Watch Over Me
by Margaret Karmazin
part 1 of 2
Katy had never approved of the idea. When Jeff casually announced that he’d decided to visit CybEtern to have his brain downloaded, she’d thrown a fit. “It’s gruesome,” she shouted, “creepy! The mere thought of someone having access to your entire cerebral repertoire is horrifying! Please, Jeff, don’t.”
They were finishing up their breakfast of warm corn muffins and jam with slices of cheese so sharp Jeff said it would grow hair on her chest. In a few minutes, she’d be out in the greenhouses weeding, her hands rich with loam, would have been falling into that peaceful trance she enjoyed there. But now she was so riled up, there was little chance of that and she might even endanger the seedlings.
“Why are you doing this? You know how I feel about it.”
“You object to it for spiritual reasons I don’t happen to share, Katy. You believe in all that hocus-pocus. Can’t you let me have my own spiritual freedom, the same thing you demand from society for yourself?”
When he put it like that, what could she say? After years of rage while periodic waves of religious conservatism flowed through the country and she feared a return to the dark ages, she could hardly demand that someone else, especially her own husband, adhere to her personal views on the workings of the spiritual universe.
“Why do you want this?” she asked.
“I don’t know, it’s interesting. If Carl has kids, maybe they’d like to know what their granddad was like at forty-eight. Hey, I’d love to plug in a download of my own grandfather, or anyone from that era for that matter. See how things looked first-hand from their point of view.”
He had a point, though at this stage of the game their son showed little sign of reproducing. He was living under the sea, enjoying a University of Hawaii marine biology program where he planned to stay till he’d earned his doctorate and beyond.
“Oh, go ahead, I can’t stop you,” she snapped.
* * *
Jeff was given three copies of his download, two of which he stored at the bank and the other in their office. Eventually, she pretty much forgot about it. Probably, in the end, it would cease to matter.
But it didn’t. Two years later, he died on February 9, 2053, a date forever blackened in Katy’s mind. An infection he had picked up on a business trip to Nigeria. She hadn’t wanted him to go; she had harbored a bad feeling about the whole thing. But he said, “This Belgian guy is building a school there, and they want our materials. It’s a start on the continent.”
“Why can’t you just send everything and hold a holoconference? Why in person?”
“Always better in person, Katy. The personal touch sells. Besides, I’ve never been to Africa. Why don’t you come along?”
“Honey,” she said with mild exasperation. “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m running a business here.”
That had been one of their last in-person conversations. They’d managed two holo-calls before he’d come down with the mysterious illness. They later conjectured that he’d contracted it from fish he had eaten, caught up-river, but no one knew for sure. They flew his body home; she had it cremated and that was that.
Most everything that mattered to her was gone. There was Carl, of course, but he lived his own life far away; he didn’t need her now. Jeff had been her best friend, her daily, loving companion. She was alone now with three cats, only one of them friendly, and a turtle who lived in the greenhouses.
She had a few social acquaintances from her customer list. There was Lynn who lived in Vancouver. They saw each other maybe once every couple of years. And she sometimes had a cup of tea with a neighbor, but not often, and they did not share intimate details about their lives.
Without Jeff, there seemed little to live for. She poured herself shots of vodka now in the evenings and tossed them down without pleasure. Going to bed drunk was the best she could manage. She woke in the morning, her face swollen from crying in her sleep. Sometimes she felt she could not breathe.
She never knew what it was, exactly, that first prompted her to consider a robot. Possibly the fact that she could use assistance in the greenhouses in addition to her two employees, or that she needed help with household maintenance. In the far back of her mind, she may have been wishing for someone to talk to at day’s end, to whom she did not have to commit in any way, who wouldn’t care if she liked him or not.
Robots were very expensive, but Jeff had left her a huge chunk of life insurance and the house was paid off. She made an appointment with Robon, Inc.
* * *
The place was slick; it reminded her of a high-end beauty salon. Someone set down a tray of canapés and served her champagne. She ate mindlessly as she listened and watched as robots were paraded before her. She felt as if she were a slave trader.
“I don’t know,” she said after a while. “This just seems weird.”
“You must have friends or relatives who own or lease robots,” prompted the representative, who had introduced herself as Naomi.
“I don’t,” said Katy.
“Well, what sort of robot do you have in mind? Male or female, less or more human-like, young- or older-appearing? Can you give me an idea?”
Katy popped a salmon-chive covered cracker into her mouth and slowly chewed. “Male, I suppose, strong. Not too young, attractive. Not like a media star, just regular.”
Naomi lifted her wrist and spoke at it. A few minutes later, a six-foot robot entered the room. He wore casual clothing, gray pants, a navy shirt and soft boots. His nose was prominent. Katy appreciated that touch, the off-beat nose.
“This is Fernwood II, modeled after the founder’s brother who died in the Gas War. He has a nice, casual appearance that many of our clients enjoy.”
“Hmmmmm,” said Katy.
Naomi pulled up a chair and leaned close to Katy, as if trying to prevent Fernwood II from hearing. “He can perform many duties,” she whispered. “Not just jobs around the house, so to speak.” She gave Katy a pointed look.
“Oh. Really?” said Katy. “I didn’t know they do that.”
“They do do that,” said Naomi.
A terrible wave of grief swept over Katy, the idea of anyone or thing touching her in that manner who was not Jeff. Her longing for her husband’s touch was so intense that she doubled over, her arms wrapped around her stomach.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” said the rep. “Did I say something wrong?”
It took a few moments before Katy could speak. As she tried to recover, she remembered Jeff’s download, that thing she had so abhorred. Straightening up, she said, “Can you put a CybEtern download into a robot?”
Naomi smiled. “Oh yes, we certainly can.”
* * *
Copyright © 2012 by Margaret Karmazin