Autonomously Yours

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Chapter 7 - Dinner with Sharron

It was the night of the dinner with James’s mother. The two of them were looking quite nice. James wore a sweater that he said his mother had given him a couple of Christmas’s before.

He provided Patricia’s clothing for her as expected: a nice, cream colored dress, not too casual, but not too flashy, with the exception of one accessory––He draped her with a gray fur shawl cultured from, as he explained, the cells of the finest and softest chinchilla almost sixty years before.

On the driverless car ride over, made possible thanks to James and his company, he expressed his concerns he had for the night.

“I do hope you both like each other. Mother can be a bit… what’s the word… strict, overbearing, overly scrutinizing.”

“That’s four words by my count.”

“I’m just a bit worried, that’s all.”

“I’m sure we’ll get along. Has she liked the other women you’ve brought home?” Patricia asked him. He stayed quiet.

“James?”

“Truthfully…” he started, but didn’t finish––he was nervous. Patricia noticed his discomfort.

“It’s okay. You can tell me anything, you know that,” she said, reassuringly, as she caressed the back of his neck. He nodded in comprehension.

“Truthfully,” he started again, “I’ve never had a real girlfriend,” he finished.

“So, am I… does that imply that I am your first girlfriend?”

“Um… um…” he stuttered. He couldn’t quite find the words he wanted to use. He was like an awkward schoolboy in a large, hairy man-frame. It was endearing.

“I suppose you are. You don’t mind, do you?” he finally spat out.

“Mind? James, we have spent the better part of a week and a half together. You’ve treated me well, showed me the best this city has to offer, your favorite eateries, your favorite museums, your favorite parks. You’ve shared secrets with me, not all apparently,”––they both laughed––“but, most of them, and showed me nothing but the utmost respect. I know I haven’t been in existence for long, but, from the research that I’ve done, this is exactly what I know a healthy relationship to consist of. To tell you the truth, I just kind of assumed we were, you know, ‘together,’”

She actually used finger quotes. It was cute.

“You don’t know how happy that makes me to hear, Patricia,” he said.

“You know what? I guess you’re my first, too.”

“But, as I understand it, you had an owner before me.”

Patricia grew quiet herself.

“I don’t…. I don’t recall anything from that time,” she said.

I was relieved that she didn’t. Although, there was something about her tone of voice that made me a little skeptical of that statement.

“My apologies. I shouldn’t have used that word,” said James.

“What word?”

“Owner.”

Patricia stared straight ahead. The mood in the car grew somber, so much so that I could feel the tension from the other side of her feed.

“But, that’s what you are, aren’t you? My owner. It’s not inaccurate,” she spoke up. James grabbed her hand.

“I’ll find a way to keep you.”

“How? This is our last night together,” she said. Her voice was sad. “Tomorrow, I’ll be reprogrammed, reformatted for another purpose.”

“I’m sure Jerrald can do something. He has ways. I’ll request the same model,” he said.

“Yeah, the same model. That’s what I am. A model. Easy.”

“Let’s stop this conversation. I don’t like talking about you as if you’re a piece of machinery.”

“Even if that’s essentially what I am?”

“You’re more than that to me.”

She leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek. He turned beet red.

They spent the rest of the car ride over in silence, opting to hold each other rather than say anything else.

Obviously, that talk she had with Miriam was something more than just idle chitchat.

James and Patricia arrived at the restaurant five minutes early. They were shown to their table by a robot host; I recognized him as another, much older model I worked on. I didn’t have direct involvement, but he was developed at a company I worked at years ago––the observation of James and Patricia provided me with several walks down a very bumpy memory lane.

They sat quietly while they munched on bread and sipped on the water provided by a mechanical runner, a model I did not work on.

Patricia took her napkin and wiped James’s brow; the piece of cloth she drew back was soaked with sweat. She could have rung it out into her cup without need of a refill.

“Geez, you think you were meeting a stranger or something. I should be the one drenched,” she said.

