by Charles Ebert
With every passing second, Stancil's options dwindled. He felt his
chest tighten as he realized that the test was nearing the end of its
third hour and he still had no idea. His co-host, Robert McNulty,
shuffled a stack of blue index cards, keeping his face carefully
neutral. The audience, which consisted of three avatars, one for every
hundred thousand people in the chat area, stirred restlessly. Stancil
could see them thinking, Is the great Stancil Willoughby stumped?
"Do you wish to extend the live portion of the show, Stancil?" said McNulty.
"No need. I'm almost certain," lied Stancil. In fact, three hours of
questions had left him no closer to discerning the riddle that was Ed
Tarkman of Cincinnati than he was when he started. The alleged
Midwesterner slumped in the green leather chair, chin resting on his
hand, obviously bored. After three hours, common sense told Stancil
that the man must be real, but something held him back. Ed Tarkman
didn't feel real. The problem was that Stancil couldn't
articulate why; it was just an instinct. He hated to make these
judgments based on feelings.
He drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair, trying to decide. In
twenty years, he'd never been wrong in these informal Turing tests. Of
course, in the early days it had been easy, he could tell if he was
talking to an AI after a few well-designed questions, but now, the
programmers were close to their goal.
Unwilling to go down without a fight, he drew a ragged breath, and said, "This is an AI."
An excruciating pause followed during which McNulty pretended to check his notes.
"You are amazing, Stancil. Right again."
Stancil relaxed, mopping his forehead. "Of course I am," he managed to say. The audience applauded.
"Still, you have to admit, our friend Ed was pretty convincing."
Stancil looked over to where the AI's avatar had been sitting and
noticed that it had vanished.
"Yes, all the ones you've paraded by me in the last few years have
been very impressive. I would point out to you McNulty, that I have
never been anti-AI. I used to program them before I started doing this
show, and I know they make excellent tools, but tools don't interest me
anymore. Real intelligence does, and you just can't program that."
"But if people can't tell, is there a difference?" One of McNulty's
bushy eyebrows rose ever so slightly. Even though he must be nearing
seventy by now, McNulty's mind was as sharp as ever, and he looked good
too, assuming his avatar projected an accurate image. He had silver not
gray hair, and distinguished features, including a broad chin and high
cheekbones. A mass of laugh lines around his eyes kept him from looking
like he was carved in granite. He provided a sharp contrast to Stancil
who was bald with a beak nose and a reedy New England accent.
"But you can tell, given enough time, and if you are perceptive
enough. I've just proven that. AI's are pale imitations of people, not
people themselves. They are like ghosts, cybergeists, to use a term I
coined twenty years ago. Let me put it this way: When I look at the
walls of my office, with all my computers and VR displays and such, I
don't see plastic and silicon. I see conduits that lead to other human
beings, and if there were no human beings connecting with me, but
machines, I assure you that eventually I would notice. I would perceive
the lack of whatever it is that humans have and machines don't."
"Why, Evelyn Stancil Willoughby, can I assume by your comments that you believe in a soul?"
"Robert, you can assume anything you like as long as you never call
me Evelyn again." Booming laughter came from McNulty and the audience.
"I'm afraid that ends the live portion of today's chat session. You in
the audience will now experience a few messages from our sponsors,
after which our AI copies will take over the conversation. Please stay
online. I'm Stancil Willoughby."
"And I'm Robert McNulty. We're The Pontificators." He nodded his head slightly. "Good day."
Then they were out of the room.
"Honestly, McNulty, do we have to do a Turing test every sweeps period?" said Stancil, after he had switched to a direct com line. There was no answer. "Robert? Are you there?"
Suddenly the head of a woman appeared in a box in his VR display.
Stancil blinked in surprise. It took him a couple of seconds to
"Hillary? Is that you?"
"Why, I haven't seen you since..."
"Stancil," said Hillary, "I have some bad news. Father is dead."
"Just now? Are you sure; did you call an ambulance?"
Hillary winced. "I'm afraid I owe you an explanation."
