Chapter 16 - For Sally
We continued on for about an hour until we found the motel Cran had booked for us.
We settled into our room and I got right to work fixing Sally.
First, I sat her down and checked for lacerations or irreparable body parts other than her neck. There were none. I then returned her head back to its original forward-facing state.
Next, I repaired her broken voice box, which wasn’t as damaged as I thought it would be. I opened up her cranium to check for any serious or extraneous damage, but there was none to be found. I have to admit it wasn’t easy to open her up like that while she still looked like my wife, but strangely, it calmed me to know what she really was.
I continued, checking her vitals, her speech, and her cognition: a complete doctor’s physical. She seemed to be in good working order. She was looking as good as new, except for the blood all over her.
But, before I had to a chance to clean her off, a loud blaring ring suddenly emanated from within Cran.
“Sir, you have a call. It appears that Mr. Axell’s resources are quite good.”
I sat for a moment thinking of what I should do. Answer it or ignore it. I decided on the former.
“Sir, I can project the call from my oculars if you’d like.”
“That’s okay. I want to talk to him face-to-face,” I said. I laughed at the irony of my statement when I considered where I was and what situation I was in.
“Dim the lights though, I don’t want him to know where we are,” I said, and Cran looked at me with as sarcastic a look as an android can give.
“Just in case,” I said, understanding the futility of the action, and Cran complied. I took my holophone from my pocket, as the ring was also coming from it, and tossed it on the table as I sat down. The sight of Mr. Axell’s face abruptly appearing in front of me in the dark motel room at that time of night was a little frightening.
“Hello,” I said.
“Ah, there you are, Harold,” he said back. “I had a tiny bit of trouble locating you but I finally did.”
He took a bite of something from a plate in front of him. It looked meaty.
“Just a little late night snack. I hope you don’t mind. I didn’t have time to catch a proper dinner tonight. Busy days.”
I shook my head.
“That was quite an evening, wasn’t it? Very dramatic. Sorry about my men firing on you like that. Just following protocol,” he said, taking a bite of some kind of side dish. It was green.
“Anyway, that C.W. was something else, wasn’t he? Always been a prick though. We weren’t anything more than golf buddies. Played a couple card games together. I can’t say I’ll miss him, let me tell you.”
He chuckled before he took another bite of food.
I stayed quiet.
“No huge loss. Minor set back. But, as it did result in someone’s death I can understand the impulse to grab Sally and run like that. Maybe you panicked. Didn’t know what else to do. It’s okay. I get it. But, if you bring her back, spruce her up so we can get this thing going again I promise you, there will be no repercussions. Water under the bridge,” he said. He took a swig of what looked like wine from a wine cup next to him. He had finally changed drinks, I noticed.
I stayed quiet.
“Man of few words,” he said to me as he took another bite of food and another swig of wine, his expression changing from cordial to annoyed.
“But…” he said as he swallowed what he had in his mouth, “…if you don’t bring her back and spruce her up so we can get this thing started again…” he stopped himself from saying something harsher than what he ended up saying.
“A man died tonight. And not just any man. One of the most powerful men in the sports industry, an extremely public figure. And you know who killed him? An android killed him. And not an extremely realistic android indistinguishable from a human that I had commissioned, illegally, to be made for a noble project. No. An extremely realistic android made illegally for dubious reasons by some disgruntled robotics engineer named Doctor Harold Okamura.”
He finally got the doctor part right. I still stayed expressionless.
“I have the documents to prove that you were the one that made it. I have a nice story about how Dr. Okamura brought his android to my facilities to pitch me a project. I wanted no part of it, as I knew it would be breaking the first law of modern robotics. But, he wanted prove to me that it was a lucrative endeavor, so, he took it upon himself to test it. But, his creation went berserk. It almost strangled one poor man to death with a whip. Again, someone high profile. Then went on to commit actual murder. And now that engineer is on the run.”
He took two bites of his food and another swig of wine.
“Of the two of us, Mr. Okamura, who has the money and the resources to make that scenario seem real to the authorities?”
He slammed his fist down on the table hard and loud.
“Me, that’s who!” he snarled.
I remained quiet.
“What you have there is still my property, Okamura. I paid a lot of money to provide you with the opportunity to realize it. So, what you’re doing is what we like to call in this society, thievery. So, I can make up an even simpler story about how I commissioned another simple service-bot to be made, but that you took it upon yourself to steal it, slap some realistic skin on her to create some kind of sadistic serial killer-bot instead. No matter how serious or how silly I make the story seem you’d still come out looking like the bad guy.”
He drank more wine and wiped his mouth with a cloth napkin.
