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Elliott lives in a small town in a province in Canada. He is the proud father of twin boys and the personal assistant to the cats Caligula and Orbit.

“Right this way Mr. Reynolds, Nathan has just finished setting up the displays for you.” They shook hands briefly before the man continued. “My name is Derek, I’m here to familiarize you with the product and answer any questions you may have before you meet with the techs to work out specifics.”

The hallway was white, not a bleached or surgical white, more along the lines of a comfortable bathtub white. Four colour-matched pedestals lined the wall on each side and on top of each pedestal was a simple black urn. The black was cold, precise. Reynolds was impressed. Rich but not gaudy, just like Shakespeare said.

“Right through here Mr. Reynolds.”

Derek was holding open an understated carved-oak door that was set in to the wall where the hall split off to each side. Reynolds saw three identical urns down the length of the left and right arms of the T as he walked past Derek through the door. The room was done up in the same bathtub-white and Stygian black motif as the hall had been. The pedestals were shorter here, and much wider. About six feet above each pedestal was a steel ring from which hung a thick black curtain encircling an area about 4 feet across.

“Only two models? I’d expected a wider selection.” Reynolds said.

Derek had closed the door and was now standing beside him, smiling. “There are more available,” Derek’s hand slid into his inside pocket, “but the difference between this synth model and the next step down is noticeable. I can ask Nathan to bring one of the others in for comparison if you’d like” He pulled out his phone and tapped a few times.

“No, I’m sure you know your business. This will be fine.”

“Very good Mr. Reynolds.” Derek looked at his phone, tapped a few more times and gestured toward the pedestal on the left where the curtain was receding into the steel ring. “This is synth model 5A, the best of our synthetic product line. The covering, we call it synthin, is indistinguishable from organic skin in terms of texture, scent, appearance and behaviour.

Reynolds stepped forward and was about to put his hand on the synth but stopped short, “May I touch it?”

“Certainly, please do. The synthin behaves exactly like organic flesh, press it and it whitens, pull it it smooths, push it it puckers. The texture and thickness of the synthin will vary by placement on the frame and its purpose. This adds a level of both functionality and veracity.

“In addition to the well attested realism of the synthetic product, its nature allows for the inclusion of features not available with an organic model. One of their greatest strengths is that they have what the bright-boys call ‘morphological non-specificity.’ That means that we can manufacture synths in whatever form and to whatever specifications our clients require. Data ports, utility limbs, infrared optics, we have over 500 standard options and the capacity to fulfill custom requests.”

Reynolds had been running his hand up and down a patch of synthin while he was being pitched. “This is remarkable Derek. If you hadn’t told me this is synthetic I’d never know. It feels a little cool to me though, like it has a chill.”

“My skin would feel a little cool too if I were standing here naked,” Derek chuckled a little, “but you’re right. The synthin is fractionally colder than its organic counterpart. It is a side-effect of the internal cooling system. Our feedback indicates that our clients stop noticing shortly after delivery.

“The synthetics also enjoy a certain advantage of economy over organics – although I don’t expect that will be much of a consideration for you. Because they’re synthetic they’re less resource intensive than the organics. They don’t need to be fed and they’re impervious to disease, infection and injury

“Of course the synthetic models lack some of the inherent qualities of our organic line. The most obvious downside, and the one our clients tend to encounter first, is that the synthin lacks a self-repair function. Any damage it experiences would have to be repaired at one of our facilities. But this is more or less important depending on the use your unit is put to. No one cares about the dents on the farm truck do they?

“The fluidity of the 5A’s behavioural parameters, all of our synthetic models actually, allows you to tweak them in real-time via the personalized app that we provide with your purchase.

“That covers the long and the short of the 5A. As you progress through the creation process the various techs will be able to answer any specific or detailed questions you may have, but I am happy to answer any general questions about the model before we discuss the organics.”

“I think I’ve got a fair grasp on the basics, thanks Derek. In fact, I’m not sure you need to bother going over the organic, you’ve pretty much sold me.”

“While I have no doubt that you’ll be more than happy with a synthetic model there is a significant, though intangible, potential drawback to synth ownership that you should be aware of. I always have difficulty conveying this aspect to my clients, it is somewhat conceptual. Are you able to unknow something you know, Mr. Reynolds?”

“Do I ever forget things? Sometimes yes.”

“Not forget a thing so much as return to a state of ignorance. Let’s say that you have a beloved dog. One day, while you are out, the dog is hit by a car. Your wife, to spare your feelings, finds a dog that is absolutely identical to the first dog in every way. A month after the switch you find a receipt from the pet store and discover the truth. Would you be able to see the dog the same way that you did the day before or would there always be a little voice in your head saying, ‘that isn’t Rex’?

“Our clients who don’t have that voice report nothing but satisfaction with their purchases. For those clients who do have that voice, the ones who can’t unknow, the knowledge that their synth isn’t truly real interferes with their enjoyment of it.” Derek’s smile was briefly hesitant.