* * *
Two hours later, Stancil sat in a private room in Manon's, a country
inn in the Savoie district of France. In his glass was a Burgundy
Chardonnay that he knew to be excellent, but it may as well have been
tap water for all he could taste. He placed the glass on the table
within the faintly glowing circle and a steward immediately stepped
forward and topped it off. In reality, of course, Stancil's robot
server in his dining area refilled the glass. He had opted for mute
service personnel tonight. He made his dinner selection before entering
and programmed it into his countertop kitchen.
Robert McNulty had died in his sleep over a month ago, according to
Hillary. She would have told Stancil earlier, but the network knew that
he wouldn't have willingly worked with an AI, and they wanted to get
through the sweeps period.
Consequently, Stancil had missed the funeral, which confirmed his
opinion of server network executives. Only his shock at the bizarre
nature of the situation kept him from saying something unpleasant to
Hillary. It wasn't her fault, anyway. The jackals could have tied up
the residuals from the show in court, and since they were Hillary's
main source of income, she had no choice but to comply.
Of course, there was irony in the situation. Stancil had worked with
a cybergeist for a month and not known it. The audience must have been
snickering up their sleeves every time he made a comment about being
able to tell the difference. Some kind of filtering software installed
by the server network had no doubt blocked their snide remarks. Also,
it wasn't like one of McNulty's Turing tests, where Stancil knew the
subject might not be real and could design questions to find out. He
freely admitted that present day AI was good enough to fool an
unsuspecting mind for a time, and, he thought, remembering today's
test, almost good enough to fool a prepared one.
Stancil shrugged his shoulders, a rueful smile on his lips. One did
not work with Robert McNulty for twenty years and not learn to take a
few jokes. Stancil had to admit his last one was pretty good.
As Stancil drank wine and waited for his dinner, he looked around
the familiar dining room. Five empty tables stood with gleaming white
tablecloths and shiny plate and silverware set-ups. A fire blazed in
the hearth, casting flickering orange light on the plaster walls and
the dark wood of the doorframes. A simple white taper burned in the
middle of each table. From the kitchen, the highly seasoned smell of
his Truite Amandine wafted into the dining room. Smell didn't translate
well over the Internet, so the aroma had to be coming from his home
After another gulp, he set the glass down again for the steward to
refill. A server carrying the entree emerged from the kitchen at the
same time and the two images danced around each other to avoid a
collision in the timeless manner of all restaurant personnel. It was a
good simulation of effortless teamwork formed over years of
The empty chair across from Stancil caught his eye, and he stared at
it. McNulty had liked this little inn. The food was excellent, and the
atmosphere less stuffy than some of the places in Paris and New York
"Well, maybe one last time, McNulty. What do you say?"
Stancil paused the VR. "Please put Robert McNulty's cybergeist in the dining room with me," he said to his secretary.
Her face appeared on the kitchen monitor. "Right away, Mr.
Willoughby." Stancil stared at her, realization hitting him suddenly.
He had forgotten that he'd programmed Hillary's image into his
secretary program seventeen years ago. He'd even included an aging
subroutine, out of some self-pitying notion of growing old with her.
Now, he was able to compare the results of the subroutine's
extrapolation and the real effects of time. It turned out not to be a
very good program. His secretary's face was thin and lined, where
Hillary's had filled out. The program had not changed her hairstyle in
fifteen years. Her black hair hung halfway down her back, the way
Hillary used to wear it. The real Hillary now sported a shoulder-length
cut that curled out at the ends.
Stancil wondered if he should re-program the image to accurately
reflect her, but he immediately decided against it. He had stopped
thinking of his secretary as Hillary years ago. She was just his
secretary. He hadn't even named her.
His stomach growled and he re-activated the VR. When the simulation
reformed, he was once again in Manon's with Robert McNulty's cybergeist
sitting across the table.
McNulty had a plate of Buisson d'Ecrevisses Nage in front of
him. At his elbow was a full glass of white wine. Stancil remembered
that McNulty had the crawfish the last time they ate here.
