Aphelion Issue 238, Volume 23
April 2019
 
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Offer Her The World

by Kent Rosenberger



"What can I do?" Floyd Slurg asked of his bartender robot. He looked out through the three-story window of his mansion -- the largest structure on the surface of Rhea -- and contemplated the bulk of Saturn filling the sky from horizon to horizon. That view had cost more than the gross revenues of the entire Eurasian Union, but it meant nothing to him now.

The robot said nothing, but tilted its head slightly to indicate that Floyd had its attention.

"I've worked my fingers to the bone to get where I am," Floyd continued, "yet nobody appreciates it. When I was eighteen I invested early in the Spaceway Circuit, back when it only ran between Earth and Mars. Now it runs all the way to Neptune, with thirty-six glorious stops along the way. I took that profit and turned it into real estate along that main route until I became the sole owner of Saturn, Uranus and all of their moons. And for what? I'm all alone here with no one to appreciate it and no one to leave it all to when I'm gone."

The shot glass in his hand found its way to his lips and the blue-green liquid inside it disappeared past them. "No woman wants to have an intimate relationship with me, much less settle down and start a family." He tapped his empty glass on the bar, prompting the robot to refill it. "I don't know what my problem is. Every time I get serious with a woman, I say or do the wrong thing and she's out the door without even a backwards glance. Did you know I have more money than the inhabitants of Luna, Deimos and Phobos combined? You'd think that would be enough of a draw in itself, but no, not anymore. Women today want everything; a rugged, successful Space Ranger with chiseled pecs and perfect teeth. I have the success, sure, but how can I compete with the rest of that?"

The bartender shrugged, servomotors humming.

Floyd flexed his own sorry biceps, producing nothing impressive. "I've tried everything to compensate: rare flowers, exquisite candy, expensive presents, luxurious vacations..." He raised his glass to indicate the radiantly colorful planet looming out his triple-reinforced paned window. "I can literally offer a woman a world, yet none of them will have me."

"There is an old adage," the barbot reminded him. "'Money is not everything."

"You don't have to tell me. I've got everything. Everything but the girl, that is. And I've got to tell you, none of it matters if you don't have somebody to share it with." He knocked back another Martian brandy, attempting to drown his bitter sorrow. "Besides, who wants to change their name to 'Slurg' anyway? It's such an ugly name."

"You could assume a different surname."

Floyd shook his head to dismiss the idea. "Too late. The name Slurg carries clout throughout the solar system now. I'm stuck with it. And even if my hypothetical bride kept her own name, people would still think of her as Mrs. Slurg."

"Perhaps," the automaton suggested, "it is not your appearance or your name, but rather your technique that is the problem. When you are wooing your intended betrothed, what exactly do you say?"

Floyd shrugged, tapping for another round. "I don't know. What's it matter?"

"Evidence would indicate it matters a great deal if your end result is always the same."

"I don't remember."

"Try," the barbot urged, withholding filling the glass until a reply was made.

Rolling his eyes back in his head, Floyd sifted through his drink-induced memory until the words came rather easily. "I guess it was something to the effect of, 'I could really use an heir.' On a previous occasion I kind of remember saying, 'I'm really lonely, but if I had you, we could be lonely together.'"

The sound that erupted from the barbot could have easily been misread as an attempt at a humanistic burp, but in fact it was trying to vocalize a sigh of disbelief. "It is no wonder you are still unpartnered," it sputtered without emotion. "I am not even capable of romance and I can see where you have gone wrong. An offer of eternally 'being stuck' with the same person would not appeal to any sentient. You have to speak the language of love. Be poetic. Be exciting. Sweep her off her feet, do not chain her to your side."

The puzzled look on Floyd's face spelled out what he was about to say without words. "I can't do that. I have no idea how. Women have always been a mystery to me. I never know what they want."

"I have access to the whole history of human civilization," the robot told him, "including over ten thousand volumes of advice and anecdotes about courting the opposite sex. I could help you figure it out."

