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In my best Rod Serling voice….in this slice of sci-fi noir, consider the curious case of Mr. Franklin Goss, con man extraordinaire. After years of fleecing marks, Goss is finally ready to settle down with the woman of his dreams. It didn’t come cheap. But then, pleasure never does…

The Pleasure Bot by PJ McIlvaine

Eight o’clock and she was already forty-five minutes late. Just like a woman. But as long as the bug-eyed bartender in this flea-bitten dive on the outskirts of Polar 12 was willing to sling them, I’d wait all night. Two nights if I had to. Because Vi was worth the wait in Outlander gold.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

While I blew through another round of sweet, overpriced drinks with fake umbrellas, I guess I had to thank Otto Romulus, a two-bit hustler who couldn’t fart out a good con if his life depended on it. For some bizarre reason, the Truvian slimeball looked up to me, like he fancied himself my protégé or something. Yeah, right. Like that would ever happen. The kid has no imagination. Always goes for the short con, never the long. I tried to explain the difference to him once, but I don’t know how much got through that thick skull of his. Truvians weren’t known for being Einsteins, if you get my drift.

Anyway, a couple of months ago I was cooling my heels waiting for a ride on a short-haul mineral freighter to Portal 9 when I ran into Otto. After a couple of drinks — okay, more than a couple — he spilled the beans about Madame True, as if this nugget of salaciousness was going to impress me. Hell, no. Pleasure bots have been around since the turn of millennium, since the Keteroid Plague made human sex a death sentence. Now we were forced to rely on virtual sex with no taboos and a boat load of pharmaceuticals. Not exactly the stuff of love songs and legends.

Too long in one place gives me an itchy finger, and I’d left the dull wife and test-tube kids on Earth years ago. So I roamed the galaxies doing what I do best: giving people what they want. That’s really the essence of the con: making the suckers think that you have something exclusive. Something they can’t live without. Something that makes them feel younger, or older, or smarter, or more beautiful. Everyone’s got a weakness. Some more than most. And that’s where I come in. I provide a valuable service in the scheme of things, though I suspect my marks would have a different opinion.

So getting back to the story, I was in between jobs, as they say, when I looked up Madame True. Now I have to be totally honest with you. Pleasure bots gave me the creeps, Vi excepting. Sure, they do anything you want, but they’re clunky. Detached. Maybe that’s ‘cos they know they’re one and done. Hey, I’m not the one who wrote the rules.

Otto had bragged that Madame True had the best pleasure bots around. Unique. Lifelike. I thought Otto was talking through his two dicks, quite frankly. But Madame True was different. The other madames, you rented the rack and hit the sack. No fuss, no muss. Madame True’s gimmick was that she created custom pleasure bots. No garden-variety bots here. I mean, the questionnaire took me two hours to fill out. This wasn’t the usual stuff like eye color, bust size, hair length. It seemed kind of crazy, but I went along, figuring that if she delivered even 40% of what she promised, I’d be ahead of the game.

The minute I put my brain buds on, took a shot of Synthex and saw Vi, I knew that she — this — was different from all the other pleasure bots I’d had, and believe you me, I’d had plenty. Vi seemed real. Human. And not just in how she looked, which was everything I had asked for and more: lavender eyes you could swim in, mocha colored skin, lush chestnut hair. But it was in her responses. What she did. What she didn’t do. What she didn’t say. Pleasure bots are clunky, robotic, detached. I could’ve been humping a side of beef. But once we got the business out of the way, Vi listened to me. Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking.

Twenty-four hours with Vi wasn’t enough. I begged Madame True for another night. She didn’t go for it at first. “Mr. Goss, I could lose my Federation license.” I wore her down, eventually. That, and another 240 million Faht. And the second night was even better than the first. I’d almost forgotten that Vi was made of pixels. I could smell her, taste her. She was like a fine glass of Pennolian wine. And just so you know it wasn’t about sex, which was great, the second night we didn’t even do that. We just talked. Or I talked.

But I knew the score. Vi was going to be deleted, just like all the other pleasure bots. I guess Madame True saw how upset I was. And then she said, oh so casually, in her sing-song Gonga dialect, ”There is a way, Mr. Goss.” At first I didn’t know what she meant. Then it dawned on me.

Clones.

Now we were in risky territory, even for me. Yeah, technically, clones were illegal. I’d heard stories of clone factories on some of the renegade outer galaxies, and the stories weren’t good. Like everything else, no quality control. And they had a rebellious streak. ’Course, putting in a self-destruct mode kind of defeated the purpose. We were talking a hell of a lot of Faht. My retirement fund and then some. To blow it all on a clone? And then I thought of Vi and those violet eyes. . . and the next thing I knew, I was wiring a deposit to Madame True’s bank account. She was even going to throw in a year’s supply of Z24, not that I needed it.

That was four long, excruciating months ago. I was ready. Hell, more than ready. Pumped. I’d thought about this moment night and day. And what we were going to do, me and Vi. I had a place on Utopia 5. A shack, really. But you couldn’t beat the sunsets. I wasn’t getting any younger. I’d decided that I was going to give up the game. Settle down. Yeah, I know. A Montrospoid can’t change its spots. But this was different. I could do anything for Vi.

I felt a tap on my arm. It was Madame True. I nearly spilled my drink. Woah. Didn’t realize how much I’d drunk. I followed her into the conveyor which brought us to the penthouse. I’d rented out the entire unit. Nothing but the best for my Vi. And before I knew it, there she was in the flesh. Not a pleasure bot anymore, but alive, real, breathing with lush hair and lavender eyes. Just as I’d imagined a thousand times in my dreams, only better. God himself could not have made her more perfect.

“Hello, Franklin,” Vi said, her voice as sweet as Sirindian honey.

I stumbled into my chair, feeling more and more woozy and disoriented. And hot. The sweat was pouring out of me like a river. I loosened my tie. Maybe that would help.

“Are you pleased, Mr. Goss?” Madame True asked.

I nodded, barely able to lift my head. I knew what the bitch wanted. I tapped out the account numbers on the M-pad, the final payment for services rendered.

“How much time?” Vi sounded distant, even though she was standing next to me.

“We have all the time in the world,” I muttered, my speech thick, my tongue thicker. I barely recognized my own voice.

Madame True shrugged. “Ten minutes. Maybe less. He drank enough to kill ten men.“

What the fuck did that mean? I wanted to say something, but my lips were numb. So were my legs. I tried to stand up, but I fell on the floor. I felt like a turtle on its back, helpless.

Through clouded eyes I saw Vi rip off her hair and toss the wig to the side. She had short, curly red hair. She kneeled next to me, cupped her eyes, and removed her contact lenses. Her eyes were vomit green.

“How does it feel to die, Mr. Goss?” Vi whispered.

Blood gurgled in my throat.

“You don’t remember me, do you? But I remember you. You fleeced my parents out of their life savings with worthless mineral rights on Aragon 13.”

I tried to force my legs to move. But it was useless. My hands.

I heard a noise. I smelled him before I saw him.

Otto Romulus. The creep was grinning, his tentacles slithering. “My father killed himself when he realized what a fool he’d been. Only it turns out those mineral rights weren’t worthless after all. It took me years to track you down.”

I wanted to scream. But nothing came out. I was done. As I drifted into a black void, I was back on Utopia 5, watching the purple sunsets with my dream girl.

My Vi.

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