"Stancil, there you are," he said, hooking the glass in his fingers. "Thank you for inviting me."
"Least I could do under the circumstances. I'm afraid I have some news which might disturb you."
McNulty looked up at him, wine glass at his lips.
"You're dead, Robert. You died over a month ago."
His old partner sipped the wine. As the glass returned to the table,
it stopped, only for a split second; Stancil might have missed it, if
he hadn't expected it. Whatever filter they'd put into his software to
keep him from finding out about McNulty's death, had just caused a
glitch. "Of course, I knew that. I apologize that I wasn't able to tell
Stancil waved off the apology. "I recognize that you had no free will in the matter."
"It must be a bit of a shock to you."
"I was rather curious about your reaction--I mean back when it happened--were you distressed at the news of your demise?"
McNulty leaned back and shook his head. "I'm an artificial intelligence; I'll live forever."
"In a way, yes. Still, you are capable of emotions, even simulated ones, and you knew McNulty..."
"He never really interacted with me much. He was like you in that respect."
Stancil sat back in his chair and contemplated that. Actually, he
had never met his cybergeist. Oh, he updated it every year, filling out
the long questionnaires that the programmers sent him. He looked
forward to it about as much as he did doing his tax return, but he had
never liked the idea of logging on and having a chat with himself. It
"Point taken, but to get back to this business of you never dying:
you're right about that, but for the wrong reasons. It's not a matter
of your simply persisting indefinitely. You cannot die because you are
not alive. You are an artificial construct."
McNulty swallowed a bite of his dinner and shook his head. "'Cogito ergo sum,' Stancil."
"Don't go throwing Descartes at me, Robert McNulty. You know
perfectly well that somewhere buried in your program, is a command
telling you to say that whenever I accuse you of not being alive."
Stancil picked up his fork and started in on the trout. He and the
cybergeist joyfully ran through the old argument for over an hour. It
felt like the real thing to Stancil, at least for periods. McNulty
would make a point and Stancil would shred it into pieces, always with
a sarcastic or condescending edge, but Stancil's arrogance had never
done anything but amuse McNulty, who would twist the argument around
his way, and then there were his traps: set-ups where he would get
Stancil to admit one point and then hammer him with some implication
that ran counter to his original position. Over the years, Stancil had
gotten pretty good at avoiding them.
He was enjoying himself, but every so often, it would occur to him
that he was not talking to a real person. The realization would jolt
him out of his train of thought and he would bow his head and look
away. It was almost a physical pain in his chest. Especially when he
realized just how much he was enjoying arguing with the cybergeist.
There was a danger here. Many people became addicted to interacting
with AI's. They counted them among their best friends and almost never
communicated with real people, but all the wine Stancil had drunk had
gone to his head, and he missed McNulty. One night wouldn't hurt him.
Another hour's passing found them drinking coffee. Glancing at the
time readout in the corner of his VR display, Stancil stretched and
said, "If I'm going to be bright eyed tomorrow at your memorial
service, I expect I'd better be getting off to bed."
"You're attending in person?"
McNulty laughed. "So I had to die to finally get you two together for another date."
"Hardly a date, McNulty, I'll be meeting her fiancé."
"Of course." McNulty looked down, a rare frown on his face. "You really should have called her, you know."
Stancil shook his head. "I should have called her to break it off,
instead of just letting it lapse, but she couldn't have wanted another
"You'd have been surprised. She really cared for you. She even
admitted to me once that she hadn't had that bad a time, even on that
last night. You two just needed a little more time."
Stancil shook his head and drained the last of his coffee. "It wouldn't have worked, Robert. I'm to set in my ways, I guess."
"You're the one who's always going on about human contact."
"Yes, but I'm also enough of a New Englander to believe that good
fences make good neighbors. When I look at my walls, I don't see
"I know, I know-conduits."
"They connect me to other people, but they also allow me to control that connection."
He stood up, said goodnight to the cybergeist, and then exited the restaurant.
