Synopsis: Set in a future brimming with technology, Miriam Li is an aspiring reporter. When granted a lucky interview with one of the greatest engineers of the time, Miri is forced to face what she never expected: a dark, uncomfortable truth underlying society and the definitions of humanity.
Word Count: 3005 words
Date Written: November 2021
Eight years ago, on national television, Miriam watched the brutal murder of a woman sharing her name.
Miriam Li was never too fond of that particular actress, Miriam Lee. It wasn't because she felt that her identity had been stolen. The names and faces of the two were different enough, with one a Li and the other a Lee. It was only because Miri wasn't a fan of Lee's acting. The actress, though widely adored by all of East Ptoleman, never came across as genuine in her eyes. Lee always appeared so distant, so detached, even as she portrayed characters bursting with emotions across the screen.
Miri wondered if she was the only one who felt that way. It certainly seemed so, when Miriam Lee was featured in every hit film, when she was named “Actress of the Year”, when her face was plastered on every hologram display Miri passed by.
Yet watching the other Miriam's murder broadcasted by a live film crew caught off guard by a sudden intruder, for the first time, Miri felt different towards this name-doppelganger of hers. As bodyguards rushed to tear the frenzied killer off, sirens blasting, Miri and the rest of the nation watched from behind the screen. They watched the red splatter everywhere. They watched the panicked and desperate expression flayed across their beloved actress's face. They watched as paramedic droids arriving at the site deemed Miriam Lee as officially dead.
Then, they shut off the television and moved on with their lives.
This time, it hadn't been an act for a thriller film. It was a live interview. Reality. But to all of East Ptoleman, who had witnessed countless broadcasts of live violence, be it with politicians and guns or civilians and bombs, the passing of Miriam Lee seemed nothing special. A destiny, at least; a pity, at most.
Only Miri Li lingered behind.
The broadcasted events played over and over again in her mind. For all the lackluster movies Miri had watched, this was the first time she recognized true emotion from Lee. There was raw fear, of course. Fear, shock, and all those unpleasant things.
At the very end, however, Miri seemed to catch something different. Was it relief she saw? A flash of satisfaction escaping the light fading from Lee's gaze, as if she welcomed this death. As if she had waited for this moment, for a long, long time.
Nevertheless, it was all Lee's destiny. And after everything, when the news boiled over, when the nation moved onto fawning over the next top actress, Miri fell with the rest. It was a pity Miriam Lee passed, but a pity was all it was.
Eight years later, Miriam Li now sat in a train speeding towards the opposite side of the country. Presently a journalism student, Miri’s ticket destined a promised interview awaiting for her. The train ride was both long and expensive. These days, few traveled long distances, especially when the city offered practically everything. But Miri thought that it would be worth it.
At her destination, an idyllic countryside town, she hoped to find Jason Lefevre. Although he lived discreetly, he was a household name. How could the world not know of the scientific genius behind the top selling androids in the marketplace? Miri considered herself beyond lucky to snag an interview with him for one of her last assignments.
Now, amidst the sound of the train clicking against rails, Miri quietly video called her mother through her phone, the hologram of her mother’s face appearing with a beam.
“Mom, I’m sorry for not letting you know about this trip beforehand,” Miri apologized.
“It’s fine; I’m not upset,” her mother replied. The image in the hologram shimmered as Miri saw her mother smile with her usual gentle smile. “The interview must be important for you.”
“Extremely. I haven’t told anyone else yet, but it’s with Jason Lefevre. You must know him?”
Her mother’s eyes lit up with recognition and pleasant surprise. “Why, that’s a big name!”
Miri grinned with pride. “The interview should go by pretty quickly though. He only promised me a few minutes of his time. I should be back by evening.”
“Alright then.” Fastening the ties of a gray apron around her waist, her mother nodded in confirmation. “I’m making salmon for dinner, so be back soon.”
The temptation of her favorite meal certainly served an appealing incentive. Miri agreed, giving a brief nod. For a moment, Miri opened her mouth to start another conversation. She already knew how long and exhausting this train ride was going to be; it would be nice to have someone to talk to and pass the time. She could keep her mother on the call for as long as she wanted. Still, Miri knew that although her mother would have no objections, she had plenty of household chores. Miri didn’t want to waste her mother’s time. So, with a goodbye, and a “safe travels” from her mother, Miri ended the call.
Jason Lefevre was a peculiar man.
Miri knew a bit of this beforehand. With how rarely Lefevre agreed to interviews or appeared at public events, along with his choice to avoid the usual urban lifestyle, Miri had crafted the image of a hermit scientist for Lefevre to wear. But now that she sat before him, snugly settled in a vintage sofa, a cup of chamomile tea steaming in her hands, Miri had to admit that Lefevre wasn’t the kind of man she expected. Neither was his residence, a home starkly sitting on the borders of technology and nature. Vines and tendrils sprouted from the floor to spiral around metallic screens and arches. Mechanical hummingbirds fluttered in loops around hanging potted succulents. Gaudily blooming sunflowers faced an enormous holographic screen, which broadcasted a muted version of a century-old wildlife documentary.
