"May fourteenth, twenty twelve. Welcome Mister Lostridge." The synthetic female voice confirmed the log-on process. The workstation screen filled with email and scheduling windows. He glanced through the news. Nothing much was happening in the world. Some college professor raising a stink about government hit squads, another miracle drug, some new social reform program. Same stuff, different day.
"Three more weeks 'till my ultimate humiliation." Guy Lostridge sighed as he pushed away from his workstation. Taking a pull from his coffee cup, he looked over his to-do list for the day but his mind kept wandering. In a mere three weeks, Guy's cousin Henry was getting married back home in Arkham.
Like everything else Henry did, this wedding would be perfect. Guy had always been unfavorably compared to his cousin, they were the same age and that was where the similarity ended. Guy was a moderately successful journalist, unmarried, and living in the Boston Metro-spire. Henry was a prize-winning author, poet, employed as a full professor at Arkham's local university. Better looking and more popular than Guy, Henry was marrying Ashley Wilkes, the beautiful heiress to the Wilkes Bank fortune. Guy hated Henry with a loathing only the eternally second place could ever understand.
Taking another swallow of coffee, Guy's mind tormented him with visions of the upcoming wedding ceremony. The endless questions from various relatives: "Why aren't you married?" "When are you moving back to Arkham?" "Guy, you're looking a little stout. Have you been feeling all right?"
And of course there would be all the comparison stories. The Little League game when Guy committed an error but Henry saved the game. Henry's rapid rise through academia, Guy's position as a local stringer for a small part of the Metro-spire network. It would go on and on. Setting his cup down, Guy remembered that he'd only gone home twice in the four years since graduation. He lived only 30 minutes from his parent's door.
"Hey man," Fred Chu's surfer dude drawl came from across the cubicle partion, "When'd you say you were going down to Arkham?"
"Three weeks. June the fourth."
"Yeah. Maybe you ought to check out this dude's rap." Fred tossed a piece of paper over the wall. The picture showed an older man, his finger pointed skyward. "Check him out in today's headlines."
Guy paged quickly through the overlapping windows on his terminal screen. With speed born of long practice, he keyed the news feed and selected the headline with the man's picture next to it. Double-clicking the video icon in the story, Guy sat back and listened to the man, Dr. Ivan Leonberg, speak passionately about the human rights abuses in a small Central American country. He was great to watch. Charismatic, Dr. Leonburg seemed to speak to every individual, regardless of the fact that his speech had been taped and broadcast the night before.
Fred came around the partition. "He's all yours babe. He's addressing the Conference on Human Rights on Saturday, your wedding isn't until Sunday."
"And I can spend the weekend at home on the office expense account." Fred smiled in agreement. "Sweet."
Now that the finances had been taken care of, there was only one more problem. How could he avoid his family's smothering interrogation? Earlier, he'd talked about it with Fred. Fred's solution was as elegant as it was unattainable. "Go home with a beautiful woman and let her tell them how successful you are." In other words, lie to them.
Leaning back in his chair, Guy decided it was time to give this problem some serious thought. What could he tell his folks? The success part was true. Guy was up for promotion and had just received a big productivity bonus. He had a nice place and all the material trappings of a young exec. It was the companionship part the was the problem. Long hours at work, psycho-women, and contagious diseases limited the desirability of the singles bar scene. Another option was to use an escort service, but trying to keep up an act with a hired partner was daunting.
"Here you go, man. The answer to your dilemma." Fred must've been reading his mind. The warning chime heralded the arrival of an email advertisement. Garrety's Replicants.
Guy laughed. "A 'droid? Been watching the old movie channel again?" He hollered back across the cubicle wall.
"Sure, man." Fred's head popped into sight. "Go buy a date. You can always return it after the wedding."
Guy read the ad. It sounded simple enough. Use the bonus as a down payment, lease a knock-out, and impress the folks. The idea sounded better the more Guy thought about it. Locking his station Guy decided that it was at least worth a visit to the showroom.
Garrety's showroom was gleaming white plastic. Guy immediately thought of an expensive doctor's office. The receptionist showed him into the selection kiosk. For the next thirty minutes Guy specified his preferences in a companion. How tall? Hair color? Eye Color? Birth marks? Sexual habits? Language? The questions made Guy think about things that he had had never considered. What kind of clothes did he want her to wear?
The questionnaire finished, Guy returned to the waiting room. It wasn't long before a slick looking salesman approached. Offering his carefully manicured hand (complete with diamond pinkie ring) the salesman started his scripted sales pitch.