Fifteen minutes later, he was brushing his teeth when suddenly
something that McNulty had said made him pause. "She even admitted to
me once that she hadn't had that bad a time, even on that last night."
How would a cybergeist know that? A personal experience like that would
generally not be included in the yearly updates. Could Hillary have
confided that information to the cybergeist? It didn't seem likely when
she had her real father at hand.
Stancil shrugged and rinsed out his mouth. Gigabytes could probably
be filled with what he didn't know about the personal life of the
McNultys. Still, he thought, it was odd.
* * *
As Stancil rode up to the twelfth floor apartment where McNulty had
lived for over thirty years, he straightened his bow tie and tried to
remember the last time he had been out of his own apartment. It may
have been on his last trip to Europe. He'd gone at the invitation of
one of the sponsors. McNulty, unfortunately, had had to decline.
Stancil shook his head. That had been two years ago.
The elevator pinged and the doors rolled open. Stancil entered the
hallway and found the apartment. The door opened to reveal Hillary
"Stancil, I'm so glad you're here. How was the ride over?"
"Horrible, as usual. It took the driver a half hour to go six
blocks," he said, accepting her brief embrace. She smelled good, not
like perfume or soap, but clean. Her form, which had once been
exceedingly thin, now filled out her dress, which was black with white
polka dots. What really struck him, once he got a good look, was what
could not have possibly been conveyed over the Internet. Her hair
looked so soft, it took a conscious effort not to touch it. He stood in
the doorway for a moment, unable to speak.
"I'm sorry to put you through all that for this."
"Not at all, Hillary. Glad to do it. You know how I felt about your father," he said. "We'll both miss him, I'm sure."
She looked down and bit her lip. A figure entered the foyer from
behind her. She turned and smiled, saying, "Stancil Willoughby, this is
Ron Metcalf, my fiancé."
Stancil shook the man's hand. Ron was a gangly figure. Stancil could
see black hair on his wrists where the too short sleeves of his shirt
and jacket revealed it.
"It's an honor to meet you, sir. I log on to your show every day."
Oh God, a fan, thought Stancil. McNulty had been so much better at dealing with the fans in person than he was.
"It's good of you to log on," Stancil mumbled.
"Let's move this into the living room where we can sit down," said
Hillary, shepherding them both out of the foyer. Stancil hadn't been in
McNulty's apartment in over seventeen years. Nothing had changed. He
had forgotten that they had used McNulty's armchairs as models for the
chairs on their virtual set. Here in front of him were the real things,
made of sumptuous green leather. There was a matching couch, which they
had decided not to use. Ron and Hillary sat on that and Stancil took
one of the chairs.
"I'm afraid the minister couldn't make it in person," said Hillary.
"He's at a hospital on the East Side, and you know what the traffic's
like, but I've got him on the videophone."
The living room monitor came on. It was a wall unit that, when not
in use, displayed a painting by Turner of some lush South American
jungle. For all his common man posturing, Robert McNulty had had
exquisite taste. The landscape was now replaced by the figure of a
minister, who after introductions proceeded to deliver a memorial
The service was short and, to Stancil, uninspiring. The minister was
young and obviously new at conducting any kind of service. By his own
admission, he hadn't known McNulty, so all his stories were second
hand, and all of them were over ten years old as far as Stancil could
tell. By the time it was finished, barely fifteen minutes had passed,
and Stancil was wondering why he had bothered to leave his apartment.
Still, he thanked the young man, and they all said goodbye pleasantly before breaking the connection.
"Have you decided what you're going to do with the show?" asked Hillary, after a few minutes of small talk.
Stancil shifted in his chair. "I haven't given it much thought.
There are several options, I suppose. I could do a solo show. Or I
could replace your father."
Ron made an alarming sound.
"Don't worry Ron. I'm not seriously considering that option. I could
never replace Robert McNulty." Stancil looked down at his hands for a
few seconds. He doubted that he could support a show on his own either.
