The Uncanny Valley

Purby Stolafson took a deep breath and regarded the man and woman across his desk. He recognized the woman—with her luxurious blond hair, hourglass figure and delicate features, she was unmistakably one of his. He still didn’t know what to make of the man, other than he wanted him out of his office.

“I’m sorry,” Purby said, reshuffling the papers on his desk. “What was the problem with her?”

“Her breathing. She breathes. She doesn’t stop.”

“Yes, and?”

“It’s unnerving.”

“Most of our customers appreciate the breathing.”

“I don’t.”

Purby sagged a bit in his chair. He knew where this was going. “Is that all? Just the breathing?”

“No! It’s not just the breathing! It’s everything! I can feel her pulse. I can hear her stomach gurgling. She eats! It’s disgusting!”

Purby sighed. He looked at the woman, at her blank, forward stare. “So, if I’m understanding you correctly, your problem with the X-3—you are an X-3, right?” She nodded. “Your problem with the X-3 model is that she’s too life-like.”

“Exactly! If I want a woman, I can go get one.”

“I’m sure you can, sir.”

“And they’re a fair sight cheaper than this squishy monstrosity you’ve saddled me with. Don’t you have anything in chrome?”

“We don’t do chrome, sir.”

“Exposed piston-joints, then. Blinking lights. An atomic power source. Gimme something! For God’s sake, man, you’re supposed to be building robots! Is it too much to ask for them to look like it?” The man was on the verge of leaping out of the chair. Purby, by contrast, was sinking deeper into his.

“You’re not the first person to come to us with this complaint,” Purby said, removing a small brown business card and a voucher from his desk drawer. “This is an antiques dealer down in Old Town. He’s got a machinist on staff. I’m sure they have something that meets your needs. And tell the girl out front to give you a full X-3 refund.”

The man’s attitude instantly reversed. “Oh, thank you, Mr. Stolafson! I do appreciate it!” Fortunately, the man wasted no time leaving Purby’s office.

Purby relaxed and turned his attention to the woman. Her expression had not changed. “Well, what do you make of all this?”

“To be honest,” the woman said. “I’m quite relieved.”

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