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Science Fiction

Blue eyes. Fair skin. Freckled nose. Long, healthy brown locks. When looking at each individual feature, the woman standing before him appeared normal. Pretty, even. However, when taking a step back and observing the young woman as a whole, something just seemed… off. He couldn’t quite place it, and the longer he stared, the more uncanny the woman looked. What truly made the hairs stand on the back of his neck was the unnatural stillness the woman possessed. Garbed in a simple black dress with a white apron, not even her chest moved as one would if drawing breath.


Theodore leaned towards the woman again, beginning to believe that perhaps she wasn’t real after all. He tried to get her attention a few times, going as far as to lightly shake her shoulder when waving in front of her unblinking eyes received no reaction. He considered touching her again to see if she gave off body heat, but the concept made his face warm and he reconsidered. Fake or not, he didn’t want to be improper.


Was she one of those statues made of wax he had read about? Apparently, the concept was popular a while back in museums to replicate people and animals in past ages. If that were the case, why would the foyer of a wealthy Bionics Enterprise investor, Xavier Fitzgerald, have one just inside the door to his personal home?


The man was renown world-wide for being the lead developer in the bionics industry. At the time, he received constant negative criticism for his work. Xavier’s dream was to create prosthetics that not only returned bodily function to amputees and paraplegics but create extremities that performed better than a natural limb ever could. His experiments, which involved testing and combining bionics with the human nervous system, were frowned deeply upon by most of society. Often, he was blamed for trying to “play God” by altering human anatomy from natural to artificial.


Despite the backlash, he pushed through and accomplished exactly what he set out do.


To the shock of the world, rather than creating a business of his own, he instead became a freelance consultant for other companies following in his footsteps. Thirty years later, he still invests in these companies, profiting from the success of the industry that he himself created, all without lifting a finger, bionic or otherwise.


Having recently completed his degree in Biomedical Engineering, with a minor in Electrical Engineering and Robotics, Theodore considered Xavier his idol. Imagine the boys surprise when the legend himself contacted his family home with the request to meet him personally upon his return from studying abroad.


Though passionate in his studies and receiving near perfect marks in all subjects, Theodore couldn’t understand why someone as talented as Xavier would be interested in a young student with no real-world experience. The odd woman now before him was solidifying his inclination that this was, in fact, all a dream.


If this woman was fake, which he was beginning to believe was the only logical explanation, the detail the creator put into the replica was astounding. Upon close inspection, he could spy individual pores in her face, though she was blemish free. Leaning closer, Theodore thought he could even see fine hair follicles.


Blue eyes snapped to lock with his. Yelping and dropping the briefcase he had been holding, Theodore stumbled back from the woman, whose eyes now tracked his movements. Heart racing, Theodore righted himself and retrieved his briefcase from the ground, all without breaking eye contact with the woman. Though her eyes stayed locked to his, no other part of her so much as moved. Goosebumps broke across his skin with the utter wrongness of the situation.


“Theodore, my boy!”


The booming voice of his idol caused the poor boy to nearly drop his briefcase again. Xavier stood at the top of a grand stairwell; his hands casually tucked in the pockets of his immaculate three-piece suit. Theodore glanced back at the woman, whose eyes were once again staring, unblinking, straight forward. Shivering involuntarily, he fought the urge to physically recoil.


“Beautiful, isn’t she?”


This time, Theodore did drop his briefcase when he startled. Xavier’s comment had come from directly behind him. How had the man moved so quickly and silently? He had to be in his early sixties by now. And surely, he would have heard the echo of the man’s footsteps in such a vast and nearly empty receiving hall as the one they stood in. He retrieved his bag from the floor once again, face burning.


Taking a large step away from the strange woman, Theodore pushed his shoulders back and stuck out his hand toward his idol, praying he would survive the rest of this meeting without embarrassing himself further.


“Theodore Barrington, Sir. And may I just say what an absolute honor it is to actually meet you.”


Xavier smirked, removing one of his pocketed hands to shake Theodore’s. Despite his age, the man looked remarkably young, only the beginning traces of gray peppering his thick head of slicked back hair.


“I’m glad you were able to come. I would have reached out sooner, but the university informed me that you were completing your robotics minor overseas in England. How was that?”


“Very enlightening, Sir. They have a very different way of doing things there.”


Xavier nodded and turned back toward the disturbing woman. His hands were once again tucked casually into his pockets. “Very good. Now tell me, what do you think of her? Beautiful, no?”


Theodore gnawed on the inside of his cheek, debating on whether or not to be honest or revert to flattery.


“She is definitely… unique. Is she… um… real?”


Xavier’s smirk grew into a full grin. “What do you think?”


Theodore again studied the woman, albeit a bit reluctantly and this time keeping his distance. She appeared just as lifeless as when he first spotted her.


“I don’t think so.”


Xavier turned his attention towards Theodore, brows slightly furrowed, his grin dropped to a slight frown. “And what gave that away?”


Panic stabbed in the younger man’s gut. Had he given the wrong answer? Did he sound too sure of himself? His mind racing, he wasn’t sure if he should point out his observations in the chance that he was wrong.


“Speculation?”


“Come now, Theo- may I call you Theo? You have to give me more than that. A well-educated man as yourself can offer more than mere speculation.”


Theodore had the vague sense that he was being tested.


“Well, to begin with, she isn’t breathing. She has yet to blink in the while I’ve been here, and any attempts at gaining her attention were met with failure.” He didn’t mention the brief moment when the woman had tracked his movements.


The inventor had nodded along with Theodore’s explanation, his frown becoming more prominent.


