Disclaimer: This is a very short story that might be considered uberXena. Or it might not. It takes place in the near future and contains some measure of subtext.
Shane Mathews ordered her soulmate on a typically gray day in Vancouver, British Columbia. Sitting in a blue and yellow cubicle that resembled nothing more than her gynecologist's examining room, sans table, sans stirrups, she focused on a hand held computer and used a stylus to write on the sensitive screen.
Height? 6 feet.
Sex? There being too little room to write "not recently," she chose "F" from the seven or eight possible choices.
Hair? Yes. Black.
Eyes? Two. Blue. Startlingly blue, she had been told, but, as with the sex, not recently.
The questions became more complex, and Shane realized that she was taking a psychological test, one designed to be too sophisticated to fool, even if she had been of such a mind. Ordinarily, she would have been of such a mind, simply to match wits with the test designers. This time, however, she answered honestly, knowing that her future happiness might depend on the accuracy of the resulting profile.
After the test came more questions, similar to the opening questionnaire, but pertaining, not to Shane, but to someone who did not, as far as she could discover, exist.
Height? Under 5' 6''.
Age? About 25
Hair? Blonde or red. Blondish red. Reddish blonde. She wrote, marked out, wrote, went on, touched "go back." Titian, she wrote. Her hair should be titian.
Eyes? Green in some lights. Blue in others. The computer pondered and made a suggestion: hazel. Shane thought, settled on green.
The outline of a face appeared on the screen. Round. Shane made it more oval. Hair. She made it long and flowing, then shortened it a bit. Eyes, nose, mouth, all symmetrical, but Shane made each a little eccentric. Small lines at the corners of the eyes spoke of experience, but a hint of baby fat in the cheeks suggested innocence. Shane finished and gazed upon her computer-generated beloved, upon the face that had haunted her dreams.
A tap on the door.
A balding head, bespectacled face peered around the door. "Are you ready?"
Shane laughed at his hesitancy, inappropriate where paper gowns were not required. "Yes, I'm done. Everything in my mind is now in your little computer."
A small man entered, different, she thought, from the one who had deposited her in the room with instructions and machine. He pulled a chair close and sat down facing her. "I'm Bell," he said. Shane held out the computer and stylus, and he took them, only to lay them aside. "Your answers are already recorded, already analyzed. It's quite instantaneous, you know."
Shane didn't know, but she had assumed. "Dr. Bell . . . ."
"Not Dr. Bell. Mr. Bell or just Bell."
"Mr. Bell, I'm already wondering if I've made a mistake."
"Oh, mistakes are accounted for in our system, which has a standard error of measurement of 0. Don't worry. Your profile and the profile of the one you seek--the outcome will be perfect."
"I'm wondering if I've . . . . if I've jumped the gun, so to speak. After all, I'm not old, and I've been preoccupied with school, then with getting started in my career. With making money. Perhaps it's premature to take such a radical step as this."
Bell leaned back in his chair and fixed her with a myopic stare. Shane wondered why he didn't get that fixed. "There isn't someone for everyone," he said.
Shane blinked. "What?"
"People spend their whole lives searching for that perfect someone or being miserable because they've settled for someone else. All because of that myth that there's someone for everyone. But there isn't. Given the current population of the world and all the preferences and permutations of desire, it's a statistical impossibility." He nodded his head for emphasis.
"Even in my case?" asked Shane.
"Especially in your case. You have such a rigid conception of the one you can love, are so specific in your requirements, that the odds of this person existing on earth at the same time as you are . . . . astronomical. And the odds of you and she meeting, no matter how hard one or even both of you search, are . . . . impossible."
"You're saying the service you offer is the only way open to me." Business being something she understood better than statistics, Shane found this unsurprising.
Bell's earnest expression gave way to a frown. "There is a difficulty."
"That I'm too specific in my requirements?" Shane guessed.
"That's not really a difficulty, although it may change the time table." Bell seemed to calculate, then shook his head and returned to his original point. "The difficulty is in your own psychological make-up. The analysis of your profile indicates that you may not be able to accept our process as the means of fulfilling your most closely held desire."
"I don't understand. I wouldn't have come here, wouldn't be willing to part with such a sum of money, if I weren't serious."
"You're serious, and you think you can accept having your beloved literally created for you, but your profile and your history belie that. You are, after all, what was once known as a self-made woman."
Shane understood. "I like to do things for myself. In my way. In my time."
Bell nodded. "Although the artificials we create are human in every sense of the word, each is designed so that there is no outcome possible but complete and absolute love for the client. You who respond always to challenges, to recognizing and taking advantage of the serendipitous moment, how will you accept 'the sure thing,' being handed your heart's desire?"
"That's quite a psychological test in that little machine." Shane looked at the small black box as if it held more answers. Finally, she answered, "Create my 'heart's desire.' I'll deal with the rest. Three months? Isn't that what you advertise?"
"We work by referral, not advertisement," Bell reminded her. "While the service we offer is not illegal, it is hardly encouraged by the world's governments, even Canada's." He paused, thought for a moment. "In your case, make it four months. Specificity, you know. And perfection."
Nearly four months later, Shane sat in the same room, or one like it. Bell, or someone like him, entered. He sat facing her as he had done before.
"Mr. Bell?" she asked.
"I asked for you when I called, but I was told to come here. I don't understand why this is necessary." Shane wasn't used to doing things she thought unnecessary.
"You want to cancel your contract?" Bell spoke the question as if it were the first time such a thing had happened.
"Yes. Your service has become . . . . superfluous." Shane smiled, an expression that came more readily every day. "Either your statistics are wrong, or I've somehow defied them."
"Please explain." Bell didn't return the smile.
"A month ago, a young woman came to my firm, asking for help with an investment. Although I seldom deal directly with clients anymore, she asked for me, and, since I was a bit bored, I agreed to see her." Shane's eyes seemed to focus, not on Bell, but on a young woman being shown into her office. "She was the most exquisite girl, the sweetest, kindest person I've ever known. It turned out she had little to invest, a few thousand from the estate of her parents--she's an orphan--but I took personal charge of her finances. This, of course, required frequent, in fact, daily meetings, many times over dinners and lunches." Bell would have thought Shane sighed, if so formidable a woman could be said to sigh.
"Last night I asked her to be my life partner, to share all I have that is good and to bear with me as I overcome what is selfish and evil."
Wonder infused Shane's usually flat voice. "She agreed as if the lifelong wish being granted were hers." Shane seemed to retrieve herself from the night before. She fixed Bell with a look on the cusp of expectancy and glare. His answer to her next question would determine which way the look teetered. "So what am I doing here?"
"There are legalities," Bell stated. He produced a hand held computer, the one she had used before, or one like it. He gave it to her so she could see the screen. "Since we are past the first 30 days of the contract, none of the fee you paid is refundable," he said. "You have paid in full for an artificial you will not receive."
Having read the words on the screen, which said essentially the same thing, Shane picked up the stylus and started to sign. She hesitated. "What will happen to the artificial?"
Bell's tone was blunt. "If you don't want her, that becomes none of your business."
Shane nodded and signed. She was out of the office and perhaps out of the building, flying to her soulmate, by the time Bell pulled up another screen on the computer. INVOICE was across the top. Below were a list of product specifications and a price marked "Paid in Full." Below that, Bell wrote neatly, "Artificial successfully delivered. Client fully satisfied after 30 days."
-- End --
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