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Meat Puppets

by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson

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Part 2 appears
in this issue.
part 1 of 7

Jonas lives alone and works for the weekend. He’s woken up feeling hung over from his reason to live. While he’s walking off his hangover, the friendliest girl he’s ever met comes to him and starts sharing his life.

We all know that machines don’t have a soul, and there’s some dispute whether even humans have one. But let’s suppose there is and that there is what the hopeless romantics refer to as a “soul mate.” In the future, such a thing might be made by a factory in your own town.

The radio woke Jonas up. The sun was already shining through the window, making it hard to fall asleep again. Jonas pulled the cover up, as he wanted to sleep in on his day off. He lay on his side, unable to fall asleep again when his conscious mind caught notice of the radio: they were interviewing the owner of New Level Technologies, or NLT, Mr. Sonny Ericsson.

“Tell us more about your new model, the infamous HDE-9141,” asked the interviewer.

“Well,” began Mr. Ericsson, “Obviously I cannot tell you about something we don’t have yet. The HDE models are still on the development stage, but I can say we are trying something new, something entirely different from the TGJ-9141.”

“Come on, don’t be modest, our sources here at the network say you already have at least one model in operational condition. They say it is leaps and bounds more sophisticated than the TGJ model.”

“Your sources have a very vivid imagination,” said Mr. Ericsson calmly, and Jonas could almost see him give the interviewer a fatherly smile. “What else did they tell you?”

“They were a bit vague on the details. We were hoping you could fill us in,” said the interviewer in a hopeful tone.

“Well, as you already know, our most recent model, the TGJ-9191 is a great improvement over our earlier product; the DHA-2802, which could hold a normal conversation but was on the whole useless as anything other than a life-size sex toy.

“The TGJ model has the new and improved 9141 model quantum-nanite brain that can simulate sentience. In fact, they do as well or even better than some humans on the Turing test, whereas the old 2802-type brains barely simulated an even tempered teenager. I think this is the base of the problem; they are just too good. Have you tried one?”

“No, I have a girlfriend,” said the interviewer. And they both laughed.

“What does it mean anyway?” the interviewer asked.


“The letters and numbers? I mean, TGJ-9141? That sounds like something written on a component on the inside of a computer.”

“Yeah, it’s a bit unappealing, isn’t it? Well, I don’t know what it means; it’s some code the developers use,” said Mr. Ericsson “I only run the company you know.”

“Why don’t you name the models?”

“You can name them anything you want.”

Jonas grinned. He had seen the TGJ-9141 models. He worked with them. They were advertised as the basic, garden-variety escort model, like the DHA-2802 before them and the arguably slightly more advanced 34-series models the competitors were offering.

But where as the 2802’s were bought in bulk by wealthy statesmen and musicians to bring to parties, use in music videos and for personal use at home to be trashed when they broke down or when their owners got bored of them; the 9141’s were bought by pretty much anyone.

They were already becoming ubiquitous around the city; they worked at stores, they looked after children, they drove buses, they worked in the sewer, they mopped the floors and they followed wealthy businessmen around.

There was a case in the paper earlier in the year, where a man had tried to marry one, but he was denied service by both the clergy and the city, on the argument that a man could not enter into matrimony with a machine. It was simply unheard of. The feminist league was split over the matter, some were grossly offended while others were cynically amused, asking only one question: “when will the NLT make a male version?”

Jonas stood up from bed. He felt dizzy. He remembered how much he had had to drink the night before, and wondered if he could make it to the toilet before his stomach erupted. He was still wearing his clothes, right down to his shoes. His co-workers were probably dead by now, he imagined; drunk to death. At least he was dressed for a funeral.

He looked down at his suit. It had grass and other dirt on it. He must have fallen. He made a grimace when he thought about washing his sheets while hung over. He could only laugh but decided not to, and went to visit the toilet instead. It was very accommodating.

Jonas spent an hour in there, alternating between the tap to fill up, and the toilet to empty out. Finally he felt well enough to have breakfast. His uncle had often told him that, if he drank and didn’t eat, he’d die young. Jonas wondered if dying could be all that bad as it was. But he went into the kitchen anyway, and looked into the fridge.

Jonas had a choice between mouldy milk and some mouldy bread. He reached in, got both and threw them in the garbage. Next time he would need to remember to stock up on hamburgers or bratwurst before he went and got himself drunk. He checked his wallet. It was still there, but missing all cash. No matter, his cards were all there and hopefully valid.

Jonas dusted his suit, strolled into the nearest convenience store and bought a pack of bratwurst and some Coke. He also got a fish and pepper, and due to an odd urge brought about by his physical state, about a kilo of butter.

He went to the counter to pay, and the woman at the register asked if he didn’t want to have some aspirin too. They didn’t actually use aspirin anymore, since it was found out that the stuff was not only deadly but could also wreck the stomach and cause blindness, but that didn’t stop them from calling it aspirin. The damned stuff was probably Paracetamol, but Jonas didn’t care. It worked the same. He nodded, and the woman added a box of pain-killers to his bag.

Jonas looked at the woman at the counter and she smiled amiably at him. Yes, that was definitely a 9141, he thought. The damn things could sense how he was feeling and compensated as per programming. Jonas smiled back at the robotic clerk, shook his head, paid for the groceries and went home to fry some fish in butter and eat bratwurst.

The fish tasted fine, all swimming in melted butter, and the bratwurst even better, having spent all the time it took Jonas to cook and eat the fish, roasting inside the oven. They were a bit dry, but that was what the Coke was for anyway. After his meal Jonas felt like a freshly minted coin, and he decided to take a walk outside, maybe visit the park.

