[Ed. note: Though this story is sometimes included in collections of old Arabic tales, the provenance of this story is controversial. The story itself post-dates the time of its setting by quite a bit -- enough that it appears to expect its reader not to recall that the democratic uprisings in the Arab world came long before the introduction of mass-market sex robots. None of the Arabic speakers in the Cloud can remember being aware of the story until seeing it in English -- and no physical manuscript (in Arabic or English) is known to exist. Even if we could pinpoint when the story first appeared in the Cloud, we would still likely be at a loss to tell whether it originated there, whether as urban legend, a short story, or something else.
History is the result of careful pruning, even when everything is data, and storage is seemingly-limitless. The Cloud can no more manage a fully-detailed memory, like Borges' titular "Funes the Memorious", than Funes himself could. The tale was of no consequence worth remembering -- until it was, and by then, the details had already been lost. Any truth left to it is provisional. Or, as the old Arabic storytellers used to begin their tales: it was, but it wasn't....]
————————It was, but it wasn't….
In the twilight of the reign of the Saudi kings, a long time ago, there was a sheik, rich and powerful, who could afford any and all the desires of his heart — and the two things his heart desired most were women and novelty. Before he'd reached the age of thirty, he already possessed, in his harem, more women than years, and when he made his periodic trips to the capitol city, he usually returned with a new addition to the harem. The harem chambers took up an entire wing of his grand palace, and housed women from all corners of the globe: Turkish and Kurdish women who belly-danced for him and taught the other women to do the same; American women who would do things for him in his bedchambers, with enthusiasm, that few of the others would do without goading; women from Indonesia and Japan and India who taught the palace chefs the dishes of their homelands; Egyptian and African and Palestinian women, and Iranian and Portugese and Spanish, and still others besides.
It would be a lie to say that all was harmonious in the harem all the time — even with the best of intentions, such a varied mix of cultures and languages and traditions cannot co-exist so closely without the occasional misunderstanding or the possibility of conflict. It is true, however, that the sheik's mother helped to settle such squabbles quickly, sometimes even before they had a chance to reach the sheik's ear. She was a learned and shrewd woman, and whenever the dangers of clashing factions arose in the harem, she knew just what to whisper in whose ear to divide and dissolve them.
Such situations were rare, however; the sheik's mother had raised him (the youngest of eight sons) to treat women with some measure of kindness, and he was the most gentle and indulgent of his siblings toward women. His brothers often teased him, as a result, that his harem was full of women to nurse from, not to fuck — but as far as anyone could see, his household was more harmonious than their own, and they had only the four wives allowed them by the Prophet!
The sheik was as charismatic with his business partners as with his women, which kept both his wealth and his harem growing. He was, it is true, charming to a fault with his women — but, it must also be admitted, he could be just as stern and intimidating when he felt that he was being treated with less respect or gratitude than he believed himself entitled to. At the same time, he was a man of his changing times, and not some sort of medieval monster: the women who joined his harem always did so of their own free will, and (with the exception of his Saudi wives, who were bound to him as much by the law of the Kingdom and the political alliances they cemented as by affection) they were free to leave whenever they wished, with a not-inconsiderable parting-gift to see them off. Only once (before this story takes place) had a woman taken up the sheik on this offer — a London girl who simply could not acclimate to life in the harem — and she was returned home with no questions asked.
For the most part, the women of the harem were content with their lives therein, however confined they were by the dictates of Saudi law. The sheik made possible for them regular trips to the nearest marketplace to relieve the monotony of their surroundings, which were more luxurious than most of the women were accustomed to in the first place: there was no shortage of comforts available to them, from the most exquisite gourmand delicacies to chemical pleasures, to intellectual stimulation (the Egyptian and Iranian women made sure that access to books and the internet were as certain as access to alcohol and hashish and opium)…in short, there were no entertainments which were not available to them, and so, they lived more-or-less contentedly, as idle or active as each of them wished to be.
But then it fell one day, shortly after the end of Ramadan, that the sheik went to the capitol city, just as he usually did — except this time, his trip went beyond the seven days it usually lasted. In the days that followed, the women wondered after him, speculating among themselves as to what he could possibly be doing:
“Perhaps he is bringing back a new woman,” said Aiyesha, gloomily. She had been one of the sheik's first “acquisitions,” and though she'd long been supplanted as his favorite — it had been more than a decade since she'd shared his bed — she still nurtured some small, secret hope that one day, he might return to her, and return some measure of the affection which she still had for him.