####

Months of training, and even more time spent in the company of one Miss Caroline Goosebutter, all culminated in this moment. From the time he decided he was going to propose, Floyd and the barbot put together what they thought to be the most romantic way of going about it.

"You can offer her the world," the automaton told him, "so do it." It guaranteed that if Floyd stuck to the plan she would swoon with extreme fervor for him and respond with a positive answer.

It was time to put that claim to the test.

Floyd realized Caroline was not what the type of woman one traditionally thought of as attractive...or young, or well-built for that matter...but with the aid of his knowledgeable barbot and a lot of practice, he found what little inner romantic he had and curtailed his traditionally off-putting comments and self-absorbed, dour observations, replacing them with lavish bits of colorful conversation.

There was no doubt Caroline was smitten with him. She enjoyed the convenience and comfort of unlimited funds, yes, but over and above financial freedom, Floyd provided her with true companionship that never delved into negative connotations about her physical drawbacks or increasing age. She knew she did not have much to offer in those departments, and it was refreshing to find a man who never once said a word about 'settling' for someone like her as so many previous suitors had. Each time he opened his mouth and spoke in his practiced diatribes of passion, her heart turned to butterflies, her knees got wobbly and she felt herself all the more attracted to him. She began to wonder if there was any truth at all in the scuttlebutt between media and his previous lovers about him being egotistical, emotionless and tyrannical.

Love was thick in the air that evening as they stood in the great room of his mansion, watching Calypso play peek-a-boo along the eastern edge of Saturn's horizon with half a dozen other nearby moons. Wine had been poured, the finest kind this section of the galaxy had to offer of course, soft music played from the many speakers somewhere in the high ceiling, and the barbot stood in attendance off to one corner of the bar, ready to serve or act as a mechanical Cyrano de Bergerac if necessary.

"It's absolutely fantastic," Caroline commented breathlessly, her wide eyes overcome with the brilliant array of colors the huge gas giant displayed. Slowly moving ice, dust and debris caught in Saturn's gravitational pull orbited by, glinting sparks and rainbows as they tumbled endlessly in zero gravity.

"Yes, it is," he responded not quite as distantly as she, making sure his focus was on her and not the wonder of nature before them, as per the barbot's queue. With a sideways half step he drew closer to her.

When she realized he was facing her when he paid his complement, an uncontrollable giddiness leapt from her unpainted mouth. "Oh, Floyd," she tittered like an awkward schoolgirl.

With a backwards glance to the barbot, who nodded approval, Floyd marshaled up all his courage to do the most terrifying thing he had ever done in his life. Don't screw it up now, he told himself. "Caroline, there's something I've been wanting to ask you."

She felt her heart quicken. "Yes...?"

Floyd coughed, cleared his throat. A second glance at the barbot received a robotic flick of the wrist, urging him to get on with it. "Um...yes...well we've been seeing each other a while now, and I was wondering...I was wondering..."

"Yes...?"

Just say it. Say it and get it over with. She'll say yes, right? Even 'Slurg' has to be a better than 'Goosebutter', right?

No! Another voice inside his head chimed in, the one that sounded like the barbot. Do not just say it. Announce it. Accent it with a flourish of energy. Make her excited.

Swallowing hard, Floyd took a shallow breath and continued. "...I was wondering if, of all the accomplishments in my life, you would like to be the greatest." That didn't come out the way I wanted it to.

"What?"

"Um...what I mean to say is, it would be of great service to me...."

"Of great service to you?" she huffed.

This is not going at all the way it was practiced. "No, no, no, that's not it at all. What I mean is..." Another look at the barbot showed him the mechanical man was hitting his forehead with the heel of his metallic hand, making a clink of dismay. Although the robot's face was unable to mimic expression, he could tell the machine was becoming upset with him. Finally the end of his sentence erupted from his mouth almost like a single word. Quick, like pulling off a band-aid. "Carolinewillyoumarryme?"

It was difficult to read the contours of Caroline's face as the pause after his question lasted more than five seconds. Six. Seven. A pause is not good, he mused in awkward silence.

"Aren't you forgetting something?" Black pupils swam in her hazel eyes, bobbing up and down.

