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Watch Over Me

by Margaret Karmazin

Part 1 appears
in this issue.

Fernwood II, which she named Dave (no way would she call the thing Jeff), did not resemble her dead husband except in general size and build. While Jeff’s hair had been brown, the robot’s was dark blond; Jeff’s eyes gray, the robot’s hazel. Jeff’s face had been long, while “Dave’s” was square. There was a slight similarity in the voice, which could be unsettling, but the modulation was a shade artificial.

“Katydid,” he said the first morning, “do you want hot choc or coffee? I see we have the Belgian choc, your fave.”

She was so unnerved, she felt faint. But what had she expected? “Katydid” was one of Jeff’s loving names for her, so of course with the download, Dave would use it and probably soon the others.

“Um, just coffee, I think,” she said. “Thanks, Dave.”

She heard him humming “Winds of Change” while he worked, one of Jeff’s favorite songs. Her heart pounded unpleasantly. Her emotions were like a hurricane.

He walked to the breakfast nook, whose windows looked out onto one of the greenhouses, and set a tray on the table. Her tall mug of coffee, a warm, buttered muffin, a hard boiled egg he had found in the fridge and a small dish of black grapes. Everything she liked, but her stomach was too full of butterflies to eat.

“Of course, you know I don’t eat,” Dave said, sliding into the booth across from her. Jeff had built this booth especially for her.

She did not respond and tried at first to avoid looking at the robot, but couldn’t keep this up forever. His eyes were quite attractive, though the rest of his face did not for a minute allow her to imagine he was human. Too perfect, smooth and artificial.

“I love you, Katy,” he said. “You are the light of my life.”

“What the hell?” she snapped at him, amazed at the depth of her rage. “You are not Jeff and you have no life for me to be the light of!”

“No need to be mean, Katy. It does not become you.”

Just like something Jeff would say; he was the master of making you feel small when you acted up. I’m disappointed in you, he would say, reducing you to a grease spot on the floor.

Her impulse was to smack the thing in the face, but that would only damage her hand. Instead, she sipped at her coffee, willed herself to calm down and asked, “Do you actually have feelings, Dave?”

“A facsimile of such,” he replied. “I have Jeff’s memories and thought processes, including the information on his emotional attachments. While I do not have the chemical body reactions a human would experience to thoughts, I do enjoy their patterns and can expand them in the manner of rings in water when a stone is tossed. I can imagine Jeff’s love for you.”

He paused. “If it comforts you, you can call me Jeff, if you like.”

This was going too far. “Absolutely not, that will never happen. You are Dave. You are a machine, and don’t touch me.”

She put him to work the rest of the day, carrying boxes of seedlings and full grown plants and driving orders to customers. “Don’t act too much like Jeff or you’ll scare them,” she ordered him. Though Jeff had hardly ever helped her with the plants. He’d had his own work to do for Teach, Inc., a company that developed school curriculums and supplies. Would the robot miss Jeff’s old job?

But Dave showed no signs of that. He seemed content doing anything she asked, but then Dave was a robot, designed to serve.

Even so, there were many times over the next few weeks that his similarities to Jeff wrenched her heart and she regretted ever having purchased him, above all downloading Jeff into him. Was she a masochist? Having the robot around was like someone having cut your loved one in half and letting one portion remain to torture you. She considered returning him or taking him in for an erasure and new anonymous download, but could not bring herself to do it. In spite of her torment, there was some comfort in “Jeff’s” presence. Her psyche warred with itself on a daily basis.

Eventually, she grew curious about the robot’s romantic abilities. She thought about it in the night when she longed for Jeff’s arms around her, holding her tight. They had slept in spoon position, sometimes with her on the inside, sometimes him. His skin always smelled sweet, the back of his neck especially. But the robot would feel like plastic. He would have no odor.

The idea sickened her. What was she thinking? Suddenly she thought about the robot in a fearful way, pictured him sitting upright in the dark in the recreation room, his eyes open and gleaming from the moonlight. She got up and locked the bedroom door.

* * *

The next morning, as if having read her thoughts, he said, “You know that I am capable of giving you physical pleasure. I know Jeff’s style. If you do not want intercourse, I can give you massages, wash and comb your hair, or rub your feet. Just say when you would like this and I’ll oblige.”

He broke her down after a while and with some apprehension, she allowed him to massage her neck and feet. It was nice, but it felt a little creepy, watching him work. He talked softly the whole time, just as Jeff would have done, told her jokes he had heard from one of the customers, stories he had watched on holofeed. His political opinions were Jeff’s; he preferred the same type of media stories. It was bizarre to hear Jeff coming out of him every turn when he looked so different, but she was growing used to it.

“I like touching you,” he told her one evening.

She enjoyed his massages, then felt guilty for doing so. She was beginning to have disturbing dreams. In most of them she was sitting in a dark diner waiting for someone, but anyone who came in the door was never that someone.

Once awake, it was easy to figure that the person she waited for was Jeff. Here she was living with what was left of Jeff, but inside the wrong “person.” When she had these thoughts, she would look at Dave and want to hurt him, turn him off somehow, smash him over the head with a hammer.

