A Person in Every Waybycrogersaz©
The Salesman recognized Paul wandering the home theater section below. Looking down on Paul from the elevated, high-end electronics section, there was nothing special about Paul's appearance to make the Salesman take note. Paul was in his mid- 50's, and he was altogether an unremarkable physical specimen. Average height, average build, graying a little, thinning hair -- but not enough to stand out as balding. Paul was not the sort of man to make an immediate lasting impression. However, the Salesman not only recognized him, but also recalled his name. The Salesman recognized Paul as a compulsive electronics buyer. Paul was memorable only because he had lined the Salesman's pockets with remarkable commissions on numerous occasions. As he headed in Paul's direction, the Salesman smiled at the thought that he might have a product to sell Paul that would top all previous commissions.
"See anything you like, Paul?" The Salesman's tone was jovial as he extended a friendly hand to Paul.
"Oh, Hi," Paul responded. "No I just don't see anything that grab's me." Paul didn't remember the Salesman's name, and didn't really try. He was just the "Salesman" who knew his electronics, but tried to up sell Paul at every opportunity he could. To Paul, the Salesman was a useful nuisance.
"Yeah, I'm not surprised," the Salesman confided in a conspiratorial tone. "That new home theater system you got a couple months back still blows any of this other stuff away. I'd like to sell you a new sound system, but I wouldn't feel right about it." Show 'em that I'm the good guy, the Salesman thought.
Paul couldn't help but let a little dejection show in his posture. Learning about and buying new technology helped to fill the loneliness that he constantly felt since the death of his wife. The Salesman picked up on this small change in Paul's attitude and smiled inside because his strategy had worked.
"You know..." the Salesman made it seem like he wasn't sure of his next statement, "I have an entirely new line that you might have some interest in." He saw the hesitation in Paul's eyes and added, "If nothing else, you might find it entertaining just to see."
"Okay, sure." Paul was bored and had no other plans.
"It's upstairs, follow me."
Paul knew the upstairs housed the high-end area. He had frequented its sound proof rooms where the most sophisticated audiophile equipment was shown. That's where Paul had bought his last sound system upgrade, but that equipment was now on display downstairs. Paul wondered what could have replaced it upstairs besides a better sound system.
Upstairs in the little sales alcove between the two sound rooms, Paul was surprised to see a life-sized cardboard cutout of a scantily-clad beautiful young woman. The caption on the ad read "Friend-Tech: Let us help you have a great day ... and night." The look on the woman's face suggested that her main intention was to help you to enjoy the night.
"Are you familiar with the products that Friend-Tech has to offer?" the Salesman asked Paul.
"No. Not really." Paul was puzzled.
"Well, they offer a line of the highest quality fully functional virtual friends available." The Salesman flipped through the pages of a brochure that displayed a variety of remarkably beautiful women, but Paul was puzzled why none of the women were displaying sound systems or TVs.
Paul expressed his continued confusion. "What?"
"You might call them androids or robots, but we prefer to call them 'virtual friends'."
Suddenly Paul started to catch on. "Wait... She," he pointed at the cardboard image then to a model in the catalog, "and her... they're both... robots."
"'Virtual friends'. But yes, they're not actual women." The Salesman allowed the concept to sink in a bit then added, "however, a virtual friend has its own advantages. They don't ever complain or nag, unless you want them to. And they are fully functional." He emphasized the "fully functional" with a knowing tone that men only use amongst other men, but Paul was so innocent that he still didn't fully catch on.
"You mean they walk and talk?" Paul queried.
"Yeah, that and much more." The Salesman saw that he shouldn't push Paul too hard yet. "They can hold a complete conversation, and they learn your likes and dislikes and become better and better at conversing and pleasing you. They can cook and learn to cook your favorite foods; and clean your house. But people invest in them for the friend part, not to get a housekeeper. A Friend-Tech friend is a friend who is always happy to do what makes you happy, and a fully functional friend." Suddenly, Paul's memory was jogged and he caught the true meaning of what the Salesman was hinting at.