Floyd followed those eyes, trying to read the message in them. "Oh, yes, of course. How forgetful of me," he realized, kneeling on one knee on the polished marble floor as best he could in formal attire. "Caroline," the poetry, such as it was, came now, since the pressure of the initial proposal was out of him, "you are the spark to my fire, you are the wings of my heart, you are the light in my darkness. Will you do me the honor of being my wife?"

Another pause, this one longer. He had done everything right as far as he could tell. He was speaking from the heart, holding her hand, crouching to show her his intensions of servitude. What else did she want?

Above him, her thin smile was waning as she cleared her throat and wiggled the sausage links she called fingers on her left hand. When he did not respond right away, she spelled it out for him. "Aren't you forgetting something else, Floyd, dear?"

No answer.

"A ring?"

"Ah." Floyd was on his feet again, but instead of fumbling in his jacket or pants pockets for a wayward jewelry box, he took her hand and turned her back toward the window and its immaculate view. This was his piece de resistance. "There," he gestured with a hand, announcing it proudly, like a sideshow barker. "There is your ring."

Saturn loomed silently. Awe-inspiringly. Indifferently.

"There it is, Caroline, the biggest, best, most breathtaking engagement ring anyone has ever seen. Over a hundred million kilometers in diameter, brilliantly cast in every imaginable hue, visible anywhere in the solar system from Mercury to Charon, encrusted with so many gems of varying value that the karat scale cannot even conceive it. And to top it off, it's set with one of the most exquisite jewels known to man, an entire planet that dwarfs all the rest in the system save one, and that exception certainly cannot boast any ornamentation whatsoever. Caroline Goosebutter, I am giving you the planet Saturn as an engagement present for you to cherish forever, and for your friends to look on with envy as the most magnificent symbol of devotion ever. What do you say?"

Caroline Goosebutter, said nothing, her head and her heart about to burst from sensory overload. But her actions spoke volumes. Scrunching her face into a contortion of anger, disappointment and humiliation, she slapped Floyd so hard he almost fell back to the floor.

His left cheek would develop a black and blue mark that would smart for several days. He watched in complete bewilderment as she spun around in her custom high heels, shoes which he had paid for, and stormed out of the room.

Clack, clack, clack...

His hand against the assaulted side of his face, Floyd was at a complete loss about what just happened. "Caroline, wait. What did I say? What did I do?"

Before the door to the lift closed to whisk her away to the nearest shuttleport, she held up her empty left hand and exclaimed, "Planet for an engagement ring? Well I never! If you thought I was fat, why didn't you just say so? You didn't have to be cruel about it. Jerk!" With a swish of the magnetic doors she was gone.

"But that's not what I meant..." His defense echoed through the hollow room to no one but himself and his electronic servant. What was supposed to be the ultimate gesture of eternal commitment had somehow become misconstrued as a diabolical, magnanimous insult. Defeated, bruised and completely deflated, Floyd Slurg, owner of Saturn, landlord of Uranus and entrepreneur extraordinaire, crawled up on his familiar barstool again to down his first of what would be many rounds of Martian brandy for that night. Once the first quaff hit is system, he looked at the barbot and said, "Well that went well. Any more bright ideas in that data bank of yours?"

The mechanical man removed the glass and set the bottle down in front of his master. "After further research, I have concluded," the artificial being admitted, "that your original assessment is correct. It is clear that, throughout human history, though many have tried, no man has ever claimed to understand what the female of the species wants, and my assessment from your present demonstration is that none ever shall. It is evidently beyond even my computation capabilities. My revised advice to you is this: stay single. If you really want an heir, adopt."

THE END


© 2011 Kent Rosenberger

Bio: Kent Rosenberger is the author of four novels, five short story collections, over 1700 poems, and other assorted items of interest. His work can be found recently in such online magazines as 365 Tomorrows, The Absent Willow Review, Flash Shot,The Digital Dragon, Orionís Child, and, of course, Aphelion (Plastic Santa, in the December 2010 / January 2011 edition).

E-mail: Kent Rosenberger

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