"And now for something completely different…"—Monty Python

+J.M.J.+

You Killed Me First

By "Matrix Refugee"

Author's Note:

This is something I doubt anyone else doing "A.I." fictions has ever tried, or wanted to try, or dared to try. I meant it only as a change of pace from my usual Joe fictions…at first glance, you might even call it somewhat anti-Joe. But I changed the original ending to soften the blow a little. Read it first, then decide for yourself. I love you; don't kill me…

Disclaimer:

I do not own "A.I.", its characters, concepts, settings, dialogue, or other indicia, which are the property of the late, great Stanley Kubrick, of Steven Spielberg, DreamWorks SKG, Amblin Entertainment, Warner Brothers, et al.; however, I gave Bevins a first name. Also, this story does not intend to pass judgment on grocery store managers as a class; I used to work in a grocery store. Special thanks goes to Bryan Harrison and his excellent novelization of the film, available through Laurie E. Smith's site.

When a girl like Samantha takes notice of a guy like me, you know it's something special, especially if you're the guy. I'm old compared to her; I'm forty-nine, she'd be turning twenty-nine. Time hasn't been good to me, and I was never much for looks anyway. I've been something of a ladies' man in the past, but I'd never felt before the way I'd felt when I first met Sam.

I was between lady friends when I met her. I spotted her in a bar in Haddonfield, with some of her girlfriends, laughing and chattering and eyeing the guys who came in. I was sitting alone when she looked at me from across the room. I'm no romantic, but when our gazes met, hell, I knew she was "the one". She was the prettiest girl there, a tall, shapely brunette with violet-blue eyes and a heart-shaped face and a laugh like, I dunno, little bells ringing.

She looked at me and she smiled. I smiled back. She came over and invited me to her table. She introduced me to her friends; I could tell by the looks in their eyes they were thinking, "Who's this loser?" but Sam ignored their looks. She made me feel like part of the group. She had a laugh as infectious as mono and a smile that lit up the dark corners of my heart.

Her friends left one by one, but she lingered with me till almost last call, talking with me, just me.

She was an artist; she'd been to places I could only dream of on my salary as an assistant grocery store manager: Europe, Asia, even Australia. She liked the mountains and the beach and watching old movies. She gave me her phone number and her e-mail address; I gave her mine, something I don't normally do, but Sam was different.

We went our separate ways; I offered to drive her home, but she gently refused. "Not till we get to know each other better."

I called her a few nights later and we talked for over an hour about everything. We made a date to get together that weekend, at the zoo in Camden.

She brought along her sketchpad—an old-fashioned paper one, no less, with graphite pencils. She scratch-sketched lions and monkeys and other critters; she worked fast, but she drew well. Later we found a park bench; she sat on the ground in front of me and started drawing my portrait.

"Herman, you don't have to keep quiet," she said. "It's best if you talk, then it comes out more natural-looking."

"I would think it would be the other way around," I said.

"Okay, as long as you don't mind having it come out looking like a portrait of a Mecha."

I didn't like the idea of that. I'm not Mecha-phobic, it's just I don't like the idea of being compared with one of them.

I told her whatever came into my head: how the store director had been on my back all week, how my bad knee was bugging me but it felt better today, a critique of a vid I'd rented that week, how I'd lived in Brockfield for a while when I'd worked there, but I'd moved to Haddonfield because the store chain had transferred me to the store there, but I liked Haddonfield better…I didn't mean to bitch, but she was the kind of person you could vent to and not feel like she was judging you or that what you had to say was meaningless.

"Okay, if you were any one of the animals we've seen today, what would you be?"

"I'd like to be a meerkat, because they're slim and people think they're cool. But if I were an animal, hmm…I'd probably be something like a water buffalo."

"Why that?"

"Because they're not much to look at and they're kinda dumb, but they work hard. That's me all over."

She looked at me with a gleam in her eyes and started drawing something on a clean sheet.

When she'd finished, she turned the pad around and showed it to me.

First, she showed me the straight portrait; she didn't idealize me: there I was, pockmarks and bald spots, but she didn't make me look as dull and ordinary as the mirror tells me that I look. I don't know how she did it.

Then with a twinkle in her eye, she turned the page and showed me the next picture. Somehow, she'd drawn a meerkat so that it looked like me. I mean, it looked a little cartoonish, but gently cartoonish, more just innocent, playful stuff than anything else. I had to laugh. No one had ever done that for me before.

We had more dates like this. We went to things I never even thought of going to: poetry readings and improv theatres and art galleries. She had everything I lacked, but she was glad to share it with me. Once in while we'd get daring and we'd go to this slightly divey bar in the rough part of town, but she brought a freshness to it. I mean, we had to fend off some con artists and pushy sex Mechas, but she took it all in stride, like she did this all the time.

