Perfectly comfortable, I’m lying on a soft surface that conforms to the curves of my body, yet I can’t move a muscle. I hear a noise. Not a noise, a sound. Or sounds, distant, indistinct. Am I actually hearing the sounds, or do I imagine them? Or, am I dreaming?
The sounds, different, separate, yet similar, grow closer. They have an irregular pulsating quality, irregular yet seem to have a pattern to them.
“Increasing audio gain to eighty percent.” That was perfectly clear. I hear two voices playing off one another.
“Audio gain eighty percent.”
“I’m increasing tactile and proprioceptive gains. Bringing ocular gain to eighty.”
Images materialize; I can see! A woman and a man hover over me, turning away from me at times, then coming back. I see them and hear them talking to one another. And they’re talking to me.
The woman leans over, her face close to mine. Her eyes are blue, clear and beautiful. She says my name, “Terry…” Her voice is like music. “I’m Barbara,” she tells me. “I’m here with William. He and I activated you. In a moment, we’ll bring your gains all up to one hundred percent.”
William steps over and looks down at me, telling Barbara everything is “go”. She instructs him to remove the halo. He does, then says to me, “Terry, you can sit up now.”
I prop myself up then hop off the table. The hard ceramic floor tiles are cool under my feet. In front of me I see the reflection of my naked body in a tall mirror. I look to William, then back to the mirror. “I’m like you,” I say. My voice sounds a lot like his. He laughs and tells me to get dressed. He says there’s someone waiting to meet me.
He’s talking about Sharon. Information about her is already loaded into my memory. She’s a thirty-four year old financier, works for Brookdale Commercial Bank, and lives in a condo on the seventh floor of the bank building. She’s divorced and has one child at home, a fifteen year old son, Scott.
After dressing, I stand before the mirror for a minute waiting for Barbara and William to give me the okay to leave the lab. I’m tall with broad shoulders, brown hair and green eyes. I’m wearing a charcoal Givenchy suit and Santoni cap toe shoes that would be appropriate for any high class social function.
A door swishes open and I step through. Sharon turns and faces me, looks me up and down and tells the staff they did a good job. She says she’s not disappointed.
She and I leave together; I follow as she walks briskly toward the lift. As we ride it to the roof, she taps out a steady stream of texts messages on her phone. We step out of the lift, walk quickly to the sky cab and get in. The sky above is dark; only the brightest stars can be seen through the glow of city lights. I’m sitting on her right. She stares silently out the left side window during the seven minute flight.
“Oh, my gawd, you’ve got to be kidding,” Scott blurts out as Sharon and I enter the apartment. “A robot, Mother?”
“Watch your filthy mouth, young man,” she says in a stern voice. “This has nothing to do with you.”
“We’ve gone over this already, Scott. It’s a business thing. I attend many functions that affect my career. Going alone is not an option. I need an escort that will impress people. I wouldn’t need this if your father could’ve managed to do that.”
“You make me sick,” Scott yells. He turns and stomps to his room, slamming the door as he goes in.
“I can’t take this,” Sharon moans. “I’m going to bed. What are you going to do?” she asks me.
“BotWorld pinged me a while ago. I think I’ll check that out.”
“BotWorld? Never heard of it.”
“It’s an online virtual world for noetics.”
“Well, you can’t sit there all night in that suit. Take it off. You can hang it in my husband’s closet. In fact, I won’t be able to sleep knowing you’re lurking about. I want you in my room where I can see you.”
Thirty minutes later, we’re both in her bed. She can’t sleep with me sitting in a chair that close to her bed, she says. “Just keep your hands to yourself,” she warns.
She sighs heavily and rolls to her side, her back to me. Two minutes later, she sighs again and rolls over. “Terrence,” she says in a whisper. “My life is shit. My husband left, my son hates me, my job is killing me.”
“Sharon, you’re in the upper management level of a large bank. That’s a prestigious position. A lot of people would do anything to have your job.”
“That’s just it. I did anything…everything…things I knew were wrong to land this job. Now there are things I have to do to keep it. Things I don’t always like.”
I can see the sadness in her eyes, and hear the regret in her voice. “Like what?” I inquire. “What sort of things?”
“Like you for example. A robot…excuse me, a noetic… in my bed…because I have to be seen at required social engagements…three, four times a week…on the arm of a handsome boy toy. I have to play this game if I’m to stay ahead of the ten people who want to push me aside and take my job.”
“So, I’m to be this boy toy for you. A thing to help you keep up appearances?”
“Yes. It’s sounds awful. It is awful, but it’s what I need right now.”
“If that’s what you need, Sharon, if you need me to be your prop, I’ll be that.”
As she drifts off to sleep, she reaches a hand over to me, placing it on my cheek. I’m here for you, Sharon. Soon your life will be better. I promise.
L.L. Richardson is a retired army noncommissioned officer. He currently lives in west Texas with his wife and one stray cat. He writes lite science fiction and horror short stories. His work has appeared in Bewildering Stories and Grotesque Quarterly Magazine.