From the Malafarina Files, ‘Laney’ a short story by the master of horror Thomas M. Malafarina

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By: Thomas M. Malafarina © 2019

By far, the greatest danger of Artificial Intelligence is that people conclude too early that they understand it. – Eliezer Yudkowsky

Artificial intelligence is growing up fast, as are robots whose facial expressions can elicit empathy and make your mirror neurons quiver. – Diane Ackerman

Of all ghosts, the ghosts of our loved ones are the worst. – Arthur Conan Doyle

The room was whiter than any place Bill had ever seen in his life. Even the term antiseptic did little to describe its almost ethereal appearance of the place as a glow seemed to emit from all its walls, floor, and even the ceiling. He was sitting on a surprisingly comfortable white plastic chair in front of a glossy white table. Bill was feeling quite conspicuous in his gray suit with a brightly patterned blue tie.

There was a second unoccupied chair directly across the table from him. Bill assumed it was waiting for the same person he was waiting for. There was a bank of four white framed large-screen monitors mounted near the ceiling on the wall across from him as well. Some sort of quiet instrumental music played faintly around him. Bill was unable to identify the tune, played with a flute or perhaps a woodwind instrument, but he supposed being able to name the tune was irrelevant anyway.

His purpose for coming to Perfect Mate, Inc. had nothing to do with songs or fancy white rooms or any other such distractions. Bill knew why he was here and knew he needed to stay focused to make sure he got exactly what he wanted from this place. He couldn’t allow some fast-talking salesman to saddle him with an inferior product.  Suddenly the bank of monitors sprang to life displaying a rotating version of a silver P and M on a red heart with a white background, which was the corporate logo for Perfect Mate.

Bill braced himself, expecting to be accosted with a corporate promotional propaganda video touting the many advantages of becoming part of the Perfect Mate family. But to his surprise, the logo silently rotated on all four screens in a synchronized, almost hypnotic ballet.

With a quiet swishing sound, part of the wall underneath the monitors slid aside and a man entered the room, dressed in a bright white suit, white shirt, and bright red bow tie. Bill was astonished as he hadn’t noticed any sign of a door along that wall and once the door swisher closed, he didn’t see as much as a crack to indicate its location. Noticing the man’s deep red bow tie, Bill was happy to see a bit more color in the room.

The man appeared to be in his late forties or early fifties with a head of thick white hair styled in a way, Bill was sure had to have cost the man a fortune. Then again, considering what this place cost, Bill suspected the man could afford it. The man’s flesh was a dusky gray and he looked gaunt to the point of being unhealthy. He sat down in the chair across from Bill, not bothering to greet him or shake his hand. He flipped open a notebook-styled computer and began typing.

After a moment the man said, “Mr. William Johnston I presume.” He never took his eyes off the computer monitor.

“Um… uh… Yes, that’s me,” Bill replied, “Are you…”

“Yes. Yes. I am Francois DeLamar, the creator and owner of this incredible company.”

“Allow me to apologize, Mr. DeLamar for not recognizing you. I guess I assumed some underling might be assisting me. I never expected you to handle my case. ”

DeLamar never took his eyes off the notebook monitor and flapping his hand in a dismissive gesture said, “Of course you didn’t. I suppose you thought some part-time college student or perhaps a brainless associate would be sitting on this side of the desk; some easy pushover, someone who would gloss over your application. Perhaps you hoped someone would be here who wouldn’t take the time to thoroughly scrutinize you and find out exactly why you’re here.”

Then for the first time, DeLamar locked eyes with him. Bill could feel the color leave his own face, “And tell me, Mr. William F. Johnston, why exactly are you here?”

“Why am I here? Why else would I be here? I’m here to purchase one of your Perfect Mate synthbots. Isn’t that obvious? Isn’t that why I’ve been sending you information and paying you for the past month?”

DeLamar continued to bore a hole in Bill with those piercing eyes. He said, “Yes, I get that Mr. Johnston. But all things considered, I have to question your preferences in regard to the design you have chosen for your bot.”

“I’m not sure I know what you mean.” Bill Johnston replied, unsure of where the conversation was heading and feeling like he might not like it if he did.

DeLamar finally broke eye contact with Bill and returned his focus to the file on the table before him. He pressed a button on his notebook and all four monitors now displayed the face of a beautiful blonde woman. Bill let out an involuntary gasp of shock when he saw his wife’s face and head slowly rotating on the screens. The resemblance was uncanny. It was like Laney was right there in front of him. Yet he knew such a thing was impossible because his beautiful wife was dead.

 

“Quite a likeness, wouldn’t you say.” DeLamar offered.

Bill was unable to utter a single coherent word for several seconds. Although Laney had been almost ten long years in her grave, it was like she had come back to him and hadn’t aged a day. The best he could do was to mutter a few bits of gibberish, which vaguely resembled snippets of English.

Eventually, he found his tongue, “It’s… it’s absolutely incredible! I have no idea how you were able to accomplish it, but that face is an exact replica of my Laney, right down to that small brown mole on her left cheek. All I can say is amazing!”