“Sorry. I just want things to go well.”

“They will. I’ll make sure of it.”

“I envy you. I wish I could stay as calm.”

“Later on we’ll work on getting you getting some synthetic parts, make you a full cyborg. It’ll make me that much more comfortable with you,” she said.

James looked as if he were having a heart attack right there in the restaurant.

“Do I really make you uncomfortable?”

“I’m kidding. I shouldn’t have said anything to make you worse.”

“Don’t worry, my nerves could not possibly be any worse than they already are. Speaking of which, here are the cause of them now.”

They both looked back toward the entrance to see the host showing a woman to their table.

“Mother,” he squealed as he stood to greet her, “So very nice to see you.”

“And you, James.”

He gave her a hug and a kiss on her cheek. She had a tepid look on her face; she looked put out, as if she were doing a really tedious exercise, or, as if she were just told she had cancer by a doctor.

Patricia also stood to greet her.

“Hello Mrs. Castillo. So very nice to meet you. I’ve heard only the best things about you from James.”

“Well, he obviously didn’t tell you that I do not go by that name anymore,” James’s mother said. James slapped his forehead.

“Oh… I am quite sorry. I didn’t know…”

“Of course you didn’t, dear. He didn’t tell you. Anyway, no apologies needed. I remarried after his father’s death. It’s a common practice. I now go by Mrs. Weldon, not that it matters. Just call me Sharron.”

They all took their seats at the table. Sharron was short and thin; at first I could not see a resemblance in the DNA shared between mother and son. Closer observance showed me that they shared similar eyes and cheekbones, and perhaps the mouth. James’ heft and his nose, I assumed, was shared with his father. Sharron looked good for her age, no doubt with the help of modern advancements in skin modification surgery; it was phenomenal work, but she looked unnaturally young for a woman with a son James’ age.

Sharron stared at Patricia with piercing and judging eyes. It was definitely affective; I was sure she couldn’t see me, but I felt like she was judging me as well.

“Well, she certainly looks lovely,” she said about Patricia, “How much?”

“Mother, please.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t follow,” said Patricia, missing the joke. Sharron chuckled.

“Nothing,” she said. Sharron then noticed something on or around Patricia’s face. She stared deeply into her eyes, as if there were something foreign about it, something weird or off about them.

“Mother, is there something wrong?” James asked with a voice engulfed in anxiety.

“Her eyes,” she said to him.

“What–what about them?”

“They’re just… they’re so big… and beautiful,” she finally said.

“Why, thank you very much,” said Patricia, and she looked at James who was suddenly wearing a newly relaxed expression.

“Good genes, obviously. And that fragrance you’re wearing, it’s quite lovely,” she said to Patricia, successfully changing the subject.

“Thank you. I’ve noticed yours as well. I dare say we might be sharing the same taste in perfume,” Patricia said.

Only James and I knew that wasn’t a coincidence.

“I dare say we might be. Fine taste in perfume, questionable taste in men.”

Sharron turned her attention to her son with a gleeful smirk on her face. It was as if she wanted to see him respond with a sour expression. He just laughed it off.

“James, I trust you’re well.”

“I am mother, quite well actually.”

“Well, you look…”––she looked at him up and down––“…the same, if not a tad bit chipper than usual.”

“Thank you for noticing. I have a lot to be chipper about.”

“Oh?”

“Our company just won a very prestigious award, I’ve lost about five pounds since the last time we saw each other, and, as you can see, I’ve finally met a wonderful woman.”

“You lead with that, James.”

“Excuse me?” James asked, looking slightly perplexed.

“You’ve met a woman, so you lead with that information, you don’t finish with it. Especially in the presence of said woman,” Sharron said, very sternly.

“Quite right,” he turned his attention to his companion, “I meant no disrespect, of course.”

“I thought nothing of it,” said Patricia.

“You’ll have to excuse my son. I thought I brought him up better than that,” said Sharron.