The style of the house, with its floral wallpapers and brick floors, was utterly unpopular in this day and age. Except, perhaps because of the sunlight filtering through the buttercup curtains, it gave a cozy impression. Lefevre, tall and with deep umber skin, echoed the notion of his home. Wearing a patterned turtleneck along with terracotta-brown cargo pants, he differed greatly from his usual suit-and-tie photos. He sat before Miri with a similar cup of tea, taking a long sip before answering Miri, who had asked: “May I record this interview?”
“By all means,” he permitted with a curt nod of his head.
Miri thanked him as she placed her phone on the coffee table between them, clicking the screen to start recording. Then, she began, “What inspired you to take on your career, Mr. Lefevre?”
“Oh, nature,” he stated, gesturing his head at all the plants around them. “Life is magnificent, don’t you think?” A hummingbird fluttered to barely perch on his hand, its copper wings still spinning in a blur. He smiled, pushing the gold-rimmed frame of his circular glasses up. “It started with smaller things, but then I became a little more ambitious with time. We have so many needs but not enough people. Androids fill that gap.”
Miri was fixated on the hummingbird, but she quickly brought up the next question. “You’ve made so many incredible advancements in the field so far. FarmDroids, Eyebot, and the latest Parent360… which invention are you the proudest of?”
“Parent360, I’d say. The others are basic programming. But Mother360 and Father360 have revolutionized the way that we view androids. We know that androids can do so many impossible tasks, but it’s only since the release of these droids that we have begun seeing them as capable of being partners, family members, and vital to our households. Who would’ve guessed that today, hundreds of thousands of androids would be nursing your children? Or preparing your favorite dinner? Or ironing your laundry?” He hummed a little. “Of course, there are those who advocate against them, claiming they’re unnatural. The thing about nature, though, is that it’s always changing. This is our new nature. And I,” he smiled again, “I am just a gardener.”
Miri was ready to begin another question, “Certainly—”
“Parent360 did not come out of nowhere,” Lefevre interrupted. He continued his words, fingers tapping against the side of his cup. “Like I said, it’s revolutionary. It’s enough to make you forget they’re not even truly human.” He flung his hand out with a sharp flick of his wrist, and the hummingbird near him flinched, flying away. Miri stiffened. He went on, “Before we released it, we ran tests. We had to perfect their human nature. And of course, there were plenty of people happy to receive a prototype to experience and give us data.”
“Miriam Li. That is your name, is it not?” he interrupted again.
Taken back by the sudden inquiry, Miri slowly nodded. “Yes.”
“Do you know why I agreed to this interview?”
Although Miri was unsure of where Lefevre was going with this, she decided to be honest. “No. You don’t usually accept interviews. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised. And honored.”
Lefevre’s smile seemed to hold a secret. “Your name was too familiar for me to not see for myself. Do you perhaps recall the name of… Miriam Lee?” It took a moment for Miri to understand what he was saying. Naturally, she knew her own name. Except, then she realized he was never referring to Miriam Li. It was Miriam Lee, the actress, the one who everyone watched die. It had been such a long time since she last heard that name. Her recognition must’ve been apparent, for the moment it clicked, Lefevre spoke again, “She was quite the talented one. I worked with her closely.”
“You did?” Miri’s brows furrowed as she tried to recall any mention of Lefevre with the actress, yet as far as she knew, the two never interacted in public.
“Not when she was alive, no.” Lefevre chuckled a little at Miri, who leaned back in confusion. “I suppose you must know Lee’s husband.”
This was an easy name to recall, when Lee had been married to one of the wealthiest men in the world. “Edmond Hill?”
“Indeed. Mr. Hill had been one of my clients. After the pitiful way Lee passed, he was, of course, devastated. Mr. Hill then came to me. He is the reason why I began to make these custom androids. He is the reason why Mother360 and Father360 exist today. He gave me countless photos and lengthy descriptions. I was even granted tissue samples, from Lee’s hair to skin to eyes to brain. Excellent samples, I must add. You wouldn’t find ones so well-preserved anywhere else. And although Mr. Hill had been reluctant to provide them to me, I convinced him they were needed for the likeness.”
“You made… her with her own flesh?”
Lefevre nodded. “Precisely. There was no better way to perfect it. Though, that didn’t mean it was all lovely right away. The first time had been a failure—too little life. The second time had been a failure as well—too much sentience. Yet after the third, fourth, fifth, tenth, and twentieth, I had perfected it. I had perfected Miriam Lee. And so, Miriam Lee is still alive today—albeit only in Mr. Hill’s eyes.” Lefevre now leaned forward, clasping his hands together. “Doesn’t that make for an interesting story?”
With a creased brow, Miri set the cup she had been holding down on the table with a clink, the tea only half-empty. The interview had gone off the rails, this unexpected discussion making Miri’s palms sweat with uncertainty. “Why do you tell me about this?” she blurted.
Lefevre blinked. “You’re just a college student, looking for a story to tell. Was that not material good enough for your paper?” He shook his head, seeing how stiffly she sat. “Rest assured, I hold no bad intentions. Your name just reminded me too much of my past business. Don’t be so ill at ease either; you are nothing like the actress herself in any ways besides her name.”
“No. I’m not… uncomfortable,” Miri said, in an attempt to regain her composure.
“If you say so,” Lefevre replied. Then, he leaned over, giving a screen by his side a few taps. Miri picked up her phone from the coffee table. A new notification appeared. “A reference,” Lefevre explained. “With that, you should be able to have a brief chat with Mr. Hill himself. That would definitely give you the grade you need, don’t you think?”
She did thank him, in the end. Still, however, Miri left quickly, the interview concluding in the blink of an eye. As she walked out of his front door, she opened her phone. The reference Lefevre promised popped up as a hologram with a few lines of text. She waved her hands through the display and watched it disperse in a crumble of pixels.
Lefevre was right. It would make for a good story. A deceased favorite actress made into an android for her chairman-husband to pretend she still lived on. Would the public, if they knew, wonder how Hill could look at that face? That likeness of his dead wife? Day after day, how could he live without questioning the fact that he only saw a robot? How pathetic of him. How delusional.
Miri hadn’t gotten much content out of her interview with Lefevre besides his nudge for her to seek this new story. For the sake of writing enough content, it would be sensible to do as he said. It would be wise to meet with Hill. Yet still, she found herself boarding the train to head back home.
She wasn’t going to interview Hill.
In her eyes, it wasn’t pathetic. Was it wrong for her to think so? She only found Hill quite pitiful. He was a lonely man, one who loved his wife enough to be incapable of handling her death.
On the train ride home, Miri looked out the window at the flashing lights. The sun had already gone down behind the horizon, leaving only neon signs and vibrant holograms behind to accompany the night. These lights found themselves in messily streaked afterimages passing by the train.
Memories from eight years ago, the last time she had seen Miriam Lee, echoed in Miri’s mind. It was the moment of Lee’s murder. Miri recalled the scene, the noise of the television, and the expression on Lee’s face. Faintly, she seemed to remember how she thought it was peculiar back then. What was it that she found strange again? She ran through the memories on repeat, until at last, she found what she looked for. The memory of Lee, relief caught in her gaze, appeared.
Relief. What was there to be relieved about? Miriam Lee was the top actress of the nation. She had everything one could’ve ever wanted. She had wealth and fame and success. She had a loving husband. Edmond Hill. He loved her so, so much, that even after her death, he still gave everything to replicate her. He loved her enough that even after death, she could not escape him…
Miri squeezed her eyes shut. No, none of that. These thoughts of hers were being ridiculous. Edmond Hill was a pitiful man, and that was all he was.
With the beep of a successful fingerprint scan, Miri entered her home. The lamps were dimly lit in the living room, but the kitchen was bright with warm gold light. From the kitchen, the faint hum of a melody spilled out. The scent of dinner wafted in the air. Baked salmon, just like her mother had promised. Miri smiled, the exhaustion from the day almost melting away.
“Mom, I’m home,” Miri called out, taking off her shoes and dropping her bag by the doorway.
As she approached the kitchen, her mother turned to greet her with a big smile. With sleeves half-rolled up, her short hair fastened back with a hairband, her mother looked the same as always. “You’re back! How was the interview?” she exclaimed.
“Tiring,” Miri admitted.
“Oh, my poor Miri.” Her mother wiped her hands on her apron, then reached with her arms out. “Have a hug.”
Miri accepted the hug, burying her face into her mother’s shoulder. She stayed there. Even though her mind pushed away the events of the past day, desperate to let her remain in the warm contentment of the current moment, it wasn’t strong enough to hold everything back.
As her mother raised a hand to gently stroke Miri’s hair, that was when Miri began to cry.
She tried to squeeze the tears away at first. Soon, they were uncontrollable. When one had escaped the corner of her eye, the others followed suit, spilling out like a wave. They were choked sobs, ones that wrenched at her heartstrings, clawing out of her as they ripped out of her chest. She cried and cried with her eyes squeezed shut. Her hands went out to hold her mother to her, closer still. She heard noises of consolation from her mother, but her sobs drowned the words out.
Even as she clutched her mother close to her, pulling her tighter so that she could never let go, it was still not enough. Jason Lefevre’s words repeated over and over again in her mind. The thought of Edmond Hill sunk equally as deep.
Miri tried to pretend like she found Hill pitiful, except she knew the truth well enough. The truth of how others saw people like Hill, people like her. The reality of things. The only reason for why she found the slightest bit of pity. She wasn’t being empathetic. She was only consoling herself.
She and Hill were pathetic, delusional beings, cut from the same cloth.
“Mom. I miss you,” Miri cried, though deep down, she knew it was pointless. She was speaking to nobody. Her mother would not hear those words.
After all, the one holding her close, stroking her hair, was just a Mother360.