This is the next post of our February Theme Week, with a theme of Fuzzy Love (it is good, or is it bad?).
This story is written by Guest Contributor, Hal Matthews. He lives in North Dakota where he spends most of his free time thoroughly questioning that decision. He has been previously published in Flash Fiction Magazine and runs a short-fiction blog, The Slush Pile, which publishes a new story every Wednesday. You can also follow him on Twitter: @realhalmatthews.
“What about that one?” John asked, pointing at a puffy white mass lumbering lazily across the endless blue.
“Conan O’Brien,” said Evie.
John shook his head. “And that one?”
She chewed her lip. “One of those Chinese dragons—or Gandhi.” She turned over to face him, smiling with her eyes.
“You’re ridiculous,” he told her.
“I am? Then tell me, oh-wise-and-mighty-doctor, what do you see?”
John squinted. “Erm, cotton candy and—a bowling ball?”
Evie raised an eyebrow. “You’re honestly going to tell me a cloud looks like cotton candy?”
“Well it does.”
“Would you let one of your patients tell you than an inkblot looks like a pen that exploded?” she asked.
“Aren’t they all exploded pens?” John smirked.
“You’re lucky that nose of your isn’t any bigger, or else you’d be stupid and ugly.” She leapt on top of John and kissed him deep, reminding him of just how addictive she was. When he leaned in for more she pushed him back down to the bed of grass and nuzzled in, lying in the crook between his arm and chest. They just lay there for a while, Evie running her slender fingers across John’s chest as it rose and fell. He shut his eyes tight, hoping time would slow and he could stay there forever.
“Are you excited?” she asked, breaking the silence with a bubbly charm that didn’t step on the sanctity of the moment.
“Of course not,” John said with deadpan commitment. She brought a fist down on him hard enough to leave a bruise. “Christ! You really can’t take a joke about this, can you?”
“It’s our wedding, John,” she said. “My family is going to be there, your family is going to be there. It’s not a joke.”
“You need to relax. Everything is going to go fine, you’ll notice that I’m not worried.” He put on a smug smile, Evie rolled her eyes.
“Yes, but you also didn’t so much as sweat when I took that pregnancy test. Your worry barometer is broken.”
“But you weren’t pregnant,” said John, smugness spreading to a full-toothed grin. “You should be happy that I’m not nervous about the wedding, my gut hasn’t been wrong yet.”
A wrinkle formed between Evie’s dark, symmetric eyebrows. It wasn’t a look she brought out when they were playing, there was real concern in it. “It’s just, we come from such different worlds. You’ve never met any of my family, I’ve never met any of yours, what if the whole thing is a disaster?”
“It’s not going to be a disaster,” John said, taking her hands in his.“And even if it is, you and I will have a lifetime of disaster-free days to make up for it.”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Knowing you, I can’t imagine as much as twenty percent of those days free of disasters.” She squeezed his hand tight, “But I guess I’ll take what I can get. ”
Their eyes met then in a moment that might have lasted lifetimes had the buzz from John’s phone not broken the spell. He dropped Evie’s hand, wriggling the device free from his pocket. “Duty calls,” he said, glancing up from the screen. “I guess I’ll see you back at home?”
“I wish you didn’t have to leave so often.”
John paused, staring into her silver-grey eyes again, hoping the magic might return. “So do I,” he said, planting a kiss in the center of her forehead. “I’ll try not to be long.”
Evie feigned a smile then lay back down. John descended the hill, creeping around the mighty oak that stood at its base. When the door hidden in the trunk opened he stepped through, shutting it quick behind him.
The men in lab coats were all still watching Evie, leering down through the one-way glass with keen interest as she continued to stare at the ceiling of the small room. When there was a blip on the monitors behind them they looked away only long enough to scrawl a few notes before turning their attention back to her. None of them had even noticed John’s arrival, none except Doctor Capek, anyway.
“Dr. Hardy,” said the project lead, approaching John and wearing a smile that said he was all too pleased with himself. “That was some top-notch work. I take it you found everything you were looking for?”
John nodded meekly. “It’s amazing,” he said. “Just two months ago I was baffled at just the prospect of speaking with her, now it’s difficult to even remember what she is. It’s not just the face, it’s the body language too, it’s come so far.” As he spoke, his gaze grew distant, unfocused.
“Something the matter?” asked Capek.
John shrugged. “Do you ever—I don’t know, feel like it’s wrong, what we’re doing? I mean, she wants things, remembers things, feels things, for crying out loud. How can we just sit in this room and manipulate all that?”
Capek’s fleshy face twisted in discomfort. He glanced about the room, making certain no one was watching them. No one was, they were all still transfixed by Evie. He slung a heavy arm over John’s shoulder and pulled him in close. “Listen to me,” he said in a low, lecturing tone. “I’m giving you this warning because I like you, Hardy. That thing in there is not a she, it is an it. And you can rest assured that whatever it wants or remembers or even feels is all the product of those men’s hard work.” He thrust a finger in the direction of the lab coats.
“No ‘buts,’” said Capek. “Do you know why I hired you, Hardy?”
“Because I was the only psychology doctorate in my class to write a thesis on the growing link between psychology and AI studies?”
“Because the fella before you started using words like she,” said Capek, staring cooly over the top of his glasses. “Do we have an understanding?”
John swallowed hard and nodded.
“Good,” the project lead’s smarmy grin bubbled back to the surface. “Now rest up and get that report written, the boys are going to reconfigure a few things here and when you come back after lunch you’ll be running the first day of the honeymoon. Does a beach in the Bahamas sound nice?”
“If it feels as real as that grass did,” John said, feigning a smile of his own.
Capek clapped him heartily on the back. “We’re going to be rich some day Hardy, just you wait!” Then he turned and started back toward the men monitoring Evie, “Alright, alright, shut it down and get the next one ready.”
John stepped over to the glass and stared down at the woman. She was still watching the manufactured clouds drift across the room’s ceiling, still smiling up at them. She didn’t move until the men in the lab coats flipped her switch and the lids fell heavy over her eyes. Her smirk stayed though, and as John began to head toward his office he found himself hoping, at least, that the wedding was going well.