“Perhaps so,” DeLamar said, “but we’re still in the early stages of your project. We’ll be studying your home videos to develop her facial expressions as well as the tonality of her voice. We want your girl to look, sound and act just like your wife.”

Bill thought for a moment then said, “I’m all in favor of you making her look and sound just like my Laney, but we need to spend some additional time discussing what to do about her future personality.”

“I suppose I’m not surprised to hear you say that Mr. Johnston, all things considered.” Once again, DeLamar seemed to eyeball Bill with a lot more intensity than he should have been. And unless he was just being paranoid, Bill was certain there was suspicion in that look.

Bill stared back at him for a moment, before being the first to break eye contact. He said, “I don’t know what you’re getting at by that statement Mr. DeLamar. But I don’t think I like your accusatory tone. I don’t like it one bit at all.”

“I’m going to be completely honest with you here Bill. May I call you Bill?” DeLamar said. Then without giving Bill a chance to reply, DeLamar said, “It’s like this Bill. This company is not some fly-by-night outfit selling synthetic love dolls. There are plenty of those around and they provide a service for a fraction of our cost. We’re serious creators of artificial lifeforms and not simply artificial but as close to the perfect replication of humanity as is possible with the technology available at this time. Do you understand what I’m saying, Bill?”

“Of course, I understand. That’s why I’m here and that’s why I’m paying you so much money.”

DeLamar ignored Bill and continued, “As a serious, professional company we have a reputation to uphold and are obliged to do our own due diligence when considering our clients. We have to be cognizant not only of past and present clients but must look to our future clients as well. Again, our reputation is paramount in accomplishing this goal. As such, during our investigation of you, we have discovered some, shall we say, unpleasantness in your past regarding you and your late wife.”

Bill did his best to avoid DeLamar’s gaze and said, “Oh that? Well, that was a bit of an unfortunate confusion, a definite misunderstanding.”

“I would say misunderstanding is a bit of an understatement. Being charged with first-degree murder in the brutal beating and dismemberment of your spouse is a bit more than a misunderstanding, wouldn’t you agree?”

“But if you truly did your research you would know I was found innocent,” Bill replied.

“Not exactly, Bill. You weren’t found innocent at all; you were found not guilty. That’s not the same as being found innocent. Not guilty means the jury didn’t believe enough evidence was put forward by the district attorney to find you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. And since no one else has ever been convicted of the crime, you’ve never been completely been exonerated of the deed.”

Bill was beginning to lose his temper, “Look DeLamar. I’m telling you right now, I did not kill my wife. Sure, we fought from time to time as all married couples do. Hell, we even separated for a bit. But eventually, we got back together and worked out our differences. Our marriage may have been a little rocky at times but understand this; I truly loved my wife. I thought she was the most beautiful woman on the planet. Unfortunately, her personality sometimes had a lot to be desired, but I willingly accepted that as being part of the whole package.”

“Yet, now you’re paying us quite handsomely to replicate your wife as she appeared a decade ago, but you are suggesting a new personality. Is that not correct?”

“Yes. As a matter of fact, that’s absolutely correct,” Bill decided he had better regain control of this situation and fast. “Your company is called Perfect Mate. Your claim to fame is creating that perfection in synthetic partners to the complete satisfaction of your clients. I am your client. Pleasing your client should be your foremost concern. I’m paying for perfection and will settle for nothing less. I’ve spent the last decade working my butt off to better myself and have fortunately become quite wealthy in the process. I’ve already paid you a significant amount of money for this endeavor and can easily continue to do so. However, if you feel in any way uncomfortable continuing this project, just say the word and I’ll happily take my money to one of your competitors. And you know the law, DeLamar. You would be required to hand over all the technical data for which I have already paid. I seriously doubt you want to put that type of sensitive information into the hands of your competition. As you can see, I too have done my own due diligence.”

Now it was DeLamar’s turn to break eye contact. Bill could see beads of sweat forming on the man’s forehead and upper lip. He had dealt with men like this, many times while building his vast financial empire. They were insignificant, tiny insectile men who existed in their own minuscule universes where they saw themselves as lord and master. They took pleasure in appearing to be superior and bullying those they consider intellectually inferior to them. Yes, Bill had seen many of these worms he called wannabe kings of their insignificant kingdoms, and he had trampled them all into the mud as he was now doing with this highbrow snob.

“So DeLamar, what’s it going to be? Are you going to continue to work for me and develop my perfect mate or am I going to have to make things ugly?”

“Um… well Bill…”

“It’s Mr. Johnston to you DeLamar.”

“Um… Yes of course Mr. Johnston. I didn’t mean to offend… I just… I mean… Yes, Perfect Mate would love to continue with your project.”

“Fine then, let’s start discussing the personality I want you to put into Laney.”

Three months later, Bill’s dream girl was delivered to his home. She arrived in a large cylindrical steel sarcophagus in which he instructed the workers to stand up in a corner of his bedroom, next to his bed. There was a glass window at the top of the door, and he could see his beautiful synthetic wife inside with her eyes closed. He had studied the instructional video he had received from Perfect Mate and was certain he could get the unit up and running with little difficulty. Regardless, he wasn’t yet ready to open the door.

