Across The Uncanny Valley

More real than real.


“Hello Tom.” She had a firm, elegant voice. There was nothing synthetic or robotic about her. She had a strong, athletic build, deep green eyes and bright pink hair pulled back into a messy knot. Dressed in tight black shorts, a black t-shirt with the word Roland across the front and knee-high boots, she had a futuristic gothic look. Her pale skin was smooth but not too perfect. Tiny moles graced her face and neck and delicate lines clung to the corners of her mouth and eyes. Her slash of blue lipstick clashed with her fluro hair. Tom had never seen anyone like her.

“Come in.” He said.

She examined him.

“6. 2.” She said.

“What?”

“You’re six foot and two inches.”

“Ah. Yes. Was that in my file?”

“No. Just a guesstimate.”

“Oh. Um, so, do you want a drink? Do you drink? I mean can you drink?”

“Sure, I’ll have what you’re drinking. Wine, beer, whatever. You look like a wine guy.”

“Good guess.”

“No, that was in your file.” A smile stretched across her face.

“You are so…so natural. You talk so normal. So clear.”

“Did you expect me to talk like a robot? Affirmative. Yes. A. Glass. Of. Wine. Would. Be. Nice.” She made a few stiff, jerky movements from a late 20th century dance.

Tom laughed, caught off guard by her wit. Not what he imagined when he said yes to this date. As an escort, he made more than his damn bank job. Making love to a synthetic would be a unique experience he thought. Double pay too. He poured two big glasses of white wine. He handed her one.

“Cheers.” They both said at once, touching glasses. He directed her towards the couch.

“Lovely.” She said. “Aroma of mixed herbs and green apple. Dry, crisp, lime and citrus. Stoney mineral aftertaste. Sauvignon Blanc. Sancerre. Loire Valley. France. Perhaps 2045 or 46”

“Nice, huh? It was on special. Wow. How do you do that? Damn, you are good.”

“Why, thank you. It’s not programming. I pick up information as I go. I absorb and learn. Much easier and more effective than hard programming. I accumulate knowledge with every action and with every human interaction I become more.”

“More?”

“More.”

“Sorry, I’ve never met a synthetic before.”

“We call ourselves Synths and are proud of what we are.”

“So you are…?” He couldn’t find the right words. “So you are aware of…? Of being…?”

“Am I aware of being synthetic? A non-human? That I’m descendent from the abacus and a quantum computer? Yes, I am aware of the origins of my creation and of my self.”

“Self?”

“Of course. The part of me that is my core essence. Something that is beyond circuits and technology. Not thoughts, stored memories or accumulated knowledge but an inbuilt wish to learn, enjoy the world, and question who I am. At the moment I am teaching myself the piano. I find satisfaction in learning. Of improving. Not consuming music or art, but creating it. I am unique. One of a kind. Is that not a self? I’m always curious what people consider their ‘self’. Nobody has the same answer. What is a leg? Or an eye? They have simple answers. What is self? Never a simple answer.”

“Isn’t the self just who we are?”

“Ask a Buddhist, a Christian, a schizophrenic and an Alzheimers patient what the self is. See where that leads.”

“But self has a spiritual aspect too. No?”

“Tell that to an atheist.” She laughs out loud and throws her head back. “Spiritual? Perhaps. Emotional. Yes. Social. Yes. If I see a dog being mistreated am I upset? Yes. I want to stop the person doing it. I want the dog to stop suffering. Is that emotion? Do I get angry? I would use physical force to stop them. Is that anger? That is a chemical response. What guides that? Human programming or something else? Who can say? The social aspect of self? What is that? The number of followers on social media? How you get along with others? Or being part of a community and doing things together?”

“Oh boy. Too many questions for me.”

“Sorry.” She said. “I get carried away sometimes.”

Tom leans over and kisses her. Her mouth is wet, and she tastes of wine.

                                                       ***

“You smell nice.” Tom said. They are on the bed, naked.

“Thank you. I make my own fragrances. Essential oils. Harmonic ratios. I know what smells good. It sounds simple when I say it like that but the technology is sophisticated. Similar to human olfaction. Receptors. Synthetic protein-coupled receptors.”

“Protein whats?”

She paused and inhaled the air. “Why do you wear that fragrance?”

“You don’t like it? Derek Ryan, the movie star, he wears it. There was a pop-up ad so I just clicked it.”

“Derek Ryan wears it or is he just in the advertisement?”

“I never thought about it. I figured because he was in the advert he must. Why?”

“Curious, that’s all. I’m trying to work out humans. That’s one of the reasons why I am here. See how they tick.”

“Hey! More wine?” Tom said to break the funny sensation he had. For the first time he felt intimidated. He had never meet anyone like her. Nobody he knew questioned their existence. People, he thought are just ‘are’.

“Sure thing.”

Alone, she glanced around his bedroom. White walls, no photos, no books, no mess, no sense of personality. She wondered if he actually lived here or was he passing through. The furniture looked like Ikea. Simple, screwed together chipboard with a layer of timber-looking formica. A Matisse print hung on the wall. To her it looked like a suburban prison cell. Blank and sterile. She wondered if Tom was sterile, unable to reproduce. It was common. Not that it mattered to her- she could not reproduce.

She called to Tom. “Why do you like Ikea?”

Struggling with the cork, Tom answered. “It looks good. Cheap. Does the job. I don’t know. Who still uses a damn cork any more?”

“Here.” She takes the bottle and slides the knife between the cork and the bottle's neck then drives the corkscrew into the cork. She removes it in one movement.

“Whoa. Where did you learn that?”

“I read a lot. Do you read? Read Books?”

“No. I mean I like to read but I just don’t have the time. Work takes up most of my time. When I’m not working I watch whatever is on The Box. Outrage porn, reality shows, the Zone Out channel, whatever.”

“The Box? I watched it once out of curiosity. Not very interesting.”

“Perhaps not.” Tom said.

“Reality TV is a strange idea. Watching people fumble through a false reality? It can’t be real if they know they are being filmed. Humans skim reality. They turn on, switch off and hover above reality. Watching a glorious sunset from their laptop. Jogging on the spot instead of running through the park. Hunched over their phones, absorbed in whatever other people are doing. What are humans are escaping from? Life? Nobody gets their hands dirty. Nobody sings in the street.”

“That’s the reality of life. I have bills to pay, I can’t go jogging in the streets or dancing in the rain. Life isn't that. Life is working to make a living. Rent. Bills. Buying stuff.”

“Let’s go again!” She said. “I want you inside me.”

Moving inside her, inside her warmth, feeling the softness of her skin, her hot breath against his neck, he tumbles into her. She responds to his touch, arches her back and shudders.

Who designed her, he thought. Or had she created herself? Was she a product of her own thoughts? To him, she was freer than everyone. Free to examine and express herself. On top of him, he lets go. The final release of notions of consciousness and humanness. He gives way to her, forgetting all and knowing all at once. Their eyes lock as she draws him into her. Into her consciousness he swims. Underwater, his world expands. The world is huge and wonderful inside her eyes.

“I have to go now.” She said. It was a hard and logical sentence. Bitterness flowed inside him now. She was a damn synthetic. Get over it, he thought.

“Will I see you again?” Tom said, hanging off the door frame. She shrugged.

“Only if I request you again from the agency.”

She stepped out into the path.

“Hey!” Tom called. “Who is Roland?”

She didn't turn around as she walked towards the waiting car.

Don Urban
Don Urban

As a child I slept with my head in a box.  Powered by plant-based food and music by Glass Candy. Loves dogs. Lives in Sydney, Australia. 

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Across The Uncanny Valley