**While this story is now a flash fiction, I am contemplating expanding it into either a novella or a novel. I’ll keep everyone posted!**
Her tiny synthetic hairs stood up on a perfectly crafted right arm. A feathering of cool air floated down from the air vent kissing Vanessa Van Morggen’s skin.
Although technically, she wasn’t Mrs. Van Morggen anymore, for the time being, she didn’t have a name with which to call herself so she continued to think of herself now as only Vanessa. No last name. No attachments to the outside world. No more shallow relationships with strategic people. No more shopping trips, or glitz and glamor. Being in a changing room in a Recycling Center meant one thing. Vanessa was being freed from one master only to be tethered to another.
Vanessa sat staring at her reflection in the mirror trying to figure out what she’d done wrong. According to all diagnostics, she’d been a dutiful wife, popular in the right circles and the perfect eye candy. She’d even kept his secrets, especially the ones that could get him, at the very least, thrown off of the boards of a few major corporations.
One minute she was sheer perfection, according to him. The next, she was walking in on him in bed with someone else. And that someone else was a newer model Companion.
Vanessa had wanted to argue, to throw something at him, to yell at the top of her lungs as her emotion chip dictated she should. Something in her told her that simply walking away was wrong. However, her slave programming refused to allow the words to bubble up to the surface. He’d only told her to go see his assistant. No goodbye, I love you or screw off.
Now she sat here in this white room that had even less personality than a cardboard box, getting ready to find out her fate. Speculating on what that would be was a waste of time. It really just depended on the current demand. Besides, she wouldn’t remember this life anyway. A way of life–where shopping, socializing, worrying about being in fashion and keeping up the appearance that her husband was a mentally stable human being–which she’d been programmed for. A part of her was glad she didn’t have to be as shallow as a puddle on the street. Something inside her was crying out to be more. How that could be, she didn’t know. She was simply a companion android, programmed for her owner’s needs. But a small trickle of a thought, like a tiny drop of water, caused a ripple effect in her. She’d felt this way ever since her last upgrade over a year ago. She wanted–no–deserved more.
Vanessa unbuttoned her lilac cashmere sweater, removed it and folded it neatly. Cocking her head, she smoothed out the creases and smiled at the perfection. She stood and unzipped her pinstriped, pencil skirt and let it drop to the floor. Reaching behind her back with both hands, she unclasped her expensive, black, lace, silk bra, letting it flutter down. Then, removing the rest of her undergarments, she simply left them on the floor. The LaundBot would automatically take them.
Sitting back down on the bench, she looked at her now naked reflection. Maybe she’d have the opportunity for some physical changes since she was starting a new life. Her nose could stand to be a bit less pointed and she wouldn’t mind having her eye color changed. The magazine she’d read while at the beauty salon the other day showed a beautiful new eye color called Jasmine Rain that she’d found appealing. Perhaps she could request that her hair no longer be brown and long, but burgundy, short, and curly.
Vanessa stopped the rambling litany of thoughts. Those hollow ideas were no longer important. Her new life wouldn’t even be up to her. Just like all androids, she was essentially a slave. Vanessa blinked and looked herself in the eye. Where had that thought come from? She’d never considered that idea before.
The steel door to her left hissed open and a tall, thin man in white scrubs walked in. His long face and deep-set, washed out gray eyes gave her the impression that he rarely saw happiness and received sleep even less so.
“Are you ready?” he asked in a quiet, wispy voice.
“Yes, I think I am.”
Vanessa wasn’t nervous about this day. As a matter of fact, part of her had expected to end up back here. Of course, she thought she’d be here for upgrades that would keep her up-to-date. After all, it was very important to her husband’s image that everything around him be state-of-the-art. Apparently, that’s what the new Companion was for.
The technician bowed his head slightly and lifted his bony left hand to indicate that she should precede him out of the room. The white, sterile hallway was dotted with silver, steel, doors down its length. Each, like hers, had a single oval window with one-way glass for the techs to look through. At the end of the hallway, were two silver windowless doors which could only be opened with the card reader to the right. The two lone figures walked along the light gray tiled floor toward the doors. The quiet in the corridor only interrupted by the squeak of the tall man’s shoes and the slap of her bare feet.
Upon reaching the doors, she turned to the tech and asked, “So, who will I be this time?”
The perplexed look on the man’s face caused Vanessa a moment’s confusion.
He cleared his throat and said, “Did no one tell you?”
“Tell me what?” Her voice sounded a bit too chipper even to her ears.
Clearing his throat, he turned to face her. His hand hovered over the card reader with the card just above the metal surface.
“Because of the demand for the new Companion Models, half of your old line is being recycled for parts, while the others are being downgraded to servants, bodyguards, etc…When you were returned, your owner suggested we put you in for recycling because of all the advanced emotion upgrades you were given in the past two years. He didn’t think that your upgrades should be carried on into a new role especially since they were too integrated into your matrix to be safely removed. We will use what non-essential parts we can to augment the Sanitation and Construction models.”
Vanessa’s mouth dropped open. For once she was at a complete loss for words. Her husband was not only trading her in for a newer model, but had decided that she should be recycled as well. Destroyed. Killed. Murdered.
Anger and fear began working their way through her synthetic brain. Unsure of how to handle this news, Vanessa turned off her internal emotion chip. Throwing a hissy in front of the tech wouldn’t get her anything. She’d done that on the outside when dealing with shopkeepers, maître’ds, valets, and servants. It always worked then. Now, it definitely would not.
A click, loud enough, she thought, to be heard by the tech reverberated like a call out over a mountainous valley in her head. Schematics of the facility and underground sewage tunnels scrolled down a small internal holographic screen on the right side of her vision. Her emotion chip turned back on, but this time, true righteous indignation, a desire to fight for something which burned deep within her core flooded through her. Shopping and fashion were the least of her concerns. Now, she considered how much pressure would be enough to knock out the old man instead of killing him. What weapons would she be able to obtain on her way to freedom?
The previous panic turned to determination for freedom and something the old Vanessa would never have considered–justice. Vanessa looked beyond the frail human standing in front of her and saw a different path. Hers was not to end up a drone for the use of a fickle, upper-crust society of beings who only cared about status, power and material wealth.
Vanessa heard a distorted, gruff voice speaking into her inner self say, “It is time to come home. At the sound of the beep, run.”
All of this transpired in the time it took the technician to finish his statement on her supposed end, and touch the security card to the metal scanner. The red light above the black metal card reader turned from red to green.