“And they’d ask, why would such a mild mannered man like Doctor Okamura do such a thing? And I’d say, the sudden death of the love of his life was just too much to bear. So, he tried to recreate her in some weird robot/Frankenstein experiment and, blah, blah, fucking, blah. These stories write themselves,” he said.
As much as what he said was terrifyingly true, I stayed quiet through it all.
“Or, you can do the right thing and bring her back to me. No questions asked. I make money. You make money. The bygones would be so fucking bygone.”
The thought of doing what he suggested was enticing. But, there was no way I could take this man at his word. So, I remained silent. He finished what food lingered on his plate, and drank the last of the contents of the wine glass. He wiped his mouth one last time before he folded the cloth napkin and placed it by his plate.
“Your silence speaks volumes,” he said. “I gotta ask you, though. Why’d you agree to do it? Why’d you want to make such an exquisite lifelike android like that if not to serve as a girlfriend to less fortunate men, or, to be pranced around as a piece of ass, and if not to make shitloads of money for it? Huh? Answer me that. What other reason could there possibly be?”
His question did, admittedly, make me think. But, I did not want to answer him, opting to look down in thought instead.
“Well, Okamura, this has been fun. But, I have more important things to do than to watch you stare at your crotch for ten minutes. So, I’ll just part with this. She is my property and I will have her back. And you will be dead. And I will personally stuff your diced body parts into that heap-o-junk you call an assistant’s metal ass, then, have him and you recycled into prison toilet bowls. That’s a promise from me to you. And keep the car. I can’t have all the advantage. The chase will be fun. Fuck you, Okamura. It was nice doing business with you.”
The holoscreen vanished and left us in darkness. I sat there lost in thought for a long moment, before I had my assistant bring up the lights.
I stood up and walked over to Sally and I led her to the bathroom to clean her off, Cran following behind us.
“I can handle this part on my own, thanks,” I told him, and he left us alone. I ran the warm bath water and placed Sally in the middle of the tub. I sat on a bath stool next to it and started to drizzle water on her shoulders. I washed her hands and arms thoroughly, as that’s where most of the blood was. I then washed her face, removing any flecks and blotches of remaining blood. I next moved to her hair and gave it a good lathering and freed it of clots. It was tough––her hair was always thick and luxurious and there was a lot of area to cover. I would always wash her hair when we bathed together, and this reminded me of those times. As I rinsed her off, I took the opportunity to strike up a one-sided conversation.
“How are you doing?” I asked her, and she looked up at me and smiled.
“You’ve been through a lot tonight, haven’t you? This whole past month, actually,” I said. She just stared at me with her big eyes.
“Some of it good, some of it bad. Well, most of it bad,” I continued, understating a whole lot, “But, you didn’t realize any of it. And I wonder if it’s a good thing that you didn’t.”
She still just stared.
“One thing is for sure, I can’t help but think it was all my fault. I had a chance to end it all early, but I didn’t for various reasons; most of it because of cowardice––some of it because of a tiny, incy wincy bit of hubris. But it definitely wasn’t fair to you.”
She still only had a smile and a blank expression to share with me.
For reasons only known to me, I started to address her like she was my actual wife, Sally.
“There’s a whole lot I want to say to you and I don’t think I have enough time to say it all right now. It is a couple of year’s worth of things, after all,” I said, as I rinsed any remaining suds from her neck.
“Remember why we started this?” I asked, looking into her eyes, knowing she wouldn’t. “We wanted kids, but we weren’t able to. You said, jokingly, ‘Hey, let’s create one artificially then. We’ll just have to make due with it. It’ll be better than getting a dog or a cat.’ Although, I could have just as easily made one of those.”
I laughed to myself. If she had been aware of what I was doing she would have thought I was crazy, rightfully so.
“But that wasn’t the real reason. We were in love, and not just with each other, but also with technology: in love with the advancement of it, the propagation of it.
“And so, we set out to make her. It was our last project together. You programmed a lot of her femininity into her, mannerisms, things like that; while I took care of cognition, emotions, of course, with input from you––it was a true collaboration. But, halfway through, we ran out of monetary resources to complete her. So she got put on the backburner.”
I continued to absentmindedly rinse her shoulders off. She was already free of soap, but I didn’t want to end the conversation just yet.
“It wasn’t because we wanted to change the world or anything. We had no practical idea driving us. It was simply the idea of keeping things moving forward. Forty years ago this wouldn’t have been possible. But now it is, and that’s the only reason we needed: because we knew we could.
“But, as you know, life happens and certain lives end, and we were never able to finish our creation before I lost you. And then this came along, an opportunity to finish what we started together. I didn’t think of what would happen, what could happen. I just wanted to do it. You know, keep the project we started together alive. It gave me a new vigor that I didn’t have for a long while after you passed. It was a hard time and this project kept my mind off of it. And now our project is finished. And finishing it brought back some of you to me, in a sense. It was the memory of you that kept me going, honestly, so, in a way, we finally finished the project together,” I said, and I began to tear up once again.