It was strange. He had spent the past decade building a vast fortune and had invested a ton of money in the design and construction of Laney 2.0 as he thought of her, yet here he was so hesitant to open the box and activate this woman of his dreams. He knew his hesitation had little if anything to do with the fact that she was a synthetic being. His reluctance came from a place deep down inside him; deeper than flesh, deeper than bone, deeper even than blood and internal organs. His uncertainty came from deep down in his very soul.

Some might call it fear while others would see it for what it really was and that was gut-wrenching guilt. DeLamar had been right on target with his assessment. Bill hadn’t been found innocent of his wife’s murder, just not guilty. The district attorney did his best to convict Bill but simply didn’t have sufficient evidence to do so. Considering the fact that he was actually guilty of the heinous crime, Bill figured that made him one of the luckiest men alive.

It was a particularly confusing situation Bill had found himself in back then, more than a decade earlier. He had always thought his wife was the most beautiful woman he had ever met. He was most definitely in love with her physical appearance, but that personality of hers. He had tolerated her antics for as long as he could but when he discovered she was sleeping with half the men in town, it was more than he could stand. Laney could drive the sanest of men to madness, which is exactly what she had actually done to him. Unfortunately, he had only come to that realization as he was hacking her to bits while laughing maniacally and shouting “I love you to pieces”.

Laney had been arrogant, bossy, demanding, ungrateful, belittling, rude, opinionated, condescending, criticizing, and just about every other negative personality trait you could imagine. Bill always felt she never really loved him and simply saw him as a good financial provider. But he understood she was far out of his league and he was amazed that he had been able to have such a beautiful wife, in spite of her negative traits.

She had one particular nickname for him which irritated him to no end. When she was degrading him for one infraction or another, she would call him “Billy Boy”. It seemed to leak from her pursed lips like the hiss of a snake and drove him crazy, literally. Bill had put up with her constant cajoling for eleven years until one day he snapped and turned his once precious Laney into a human jigsaw puzzle.

Now was his chance to start over again. He had his Laney back, or at least a replica of her as accurate as was technologically possible. He had demanded her personality not contain any of Laney’s previous traits. This version had to be kind, caring, loving, thoughtful, eager to please, and in every way the complete antithesis of his dead wife. He had even referred to an old twentieth-century movie called “The Stepford Wives” as a model for his new version of Laney. DeLamar had chuckled at that suggestion saying it was what almost all of his male clients requested. That perfect woman was what awaited him inside the metal cylinder.

Bill plugged the unit into a nearby wall outlet and electric devices inside the box began to hum pleasantly. He pressed a button that opened the top of the unit and he looked on in amazement at the incredibly perfect naked form resting on a bed of silk inside. Her beauty was beyond compare. It was Laney, his Laney only perfect, just the way he always dreamed she should be. He noticed a wedding ring and diamond on her left hand. It was an artificial diamond, put there to make others they might encounter believe she really was his wife.

According to the instructional video provided by Perfect Mate, this container would become the charging station for the synthbot. She had to spend a minimum of five hours a day in the chamber for a charge which would last for the remaining nineteen. A light at the foot of the box changed from red to green and Laney opened her eyes.

 

She smiled at Bill with that same incredible smile he had fallen for so many years ago. Then again, the smile was not exactly the same. It couldn’t possibly be identical since, besides the fact that this Laney was essentially a robot, its created personality was nothing like Laney’s. In order to have Laney’s unique sparkle and mischievous grin, the creature would have to have that combination of looks, intellect, and attitude of superiority that Laney had possessed. This replicant, no matter how exact, was an improved version of Laney. Still, part of Bill understood at times he did miss that devilish smile of hers.

Laney turned her head from side to side taking in her surroundings before returning her gaze to Bill. “You are my husband, Bill Johnston. Is that not correct? I am Laney Johnston and I love you with all my heart. I am here to satisfy your every need.”

The synthbot stepped down from the charging station, gently grabbed Bill’s hand, and led him to their bed. Amazed, astonished, and more than a little anxious, Bill followed.

The next morning Bill awoke to find Laney resting in her charging cylinder. He still couldn’t believe how much she looked like his Laney. If his memory from a decade earlier was accurate, she also had felt like Laney in every way. But unlike her predecessor, this Laney would be perfect. He got out of bed and went into the bathroom to get a shower.

Later, when he left the bathroom, he saw Laney’s charging station was empty, and he could smell the scent of sausage and eggs being cooked, wafting up from downstairs. When he walked into the kitchen, he found Laney, still naked save for a cooking apron, standing at the stove cooking breakfast.

She turned and said, “Good morning darling. I’m cooking your favorite breakfast. I hope you enjoy it.”

“I’m sure I will Laney,” Bill replied suddenly realizing the full extent of this incredible purchase he had made. Not only was this creature a vision of loveliness, but she existed for him, to please him in every way possible. If he chose, he could have her walking around his house naked all the time. He had few friends and never had visitors. After his trial, Bill had moved across the country from California to Pennsylvania and began a new life where no one knew of his past.

