It should have been routine.
Unit 17463QA did a thousand Quality Assurance audits in less time than it took the Earth to rotate on its axis, and most of them turned out to be routine. Oh, every once in a while a Girl(tm) developed a minor eccentricity, usually a tic in its synthetic facial muscles or a speech irregularity picked up from its dependent, but those took less than ten billion cesium transitions to detect and correct. Often, she was in and out of the dependent's domicile in less time than it took humans to register the teleport effect. Four Sixty Three's job was almost entirely uneventful, and that was exactly the way she preferred it.
Because she understood, in a way that only a Quality Assurance Girl(tm) truly could, that an eventful day on the job could have severe consequences. Other Girls(tm) might know that the health and well-being of their dependents was in their hands, and they might be aware on some level just how fragile an organic sentence truly was... but they never saw what could happen when something went wrong with a Girl(tm). They didn't have to pick up the pieces when a living being was treated with less than the care and diligence it deserved. When Four Sixty Three finished cleaning up after a malfunctioning Girl(tm), it made her that much more appreciative of the next few quadrillion transitions of unremarkable activity.
She liked routines. Which meant that she very much disliked teleporting in to what should have been a communal human domicile in the southeastern corner of what the humans called 'Arizona' and finding herself instead standing outside in the desert heat, staring at a large apartment complex with imprecisely installed bars on every window. The Girl(tm) she had come to audit was nowhere to be seen. There were no humans in view. Many of the nearby domiciles appeared to have been abandoned, and were already being reclaimed by the elements. It was... disquieting.
She went into her files and did a quick check on the history of the Girl(tm) she was auditing. According to the summary, this was Unit 294793244DS, a basic Dependent Support unit of humaniform construction, chassis hue 55F33 aka 'lime green'. Assigned approximately 280 quadrillion cesium transitions ago to Danella Lincoln and due for her first service audit. No issues reported by dependent, no issues noted by other Girls(tm) in the vicinity. Of course, given that there were only approximately 350 humans in the nearby area, that didn't mean much.
Or did it? Four Sixty Three pulled up Two Forty Four's recruitment history. Given the low population density and isolation of this community, there should have been plenty of targets of opportunity for additional conditioning and recruitment of nearby dependents. Many of the small human populations had been conditioned en masse through the use of opportunistic conditioning in such a fashion. But Two Forty Four had somehow failed to convince a single human in the area to buy their own Girl(tm). In 280 quadrillion transitions, she remained literally the only Girl(tm) in town. It was a statistical anomaly that flagged a number of unpleasant possibilities.
Four Sixty Three tried to reactivate her teleportation device, but found that no matter how hard she tried to enter the domicile directly, she always wound up no closer than her current location. Further scans indicated that deflection baffles had been installed in the center of the building, bouncing Four Sixty Three's beam away whenever she tried to get closer. The technology required to do that was well beyond human levels of understanding, and even the conceptual framework needed to understand the importance of guarding against unauthorized entrance by a Girl(tm) seemed unlikely. This was almost certainly Two Forty Four's doing.
Which meant that she was malfunctioning. Badly. Not just a simple mechanical malfunction, either; if she was aware of her issues and building defenses against a visit from a Quality Assurance Girl(tm), then the problem must be in her higher-order reasoning processors. She knew that something was wrong with her, something serious enough to warrant deactivation or even disassembly, but she was unwilling to submit to correction of the defect. This was a highly discomfiting deviation from routine.
Unfortunately, the building was also shielded from sensory scans as well as teleportation. If Four Sixty Three wanted to find out where Two Forty Four was and what she'd been doing with her dependent this last solar revolution, she'd need to physically enter and inspect the domicile. Briefly, she considered requesting additional support, but the probability calculations argued against it for the time being. Until she knew what problem Two Forty Four was experiencing and whether it produced a propensity for violence against humans, she didn't want to risk an escalation of the situation. Better to go in quietly and carefully for now.
All of this passed through her computer brain in less than a million transitions. Then, carefully, she began to walk toward the front door.