After about six months of this, she let me come up to her apartment. We got a little cozy on the couch, if you know what I mean, but she wouldn't let me stay the night. I respected that, though I really wish she had. She wouldn't let me move in either, and she wouldn't move in with me, but we visited each other's places every day, on alternate days. That was enough for me, though.

She had this Teddy Supertoy. Now, I have nothing personal against Mechas, don't get me wrong, but the Teddy just creeped me out. I mean, you got this thing that looks like Winnie the Pooh waddling around the house. It made me nervous, I don't know why. I mean, why should a dumb toy get to me? It wasn't like the thing could really judge me if it saw me and Sam together…y' know…but the sight of that thing bugged me. I didn't let on to Sam, though.

We saw each other for about a year before I popped the question to her on Valentine's Day. Amazingly, she accepted my proposal right away.

Three months later, we got married. Sam's father told me I was the luckiest man alive and Sam was lucky enough to find a good, sensible man to rely on, not like some of the odd characters she'd dated over the years.

I wish I could say we lived happily ever after, but that only happens in gosh-darn fairy tales. I don't know how it happened. I'd like to think it all started a year after we got married, when we applied for a pregnancy license. I figured we were ideal candidates; she was beautiful and intelligent, I had a steady job with a good income. Besides, with a kid around, that Teddy would be out of the way.

Our application got turned down. Sam figured it had to do with quotas or something; we'd just try again next year.

Well, we did, and it got bounced again. I know my family has a history of heart disease, but it's nothing serious, just tendencies toward murmurs and hardened arteries. I do try to watch that, but it isn't easy.

She started to get sloppy with the housework. I pointed it out to her; she said she'd had a lot of illustrating jobs come in and she'd hadn't had time to take care of it.

I came home one night a week later to find a strange man vacuuming the rugs in the front hallway. I almost ordered him out, but he looked up at me with a blankly submissive expression on his too-smooth face. I looked at it long enough to realize what it was and that it wasn't much for looks.

I found Sam in her studio, at work at her drawing board.

"What is that out there in the front hallway?" I asked.

She looked up, her lips parted, waiting for a kiss. "Oh, that's Tony, our new serving man."

"And how much did that Mecha cost?" I asked.

"Only 3,000 NB—I'm paying for him," she said.

"Just pay off every cent," I said, leaning down to kiss her.

In a good year, she made more than I did. I didn't have to worry about her not being able to pay her bills; and I didn't have to worry about her going out much during the day, since her work kept her at him, not a bad thing, really, incase we ever got out license.

In the third year of our marriage, at long last, we finally got our license. But nothing came of it.

We tried every reasonable means to conceive. We even resorted to some odd Feng Shui methods of redoing our bedroom so everything would be realigned and we'd be at harmony with our environment so we could conceive, or at least that's what Sam's roommate Glorie promised. Finally we went in for fertility tests.

The problem wasn't me. The problem was Sam. For some reason, she was infertile. I could go out and illegally get another woman pregnant, but I couldn't get my own wife with child.

She started avoiding me at night. The doctors told me to be patient with her and show her that I still loved her. But she wouldn't accept my ways of showing her that I loved her.

I really still loved her. I still supported her. She suddenly didn't take as many commissions as she had had before. Our neighbor, Mrs. Pertwin said she'd seen Sam going out in the middle of the day and not coming back for hours at a time.

Then one day, I came home from work to find those two Mechas alone in the house, Teddy sitting on a chair in the kitchen, while Tony dusted the light over the table. No Sam, no supper on the table; not even so much as a note explaining where she'd gone. I had to ask that Mecha where she'd got to.

"Samantha told me she was going for a long walk, sir," it replied in its thin, lightly cadenced voice.

I helped myself to a box of crackers and some salami I found in the fridge.

I heard a low humming sound at my elbow. I looked up. That Mecha stood there gazing at me with those blank brown eyes. The least they could have done is program these things to blink, then they wouldn't be half as weird.

"Do you require anything of my services, sir?" it asked.

"No," I replied. It nodded its head in deference and went away, almost apologetically, to its cubbyhole under the stairs.

I went upstairs to take a long shower to clear my head. Afterward, I lay on the bed in my bathrobe, staring at the ceiling.

Where in hell are you, Sam? I wondered.

I tried to watch television, but I couldn't focus. I tried to read the paper, but the words turned to a gray blot in from of my eyes. I went back to bed. I would have lit a cigarette, but Sam had helped me quit.