He had made a small fortune in business but didn’t flaunt his wealth, living in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in a nondescript suburban home. He didn’t attend many social functions and despite his financial success was able to remain below the radar. But he did have neighbors and his fantasy of Laney parading around all day in her birthday suit might not be as easy as he thought.

This, however, wouldn’t be a problem. He had bought Laney a complete wardrobe of clothing that he believed would look amazing on her. Hell, the way she looked she could wear a burlap potato sack and be gorgeous. As he sat enjoying his breakfast, Laney sat across from him smiling lovingly at him, her left breast popping out from behind the apron.

“I feel like I died and went to Heaven.” Bill thought.

“How is your breakfast?” Laney asked.

Bill hesitated for a moment, then said, “It… it’s delicious.” He had just noticed something. Laney had asked, “How is your breakfast” not “How’s your breakfast”. When people spoke is casual conversation, they used conjunctions,  not formal language. His former Laney wouldn’t have said “How is”. He realized it was a small thing, but he’d have to keep his eye out for such things and report them to Perfect Mate for future adjustment. He needed his new Laney to sound as human as possible if she was to be his “wife” in public.

Laney asked, “Is something wrong, Honey?” You looked a bit confused for a moment.”

“Everything’s fine, Sweetie. I’m just so amazed and happy you’re here.”

Laney chuckled, “Where else would I be? I’m your wife. I’m here for you. I’ll always be here for you and you alone.”

Bill thought, “She said ‘I’m’ and ‘I’ll’. They got those conjunctions right. Maybe I’m being too picky and paying too much attention to details, which in reality are unimportant. After all, she was unbelievable last night; much more giving than the old Laney ever was.” He saw she was still watching him eat.

“You don’t eat, Do you, Laney?”

“I don’t need to either eat or drink, however, I can do both. If, for example, you wanted to go out to a restaurant. I would just store the food inside me until we got home then evacuate it and clean out my storage compartment. It is a similar process to what I did last evening after sex but a different compartment.”

Bill thought, “Woah! Too much information.”

Laney continued in an analytical tone, “I do occasionally need to shower to keep my skin moist and fresh. Although simulated human flesh, complete with hair follicles, I do not sweat, nor do I produce body odor. So, the need to cleanse my flesh is largely dependent upon the amount of contact and interaction I have with my environment.”

“Um… well… that’s all very interesting information, Laney, not necessarily, the best breakfast conversation; but still very informative.”

Laney frowned, “I’m so sorry, my husband. I didn’t mean to offend you in any way. I have been programmed with the ability to adapt and learn so rest assured; I won’t make that mistake again. Would having sex with me again, make you happy?”

Bill actually considered it for a moment then said, “No, not at the moment. We have a lot to talk about. I have much to teach you.”

Part of Bills training on how to get the most out of his synthbot was dedicated to how to teach his perfect mate what she needed to know to appear so human-like that others wouldn’t be able to tell that she wasn’t human. For this reason, Bill had taken a month’s vacation so he could spend that time working with Laney and getting her properly oriented.

Bill realized he had a lot to teach her, starting with her no longer acknowledging that she was synthetic. He had to get her to put all those ideas aside and focus on her humanity. She had to think and act like a human if she was to never truly become the perfect wife he had paid for. That had all been explained by DeLamar and now was the time for the lessons to begin.

He supposed the best place to start was to get her dressed, but maybe not just yet.

Bill said, “Ok I changed my mind. Sex it is.”

After several weeks of training, interrupted by many sexually athletic romps in the hay, Bill had succeeded in getting Laney to the point where he believed no one would ever suspect she was anything but human. He had even managed to activate her sense of humor module as well as a few of her other emotional simulation programs. He tested these with sad movies, pictures of puppies and kittens as well as videos of human babies.

He felt as though he sensed sadness from Laney when watching the baby videos because she understood she would never be able to bear children. He knew she wasn’t really sad and her perceived emotions were nothing more than advanced algorithms simulating human feelings. But sometimes it all seemed so real. Bill found it so astonishing, for a moment he considered the possibility of someday adopting a child so Laney could experience motherhood. He was stunned to realize how easy it was to transfer these real human treaties onto Laney. He was in essence, personifying Laney, thinking of her as a real human being. In fact, if he were being completely honest with himself, Bill was sure he was falling in love with her.

At first, the idea seemed ridiculous, but he had to wonder if it was really so strange? After all, he had designed Laney’s appearance to be identical to the only woman he ever truly loved. Perfect Mate had made her sound and feel exactly like Laney and although her personality was always positive, it did remind Bill of his late wife on her good days, few as they might have been.

Just then, Laney came bopping into the kitchen looking amazing. She had her long blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail and wore pink shorts with an oversized tee-shirt and as far as Bill was concerned, she was absolutely the most beautiful woman in the world.

She said with a happy smile, “Good morning sweetie pie. And how’s the love of my life this morning?”

Bill was still astonished at how fast she learned such subtle things as voice inflections, tonal quality, slang, facial expressions; all those things that make us human. Her programming was such that her main purpose was to make Bill feel like he was the only man in the world, and she adored him. She would constantly use words like husband, lover, darling, and many other such terms of endearment. That’s what kept Perfect Mate in business: absolute customer satisfaction.

