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Fiction, Short Fiction, Science Fiction
Her hand was either plastic or metal, I wouldn't know until she slapped me with it. You can never tell these days. Not since they've discovered new ways of making plastic look like metal, metal look like plastic, and metal and plastic look like human skin.
She rang my doorbell just a week ago, wearing a pink dress, with two suitcases, ready to move in. Man, they work fast. I ordered her exactly a month ago, gave very detailed specs and told them that I wanted to meet her straightforwardly: doorbell rings, I open the door, she's there, she moves in. Simple as that.
Some people want more complicated delivery methods. Rick, for instance, wanted to meet his girl at a bookstore. He wanted her to approach him while he was browsing through the Japanese Lit section. He'd be holding Oe's "Nip the Buds, Shoot the Children" and she would say in perfect Japanese: "I like Oe's work better than Golding's 'Lord of the Flies'. It has a depth of characterization that Golding was too afraid to explore. Maybe because he wasn't Japanese. He was too white for Japanese depth and subtlety". They'd get into a debate about Oe and Golding, which would lead to coffee, then dinner. Then to his apartment. Then to happily ever after.
I have no time for that. If I had, I'd probably arrange for it so I'd meet her in Paris. Maybe on top of the Eiffel Tower or while sitting in some cafe. Hell, I don't even have time to think of anything less cliché. If I did, I probably wouldn't have filled out that order form and would have just gotten a girl through less drastic means. I'd have gotten a real girl, too, while I was at it. But I simply do not have time for singles bars and cafes in Paris.
Or at least that's what I tell myself.
Scratch the real girl delusion. Real girls these days don't go for real guys anymore. Not when it's so easy, though not inexpensive, to fill out an order form and get tall, good-looking, well-mannered, intelligent and sensitive men who will never lie or cheat or fart in public. Those guys tend to get good jobs pretty quickly, too, since they're pretty efficient and they never complain. Eventually, those real girls earn back the money they spent on getting their men. Not a bad deal at all.
"Hi. I'm Nicole, and you're Andrew. We're married."
"Yes, we are. Come on in."
While I deal with her luggage, she heads straight for the kitchen to make breakfast: beacon and eggs, coffee, orange juice. Just the way I like it.
"All set for work today, Andrew?"
"Yes, I'll try to make it home early today."
"Wonderful. I'm making putanesca and Caesar salad for dinner. Oh and a chocolate cake. That should be enough incentive for you not to work overtime tonight".
"Great. Can't wait."
I finish breakfast and she sends me off with a kiss on the cheek and a "Have a nice day at work, honey."
Life is good.
It remained good until last night when Nicole's software crashed while she was in the middle of telling me how she was thinking of volunteering for a local charity. It was quite a scene, actually. She was enthusiastically describing the work the organization did when she stopped in the middle of "events". She went "eve--" and everything just stopped. There she was, sitting at the dining table, a forkful of beef stroganoff on her way from the plate to her mouth, in the middle of saying "events", with her mouth hanging open, her eyes still holding that enthusiastic look, her left hand hanging in midair (her hands waved around a lot when she was talking, just like most people).
I called the Customer Service and told them what happened. They told me not to touch or move her and that they were sending someone over to fix the problem.
The doorbell rang fifteen minutes later (man, they really were efficient), and Pat Mirasol walks in.
"Hi. There's a problem?"
"Nicole? Oh #5643. Yeah that happens sometimes. The Company apologizes for that and they'll pay you back 1/4 of the payment you made, if this is a factory defect and not in anyway your fault. I'm here to find out what's wrong and fix it. OK?"
"What were you doing before this happened?"
"Eating dinner. She was talking about joining a local charity."
"Were there any beeping sounds before she conked out?"
"No. She was in the middle of talking."
"Yeah, I can see that. Have you had sex with her?"
"She's my wife. Of course."
"Yes, of course. What sexual positions have you done with her?"
"Hey, chill. I'm not being crass. I need to know if you've done anything that might have moved her circuits around a bit. That might have dislodged something inside her and caused her to hang. It really helps if customers tell us what they plan on doing with their orders so we can customize the parts... Like the other week, there was this female customer who liked doing the helicopter with her boyfriend and well, all that spinning around actually caused some vital circuits to twist around inside him. The next day, went berserk and started flirting with their neighbor's Doberman. It was funny. She wasn't amused, of course. I fixed it and then we told the neighbors that he was an actor and he wanted to practice his lines and the dog was a good practice partner. They bought it. I probably shouldn't be telling you this, huh? Oh well. So have you done any of the ummmm more creative sexual positions on her?"
"No. Nothing that creative. Just the usual ones. Missionary, mostly. She's sexually repressed."
"Can you describe to me what her daily routine is?"
"Well she wakes up in the morning, cooks breakfast. Then I go off to work. She stays home, does the laundry, cleans the house. She reads. Then she cooks dinner and waits for me to come home. After dinner, we watch TV or read. Then we go to bed."
She goes to Nicole, and takes the suspended fork off her hand. Then she gets a laptop from her bag, turns it on and starts tapping on the keys. As she does this, Nicole suddenly slumps on the chair with her eyes closed.
"What are you doing?"
"Just reformatting her hard drive and reinstalling her software. This might take hours. I'll have to make sure that she meets your specs and that I don't reprogram her to do something out of the ordinary. You don't have to stay and watch".