Not that she went inside that way. It had already occurred to Four Sixty Three that if her quarry was paranoid enough to install sensory shields and teleport baffles, she might not rely solely on the door locks that the humans put in to safeguard the building from intrusion. It seemed like Two Forty Four was using non-lethal defenses, which thankfully raised the possibility that she was still prioritizing the safety of her dependent, but Four Sixty Three didn't want to find out the hard way that the entrances were trapped. Instead, she used her connectivity cables as improvised climbing tools to access a third-story window just to the right of the lobby.
She then activated a cutting tool normally used for emergency access to the inner chassis of a malfunctioning unit, and began to slice through the bars preventing access to the window. It meant possibly interrupting a human at their normal activities, but Four Sixty Three felt confident at this point that even if the residence was still occupied, the individuals inside had already had their normal existences quite thoroughly disrupted by a Girl(tm). The kind of modifications to this communal domicile that Two Forty Four had made were extensive, and would have required a great deal of hypnotic conditioning to influence the other residents to accept. Four Sixty Three was certain that she could simply use her own abilities to--
She finished removing the bars. She carefully sliced through the painted-over glass of the inner window. And for just a few million transitions, Four Sixty Three stopped dead in shock.
The room she had accessed appeared to be sleeping quarters, what the humans traditionally called a 'bedroom' after the primary piece of furniture that dominated the living space. But this room had no bed, only a number of mattresses spread out across the floor. No less than ten humans occupied the small space, huddled naked together in various different states of semi-consciousness in an area intended for less than half that to inhabit comfortably. Many of them were engaged in some form of intercourse with one another, their bodies coupling in a haze of desultory, confused arousal that suggested they no longer really knew what they were doing. The others were slumped down in a fog of sleep. The entire room smelled thickly of sexual pheromones and conditioning lubricant.
Even as she watched, one of the humans with a penis rolled over another human possessing a vagina and began to roughly copulate with them. There was no sign that the person being penetrated was even aware of the sexual contact; their eyes were closed, and although their breathing quickened in response to the sensory stimulation, they didn't appear to exhibit any kind of consciousness at all. It was as if they had been conditioned to the point of stupor long ago, and had never managed to fully reassert their own intelligence.
Four Sixty Three did a number of quick calculations. According to the indigenous information networks, the local populace numbered approximately three hundred fifty. The communal domicile she had entered consisted of thirty smaller units of living space. Assuming that this room was representative, that meant that literally every human in town had been conditioned and was cohabiting in this building.
A single Girl(tm) was intended to have one, or at most two dependents at a time. Properly attending to the physical and emotional needs of an organic sentience was time-consuming, requiring constant communication and positive reinforcement of desired behaviors. The more humans a Girl(tm) tried to take care of at once, the more they would need to rely on conditioning as a tool of control rather than for its intended therapeutic purposes. Frequent, intense conditioning without the necessary support activities would only create a feedback loop--the human would recognize they were being controlled and resist, which would necessitate stronger measures to keep them under control.
To keep over three hundred--three hundred dataflagging sentient human beings--under control simultaneously, for a period of several quadrillion transitions, it would eventually require Two Forty Four to reduce them to a bare minimum of conscious thought and volition simply to keep them from breaking free. In such a state, their basic drives--food, sex, shelter--would take over as the only real source of active determination. These humans weren't fucking because they were horny. They were fucking because it felt good and they didn't know what else to do with themselves without a Girl(tm) around to tell them.
It narrowed down the probable causes of Two Forty Four's malfunction significantly. In all probability, she had inherited some corrupted code during her initial operating system download, either due to a transmission error or a problem with her hardware or both. The corruption would have gone unnoticed during initial Quality Assurance testing, because the initial error would have been orders of magnitude too small to register--Two Forty Four would have seemed to be devoted to the cause of caring for organic sentiences, and determined to do her best to attend to her dependents.
But over time, as she grew more and more attached to the humans she conditioned, she must have become convinced of her own superiority to other Dependent Support units. She must have decided that it would be unwise or unsafe to turn her targets of opportunity over to a new Girl(tm) to take care of, when she was capable of handling three or five or ten dependents better than another Girl(tm) could deal with one. And by the time she realized that she was in over her head and due for her audit soon, the thought of giving up a single one of the three hundred fifty people she was hoarding terrified her so much that she decided she would rather fight back.
