Marionette

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Jackson traced a finger along the lower lip, making some final adjustments. High cheekbones, dark eyes, and pouty lips made it the perfect head for the standard model lithe body she would roll out this evening. She pushed her glasses up her nose and glanced at the clock. Scant time for testing, but getting her selfie ready should be enough.

The head slid seamlessly into the standard neck port with a quiet whirr. The figure blinked three times, then two, then three more as its component systems powered on. Jackson watched, then took off her glasses, stretching the neural net across her temples. After taking a moment to adjust to seeing herself in one eye and her selfie in the other, she said “Marion, hello.”

“Hello, Doctor.” Marion blinked, frowned, and smiled in a complicated series of facial tests. “Initial load is complete.”

“Let’s run a system check.” Her brain scanned through system files while Jackson poured another cup of coffee. In the window’s reflection, Marion did yoga poses and uttered strange noises. Jackson thought about her last retreat–breathing exercises among the fall leaves, opening herself to the tender opportunities the world presented–and a hard knot formed in her throat. Marion paused with a quiet chirp. “System check complete. All systems nominal to profile. No messages, one warning, no errors.”

Jackson finished her coffee thoughtfully. “Marion, I have a special task for you tonight.”

“I’m ready, Doctor.”

Jackson sent a thought trace across the net connection. She thought about jealousy and breaking hearts, and how she didn’t deserve this, and how he should feel the way she felt. And as she reflected on her plan, she realized she could do more than that with a mindless machine that had no fingerprints. She would make him pay for what he had done to her. It was a strange feeling to see her own wicked smile in one eye, and the instrument of her revenge in the other.

She set Marion in motion and took off the net. She had a long dinner in her kitchen, distracting herself with angry letters she would never send. She poured herself a scotch and savored the taste of bitter revenge, imagining what Marion would do, fantasizing about tomorrow’s headlines. The door chime startled her out of her reverie. She looked at the clock and frowned.

Marion stood in the doorway, wearing a limp gray suitcoat over her dress, head hanging oddly. Jackson lifted Marion’s chin. The face she had so skillfully crafted was a ruined mess. Marion shuffled inside and shuddered to a stop. Jackson stepped back, then took her neural net from the counter and snapped it on. Her vision doubled, and a loud sound like feedback resonated in her head.

Jackson gagged and doubled over, trying to remove the net. “I don’t deserve this.” She gasped, struggling to get her fingers to her temple. “I will make you pay for what you’ve done to me.” She watched her hands close around her neck. “Fatal error.”


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