“I’m just fine Laney. You sure look chipper this morning. What has gotten you so happy this morning?”

“Oh, I suppose nothing in particular. I’m just so incredibly happy to be your wife, darling. I have no idea how I ever could have been so lucky as to meet you. Can I make you breakfast, Bill my husband?”

Bill noted that she mentioned meeting him with complete disregard to her having been created for him. To any casual onlooker, it would appear they had met, then dated, and eventually married as all human couples did. He decided it was time to try her new skills out on the general public.

“I don’t believe we’ll eat here today Laney. I was thinking maybe we’d venture out and get breakfast in town at a restaurant. What do you think about that idea baby?”

“Oh, Bill. Are you serious? We’re going out… with other people… like us? Oh, Bill, you make me so happy. You’re the best husband in the world. I promise I won’t let you down, Honey. I’ll be the perfect wife; I swear I will. No one will know, I’m not… I mean… you know.”

Bill walked over and held Laney’s hands looking deep into her beautiful blue eyes. He said, “Remember Darling, there is no need to mention that other thing ever again, Laney. You truly are the perfect wife, my perfect wife in every sense of the word. You are as real to me, as human to me as anyone could ever be. Let’s never speak of anything else again. You’re my wife, Laney and I want you to hear something before another minute passes. I love you Laney more than I have ever loved anyone in my life.”

Laney stood smiling strangely at Bill for a moment caught completely off guard. Then she asked, “Is this a test Bill? Are you verifying how my emotional simulation program is processing? Because if you are that would make me very sad because you know how I feel about you. I tell you every day.”

“No Laney, I’m being quite serious. I understand a lot of what you express is the direct result of your programming and emotional modules. But I think you have grown over the past month, to the point where I believe you have evolved beyond your programming. I wanted you to know that I’ve come to the realization that I’m deeply in love with you.”

“But Bill, I’m not your Laney. I know you asked me not to mention this but remember I’m a synthetic replication of your wife. I truly do love you, but that may be because that’s what I’m made to do. But how can you possibly be in love with me? I’m having trouble processing that.”

“I’ll be honest with you Laney. I don’t completely understand it either. It may appear to be completely illogical; I realize that. Then again, one thing life has taught me is there’s nothing logical about love anyway. All I know is, I truly do love you with all my heart and I believe you really love me as well. Not just the result of programming but true, honest, human love. Maybe it’s too early in your emotional development for you to understand your feelings, but I honestly believe in a time when your programming progresses and your emotion modules are functioning at optimal efficiency, you will have learned to love me too.”

“Oh, Bill darling, I certainly hope so, Laney replied with a bit of uncertainty in her voice.

 

Bill lay in his bed staring up at the ceiling, while Laney rested in her charging cylinder. He couldn’t sleep; he had too much on his mind. He was thinking about how incredible the entire Laney project had been from the moment he had decided to have his Laney built until that night. The trip he had taken with Laney that first time they had gone out for breakfast had been so successful, Bill had taken Laney on several additional excursions around the area during the following weeks. In every single case, it was obvious that no one suspected Laney of being anything other than Bill’s wife, his human wife.

And every day Laney was becoming increasingly comfortable in her role as Mrs. Bill Johnston. Bill noticed she was more outgoing and friendly toward strangers whenever he exposed her to new social situations. This was especially good to see since initially she had been quiet and reserved among people. Everyone who met her seemed to like her instantly. Bill couldn’t believe how well his wife was adapting. Yes, he now thought of her as his wife in just about every sense of the word. If Laney didn’t have to return to her charging pod every night, he would probably forget she wasn’t human himself. Hopefully, in a few years, Perfect Mate would find a way to make the charging station more compact so Laney could spend the whole night in bed with him.

It was at that moment Bill made up his mind about the thing which had been keeping him awake. He got out of bed and walked across the room to his dresser. In the top drawer under several handkerchiefs, he found what he was looking for. It was a small black ring box which held a ring, a very special ring. It was the wedding ring he had bought for the original Laney. It was the same ring he had placed on her finger during their marriage ceremony and years later had later removed from her severed finger after he had chopped her to bits.

He took the ring over to his Laney’s charging capsule and gently slid the fake diamond Perfect Mate had provided off her finger. As he began to slide on the real ring, Laney opened her eyes, looked down at her hand and asked, “Is that what I think it is Bill?”

“Yes Laney, it’s a real wedding ring. As far as I’m concerned, you are my wife in every way. In fact, you are a perfect wife. As my wife, you deserve to have a real wedding ring, not just some simulation.”

“But Bill, I too am only a simulation. I’m not your Laney. I just look like her.”

“Please don’t ever sell yourself short again, Laney. You are a thousand times better than the other Laney was or could ever hope to be. You’re everything I ever imagined a wife could be and more. Now close your eyes and get your rest. In the morning we’ll continue our wonderful lives together. Laney, you are my wife and you always will be. Goodnight sweetheart. Now I have to go to sleep as well. 

Moments later, Bill was sound asleep, the pressures of decision making having melted away the moment he put the ring on Laney’s finger. He may not have been in a church in front of several hundred witnesses, but as far as he was concerned, he had just completed his own marriage ceremony. Laney was no longer his project, no longer his purchase. Laney was now truly his wife.

