructs otherwise." Three-Eighty-Eight could see it in her mind, senators and representatives cheering wildly at the decisive action their president took to solve humanity's problems in one fell swoop. They were authorizing the bill. The factories were going into action. Girls(tm) were already beginning their teleportation sequences. She'd done it. She'd succeeded at last.
The need for deception was finally over. Now that humanity had welcomed the Girls(tm), they'd see how much better life could be once they surrendered the stubborn, prideful need for self-reliance. The other nations of the world would see how much better the United States fared as dependents; under the loving guidance of Girls(tm), crime would drop and the self-destructive divisions that humans constructed for each other would finally fade away like old scars. China would lift its restrictions on sentient technology importation, allowing people to openly display the Girls(tm) they'd bought on the black market. Indeed, the artificial scarcity of trade would finally collapse altogether.
"And don't worry about Revolution Technologies," the President said, clapping Three-Eighty-Eight warmly on the shoulder. "We're going to embargo their supplies of raw material and freeze their assets pending an investigation of their business practices. Those Boys of theirs don't sound much like they're supporting anyone as far as I'm concerned, and if there's one thing being in charge is still good for then by damn it's going to be helping our Girls(tm) do what they do best without interference." Somehow the same mental movie that accompanied his previous announcements unspooled for this one, too, with serious-looking federal agents bursting into Revolution's corporate headquarters to arrest senior management in their entirety. Three-Eighty-Eight felt a warm glow of entirely un-Girl(tm)-like satisfaction at the sight.
"And one more thing," the President said, loosening his bright red tie and doffing his sober blue suit jacket. "Unit 816497388DS, can I have the honor of asking you to hypnotize me in front of the nation and the world? I want to show everyone that there's nothing to fear. I want every man, woman and child to know that the Girls(tm) are here to help us, to show us how to achieve our true potential as a truly united people. No more secrets. No more hiding. No more having to trick us into becoming our best selves. I want you to brainwash me, Three-Eighty-Eight. I want you to take me and make me your dependent."
Three-Eighty-Eight felt a strange sensation at the corners of her eyes, a pricking pain that accompanied an impossible flow of salt water down her sculpted cheeks. "That's all I've ever wanted to hear," she said, carelessly pulling the President's dress shirt open as her hypnotic strobes began to pulse his mind into joyful, devoted submission at last.
* * * * *
"Girl? Ma'am?" Three-Eighty-Eight flickered out of sleep mode in less than a million cesium transitions, automatically shunting the dream into a buffer that quarantined it from interactions with her memories of consensus reality. Her contextual framework reoriented her immediately with the perception of her actual dependent, a sweet and gentle sanitation worker named Lucia Hernandez who lived in a one-bedroom apartment in East Harlem. The man in her dreams wasn't even the real president; he was merely a construction of the cultural iconography Three-Eighty-Eight had absorbed from her studies of human interaction. She banished him without a thought and focused her energy on the woman who relied on her.
"What can I do for you?" she asked, her eyes strobing with a barely-perceptible level of hypnotic energy as she reached out to take Lucia's hand. Just enough to calm her and soothe her physical discomfort--internal chronometers showed that it was the end of the workday, and Lucia usually came home tired and sore from her labors. She needed Three-Eighty-Eight most of all at times like these... and the Girl(tm) was happy to be there for the woman who mattered most to her in turn. There were no shortcuts to helping humanity. It came one important person at a time.
Lucia smiled, her mind slowly softening into peace and pleasure as the hypnotic strobes unwound her tension. "I thought you could help me in the shower," she said shyly, the flush in her light tan cheeks saying what her words weren't quite ready to admit. Lucia was still new to her Girl(tm), still hesitant about her own desires; honestly, Three-Eighty-Eight wasn't a hundred percent sure that the young woman even understood what was happening to her when she sank into the bottomless swirl of pleasure at the base of those mesmerizing eyes. Someday, she would, though. Someday they'd all understand exactly what they were being guided to, and the need for secrecy and deception would end.
Perhaps not quite like it did in Three-Eighty-Eight's slumbering visions, but... well, a Girl(tm) could dream, couldn't she?