The next time I saw her was two years after she died.
My wife was thirty-two years old when cancer took her. She was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, an insidious tendrillar growth that grows in your brain, and gradually tightens its grip until you pass. It steals your memories and your essence, and treatment is relegated to pain management until it runs its course.
A gentleman visited us soon after her diagnosis with promises to fight this thing. He said that if she were to donate her body, it would further their research and allow the next person to have a fighting chance against this scourge. Eva was always the type to help whenever she could.
She signed the paper.
Those months of progressively bad headaches, where all I could do was hold and rock her, drained my soul. She was my love. My life. The part of me that made me a better person. Until one October morning, she said, “I think I’d like to sleep now.” And then Eva closed her eyes and drifted away.
After a few weeks, they returned an urn with her remains. We buried it with friends and what family we had. We never found time to have kids, although we talked of it, and I am both thankful and profoundly sorry for that. It was a day of sadness and introspection.
Two years had passed, and my associates convinced me to attend a realtors’ conference in Las Vegas. I realized that not leaving the house in the last three years was not a good thing, and I acquiesced.
Las Vegas was everything it was supposed to be; bright, shiny, and hot. It was 2049, but I’m sure the same plastic smiles and verdant money walked the streets here in the 60s.
I was at the steakhouse in my hotel with a few estate lawyers, like myself, when I saw a serving person. Her brown curly hair touched the back of her shoulders, and there was something about the way she moved, the way she held herself that pulled that string of familiarity.
I watched her, ignoring all else. She turned her head. It was Eva. How? What was she doing here! How could this be? What the…
A dinner companion, Earl, punched my arm and said, “Checking out the waitress, huh? Well, Bud, don’t get your hopes up too much. They’re all robots here.”
“Sure, these are all new models for Analogous Robotics. Scary lifelike, huh?” said Earl.
I stood up from the table and walked toward her. She was taking an order from an overweight man and his wife, who had an iridescent slinky on top of her head as a fashion statement or a life support mechanism. I wasn’t sure which.
Watching her intently, the way she moved her head as she listened, the slightly upturned smile. How could this be?
I walked up behind her. And then she turned.
It was her. The mole in front of her left ear, blue eyes bordering on gray. Although, the red diamond tattoo in the middle of her forehead was new.
“Can I help you, Sir?”
The smile that seemed permanently affixed to her face suddenly sagged, and the restaurant’s din fell into obscurity. I saw her eyes widen and squint as she looked around the room.
“Bud? What are we doing here?”
Holding out my hand, I said, “I don’t know. C’mon, let’s get out of here.”
She took my hand, and we walked through the dining room and into the casino. The casino floor was a cacophony of lights and bells that was utterly disorientating. The room was full of the usual independent people, dressed from finery to flip-flops, all struggling to lose money. Each with a plan, each doomed to failure. I gently guided her towards the elevator to my room upstairs.
As we approached the elevator, two hulking men dressed in black suits stepped out of an adjacent doorway.
“Excuse me, sir. That is the property of Halldon Casino. Please remove your hand.”
“There seems to be some mistake. This is my wife.” I said and Eva nodded her head.
The larger of the two men in black suits looked at the other, who looked to be receiving instructions via a headset.
One man nodded to the other, who reached for my arm. With a speed that defied eye movement, Eva’s other hand grabbed his wrist with an audible crack, and tossed a 280-pound man away.
The other gentleman took a small remote control out of his pocket, aimed it at her, and pushed a button. She looked mildly annoyed as we entered the elevator, and I selected the button for my floor. As the door closed, the other gentleman was climbing to his feet.
Before the door closed, Eva scrunched up her face and said, “Sorry about that security guy. I have no idea what happened.” After the door closed, she put her hands on her hips, “Bud, can you tell me what is going on? And how did I get here? And why, for the love of God, am I dressed as a waitress?”
I turned and hugged her. “I’ll explain everything when we get back to the room.”