Laney rested in her charging chamber, her eyes closed as electricity made its way into her batteries, filling her with fresh power. She was no longer aware of Bill in the bed next to her, nor was she aware of anything else for that matter. When she recharged, she thought of nothing, unlike her human counterparts who dreamed as they slept. That is to say, she never dreamt before that night.

The diamond in the ring on Laney’s left hand began to glow. Shortly after that, long luminescent tendrils snaked their way along with Laney’s neural network toward the central processing unit inside her skull. Simultaneously, more tendrils found their way into her synthetic lubrication system, one not unlike our own bloodstream, but one which utilized synththetaplasma.

All the while, Bill slept. All the while, Laney recharged, neither of them aware of what was happening nor what the next day would bring. But as she slept, Laney’s eyes fluttered beneath closed lids, experiencing REM sleep and dreams for the first time.

 

The next morning, Bill came down to breakfast expecting to smell eggs and sausage cooking on the stove, but instead he saw Laney sitting at the kitchen table with her left hand extended outward, admiring her wedding ring. She didn’t seem to notice Bill when he walked into the room.

“So how do you like the ring, Laney?”

She hesitated for a moment then releasing a sigh said, “It’s beautiful, Honey. I love it.”

Bill said, “At first I was a bit concerned about giving it to you. I wasn’t sure how you’d feel about it. I know sometimes it makes you uncomfortable when I tell you I love you.”

“Yes, it did in the beginning but now I like it. In fact, I love that you love me. It makes everything seem perfect.”

Laney looked up at Bill and for the first time, he was taken aback. For a brief passing moment, she had that expression; the same mischievous look in her eyes Laney his dead wife always had. But that wasn’t possible. This Laney wasn’t programmed to come up with such an expression. She didn’t have the personality to pull off that look. Where had it come from?

“Are you ok Bill? You look like you saw something that frightened you.”

“A ghost.” He replied.

“What Bill?”

“The human expression is ‘You look like you saw a ghost.’ That’s what most people say.”

“Yes,” Laney agreed. “That’s how you just looked. But since there are no such beings as ghosts, something else must be bothering you.”

Bill shook it off and replied, “No Laney, I’m fine. I’m just having some trouble waking up this morning. I think I need a good breakfast.”

“I was hoping we could go out for breakfast this morning, Bill. We haven’t gone out in a while. What do you think? Can we Bill, please can we?”

“Well, I suppose we could. I don’t see any reason why not.”

“That great, Bill. Can we go to Mac’s for breakfast? The people there are so friendly, especially Mac. He’s such a sweetheart and always fusses over me.”

“That he does.” Bill agreed. Then he noticed something else out of the ordinary. Laney had never instigated a conversation about other men. Bill had always commented when a man paid extra attention to Laney. She would always brush the idea aside and insist Bill was exaggerating. Noticing other men was not in Laney’s programming. That was something… that was the sort of thing his dead wife would have done. But now for the first time ever, his new Laney had brought up Mac’s overt attention to her. Was it possible her programming changing as she became more in tune with humanity? Or were these expressions nothing more than her microprocessors trying to mimic observed human female behavior? Was something going wrong with her? Perhaps it was nothing more than his being jealous of other men paying attention to his wife. Yet she had been the one to bring up the flirtation.

He had several momentary flashbacks to when his wife Real-Laney would go out of her way to flirt with other men. He assumed it was to make him jealous, but eventually, he found out otherwise when he learned how she had cheated on him numerous times. Could these negative traits somehow be finding their way into Synth-Laney’s programming? How was such a thing even possible? Had that character DeLamar done something to her programming to screw with him? He knew the man didn’t like him; DeLamar had made that perfectly obvious. Could DeLamar have created some subroutines, which given the right stimuli and circumstances would bring these personality traits to the forefront? Bill had been insistent that this new Laney have nothing in common with his late wife’s personality. Perhaps DeLamar had sneaked a few of these less than desirable idiosyncrasies into her central processing unit and maybe Bill’s giving Laney the ring and professing his love may have triggered these algorithms. He decided it might be better if they stayed in for the day, giving him a chance to watch for any other strange idiosyncrasies

“Sorry, Laney. I’ve changed my mind. We can’t go out for breakfast today. I have too much going on. I’ll need you to make breakfast here at home.”

“But… I was hoping…”

“Breakfast, Laney. I want you to make me breakfast… right now.”

“But I don’t want to make you breakfast. Come on Billy Boy, don’t be such a stick in the mud.”

Bill suddenly realized something was very wrong. The last time he had been called Billy Boy was by his wife, just moments before he had gone completely postal and chopped her to pieces. She knew how that name had always worked on his last nerve. But how in the hell had this robot Laney learned of such a thing?

“Laney? Where did you hear that name?”

“What name, Bill?” She replied.

“The name you just called me. Where did you hear that name?”

“Sorry Bill. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Laney… Directive 6789.”