“Perhaps he is buying a new home — maybe even one closer to the capitol,” said Mikiko, her small voice barely audible over the din of the other women's voices in the harem's main chamber. Though she was currently the sheik's favorite, her natural Japanese modesty made it difficult for the other women to truly hate her: whenever they complimented her on her beauty (and she was, it must be said, an incandescent beauty), she was quick to demur. “Your skin is so much softer than mine,” she would say, “and my breasts are so small compared to yours….”
“Perhaps there's some sort of business crisis he must attend to,” said Sonia, a voluptuous Ukranian who joined the harem shortly after the collapse of her family's imports business; the experience had scarred her so badly that even now, despite the sheik's fortune and his continued success, she desperately feared being plunged into poverty again.
And so it went, the speculation growing wilder and wilder over time until the sheik's mother came down into the main chamber to address the women: “The sheik will return home at the end of the week. He has promised to bring with him a surprise which, he says, will explain his absence.” The women begged her to tell them what she knew — of course she had to know more! — but the older woman shrugged. “Inshallah
, we will find out when he returns. I am as much in the dark as the rest of you.”
On the day the sheik returned from the capitol, the harem was abuzz with anticipation; having had most of a week to wonder what he would bring back with him, the women were naturally brimming with curiosity — except Sonia (who, having been reassured that there were no imminent financial disasters, felt no threat to herself) and Mikiko (who, being certain that the sheik was not bringing back a woman to displace her in his graces, also felt no threat to herself).
Their curiosity grew all the stronger when the sheik's entourage began to arrive — and dispersed the women to their private chambers. “By order of the sheik,” the eunuchs said, refusing to answer any of the women's questions, no matter how earnestly they begged. They spent about a half-hour in their private rooms, exchanging a flurry of text-messages with each other as their anticipation soared, stopping only when they received a group-text from the sheik himself: Come to the main chamber, that I may properly greet my ladies.
The women's chambers were in corridors that connected, like spokes on a wheel, the outer hallway to the circular main chamber. As the women emerged from their hallways, they saw the sheik standing at the harem's entrance hallway, which led directly to an inner courtyard. He waited until all 72 women (not counting the wives and his mother, who flanked him on either side) had gathered, before he made his circle of the room, greeting each of his women with a kiss on both cheeks and an endearment: “Aiyesha, habibi
. Justine, ma chére
,” and so on, all the way around.
When he had finished, he addressed the entire group. “My ladies, I am pleased to return and find you well, and as lovely as always.” He paused for a moment, the hint of a smile twitching at the corners of his lips. “I can see from your faces that you are eager to see what I have brought back from the capitol?” He could not restrain himself from grinning when the women nearly shouted “YES!” in response: “Then I shall not keep you waiting. Eunuchs! Bring in Houri!”
The eunuchs disappeared down the entrance corridor; the women waited so silently that the sound of the outermost doors could be heard opening — and then, a single set of footsteps coming back down the hall. A young woman appeared at the mouth of the hallway, taking her place next to the sheik. At first, the women thought she was merely another acquisition — why would she be any surprise to us?
— but as they looked closer, their confusion began to grow.
She was completely naked, yet made no effort to cover herself. And her skin was impossibly porcelain and flawless, an effect only enhanced by the blackness of her waist-length hair — some of the women could be seen peering back and forth between Mikiko and the newcomer, as if trying to determine whose hair was darker. She had the petite frame of an Asian woman, yet her facial features were much more classically Middle-Eastern, down to the eyes, which were so dark they might well have been black. But that skin, that skin….any paler and it would be translucent, inhumanly white…. Mikiko was the first to figure it out: “She's a rokisu
, my sheik? A sex robot?”
To the consternation of the women, the sheik clapped his hands, delighted. “She is. It took the manufacturer more time than expected to get her specifications just right…but here she is. And not just a rokisu
, but a prototype of a third-generation model. Tell the women ‘hello,' Houri.”
The robot looked blankly around the room and waved limply. “Hello.” And the women wondered: Can that…thing…actually feel uncomfortable? Or is that just a trick of its programming?
Before they could get to the next thought — how many of us will this thing replace?
— the sheik's mother burst out in rapid-fire, furious Arabic that only some of the women could understand: “This…thing
…is an affront to religion! To Nature! To women! And you call it ‘Houri,' my son? She is no reward for martyrdom — she is a fast track to hell!”
The sheik's eyes flashed with rage. “She is also an investment worth as much as the jewelry in your chambers, Mother. And I expect all of you” — here he turned his attention to the other women, who struggled to contain their own anger — “to treat Houri as such. For I assure you: the consequences will be grave for those who do not.”
