K. Marvin Bruce–INFATUATION, TECHNICALLY

“I had to get Celeste very drunk to sweet-talk her onto that scanner. I mean, I really had no choice. She doesn’t like me, you see. Never even notices me.” I glance over at Woody to see if he follows me. He looks like the whole internet just broke down.

“You what?”

“At the staff Christmas party. It wasn’t easy, you know. The open floor-plan of this office is totally Dilbert-esque, don’t you think? Good thing the scanner’s in that alcove.”

“The alcove with the heavy duty paper shredder, too? That alcove?” I nod. Woody’s staring at my screen with renewed interest, and maybe a touch of disgust now. “That’s Celeste?”

“The real deal. Getting her on that scanner was like talking her onto one of those artificial bulls you see in Texan bars. For this to work, I had to get every possible angle. For a project like this, you want no interpolation. Nosiree. You want the real deal. I had to get her clothes off–don’t look at me like I’m a pervert or something! I didn’t touch her! Well, not in that way. I just had to get her scanned, in high res, from every possible angle. Some parts are pretty straightforward, you know. The face? Left-right-top-bottom-done. Some of the less visible parts took several scans–she was having trouble straddling that machine–you know how big it is. And don’t even get me started on hands.”

“Wait!” It’s obvious Woody has some issues with my techniques. As if he never dreamt of similar schemes. “You got Celeste drunk at the Christmas party, lured her into the alcove and scanned her? Are you nuts?”

“I was beginning to think so afterwards. Hey, I put her clothes back on–she never even knew. But look at this.” I click the mouse a few times to bring up a new screen.

“What’s that? It looks like New Jersey.”

“A birthmark. Who’d’ve thought? And you know, the closer I looked, the more I saw. These are high res images, after all. I mean, I still really want Celeste and all, but she doesn’t know I exist. I have to see her in the office every day. I’m really taken with her.”

“But she doesn’t know what you did?”

“Of course not! Man, I’d be rotating my own grave if she found out–extreme sexual harassment! Remember that stupid video they made us watch? The animations were far below professional standards. Anyway, that video said something about getting firedfor sexual harassment–you can’t tell anyone about this!” I don’t like the way it looks like he’s caving. “Woody?” I warn.

“Okay, okay. But you should probably delete those files before you get caught.”

“Delete them? I’m not done yet.”

“Done? Don’t tell me you’re using them to–”

“You’re a perv, Wood. Of course not. It’s just that I started to realize that as much as I love Celeste, some parts really kind of turn me off. You know? You ever notice Heidi? She’s got a cute figure. And she doesn’t mind staying after work once in a while.”

Suspicion is growing in Woody’s eyes again. “What do you mean?”

“Well, she puts out. It wasn’t too difficult to get her on the scanner. She was only a little tipsy. Take a look here.” I pull up an image of Heidi’s inner thigh. “No birthmark. Perfect. Now, here’s where I need your help. You’re much better at stitching photos than I am.”

“Wait! You want me to merge Heidi’s thigh onto Celeste?”

“Well, not all of it. Just the part where the birthmark is.”

“And the other ‘imperfections’? I suppose you want to use Heidi for those, too.”

“Heidi. And a few others.”

“What the hell are you getting at, man? What are you even trying to do?”

“Woody! Woody! We’ve known each other since high school. Don’t you trust me?”

“It’s not a matter of trust. I just think you’re obsessing here.”

“Well, maybe it is a kind of infatuation. But be honest–would the real Celeste ever go out with me? Huh? You’ve seen the way she looks at Craig. The way she drops those baby blues. How she slips her right hand over her left wrist. How she flashes that coy smile. No way I can compete.”

“So you scanned her.”

“And a few others–only as necessary.”

“And you want my help?”

“Wood, you’re the best on the 3-D imaging software. You’re a pro! I’d botch it for sure. I mean, the 2-D I might handle, but there’s something more than just angles when you add another dimension.”

“It’s the whole process I’ve got a problem with. Why do you want a 3-D, high res image of Celeste? Mostly.”

“Didn’t you get the memo about the new 3-D printer?”

“No! You’re not–”

“Why not? I read a story in the paper about a guy who printed out a gun. Cleaned out the whole workplace, too. But they caught him. Poor planning. Amateur effort. But we’re professionals, working for a company that can afford to buy the best. Have you seen the printer?”

Woody’s looking dumbfounded and just a little nauseous. It’s Friday night and the lights of Manhattan make the entire city look like a party outside our office windows. America’s playground. Of course, no one else stays late in the office on a Friday. We walk past the alcove with the scanner. In a matching alcove to the south stands the 3-D printer. “Holy Mother of God!” Woody whispers. The printer commands our attention.