"Welcome to Garrety's Mr. Lostridge. We specialize in providing the discriminating customer with the exact replicant for their needs." He held up a printout of Guy's preferences. "Let's see if we can't help you find the companion you're looking for."
Guy tried to make chit-chat as they walked into a private showroom. "I'm looking for a woman to take home for a wedding."
The salesman's look said it all. Loser. "I'm sure we have just the ticket."
Referring to a small hand held digi-pad, the salesman called out a procession of beautiful redheads. The androids paraded out through a velvet curtain. They'd walk along a small stage, posing like fashion models before turning back to stand in a line in front of the curtained exit. As each girl came out, the display in the arm of Guy's chair gave the girl's name, price, and how well she matched Guy's preferences.
Mamie... Julia... Lucy
Guy looked longingly at them before noticing the high price of each android. His bonus wouldn't even cover the down payment on these models.
The salesman noticed Guy's consternation. "Let's take a look at some more economical models." Again his look was demeaning. "Now these," he touched his digi-pad quickly, "won't be as functional. But I think that they'll fit your budget better."
The next trio looked more like mannequins. Plastic smiles, shiny skin. They looked like animated dolls. These 'droids could never pass for human. "I don't think these will do." Guy shook his head in exasperation. "Maybe I could see some of your used models."
"These are the used companions." The salesman's expression signaled that he'd obviously given up any hopes of a decent commission. He stood and tucked his pad into his jacket. Putting his hand on Guy's back, he steered him towards the door.
"Well. Its just that I don't think that I could ever pass these off as a human in Arkham. And the wedding's in only three weeks."
The salesman's eyes went hard for a split second. Recovering quickly, he jumped back into his smooth sales delivery. "Arkham? Did you go to Miskatonic?" The expression changed from disdain to calculated interest when Guy assured him that he was indeed a graduate of Arkham's local college. "I haven't been back since my tenth reunion. Class of '98."
This change of topic inspired some hope in Guy. "Class of '06." They shook hands as if they were meeting for the first time, rather than an hour ago.
"Wouldn't happen to be a Lambda?"
"No, I'm a townie. In fact, I'm going back for my brother's wedding on the 4th of June."
"Ya don't say." A few quick taps on the pad. "Well... For a fellow grad. Let me introduce you to Nancy Dream." The leer on his face made the salesman look like a fox. "Her owner recently passed away and we were forced to repossess her. But she's in great condition and lives up to her name in every way.".
They turned back toward the little stage. The redhead that walked down the catwalk took Guy's breath away. Her dark blue eyes appraised him insolently. Everything about her said that Nancy was more than an off-the-shelf companion replicant.
"Voluptuous, smart, and fully programmable. You can give her any cover story you want, she's good enough to carry it off." The salesman's fingers tapped commands into the pad as he spoke. "Take a look at the whole package."
Responding to the salesman's commands, Nancy slowly stripped. Her eyes stared into Guy's. By the time she reached for her bra strap he was sold. "How much?"
The figure was just under his bonus amount. "What about clothing and accessories?" Guy asked.
"Included. Just sign and she's yours to take home. But I'll tell you what. If you ever tell anyone the deal I'm making you, I'll deny it to your face." His smile made it sound like he was letting Guy in on the biggest inside secret in the world.
Guy couldn't keep his eyes off Nancy as they rode the transport tube back to his apartment. Guy had never believed the "old school tie" bit would ever pay off, but the salesman had cut him this special deal - just because they had graduated from the same school!
Stepping out onto the automated walkway, Guy's brain raced. There have to be bugs in her programming. He looked closely at Nancy's face for some trace of instability, a tic or some mechanical blemish. Nothing but smooth, milky white skin. Won't Mom and Dad be surprised. His mind raced from topic to topic; feature to feature. I never checked out her voice. She'll put every babe at the wedding to shame. Guy noted with pride that other people turned to admire Nancy's trim form and beautiful features. For the first time in his life he felt the pride of being envied by other men. He took Nancy home the long way, reveling in every step.
Entering his apartment, Guy tossed his jacket onto the chair. Nancy stood in front of the couch watching him. "Uh. Oh yea. Nancy, please get me a beer from the refrigerator."
"What should I call you, master?"
Guy chuckled in embarrassment. "Just Guy. Ummm. Yea that'll be fine."
Next, he'd have to program her with a background and cover story. But first he had to call Fred and plan what to do. Ten minutes later Fred was knocking on Guy's door. Fred brought a six pack and Guy ordered pizza. Both men stared as Nancy brought them glasses.