"Actually, I'm leaning towards retirement. Just leave the show to the
cybergeists and live off the residuals."
"Why don't you continue doing the show with the AI?" said Hillary. "You did it for a month and nobody knew the difference."
"Yes," said Stancil, clearing his throat, "I won't go so far as to
say that it is against my principles, but it's not something that I
think I'd find fulfilling."
"I have to go to the bathroom," announced Ron. He got up and left
the room. Stancil stared at the space Ron had previously occupied.
Hillary smiled and said, "Sorry. He's not fully trained yet." Stancil waved his fingers at her to dismiss the incident.
She scooted closer. "So, what do you think of him?"
Stancil examined her closely. "Do you want the truth?" he said, raising a warning eyebrow.
"You could do better."
She leaned forward and looked at her clasped hands.
After a minute, she said, "I don't meet that many people, Stancil,
and when I do, it's still difficult for me. I've made progress with my
"Tremendous progress, as far as I can tell," said Stancil.
She smiled at him and continued, "Thank you, but with VR and
videophones and everything else these days, it's just too easy to stay
in and not take risks. I only met Ron because he lives in this
She looked up and caught his eye. "And I guess I was kind of waiting too."
Stancil stared at her. His thoughts suddenly turned to feathers,
which fluttered away in the draft of her expectant gaze. He had almost
grabbed one, and was about to speak, when the bathroom door opened down
the hall, and they heard footsteps. Ron plodded back into the living
room. "I'm back," he said.
"Well," said Stancil, standing up on weak knees. "I'd better get home. Nice to have met you, Ron."
He shook hands with Ron again and turned to face Hillary. Her eyes
were following him. It was obvious that their conversation was not
finished. Could it be that McNulty had been right all these years?
Should he have called her again?
He gave Hillary another short embrace and said goodbye.
When he got home, he took a long shower to wash off the grime of the
city. Stepping out of the stall, Stancil was still thinking about that
last look Hillary gave him. Maybe he'd give her a call. They could go
to Manon's and discuss things, really catch up. The idea needed more
thought, he decided. He had work to do first. Stancil dried himself off
and went into the bedroom.
After he finished dressing, he had his secretary play an Ives
symphony on the sound system and settled down to do some work. He
wanted to read all the obituaries on McNulty so he didn't repeat any
stories when he wrote his tribute. In his mind, the piece was taking
shape. It would start with an apology for it being so late and then a
barbed explanation as to why.
The first thing to do was to remove the server network's filter.
Stancil selected a program killer and loaded in the specs for his
communications software. The killer would delete any program, any
subroutine, any bit of code, that did not conform to the specs.
When it finished running, it reported that no deviations from the specs had been found.
Stancil stared at the screen in astonishment. That meant one of two
things, both of them unlikely. One was that the filter was not located
in his software but lurking somewhere in the net, near his connection.
Such programs existed, but they were difficult to control, and
unreliable, and besides, it didn't make sense. Stancil was not like
some of the paranoid tech heads he knew of, who ran program killers
several times a day, just to make sure no one impeded their flow of
information. He had not had any reason to believe that someone would
have something they didn't want him to know before now. It wouldn't
have occurred to him to check for filters and the server network knew
that. So why would they go to all that trouble?
The only other possibility was that the filter program was embedded
in his software suite, added during one of his official upgrades.
Except that didn't make sense either. His last upgrade had been three
months ago. According to Hillary, McNulty had had a sudden heart
attack. The server network couldn't have known that he was going to die
two months in advance.
With a growing sense of dread, Stancil opened a program analyzer and
pulled up all the changes from the last upgrade. He ran them through
the analyzer and had the desktop kitchen make him a cup of tea. When
the analyzer finished running, it beeped. Stancil discontinued his
pacing, sat down before the screen, and looked at the results.
There were no filters imbedded in the software updates.
Not daring to think about what it meant, Stancil set the analyzer on his entire suite of communications programs.
Ten minutes later, it beeped.
