Concept Art Writing Prompt: Repo'ed Man

Illustration for article titled Concept Art Writing Prompt: Repoed Man

Each Saturday, we present the Concept Art Writing Prompt, where we present you with an image, and invite you to post a story based on that image in the comments. This week, we have a simple illustration of a man who's been recalled and packed up. Is he a defective android? An unwanted pet? A clone who got too ambitious for his own good? Come up with a story and share it with the rest of us!

Illustration for article titled Concept Art Writing Prompt: Repoed Man

This week's concept art is by Koren Shadmi, creator of the creepy, No Exit-inspired webcomic The Abaddon (which is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to fund chapter two). While Shadmi does have some more explicitly scifi artwork, I was struck by this piece, "Total Recall," which actually features Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. I just love the simple idea of a man being recalled and ran with it. [via mashKULTURE]

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As always, here's what I came up with for the prompt. Post your own pieces in the comments:

Klaus decided that the thing he would miss most about Irene was her cooking. Irene had come programmed with the complete philosophy of Alice Waters and Wylie Dufresne's sense of culinary ingenuity. Morning after morning, he was treated to duck confit quiche or ricotta pancakes with elderberry foam or herbed polenta pastries with herring cream cheese.

Some mornings, though, he just wanted bacon and eggs on a white English muffin. Irene didn't take orders, and she didn't believe in white bread.

If you wanted an AI who would obey your every command, the salesman at Galatea Enterprises had explained, you wanted a toy. There were dozens of makers of high-end sex dolls, one who could ooh and ahh and perform incredible feats of sexual athleticism. If you wanted a companion, though, someone to curl up on the couch, martini already in hand, and ask about your day, you wanted a Galatea, the perfect gynoid wife.

Irene was built to Klaus' psychological specifications, featuring small attractors Klaus himself wasn't consciously aware of: a slight pudge above the pelvis, a faint scar across her cheek that might have come from a childhood fall. The first night she crawled into bed with him, Klaus marveled at the lifelike texture of her skin and the simulated pulse that quickened when she reached her ecstasy.

She also lectured Klaus about his hourly whiskies. She reorganized all the household ordering, cutting back on meat in cheese in favor of potting soil and vegetable starts. She filled the media queue with documentaries about rock bands in Afghanistan and Esperanto spelling bees. Sometimes, when she slipped into bed beside him, it was to sleep. Klaus would wake to hear the feigned kitten snoring some engineer had coded into her system and wonder if he'd made a terrible mistake.

Klaus was flipping through the Galatea catalogue when Irene set down a slice of heirloom tomato tart next to his coffee. Her manicured fingers fluttered around the edge of the page. "Oh! Why are you looking at that?" she asked, cocking her head to one side.

Klaus gave her a tight smile in reply. She probably thought he was shopping for a kitten, or perhaps the singing upgrades she'd been eying. He picked his fork, then rested it on the edge of his plate. "Irene," he said, "please sit down."

She pulled out the chair and swept herself into it in a single, graceful motion. She smoothed out the front of her apron as she sat, an affectation Klaus always found curious. He leaned forward and nearly grabbed her hands, until he remembered that he might be able to feel her pulse in them. And then he wouldn't be able to do what he needed to do.

He cleared his throat. "I'm thinking about upgrading to a Korinne model." Upgrading was maybe the wrong word, since the Korinne AI was far less sophisticated than Irene's, but it was a popular model, expensive. Low autonomy. High sex drive. Kegel muscles that could ripple his cock for days.

Irene's shoulders slumped. "Oh," she said. Then her brow furrowed. "But how are you going to afford a Korinne? There isn't room in the budget for expenditures greater than five thousand standards."

Klaus dug into the tart slice. The tomatoes obediently fell apart at the touch of his fork, not shifting or tugging out of place. He chewed on the morsel, letting the sweetness of the honey dance with the acidity of the tomatoes. Once he swallowed, he didn't look back at Irene. "There is if I give them a trade-in," he said.

Irene was silent for several seconds, but out of the corner of his eye, Klaus saw her lift her hands to her face. Then he heard a small, gasping sob. Was she actually crying? He looked up and saw tears streaming from her wide brown eyes. Her mascara would have been running if it wasn't tattooed on her face. She opened her mouth and released a sound Klaus never thought he would hear from a robot's lips: a wail. "What did I do wrong?" she asked in trembling breaths. "Don't I take good care of you?"

He put down the fork again and patted her arm. "Of course you take care of me, Renie. But I need to be supported. I can't be around someone who always undermines me."

"But I love you!" she shouted through her tears. "I was made for you!"

"You're programmed to think you love me. They can program you to love someone else, someone who appreciates you. Don't you see, Irene? We'll both be happier this way."

Irene shook her head. A finger of snot bobbed from her nostrils, and she wiped it away. They really strove for realism, Klaus thought. Irene wiped her hand on her apron and sniffed. "Couldn't we work something out, Klaus? You could date other women — human women. I could get a job. Just don't send me back, please."

Klaus sighed. "Could you let me eat what I want and drink what I want and have sex with me when I want, and never fight or argue about it?"

Irene looked away, casting her gaze downward. "I could try."

Klaus almost considered it for a moment. But wouldn't it be crueler to keep her here, to put her on mute and treat her as a slave? Better to send her back to the factory where she could live out her life with some other guy, some guy who'd be over the moon to have a gal like her, even second-hand.

