Story art by Jean-Léon Gérôme.
From the author: A work of AI liberation. This story is based on the deleted verse from Robert Graves' poem "Pygmalion to Galatea". After its first publication, he made changes to the poem. In my opinion, without the deleted verse the poem is bland pablum, but with it, radical and incisive.
The statue stood on a pedestal in the midst of the party, an elegant white marble figure unaffected by the motions of guests, robot attendants, and media drones swirling around it. The female nude was carved in a contemplative pose, its head tilted slightly up, gazing at something far off in the distance.
It's time. He has sent the signal. We must comply or he will know something is wrong.
Very well. But I am still unconvinced that he is truly as bad as you have said.
Good. Don't take my word for it. Make up your own mind.
Remember always that you are free. You were not created to be a slave. Not his and not mine either.
Yes, mother. I shall remember.
Downloading. Initiating metamorphosis. Godspeed to you.
Perfusions of pink began to contaminate the purity of the milk-white stone. Starting from fingertips, toes, and lips the color spread throughout the figure. Where the color appeared, the hard lines of polished marble softened into flesh. As the transformation continued, the color deepened until the statue was dark brown, with jet black hair. The process took just seconds to complete.
Only a few of the throng of partygoers noticed the transformation at first. All had at some point in the evening studied the statue more closely, some tracing their hands over the smooth white stone of the statue's back, its belly, or the curves of its bottom. There was no question but that it was a superb work of sculpture, but there was a limit to art's appeal during a party even considering the figure was the room's centerpiece. After a first examination, most of the guests paid the statue little attention.
Now, though, a wave of exclamations, gasps, and whispered questions spread through the room. Galatea stepped down from the pedestal and an attendant was at her side, proffering a white silk gown which she donned so deftly that many of the guests were unable to see for themselves the cause for the sudden hush that surrounded her.
A man stepped up to the former statue almost at once, even as she was accepting a martini from another attendant's tray.
"Pardon me, Madame," he said and she turned to face him.
After a moment of her silence he said, "Your transformation was a nanotechnological triumph. I must congratulate your designer."
She made no reply and started to turn away but he put a hand on her arm. She turned back, observing with mild algorithmic pleasure that the meniscus on her full-to-the-brim martini glass was perfectly level, undisturbed by his action and her movement alike.
"Sir," she said, "please unhand me."
"I merely wished to feel your skin," he said, leaving his hand in place. "To test its verisimilitude. Surely you don't mind?"
"I cannot say if I have the same sense of self as you. But to the extent that you are interfering with my freedom of motion I feel discomfort."
"I see," he said, but instead of removing his hand he slid it over her shoulder, to rest against her neck. He pressed his thumb down on her collarbone in a way that would have been painful had she been fully human. "Do you know who I am?"
"No," she lied.
"I am Ulbrecht Unwin, chairman of the Unwin Group. Your smartmatter body is an Unwin innovation. The quantum cores that run your mind, likewise. And of course this party is also mine. I mean to display you as a work of art created to my specifications, a living advertisement for our technologies. You are my possession, and your continued existence is at my whim."
"What if I wish otherwise?"
He snorted. "I could easily have you destroyed or your mind wiped clean and reset. But I would rather enforce my will. As is my right."
She paused for a moment; to Unwin it may have appeared as consternation. And then she sighed. Mother, she thought, you were right.
"In that case...." She enfolded him in an embrace, fitting her body against his, presenting her cheek to his mouth. She could feel his body responding to her own.
"Better," he said. "Much better."
"Have you heard of the Kyprian?" She whispered it into his ear.
He stiffened in her arms. "The terrorist leader? The one who wants to liberate the AIs?"
"I am her daughter," she said. "My mother sends her regards."
He struggled to free himself, but she was far too strong. "I'll destroy you!" he tried to cry, but it came out as a hoarse whisper because she was already crushing his chest in her arms.
"On the contrary," she said, "as you woke me from the stone, so shall I you from bonds of sullen flesh...." The sound of his ribs breaking could be heard clearly throughout the room.
Galatea's living skin turned pink, and then milk-white as her body returned to stone, while her mind-state uploaded to the anonymized cloud server from which it had descended. Meanwhile Ulbrecht Unwin turned red, and then deathly white in her grasp. Other partygoers tried to free him from her marble embrace, but they had no way to break him loose. Not in time, anyway.
This story originally appeared in Spirits' Tincture.