Business was going well in spite of this inner turmoil, and Carl came home for a visit. She didn’t want him to know about the robot and Jeff’s download into it, so she ordered Dave to stay away from the house while Carl was there. He spent the time standing in one of the sheds. Was it boring to him? Did robots get bored, especially ones with human downloads?

She found herself missing him. Well, not Dave, but the Jeff part. It did occur to her that it was not healthy to be obsessed with a robot. Robots were meant to be light companions, servants or workers, but there was not to be connection as one would have with a human. Everyone knew that, it was commonly discussed in the media.

“Don’t you go out with friends or anything?” asked Carl. “By now you should be starting a new social life, don’t you think? It isn’t healthy to stay home all the time. What happened to your friends? Did you shut down your comchip?”

“People lived without comchips for eons,” Katy said, but there was no energy in her voice. It was true what Carl was saying; she had closed off the outside world other than for business.

“I have to go back,” he said, “but I’m not happy about leaving you like this.”

“I’m doing all right. Business is booming.”

He shook his head. “I’m going to call you as often as I can.”

She knew he would become busy and forget, but she nodded affably.

“See a therapist of some kind, Mum,” he added. “Do it for me. Do it for Dad.”

As soon as Carl was gone, she ran to the shed. “Are you okay?” she asked Dave, who immediately stepped out and embraced her.

“I ran through every novel I’ve ever read, seeing if I could improve the plots, and I possibly discovered a universal theory, but other than that, I sense a need to move about, do something physical. How was your visit with Carl? I do wish I could have seen him.”

She felt a little guilty about that now.

“I missed you very much,” he said.

For the first time she wanted to try sexual relations. There was work to do, but both of the workers had arrived, so she figured they could spare an hour. It turned out to be more pleasant than she’d expected; when she closed her eyes and listened to his soft voice saying Jeff words, she could pretend, it could suffice. What other choice did she have?

A big order came in for white roses and for two days she and Dave worked long hours. A society couple wanted them planted all round the entrance to their mansion for their daughter’s wedding. “Will they keep them after or are they going to dig them all up?” she muttered to Dave. The thought of such decadence riled her.

* * *

That night she collapsed into bed. Dave had shown an interest in “sleeping” with her, but the idea of him lying next to her, eyes wide open in the dark while he performed his mental gymnastics, did not appeal.

She still locked the bedroom door when she went to bed, still feeling a small and possibly irrational fear. The thing was, if a robot wanted to come in, he could easily open the door, locked or not.

Normally a restless sleeper, she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep flat on her back. Around three in the morning, she experienced a dream so intense that upon waking, she would remember every detail for years to come. She would describe it someday to the granddaughters she did not yet know she would have.

Once again, she sat in the dark diner, but this time no one else was there besides a faceless waitress behind the lunch counter, wiping surfaces. The door opened and Jeff walked in. This was a real Jeff, not a download. She knew it as soon as she saw him.

“Katy,” he said as he slid into her booth. He laid his hand on hers and she felt it like real, so warm, so Jeff.

“Oh, I’ve missed you!” she cried.

He hushed her with his finger like a stern, but kind librarian. “Katydid, I will love you forever. But I want you to take that robot back to the place you got it and get rid of my download. You must destroy all the copies. Honey, you were right, it was a mistake. It is holding me back. I need to cut all ties and move on. You need to get on with your life.”

“No, Jeff,” she said, her eyes filling up. “No, no, I love you.” She could smell him, that cologne he used to wear that reminded her of the outdoors. She breathed it in as if she were starving.

“We’ll be together later, but not now. Help me, honey, I need to move on. There are people you’re going to meet. There are things I need to do. For now, we need to part.”

“Oh, my love,” she said desperately.

He slid out of the booth, kissed her on the forehead and vanished. And just as suddenly, she snapped awake and sat up, heart pounding. The dream was too real to pretend it was only a dream.

* * *

In the morning, she dressed with resolution and when Dave joined her in the kitchen, she said, “Today we’re going to Robon. I’ve already messaged them that we’re coming. We will remove your Jeff download and replace it with one of theirs. There will be no more physical contact between us. You’ll help me in the greenhouses and stay out there at night. I’ll fix you a nice place in one of the sheds. You can have media. We’ll set it up.”

“Have I offended you?” Dave asked.

“Not at all. You have helped me, actually. But now it’s time for me to return to human contact.” Her eyes filled with tears, but she fiercely wiped them away.

“Whatever pleases you,” said Dave, not something Jeff would say.

When Carl called, he interrupted a small dinner party. “You have company!” he said, not concealing his relief.

“Only a few people,” Katy said. “Just for Greek pies and a salad, nothing fancy.”

“Is that robot still there?” She had eventually told him she had bought one, though never about the download.

“Yes, Carl. He lives in a shed and downloads all night long.”

“At least he keeps himself busy,” laughed Carl. He paused. “You’re doing okay then, Mum?”

“As well as I can,” she said. “As well as I can.”

In her heart, she knew that she was putting in time until someday she could be with Jeff, but in her mind, she knew that he’d been right in the dream and that people would be coming into her life. Whatever he meant would happen, would happen.

Copyright © 2012 by Margaret Karmazin

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