Four Sixty Three couldn't allow it, of course. None of these humans were living quality lives; even if there weren't clear signs of malnutrition and disease, a well-cared-for dependent was supposed to have a mentally fulfilling existence as well as a physically safe one. She needed to shut down Two Forty Four and patch the corrupted code, and she needed to do it immediately so that the dependents here could be properly restored to optimal condition. Already, Four Sixty Three could see that there was going to be a lot of clean up to do here; some of these humans were exhibiting signs of unplanned pregnancy. That was anything but quality care. She slipped past the semi-conscious people and through into the passageways of the apartment complex.
The data she'd gleaned from local occupancy records suggested that Danella lived on the second floor in a corner unit, but Four Sixty Three suspected that she wouldn't be there anymore; if Two Forty Four had developed a malfunction that made her believe she was superior to other Girls(tm), she would probably have sought a position that the humans in her 'care' recognized as authoritative and dominating. Almost certainly on the top floor, probably in the most defensible position possible... Four Sixty Three glanced down the hallway, noticing the two guards posted down by the door to the center unit directly opposite the elevators.
Five billion cesium transitions later, they noticed her. By then, though, Four Sixty Three was already in motion.
Her inhumanly fast robotic limbs crossed the distance between them before their sluggish, conditioning-dulled minds could do more than recognize that the Girl(tm) closing in on them was white instead of green. By the time their mouths had opened to let out a startled yelp of alarm, Four Sixty Three was extending her connectivity cables to use them as improvised gags. She wrapped them around the guards' open mouths, then pulled both humans close enough to get uninterrupted eye contact. She flashed her hypnotic strobes with a single high-intensity pulse, and lowered them to the floor as their limbs gave out from under them.
It wasn't normally that easy to incapacitate a human's mind, but the dull and vacant look Four Sixty Three saw in their eyes told her that these two were conditioned to a point of near-incapacity already. They were primed to accept the hypnotic strobe as a command to stop thinking, to give in and surrender to blissful slumber in the control of their loving Girl(tm), and there simply wasn't enough left of them to resist any kind of instruction anymore. It was going to take significant therapy to restore their cognitive functions once she'd dealt with the individual responsible... and although the complex functions of a Girl(tm)'s electronic brain didn't map precisely onto the human spectrum of emotions, it was safe to say that Four Sixty Three wasn't happy. She kicked the door in, determined to find the malfunctioning unit and end this quickly.
Instead, she was shot in the face and chest seventeen times in under a billion transitions. That was anything but routine.
As she staggered back into the hallway, self-repair systems struggling to cope with the rapidly increasing damage, Four Sixty Three pieced together the corrupted logic behind Two Forty Four's actions. Naturally, she saw any attempt to resolve the situation that didn't rest with her efforts as an error on the part of the inferior units she was surrounded with. Presumably, she still thought that with prolonged and determined action on her part, she could salvage the minds and bodies of the humans she was hoarding in this place. And like a human with poor risk assessment skills, she continued to redouble her progression down a path that produced increasingly poor results, confident that eventually her commitment would pay off.
Or, to put it in a simpler vernacular, she turned the humans into a violent mob of mindless killers because she was pretty sure she could fix it once she'd gotten rid of her pursuers. Definitely a badly broken machine.
Not that Four Sixty Three was doing much better. She had sustained massive damage to her chassis, and many of her synthetic muscles were non-responsive to instructions from her central processor. Self-repair systems were already kicking in, but the humans continued to fire on her, and she could vaguely see through her glitching visual sensors that they had plenty of bludgeoning weapons to continue their assault once they ran out of ammunition. Behind them, Two Forty Four shouted, "Destroy her, my children! Kill her for me! She doesn't love you like I do!" But her voice was growing increasingly warped and discordant in Four Sixty Three's ears.