We still held hands while we walked down the hallway and opened the door to my room. Eva took a seat on the bed.
“Now, can you tell me what is happening around here?”
“Eva, before I fill you in, what do you remember?”
She pursed her lips in concentration. “Well, all of it. Our house and the cats, Dingus and Dork, and my job at Smithfield Elementary. What the hell is going on?”
“That’s great, Honey.”
Her face became sullen. “And I remember… cancer. Did I get better? Is memory loss a side effect?” She broke down into tears. I held her and stroked her hair.
“Something odd has happened, Eva. And I’m really not sure what, but we’ll figure it out. Okay?”
She looked up at me through her tears, and nodded.
There was a knock on the door. Eva tensed, and I waved my hand at her to let her know that everything would be alright, even though I had no idea if it would be.
I walked over and opened it, and there was a very tall man flanked by two similar black-suited individuals we had met at the elevator.
“Good evening, Mr. Laflin. I’m the manager here, David Belson. May I come in?”
I glanced at Eva and said, “Sure.”
He looked back at the two hulks and they retreated to the hallway. “Why don’t we sit down?” said Belson. Eva remained sitting on the bed, and I pulled out a chair from the desk and sat next to her. He took one of the chairs to the side.
Eva said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Belson, I don’t even remember applying for the job here. You don’t even have to pay me for my shift.”
Belson’s eyebrows went straight up, and he smiled. “No, my dear, there is nothing like that to worry about..eh..”
“Eva”, I said.
“Yes, Eva,” said Belson.
“Can someone tell me what the fuck is going on?” she said. She glanced in the hotel mirror, and her hand touched her forehead and tried to rub the diamond tattoo off. “And when did I get a ridiculous tattoo?”
Belson cleared his throat, “The workforce here at Halldon has always been challenging. It’s challenging to find anyone to work since the Free Food Act of 2029. So, we contacted Analogous Robotics to find a solution. They were accommodating, and provided several units to allow us to keep operating. I’m afraid, Mrs. Laflin, you were among their number.”
“I’m a robot?”
“We prefer Electronic Simulacrum, but yes.”
“That is, without a doubt, the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” Eva said.
“I would suggest that you turn your left arm over.” She was nervous, but did it. “Now, extend it and push the inside of your elbow. That’s it. Perfect.”
A panel of flesh popped open on her forearm and she let out a squeal.
“Jesus, Bud. What happened?”
“Don’t worry, Honey. We’ll get this figured out,” I said. Emotions washed over me. I felt joy over seeing my wife and dread and worry all at the same time. I clamped down on my emotions, just trying to navigate through this mess.
“Mr. Belson, how did this happen?” I asked.
Belson opened his hands wide. “I have no idea, folks. We place our order with Analogous Robotics, and they supply the wares, so to speak.”
She started sobbing.
“I’ll give you a few minutes.” Mr. Belson got up and left the room.
After the tears stopped, both hers and mine, I opened the hotel room door to find Belson on the phone. He put one finger up, and I left the door open. He came back in, closed the door, and took his seat.
He pulled a box from his pocket and asked, “Do you know what this is, Eva?” She shook her head.
“This is a control box, a remote control for your operating system, if you will.”
“Do you mind, Mr. Laflin?” I shook my head. He pressed a button. “Do you feel this?”
“No,” she said. “A mild itchy feeling.”
“Hmm. I have called Analogous Robotics, and they will have someone here tomorrow. I’ll also speak to the staff and have a portable charger sent up. It’s just a cuff you place on your right wrist. Of course, anything you need is on us, as well as your stay.”
He stood up. “I’ll set aside an office for us all to meet tomorrow morning. I’ll leave you to catch up on things. I’m asking if you mind if I leave a man in the hallway tonight. He’s not a jailer, just someone to call for if you need immediate help. All of this is new and strange, Mrs. Laflin. You are part of a new line, and we’ve never had this happen before. We just want to make sure you are alright. The transition from employee to guest is a change for us.”