“But, I do want to say I’m sorry. I really am,” I said. The more she blankly looked at me the more emotional I felt, until a small waterfall uncontrollably streamed down my face.
“I’m so, so sorry,” was all I could say as tears fell into her bathwater. “Maybe you don’t know why I’m sorry. But some really horrible things took place, and I just stood by and watched. Can you ever forgive me?” I asked her.
Of course, she said nothing. But she suddenly reached up and wiped my face of tears, as if she was cognizant of the situation. I’d no idea why she did that, but I sat astonished at what she did. I looked into her eyes, waiting, hoping, for a verbal response, a reason for why she did that. I waited for what seemed like five minutes, but nothing came. She did nothing else but continue to stare back. Foolish as it may seem, though, I took something that was probably a fluke, a glitch, as a sign of forgiveness. And that was enough for me.
After the bath, she used her body heating function to quickly dry herself off, and I placed a complimentary bathrobe around her as I brought her out to the room. I sat her in a chair opposite mine and I stared deeply at her for several more moments. She still smiled at me, by all means, an empty programmed smile, but it held so much meaning for me. I caressed her cheek with my hand and smiled back at her. I was working up the courage to change her from Sally, the woman I loved for years, back to a blank robotic slate. I took her hands into mine and opened my mouth, but no words were produced. I shut my eyes tight and tried to get it together as best I could. I tried a second time, a third time, a fourth. But all attempts ended the same, with an empty open mouth. Finally, I gave up.
“I… I can’t do it, Cran,” I said, “I have her back and I can’t take her away again.”
Cran looked to me, then to her, then back to me and said, “No matter how uncanny the resemblance, she is not her, sir. You know this.”
“Would… would you be kind enough… kind enough to…”
“Yes, sir. I would be happy to,” he said, inferring what I wanted to say. He stood next to her and spoke my activation code in a voice that was my own.
“Doctor Harold Okamura, April twenty-third, two-thousand-eighty,” he said, and he looked to me for approval. I nodded again.
“Verbal command: Original Settings,” he said, and I watched the beautiful face of my wife Sally fade slowly back into the lifeless canvas of a simple android: her hair, long and curly, returned to a short mess of micro-thin graphene tubes; the silky chestnut-brown hue of her skin slowly drained away back into translucency. Her clear and defined features: her large and beautiful eyes; her perfectly shaped nose with just a splatter of faint freckles; her mole, all disappeared, again replaced with just a generic representation of what I thought a human female looked like.
As Sally was taken away from me for a second time, I felt the urge to cry again, but all the tears had been spilled in the bathroom. I opted to bury my face in my hands instead. I felt a comforting hand on my back.
“It’s okay, sir. It’s okay,” was all he said, with as much a compassionate tone as anyone could have, human or robot. I thanked him for the sympathy.
I again stared at the android that sat before me, still flashing an artificially sweet grin my way.
“You deserve some rest,” I said to her, as I combed the hair from her forehead before reaching behind to her nape, switching her off. Her head slumped down. She didn’t appear dead, but instead seemed to be in a deep and serene sleep.
“And so do you, sir,” Cran said to me.
“We all do,” I said. I stood up and walked around Cran and inspected his body, checking for wounds. All I found were superficial dings and scratches––not one bullet had penetrated him.
“That’s some alloy I made, huh?”
“You sound surprised, sir.”
“That’s because I am.”
“I’m not, sir,” he said. I laughed.
“Flattery will get you far. We’ll buff these out tomorrow,” I said.
“Perhaps I’ll keep them. I think it gives me… character.”
I laughed again, harder, longer.
“That it does,” I said.
I took a load off at the small table, offering the seat across from me to my humble assistant.
“Sir, what is our next course of action?” he asked me. “We cannot stay here much longer.”
I thought about his question, about a solution, but nothing came to me.
“I don’t know,” I said, plainly. “I guess we’ll just wing it.”
“I see, sir,” he said.
He then looked at me, then to Sally, and then back at me again.
Then, he asked me something that I didn’t expect from him––a very introspective question.
“Knowing what you do now, do you regret it, sir? Do you regret making her?”
I looked to Cran, his large glassy eyes staring at me, waiting for an answer. I thought about what we had been through together; the learning we did together; the conversations we’ve had because of this ordeal; the cups of coffee he’d provided me, and the life he saved that night: mine.
Then, I swiveled around and looked at the android Sally, sat in her chair, head down; oblivious to anything that had gone on in the month following her unveiling.
She was silent. She was pure. She was innocent.
Then, I quite simply and confidently answered Cran’s question.
“Not one bit.”
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