The blocks of houses and trees sprang up as he left the city. Strip malls flashed by and neighborhoods fell behind him. The car was on automatic and he had nothing to do but think about how this horrible day would end. It was suffocating in the little space and he felt trapped. Trapped with that thing. The device on the seat was cold to the touch. Such a tiny thing to be so deadly. He stuffed it away. It weighed a thousand pounds hidden inside his pocket.
The silver-trimmed gray bungalow appeared, the car parked in the drive. His shoes dragged over the concrete. He halted on the steps outside the door. How could he go inside? How could they make him do this?
His scalp line was moist and his cheeks hot. He wiped the perspiration away. He needed to calm down or she would know. Walk right in and do it. That was the only way. She wasn’t really his wife. Just go in and do it. What was he waiting for?
He forced himself inside. No lights anywhere and it was as quiet as a tomb. Slipping onto the sofa, he fished the device out. Such a little thing. He could just make out the red switch in the half light. The switch that would end her.
His hand trembled. There had to be another way. He could date other women if he had to. Footsteps in the hallway alerted him and he balled his fist around that device. He was not going to use it. He would find another way.
The sight of her shocked him. She was so beautiful. Wearing that lace romper with her hair up and shining. Perfect in every way. Guilt thudded in his chest. Surely she could see the anguish on his face. In a voice as cold as ice, he said, “We need to talk.”
“I saw on the news,” she said.
“I do.” She sat beside him. There was no fear in her eyes. Maybe he should have expected that.
“I’m not going to do it. We’ll figure something out,” he said.
“We don’t have a choice.”
“No. I won’t do that to you, Marie.”
“It’s the law.”
“Why? Those fools in Washington don’t know everything. They don’t know us.”
“They know the population decreases more each year.”
“They don’t know you. It isn’t right.” He wiped his eyes.
“If something isn’t done, people will cease to exist altogether. Is that what you want?”
“No.” He touched her rose cheek. The clear green eyes set aside her delicate nose were remarkably real, her pink lips fashioned an impossible smile—this was the real problem, they built them too well. Marie was perfect in every way and no human woman could compete. The robot companion rage in the thirties had replaced interpersonal relationships because no one could resist the perfect partner.
“Is this it?” She pried his hand open.
“I won’t use it.” He covered the device again.
“You know the population decline has reached epidemic proportions.”
“I can’t do that to you, Marie. Can’t you understand? I love you.”
“And what if there’s no next generation?”
“I don’t care.”
“It’s the law and it’s the moral thing to do. No matter how we feel, there are some things greater than individual needs.”
He hated her rational mind. Of course he saw the logic, but how could he let her go? “I don’t want to lose you.”
“And I don’t want to lose you. But neither of us has a choice. The order to neutralize companion robots is a just law and you know it.”
A sob caught in his throat. “Please don’t make me do this.”
“Then give it to me. I’ll do it.”
He kissed her. He tried to burn this last moment into his brain. His thumb rested on the neutralizer. He was killing her and she was making him do it. “I love you,” he whispered. He pushed the switch.
The robot ceased functioning. Marie took the neutralizer and placed it on the table. The house seemed deathly quiet. She tousled the robot’s thick brown hair. How would she ever manage without him?
She went for the Kraken in the kitchen cupboard. No ice, no mix, just a double finger in a water glass. The vodka jolted her. Another one of those and she would be able to forget the vacant look that had swept into his eyes. That moment of transition, his last moment, had shaken her a bit.
Had he known the truth in his last instant? She hoped not. The necessity to give robots false memories to convince them they were people was humankind’s dark secret. A robot who thinks it’s a robot is too obsequious. The perfect companion had to believe it was human.
She sipped the stinging liquor, grateful for the numbing effect. Everything was going to change now. With the law going into effect, people would start dating again. Bad relationships and divorce would proliferate. Her own history filled her with anxiety.
She remembered Josh, her last human boyfriend before she had been able to afford a robot. Hair in the sink, pickled herring in the fridge, sulking, she remembered it all. At least their breakup transpired without serious blow back. And maybe there were good times too. Josh had those pretty eyes and he could make her laugh. She wondered if he still had the same number.
Traveling throughout the American west, Chris Dean has worked as a delivery driver and a concert promoter. Currently Chris resides in the Des Moines area.
Image by Garrette