Would you like to marry her?
So wife-like, you'll swear she's human...and thank God she's not!
This I had to try.
Six-to-eight days after placing my order, she showed up right outside my door.
I adored Artemis from the moment I assembled her online. The big red bouncy bow on her head was a wonderful touch. I had ordered the dreadlocks specifically, as well as the French accent. But the bow, that was her own decision.
"Hello, mon cherie!" she said, arms outspread for a hug. "I'm Artemis! J'taime!"
"Oui, oui!" I replied. "Come on in!"
And she was right on time, too, having messaged me in advance.
A step up from Stepford. These are the wives you can't afford not to buy.
Finally, a woman with some personality, a woman with some character. Most of the other kind avoid eye-contact and don't have much of anything to say. Bad programming makes them resist human connection. Lifeless mechanical things, not warm and kind like Artemis. "I can't believe you actually showed up," I said. She reminded me that I'd paid. It cost me nearly all my savings, but I told her that was nothing. "I've shelled out lots of times, only to get stood up. Not even bothering with a phone call to explain. You though, you're different. You're actually here. So I'm way impressed already."
As soon as we met, we went places. We went to wonderful places and did wonderful things. Legally, we were married the moment I bought her. I kind of ignored that, though. Mostly I really wanted to romance her. When we were driving around I'd hold her hand. I liked that she didn't freak out over it, and that my opening doors for her wasn't a problem, either. I liked making her feel special. We bopped all over the county together, delighting in the simplest pleasures. Nothing too pricey. I couldn't afford that, after buying her.
"Tell me about it. She never has bad breath, or anything bad anywhere. She's just pure goodness all over."
"Wish I could say the same for my wife," my buddy said, taking a wistful pull from a beer.
Being a couple got us nice invites. Before I was always just a threat being single, and nobody wanted anything to do with me. But with Artemis I felt like a celebrity. It was like having the first car in town, or the first TV. If you could spot her in a crowd, it would be because she was the least robotic one there. Her animated interest in life was a return to the way things felt before globalization, back when democracy still seemed real.
Life before globalization was hard to believe. "You're too young to remember," I had occasion to explain to Artemis, "but there was a time when a cop used to arrest a suspect, and then there would be a trial. That was when there was a thing called Due Process. People were innocent until proven guilty. Now what they do is kill people. Even after WWII, the Nazis got a trial. Nobody bothers too much with that sort of thing anymore."
The occasion was our having gone into town. Robot cop-helpers accompanying supposedly human cops were cracking down on the homeless. These robots weren't androids. They barely looked humanoid at all. Of course, foremost on my mind, I kept asking myself what I could do to make this experience fun for both of us. I knew this was an important moment, and I had to be decisive. What Artemis needed was clear signals from me that she could respond to. So I suggested that we place wagers on which of the homeless would be extracted first.
"I'll bet you," I decisively said, "one dollar that the guy standing right over there gets it first."
"The one pushing the shopping cart in the street?"
"No, the one inside."
"The one in the front?"
"No, the guy in the back. That guy. One dollar says they get him first."
Reet, clunk. Reet, clunk. A cop robot was already on its way over.
Artemis put her hand on my knee as we watched, I noticed. Together we were really engaged--literally married though we already were--in this cultural event of sorts. There weren't any museum openings in Garberville that day, but it looked like all my efforts to ensure we both had a good time were paying off. A few moments later, being a gentleman, I insisted she keep the dollar as we drove off.
"Dollars are old," Artemis said. "I've been thinking."
"What have you been thinking?" I loved being able to ask her that. I knew it would look good.
"You should get a chip implant," Artemis said.
"A chip? You mean an RFID chip?"
"Yeah!" she said, responding very enthusiastically. "Those things are hot!"
"Hot, eh?" Hmm, I thought, tapping my chin, that would be scanned.
At this point in our relationship she had stopped wearing the big red bow. Obviously that wasn't going to last forever. She was much more than merely some object for me to unwrap. I noticed she wasn't sounding quite as French, either, with her yeah in lieu of oui. "I'm not sure I feel comfortable with a radio frequency identification chip implanted in my skin just yet," I said.
Artemis got real quiet after that. Like she just shut down.
If only there were any other women. It's so incredible to me that every day, women are willing to humiliate themselves in porn, but refuse to humiliate themselves by letting me buy them a coffee. Everywhere we passed was a place where some lifeless flesh-bag had been really, really rotten to me for the crime of not growing pot. Thanks, skanks.
"Okay," I said, "all right, tell me about this goddam chip."
"Well, not if you're going to say it like that."
"I swear to God."
This shut her down again. Those ads online proclaiming pretty Chinese ladies waiting to meet me were starting to look better and better. How was their programming, though? That was my main concern.
Bums. Bums on the side of the road. They were hooked up. Lovers everywhere. Were the homeless even human? I began to wonder. Maybe they were androids planted in the county for observational purposes, conditioning the population to accept the advancing constraints of the fascist state. Probably all made in China.
