On the surface, “Private Detective Molly,” by A.B. Goelman seems to your basic SF detective story, with a contrived bad guy who wants to cheat sweet little Dorothy. And the only wise-cracking detective standing in the way is a six-inch doll, who says:
I’m a sucker for a crying girl. You can call it programming if you want, but I think it’s Molly-Doll nature. Just like human nature, but a whole lot more decent.
Underneath, is a meditation about free will, as the interesting conflict is inside Molly, against her own programming.
The Molly doll is constantly aware of her subroutines, like the one that makes her comfort Dorothy, or the one that forces her to obey Dorothy’s legal guardian, or the one that makes her afraid of mice. But she insists that she has free will. Sure, it’s in her nature to help her Boss, Dorothy, and naturally she gets pleasure from accepting a case and making deductions. Towards the end she fights her limitations for Dorothy’s sake in a most satisfying way.
So is that free will, or does it only seem that way because that’s how she’s designed? You can read it and ponder, or you can hear it read on Escape Pod.