“I’m sorry, that’s imprecise, but as I said it’s a slippery thing to articulate.”

“No,” said Reynolds, “you did fine. I’m pretty sure I get it. What can you tell me about the organic?”

Derek tapped his phone and the right-hand curtain began working its way up into the ring.

“We can give the organic any covering, skin, that you choose. The model here has the default, human standard. The techs will give you a full rundown of standard and custom options.

“As I mentioned earlier the are physical limits to the morphology, the shape, of an organic unit. For instance, bone can only withstand so much stress before it breaks and this imposes restrictions on the size of the unit as well as limb position and length. Center of gravity is also a consideration if you opt for a non-standard body type, additional limbs, or limb placement outside of the standard.

“Do people ever ask for that?”

“People’s desires and purposes are as varied as the people themselves Mr. Reynolds. I have found some of the configurations that clients have requested, for art or for effect, disquieting. But that is a matter of taste and style. Mine, it seems, run more to the mundane.”

Reynolds was looking at the organic unit and mentally adding arms and legs, withering some and swelling others, a multi-armed spectacle sidling aimlessly around as pointless limbs move and land at random, the spine bent near cracking under the weight of its massive bi-mouthed head. Jesus!

“As far as functionality goes there is no difference between this and any other organic body. It has nutrient and elimination demands, any damage will repair itself much like any damage to your body would – though faster and a little more perfectly. Anything your body can’t fix an organic can’t either. A cut finger will close, without treatment a cut artery will end function. The tissue doesn’t scar as readily as yours does but it will if the damage is sufficient. Infection and disease also need to be taken into account for the longevity and optimal functioning of an organic unit.

“Biological function is regulated by the autonomic nervous system, behavioural function is regulated and determined by the components that will be hardwired into the unit’s brain.”

“They have brains? So they’re conscious?”

“No, not in any conventional sense. The consciousness centers of the brain are knocked out, as are any portions that are not required for sensory input and balance. Pain sensation remains in order to retain the self-preservative feedback system. Other than that the brain functions at the minimum level required to maintain viability. There is no place for the mind to reside – that’s how the psych team explained it anyway. You choose the cognitive and behavioural parameters you want your unit to function within and the techs magic them onto a chip and embed it in the unit’s brain.”

“What if, say a month later, I decide that I don’t like the parameters I selected, can I tweak them?”

“Unfortunately no, Mr. Reynolds as I said the parameters are encoded onto the chip. We investigated ongoing customizability but the repeated invasions into the brain reduced product longevity and would be prohibitively expensive to the client on a per unit basis.”

“I see.”

“Do you have any questions regarding the biological or behavioural function of your organic?”

“Nothing that occurs to me no.”

“This will be explained at length when you sign the papers but I feel I should at least mention the legal and insurance status of created organic forms so that you can factor it into your decision.

“Often our clients feel that because a unit looks like a dog, to use the earlier example, then it is actually a dog – and it may even become one to them. But the law sees it differently.

If a car hits your canine unit it is the same as if the car had hit your chair. Because of the decognition procedure, organic units have the same rights and legal recognition as any other non-sentient property you own. Unlike your other property they are largely uninsurable. The few companies that will insure them only do so on a case by case basis and under very tight restrictions.” Derek tapped his phone one last time and the curtains began descending in unison.

“And that, Mr. Reynolds, takes us to the end of my involvement. If you have no further questions I will escort you to the techs so you can complete your order.”

“No Derek, thanks. You’ve made the decision easy for me. I had been planning on buying an organic but the synthetics are better, vastly better, on every count. Thank-you, sincerely, for moving me away from making what would have been an expensive mistake. I’m going to go with the 5A.” Reynolds extended his hand to end this part of the process.

“Very good Mr. Reynolds. I hesitate to mention this, but there is one characteristic of the organics that many of our clients find decisive. That is ownership of the thing itself. Not a facsimile, not a replica but the real thing. For some having an android bodyguard made to look like a viking can’t compete with owning their own viking – real right down to the DNA. If your interests are, less public then it comes back to the ability to unknow. Can you forget the explicit artificiality? And, if you can’t, does it matter to you?”

Reynolds looked from Derek to the two blanks, both female but only discernibly so because of the topography of their chests. He tried to see a variance in the eyes, hair, and smiles that he imagined on them. He wanted a difference to force itself on him, but it wasn’t there. In his mind, fully detailed, they were as identical as the forms on the pedestals in front of him.

“No different than a chair, eh?”

“That’s what the law says.”

“Can you program her to say ‘no’ sometimes?”

About The Author

“Elliott lives in a hypothyroid small town in an unremarkable province in Canada. He is the proud father of twin boys and the personal assistant to the cats Caligula and Orbit. Elliott would die happy if the trinity were replaced by Hunter S. Thompson, Kurt Vonnegut and Leonard Cohen.”

Science Fiction Short Story

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