The kiss is impassioned, time momentarily meaningless for both. Then, his eyes flutter open and he pulls back. She looks at him, then tips her head down demurely. He places a hand on her cheek, strokes just under her emerald eye with the pad of his thumb. After a moment, he withdraws his hand and his mouth twists into a grimace.
“No,” he whispers hoarsely, “terminate!”
The woman’s face goes placid, eyes empty, and she stands. Without looking back, she turns towards the airlock and walks through the first door unceremoniously. Perry watches with the mild interest of an engineer watching an experiment gone wrong. There is no anger, no remorse, just a cool detached air as she cycles the airlock.
The outer door opens, and she makes it about six steps before she stops. Her skin blackening as it freezes in the vacuum. After a couple more seconds, she drops to her knees, then falls face first into the lunar dust.
Perry cycles the thick glass to opaque and leaves his apartments deep in thought. Several minutes later he walks into the Dark Side Tavern and spots an old friend at the bar. Seating himself beside the old friend he orders a beer from the bartender.
“How are things going?” Bradley, his friend asks him.
“No so good. I just terminated another companbot,” Perry responds, keeping his gaze on his beer.
“Again?” Bradley shoots back, signaling the bartender for another drink, “What is that, 3.0?”
“No,” Perry says defensively, turning his blue/gray eyes towards his old co-pilot. “She was version 2.3.”
“Is the termination protocol still sending them out an airlock?”
“Yes,” Perry responds, running his left hand through dark blonde hair. “Its quick, and I don’t have to deal with the cleanup.”
“Geez Perry, how much organics are you incorporating?”
“Just the skin and lungs. Everything else is still synthetic. There is still no nervous system. It’s not like they feel pain.”
Bradley drains his mug, pushes it toward the bartender and accepts a fresh mug. He then turns towards Perry, studying him for a moment.
“You’re never going to replace her,” he finally says before taking a long pull from the fresh mug. Then a thought occurs to him, “Do you have a pile of skinless bots outside your airlock?”
Perry laughs, “No, scavengers come and scoop up the remains.”
* * * * *
Perry looks at companbot version 4.3. She is still unanimated, and he feels a sense of dread at the thought of another disappointment. They are so close, so much like her, but there is always something missing. With each new iteration, he thinks long and hard on what is missing, and tries to incorporate it into the newest version.
“Why didn’t you come with me Sandra?” Perry whispers as the thinks back to his days on Earth. He recalls the day they met. It was a biology class. She was pre-med, he was studying robotics, with a biology minor. She thought the combination a bit odd.
She followed him to Florida where he entered astronaut training. She landed an internship at a hospital not far from the Cape. They helped each other study, supported one another’s efforts, listened to the other vent, and enjoyed their rare down time with abandon.
“Why did you follow me to Florida, then refused to come here,” Perry asks aloud. He knows the answer, her medical career was taking off, and the moon offered nothing more than basic medical clinics. There were no real hospitals. Not then, not now. She said goodbye to him on the launch pad. Perry didn’t realize how much his heart broke until the adrenaline of the launch evaporate with the sweat of fear and he faced the long cruise to the moon. Haunted by the loneliness of loss.
If not for Bradley, Perry would very likely have been dismissed from piloting duties before they reached their destination.
Now, contemplating his latest attempt at replicating Sandra, Perry activates Sandra 4.3.
* * * * *
Perry looks on with frustration at Sandra 6.4.2. She is looking back at him attentively, that gentle smile curving down at the corners. Her emerald eyes studying him intelligently. Auburn hair a contrast to her porcelain skin. This version is so close, he thinks, so close.
“Terminate,” he says coolly, and watches with detached interest as she silently walks into the vacuum of the lunar surface.
* * * * *
“Where are we now?” Bradley asks, his tone bereft of amusement.
“12.4, but I am almost there,” Perry answers, his mannerisms showing a hint of lunacy.
“I almost think you’re starting to enjoy terminating them.”
“Nonsense,” Perry fires back, glaring angrily at his friend.
“I worry about you. Kind of like the bully back on earth who starts by torturing and killing small animals. Then its dogs, eventually…” Bradley allows the thought to trail off.
Perry holds Bradley’s gaze for several minutes before quietly answering, “I am so close. It’s how she responds to me that is the sticking point. Once I nail that, it will be like we never parted.”
* * * * *
Bradly scans the little bar taking note at the women who occupy nearly half the seats, booths, and stools before he says, “The moon does offer real woman you know.”
“They are not Sandra.”
“No, but Sandra is back on earth. You cannot replace her.”
“I can,” Perry says emphatically.
“Look around, see her over there,” Bradly points to a female security officer who steps just inside the door of the bar. “She is a captain. That means she is educated, being a security officer means she has a certain toughness.”
“She is very pretty,” Perry adds, “wonder who she is looking for?” He continues with, knowing they don’t step into lunar bars in uniform unless it’s for professional reasons.
“Maybe you,” Bradley teases, “how many women have you murdered.”
“There companbots, not woman.” Perry growls.
* * * * *
Its dark, and Perry is thankful for that. He cannot see Sandra 19.6.3 lying beside him. Her soft breathing and the warmth radiating from her naked body assure him she is there. She fell asleep shortly after they finished making love.
It was so real, her responses so much like he remembered. With this version, he can feel her breath on his neck, the pulse in her chest. She even smells as he remembers Sandra smelling. It’s almost as if she is here.
Almost, “Terminate,” Perry whispers, ignoring the tears that stream down his temples. He pretends not to hear her slide from the bed, the shuffle of her bare feet on the floor, the mechanical sound of an airlock cycling.
* * * * *
“Why can’t I get it right?” Perry asks his old friend, his focus on the beer mug held tightly in both his hands.
“Because she will never be human,” Bradley responds with a flat tone.