by K. C. Maguire
I never thought I’d be spending a Monday afternoon watching a hologram of myself engaged in the physical act of love-making. And my technique isn’t as bad as I thought it might be. I’d been concerned when I discovered that Dr. Freeman, the engineer diagnosing the issue, was a woman, but she’s been pretty professional so far.
She paces around the Holo-Bench with a Data-Pad, occasionally pausing to scribble something on it with her stylus. Her expression is purely clinical as she leans in closer to the hologram to peer at a particular aspect of my coupling with Stella. Periodically, she checks the data feed that scrolls along the monitor at the base of the Bench: the feed taken directly from Stella’s memory chip.
“Something wrong, Doc?” I ask as Freeman pauses the hologram. She stops on a section where I’ve wrapped a hand around the back of Stella’s neck and leaned in to whisper something in her ear.
The doctor raises an eyebrow. “You talk to her during –”
I clear my throat. “Yes, is that a problem?”
She taps her stylus against the Data-Pad, and I wonder if I’m imagining a tinge of pink flush through her cheeks. “No, not at all. It’s only that most men don’t bother. Not with androids.”
“Stella’s not just an android.” Involuntarily, I reach for the 3-D image of Stella’s golden hair, my hand passing directly through, causing the picture to fizz and weave around my fingers. Dr. Freeman presses the button to unfreeze the hologram. Holo-Me finishes whispering in Holo-Stella’s ear. Stella throws her head back and laughs before catching my face between her hands and feathering light kisses over my holographic lips. I raise my real hand to the exact same spot on my real lips. The doctor gazes at me curiously, and I return my focus to the hologram, clasping my hands together behind my back. Holo-Me is now gripping Stella’s shoulders tight as a shudder erupts through both of us.
“There. Go back a bit.” I point to the control panel, and Dr. Freeman turns a dial to rewind the image. “Now freeze it there.” She removes her hand from the dial, and the image freezes at the point right before I clasp Stella’s shoulders. “That’s where it happens.”
“Where what happens?” The doctor furrows her brow.
“It’s like she hesitates. Only for a moment. Did you notice?”
“Okay, let me check.” Freeman rewinds the hologram again, eyes fixed on the monitor beneath the 3-D image. She replays it once more, focused intently on the hologram this time. Then she tucks a stray strand of hair behind her ear, clearing her throat before running a fingernail down the edge of her Data-Pad. “I’m sorry. I don’t see anything. The unit seems to be operating within its designed parameters.”
I tap my finger against my top lip and circle the Holo-Bench until I’m standing beside Freeman, looking at the same view she’s observing: the satisfied smile on Stella’s face and the blankness of my own expression. The doctor regards me carefully, and I notice for the first time that her eyes are an unusual shade of blue: almost green, but not quite.
“She’s not actually hesitating,” she says. “I think it might be you.”
“I don’t follow.”
“She’s fulfilling her programming as designed.”
“Yeah, I know she’s programmed to, uh …”
“Achieve orgasm?” The doctor supplies the phrase easily. She’s probably had this conversation hundreds of times with hundreds of other customers.
“Right. She’s programmed to, you know, every single time.”
“Yes, and that’s exactly what she’s doing, Mr. Traynor.”
“Call me Alan. Please.” It seems silly to be using last names when we’re talking about my ability to satisfy a woman. Android. Whatever. “And yes, I know. Even if I didn’t try at all, she’d still …”
“You mean there’s no mystery?” The doctor frowns. “I think that’s where your problem might be.”
Heat flares through my cheeks. I’m suddenly embarrassed by the entire situation. I shouldn’t have come here, should never have requested the diagnostic. I reach past the doctor and power down the machine. The image of Stella and me blinks into darkness. I take a few steps toward the door. “I’m sorry. I’ve wasted your time.”
“No bother. That’s what I’m here for.” Freeman’s voice is close behind me, although I didn’t hear her move. Her warm breath puffs against my shirt collar, sending pleasant tingles down my spine. She taps my shoulder, and I turn to face her. Her expression is quizzical. Her eyebrows are raised, showing off the color of her eyes in all their blue-green glory. “You know, most men who purchase the XT-1000 wouldn’t have even raised the question.”
She taps the tip of her stylus to her lips. They’re moist and a lovely shade of pink. “Well, you’re the first client who’s ever been concerned about the connection.”
This time it’s my turn to raise my eyebrows. “What connection?”
“The human connection,” she clarifies.
I shrug my shoulders, unsure how to respond.
“If it’s any consolation,” she continues, “I’m sure that if Stella were real, she’d be having real, let’s maybe just say she’d be having a real good time.” She tucks the stylus into her ponytail.
I brace my hand against the door frame. “How do you know?”
She scratches the side of her neck and self-consciously shoves her hands into her lab-coat pockets. “You talk to her. You worry about how it feels, for both of you. Believe me, most women would give their right arm for a guy like you.”
“Dr. Freeman.” I take a step forward, suddenly understanding everything. It’s as if blinders have been removed from my eyes for the first time since I bought Stella. “Would you like to have a cup of coffee with me?”
When she smiles, it lights up the room. “I’d love to. And please, call me Claire.”
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