The home of Edward Han was truly beautiful: elegant, tasteful, even modest. It was the house of someone who was so rich he didn’t need to prove anything.I rang the front doorbell. It was a real bell, a small bronze replica of an old-fashioned ship’s bell. But I spotted a standard video pickup in the ornamental scrollwork above it. The door was manually operated. It was opened by a butler who asked, with impeccable formality, “Yes, may I help you?” I fixed a polite smile on my face. “Good afternoon. My name is Kurt Anderson. I’m here to see Mr. Han.” He took a moment to size me up, although I’m sure the house’s security system had already checked me out thoroughly before he ever opened the door. I decided to return the favor. He was an extremely old man, his face heavily lined, and he was gaunt and stooped by age. What little hair he had left was completely gray, but he still bore himself with the pride of a long-standing faithful family retainer. There was a tiny scar above his left eyebrow. If he was an android, he was a masterpiece of detail. But then, when it came to androids, Edward Han was a master. He finally admitted me with the most economical of gestures. “Please come in” he said in a voice without any trace of regional accent. “Mr. Han is expecting you.” He led me swiftly to the study, where Edward Han awaited me. Han stood as I entered, striding forward to shake my hand firmly. Han was well-preserved for his age. He had a full head of silver hair, a smile full of his own teeth, and a wrinkled but fully-fleshed face. His eyes twinkled with wit and energy. He had been born to a Chinese father and an Australian mother, back when Hong Kong was still a British colony, and his skin tone and facial features reflected his ethnicity. I found it difficult not to feel an immediate liking for him. This man had charisma. He offered me a seat opposite his desk. “Welcome to my home, Mr. Anderson.” “Thank you for receiving me, Mr. Han.” “Please call me Edward. Everyone does,” he said pleasantly as we sat down. I knew quite well that not everyone called him Edward. Some people, particularly old business rivals, called him great many other names, not all of them complimentary. But I complied with his wishes. “Very well, Edward. I hope I won’t take up too much of your time.” He laughed. “One advantage of being retired is that your time is your own to use as you please. Now what exactly can I do for you? Your message mentioned an interview, but frankly I can’t understand why. I’ve been interviewed hundreds of times in the past. What could you possibly hope to learn from me that hasn’t already been dealt with by others long before?” "Oh, I’ve read all the previous interviews and I have all the factual material I need.” I replied. “But I need to get a feel for the person I’m profiling that goes beyond mere facts.” He smiled slyly. “Back when I was young there was a television program called “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” This isn’t going to be something like that, is it?” “Oh no!” I aid hastily. “This isn’t going to be fluff. I’m working on an educational series about people whose lives have changed society. I just recently finished a piece about Mahatma Gandhi.” He visibly puffed up, and I gave myself a point. Any time you mention someone born in the 20th century in the same breath with Gandhi, they are immediately flattered. “I hardly think I am in his league….” Stammered Han modestly. “Perhaps, but you certainly qualify as someone who has changed the world. In the past thirty years, you’ve become something of a recluse, and there is an audience out there interested in knowing more about you.” That was partly true. Edward Han and his system for designing humanoid androids had undoubtedly changed the world, but actually there wasn’t much public interest in him anymore. In the past 30 years, a generation had grown up that took Han’s androids as much for granted as Han’s own generation had come to take their personal computers for granted. But there was no need to say that. “Well, if you want to get to know me, perhaps you could stay for dinner.” “I don’t mean to intrude…” “Nonsense,” he insisted. “That will allow you to see me in an informal setting, and give you a chance to meet my wife.” As if on cue, the door to the study opened. “Edward, I hate to bother you. I understand you have company?” asked a contralto voice. I had been told that Eleana Han was impossibly beautiful, and my informant had been correct. She appeared to be about one-fourth her husband’s age. Neither as slim as a fashion model nor as voluptuous as a centerfold, she had a figure that improved on either template. Her face was Eurasian like her husband’s, but there was darker tint to her skin tone and a fullness to her lips that hinted of African in her bloodline as well. Han smiled broadly and rose to take her hand. “Mr. Anderson, let me introduce you to my wife, Eleana.” “Hello, Mr. Anderson,” she trilled. “I am pleased to meet you,” I bowed slightly. “Mr. Anderson has come to interview me and I just invited him to dinner. Would you tell Dudley to set an extra place?” “Of course,” she said in a tone that let me know the message was already sent. “I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, my dear, but it is time for your treatment.” He frowned in annoyance. “Couldn’t we skip it just this once? After all, we have company!” She fixed him with a firm but affectionate look and shook her head. He sighed. “I hope you will excuse me, Mr. Anderson. This won’t take long, but it isn’t very pleasant to watch. Eleana can escort you on to the dining room. I’ll join you there in a short while.” He kissed his wife and walked reluctantly through a door on the other side of the room. Edward Han’s longevity did not come without a price, as I was well aware. He had been taking daily rejuvenation treatments since long before his hundredth birthday. They worked, but they were painful. As Eleana led me from the room, she said in a voice without rancor. “I don’t know who you really are, but I will be quite clear. I am not going to let you harm my marriage.” “What makes you think I want to do that?” I asked with an air of injured innocence. She was not fooled. “I know very well that the media has little interest