I must have fallen asleep. I woke up in darkness, feeling her next to me, her back to me. I reached and tried to wake her, but she wouldn't move, though I knew she'd woken up.

She was still asleep when I got up the next morning. Not knowing when she'd finally got in, I left her alone and got ready for work. I'd get breakfast on the way in.

I closed on Thursday nights. Before I went off, I asked Mrs. Pertwin to keep an eye on Sam all day, see who—or what—came and went. Sam wasn't home when I got back late that night, but Mrs. Pertwin told me she'd seen Sam go out late that afternoon.

I waited up for her; I dozed off in my chair in the living room, but I woke up when I heard the door open.

"Sam?" I said.

She jolted as she passed by the living room doorway. "Oh, Herm, there you are. Uh, how are you?"

"About the same as always, breathing out, breathing in," I said. I got up and followed her upstairs. She walked a little too hastily.

"So, where were you?" I asked, trying to sound casual.

"Oh, I went for a long walk out in the country," she said, sitting down on the bed and taking off her shoes.

"In pumps?" I asked, looking at her shoes.

"It's late, we're both tired," she said, taking the clips out of her hair. "Wanna take a bath?"

"No, not tonight."

I went out to check the locks, make sure they were on smart. I took my time before I went back up there.

She'd put on her good nightgown but the time I got back.

"Hey, come to bed, darlin'," she cooed.

"Not tonight, I had a rough day."

"Come on, I'll help you forget about it."

I didn't want to blow up at her, but I could see right through her: she'd been with someone else.

I slept in the spare bedroom that night, the room we had been planning to turn into a nursery someday. Someday never came.

Mrs. Pertwin kept watch for me over the next few days. Sam stopped disappearing for so long and started acting as if everything were normal, as if it were the way it had been before. She cooked dinner for me again. She took up more illustration jobs. She even bought herself some new outfits, but I wondered if they'd really been meant for someone else.

I almost gave in to her one night, but I couldn't let myself. Who had she been with recently? What kind of diseases had she come home with? To my knowledge she hadn't been inoculated against any STDs.

One morning, I couldn't help eyeing Tony as he cleared the table. What else could he do besides clean and sweep and wash dishes? Did he have the simulated members of a man under his plain black trousers? I had nothing against him; I just wanted to rule out all the possibilities.

I asked Stang, my assistant that afternoon. His family had one of these serving men to assist his handicapped wife.

"About these serving Mechas, are they just built to look male or do they have the wherewithal underneath?" I asked as we unloaded a pallet of cereal boxes in the back room

"Nah, they just look male. They're really neuter underneath it all. Oh, they got the parts in silicon, but they can't do nothing with them. Why, something funny going on with Sam?"

"No, just curious."

Tony wasn't suspect. Then who was it?

I was making a phone call from home a day or two later, when I spotted a small blue business card on the floor. As the line rang, I stooped down to pick it up absently.

Diamond Escort Service. For every lonely Orga's needs.

On the back she'd scribbled a number and something that looked like Jay or Joe, I couldn't make it out.

I told Danson, the store director, that I couldn't close the following Thursday, that Sam had some tests at the hospital and I had to go with her. I didn't tell her I wasn't working that night. I went to work as usual, leaving her to believe I wouldn't be home until eleven.

I left work at six, on the pretext that I was going home.

I rented a car and drove it back home; I parked across the street from our house. Her car still stood parked in our driveway. She came out of the house and got in. I pretended to drive by, but I ducked into a side street and watched, waiting for her to pass by and see where she went.

She drove to the rough part of town, locally known as That Street: divey bars and hooker hotels, neon lighting and jazz clubs…

And sex Mechas.

I'm not Mecha-phobic, but I've just never thought much about the people who use these things as sex objects. Isn't a human being good enough, even if, supposedly, these things can out-perform a human?

Sam drove up to one of the diviest looking joint of all, a place that called itself the Shangri-La Hotel, which conveniently let rooms by an hourly rate. I pulled up to the opposite curb to watch.

Sam got out of her car and went inside, practically skipping up the steps. Who—or was it what?—awaited her inside, in an upstairs room? A light went on in an upstairs window; a shadow that looked like Sam's came to the window and opened it.

I almost drove away then, but I lingered, watching the crowds passing by: men, women, who could tell in the dim light which were flesh and which fiber?

A figure emerged from the throng: tall—anyone I have to look up at is tall—lean, dressed to the nines, hair slicked back impeccably, loaded with charisma, high-stepping along the street like he owned the whole lot. He took the steps of the Shangri-La in a graceful bound and, with a flourish of his coattails, swung in through the open door.

