The Moment When
She stood in front of him for a few minutes before either of them could figure anything else to say. That morning had been the tipping point, the moment that Laura had decided life couldn’t go on in the same manner. He didn’t see anything was wrong, and in a lot of situations that would have been a great thing. To outside observers, their friends and family who had seen the couple over the past year in the social wild, there was not a single problem. Laura had been so good for him, they said. She seems like such a nice girl.
But this nice girl had been hiding herself, hoping that her secret would never have to be revealed. She would be able to live with Steven for the rest of his life, and all those years he would believe nothing more than the surface of her. The nice girl would be all he needed to know. It wasn’t going to be like that. A small twitch in her hand over dinner, a moment at a party where she went blind, a repeated involuntary stutter when she attempted to take a bath last night: these were the markers that she was not as independent as she thought. Someone would have to be there in absolute emergencies, and he couldn’t help unless he knew what she was underneath. There was a hidden monster—no, a creature—under this normal girl, and she had to let him know.
And so she came to him defenses down and with the trust of a child. At least, this is how she imagined a child would feel when begging, pleading, hoping that someone would understand. Laura had never been a child. In fact, until college she hadn’t been anything. This girl was a beast so rare that her partner could never have conceived in a thousand years that she actually was one. Laura was an experiment, a test, an example of amazing capability and technological singularity that her creators had decided that she could no longer be classified as such.
Laura was, in the parlance of the world around her, a robot. Tonight she had quite literally opened herself up to her lover, opening her access panels and letting her mechanical insides be seen within her torso. She felt like a girl split in two, straddling the line between person and property, woman and…thing. Normally she was not ashamed of what she was, although she kept it hidden to avoid any unnecessary complications. But with his delay in answering, seconds crawling into a minute, an eternity for a cybernetic mind, she was beginning to doubt her choice. Millions of conclusions flashed through her brain at once, and the most logical settled into her field of vision, growing big as life in her heads-up display, a moment which drew her thoughts even larger than her human counterparts could ever be: “He doesn’t love you anymore.”
She looked down at him on the bed. They were planning to do some things tonight that wouldn’t be spoken about in polite company, so he was as naked as he could get. This moment was when she had decided to strip off her extra layer, and part of her thought that he would run screaming from the room, declaring her some kind of freak. That he had sat in the same position calmly when she said “this is me” seemed to be a major victory. It didn’t appear to be one anymore. He didn’t say anything. He stared off into space, seemingly right through her, as she waited. Laura kept her best poker face, but in her mind she begged for any indication that he was okay, that they were okay, that what she was didn’t revolt her. But he didn’t speak.
And what could Steven say, exactly? A few moments ago his relationship had exited the realm of the plausible and become something that only existed in paperbacks. Aren’t you supposed to feel happy when a girl’s comfortable enough to open herself up in front of you? He couldn’t tell. There was no way to tell if this was a good thing or bad, because there was literally nothing in his life to act as comparison. He suddenly felt brand new, like anything he had learned before meant exactly bupkis. The first thing that would have tumbled out of his mouth would have been “Where’s Laura?” But he restrained himself. He didn’t mean it. It wouldn’t be the right way to start. That’s still Laura…right?
One minute, thirty-two seconds. That’s how long it took. Not that she was counting, or anything. He finally spoke. “Laura…Laura.” Then he cleared his throat. She would have been tremendously impatient if she wasn’t relieved he was speaking at all. “I’m going to ask a few questions, okay? You understand this feels…weird.”
“Of course.” She caught herself on saying anything else, adding one more word to that line. Not “Honey.” Not “Big Shot.” Not “Doc Naughty.” Not “Steven.” Nothing she had called him in their history, in their year together. She didn’t know exactly how tenuous this was, or what could set him off.
“Who are you?”
“For how long?” He winced. That was almost as bad as “Where’s Laura?”
She winced. A girl didn’t ever want to reveal her age. And who would want an older-model robot? “Six years, four months, seven days, three hours—“
“Oh!” He seemed both surprised and relieved. Not disappointed. That was a good sign. It was as much of a sign as he had given in the entire confrontation. “Oh. I mean, that’s…that’s right when you went to Middlebury, right? God, that must have been odd, being new on campus and actually, well, new.” He seemed to wonder about that for a moment, but she wouldn’t get off on that track right now. It would have to wait for another night. “I was worried that maybe you had come to me in the middle of everything, and, well, call me selfish, but I don’t want to share Laura with anybody. Even Laura. That’s how good you are.”
She was happy to share a laugh with him. It was genuine, and they could both tell, because her internals lit up like a Christmas Tree. They always did when she was happy. And this was serious, honest joy, the hope that he would stay with her. But she had to know. “Steven, do you love me?”
“Yes.” Immediate, direct, true. Saying it to Laura, not anything else she could reveal about herself. It was all semantics anyway. It was her. “I love you, Laura.” He got up off the bed and walked to her, cupping the side of her access panel with his palm. “All of you.”
“God, I love you, Steven.”
“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
“I had to know.”
He smiled. She swore that he had grown extra teeth just for this moment, the widest grin she had ever seen from him. “Now you know. And now I have to know…you’re not like other girls, are you? You’ve been holding out on me.”
She pulled his hand into hers, slamming her panels shut and resealing to create the illusion of a regular human girl. But now they both knew. Now there’d be no more hiding about it. “I have, Big Shot. Do you mind if I demonstrate?”
He didn’t know what was loading in that positronic mind of hers, but he had a feeling neither of them would be going into work tomorrow.