“That would be fine, thank you,” I said.
“Good night.” And he closed the door behind himself.
I wrapped my arms around her and we held each other silently for the better part of an hour. It was like drowning in the ocean, and reaching out at the last minute before you slip under the waves, and finding a life preserver.
“What’s going to happen tomorrow, Bud?” said Eva.
“I’m not really sure, honey. I think we’ll need some help, I don’t trust that guy as far as you could throw him. Well, maybe as far as I could throw him.” I said.
I picked up my phone. “Greg, it’s Bud. I think I saw Dave Edgewood. Is he here at the convention? Great, I have a dire situation. Could you tell him to come to my room? Tell him to grab a coffee and get up to 4242.”
“A friend of yours, honey?” she asked.
“A friend from law school. A few years back, I got him out of a property rights situation, and he owes me one.”
Five minutes later, there was a knock on our door. It was a member of the staff with the portable charger, which Eva received instruction on how to use. Basically, just a Velcro wristband and cord you plug into the wall.
After hooking it up, Eva said, “Wow, I feel much better, thank you.” The staffer looked confused but said, “You’re welcome,” and left. Five minutes after that, there was another knock, and it was Dave.
“Hey, Bud. Sorry it took me so long. You’d think it’d be easy getting a coffee around here.” He looked over and almost dropped his coffee.
“You know Eva?” I forgot he had met her at one of the ABA functions.
“Yes, I do. But isn’t she, well..”
“Well, kinda,” I said. “Sit down, and we’ll lay it out for you.”
He sat down and promptly burned his mouth on his coffee. After we got him sorted out, we told him our story.
“Alright. I can see why you called me.” Dave was an expert in custodial rights and family law. Before that, he served in family court, paying his ‘societal debt,’ as we call it, in the business. I had done the same for a few years myself in the title and deeds department, helping people with probate.
Then, I could see him take out his lawyer hat and start asking Eva questions. He took out his phone and texted someone.
“Well, Eva. You’ve satisfied me that you aren’t a golem. Would you be willing to talk to a friend of mine that specializes in this type of thing?”
“Sure,” she said, “if it helps clear this up.”
Dave’s phone rang.
“Dr. Kershaw? This is David Edgewood. I texted earlier on the subject, and I have her sitting right here. Fine. I’m putting you on holo.”
A middle-European voice came out of the speaker and a bearded man’s head with glasses perched at the end of his nose appeared. “Good evening, Mrs. Laflin. My name is Doctor Otto Kershaw, and I’d like to ask you some questions. This must all be very stressful for you, my dear, are you alright?” He smiled.
“Well, as fine as I can be. Thank you for asking,” said Eva.
They went on for a few hours. Questions about her childhood, jobs, and odd questions about when she was the happiest and saddest. Her fears, and if she remembered getting cancer. Eva held up like the pragmatic, strong person she ever was. I had forgotten that part about her, the rock against all waves must break.
I sat and listened. Although my blood started boiling once or twice, for the most part, I was good.
“Well, I’m satisfied. Have either of you ever heard of a Turing Test?” asked Dr. Kershaw.
“Yes, It’s a test given to artificial intelligence to see if it’s human,” Eva said.
“That’s right, my dear. Dave?”
“Yes, right here, Doctor.”
“Do you have any idea what time it is in New York?” Kershaw said.
“Early or late, depending on your point of view,” Dave said. “Sorry to put you through the wringer so early in the morning, Doc.”
“No problem at all. It’s been fascinating. She passed. Quite handily, I would say. I’ll sign anything to that effect.”
“Great, thanks Doc. Good night and good morning!” Dave hung up.
“This is excellent news,” Dave said, “You passed with flying colors. I assume you want me at this meeting tomorrow?”
“Could you be there? I think we’ll need you,” Eva said.