"Wait are these like the androids that they put in the virtual brothels?" When the ability to make highly life-like robots with the ability to interact verbally with humans and to manipulate objects with almost as much dexterity as humans came along, legislation was passed to prevent the use of these robots in all business. The potential to replace human employees with robots in almost every line of work made the rapid passage of such legislation a political priority for both parties. The one exception was androids that could participate in all types of sex acts were allowed to be used in virtual brothels. The rational was that the use of androids in brothels would prevent the exploitation of humans in these risky jobs. In fact, sex-related vice crimes decreased remarkably in all major cities -- only to be replaced by other crimes.
"Yes, Friend-Tech is the major supplier of virtual friends to the brothel industry. However, these models are much more sophisticated than the average virtual brothel woman. They are truly designed to be a full friend, not just built for sex. But of course they do that very well as well."
Paul retreated a step or two from the Friend-Tech propaganda in front of him. This was not the reason that he had gone to the electronics store today. The whole concept was kind of creepy -- yet intriguing as well. "I don't know. That's not really anything I was looking for." He looked at the cardboard cutout of the delectable young woman, robot, virtual friend. She did look fantastic, and it had been over a year and half since his wife had passed away. A year and a half of celibacy made him step forward again.
Paul flipped a couple of pages in the Friend-Tech catalog. "You mean these pictures are actually robo-... virtual women."
"Not photos of the real women that the artificial ones were based on, but photos of the actual virtual friends themselves?"
"That's right. One hundred percent accurate product representations." The Salesman knew that he had Paul on the line now. It was just a matter of landing him.
"That seems hard to believe without seeing the real thing." Paul was truly intrigued by the whole idea, but he was ready to move on.
"Well, it just so happens that I have a display model. So, you can see the real thing for yourself." The Salesman saw the surprise in Paul's eyes and knew not to rush him. "But let's talk about the Friend-Tech approach a bit before we see her. The chips and memory in Friend-Tech friends are super fast and have huge capacities. The result is that our virtual friends interact with you in extremely human ways. Each model has its own mannerisms, idioms, voice, accents, etc., but the unique thing to Friend-Tech is that your friend will quickly learn from you and the environment you provide. So, within a week or less, your friend will be a truly individualized friend, with their own personality so to speak.
"Even with the giant memory capacity that Friend-Tech provides, this personality development would overwhelm the memory system in a week or two. So, Friend-Tech friends come with free life-time download/upload privileges with the huge Friend-Tech servers. In other words, every couple of days you hook up your friend to your internet connection and all her experiences get stored on the Friend-Tech ever-expanding system. The best part is that the super-computer there integrates all her new information with all the previous information to develop her personality and modify her behavior to match your needs perfectly. The ultimate result is that your friend has virtually limitless ability to learn, grow, change, and adapt to your every need or whim. Of course, their on-board system lets them meet your every need minute-to-minute, but the online modifications allows for full personality development."
"Wow. That must cost a bundle." Paul was getting more involved.
"They're not cheap, but the customers I've had say they're worth every penny and then some. Especially when you consider that they not only have personalities that are almost indistinguishable from a human but also that their physical appearance is so realistic. Most of us have no idea how closely the current android technology mimics real life because of the laws against this type of technology in all other avenues, but they are uncannily realistic. The look and feel of the skin and hair. Their ability to touch you in very human, friendly, loving, erotic ways. That's what people really want. And as I said they are fully functional ... in every type of love making, eroticism, or fetish that a person could want or imagine. Plus, these babies are built to last. Remember, one of the main uses of them in the virtual brothels is to fulfill rape and sadism fantasies. They can take a huge amount of abuse without any damage. In fact, they just ask for more -- because if you like it, they like it." The Salesman said the last part as if from personal experience. In fact, even his most skilled attempt at remaining the smooth salesman couldn't hide his excitement about the physical abuse of these virtual friends.
At this point, the Salesman had slowly led Paul to the closed door of one of the former sound rooms. The Salesman flashed Paul a somewhat lecherous look and held the door open for him. Closing the door behind him the Salesman said brightly, "Paul, meet Leila."
Leila extended her hand and said in a sultry voice, "It's a pleasure to meet you, Paul."
Somewhat flustered, Paul took her hand and sheepishly replied, "The pleasure is all mine."
