"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!
.... There is more of this story ...