He glared around the room; when he was satisfied that there would be no more outbursts, he continued: “Mikiko, you will show Houri to the empty chambers and allow her to choose one for herself.” With a sort of backhanded wave, he dismissed the women and strode out of the harem.
The women began to disperse as Mikiko approached the robot. “This way, Houri-san,” she said, hoping her tone was sufficiently pleasant and neutral. She could feel the glare of the rest of the harem settle upon her as the robot took her hand and allowed itself to be led down one of the empty halls — and though she was guiding the robot, she was beginning to feel like she was the helpless one.
Houri, for her part, presented herself to the women in the most deferential light possible. She did everything the women asked her to do, no matter how insignificant or undignified, and with an unflappably neutral demeanor. Once they realized that she had no spirit to break and no pride to wound, the women turned instead to ignoring the robot — except for the Americans, who would, at least once a week, escort Houri to their shared quarters (where she would remain, emerging only late at night, after most of the women had already gone to bed.)
Only Mikiko could be seen to interact with her as though she were a real woman, and even she had to admit that she found Houri's presence unnerving: she would find herself chatting with the robot for a half-hour or more before the robot would say something odd, that gave away her artificial nature. The Arab women, for their part, were particularly hostile, refusing to acknowledge the robot at all; only Aiyesha among them took a more fatalistic view: we can only hope she does not bring down calamity upon us
It came as no surprise to Mikiko when she was, at last, supplanted by Houri as the sheik's favorite. It had been some time in coming; at first the sheik would summon Houri and Mikiko to put on a show for him before he would possess one of them. A couple of times, Mikiko remembered, the sheik had been able to take his pleasure with both of them in one evening — but that was when Houri was new. Once that novelty had started to fade, he would complete the evening with one or the other, eventually preferring to take his pleasure with Houri. In the early days, he would have both of them remain in his bed with him until the morning — but it wasn't so long before Houri edged out Mikiko for this privilege, as well.
And so, Mikiko found herself in the same position as most of the other women that had come before her: she was permitted nearly any comfort she might desire, any luxury she might ask — but, unless she turned to one of the other women of the harem (as the Americans were said to have done), the one thing she was to be denied was love. Though she thought she'd understood this when she first joined the harem, it was only now that she truly understood what this meant. And though it had made the other women hard toward Aiyesha, Mikiko found that she could only pity the other woman her forlorn hope.
A year passed, and life returned to something like normal in the harem. Two of the Arab girls, an Egyptian and a Palestinian, decided they could no longer brook the insult of being cast aside for a robotic abomination and left the harem to return home — but beyond that, Houri's presence had little effect on the overall balance: she was neither part of a faction, nor was she deemed worthy to faction against. And so the women carried on, enjoying the luxuries offered them by the sheik, as idle or as active as they saw fit to be. Only the sheik's next journey to the capitol provoked some measure of tension, but when he returned early — and without any new women — even that dissipated into relief: Inshallah, we'll never have to go through that again….
And then one day, word of some sort of delivery reached the harem; at first, only as rumors circulating from phone to phone among them, but when the eunuchs were called away and a meeting of the harem set to convene at noon, it became clear that something serious was about to take place. Speculations of all sorts were thrown out: the Palestinian wants to come back; the household is about to move to a bigger compound; the sheik has been banished to one of the neighboring countries; the wives are about to assert their authority and dissolve the harem
. “Another girl,” Aiyesha grumbled to anyone who would listen. Another robot
, thought Mikiko — then chastized herself: When did you become so bitter? Are you going to become another Aiyesha?
When noon came, the harem chamber was hushed, so quiet that the women could hear the opening of the entrance doors far down the hall. Like the others, Mikiko stood stock-still in her place; only Houri could be any more motionless. When the sheik finally entered the room, he was greeted with a quiet nervous intake of breath before the customary “Good afternoon, my sheik!”
“Good afternoon, my ladies,” he replied — though, as the women would later recall, without gusto — “You are well, I trust? Excellent.” He began to pace to and fro before the opening of the entrance hallway. “You will, no doubt, wonder why I have assembled you here. Let me begin by introducing the newest member of this household — Habibi? Come in, my dear.”
And to the shock of the women, in walked…another Houri. This one had slight differences — her motions were more fluid than Houri's, and though she had the exact same face as Houri (that much was plain once she took up position next to the first robot), it appeared to be a bit more expressive than Houri's, more lifelike, as she smiled and greeted the women in Arabic: “Peace be upon you.”
