“I’m very sorry, Mr. Clark, but you’re dying.”
Brett swallowed. “Dying?”
The doctor adjusted his glasses. “It’s a neurological disorder. Degenerative. The longest you might live is up to ten years, but I wouldn’t get optimistic. Most people don’t even make it to three.”
Brett looked at his hands in his lap. He was clammy all over. He’d felt it in his head, in his brain, only slightly. There hadn’t been any real symptoms, just a feeling of uneasiness. He’d also been feeling dreadfully lonely, which the doctor had assured him was a classic symptom. “Is there no cure? No operation? Nothing?”
“There… is a cure,” the doctor said, as hesitant as can be. “But it is extremely difficult to, er, administer.”
“But of course I’ll do it!” Brett said. “Why shouldn’t I? Tell me what the cure is. Is it a matter of cost? I’ll pay everything I’ve got!”
The doctor was shaking his head the moment Brett had started talking. “The cure isn’t something that I can give you. It’s not medical, precisely.”
Brett wasn’t following. “Not medical,” he repeated numbly.
“Not medical.” The doctor took a breath, and then finally dropped his clipboard on the desk in front of him with defeat. “The only cure is true love.”
Brett assumed that he’d misheard. “True love?” It was silly to say it aloud. Obviously he’d misheard. Brett didn’t know much about neuroscience, but it was clearly ridiculous.
“That’s right,” the doctor said. “The only way to treat this disorder is to find true love. Of the reported cases, only five percent, maybe less, have been able to treat themselves. Despite appearances in the modern world, true love is extremely rare.”
“True love!” Brett found himself laughing. He must’ve been dreaming. “The only thing I have to do is find true love? I’ll go on some dating websites! Do some speed dating! Whatever! You said I had years to pull it off!”
The doctor coughed into his fist. “Erm, yes, I did say that you had years. Many patients with this disorder make it at least two years after being diagnosed. But you see… true love is a chemical thing. Your brain is changed by it. A very small percentage of the population actually experiences it, even if they think that they can.”
But Brett had stopped listening. There was a commercial running through his head, he’d seen it on TV a hundred times, with that stupid little jingle. “Ladybot,” Brett said. “Ladybot. You’ve seen the ads, haven’t you? Manbots and Ladybots? They’re a couple thousand bucks, but hey, that’s cheaper than cancer treatment!” He was laughing again, uncontrollably. “That’s all I have to do! I’ll buy myself a Ladybot and program her with the exact settings that I need!”
The doctor leaned forward. “It’s a possibility, but you might find—”
“It’ll work fine! You’ve seen how realistic they look these days! A good Ladybot is practically indistinguishable from a human!” Brett paused. “Maybe it’ll cost more than a couple thousand if I want the best on the market. Ah, but don’t you see?” He was grinning like a crazy person.
The doctor spread his arms. “As I’ve already told you, the treatment is not medical. I can give you recommendations, but this is out of my hands.”
Brett stood and felt compelled to shake the man’s hand. “Thanks a ton, doc. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine! I’ll be great! I’ll be cured in a month!”
Brett was not cured in a month.
“Sweetie?” he asked his Ladybot. “Can you fetch me something to eat?”
“Yes, Mr. Clark,” she said, her smile unfading.
“No, no,” Brett said, his hand over his face. “Stop calling me Mr. Clark. Brett will do just fine.”
“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him. “Yes, Brett. I will get you food right away.”
Moments later, she returned with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, his favorite lunch. “Again?” he said, his shoulders slouching as he took the plate. “You gave me PB&J yesterday for lunch.”
“Of course!” Ladybot said. “You had told me that it was your favorite lunchtime meal! I can show you my data logs if you’d like.”
“No, no, no, that’s fine. It’s just… Three PB&Js in a row is a little much. Can you spice things up a bit?”
“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him. “Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches will be served no more than two lunches in a row. They will also feature spices.”
“No! No spices!” Brett shouted.
“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him.
He set the sandwich aside. “Now, please, sweetie, have a seat.”
Her strangely cold flesh sat down in his lap. “Yes, Brett? How can I help you?”
“Well, ah, hm, the trouble is, you’re being a little too helpful. Do you know what I mean?”
“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him.
“It’s like, you know, you do everything I ask. It’s like you’re a slave, not a person. If you really want me to love you, you need to show some personality, maybe have some opinions that differ from mine.”
“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him. “Brett, I do not like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They are incompatible with my software.”
“See! There we go!” Brett said, trying to make himself sound cheery. “Perfect. Just wonderful. What would you like to watch on the TV this afternoon?”
Ladybot’s head hung to its side. “It is not my opinion to watch TV, Brett. What do you want to watch?”
“Well the game’s on, you see. I’d like to watch that.” He went for the remote.
“Brett, I do not like sports,” Ladybot said. “It is not my opinion to watch this game.”
“Hm, ah, well, alright,” Brett said, his arm still halfway to the remote. “Now I feel like you’re just disagreeing with everything that I say. That isn’t quite what I meant. I think that you need to find a middle ground.”
“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him. “Please enter a percentage value for future disagreements.”
“Ah, hm, well, sweetie, if I tell you a percentage value, I feel like you’re still choosing your opinions at random. I mean, I’m no expert with computers, but—”
“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him. “My opinions can be determined via a random number generator. Does this mode suit your desires?”
Brett shifted in his seat. Her skin felt a little too clammy. “Er, yes. I suppose it will do. We can work out the specifics later. But if I tell you how to act, it doesn’t make you feel all that… human?” He shifted again. “Your skin is very cold.”
“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him. “Body temperature increasing. Body temperature settings will remain at near-human temperatures indefinitely.”
“Anyway, as I was saying,” Brett went on, feeling her slowly warming, “I was thinking that maybe we should have some arguments, or something. It’s normal for couples, isn’t it? We can’t be perfect. It feels too weird. So the percentage of future disagreements settings… Well, I feel—”
“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him. “I hate you. I am breaking up with you.”
“Oh! Ah! Hm. Well, that’s not quite what I meant. And you know I told you about using contractions more often.”
“Contraction frequency is set to 10%. 10% of possible contractions in the English language will be applied to my vernacular. If you wish to reconfigure the programming—”
“Ah! Hm! Oh. I think you’re missing my point. And please, can you make me something else to eat? I don’t think I’m in the mood for PB&J right this moment.”
Ladybot stood. “Yes, Brett. I will make you some tuna sandwiches instead.”
Brett drummed his fingers on his leg. “Hm! Oh! Ah. Well, I don’t quite like tuna sandwiches. I thought we’d discussed this.”
“We have,” Ladybot said. “We are having an argument.”
“That’s not, er, quite how it’s supposed to go.” Brett leapt to his feet, suddenly in a panic. “You’re supposed to make the tuna sandwich anyway, without even asking me! And then I’d get it from you and tell you I don’t like it, and you’re supposed to get offended! And then, THEN we fight! And you’ll tell me to eat it anyway, and complain about how much you do for me without anything in return, and I’ll try to defend myself, and… and…!”
“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him. “I will be in the kitchen, preparing our argument.”
Brett sunk into his chair. Just a little more tweaking was all she needed. Just a little more.