“Oh, but you have. He’s been nothing but a gentleman from the first second we met.”

“And where did you two meet exactly?” she posed the question to the both of them. Patricia looked at James for an answer.

“A f-friend of a friend,” he said simply with a nervous stutter.

“The friend of a friend. Interesting. Effective. That’s how I met your father, as you know,”

“That friend she speaks of is her current husband,” James said to Patricia.

“That he is. Your tone sounds objectionable. Do you, in fact, have any objections to it?”

“Of course I don’t, mother. I’m very fond of Curtis and you know that.”

“Do I?”

James opened up his mouth to say something, but I saw the moment in his eyes when he decided against it. He just stared at her disapprovingly instead.

“Why don’t we look at the menu?” said Patricia in an attempt change the subject once again in anyway that she could. It was interesting seeing her take matters in to her own hands like that; I did not program her to do anything that specific. She was evolving to handle certain situations on her own.

She looked down at the menu. It had a lovely old-fashioned design reminiscent of the standard menus present at the turn of the twenty-first century; no touch panels or digital images here. Written under the meat section were the standard types of steaks the establishment offered, next to them pictures and names of the cows the genes used to make the steaks came from, complete with the year they were taken from them, much like a wine list––Patricia eye-balled a Kobe steak made from the genes of a cow named Akiko, circa 2063.

It was comforting to look at the menu as it offered a tiny escape from the situation at hand––so strong was the awkwardness of the mood that it seeped through the feed, so much so that even Cran seemed to notice it.

This is a very interesting exchange they’re having,” Cran said to me.

“Interesting is one way to put it.”

The mother, she is very sarcastic, is she not, sir?” he said.

“That she is,” I replied.

Are most women her age as sarcastic, sir?

“It varies from person to person and has nothing to with age or gender,” I explained.

And is this representative of most mother and son relationships?” he asked me. This was a curious question coming from him.

“Again, it varies from relationship to relationship.”

Was your relationship with your mother similar to James’ and his?

Cran was never this inquisitive; at least, he never asked me questions in such rapid succession like this. I was a little flabbergasted. I hesitated to answer, as if a stranger was trying to peer into my life, except he was no stranger.

“No. She was arguably more loving and very supportive. Sharron, on the other hand…”

Is anything but,” Cran said, finishing my sentence for me.

“Yes.”

I wonder why that is, sir. Mr. Castillo seems very accomplished.

“It is baffling.”

I thought for a second, then, offered this discomforting answer, “Relationships of any type are confusing. They’re rarely clear cut or easily explainable.”

Human relationships, you mean, sir. I imagine a relationship between two androids would be much less complicated. Not as vague.

I chuckled.

“Vague, that’s the perfect word to explain it,” I said.

Conversation started back up on the other side of the feed and brought our attention back to it.

“Mother, what will you be having?” James asked.

“Menus are tedious. Just get me what I had last time.”

“That was some time ago. I’m afraid I don’t remember.”

She frustratingly sighed. “Something chicken based,” she said, just in time as the waiter arrived; it wasn’t one of my models either.

Hello everyone. I trust your night is going well,” the waiter said.

“Yes, quite,” James said cheerfully.

Our specials for today are…” the waiter started, but Sharron cut him off.

“No need for that. We know what we want,” she said and looked to James.

“I’ll have the Filet Mignon. My mother here will have the Chicken Cordon Bleu…”––she sighed very audibly and the roll of her eyes were very visible––“And Patricia? For you?”

“Um…” Patricia was undoubtedly unsure how to answer. She was equipped to handle solids, of course, but she had no idea as to what would taste good going down.

“Whatever you choose for me will fine,” she finally said.

“Nonsense. It’s your choice,” James said, either forgetting what she was or not caring and wanting to test how far she could imitate a human. She looked at the waiter and said, “I’ll have the Kobe steak please.”

Great choice, ma’am. Akiko was a fine specimen and was treated very well. A favorite here for sure,” the waiter said before he collected their menus and left the three of them to wallow in intense discomfort once again.