The sheik opened his mouth, but before he could say anything, the Arab women broke ranks and charged forward, shouting in their native tongue at him. Few of the other women spoke Arabic well enough to completely understand the rapid-fire accusations — or the sheik's icy responses — but the gist was clear: even these Western whores are not enough? You must insult us further with these machines?
And with the sheik's answers proved unsatisfactory, they turned and strode toward their private chambers; as it became clear that they were preparing to leave the harem, some of the other women began to join them, and when the sheik's rage was not stoked — when he in fact began to smile, a tight and slight rictus of a grin — even more of them left the room.
When it was all done, only three of the women remained in the room with the sheik and the Houris: Sonia, Aiyesha and Mikiko. The sheik began to chuckle as he gathered the women around him, but it was Sonia that broke the tension: “You are not angry?”
“Why should I be angry?” the sheik replied. “I have rid myself of a burden I have supported for too long. If their pride is worth more to them than the comfort I have provided them, then let them go. If anything, they have made my task easier by leaving.”
The sheik squirmed briefly, almost imperceptibly so, before he continued. “I would prefer to have genuine women around me, but” — here he gestured toward the Houris — “these are not displeasing at all. And I shall not lie to you: there are other circumstances which force my hand — hence a task which saddens me: I must decide which women, if any, I may continue to keep in my household. I will give each of you a chance to make your case for why you should remain. Succeed, and you may stay for as long as you wish. Fail, and you will be returned to your home country with a generous token of my appreciation. You will have two days to consider your answer, then each of you will have a day to spend with me to persuade me, Sonia will go first, Aiyesha, second, and Mikiko, last.” With that, he turned and left, the Houris trailing behind, leaving the women in stunned silence.
The next days were wearying and tense; with all the good-byes and packing and general commotion, it was difficult for Sonia and Aiyesha and Mikiko to think. The sorrow of parting with people they'd spent years living with….and the anger, it must be said, that even they must somehow prove themselves? Only the thoughts of what they'd left behind made it seem worth the effort; Aiyesha had fled unrest in Syria; Sonia, her familiy's Russian poverty. Mikiko's reasons were less immediate, though no less heartfelt: “Being Japanese can be suffocating,” she'd tell them. “The nail which sticks up is hammered down — and I do not wish to be treated as a nail.”
To pass the time, they would take turns talking about what they would do if they were sent home. Aiyesha had plans to get her family out of Damascus — preferably to a peaceful spot in the country where they could farm, far away from the disturbances of the capital city. Sonia talked about starting a new business with her family, but Mikiko, when pressed, had to admit she had no idea what she might do. And the conversation would stop there; the next question, the obvious one — what will you do to prove yourself to the sheik?
— was one they didn't want to answer. Not out loud, and certainly not in front of each other.
Sonia's day came: Mikiko and Aiyesha saw her off at breakfast, then spent the day in idle, furtive conversation, full of frequent pauses and awkward silences. By the time the evening meal was served, both women silently wished the sheik's mother would join them, if only to give them something else to talk about, something that would take their minds off of what was certain to be happening in the sheik's chambers. Beneath the abiyah
she had to wear to cross the compound, the Russian girl wore scarlet lingerie (and not much of it), making it plain what her strategy was.
Aiyesha was scornful and nasty as Mikiko had ever seen her: “If he'd wanted sluts,” she cackled, “he'd have kept the Americans!” Mikiko said nothing; it didn't take much to tip the Syrian into a full-throated rage, and she didn't need the drama, especially now that there was nobody else around to help absorb it.
An hour or two after dinner, Sonia returned to the harem, alternately sobbing and (probably) swearing in her native language. “He spent the whole day sporting with me, only to tell me that my body still wasn't enough reason to keep me.” Mikiko tried to comfort her — while Aiyesha tried not to be obvious about her gloating — but Sonia would have none of it. “He had me do…things.” She shuddered. “And then he took his pleasure with the roxujbot
!” She began muttering to herself in Russian, but for Aiyesha and Mikiko both, the gist was clear enough once she began gesticulating, slashing through the air with her hands: he preferred the robots to me, the cockless son-of-a-bitch…
The next day was Aiyesha's, and (once they'd said their final farewells to Sonia) Mikiko was almost grateful for the solitude. All night, while Sonia packed, Aiyesha was absolutely preening: she thought her body would be enough reason to keep her, the stupid cow!