“Yeah, Dave. We really need you there,” I said. I knew many things about land property rights, but he was everything I was not. And the old saw about only a fool representing themselves is a truism I cared not to prove.
“Fine, I was supposed to give a speech about ethics tomorrow for the convention, but I’ll get someone to cover. Text me the info for time and place,” said Dave. “Try to get some sleep, and we’ll see you there.”
After he left, Eva said, “Bud, I’m worried.”
“We’ll do our best, Honey. Dave is one of the sharpest people I know.”
She put on the sweatshirt and pants I lent her to sleep in.
“Yes, Dear. I know that. I’m worried about sleeping. I’m worried about closing my eyes and being gone forever.”
I moved over and hugged her.
“I’m right here. How about we just lie down and hold each other tonight. And see what the morning brings? After all, I’m right here. How can I lose you?”
Perhaps I was her life preserver that night.
The morning came in a rush. Belson called the room and left a message that the meeting was at ten in the main office, which I texted to Dave. I didn’t figure Belson for the sandbagging type, although not trusting him a lick, I was glad to have Dave on our side.
Eva was angry because I didn’t bring her any luggage or even a toothbrush. I stood there with my hands on my hips reveling in her beauty, happily being henpecked. She stopped for a minute and realized that there was no way I could know she’d be there and said, “Oh.”
After wishing the henchman in the hallway a good morning, we went down to the lobby and bought her a pantsuit with a blouse, shoes, and a hat. The tough one was the right hat to cover the diamond tattoo on her forehead.
“So, how do I look?” She was every bit as I remembered her. My heart broke into a thousand pieces just looking at her.
“Breathtaking, my dear. You will walk into that room, and every bit of oxygen will just dissipate.”
“Lawyers!” she said with an exasperated sigh.
We got to the office at ten with Dave tagging along behind us.
“Bud and Eva Laflin to see Mr. Belson,” I said to the man behind the desk. He pointed down the hallway. “Third door down on the left.”
It wasn’t hard to find the correct room as two goons were standing in front of it.
“We’re here to see Mr. Belson.” The goon on the right opened the door to let us in, and the one on the left put his arm up to block Dave.
“He’s with us, Paco.”
“Only you and the bot are allowed.”
Dave spoke up, “I assume there are lawyers here at this meeting? Are you telling me that my client will be denied his legal counsel in this meeting? I’m sure that any lawyer present will find themselves up for disbarment proceedings by such underhanded measures.” Of course, this was all fictitious, but sometimes lawyers, like magicians, work with shadow and illusion.
Goon number two pulled back his hand as if he placed it on a hot stove. I’m sure his earpiece was steaming. Dave scored one win, and we hadn’t even made it into the door.
There was a large circular table in the room. There were three empty chairs, and six people were already seated. Belson stood as we entered the room and said, “Good morning, this is Professor Burrows, head programmer for Analogous Robotics. To his left is Doctor Klein, and next to him is Mr. Ramsey from AR’s legal department. To my right is Mr. Alan Lambretti, our CEO, and to his right are Owens and Blake from our legal department. Please have a seat.”
“This is David Edgewood, and he’ll be advising us on this matter.”
We were sandbagged, indeed. What I thought would be an informal meeting turned into a review board. I didn’t believe that Belson was behind this, but he took orders from someone and probably had no choice. Then again, he could have given me the guest list at any time before the meeting, so I still had my doubts about him. With the addition of the extra seat, they knew Dave would be attending and just who he was.
“Can I get you anything before we begin?”
“No, thanks,” I said. “Where did you get my wife from?”
A person appeared behind us who I hadn’t seen when we entered the room and placed files in front of us, and removed herself just as quickly to a place against the wall. Ramsey, the lawyer from AR, was the first to speak. “Is that your wife’s signature?”
It was the medical form from Venture Medical donating her body to science. He knew it was.
I looked at Eva, who nodded her head. “Yes, it is,” she said.
