November 4, 2014 Leave a comment
“Why is there hair on your pillow?”
She ignored the question, slowly walking across the boudoir and entering the bathroom to check her makeup. Sallow skin bled through the foundation she had patted carefully from neckline to hairline. Pink globes of color stood out on her cheekbones, and the only saving grace was that her hand had been steady as she’d applied her eye makeup this time.
She almost looked healthy. Almost.
When the question came again, Baron was standing in the doorway, blocking out the natural light that the bedroom windows provided, and holding a small handful of blonde hair in his perfect hand.
“Why is hair on your pillow? It should be in your scalp.”
The cadence of his voice and the use of correct terminology rather than colloquialisms were what actually gave it away, and she stood back, a hand on her hip, and contemplated her creation.
Baron wasn’t a real human. He looked like one. Perfect synthetic skin and real hair covered his body. She had paid top dollar for the materials. The wiring and fiber optics that allowed him to move and speak and interact with the human race were so delicate and advanced that you would only think he had a twinkle in his eye or had placed his hand too near a light when you saw a glimmer of a flash through his palm. He was nearly perfect.
How could she make him more perfect?
“Well I suppose you’re as good as you’re going to be today,” Arlen mumbled under her breath before moving towards him. He stepped back a pace, an arm still cocked and fingers still clenched around the hair that had come out of her head last night.
“Don’t worry about it Baron.” Proceeding back into the bedroom, she saw him drop the hairs precisely into the garbage can near the door, and turn towards her smoothly to follow. The benefit of a robot was that he did actually do everything that she told him to when she told him to do it.
“Are we going out today?” he asked smoothly, his voice a perfect balance to her own.
“Yes, I am.” She did not include him in the sentence, knowing that she could not take him with her no matter how much he had begun to want to see the world outside the walls of her spacious apartment. Without looking into his eyes, she gathered her purse, slid her feet into the flip flops by the door and checked to make sure her car keys were still at arm’s reach on the hook by the door.
“I will be back in a few hours. You may rest.”
Anyone passing in the hallway would have seen only an attractive woman, perhaps wearing too much makeup, exiting her apartment and a handsome man sitting down on the sofa within and closing his eyes. They would not hear the soft whir of his joints compressing or the faint beep that signaled his brain had gone into hibernation mode.
Arlen knew that Baron would forget the hair by the time she returned. Well, he wouldn’t forget it because he forgot nothing, a benefit of a hard drive instead of a brain, but his powered down self would not move the pieces of hair he had picked from her pillow back to the front of his “brain” unless she brought it up. And post-treatment, the hair loss she was fighting to hide more and more these days would be the last thing she wanted to talk about with her companion. It was really quite amazing in her mind that she could create a robot to service her every need, but scientists and doctors had yet found a way to prevent or cure cancer with a single pill.
The human body was infinitely more complex than the any robot, even one as perfectly detailed as Baron.
The outside world knew her only as Arlen, robotics expert with privacy issues that rivaled Steve Jobs. That anyone walking past her apartment would have seen Baron was not a concern for her because she owned the whole floor even if she only lived in one section of it. The rest of the world thought she had combined the loft apartments into one gigantic home, but no one ever entered it who was not explicitly invited and the people who were knew better than to gossip about the parts of her apartment they accessed when they were there.
Her inner circle – they were few and far between and almost all related by blood or financial vena cava – knew the truth. She simply liked privacy. Baron was her greatest invention, and she would do nothing that threatened her use of the nearly perfect AI specimen. She lived in one roomy corner apartment as far from the elevator as possible, and the rest of the apartments sat vacant, untouched since they were gutted to studs and rebuilt when she bought the floor. Someday she would want to sell and make a profit after all.
Since robotics revolution, Arlen’s skills had been in demand. In demand enough that she could retire tomorrow, break every contract she had, pay out the ass for it, and still live as a millionaire for the rest of her predictable life span. Her quadruple doctorate degrees in biology, chemistry, engineering and English ensured that she could lose every penny of her fortune (unlikely) and sell her eggs to the rich and powerful and not change her style of living in the least.
