John slammed the door to his car, sucked in all the air his lungs could hold, and let out a loud, violent cough. Sweet, sweet relief. He could breathe, the tickle in his throat that he had been fighting all night was finally clear.
“Hello,” he said to himself, his voice markedly softer than his hacking. Yes, his voice was back to normal. It sounded less sexy unclouded by phlegm. She probably didn’t notice, either way.
John jumped, whipped his head to the right. Shit. There she was, just outside his passenger door. He thought she had gotten in her own car already. Did she hear that terrible cough? She was just as beautiful as her picture on the site, just like the rest.
“Sorry,” he said, mind racing, neck sweating. “I didn’t see you. I…sorry. I’m just…” She stared politely, letting him finish. “Nervous. I’m not good at this.”
“No worries. Mind if I join you? We still have some time.”
John unlocked the door. She slid in, her perfect body sinking into the black leather. John wrapped his fingers around the wheel. He couldn’t bear to look at her.
“Did you enjoy tonight?”
She was looking right at him. Her eyes glowed synthetic white light. She sat so straight.
“Yes. I’m sorry. I don’t know why I can’t…I don’t know how to do this.”
“Let’s just drive, and talk. No big deal.”
He pulled out of the parking garage. He felt his sickness welling in his throat again. Just another thing to worry about on such a strange date. He would drive until she was satiated, delete her number, delete his profile from the site. His fault for trying something new, he supposed. No, Walt’s fault for telling him it was normal. He and Ronnie had never been normal.
Well. The night was pretty. There weren’t many cars, and certainly not many with people inside of them. John loved driving around all the autocars. They were so slow and even that he could weave between them like a stitching needle.
Her metallic skin reflected the brake lights and seemed striped with red, white, yellow. She was twiddling her thumbs in her lap. He wondered if she, too, had anxiety. He wished she would slouch a little.
“What are you thinking?” He asked her. What a strange question. He could remember asking Ronnie if she could think, at all. Walt had nearly thrown him out of the house.
“I like your suit,” she said. “I like how it fits you.”
“I like your dress,” he replied, and it was true. The rich red looked lovely in the restaurant, and in the dark night it was dulled to a mahogany and complemented her silver skin and rope-like brown hair. He wanted to ask what made her have preferences, if they were programmed into her. He wondered if she knew. He wondered if she’d lie about it. He wondered if it mattered…of course it mattered.
The music was low, pulsing. She tapped the toe of a high heel to the beat.
“Did you want to go anywhere?”
“No,” she said, leaning her head back against the seat. “I just love to drive with humans. It’s quite a lot of fun. And, I like spending time with you. I know you’re nervous. And I know you probably miss her…”
John stared straight ahead. The red and white city lights swam in his vision, formed a young Lisa’s dying face. Younger, her wedding veil, her mother, his mother, the vomit, the blood, their daughter, all dying.
Then this thing. The Replacement, sipping a drink one part vodka three parts Ecofuel. The way she tried to move like a woman. The way they all did, how they almost got it. The way they wore vintage dresses because no one bothered designing new ones. The way they now seemed so short and skinny and pretty after years without the flesh and blood equivalent. How to talk to a shell of something that no longer exists? How to talk to a replication? How to talk to a made-to-order immortal?
How to touch one? How to love one?
“I just want you to know that I get it,” she said. “I might not feel it as intensely, but I understand. And…I’m here for you.”
John nodded. “Thank you…I have to think. Perhaps it’s still too early for me.”
She nodded too. He didn’t turn the car around yet, though. Still thinking. If he dropped her off back at the restaurant, she would be gone until he called again. For now, she was here. It had been so long since he’d been alone in a car with a woman, and though it was awkward he had to admit it was nice. She was unsettlingly pretty. He wished she was plumper, or had asymmetrical breasts or a strange birthmark, or short eyelashes or limp hair.
He was driving over the bridge now, and the water shone below like a rippling mirror. He wanted uncertainty nearly as much as he wanted to kiss her. He wanted her to short circuit all her programming, especially the programming telling her not to mind that she’s programmed. He knew that despite her silver color she was warm, soft, fleshy, with a working womb that he was being told left and right to utilize. He didn’t want a baby. He didn’t want a sure thing. He half wanted her to reject him.
She placed two nimble fingers on the radio and turned it two notches.
“Do you mind?” she asked. “I hate this song.”
He shook his head. “Me too.”
The song changed twice, and she let it rest.
“Mm,” she said, stretching her arms and closing her eyes. She sang along, softly, a bit off tune. John sped up, cut off another autocar. Maybe, he mused, he’d keep driving through the night. What was the use in turning around, anyhow?