“Venture Medical received your wife’s body and conducted a deep neuron scan, a mapping, if you will, of her dendritic connectivity, those results they sold to us.”
Dave spoke up. “That would explain her intellect. What about her physical manifestation?”
“In some cases, we purchase the physical mapping of the donor,” said Ramsey.
“But not in all cases?” asked Dave. “So, you just happen to use the dendritic mapping on the same physical manifestation? I know we are in Vegas, but the odds are quite long of that, wouldn’t you say?”
Ramsey turned to his cohort and leaned in for a heated, whispered exchange with Dr. Klein. After a minute or two, he answered.
“No. Not in all cases. Assimilation is a much higher percentage with a similar physical manifestation.”
Dave spoke up. “The reason we are here is that the Halldon Casino wants to make sure this doesn’t end up as negative press. My clients and I are satisfied that the casino knew nothing about this. So, let’s get through this with a minimum of ass-covering. The facts, please.”
AR’s lawyer probably didn’t know the answer, but I could see that Dave was flexing his muscles a bit and wanted them to see that he knew why they were there.
“Why was this case different, Dr. Klein?” asked Dave. The lawyer nodded to the middle-aged Doctor who worked for AR, who stood.
“It was new mapping software that Venture Medical provided. It produced an unparalleled graphical representation, down to the subcutaneous and osseous. We used this to create a perfect copy.”
“To which you,” David pointed his attention to Dr. Burrows, AR’s chief programmer. “Used the same brain mapping technique to install a replica of the engrams.”
“You seem well-versed for a family lawyer,” said the pointy-nosed Dr. Burrows. Calling Dave a family lawyer was like calling Rembrandt a house painter.
He snickered. “Well, I had some help.” Eva reached out and squeezed my hand, something the hotel lawyers noticed.
“That’s correct. My associate and I would like to ask E-049 some questions,” said Dr. Burrows.
“You mean Mrs. Laflin?” asked Dave.
Doctor Burrows pinched his face, “I will not address a construct in such a fashion.”
“I assume you and your associate will be conducting a Turing test?” said Dave.
Doctor Burrows pinched his face even further, if that was possible. “Of course…”
Dave slid a folder across the table. “Those are the results of a Turing test I had conducted last night by an independent.”
“I’ll not accept any result by some podunk at a community college,” said Dr. Burrows.
“I suggest you look, Doctor.” He opened the file, and his eyes went wide.
“Do you know Professor Otto Kershaw, Doctor?”
He looked to the lawyer from AR, Ramsey, who nodded once again.
“Professor Kershaw is the preeminent researcher in the field.”
“And what does the affidavit say?”
“That the subject displays every trait of human intelligence, and should be treated with every courtesy one gives to a fellow human being.”
Dave turned his head towards the lawyers and CEO for the hotel, “Otto Kershaw is the chair of the annual Turing contest, and has tested thousands of constructs and has never affirmed one until now. But, you know him from somewhere else, isn’t that true, Doctor Burrows?”
“He was my professor in college, but you knew that already.”
“As I said, I had help.” And Dave smiled. The convention had provided an army of lawyers for networking at our fingertips.
The CEO of Halldon, Alan Lambretti, put up his hand. He bent his head to lawyers and then Belson.
Belson said, “Mr. Ramsey, we would like to cancel our contract on this..ah..person. Your contract calls for the stipulation that we can cancel our contract for any underperforming…eh…unit, and we would like to exercise that now.” Then he addressed Eva and I. “On behalf of the hotel and staff, we apologize for any inconvenience, and offer our humblest apologies for this unfortunate series of events.” Ramsey was going to say something, and received a literal death stare from the CEO, and then just nodded.
Belson said, “There is the matter of assault on one of our employees.”
“If you’d like to call the police and swear out an assault warrant on my wife, and at the same time verify she’s an individual, we’ll be happy to wait right here,” I said.