Mikiko had gone to bed early just to get away from her. Now, as the Syrian pled her case to the sheik — and Mikiko was certain she was pleading, absolutely without pride or dignity, and quite possibly on her knees or even stretched out at his feet — Mikiko roamed the empty harem chambers, coming to rest only when she came across the massive cushion-set that had once been the most comfortable and prominent seat in the main chamber. The cushions were stacked off in a corner; probably moved there by the eunuchs as they packed up the rest of the chamber. It's not as though the robots will need furniture.
Mikiko stopped to ponder this: am I giving up already? Should I?
She walked up and down the hallways of the harem's bedchambers; stopping before this room and that one, she found herself remembering the women who had once inhabited them, and the sense of emptiness, abandonment — the sense of a presence now missing — was haunting. The robots' rooms left her with no such feeling: they have no presence, not even
sonzai-kan — there's no
they there. Would being alone with the robots be worse than having another person (even Aiyesha) for company? She wasn't sure she had an answer to that.
She was still pondering the question at the evening meal when Aiyesha stormed into the harem building, alternately furious and despondent. “I gave him obedience. In everything. There was nothing I would not do.” The Syrian paused, muttering to herself in Arabic, then continued. “And it wasn't enough for him.” She alternated between sobs and invective — “a thousand cocks in his mother's arse” was one Mikiko thought she recognized, though by this point, it was difficult to tell. Aiyesha had buried her face in Mikiko's shoulder by this time, clutching at her until the eunuchs came to offer her a bit of opium to smoke, so that she might at least get a decent night's sleep.
Mikiko's own sleep was troubled that night, as much by the question of whether she wanted to stay as by the question of whether she could. She thought of the sheik as he'd appeared to her when she first met him: cool and neither aloof nor solicitous. He carried himself like a man who knows he has money and power — real
money and power — and can therefore allow himself an air of vulnerability. At the time, it made her feel as though she could penetrate to his core, if she stayed around and worked at it — that she could, that he wanted her to, know him as completely and intimately as humanly possible….
She chuckled: how silly. How naïve — how gullible of me! Like a manga-addled schoolgirl, falling for the ruse that touches both her heart and her pride. As if there were anything there. As if he'd know what to do with the woman who actually figured him out in the first place.As if he'd know what to do with a woman his equal.
And thus, Mikiko conceived a plan.
The eunuchs ushered Mikiko before the sheik in his personal suite's entry foyer; once they'd left, he gestured for her to remove the abiyah she'd worn to cross from the harem chambers to the sheik's. Underneath the shroud, she was wearing a simple black minidress, the sort of thing she might have worn at their introductory meeting, back when she was auditioning to join the harem in the first place; confidently sexy, without the brazenness of something like Sonia's merry-widow outfit.
And there was something different about Mikiko today — that smile? Not solicitous or pleading; more feline, like a predator cat, an image further impressed upon the sheik by the motion of her hips as she walked across the room and, without waiting for an invitation, seated herself across from him. “Good morning, my sheik,” she said, that curl of her lips suggesting…what, exactly? Amusement? No: that would be far too bold for the Japanese girl.
He remained standing. “Good morning. Would you like to join me for breakfast?”
“I'd love to.” She stood and took his arm; this was decidedly not the Mikiko the sheik was accustomed to, and ordinarily, he might have taken offense at such boldness, such familiarity taken with him! but this was so novel and unexpected, he found himself curious as to where she might go with this — how far? and what other surprises might she have in store? He gestured toward the dining room, but he followed her lead there….
Throughout the day, the sheik studied Mikiko, looking carefully at the signs of some sort of change that had come over her. He waited for her to make her pitch for why he should keep her — by this time, Sonia and Aiyesha had been well into their own — but if Mikiko was planning on pleading her case, she was taking her time about it. She hadn't broached the subject at all; not while they relaxed in the jacuzzi (where she gave him a scalp massage that reduced him to a quivering jelly), nor while they played chess (her suggestion; she stalemated him twice — deliberately? he wasn't sure, but again: that curl of the lips suggesting amusement).
Instead, they talked about her homeland — his education abroad — the politics of the old harem — the uprisings in other lands — and he was taken aback to realize just how observant she was, how well she understood his culture, as well as the people immediately around her. How nothing seemed to get past her. Had he noticed this before, when he was bedding her? Probably not; to his surprise and perhaps even shame, he realized how little impression the women of the harem had left on him — even (until now) including Mikiko. He wondered how many of the others, like her, had had something to them that he'd missed noticing — she was, however unexpectedly, good company, every bit as lively and witty as his fourth wife. Under different circumstances, he might even have introduced them….
