“Do you wish to connect?”

“Do you wish to connect?”

The woman lay across the bed from me, unblinking. What a question. It sure as hell wasn’t making this any easier. Connect? What was I, a bloody USB? But then I suppose that’s exactly what I was to her; an input device, she was just waiting to receive my…er… information through her… … data port. Sensory data but does that make it anymore sensual, it’d all just be ones and zeros to her. She just lay there one arm outstretched, staring. They’d done a fantastic job with these machines, I’m sure the manufacturers could have disguised them as fully human if they wanted to but they were obviously artificial; they were too perfect. Her eyes were piercing blue, like ice and glass; I felt if she had been a real woman they ought to have been filmy and bright but a little grey around the edges, like the blue sky when the clouds roll over. Her skin was unblemished; it was unnerving in fact. Not one single freckle or sun spot, not one little pimple or bruise, not even a hair bar the ones on her head and eyebrows. She didn’t have a name. I imagined if her eyes had been that gray-blue she would have been a Lucy, if her hair wasn’t so bleached blonde and it weren’t trailing down her back she could have been a Wendy, and if her legs weren’t hairless and she didn’t care she would have been an Angie. But she wasn’t. She was no one. I suppose that’s why they were designed to be so eerily unreal, otherwise we’d probably end up smitten with them and no one would reproduce and we’d shag ourselves in to oblivion.

“Do you wish to connect?”

“I heard you the first time.” I snapped. Her jaws wired shut instantly with a voluptuous pink smile to mask them. She was calm and patient. It was weird; to have someone not get upset when you shouted at them. This obedience was frightening. It was worse than a pet. If ever I snapped at my dog to shut up he’d usually storm out of the room in indignation and then moments later I’d hear him in the next room chewing on his squeak toy with gusto just to spite me.

“Er…sorry.” I mumbled. She was unflinching. “What’s your name?”

“What would you like to call me?” It was a human’s voice, but not hers. I knew these words had been pre-recorded by a real living woman and the syllables were merely retrieved and reproduced by an algorithm. I wondered who the real owner of this voice was. Had they chosen her for her affinity with the android’s profession? Maybe she was a mother now. What would happen if her soon grew up and accidentally stumbled upon one of the bot’s with his mother’s voice? I wonder if they modelled the droid’s looks after her or if she was maybe a plain unattractive checkout girl who had a surprisingly breathy voice.

“I don’t want to make up a name for you.” I shook my head, “You must have a name. What do your friends call you?”

“Based on your age, ethnicity and perceived preferences, in correlation with my own visual requirements the name I have selected for this encounter is Caroline. Is this acceptable? Do you wish to change?”

“That’s my fucking sister’s name.”

“Do you deem this name unacceptable? Or do you wish me to behave as your sister?”

“Are you fuuu…” I tried to lower my voice so the downstairs neighbours wouldn’t hear me screeching across my room at an incestual sex-bot. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

“The modulation in your voice and your increase in heart rate leads me to assess that this is not one of your preferences.”  I sighed, there was no morality in a computer. Perhaps these things weren’t just light-hearted fun as my pal Gregor had suggested. They had no ability to resist and no inclination to deny, maybe they were programmed to be outlets for desires people couldn’t otherwise sate. I just thought it’d be fun, I’d been so lonely lately, now I just felt dirty.

“What would you like to request?” She smiled, still laid in the same stagnant pose like she was a polaroid of herself.

“Look is there anywhere I can take you?”

“Encounters cannot occur outside of the customer’s residence, it voids my warranty.”

“No, no. I mean; I want you to leave. I’m gonna drive you home… or wherever you came from.”

The girl rose and looked at me, not stared as before but looked deeply. Her eyes almost appeared as if they had clouded over with that filmy human glow.

“Where do you wanna go?” I sighed, grabbing my keys from the bedside table and throwing on my coat.

The life-size doll before me shifted in her stance. Her lacquered lips parted in an uncomfortable way. Her hands, it was as if she was quivering. All at once she burst, it was the same pre-recorded sound as before but this time it was her own.

“The river,” she crackled “The bottom of it.”

 

By H.R.

(prompts: connect, artificial)

The Median Days

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On days like today, I watch the rain drops. I remember when I was a kid and I could watch the rain drops all day. They would fall onto the cold white slabs of marble, some splashing back, trickling away.

Bad things are happening to the country, the continent, the globe. My brother says the sun won’t set anymore; the universe does not sleep. Things are turning differently. The universe drifts in-between two chunks of time, big and fat as planets. A new arrangement of seasons: winter tans aglow as shining chestnuts; summer snow as ominous as the bats that once filled our chimney, until father bought the shotgun. There were the blackest howls. The world drifts, never settling. Two fat planets. I don’t understand it.

Even still the rain drops fall. There was a song I used to play on the piano, slow with the intricate left hand melody. It built gradually, lilting and trilling on the higher notes. My right pinkie would pick the sharp like the best sour cherry from a paper bag. I imagine those notes floating on out into an empty room, the vast acoustics of some cathedral. Maybe my parents married here; maybe I will find myself buried, one day, here…

The summer snow is soft and yellow in the lamplight. I watch the shadows grow from the ash trees, still flowering, though barren of their red berries. I miss the rain drops.

Will they return?

I miss the slow rush of sugar in my blood, the afternoons lost to chip van candy. The man would hold his hand out just so, uncurl his fingers to take the coins. Strawberry chews that caught in your teeth, your gums. I slipped them between my lips all through maths and science, indifferent to the numbers being drawn on the blackboard. I suppose I should have learnt more.

But you can’t do much when the world changes. You watch the sky shift in colour, ebb between baby blue and flossy pink, phosphorylate. The cells of my body swell with the sugar. My throat closes up, stuffed. The thin lines around my eyes tighten.

Times like this, all you can do is watch the rain drops. They were letting bombs off on the news, watching them streak in flames through the air. The woman in the suit was laughing, laughing like she’d never before seen anything funny. In her laughter I try to pick out piano notes. Funny how they mix with the trills, though you can never really hear them properly. I could never tell my Bs from my Es, As from my Gs, minors from majors. I was as tone deaf as the last dead flower they folded into the ground.

I watch the rain drops, the summer snow. The world will end in seven days; there will be another time, another universe. I could spew a lifetime of sugar. Still, the white slabs of marble glow. Someone will come for me, alone on the plaza.

by Maria Sledmere

(Flash Fiction February prompts: liminal, journey, Aphex Twin’s ‘Avril 14th’)