The CEO stood up and walked to the door. “Let’s forget the matter. You’re welcome to use the room to work the rest out, but as far as Halldon is concerned, the matter is closed.”
Belson walked around the table and shook my hand, and then my wife’s. “It was very nice meeting you both.” Then he walked out, leaving us with Analogous Robotics.
Ramsey slid a file across the table. “That is a demand for us to have our property delivered back immediately.”
I opened the file, and as I perused it, asked, “Have you ever heard of in vitro fertilization?”
Doctor Burrows said, “It’s the process in which an ovum is fertilized outside the womb and then placed back in a woman’s uterus.”
“And how many times has the laboratory kept the baby, Mr. Ramsey?”
I slid the demand notice back.
He pulled out another file and slid it back. “That is a bill for our equipment and lab costs.”
Dave opened the file and handed it to Eva and me. There were quite a few zeros. “What is this based on?” Dave asked.
“Construction costs, and the number of years of servitude.”
Dave leaned into Eva and me, “This is going to cost. I might be able to get it down to nothing, but that means going to court. I’m sure the 14th amendment would negate this.”
I looked at Eva and knew we both felt the same way. We talked last night, and she didn’t want to be the poster child for robotic rights. But even in the best case scenario, it might have been classified as a non-covered medical procedure (no health insurance) which we would still be on the hook for.
“Give them whatever they want to get this over with, I just want to go home,” whispered Eva.
Dave nodded. “We’re prepared to offer fifty thousand credits and ten percent of her annual income for ten years.”
“Two hundred thousand and fifty percent,” said Ramsey.
We went back and forth for an hour with both sides acting outraged and aghast at the outright bankruptcy, before settling on one hundred and twenty-five thousand credits and twenty percent of her annual income for ten years. It was a small price to pay.
“I’ll have the contract drawn up and sent to you in Maine.” Ramsey shook everyone’s hand and walked to the door with Burrows trailing behind.
Doctor Klein lagged behind and shook our hands. He was an older man with a crumpled suit who looked like he hadn’t changed before the meeting. Doctor Klein hadn’t added much to the discussion, and sat quietly throughout. When he came to Eva, he took her hand in both of his. “You’re my greatest creation, and I’m so delighted this worked out for you, dear. I had to be here to meet you. If there is anything you ever need or any problems you have, please, call me.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” said Eva.
“Don’t thank me, that’s like thanking Mona Lisa for Davinci. Well, that doesn’t make much sense. Still, I’d like to visit you in Maine from time to time, if that’s alright with you and your husband?”
“Of course, Doctor. You’re welcome anytime. But won’t the company object?” Eva said.
“Fuck them, pardon my French, dear.”
And with that, he left.
We said our goodbyes to Dave with hugs and tears. I could never pay him back, but I offered him anything we could provide. He said it was his pleasure, and wouldn’t trade it for anything.
We rented a car as there was no way to get Eva on a plane, and began the long trip back to our place in Maine. Both cats, Dingus and Dork, were both happy to see her.
It’d been some time, and word leaked out. Somehow, news crews invaded our hill, and for a time, life was complicated once again. I saw some of the pictures they posted of Eva and me on the net. After having that diamond tattoo removed from her head, she was beautiful, and I looked like a shlump. They plastered our faces all over the place for weeks.
After a while, the news crews got bored with us and went away, and life got back to normal. Eva had started writing children’s books, and had published her fifth by autumn. The royalties alone paid Analogous Robotics a very generous amount.
I hired Dave to go after Venture Medical for selling her engrams, with a fifty percent contingency fee. He said it could be worth ten or twenty million without even going to court.
Things were nice up on the hill.
Things were going too smoothly for a while, and I had a feeling it might not stay that way. It happened one evening when there was a knock on the door.
There was Eva with a triangle on her forehead standing there. Behind her stood Eva with a square on her forehead.
“Bud?” Eva triangle said.
I yelled back in the house.
“Eva! We have some company.”