“Impressive, isn’t she? A printer large enough to produce a human. You know why? I’m not stupid, you know. They want to print their own employees. You know how easy it would be to scan us while we’re working, and we’d never even notice. No–no–they wouldn’t have to use the bull-scanner. I’m sure they’ve got the tech to capture us on pinhole cameras all over the office. That’s why I’m such a model worker. I’m just going to take advantage of the printer before my pink slip comes. If I were you, Wood, I’d make sure my resume was up-to-date.” The printer stands ominously before us. It is larger than anyone in the office, and if I were a religious man I’d bow down and worship. This is technology at its finest. “Let’s get back to work.”

“You want me to stitch these images together in 3-D?” Woody confirms, sitting at my work station.

“That’s right. I’ll get you some coffee.”

Woody’s a fast worker. And good. His art is photo-realistic. I’m not sure why Dreamworks or Disney hasn’t tried to lure him into the entertainment industry. He’s the best. I can’t help but grow a little excited as he expertly manipulates the digital Celeste, well, Celeste-hybrid, on my screen.

“What about her soul?” Woody suddenly remarks.

“Her what?”

“Her soul! Didn’t you ever read Frankenstein? The monster had a kind of soul. It came from all the organic parts being brought together. Where’s your Celeste going to get her soul? Did you think about that?”

“Shelley was an atheist.”

“Yes, Percy was, but was she? Didn’t Mary say something truly profound in her novel?”

“I like a scary movie as much as the next guy, but we’ve got no souls!” I’m a little embarrassed that Woody’s starting to sound like a religious whacko. Right here in the office, too. One of the most rational places in the City. “We are just organic particles. Our very thoughts are electro-chemical signals in a very physical brain. The energy of the internet will be her ‘soul.’ I’ve linked her to an online avatar I’ve been working on. I wrote the script for her personality myself. She’ll be the ideal girlfriend. Wouldn’t you agree? Who wouldn’t want to write their perfect mate?” I have to catch a bit of drool at the corner of my mouth.

It’s way beyond the depth of midnight when Woody pushes back my chair and sighs. “It is finished.”

“You mean, she is finished.” I can feel the excitement building, like Christmas morning. Only I already know what I’m getting. “Let’s print her up!”

“I wouldn’t–”

I push past my friend. Stunning beauty meet my eyes and it is like my heart has turned to liquid in my chest. I have trouble catching my breath. The Celeste-hybrid on my screen is pristine. Absolutely perfect. My fingers tremble as I select “print” and choose the new device. A comforting hum comes from the south side of the deserted office.

“Shall we?” I invite Woody.

“I can’t. I don’t want to see.”

“Well, it’s Friday night, and I’ve got a date.” I’m a little nervous as I stroll down the corridor through a sea of cubicles. Even the durable carpet is ocean-blue. The south alcove. She awaits within.

I’m amazed. My custom-made Celeste stands smiling before me. I’m almost shy since she’s naked already, but I need to get to know her first. That’s only right.

“Hello, Al,” she beams. Ah yes, the programming’s kicking in. She already knows me. Her voice isn’t quite right, though. No matter. I can always make adjustments and print another one.

“Hi, Celeste–welcome to the real world.” I reach out for her hand. Technically perfect. She’s a little cold, though. I can adjust that in the next model. Celeste0.2. But right now there’s urgent business I need to handle.

She lays a hand on my waist. “Are we alone?”

“Let me check.” I dash through the cubes to my desk. Woody’s gone. A stickie on the screen reads, “Good luck–I think.” Cool. I walk back, confident. A man in charge of his own destiny. “We’ve got the place to ourselves.”

Her smile is fetching, but not quite realistic. Almost sinister. I’ll have to ask Woody about it in the morning. “We could really make this a party, you know,” she says, taking my hand again and leading me toward the alcove with the scanner. Her grip is remarkably strong. Sex with her will be athletic. I’m already sweating.

“You want to scan me? Well, what’s fair’s fair. We’ll need to get Woody to stitch it together on Monday, though.” Now it’s my turn to ride the bull. After an hour, I climb down, feeling strangely exhilarated by being naked at work. “Now let’s get this party started.”

She grips me in her strong arms, from behind.

I laugh at her naive mistake. “No, that’s not the way it works. I can be in back, if you like.”

I feel her strong body pushing me forward. “Kinky, although not effective,” I chuckle, but my smile dies as I see she’s steering me towards the industrial paper shredder. I struggle, but she’s too strong. Artificial materials. “Wait! Wait! Celeste! Think about what you’re doing!” She’s edging me nearer the rictus, unemotional teeth of the unhuman, mechanical mouth intended for trade secrets and private information.

“Celeste! Why?” I can’t get out of her unyielding arms. “Oh, the humanity!” Lame, but apropos of the moment.

My head will never fit, I think, but I hear the heavy whir of the shredder engine as she tips my head down. My hair catches and drags my scalp towards the mincing blades.

“Welcome to the real world,” I hear her laugh.

___________________________________________________

K. Marvin Bruce makes his own love, if he can’t find it. He has been published in

Danse Macabre and Jersey Devil Press. He makes a living by lecturing and reads a

little too much weird fiction for his own good.

___________________________________________________

wpid-hna15.jpg

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