The Salesman rudely interrupted Paul's moment with Leila -- one of his few mistakes of the day. "Now, keep in mind that Leila here is kind of a specialty model. She was built to look and act a little more mature. The idea was that virtual friends like Leila would look like a hot 40 year old to satisfy the MILF fantasies of younger men in the virtual brothels, but their success there hasn't really translated to sales. There aren't that many young men making this kind of investment, and most men regardless of age go for a younger looking model if they're going to make a longtime commitment. However, you can get an accurate feel for how lifelike Friend-Tech friends are. We would find a younger model to better suit your tastes in the catalog."
It seemed to Paul that the Salesman was putting down Leila, and he didn't like it. He was already charmed by Leila. Her hand was so warm, so soft, so inviting, so ... real. She was dressed in genie outfit similar to that Barbara Eden wore on "I Dream of Jeannie." The outfit matched her exotic looks. Yes, Leila did have convincing slight traces of the beginning of wrinkles, but this mature appearance was much more appealing to the 55 year old Paul than the young looking virtual women in the catalog. Besides, these barest of wrinkles only seemed to enhance Leila's huge dark eyes and overall beautiful face. The genie outfit was more revealing than that on TV and the virtual woman's full, rounded breasts threatened to spill out the top while her rounded hips couldn't be hidden by the poofy, sheer pants. Indeed, Paul was already hooked on Leila.
The Salesman noticed that Paul was captivated by the product, and he knew it was time to get out of the way. As he reached for the doorknob he added, "I'll leave you two alone to get to know each other. Paul, remember that Leila like all Friend-Tech friends are fully functional. When I leave, you can lock the door and take your time to fully explore all the reasons of why you would invest in this technology."
Paul was obviously embarrassed at the suggestion, and the Salesman immediately quelled his apprehension. "Come on. You wouldn't dream of in investing in high-end audio without taking a listen, would you? That's the whole purpose of moving the Friend-Tech line to these rooms. Everyone seriously considering a purchase goes for the full test ride." The Salesman nodded to tissues in the corner. "Don't they, Leila."
"Oh yes, that's why I'm here." Leila replied. "I can assure you that I keep myself thoroughly clean, though."
"See? So, just take your time to enjoy, Paul." The Salesman couldn't quite hide the lecherous tone that crept into his voice. "And remember, she's built tough. She can handle all sorts of rough use." Paul was creeped out by the intimation of violence as the Salesman closed the door behind him.
Paul returned his attention to Leila, to the virtual friend. It was almost impossible to believe that the ... entity standing in front of him was an android. A manufactured woman. He didn't know what to do or say.
Leila's processors detected Paul's apprehension and confusion about what to do. She responded in kind. Stepping around Paul she reached for the lock "You know, I would feel a little more comfortable if we did lock the door. Do you mind?"
"Oh. No. Go ahead." Paul could detect just the slightest difference in the way Leila moved versus the way a human moved. Her movements were not quite as fluid as a human -- but you only noticed when you really looked for the difference. If he didn't know she was artificial, he likely wouldn't have perceived the difference.
Leila walked back to the sofa on the back wall. "Why don't we just sit down and take it slowly." She sat down and patted the cushion beside her. Still in a bit of a stupor, Paul did as suggested.
"So, Paul, what do you do for a living?" Leila inquired.
"I'm an engineer." This is really like a first date Paul thought.
Leila's memory didn't quite have a full concept of what "engineer" meant. Did he drive a train or did he design computers and other technology like herself? "What kind of engineer?" seemed to be the only response she could give.
"I help design bridges and tunnels and roadways. Big projects like that." Paul was still entirely distracted by Leila's existence.
"Wow! That's impressive!" Leila gave the response that an enthralled, potential girlfriend would give.
Now that he was up close, Paul couldn't help but marvel at Leila's construction. Her skin and hair looked so real. Upon careful scrutiny, the skin lacked a little of the detail that could only be produced by countless thousands of pores and millions of skin cells. However, once again the discrepancy between Leila and a human woman was barely detectable. While the engineer in Paul inspected these details, Paul became acutely aware of Leila's beauty. As he gazed into her eyes, he was no longer looking for technological details, but getting lost in their warm invitation to him. Suddenly, he realized he was staring at Leila.
"I'm sorry. I was just staring at you. That was rude." Paul was clearly embarrassed by his action.
"Oh, that' okay," Leila responded. "Everyone stares at first, but you're the first to apologize to me about it." Leila coyly batted her eyelashes at Paul to express her appreciation for his behavior.