The park was a bright and happy place to be, filled with people, with dogs and children, and couples walking about hand in hand, admiring the dogs and the children. Fewer and fewer people had children these days, but the birth rate appeared to be slowly climbing since the appearance of the 9141 model. Sure, men bought them for fun, but companies and women bought them for more practical reasons.

Jonas looked around in the park, wondering if any of those couples included a robot. He shook his head, dismissing the idea; why would a guy take a robot out to a date when he could go straight to business?

The couples in the park irritated him, so walked into the trees instead to find a small woodland creature he could bother. There were rabbits in the trees, he had seen some there at night.

Jonas roamed around in the limited tree-cover looking for rabbits, but found none. There were some birds chirping in the trees, but he could hardly catch one of those. He could look, though. He watched a small bird sit on a branch singing, and let his mind clear. He forgot all about the happy couples in the park, his stomach, and work. Now it was just him and that little bird. He offered it some paracetamol. The bird wouldn’t have it, so Jonas swallowed the pill instead. Moments later the bird flew away.

Jonas took a deep breath and walked out of the trees; he knew he needed to move to get the blood flowing to get rid of his hangover quicker, so he figured he’d stroll around the park, and then head into the city to walk around for an hour or two, maybe go to a restaurant later and have a burger.

He was walking from the park, not minding the traffic when someone appeared beside him and began walking with him. He looked to see who it was, and saw that it was a beautiful young woman; she had pale skin and long black hair down to her back, pearly white teeth and grey eyes. She was tall and slender, small-breasted and long-legged; wearing simple white shoes, black stretch pants and a loose fitting grey jacket over a white T-shirt.

She smiled at him, and offered him her hand. Before he could think, he took it, and they walked hand in hand for a while. “What am I doing?” he said to himself when it occurred to him that a total stranger was walking with him. The young woman just smiled.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“Anyone you want,” she replied.

Jonas immediately thought: “she’s a hooker,” and wondered if he had said it or thought it, for the woman gave a light shake when he did.

“How much?” he asked her.

“Nothing,” she said, shaking her head, “don’t you want me to keep you company?”

“Sure, whatever,” said Jonas, and they continued walking.

“Are you hungry?” she asked after a while.

“Yes,” he replied.

“I have some money, do you want a hamburger?”

“I don’t wish to burden you...” said Jonas.

“No matter,” she said, “I’ll let you pay for yours if it makes you feel better.”

In silent agreement, they entered a hamburger place and Jonas found them a seat while she ordered. Then he walked to the counter, just as the woman was putting away her wallet.

“I have paid already,” she told him, stroking some of her long brown hair from her face with her left hand. Jonas furrowed his brow.

She smiled at him and said, “You can buy one for me later.”

Jonas wondered what that meant.

“I didn’t tell you what I wanted on mine...” he said, after a pause.

“Extra sauce; well done, hold the condiments,” she said.

“What are you, a psychic?”

“This is Joe’s place, everybody knows their condiments. Let’s just say they leave a lot to be desired.” She followed him to the table hand in hand, as though they had known each other for a long time.

Jonas kept a close eye on the young woman while they ate. He knew that the 9141 models were infamous for their initiative, but was that woman in front of him really a robot, as he was beginning to suspect?

He watched her eat the hamburger, licking her fingers as she went. He shook his head and stopped worrying. The 9141’s were pretty sophisticated devices, sure, but as far as he knew they did not eat hamburgers, although you could give them a drink. They even got drunk if you wanted them to.

After dinner they went outside, and spoke on the way to Jonas’ apartment. It was a rather long way on foot, but they had a lot to talk about. The woman was keen on going home with him, it seemed. So keen, that it felt to him that it was she who was inviting him in, even though it was his place.

It only took her fifteen minutes to get him into bed. Jonas stared into her green eyes as he lay on top of her naked body, her red hair spreading out on the mattress. She smiled at him, and he thought,Why not?

In the morning, when he woke up, she was already awake, lying beside him. Jonas looked at her. Her breasts were bigger that he had remembered, so were her thighs. And her hair was so fair now — hadn’t she been dark-haired when he met her? In fact, he wondered if this was the same woman as he had just slept with. When he came to think about it, he only vaguely recalled how she had looked when he first met her.

His train of thought was interrupted when the woman decided to have at it with him again. Jonas could see her better now, as the daylight shone in through the windows. He could see as she slowly changed; her breasts diminished and firmed, her waist contracted and her hips changed in shape; her face morphed into three distinctive faces in front of him, but he couldn’t be sure. Her hair shortened and elongated, and the colour of her skin changed throughout.

When she was finally done, she had black hair, brown eyes and Oriental features. She also appeared to be about 15 centimeters shorter than before. He stayed in bed for almost half an hour, thinking about this. What exactly had he been drinking the other day?

When Jonas went to the bathroom to freshen up before breakfast, the woman was already there, preparing to have a shower. She gave him an impish smile so he decided to watch.

She went through the whole range of shapes before his eyes as she showered, her eyes moved together and apart, her nose changed shape, her hair shortened, curled and retracted as it had before, and he could actually see her height change throughout.

She settled on shoulder-length fair hair and about average yet firm body as she stepped out of the shower and began drying herself. Jonas just sat there, still wondering what had been in his drinks earlier. Whatever it was, he wanted a whole case of it.

* * *

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2007 by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson

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