“Yes, yes. That all makes sense. Such simple things, too. I guess after spending years only looking at the big picture, you forget to remember the finer details.”


He said no more, seeming lost in his own thoughts while staring at the woman before them. Theodore wasn’t sure if he had passed the test or not. Between the woman’s stare and inventor’s brooding, he put his best effort forward in not allowing his fidgeting to give away his anxiousness.


Coming to some sort of decision, the man nods to himself before turning and abruptly placing his hands on either of Theodore’s shoulders.


“Theodore, my boy, how would you like to join me and be a part of the future in robotics?”


Had it been possible, Theodore’s jaw would have hit the ground. The further this day progressed, the less he believed it was real and not just a complex dream he would soon wake from.


“M-me, Sir?”


“Yes, you.”


Despite his elation at the offer, a single thought invaded Theodore’s mind, wiggling to the surface.


“Why me?”


At this, Xavier’s brows again furrowed. “What do you mean?”


“Well…” The boy shrugged. “I am no one, Sir. With all due respect, what would someone like me, who has no more experience than a degree, offer someone like… well, someone like you?”


“Your lack of experience is exactly what you can offer.” Xavier chuckled at Theodore’s apparent confusion. “What I am trying to do is change the future. What I have in mind is different from what anyone has ever seen before, and I need a young, fresh mind to help me. One who does not already have experience and expectations, which will ultimately hold them back from trying something new.”


Leaving one hand still on his shoulder, Xavier motioned to the woman with the other.


“You were correct, in your observation. She is, in fact, a prototype. The result of two decades of work and the only of her kind, though hopefully not for long. By this time five years from now, I plan to have her mass-produced. Well, not her, per se. But others of her kind.”


Theodore again observed the woman. Rather than put at ease knowing that she wasn’t real, the uncanny likeness to a real, living woman instead made him that much more uncomfortable. The fact that he could look upon her and have to observe her thoroughly to determine whether or not she was alive… well that was just a tad bit disturbing to him.


“And what is it you plan to do with these… beings?”


“Essentially, they are synthetic humans. Or synths, as I’ve taken to calling them. Or her. As she is the only successful one so far. Just imagine…” Xavier began gesturing with his hands as he continued, his excitement palpable. “A world where you can purchase your own help in what ever way you need, without the worries of contract legality that comes with human services. They can be nannies, butlers, cooks, or gardeners. They can work in hazardous environments without the risk of illness or lawsuits! The possibilities are endless! A permanent helping hand without having to worry about wages, insurance, or shelter.”


“So… slavery?”


“Slavery?” Xavier spat out the word as if it tasted foul. “The synths aren’t real, Theodore. Just a network of wires, machinery, and electronics. Think of it as just a single bionic mass. They need no food or sustenance, other than occasional maintenance, as nothing lasts forever. Just imagine!”


As extraordinary as the concept sounded, something in the back of Theodore's mind stopped him from outright agreeing, which he found equally frustrating. The man he had spent the entirety of his adulthood and many years of his adolescence idolizing was handing him his dream on a platter, a dream he hadn’t even realized he had until now. To work alongside the Xavier Fitzgerald! He should be jumping for joy at the offer, agreeing to any and all proposals made by the man. However, something nagged at him, something that said, ‘this just doesn’t seem right’.


At what point did you draw the line between what was human, and what isn’t? Although this woman before him looked real in every way, other than a few minor details, he knew she was fake. Yet he could not bring himself to view her as a piece of machinery; to treat her as if he were some sort of… master and she nothing more than a slave to his will.


If these synths were released to the public and became a normal staple in families, how could viewing these robots that were so lifelike not cause people to inadvertently skew their view of the people around them who really were alive. Would those who could not afford these commodities lose the labor-intensive jobs they relied on to fabricated humans?


The whole concept just seemed wrong. As strongly as he may feel about this, he couldn’t bring himself to voice these concerns to his idol, lest he destroy any future chances he may have in working alongside the man.


The man in question seemed to sense his hesitation.


“Do not give me an answer yet, Theodore. Take some time to think on it. When you are ready to work towards this future with me, you know how to reach me.” He gave Theodore’s shoulder a supportive squeeze before turning and walking back toward the stairs.


Turning towards the door, Theodore stopped after two paces, the echo of his steps bouncing off marble walls and tile floor. When he stopped, so did the echoes. Turning back, he watched Xavier leisurely approach and climb the stairs. No sounds of footfalls echoed as his steps had. As he watched, he could have sworn he saw the telltale glint of metal under the hem of both of his pant legs.


Bionic legs. This explained the older man’s speed and silent movements. Racking his memory, he could not remember ever hearing of any incident that would warrant the prosthetics. As closely as Theodore following the man's research and innovations, he would know if something had happened.


Hypersensitive to his observations, Theodore noted how smoothly the older man moved. Despite approaching his seventies, Xavier moved as confidently as a man younger than even Theodore. After a life of study and invention, surely the man had to have developed a limp, stooped back, or at least a stiff neck. Yet the older man looked as fit as a young professional athlete.


How much of Xavier was still human? Something was wrong here indeed.


As Theodore turned to head back towards the front door, movement caught his attention. It was the synth. She had turned slightly in his direction, now at an angle from the wall she stood against. Her eyes were on him. As he watched, frozen mid-step, her chest began moving. The movement mimicked that of breathing. The small, innocent smile on her face was the last that Theodore noticed before he fled from the manor.

August 30, 2023 05:50

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1 comment

John K Adams
16:17 Sep 07, 2023

Excellent! Your examination of the world of robots and robot's rights is near and dear to me. This story explores the many ramifications of such potentials in vivid detail. Loved it.

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