"Well, you were trying to be so nice, and there I was not really paying attention. Of course I should apologize." Somehow this exchange relaxed Paul a bit. "So, tell me about yourself. What do you do?" He immediately recognized the absurdity of his question. Flustered again, Paul fumbled, "I mean, is there anything you'd like share about yourself?"
"Obviously, I don't have a job, but I do have my own unique story. What I want is to be loved by someone. I want to make a home together with a man and be a happy couple."
"Don't take this wrong, but wouldn't that be the story of all the other Friend-Tech friends?"
"Oh no. Most are designed to want to be a plaything that a man can enjoy then ignore, or to be a mistress who is happy to be the second or even third lover in a man's life, or even to be happy to service multiple different men every night. I was designed to be a wife substitute, not a plaything. But ultimately, I'm here to make you happy in whatever way you want, and I have the ability to become any woman you want." Leila's voice took on the sultry tone again for the last sentence. She leaned forward and slightly toward Paul to provide a better view of her ample cleavage.
Although Paul's first instinct was to avoid looking down the proffered cleavage, he recalled that he was here to "check this model out," and he gazed at the exposed flesh of Leila's lovely globes. Her chest heaved with her "breathing," and it seemed to glow. Paul began to feel stirrings of lust inside of him.
Finally breaking his stare from her breasts, Paul looked Leila in the eyes and assured her, "I can see how any man would be happy being a half of a couple with you." Looking Leila in the eyes and face actually increased the warmth that was growing in Paul. "You are truly, remarkably beautiful."
Leila flushed and turned away in her own embarrassment at Paul's comments. "That's the nicest thing anyone ever said to me." She was 100% truthful. "You're really sweet. Not like the other men."
"What, the other men aren't nice to you?" Paul inquired.
"No. Not like you." Leila hugged herself like someone in pain. "Particularly, not that salesman. He's not nice to me at all."
Paul was curious to know what she meant but was afraid that he would be disturbed by the answer, if she gave one. Instead he responded with a natural impulse to comfort Leila. He rubbed her bare shoulders in a comforting way and assured her, "Don't worry, I won't be anything but nice with you."
Leila flashed Paul a look that filled his heart with warmth and then buried her head in his shoulder. "Thank you." Her voice was muffled by his shoulder, but her vulnerability was still clear.
Paul put both arms around Leila, and he enjoyed the feel of her in his arms. He almost completely forgot that she was a virtual friend, everything about her behavior and feel was so real. However, he couldn't help but wonder, Is she programmed to seem vulnerable? Is anything she says accurate or is it just programming to make me happy? He felt these were questions that couldn't be answered and decided to let them all go and live in the moment.
He rubbed her arm compassionately and said, "You know, Leila. I don't know how you've been treated, but that's the way every man should treat every wo-... woman. With caring and respect."
Inside her, Leila realized that Paul was the first man to ever call her a woman, not a machine, or android, or worse yet a bitch or a ho. She elected not to say so, because she "knew" that two such comments about "being the only man ever" would make them seem insincere. She also "knew" that she desperately wanted to go home with this man who was unique in his kind attitude. One advantage that she had over a normal woman was that her internal sensors detected Paul's heat, pulse, and blood pressure and worked like a lie detector to inform her that Paul was entirely sincere in his statements.
Leila pulled herself up and caressed Paul's cheek. "With a man like you, I would gladly give everything I have to give." Her dark eyes burned into Paul's, and she leaned forward just barely to indicate that a kiss would be welcome.
Paul wondered if Leila was inviting him to kiss her. He leaned forward slightly, waiting for her reaction. When she leaned toward him and heaved her chest, he brought his mouth toward hers. He hesitated millimeters from her lips. They could feel each other's warm breath. Paul felt his heart was going to pound its way out of his chest. Finally, Leila broke the stalemate and brought her supple lips to Paul's. The feel of Leila's lips on his sent such an electric shock through him that he wondered later if she was constructed to deliver actual electrical impulses. Gently, tenderly Paul explored Leila's lips, which felt marvelous. He was no longer thinking about how real her lips felt or that they belonged to an artificial entity at all. Paul just enjoyed kissing such luscious lips.