She was, to put it crassly, set for life.
The world had changed drastically from her youth. While pop culture continued to permeate every social interaction that Arlen had with her minions, her robots and the general public, it was no longer simply something that people absorbed from 8 PM to 10 PM on weeknights and via marathon session on the weekends. It was in everything they did. Since the government had allowed the infrastructure to collapse completely while they fought over petty problems in the nation’s capital, opportunities had arisen for the enterprising, the brilliant, the ones who would rise from the suburban ashes to put America back on the world map as a super power, something they hadn’t enjoyed since the late twentieth century. Arlen had been one of the few to answer that call. While her environmental and social counterparts had fixed the water supplies and fed the poor, she had inhaled the problem of infrastructure much like a starfish, wrapping her entire brain around it and attacking it from all sides simultaneously. The simple biochemical robot she created was part earthworm, part spider, spawning hundreds of thousands of children that consumed, regurgitated and solidified a national roadway system in less than a year.
In other words, the only reason that trucks were able to get supplies from one state to another, from one side of the country to the other, was because of the cement-like, biological component the robots had laid down on top of the existing map of roadways. They were solid. They did not crack or expand with the heat or cold. Holes were not picked in their surfaces. Water did not freeze into dangerous black ice.
Granted, human beings had to be scrapped from their surfaces with special machinery that sucked their blood and interstitial tissues from the pores of the surface, but it was a lot more dependable than the old system had been before the collapse.
Arlen was practically a national hero when it had been completed. The President had even taken an inaugural drive from New York to Philadelphia. She had fixed the roads, not the crime problem, and his armored limo could only withstand so many threats.
Perhaps not surprisingly, there was very little crime on the road itself. Danger only seemed to present itself when people got too close to people in power out on the open road. Travel on your own. Mind your own business. People left you alone.
She had done it all before she turned twenty. The degrees came later. What? She fixed the country’s roadways from one end to the other, and they weren’t going to make her a national hero? Had they not, there would have been a number of lovely European and Asian countries eager to pick her up and support her for the rest of her life.
Now, at thirty, Arlen was tired.
Tired of the celebrity that came with her achievements, she’d gone into a sort of seclusion in the last four years. She only worked three days a week, hardly leaving the complex of her apartment on the other four.
Her critics and fans may have thought she was working on something mind blowing and incredible in an apartment-sized laboratory but the truth was much more mundane.
She wasn’t kidding with the tired line. At some point, before the collapse, she had seen an animal documentary that posited large cats – the extinct kind like lions and tigers – slept so much that if they were alive for fifteen years, they had actually slept for twelve of them. At this point, Arlen was pretty sure she was averaging two days of sleep and two days of productivity in her “days off” but no one was complaining. No one knew.
In the two days she was functioning and awake, there was little to do but give into the desires that had driven her to birth Baron in the first place. His construction had been partially whim and partial self-challenge. She had wanted to see if she could actually create something that completely and totally passed for human when put to the test. She had yet to take him outside but her friends and family were all pretty convinced that she had shockingly met a man who adored her, was presentable and not the stereotype of the smart guys she usually found in her social circle.
He had taken more than a year of microscopic tweaking before she was happy enough to allow him to walk around her apartment unsupervised. It was another six months before she allowed anyone to “meet” him. He was turned off and shoved in a closet, much like an oversized doll or a victim of abuse.
But Arlen knew the time was coming. There were few things she’d be able to do for much longer completely alone. The chemotherapy (seriously she had fixed the vehicular infrastructure of the country and there wasn’t a pill for this shit yet?) was weakening her dramatically. She had a hard time driving home from the treatment center and the arm she was so used to reaching out for on a regular basis now was stuck at home, sitting by himself on the couch and was no use to anyone.