"Can I stay and watch just the same?"
For the next three hours, I sat across Pat Mirasol as she goes about fixing Nicole. I had no choice but to observe her. Everything about her was so short. She was short. Her hair was short. Her nose was short. Even her fingers were short. I knew that if I looked under the table, I'd see that her legs and feet would be short as well. Her eyelashes were long though. But they were hidden behind really big bifocals.
She kept on talking as she worked, telling me stories about other clients and the things she had to repair for them. She was telling me about a client who kept on ordering more of the same woman when I had this sudden urge to know more about her.
"Do you have one of these?"
"Do you have a husband or a boyfriend like Nicole?"
"In a way, I feel bad about these ... things. They're not things. Not really. They think they're people so in a way, they must be, right? I don't know. Being around them, repairing them... I can't stand the thought of having someone with me who thinks he's real when I know he's not."
"So you think this is a bad thing -- having partners like these?"
"Not really. I understand why people want them. Who wouldn't want to have a custom-made life partner?"
"You obviously don't."
"Maybe because I don't know what I want in a partner. Who knows? Maybe someday, I'll want to have a person with me so much that I'd ignore whatever politically correct objections I have about them not knowing that they are what they are."
"Are you one of them?"
"If I were, I wouldn't know, would I. Neither would you."
"I know I'm real. I ordered Nicole. I created her based on what I wanted in a wife. That means I'm real, right? Besides, I have childhood memories and proofs of that. So I'm a real person."
"You sure about that? Have you ever wondered what happened to these things when they're clients pass away?"
"I assumed The Company takes them back for spare parts or for reprogramming."
"Well yes, but definitely not for spare parts. The Company takes them for a few weeks of reprogramming, yes. Reentry reprogramming. So they can become productive citizens and live out their life spans. It's more cost-efficient that way."
"Well what about the pictures I have with my parents as a boy at the beach? Doesn't that prove that it happened? That I have a childhood? That I'm real?"
"Don't be naive. Right now, I can create for you a photograph of myself as a super model with just the most archaic graphics software. Would that be proof enough for you to believe that I am a super model? I don't think so. Pictures are no longer enough proof, not with digital technology where things can be manipulated very easily. For that matter, memory is no longer proof enough as well. It never was, really."
"So how can you tell if you're real or one of them?"
"You can't. The system is tight that way. If you conk out, your client will give Customer Service a call, I or one of the other guys would come over, reformat and reinstall. We erase all memories of the malfunction and embed, when necessary, explanations about what happened. Tomorrow, Nicole will wake up none the wiser. She'll think that she was so tired from all that housekeeping she's done that she zonked out in the middle of your conversation. She won't know what happened."
It happened exactly as Pat Mirasol said it would. The next morning, Nicole woke up, made breakfast and talked about the charity, picking up where she left off the evening before. I made the necessary grunts and noises to let her know that I was supportive of her ideas, but my mind was replaying the conversation with Pat Mirasol the night before.
Am I real? Am I human? Or was I manufactured by The Company based on another person's specs and when that person passed away, I was reprogrammed for reentry?
I couldn't concentrate on my work so I left the office at lunch and headed straight home. The house was empty. Nicole must've gone to the charity to sign up for volunteer work. I headed for the study and took out my box of photographs. Memories of my childhood. What I would give for my parents to be alive right now so I can ask them if these pictures really happened.
Nicole walked in on me sitting on my desk chair, staring at my childhood photographs.
"Hi, honey. Is everything OK? Why are you home early?"
"I wasn't feeling to good."
"Oh dear. Let me make you a nice cup of soup and get you meds."
"No, I'm not sick. I just... well I just felt like going home, that's all."
"Are you sure you're OK? I could call Doctor Sandoval if you're not feeling to good."
"No, I'm fine. Really."
"OK then. Hey, what are you looking at? Old photos? Feeling nostalgic, dear?"
"A bit, yes."
"You must still miss your parents a lot. Oh but hey, I passed by the photo shop and I got here some new memories for you to look at."
She handed me an envelope. Inside were photographs of our wedding courtesy of The Company. That was the final straw.
"This is not real."
"What do you mean, honey?"
"This is not real! We're not married. This is a lie. I ordered you as my wife. This is not real. You're not real. You came from a factory. I--"
"Honey, what's the matter? Calm down. Please. What are you talking about? How can you say we're not real when you're holding pictures of our wedding day? I'll call Doctor Sandoval right away."
"No!" I grabbed and started yelling. "You're not my wife. You're not real. You're not real!! Do you understand. I had you made. My specs for a wife because I was too busy to look for a real one. You're not real!!!"
It was then that she slapped me and I knew that her hand was both plastic and metal. Soft plastic skin hiding metal flanges, carpals, meta-carpals. I could feel it. Underneath the warm plastic skin was cold metal. She hit me so hard that I fell on the floor. She ran to the phone to call the doctor then came back after she made the call.
"Everything will be all right, honey. I've called the doctor. You'll be fine. He'll give you meds for whatever is ailing you and you'll be fine. Why don't you lie down on the sofa while we wait for the doctor?"
I was so drained that I let her lead me to the sofa to lie down. Fifteen minutes passed and the doorbell rang.
Pat Mirasol walked in.