As he stepped inside, the light caught on his skin—too glossy, way too glossy to be the skin of a normal human.

Was he the one? I didn't hang around to find out.

I bought a pack of cigarettes on the way home. I smoked the whole pack that night, sitting in the backyard, one after the other, some of them I only half smoked before lighting another. Afterward, I went in to the bathroom and rinsed my mouth for a whole ten minutes to take away the nicotine taste in my mouth. I put my clothes in the wash and scrubbed myself down.

I went out again, just to keep up appearances.

I spotted a spidery metal-framed service droid at work by the side of the road, picking up trash in the dark. Some preteens on rollerblades passed by hurling bottles at it. The metal thing calmly picked up the bottles and put them in the sack it trundled.

I came home to find Sam at home, cooking supper. I made myself act as if nothing had happened either way.

That night, I kept up appearances so much I let myself make love to her, though inwardly I ground my teeth. After she'd been with someone else—probably a fiberhead!—she dared to couple with me!

I could have forgiven her easily if I knew she was fooling around with a flesh and blood man. But with a Mecha…that was the unforgivable crime.

I had to work two nights the following week: Wednesday and Friday, but I claimed that Sam had more tests Friday night.

I bought a steak knife from the store Friday afternoon, claiming we were having steak that night after we got back and we needed another knife, the handle of one had snapped when it got caught in the drawer.

I got to the Shangri-La and went in. I asked the clerk at the front desk, a slightly weasel-faced fellow about my own age, if a Samantha Bevins had checked in or had a reservation there?

He eyed me up and down. "I'm sorry, but I can't let out that kind of information."

I started out. At that juncture, a woman who might have been a bar waitress came to the desk from the back.

"Hey, Williamson, we get trouble back here," she said. The clerk got up and followed her out back. Once he had gone, I stepped up to the desk and checked the register.

18.30, p.m. Ms. S. Bevins. Room 102 reserved.

I tiptoed upstairs and found the room. I took out my pocket tool kit and picked the lock to let myself in.

No one was there, thank heavens. Night had just fallen and the neon lights outside lit up the window with garish splashes of light.

The furniture in the room looked like the kind of cheap junk they put in sleazy places like this: some kind of tasteless print upholstery on the couch, a loud rug, and gaudy covers on the bed. At least it matched the neon lights.

Sam came in. I kept to the shadows. She took off her coat and draped it over a chair. She wore a strapless blouse over a long full skirt. She puttered about the room, turning down the bedcovers, humming to herself. She switched on a light to check her makeup.

"Sam."

She jolted and turned to face me. "Herm, uh, what are you doing here? Aren't you supposed to be at work?"

"I took a little time off just to be with you. I've been working too hard lately." My hand felt the knife in my pocket.

"Well, uh, what are you doing in this part of town?" she tried to smile teasingly, but it looked pasted on.

"I was about to ask you the same question."

"Oh, I'm just meeting with a model I'm working with for my next cover."

"So why are you meeting him here? Why not meet someplace a little less cozy, with less atmosphere?"

"I…needed a background. I needed to see how it would all come together." She backed toward the bed. I felt myself stepping toward her. The edge of the mattress caught under her knees. She toppled back and sat down hard.

I grabbed at her, holding her by the front of her blouse with one hand, pinning her arms behind her back with the other. "Who is he? Tell me who he is!"

"His name's…his name is Joe," she faltered. I felt her shaking under me.

"Joe what? What is his name?!"

"They call him Gigolo Joe."

"What is he? Is he a man? Mecha? Tell me!"

She dropped her gaze, her lips trembling, not daring to reply. I had my answer.

I pulled out the knife. I only meant to scare her with it, but I saw the blade plunge again and again and again.

She fell back on the bed, face down. I turned her head around. Her eyes had already started to glaze and I couldn't hear her breathing. She hadn't even screamed, I'd caught her so off guard. The knife dropped from my hand to the floor.

I listened for movement. He'd be coming any time now, whatever he was…it was.

I pulled the bedcovers over her to hide the wounds. I got down on the floor and found the knife. I wiped the prints off the handle with my handkerchief. So far as I knew, these things didn't have fingerprints, but if the police found mine…

I washed my hands in the sink very carefully. This thing was taking its dear, sweet time: an hour had passed since I'd gotten here. But I supposed if it was everything they said those things are, it'd be bloody busy on Friday night.

I put out the light and opened a window. I stepped back into a corner between two windows and watched the street below.

Something dark and shapely, probably a female sex Mecha minced out onto the street. A tall, dark thing, the dapper Dan of the week before, passed it by.

"Hey, Joe, whaddya know?" the female asked, sultry-voiced.