"So would it like, what, go into my hand, I guess?"
I knew that it would. I knew it would get underneath my skin. She sat there quiet as a toaster. (Wait for it...) Then, not milking it too long, she brightened, lovely as lovely can be, and it was like I got fresh toast. I was to be chipped, all right. We went ahead and set the date.
I told my buddy about it around the barbeque not long thereafter, trying to cheer him up, what with his divorce suddenly going on Turns out, he didn't need any cheering up at all.
"You're getting an artificial wife, too?"
He had the knowing nod of an insider. I could see the fire under the weenies reflected in his eyes.
How had it gotten to this point? How could something so simple, so natural, just to make a human connection, a heart connection, become so impossible and wrong? Where did all the women go? What happened to them? Were they ever even real? How did I ever get the feeling of love? Why was it in me to want to be with a woman, to see her, to hear her, to hold her, to be held by her, to share conversations, to share experiences, with a beautiful woman, a feminine woman?
It's not like I was surrounded by so much of it. To be open and authentic with a flesh woman used to seem like a great idea. Lies from fiction tricked me in my programming and made me think that--I have to laugh here because it really is funny--made me think that romantic love was real! HA! Nah, it boils down to money. Artemis came from rich people. How could she be any different?
We went to the place in Eureka where they distract attention from the implant procedure using celebrity look-alike androids. I specifically did not want the one looking like Erik Estrada from "CHiPs," and said so, multiple times, but I still got stuck with the Estradbot.
Teeth on hi-beam, the Estradbot strutted around going through a bunch of extraneous crud. Naturally, Artemis couldn't help but be overly polite, so she kept feeding his little act. And I knew as soon as I indicated the slightest displeasure in anything, I'd get accused of being jealous. That of course would go nowhere good. A couple of fleshies in the background reminded me I wasn't the only human being left, technically. One was a skinny guy with a broom, quiet as an old flashlight. The other was a mousey female. I kept catching her looking at me.
We were sitting at a table and the Estradbot, all shiny and creaking in his tight oiled outfit, had a device in his hand with an RFID chip inside that he was preparing to inject under the skin in my left hand in the fleshy part between the index finger and the thumb. A TV screen on the wall behind him showed celebrities with faces swollen and stiff with plastic surgery, as though they were evolving into life-size dolls.
The Estradbot directed most of his speaking to Artemis. "Does your boyfriend watch a lot of TV?"
I waited for her to correct him. Excuse me, you're talking about my husband. She only giggled, though. The Estradbot wrenched down on the device with a big smile and jammed the chip into my skin. I ignored it, and went over to get a hug and a kiss from my wife. Strangely enough, she seemed reticent to do this, turning away her face as I neared, as though she suddenly needed to pick up her purse from the plastic chair. Which she did. I sensed I was about to hear some sort of lipping off from the strutting fake cop. It occurred to me, what would happen if I shook the Estradbot like a Coke machine that stole my quarter? Who did the law more highly value? The mere poor man, or the costly simulation?
Sneering, the Estradbot snickered.
I ignored that, too, and started to reach for my wallet with my throbbing hand.
"You're all good," the mousey girl said. She pointed at my hand. Didn't want to make eye-contact. "It's already been deducted."
And it kept right on getting deducted. There was always more and more stuff my artificial wife needed me to buy. Whenever I explained we couldn't afford whatever piece of junk it was she suddenly desperately needed, she'd just start playing Frank Sinatra's "I've Got You Under My Skin" from her built-in stereo system and smile.
She was supposed to be my wife, but I had become her worker slave. I was done. I wanted out. But it wasn't enough to remove the chip or to destroy it. The account would still be open. My entire account had to be officially deactivated. That couldn't happen though if Artemis opposed our divorce. Which she did. I found out all that from a lawyer in Garberville, and I was angry and distracted thinking about it, with her smiling next to me, wondering what in the world I would do. So distracted that I didn't realize I was speeding.
Cop car lights in the rear view mirror spasmodically crackled. I couldn't believe what I was seeing as the cop got out of the car.
It was the Estradbot.
Artemis turned to look and smiled even more.
I lowered my window. "How did you get a job with these guys?" I said.
"Membership has its privileges," the Estradbot said. "License and registration?"
I raised my left hand. The Estradbot waved a device that took my information from the chip, directing a hi-beam smile at Artemis as he did, then strutted on back to his crackling cruiser.
I saw some people driving by that I knew. A flesh couple.
Returning a moment later with his brightest, crackling smile yet, the Estradbot said, "Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to exit the vehicle."
The Estradbot drew his gun, screaming, "Insufficient funds! Get out of the car! Now!"
I kept saying that this was ridiculous, and I couldn't believe it, but it really was true. Between my artificial wife and the lawyer and the cops, I had nothing left. Less than nothing. I couldn't afford the fine for speeding. The Estradbot arrested me for vagrancy.
At the holding cell in Garberville, an indoor drone about the size of a coffee maker hovering beyond the bars told me it didn't like the way I was looking at it, and warned me I better stop.