…but no. As the Filipino servants escorted them to the dinner table, he watched Mikiko take her seat and realized how silly the whole notion was to begin with. He studied her as she nibbled at her Kobé beef carpaccio, marveling at the grace with which she lifted the slices of meat to her mouth with her chopsticks in one hand, while using the other to hide her mouth while she chewed. A custom he would, if it were at all possible, impress upon his first wife. No: The only way for him to keep Mikiko was to keep her as one of the “pleasure wives” of the harem, with the other Houris; that's just how it must be, here and now. The other wives might enjoy her company, but even if he tried to make her a permanent pleasure wife with their permission, they'd certainly bristle at her background, her lack of status and breeding, here or in her home country.
Mikiko met his gaze. “Is something wrong, my sheik?”
“Nothing at all, my dear. I was merely reflecting upon the good fortune that brought you into my household.” She flushed and hid her face behind her hand again — such a charming gesture! — but when she said nothing, he continued. “Of course, I shall have to go back to the capitol to find some more human girls to keep you company — I can't imagine that Houri and Habibi make terribly interesting conversation…”
Something like discomfort — at least that's how it appeared to the sheik — swept over Mikiko: the way her back almost-imperceptibly stiffened, the way the corners of her mouth appeared to tense up. Perhaps confusion? He decided to put her mind at ease: “You have nothing to worry about, habibi
— I would be grateful and proud to have you as part of my household, for as long as you care to stay.”
“For which I am most grateful, my sheik. But I will not be staying.”
The sheik was used to rejection in the capitol; the women who came from overseas to join his harem were just as likely as not to misunderstand what their lives would be like in this country, and to opt to return home. He could scarcely fault them for that. But this? The pleasure wife he wanted to keep, turning him down? This was unexpected and novel — and infuriating. The sheik struggled to keep his voice steady, his tone, neutral: “You won't be staying?”
Mikiko's voice was heartbreakingly gentle as she spoke. “I have enjoyed my time here with you, my sheik, and I am more grateful than I have the power to show. Today, especially, has been an experience I will treasure. But it cannot last. If I remained in the harem, I would be one of many, even if I were the only human woman there. I left Japan for that reason — you've heard the proverb, I'm sure: The nail which sticks out is hammered down
“And what will you do when you return? What can possibly be there for you now that wasn't there before?”
“There may be nothing.”
“Then what will you do?”
“I will make something.”
None of this made any sense to the sheik, no matter how he tried to puzzle it out. “But…The nail which sticks out is hammered down, I thought you said?”
Mikiko embraced the sheik and gave him a small kiss upon the lips. “I will not be returning home as a nail.” The sheik looked on, powerlessly, as she donned her abiyah
and summoned the eunuchs to escort her back to the empty harem….
The sheik grieved the loss of Mikiko for some number of days — but, having now been abandoned by his harem, was even more resolved to rebuild his paradise on earth, inshallah
, even if all his houris were to be robots! And so he began: with some vague promises of investment money, he convinced Houri and Habibi's manufacturers to make his harem their product's test bed, for any and all future models or upgrades.
He never quite made good on those promises, but earned their trust in other ways; mainly, by hosting parties for the robot team members in the capitol, full of all the pleasures he once used to lavish on his harem (in this respect, he noted, there is little difference between men and women) whenever they had a new houri
to deliver. At one of these parties, full of wine and mirth, he issued the engineers a challenge: if they could build a robot personality that could convince him it loved him the way a human would — enough to suspend his disbelief and, in his turn, fall in love with the robot himself — he would buy, at retail value, a complete set of 72 of them. Until then, they would deliver him their prototypes to test for free.
The engineers, believing the sheik to be as gullible as his request was naïve, accepted gladly. They did not know what the sheik was truly requesting — in short, a robot which could convincingly remind him of that last day with Mikiko. And so, over time, he filled his harem once again, this time with mechanical houri
. Each prototype was more beautiful, more graceful than the last, and all of them, obedient to the very bed — yet the sheik was unsatisfied: this one's closer — but it's not there, yet.
Some say that eventually he bankrupted his benefactors with his challenge — only to move on to another company willing to take him up on it. It's even been said, by these same storytellers, that the sheik's eldest son, somehow, gained access to the harem long enough to fall in love with one of the clockwork houris
, refusing the company of human women altogether until he could have her (or one like her) — but that is another tale altogether….