Author : Ian Rennie
Richard reached for the jug of water on the coffee table and stopped, face caught between a frown and a smile. He sat back in his chair and spoke to the couple.
“Mrs Lyell, Patricia, you were saying that Thomas had been distant lately.”
The woman on the couch glanced at her husband uneasily, then spoke.
“For the last three weeks when I’ve got home from work, he’s been sat in the front room with the lights off. He doesn’t talk to me when I get in, just waits for me to say something. He’ll sit there in silence until I do. He never starts conversations any more, won’t sit at the table with me for dinner. It feels like I’ve done something wrong and he won’t tell me what it is.”
Richard turned to the man on the couch.
“Thomas, do you have anything you want to say about this?”
The man stared back, stubborn. Richard knew without asking that he was here only at the woman’s insistence.
“Sometimes, I don’t have much to talk about.” he said, pausing after this for so long that Richard was about to ask a follow up question when he continued, “I don’t do much any more, so I don’t have much to say. I’m happy to talk, I just don’t know what to say.”
Patricia shot a despairing look at Richard, who kept his eyes on Thomas.
“Mrs Lyell, the problem is that your husband is dead.”
The woman looked up in shock at the words, and then, just as quickly, looked at her husband. He seemed not to react. Richard continued, gentle words with iron cores.
“He died of a heart attack two years ago. You had him restored from a digital backup last year, but he’s not your husband any more. He’s an electronic representation. He can’t touch anything, because he’s a projection. I’m only able to talk to him today because we have a projection rig in the building. He doesn’t do much because he can’t leave the house. He’s not a real person.”
Tears welled in Patricia’s eyes.
“But I don’t think that! He’s perfectly real to me. I don’t think any of the things you said.”
Richard looked over at Thomas.
“Your husband does. Don’t you, Thomas?”
The hologram of Thomas Lyell looked at the floor, refusing to meet the counselor’s gaze. Finally he nodded. Richard turned back to the sobbing widow.
“Patricia, after the heart attack, they gave you grief counseling. They never gave it to Thomas. You don’t need marriage counseling, you need bereavement therapy.”
The consultation ended fairly quickly after that. The problem was identified, and Thomas was already looking more hopeful five minutes later when he was switched off for transit back to the house. As Mrs Lyell was leaving, Richard’s assistant popped her head around the door.
“Your next client isn’t for an hour, Dr Furr. Want me to switch you off in the meantime?”
“No, I like the view out of the window at this time of day. Are you heading to lunch?”
“Yeah, I’ll be back in 45 minutes.”
“See you then.”
She left. Richard sat in his chair and stared at the water jug.
He was thirsty. He’d been thirsty for four years, ever since they had switched him on and a lawyer he had never met before explained about the car crash. The water jug was an affectation, something to make him feel more human.
These days, despite what he said to his clients, feeling human was hard to come by.