“Imitated by many, matched by none!” Professor Norman King exclaimed, proudly gesturing to an image of a young woman on a screen behind him. “Bonita!”
There was a round of applause and knowing smiles were exchanged among the audience.
The professor stood at a lectern. He was tall, slim, tanned and had neat grey hair. He wore silver-rimmed glasses. To his right, a sheet covered a figure, about five feet high.
“Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, what you’ve all been waiting for. Incidentally, we decided against ‘Bonita mark 2’.”
“So please meet… Fleur!” He pulled the sheet back and there was a gasp of astonishment. There stood a beautiful young woman of about 25 in a sleek red dress. She smiled and the professor passed her a microphone.
”Hello Ladies and Gentleman.” She spoke with a soft musical voice. “It is lovely to meet you. I am pleased to be the new flagship ‘companion’ of NJK Robotics Inc. I have been equipped with the very latest in artificial intelligence, hundreds of nano-servos for realistic motion and facial expression, and a new and unique, er, ‘internal manipulation’ device.” She laughed a mellifluous laugh.
There was a huge round of applause, then the professor continued with technical information – lifting ability, charging times and options such as skin and hair colour, breast size etc. Finally, he discussed typical jobs the robot could do – washing up, cleaning, ironing and, of course, the ‘pleasure’ functions.
“Now, before I take questions, the all-important one. How much does she cost? Well, the fantastic news is that the price simply consists of a negotiable deposit and a rental starting from just £100 a week – terms and conditions apply – and she is fully upgradeable, included in the rental. A catalogue is available with full specifications, but now, are there any further questions?”
“What are the main differences between Bonita and Fleur?” asked a scientific correspondent type, wearing huge black-framed glasses below a halo of wild blond hair.
“Well, primarily improved skin quality, movement and intelligence. She has improved learning capabilities too and some test models have learnt to drive and, indeed, passed the driving test on their first attempt!”
An excited murmur went around the hall.
“Can she be employed in a salaried capacity by a third party?” asked the same journalist.
“Yes, we are negotiating with the Department of Employment. She’ll have to be registered for tax and national – humanoid – insurance, then she’ll be eligible to undertake suitable paid employment on your behalf. You’d be entitled to keep 90% of all income, the remainder will go into an account for her personal use.”
“Blimey!” exclaimed a huge man in a patterned smock and leggings so wide they looked like pillars.
The audience laughed.
A middle-aged lady asked shyly, “Is there going to be a male version?”
The professor smiled. “Yes, the first prototype is being tested as we speak. We hope to release ‘Kenny’ within six months.”
The woman spoke again. “Will he be customisable, er, down there?” She blushed furiously.
“Yes, I think you’ll find Kenny an, um, impressive companion, the professor said to general laughter. Several other women hurriedly raised their hands but the professor gestured for them to wait. “I wonder, could I just get a feel for how many might be interested in a Fleur or a Kenny? Please raise your hands.”
About three-quarters of the audience did so.
“Ah, I should just add that we are also working on ‘Taylor’, a model with both male AND female, er, ‘characteristics’.”
Discretely, the remaining hands crept up.
Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories
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