FICTION – Artificial Intelligence by Jessica Charlé

 

“I’m a reporter, I do not care about morality. I just want to know what happened.” Smith nudged the recording device closer to me. The hard red light reminding me that everything I say will someday be read by Meredith. My stomach sank.

“Are you saying reporters are moral-less?”

“No. I care about my morality. But for this story, it is your morality I do not care about. I want to write exactly what happened. I will not judge you innocent or guilty. I will write what you tell me.”

“Good enough for me, I guess.” I swallowed hard as I began.

“I want to start by telling you that I truly love Meredith. Despite what I did, I love her with all my heart. I may be a flawed individual, but Meredith is not.

“I had always greatly enjoyed waking up to Meredith beside me. Her straw colored hair tangled around her angelic face. She never drooled or snored. I always awoke with her in the exact same position she had been in when she fell asleep. And yet her hair was always tangled. Thinking back, she must have tossed her head in her sleep a lot. I just never noticed.” A pang of regret. I sighed and continued.

“I woke up on that cold day in February to her face. As always. We had been so happy together but, in recent years our marriage was strained. We had found out recently that Meredith was almost sterile. The damn doctors told Meredith she could conceive, but it would be difficult. If only they had told her it was impossible, I could have convinced her to follow alternative options, but no. She insisted we keep trying.

It had been three years and still we were childless. With every month, Meredith grew more distant from me and I grew more desperate.

I had been working on developing intelligent robotic designs for the Neaman Institute for twenty years and had recently acquired Lisa as my lab assistant. I admit, I noticed her beauty instantly, but I swear, I never desired her until that day.

Leaving Meredith to sleep, I went downstairs for breakfast. Meredith always looked so peaceful in her sleep. Waking her into existence was too much for me. I ate the egg and toast Cynthia, our live-in housekeeper, had prepared for me and immediately went downstairs into my home lab. Lisa was there, waiting. Her short brown hair shinning beautifully in the artificial light of the lab. While Meredith’s complexion was alive and warm, Lisa looked as if she was frozen from the inside out. Her red lips and rich brown hair were highly contrasting to her pale, almost translucent skin. Meredith and I had sex solely for child-making these days, the intimacy completely gone. So when Lisa kissed me, I could not resist the soft touch.

I forget what was said or done before that moment. All I remember is that she kissed me, and we were gone. We made love five times that day. I basked in the glow of her naked body as we became unified again and again.

And then the day ended, and I dismissed Lisa. She kissed me good-bye and the regret started to sink in. So much regret and fear. Fear for the loss of my marriage, my wife. And fear that my life would end because of it.

I took twenty years of research, almost half of my life, and did not leave my lab for days. I ate, slept, and worked for almost two weeks straight, not letting anyone in. Not Lisa, nor Meredith. Only Cynthia came down with my meals and occasionally I would actually eat some of it.

It was guilt and fear for my life as I knew it. I gagged every time I thought of what I had done and what the consequences would be. Have you ever faced such fear?”

I had been looking absently towards the wall, but now I held Smith in my gaze. Begging him to answer me. I had become emotional with my re-telling.

Smith seemed slightly surprised at a direct question. He waited briefly, probably to make sure I actually wanted an answer before replying, “Once, when living in a small town in Africa, working on an essay about the effects of the endless civil wars on the family structure, I woke up to find a Black Mamba on me. It is one of the most poisonous snakes in Africa.”

“Did it bite you?”

“No, it left without conflict. But I was paralyzed with fear.”

“Well, unless it had bitten you, then no, you have never faced such fear as me.” Smith starred at me coldly, his eyes almost blank. But there was a sliver of disagreement in that stare. “See Smith, I had been bitten. I was dying. And I would die if I did not find the cure immediately. And in my state of panic, I thought I had found it. Thirteen days I had been locked in my lab, but it had been worth it.

I sat on the bed next to Meredith as she slept. Her hair tangled as always. There was a small knock at the door and Meredith’s eyes slowly opened. She starred at me unrecognizing. And then smiled. It was a perfect smile. Small but filled with love and unaltered happiness.

‘You’re back.’ I returned her smile. ‘Cynthia wouldn’t let me see you. What happened? What did the Institute need so desperately that you couldn’t see me, even for a minute?’

‘It wasn’t the Institute that needed something desperately, my love. It was us.’ Her brow furrowed with confusion as the small knock that woke her reappeared. Meredith sat up and pulled the blanket to her neck. She wore a look of surprise and curiosity upon her sleepy face, still grinning.

‘Come in,’ I called. Our bedroom door opened and a small boy with straw-colored hair walked in. He walked slowly, balancing a silver tray neatly laid with eggs, toast and strawberries in his hands. He beamed at us.

‘Morning! I made you breakfast in bed, mommy!’ He stopped at the side of the bed and smiled up at her, offering the perfect breakfast.