"Hey, Jane, how's the gain?" the male replied, a light voice with a foreign accent, British or Aussie or something.

Samantha's Joe was on the way to milady's chamber.

I heard a light step on the stairs, in the hallway, approach the door, pause dramatically. The latch clicked and the door opened.

The thing strode in like some old-style movie actor and closed the door behind it. The neon caught on its light hair, too neatly glossed back, and its narrow face, too well molded to be credible.

It strode to the foot of the bed, its back to me, the master of all he surveyed. "Ms. Bevins, it's Joe," it said in a husky drawl. It twitched its head to the left; an old song from a Broadway musical started to play from somewhere inside it. "At your service." It swept off the black jacket it wore and tossed the garment to the floor. With the grace of a tiger, it lowered itself onto the bed beside her.

It leaned over her. "I've been counting the seconds since last we met." He moved in closer and touched her cheek. "Have you been crying, Samantha? I've found a tear." It held up its hand to the light and looked at its fingertip. It had her blood on its hand.

It got up, a purely mechanical reflex, and stood staring at her.

"Hey, Joe, whaddya know?" I said, trying not to sneer.

It turned to me, stepping back into the turn, and switched off the damned music. I got a good look at the object of Sam's affections (heavy on the object) then.

If it were human, he would only have been in his early twenties, a boyish face, insipidly pretty, the jaw utterly hairless, a real boy-toy in all senses of the word. They could have made it yesterday or ten years ago.

"How many seconds has it been since you two were together?" I asked. I had to be sure this was the one.

It tilted its chin down slightly. "Two hundred and fifty-five thousand, one hundred and thirty three," it replied with frank precision. All the data I needed.

I went over to the bed and leaned over Samantha's body. "Goodbye, Sam," I said. "And never forget, you killed me first." I kissed her bare shoulder and headed out, leaving the thing behind with her. If they made these things artificially intelligent, the least it could do is figure out how to get itself out of that mess.

I went out by a back staircase leading to a door that exited into the alleyway. I went straight home and hid my blood-spattered clothes in the bottom of the hamper. After a couple of hours, I called the police and reported Sam missing. I gave them her description.

Sure enough, they found her body in the Shangri-La Hotel. Who was the last person known to be in the room with her? A male sex-Mecha, a Companionates model JO-4379, locally known as Gigolo Joe.

The thing was spotted disappearing into the woods, heading south toward Barn Creek. The Flesh Fair had come to town there, so our metal-boy didn't stand a chance.

But somehow, as I later heard, a riot broke out at the Flesh Fair and the rogue escaped during the commotion. By early morning, the police had traced it to Rouge City, where it apparently had fled in the company of an eleven or twelve year old kid.

The police arrested the thing, but somehow it escaped in a stolen police amphibicopter. They traced it again, this time to what remained of Manhattan, within hailing of the Cybertronics building.

They brought it back to Haddonfield, where they would rip out the thing's processors and scan it for evidence. The police called me in to ID the thing.

It didn't carry itself so cocky now that it had fallen afoul of man. But it looked at me with something in its eye that did not belong there. It didn't rebuke me, but it looked at me with something these things can't have.

I swear something other showed in those pale green eyes. It knew something I didn't know.

I shook my head. "No, no, this isn't the one. This…this one's dark; the one Samantha was fooling around with, the one that killed her, it was blond."

"Are you sure, Mr. Bevins?" the policeman asked me.

"I'm sure. Yeah, I'm sure," I fumbled.

I went home, shaken.

After Sam's funeral a few days later, I was still home, going through her things, mostly tossing stuff out, when someone knocked at the front door. I went to answer it and found a detective and two cops on the doorstep.

"We've been re-interviewing some of the witnesses to your wife's murder. Some of the facts aren't checking out with your story," he informed me.

I glanced past him. A cruiser stood out there in the drive, along with an unmarked car.

"I'd be glad to help you, but first I, uh, have to take care of a little, er, business of nature."

"Mind if we come in?" the detective asked.

"No, no, not at all," I said, too hasty. I made myself walk naturally into the kitchen. Making sure I was alone, I opened a drawer and pulled out a steak knife…

Afterword:

There, that's all she's gonna write on this one. This was too hard to write: I always try to get inside the characters' skulls (or processors, as the case may be), and I hated being inside Bevins's skull; plus, try writing about someone you're accustomed to calling a he, as an it (thank God for word-processing software!). Feedback is welcome, but hold the flames, please!

Literary Easter Eggs:

Not many in this one, but some of the dynamics of the plot bear some resemblance to Tolstoy's novella "The Kreutzer Sonata", in which a man catches his wife having an affair with a gigolo-musician.