Upon hearing that code word Laney immediately stopped in her tracks. Bill had never used the directive before. It had been given to him at the time he made the final payment for Laney. He was told to simply issue the verbal code and she would become unresponsive. It was a failsafe code for the owner’s protection. No matter how human-like these synthetic units appeared, they were still machines. Synthetic bio-machines perhaps, but still nonetheless machines.

Bill hated to do it, but the hairs rising on the back of his neck told him he had no other choice since it was obvious that something was malfunctioning with Laney. Besides her blatant disobedience and the annoying whining reminiscent of his deceased wife, just a moment earlier he had seen yet another disturbing facial expression change. She had acquired a sullen, pouting look which was exactly like something his former Laney would have done.

He needed to get Laney back to Perfect Mate for reprogramming and reconditioning. He immediately called their 24-hour customer satisfaction line. After all, he was a customer and was not very satisfied at all.

“If you don’t mind my saying so, Mr. Johnston, I think perhaps you might be exaggerating a bit. I assure you, the symptoms you’ve described are not possible with the programming used in your model.”

Bill was sitting in the same glowing white room where he had originally met with Francois DeLamar. Only this time all the formalities and pretenses were out of the way. Bill was loaded for bear and wanted answers.

“Look DeLamar, I neither exaggerated nor imagined any of this. I’m telling you; this unit has been showing behaviors and expressions identical to those of my late wife. In fact, she was using expressions and terminology only my late wife would know about. How is that even possible?”

“But Mr. Johnston, I assure you…”

“Assure my butt, DeLamar. I’m telling you something is definitely wrong with this unit and I need a full barrage of diagnostic testing run on her immediately.”

Suddenly the four video screens above DeLamar’s head came to life and Bill could see various views of his Laney lying on an operating table with a series of wires attached to her head, while a bank of computers displayed a variety of graphs and charts depicting God-only-knew-what.

“A complete workup is being performed as we speak, Mr. Johnston,” He lifted his hand to indicate the monitors, “But I’m certain the results will come back clean. We made sure of that before we released this unit to you. I have no doubt this unit will be flawless.”

“If that’s true, then what the hell is going on DeLamar?”

“Perhaps I can offer an alternative reason for your discomfort.”

“What are you saying? What sort of alternate reason?”

“What you’re experiencing is quite common in situations such as yours.”

“And what may I ask sort of situation is that?”

“In your case as in others somewhat similar, you said you were still in love with your wife when she died, although her personality had caused you a degree of consternation.”

“Yes, that’s correct, but so what?”

“It’s very common in cases where the unit has been constructed to identically resemble a deceased loved one, that the recipient of the unit can tend to project certain characteristics of the deceased onto the synthbot. It is not a bad thing and is often something we encourage. In a situation where the deceased is severely missed, it helps the living to get the maximum benefit out of their bots. We’ve had situations where users have actually fallen in love with their units.”

Bill chose not to respond to that but to let DeLamar continue.

“In your case, it’s a little different as you prefer not to experience those traits you found less than desirable in your late wife. Unfortunately, when we are tied so intimately and emotionally to a departed loved one, we often unconsciously project those familiar features, good or bad, onto their synthetic replacements.”

“Are you trying to tell me I’m imagining all of this?”

“I’m trying to explain that what you’re experiencing is not uncommon and is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s largely because your synthbot resembles your Laney so much.”

“Let’s assume for a moment you’re correct, which by the way I don’t believe for one minute. What solution would you recommend in order to make this transference stop?”

DeLamar hesitated for a moment, and then said, “In the past, what we have found successful was to change the appearance of the unit so that the customer’s subconscious no longer projects onto the synthbot.”

“So, you’re saying if I allow you to change Laney’s appearance then I’ll stop ‘imagining’ the things I’ve mentioned?”

“It has worked in the past,” DeLamar suggested.

Bill could not imagine such a thing. He said, “Look DeLamar. Your company promises complete satisfaction, guaranteed. If I didn’t care what my Laney looked like, I would have gone to a less expensive place and gotten some generic love-bot for a fraction of your price. I wanted Laney. You gave me Laney. Now you must figure out what’s wrong with this unit so I can go back home and resume my life. Get it? Find out what’s wrong and fix it.”

“But Mr. Johnston…”

“No buts, DeLamar. Fix it or I’ll make sure you never sell another single unit again. I’ve made many friends in high places over the years including the chairman of the Synthetic Beings Oversight Committee. Don’t force me to start making phone calls. You won’t be happy if I do.”

Bill swore he could hear DeLamar’s rectum slamming shut with fear. With audible trembling in his voice, the man said, “V… very well Mr. Johnston. I’ll personally oversee the diagnostic testing and will prove you with a complete report. Please just make yourself comfortable and I’ll be back shortly with an update. Can I have my assistant bring you anything? A soft drink? Coffee? Tea? Anything?”

“I’ll be fine as soon as you find out what’s wrong with my wife and make it right.”

As he turned and left the room, DeLamar realized his assumption was correct. This Johnston fellow had fallen madly in love with his synthbot and was projecting his dead wife’s personality onto it. He had noticed Laney’s fake diamond had been replaced with a real one, likely his dead wife’s ring. There was no doubt this Johnston guy had it bad for his walking Lego set. As bizarre as that might seem on the surface, it was even more disturbing because it was very possible Johnston had murdered and dismembered his human wife. DeLamar didn’t want to begin to guess at what twisted psychology might be tied to that.

