Author : Joshua Barella

The fronds of the willow hang over the front of the cabin. Tangled and thick, they make it nearly impossible to see from the byway, which is just the way he likes it.

It’s early October and last month he ended it with Miranda, she was his nineteenth marriage.

The Company’s on its way with his twentieth. She has an exotic name.

It’s unique, this kind of love.

Canthos is wrapped in a blanket, smoking a pipe and drinking tea on his decrepit porch–keeping his good eye peeled on the service road for Schroeder, the delivery boy.

His dog, a withered, wiry-haired terrier is splayed out beside him.

Hours pass.

Crickets cling to and chatter amongst the tall blades of grass. The rumblings of the space engines and corsairs carry over the rolling hills to the west.

A surface car eventually turns from the byway onto the service road.

Canthos recognizes the insignia and fires up the Ergo thrusters on his Flitter, and spins around, hovering inside. A personal support vehicle, the Flitter was care of the Wartime benefits.

Moments later he comes back with Miranda. She’s looks great (much better now that her eye is back in). He can present her to Schroeder without any worry of denial of exchange.

Schroeder is waiting for him at the foot of the steps; a handsome man is to his right wearing sunglasses, a pressed, slick blazer and pants. And beside him is Canthos’ new bride.

“Morning Canthos,” says Schroeder, putting his hands on his hips. “Nice one isn’t it?”

Canthos regards the squirrelly man, his freckled face and red curls of hair. He sizes up his coworker.

“Sure,” he croaks. “Who’s this?”

“Canthos, this is Donovan Furth. Our company’s Customer and Product Relations Executive,” Schroeder says.

“I’d like to apologize for my sudden appearance, and I thank you for your willingness to participate in our focus group thus far.

“I want to assure you, you are in good hands. That being said,” gesturing for Schroeder to remove the plastic, “we want to introduce you to Vivian.”

“Our most popular if I might add,” Schroeder says, smiling, removing the plastic from her face, slowly, carefully.

In a pair of slim cut jeans, and wearing a loose pink blouse that reveals her dotted olive shoulders, is a beautiful, middle-aged woman.

Canthos gawks at her defined torso; her saxophone curves. A jubilant spread of brown locks fall about her face.

“Hope she’s as good as you say she is,” Canthos says. “I had a hard time warming up to the old one.”

“Mr. Hale,” Furth says, crossing his arms. “Vivian has built in presets and features that you can’t begin to imagine. She will be everything you’ve been missing between the others–the laughter, the intimacy, the passion.

“She will truly be the love of your life…”

Furth nodded for Schroeder to activate Vivian.

“So this is your exchange,” he says, glancing at the other model. “You told the operator her emotions were a little flat? Anything else we should know about?”

Canthos shook his head.

Furth takes Miranda’s hand, and with her he and Schroeder go back to the surface car.

“Happy life, Mr. Hale,” Donovan Furth says as they zoom off.

A few puffs of steam escape Vivian’s nostrils, a vibration shoots up her body; her eyes slowly open.

The dog whimpers, puts its tail between its legs.

Canthos gasps.

“Hello handsome,” Vivian says, winking.

Canthos is a gentleman and shows his wife inside.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows