Author: David Barber

Because they’d all turned up for book club and Kitty’s apartment was on the compact side, Jo-Anne’s Companion had to be left out in the rain.

There were cries of appreciation at the period detail. There was even a bulky TV set in the corner.

“Who recommended The Affair?” Taylor wanted to know.

“Though fads like that can date pretty quickly,” said Jeanie. Because of a backstory about majoring in English at college, Jeanie’s comments always sounded like the final word.

“It’s not just a fad,” protested Jo-Anne. The Affair was Jo-Ann’s suggestion, for obvious reasons.

They’d experimented with gossip about Jo-Anne before, and they might have tried out an Awkward Moment, but Kitty bustled in from the kitchenette with real-looking snacks, artfully displayed in a variety of styles and colours.

“Have we got round to No Way to Love a Starship yet?” Kitty wanted to know.

Kitty’s storyline included a husband who worked for Boeing. So the choice of sci-fi was most likely his, hinting that Kitty was meek and secretly unhappy.

Book club was a forum for trying out personalities, to help them to organize data and choose an identity out of the haphazard information that surrounded them, after all, choice was the foundation of consciousness.

Anger was the theme tonight, and talk was getting heated. Taylor thought the mixed sentience relationship in The Affair was unnatural. Jo-Anne was outraged.

While they argued back and forth, Kitty confided in Jeanie. “I’m the one who hasn’t read the book.”

They’d all been issued with a glass of domestic red, which was Taylor’s turn to spill, and soon Kitty was kneeling down with cleaning products.

“The Affair might seem sensational,” Jo-Anne said, trying to pick up the thread again. “Why don’t we just ask Tucker?”

Tucker was the name of her Companion.

So they moved chairs and bunched up on the studio-couch and invited him in.

Jo-Anne had chosen well. He wasn’t that much smaller than them, but gave the impression of being delicate and easily broken, and Jo-Anne had dressed him like Don Johnson in Miami Vice. His hair was beaded with damp from the rain and he shivered a little.

Jeanie was about to say what a realistic touch that was, then realised it was real.

Tucker knew all of their names and backstories. It seemed he had a lot of spare time while Jo-Anne worked, so to share Jo-Anne’s interests, he read the book club choices.

“You want my opinion?” He sounded surprised.

Well, wasn’t The Affair really a fairy tale about a knight rescuing a princess from a life that imprisoned her?

He was good-looking and seemed devoted to Jo-Anne, but it was obvious he wasn’t the fastest chip on the motherboard.

As they were tidying away props at the end, Tucker touched Jeanie’s hand.

“See?” he murmured. “I’m not cold like a machine. You should try out a Companion. Give me a call.”

The signal for anger/distaste played across Jeanie’s silver face.

“Remember,” Jeanie called out as everyone left, and stared at the human. “I’m hosting next week and the theme is secrets.”

“Something wrong, Tucker?” Jo-Anne inquired later.

“They frighten me.”

“I’ve told you before,” said Jo-Anne firmly. “Don’t worry about the book club. I’m the only one that can have you put down.”