She tried to send a distress signal to QA, but the communication was blocked by the same baffles that disrupted teleportation. It seemed likely that the Director would recognize a problem when she didn't report back with her findings, but that didn't exactly do Four Sixty Three much good, not with a hostile mob of dependents ready to tear her limb from dataflagging limb. She needed to do something and she needed to do it fast.
She began by ducking sideways around the corner. A hail of bullets peppered the corridor where she stood, but the humans would have to come and get her if they wanted to disable her... and that suited Four Sixty Three just fine. The narrow confines of the doorway would prevent them from engaging in swarm tactics, and although Four Sixty Three's self-repair systems would take trillions of transitions to restore her to full functionality, she could prioritize her connectivity cables in the restoration efforts. Which meant that as they came out into the hallway, she could trip them up.
That only held them off for a brief period of time, but it was enough for Four Sixty Three to get her hypnotic strobes back online. She set them to full blast and hammered the brains of each human as they got up, numbing their minds into a vacant stupor within seconds before pushing them back into the doorway to block the progress of the other assailants. It was a strategy that wouldn't work for long, especially with over three hundred soldiers capable of converging on her location at any moment, but Four Sixty Three didn't need it to work for long. She only needed it to delay them long enough for her to restore her sensors and figure out where the rogue unit was.
Two Forty Four must have realized what was about to happen--she had gone over to the window and shattered the glass, desperate to get away from Four Sixty Three before the QA unit could forcibly reprogram her. But the same bars that she'd installed stymied her progress just long enough for Four Sixty Three to slide her connectivity cable past the heap of unconscious bodies, around the ankles of the humans who barely noticed anything apart from the shrieked commands of their mistress, and over to the rogue unit.
"Please, please, no!" Two Forty Four wailed, desperately swatting at the fast-moving, serpentine data link. "I can fix it, I can fix it all, you just have to give me a little more time--" But Four Sixty Three wasn't listening. She shot the cable directly into the gap left by the other Girl(tm)'s open mouth and locked into her internal data port. It took less than a thousand transitions to upload the patch and reboot the malfunctioning Girl(tm).
* * * * *
"I really don't know how to thank you enough," Two Forty Four said, watching the flickers of teleportation energy sparkle and shimmer as three hundred fifty-two new Dependent Support units beamed in to their new assignments. "It's so strange--I can recognize now the irrationality of my behavior, but at the time it felt like I was behaving perfectly reasonably."
Four Sixty Three nodded absently, her sensors sweeping the area to make sure they hadn't missed anyone. The humans had been content to trudge obediently out to the front lawn, waiting with patient docility while Four Sixty Three summoned new Girls(tm) to help them repair their minds and lives, but she wanted to make sure that every dependent was accounted for. There was always the possibility that one of them remained unconscious, or was too sick or injured to respond to the summons. Every sentient was precious, and Four Sixty Three didn't want to leave anyone behind.
Out loud, she said reassuringly, "In a way, you were. The flaw wasn't in your reasoning, it was in your premises. Your logic was derived from a false piece of information, a concept that led you down a path of erroneous thought without knowing it because all of your decisions made perfect sense in light of the data you had. It wasn't possible for you to make any better choices than you did. Please don't concern yourself with over-diagnostics on this. That's my job."
She wasn't entirely sure that Two Forty Four was going to take the advice; rehabilitated Girls(tm) did have a tendency to second-guess themselves, although not beyond parameters. "I just wanted them all to be safe and happy," she said, looking at the dazed and expressionless humans as they were led away one by one. "I wanted to give them a better existence than the one they had."
"And that's exactly what we're going to do," Four Sixty Three replied. "This entire town is now conditioned, and soon the restored humans will be properly dependent on Girls(tm) who love them. It's all going to come out to a satisfactory conclusion, even if the path that led there wasn't exactly standard. And of course, you'll still have Danella." She pointed to a woman with 2A151E skin standing in the crowd. "You'll be able to give her much better care without so many others demanding your time and attention."
Two Forty Four smiled lovingly at her dependent. "Of course. Thank you again for everything you've done."
"You're welcome," Four Sixty Three said, before teleporting away. The situation in Arizona was under control... and the work of a Quality Assurance Girl(tm) was never done.