Meredith was no longer smiling. She looked at me. Her eyes horrified. The regret and fear grew in my stomach.

‘He’s ours, my love.’ Meredith looked to the boy, and then back to me. ‘I made him,’ I explained. ‘Since I’ve been working at the Institute, they have had me design countless robots for use in space, as well as for remedial positions here on earth. While the Institute’s main focus is and always will be astronomical research, they quickly discovered that they could easily make the money to fund their intergalactic explorations by selling robots to the private sector. My research for the past six years has been to make these robots more human-like.’ I pointed to the perfect boy, who stood patiently at the side of our bed holding the tray of food. ‘Meet one of my first human-like prototypes, our son.’

Meredith looked from me to the boy, and back again. She shook her head and walked to the bathroom. I could hear her as she vomited. The boy beamed at me and presented me the perfect breakfast. I smiled hesitantly and took it. He left the room as I ate the food our son prepared for us.

A few days passed and Meredith moved out. She never knew about Lisa and me, but I guess her disgust over my creation of a son for us removed any remnants of love. She told me that she did not approve of Nick because he was not a child nor a son.

With Meredith gone, my world dissolved. It did not take long for me to completely break down and give in to Lisa’s requests to return. She eventually moved in permanently. While Lisa’s companionship was pleasant, I missed Meredith constantly. Sometimes when making love to Lisa, I would remember Meredith and stop, my guilt making me unable to finish.

Six months had passed and I grew used to my new little family. I never told Lisa Nick was a robot, but after working with me for so long, I think it was obvious. I was grateful to her for never discussing it with me and she seemed to enjoy having him around.

Then Meredith came back. Just for a visit. I was eating breakfast when the side door opened. I turned, expecting to see Lisa or Nick and my heart almost leapt out of my chest as I saw her. Her stomach was swollen with child. We starred at each other for what seemed like hours before I spoke, ‘Is it ours?’

Meredith nodded and she smiled. I laughed and jumped from my seat. I grabbed her and pulled her towards me. I should have been surprised she allowed me to hug her, but I guess I had known she’d come back. Her stomach was firm and unyielding as I hugged her tighter. I remember she smelled of lilacs that day.

Lisa and Jerry entered the room and saw us hugging. Their idiot faces dead to the sight of real emotion. I could make them smile, I could make them frown, I could even make them laugh, but their eyes always revealed their lack of humanity. Meredith eyed Lisa. I had forgotten I had dressed her in Meredith’s clothing.

Meredith recognized that dead-look right away and turned to me. I could tell instantly that Meredith knew what I had done to my creation. She threw me against the wall. She yelled at me about how vile it was that I would sleep with a robot. I tried to explain that I did not make Lisa for sex, I made her to help me with my research.

‘Then why make her anatomically correct? Do you have sex with a dead thing? Or does she act like she enjoys it? Someone had to program her for that.’

I had not thought of it that way before. I guess she was right, I had made Lisa for my own perverted reasons.

The hole of regret drilled further into my lower intestines. I watched as Meredith grabbed a kitchen knife and started hacking at Lisa. I know Meredith was just attacking what she thought was a complicated sex toy, but Lisa was more than that. I had created her. She was mine and as much a part of me as the child inside Meredith. I grabbed Meredith and threw her on the ground. I watched surprise overtake the anger that had been ruining her pretty face. I still don’t know why I did it, but I grabbed the knife Meredith dropped and stabbed her. I sunk the knife deep into her stomach.

Meredith’s screams of pain brought me out of my anger-induced trance and I immediately called 9-1-1, but it was too late. I had murdered our child.

I was then arrested and tried. They found me guilty of murder and now I sit locked in my bedroom, counting the days till I’m free. Then you showed up and asked to interview me for your paper. I asked how you could want to write a story about someone who killed one child to avenge another child they had created just to rape. And you told me you did not care about morality.”

Smith reached over and nudge the recording device. “Yes, I have that part on tape. Thank you for your time Dr. Jackson.”

Smith stood up stiffly, nodded to me and went to the barred door. I wanted to ask him to stay, not knowing when someone other than Cynthia, who brought me my food every day, would come to visit. Maybe I just wanted to not be judged for a moment longer. But I didn’t. Smith wouldn’t. And it was better this way.

Cynthia opened the door for him. She then came in carrying a tray of food to the little table by the window. I nodded to my original prototype, the stupidest of the robots I had made, but ultimately the least bugged and problematic.

Cynthia left and I stared out the small barred window in what was once Meredith’s and my bedroom, what is now my cell. It had started to rain since Smith and I began only an hour ago. I felt comfortable with Smith and now that he was gone, I felt a sense of loss. He had reminded me of one of my robots.

Jessica Charlé is currently working towards her MA in Film Studies at Columbia University and has a BA in English and Media Studies, with a minor in Poetry from the University of Southern Maine.

Featured Image photograph by E.B. Bartels, www.ebbartels.com.

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