Typing in a search for filters, Stancil found he was holding his
breath. With a ragged exhalation, he pressed the enter button and
watched the screen as the search progressed.
There was one hit. The analyzer described it as a sophisticated
filter, almost an AI. Stancil spent the next hour or so dissecting it
to confirm its purpose and when it had been added. Then he excised the
filter and obliterated it with the program killer.
Shaking, he accessed the Internet and searched for Robert McNulty.
* * *
"Hillary, could you please log on and enter the study?" said Stancil.
"Stancil, it's after midnight," she said in a husky, sleep-laden voice. She had audio only activated. "Can't this wait?"
"No, I'm afraid it can't." He tried hard to keep the anger out of
his voice, but wasn't succeeding. Hillary must have heard it too. Her
voice sounded frightened.
"Just give me a minute."
Stancil paced the length of the study, waiting for her. He saw the
yellow phone indicator go out in his VR display. She was on her way.
The study had been his and McNulty's private chat room. It was an
exact replica of their "set," the chat room where they did their show.
Designed after a country house library, it had full bookshelves lining
the walls and, of course, McNulty's armchairs. Two long tables made of
dark mahogany ran down the middle, and a large globe stood in the
corner. Stancil brushed his fingers along the dark grain of one of the
tables as he paced. On the table was a manuscript. He lifted his
fingers before they touched it.
When he turned around, Hillary stood on the other side of the room.
Her virtual image was wearing the same polka dot dress she wore that
"What's this all about, Stancil?"
"I have a manuscript to give you," he said, scooping up the papers
from the table and walking up to her. "An obituary for your father,
She looked at it but made no move to accept it. "Did you write it?"
"My byline's on it. Here, take it," he said, holding it out to her.
She accepted the manuscript with a trembling hand, but did not look at it. "Why are you acting like this?"
Stancil paced around the table so that it was now between them. He
put his hands flat on the wood surface and leaned toward her. "Because
my name's on it and I didn't write it, and because it was written ten
Hillary lowered herself into a chair, a desolate look on her face. She laid the manuscript on the table and pushed it away.
"Robert McNulty has been dead for ten years," said Stancil, his voice rising.
She made no reply, but cradled her head in her hands.
Stancil fought for composure. He hated conflict, but saw no way to
avoid this. "There are two things I want to know, Hillary," he said
softly. "Why didn't you tell me then, and why are you telling me now?"
She looked up at him, her lips pressed together tightly and her brow wrinkled.
"I don't have to put up with this," she said, her hand reaching out to cut the connection.
"Hillary, I can't stop you from logging out of the study. I can only beg you not to. I think I deserve an explanation."
"And I deserved a call seventeen years ago," she said.
Stancil crossed his arms and looked down at her. "Is that what this is all about? Revenge because I didn't call you?"
She shook her head. Stancil waited. "When Father died, I was so desolate, I almost told you a thousand times."
"Why didn't you?" he asked.
"Because I knew that would be the end of the show. You'd have never
agreed to continue with Father's cybergeist, and I wanted to keep you
around--to keep you in my life. Or near it anyway. I thought maybe,
given time, you'd..."
"Good God, Hillary, it's been seventeen years!"
She stood up. "I get out about as much as you do, Stancil, and it's
hard meeting people on the Internet. You have to be careful. I... I had
a couple of bad experiences." She wrapped her arms across her chest and
looked at the floor.
Stancil sat down in one of the armchairs, the edge of his anger a
little blunted. "It wouldn't have worked, Hillary. Us, I mean."
"Yes, it would have. I know that for a fact." He looked at her with surprise. "I got along fine with your cybergeist."
"You dated my cybergeist?"
"For about four years. We went to restaurants, plays, movies, all
kinds of places. He was shy at first, and like you he tried to cover it
up by being unpleasant, but I got him to open up, at least to me."
Stancil thought about his secretary, but shook the image out of his head and said, "You do realize that AI's are not..."
"Real people. Don't be so sure." Her voice snapped with irritation.
"However, such a relationship can only be carried so far. I wanted to
get married, maybe have children. So I broke it off."