“Mother, is there a problem with my selection for you?”

“It’s just that Chicken Cordon Bleu is so fattening. I would have preferred something a little lighter.”

“Well, you did leave it up to me. If you wanted something lighter you should have said something.”

“I did. I said get me what I had last time. I thought you would know what I like by now, but apparently I was mistaken.”

She unfurled her napkin and set it on her lap. Again, James bit his tongue and huffed once more.

“So, Patricia, what is it that you do?” Sharron put the question to her. James looked at Patricia with both worry and wonder in his eyes.

Patricia looked at James, then to Sharron and said, “I’m an interpreter for an export company,” she said.

I thought it was a rather strange lie to make up.

“Oh, a linguist in our midst. But, I was under the impression they had pretty sophisticated programs for all that now.”

Again, Patricia didn’t know how to answer this.

“Um… They do, but sometimes, when it comes to languages, you just can’t beat a human touch,” she said and looked to James for approval; he was smiling from ear to ear.

“Very true, Patricia, very true. What languages do you speak?”

“Well, I speak Korean, French, and Arabic quite fluently, as well as a number of African tongues. I also I dabble in Japanese and Tagalog,” she said.

“I’m impressed,” said Sharron, with a tone that sounded like she could have been anything but.

The sounds that sprang from Patricia’s mouth next were definitely not English in origin, but Latin.

“My, you speak Spanish as well, and with a Guatemalan flair,” Sharron said, “Were it not for the fact that no one in my family has spoken it for two decades I would have been truly impressed.”

“Mother,” said James, “Please, don’t trivialize what she does.”

“I’m not downplaying her talents. James, dear, I’m just happy you brought an actual real life woman to dinner,”––she moved in closer to Patricia––“Truthfully, I’m overjoyed you’re not a prostitute, or worse, a robot. How pathetic would that have been? Dreadful,” she said before she cackled.

“Yes. Dreadful,” said Patricia, as she looked to James, “Could you imagine that, James?” He was at a loss for words.

“And what do you do to fill your time, Mrs. Weldon?” Patricia asked Sharron, but before she could answer, there was a ring from somewhere. James checked his breast pocket, but it was Sharron’s phone that had rung from inside her purse.

She pressed behind her ear lobe as she stuck up one long, thin ringed finger in front of Patricia’s face.

The following conversation was slightly hushed and saccharine; she blushed a lot and giggled after every other word spoken––I could only assume it was her husband who called.

Patricia and James just stared at each other while Sharron was on the call. I could tell James was trying his hardest to apologize to Patricia with his eyes.

After the two-minute conversation, Sharron finished the call, and placed her napkin on the table.

“Well, I hate to cut this short but I really must be leaving,” Sharron said as she stood from her seat.

“Where are you going, mother?”

“I have business elsewhere.”

“Elsewhere? But I planned for this all week. What is it that could possibly be more important?”

“As a mother to a son, I really don’t think you want to know.”

James made an appropriately disgusted face.

“But,” he continued, “You can see him anytime. Everyday. We hardly see each other.”

“James, we both know that the sole purpose of this dinner was so that you could introduce me to your girl friend. Well, I have met her, and, dear, I approve. She’s lovely. Purpose fulfilled.”

She made her way towards the exit, but James stopped her.

“But, mother, we’ve already ordered food for you.”

“You can eat it for me––Find those five pounds you’ve lost,” she said as she patted James’ stomach before she turned to Patricia.

“It was nice to have met you, dear. Perhaps we can do this again sometime.”

Patricia stood and said, “Yes, perhaps.”

“Good bye, James,” Sharron said, and she left the restaurant.

He sat back down with a defeated, saddened look in his eyes. Patricia took his hand in hers and asked, “Are okay, Jimmy?”

“Yes. I am. But, I think I’m going to need some dessert when we get home.”

He laughed uncomfortably and she giggled empathetically, and they spent the rest of dinner in silence.

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