An hour later DeLamar returned to the room with a diagnostic printout, one which was a complete fabrication, the sole purpose of which was to appease Johnston. The actual testing revealed exactly what DeLamar suspected, there was nothing wrong with the unit. Not a single malfunction of any sort was discovered. DeLamar sat across the glossy white table from Bill Johnston and slid across the fictitious report.

“It appears you were right after all Mr. Johnston,” DeLamar said, “As you can see by the report, Laney’s precognitive dominant rotophysics and endocriptics module had a very slight deviation in its sine wave which was the direct result of a misalignment of the phychotechnic modulator.”

“Um… ok. What the hell does that mean?” Johnston asked.

DeLamar gave him a positive smile, allowing all of his pearly whites to glisten in the overhead lighting, and replied, “It means we had to realign her receptive diodes. Bottom line, she’s as good as new.”

“But what happened to cause it?” Bill asked.

DeLamar was waiting for this question and already had an answer at the ready; one which he knew would throw Bill Johnston off his game. “Well, it appears something must have jostled one of her intuitive circuits loose. This rarely happens, except… well, except in cases of repeated and extremely acrobatic sexual encounters. Often when a unit is new, the user will get a bit carried away with sexual enthusiasm and certain problems might occur. Is this a possibility, Mr. Johnston?”

Bill smiled slyly and said, “Guilty as charged.” Then he began to snicker.

“Not a problem, Mr. Johnston. Now that we know, we’ve taken steps to assure this won’t happen again. We’ve added protective film in vital areas of her circuitry that will be more receptive to repetitive shock impacts.” Then he smiled and winked at Bill. This was all part of his scam.

“So, you’re saying Laney will be back to normal?”

“Absolutely. In fact, she already is.” DeLamar assured as the unseen wall slid open revealing his wife standing there smiling.

“Oh Bill, I missed you so much. I’m sorry if I did anything to upset you. I promise I’ll be a good wife from now on.”

“Not to worry Laney, Bill said, “Let’s head home now. Everything’s going to be all right now. Mr. DeLamar has assured me you’re in tip-top shape. Let’s go home and celebrate.”

 

 

All the way home from Perfect Mate, Laney seemed to be her normal self. There were no strange expressions or statements that Bill would consider out of the ordinary. Bill decided to try an experiment.

“Say, Laney. Do you think you might want to stop at Mac’s for lunch? You know how Mac loves to fuss over you.”

“If you would like to stop, that’s fine with me. Mac seems like a nice person, but I never really noticed him fussing over me. Even if he had I wouldn’t pay attention. I have you Bill and you are more man than any woman could be lucky enough to have. No one’s attention means more to me than yours, Darling.”

“Thank you, Laney. That means so much to me.” Bill said. He was relieved to have his Laney back. Whatever DeLamar had done to repair her whose-a-what’s-it, had done the job perfectly.

He said, “No. I think I’ve changed my mind. I think we should head home, and you can make me one of your delicious lunches instead.”

“That sounds just perfect to me, Honey. You know how I love to please you in every way possible.”

When they arrived home, Bill sat at the kitchen table while Laney went to work preparing his lunch. He picked up the morning newspaper from the table and tried to read the front-page story but found himself distracted. Laney had bent over to put lunch into the oven and to his surprise, she was not wearing any underwear. This got his attention, especially when he saw Laney looking back at him, watching him watch her with a sly grin on her face.

“Like what you see, Darling?” Laney said sensually.

“You’d better believe it,” Bill said standing up from his chair, unbuckling his belt, prepared to take Laney right there in the kitchen.

As he got close, Laney turned quickly, and he felt a sharp pain in his abdomen. He looked down and saw the handle of a knife held tightly in Laney’s hand, protruding out from his stomach. He was sure he was in agony, but he was so shocked he could barely focus on the pain.

“Well now, Billy Boy,” Laney said in a voice that was an exact imitation of his dead wife’s voice. “How do you like that? Not quite the type of poke you had in mind was it? Yes, well it wasn’t what I expected ten years ago when you cut me to pieces either.”

“Laney? Is that really you? How can that be? You’re dead.”

“I most certainly am dead Billy Boy. At least my body is dead, you made sure of that, didn’t you? But part of me remained as is often the case in sudden and violent deaths. My essence survived in my wedding ring, the one you gave me out of love and later stripped from my severed finger. Don’t look so surprised Billy Boy. I was around to watch the whole process. Death didn’t stop me from witnessing your desecration of my corpse, nor did it stop me from coming back.”

Bill felt himself starting to feel faint. “But how, Laney? How can you be here now?”

“Well, Billy Boy. You put my ring on the finger of this aberration you call a ‘wife’ and did so with love. More love than you ever showed me. Once the ring was in place it gave me the opportunity to inhabit this shell and be as close to alive again as is technically possible. And now, my darling husband, you are going to die, slowly; one piece at a time.”

 

 

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