Leaning back in his seat, Stancil said, "All right, I think I
understand why you didn't tell me about McNulty's death at the time,
but why tell me now? Obviously, I'm so foolish, you could have kept up
this ruse indefinitely."
She turned with a hurt look on her face. "I don't think you're foolish, Stancil."
"You hoodwinked me for ten years."
"You were fooled for so long because you loved Father and you don't
like change. You knew he had heart problems but it never occurred to
you that he might die someday because you didn't want to think about
"So answer the question. Why tell me now?"
It was her turn to pace. "Because I knew it couldn't go on indefinitely. Before too many more years went by, you would
have begun to notice that Father was unnaturally long lived." She
stopped beside one of the window seats. Folding her leg under her, she
sat down. "And I met Ron. I know you don't think much of him, but he
really is a nice man. He makes me happy. So I wanted to see you one
last time--to see how I felt."
Stancil turned to look at her.
"And how you felt," she said, making eye contact.
"I'm surprised you didn't go to my cybergeist. You seem to have been on much more intimate terms with him."
She flinched as if struck. Stancil felt a pang of conscience and was
about to apologize, but when her face rose to meet his again, there was
a slight smile playing about her mouth. "Why Evelyn Stancil Willoughby,
was that a jealous comment?"
Stancil felt a surge of emotions rise in his chest. He bolted from
his chair and said, "Do you realize what a position this puts me in?
I've been bragging for years that I can tell when I'm interacting with
a cybergeist. I'm the laughing stock of the Internet."
"No you're not," she said in a quiet voice. She pointed to the
obituary. "The server network had your AI write that obituary ten years
ago and published it under your name. People think you know about
father and have been doing the show with his cybergeist. That's what
Ron thought until I told him the truth."
Stancil growled in frustration and turned on his heel to pace to the
other end of the room. "But I know, Hillary. How can I continue doing
the show, participating in those Turing tests, when I know I couldn't
spot the cybergeist nearest to me for ten years?" Stopping in
mid-stride, Stancil swallowed and bowed his head. A cold fit came over
him, squeezing his stomach and pulling his shoulders forward. The
feeling was so strong it made him shake. Suddenly, the only place where
he wanted to be--where he knew he would feel safe--was his apartment.
He wondered if this was how Hillary felt when she had her attacks of
shyness. He turned towards her.
She looked up at him with her dark brown eyes. He remembered how
soft her hair had been at the memorial service. A million exit lines
flooded his brain, jamming the neurons until all thought ceased.
"Goodbye, Hillary," he said, and exited the chat room.
* * *
"Would you like some more wine, my dear?" said Stancil, motioning to the steward.
"Just a little, thank you," she said, smiling at the steward as he
poured an inch of red wine into her glass. "I've been meaning to ask
you how you are enjoying your retirement."
Stancil paused as his own glass was refilled. "It took a while to
get used to being idle," he said when the steward walked back to his
post by the fireplace, "but I think I've adjusted."
"No thought of going back?"
He shook his head slightly and looked away.
"Your prejudice against cybergeists is absurd, you know."
Stancil shrugged, not wishing to discuss it.
She scooped a bite of filet onto her fork and placed it in her
mouth, chewing it meditatively. Stancil admired her from across the
table. She really was exquisite. The hair curled off the shoulders at
just the right height; her face was round but not plump and the polka
dot dress was just as he remembered.
Yes, he thought, leaning back in his chair, my secretary is a beautiful, perfect woman.
© 2014 Charles Ebert
Bio: Mr. Ebert is a librarian from Durham, NC, and has been writing science fiction on and off since high school. His novel, The Sword of Dalmar was recently published through Createspace. He has a story due out from Kaleidotrope in 2015, and will have another in the same year in Electric Spec. Previously, he was in Aoife's Kiss, won an honorable mention for short stories by Xignals, and also garnered another honorable mention from Writers of the Future. He has twice before appeared in Aphelion.
E-mail: Charles Ebert
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