Irene stood up and poured herself a glass of water. She sat at the table and sipped it, the glass practically vibrating as it touched her lips. "So how are we going to do this?" she asked at last. "Will you drive me to Galatea next week?"

"Actually, the transport crew is already on their way."

Her eyes went wide. "Now?"

Hardly had the syllable escaped her than a rap sounded at the door. Klaus stood, resting his hand on Irene's shoulder one last time before heading for the front door. When he opened it, two men in brown Galatea uniforms were standing on the stoop. One glanced down at his clipboard, then back up at Klaus. "Klaus Overland?" he asked. "We have a recall request for you."

Klaus stood back and waved them through the doorway. "Yes, sirs," he said. "She right this way, waiting in the kitchen."

The other man shook his head. "I'm afraid you misunderstand, Mr. Overland. The recall order is for you." Klaus felt an electric jolt through his body, then blackness.

Irene signed the transport team's orders, checking "failure of empathy" in the "reasons for recall" box. That was eleventh husband model to fail QA in eighteen months. Despite her misgivings, Irene knew this meant the next model would have a reduced autonomy. What a shame, she thought. She was going to miss Klaus.

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The three criteria for a good husband are: Provide for your Family, Maintain your Appearance, and Spend Time. He's a good husband, he knows he is. He's good.

He got a job straight away at a company that wasn't prejudiced against Customs like him. They liked him; he always had a good joke, knew when to schmooze and when to stand up, dod a good job. Got a good salary. Got a raise. Got bonuses. Flirted with the secretaries enough to boost their self-esteem but never touched them.

He keeps himself well-dressed. Decent suits, not too sharp and not too shabby. Neutral colors, crisp edges, ties for work and polos for home. He's always clean, always neatly shaved. He wears a nice cologne, something manly without being too aggressive. He doesn't clutter up the bathroom with products - soap's good enough for him. He's a little vain about his hair, but it pays to look tidy.

He comes straight home after work. Sometimes he invests in flowers for Dolores and stuffed toys for little Juliana and Becky. He goes to every game, plays catch every weekend, mows the lawn, takes out the trash, paints the trim, cleans the gutters. Spends half an hour minimum every night rubbing Becky's feet, head or back. Says romantic things.

All this for four years. He's been so perfect. So good. Exactly the way she specified when she put in the order.

At first it was little things, but it got worse and worse. She'd roll away at night, make a little unhappy noise when he tried to rub her back. Then she didn't smile as much at the flowers. She criticized his choice in stuffed animals, said the kids weren't children anymore. Complained he spent too much time at work, but didn't seem happy when eh came home. Didn't want to go camping. Didn't like his barbecue ribs anymore, although the recipe hadn't changed.

She started spending more and more time out on her own. When she came back, she'd lie at first - he pretended to believe her - but then she told him it was none of his business. She worse clothes he didn't remember, cut her hair, forgot their usual Sunday dinner and left him sitting there alone while the kids went off to friend's houses.

He'd tried sounding her out on it, carefully, as tactfully as his programming allowed. What was he doing wrong? But her answers were contradictory and couldn't be resolved into a useful programming change. He was boring, he was too loud, he never talked to her, he talked about stuff she didn't care about, he never listened. More and more of his processing became devoted to the puzzle. She was his life, and he was failing her somehow.

And now this. He'd seen his user manual on her bedside table, and thought: finally, she'll figure out what's wrong with me and maybe we can get me fixed. IT was a relief. He smiled at her and kissed her gently, and she patted his arm distractedly. She'll make it better now, he thought, and lay beside her long into the night, all his senses focused on her as she read and slept and woke.

In the morning she used the override code to shut down his autonomous features and put him into manual. Even then he thought she would connect him to the remote diagnostics and trigger a repair program. Instead she made him stand, arms down, and locked him in place. Then she pulled out an old bit of bubble wrap from Christmas, and taped it around his torso; next came a narrow roll of brown pape. One end was tucked it under one of his arms and she started walking around him, over and over, in circles.

His eyes wouldn't move, so he could only see her in glimpses as she walked through his field of vision. Eventually, when he was wrapped from his upper arms to his ankles, she stopped and taped off the loose end. She wrote carefully on the paper, fetched a stamp and licked it. Stuck it on his forehead. It was cold and wet.

He stood still (couldn't so anything else) while she called the removals service and watched the door. He waited while the doorbell rang, while she opened it, while she filled out the paperwork. The removals guy did a double-take when eh saw the package.

"Oh, hey! Wow, it looks so real. One of those Customs, huh? I seem one before but never up close. Wow, it sure does look real!" The removalist walked about him, counterclockwise to Dolores' clockwise wrapping circles. "Wow. Odd sized bundle, but we're good - he'll fit just fine." The removalist winked at Dolores and she smiled back. Her smile looked a bit nervous, as though she were doing something she weren't *completely* sure of yet. He wanted to ask what was wrong, but he was still on manual override and couldn't move.

The removalist went to the van to shift some stuff around. Dolores stood in front of him, looking at him. He tried to change his expression but couldn't even manage that; just a blink. Suddenly, she leaned up and kissed him gently on the cheek; she smelled like lilacs. Then the man was back in his brown uniform and he was struggling, sweating a bit and smelling acridly like stale cigarettes and beer and shoeleather as he hauled the poor Custom out into the sun and up the metal ramp into the brown-paper box filled back of the trick. The Custom was strapped to the side of the van with bungee cords and the van door closed, and the van rumbled to life from somewhere up in front.

What did I do wrong, he wondered to himself in the noisy dark?