"So what's her story?" Watching Nancy, Fred missed his glass, spilling beer onto the table.
"Maybe she's an astrophysicist or some kind of space shuttle pilot."
"Yeah. And I'm the Pope." Fred took a hit from his glass. Settling back on the couch, Fred looked thoughtful. "Nancy, turn around. Let's see that award winning cleavage."
The android stayed in the kitchen. "Maybe she's imprinted with your voice." Fred said. "Call her over."
"Nancy." Guy smirked as he called her over. "Sit down. We need to decide what to do with you."
Nancy sat on the couch opposite Fred with just a hint of superiority.
"Model," Fred offered.
"Too short. How about secretary? Or maybe a school teacher?"
"Come on. I thought you wanted something glamorous." Fred gestured with his slice of pizza. "She should be something like a fashion designer or an architect. You know, something creative."
"Yeah." Guy swallowed. "Nancy, can you draw? Could you impersonate an architect?"
She nodded yes. "I have access to the information required to perform as a structural architect."
"Good." Guy was glad to get started. "We'll make her from one of the big West Coast spires. No one in my family's ever been out of Arkham." Fred nodded. "Nancy, take some notes."
"I am recording, Guy."
"Good. Now. We met right after Christmas."
"At the New Year's office party." Fred interjected.
They proceeded to create a background story - nothing that would be too preposterous, just enough to make everyone jealous. They listed movies and places, likes and dislikes, even her favorite drink. Over the next three hours Guy talked and talked. Fred's eyes never left Nancy's chest.
Taking a deep swallow from his beer, Guy shook his head to clear the cobwebs. His throat felt dry. "Yeah. Umm. We can iron out the details later." He raised his glass. "Here's to my new fiancee."
Fred returned the toast. "I'd say a long courtship would be perfect. In the mean time, what say we give this model a spin?"
"I don't know Fred. I think I'd like to be alone when I try her out." Guy looked more than a little embarrassed. "You know?"
"Sure man." He grabbed the pizza box and two beer bottles. "I'll leave you two love birds alone." He pushed the door lock with his elbow, a lecherous grin on his face. "See you tomorrow. If you can walk."
The door lock re-engaged. Alone for the first time with Nancy, Guy didn't know what to do. "Well. I suppose its a little late for wine and cheese."
She stood in front of him. Her hand went to her top blouse button. "Completely unnecessary."
The next two weeks flew by. Guy couldn't believe his luck. Every night he heard her call, "Welcome home Honey!" from the kitchen. She had cleaned the apartment, made dinner, and poured a beer or a glass of wine ready for his arrival. After dinner, all Guy would admit was that Nancy was energetic, imaginative, and acrobatic. After a week of trying to get himself invited into the bedroom, Fred finally gave up and consoled himself with a few dinners in Nancy's presence. Guy stopped worrying about the wedding and started concentrating on enjoying himself.
Then it was show time. An inland shuttle brought them to Arkham in less than half an hour. As he had expected, Guy was met by his family. Nancy's presence was enough to stop the initial onslaught of questions. The hotel was more of a challenge. Aunt Mabel started the interrogation while Grandma Dru and Great Aunt Sofie cornered Nancy on the other side of the room.
After what must have been an eternity, Guy broke away and met Nancy at the bar.
"How's it going? I hope my family isn't giving you too rough a time." Guy handed Nancy a drink.
"I'm doing fine." Her eyes seemed to laugh. How do they do that? Guy thought to himself.
Nancy put the drink down and took Guy's arm. "Let's dance before you go to the bachelor party."
The next day, Guy slept in and nursed his hangover. Pressing his face against the cool shower tiles, he promised himself he'd never drink that much again. The cool water made him shiver. He'd need to be sharp after lunch to cover Dr. Loenberg's speech in Atwood Hall. Nancy had left earlier to take a walk over to the college with her sketch pad.
They met for lunch in a restaurant near campus. For the first time, Nancy looked a little flustered. She was missing one earring and there was a dark spot on her white jacket that she tried to cover with her handbag. She apologized for being late and quickly ordered a sandwich while dabbing the spot with some club soda. Suddenly the sound of police sirens filled the air. A couple squad cars and an ambulance tore down the street toward campus.
"Somebody must have jaywalked," the waitress joked.
Guy relaxed as they waited, but Nancy kept glancing toward the windows. She tensed when a couple policemen came to the hostess' table. "Guy. Get up and go to the bathroom."
"Just do what I say. Things are going to get interesting real fast and we need to start making an exit."