in Edward anymore. The only reason anyone would plan a story is if they caught the hint of scandal.” “And what scandal would that be?” “Come now, Mr. Anderson. I’m sure you’ve come to your own conclusion about me, since I am married to a man so much older than I am.” “Have others come to such a conclusion?” I asked politely. “People always assume that I married him for his money. I don’t care what they say about me, but such insinuations are painful to my husband, and I want to spare him that pain.” “You are very protective of your husband, aren’t you?” I said cautiously. “Of course,” she said. “What wife wouldn’t be?” “Some more than others,” I said. “A person could think of special reasons for you in particular wanting to protect him.” She smiled grimly as we entered the dining room. “So that’s what this is all about Wife--6. I assure you, Mr. Anderson, I am not an android." “Proper programming of Asimov functions would account for your desire to protect him.” “So would plain old-fashioned love,” she retorted angrily. Then she sighed and relaxed a little. “How can I convince you, Mr. Anderson?” She asked “Would it help if I told you my mother’s maiden name, what I got for my tenth birthday, what my fifth grade teacher’s name was, or how I felt when my pet hamster died?” “All of which could be pre-programmed memories,” I shrugged. “Then I am at a loss,” she admitted. At that moment, Edward Han entered the room, walking a bit slower after his ordeal. To my surprise, she immediately turned to him. “Dearest, could you please tell our guest that I am not one of your creations?” Han chucked weakly as he sat down at the table. “I’m not sure it is worth the effort, Eleana. That rumor has been circulating since we were first dating, and it refuses to die.” He spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness. “At first it bothered me, I admit, Mr. Anderson. I suppose my male ego was a bit offended that people thought I was so old and decrepit that I wouldn’t be able to attract a beautiful woman unless I had programmed her to like me. But eventually I came to see it as a compliment toward us both: to Eleana because people couldn’t believe any natural woman could be so beautiful, and to me, because people actually think I could possibly design such a magnificent specimen.” She laughed, and blushed prettily at his extravagant compliment. I noted that Eleana Han managed to make even the act of blushing into a work of art. As the silent Dudley arrived to serve the food, our conversation turned to other, safer topics: the early days of his career, his business dealings, his activity since his retirement. The food was excellent, as I suppose was only to be expected. Edward Han could afford the very best chefs, human or android, and despite his age and the weariness in which his rejuvenation treatments left him, he had an excellent appetite. The same could not be said of his wife. Despite the quality of the meal, she barely ate a morsel of each course. Han noticed that I had noticed and hurried to assure me. “What am I to do with her, Mr. Anderson? My wife is on a perpetual diet of one kind or another. I tell her that there is no need for her to be concerned about her figure, but she does not listen to me.” “My husband is an intelligent man,” she retorted. “But he has never understood the need women feel to look their best at all times.” They laughed together, and I joined in, impressed at the easy relationship between the two. They truly seemed to care for one another. For a moment I felt doubt. Had I been misinformed? When dinner had been cleared, we retired to his study for cognacs. We had returned to the subject of his firm, and I asked, “How much do you have to do with the day to day operation of your company these days?” “Not a thing,” he said firmly. “Thirty years ago I decided it was time to gradually phase myself out of the company and let my children take over. I leave it all in their capable hands now. I think I’ve earned my rest.” “So now that you no longer work together, do you get to see them very often?” The infectious smile leaked away from his face and he looked down. It was Eleana who answered. “I’m afraid you’ve touched on a sore point, Mr. Anderson. My husband’s children have never accepted out marriage. They do not approve of me. I suspect they see me as a shameless gold-digger, interested only in my husband’s fortune. They refuse to have anything to do with me.” When he spoke, Han’s voice was heavy with sorrow. “I was married to Maggie for thirty-four years. No could have loved his wife more than I love her. She was everything to me, and when she died a part of me died also. When I met Eleana, and married her, my children saw it as an act of betrayal to her memory. They haven’t set foot in the house since the day of our wedding. I suppose I can understand why they are upset with me, but I wish they would at least try to see things from my point of view.” He turned to me as if in appeal. “I have found someone to share my life with, someone who makes me happy. Is that so wrong?” “Perhaps,” I suggested tentatively, “They find it too painful to see you with her.” “Other widowers have remarried, and their children learn to accept it,” complained Han. “Why can’t they?” “Maybe they see this as a different case.” “Surely you don’t think my children believe that ugly rumor also?” demanded Han. “Why shouldn’t he?” said Eleana with a sigh. “He still believes it himself. Don’t you, Mr. Anderson? Despite everything we’ve said, we still haven’t convinced you that I am not an android.” “You’ve convinced me that you don’t believe you are an android,” I said reluctantly. She snorted. “Which means nothing, since my beliefs could be programmed.” She gestured toward Han. “But what about Edward’s beliefs? Do you think he is lying? Or was he pre-programmed too?” “Not pre-programmed, exactly,” I replied. “But if you were an android, he might have convinced himself of something that was not true, as a form of psychological self-protection. The human mind is a complex thing, difficult to fathom.” She laughed bitterly and slumped down on the couch. “Then we are at a complete standoff. There is no way that one of us can prove to the other that he is wrong.” “Not quite,” I said. I turned to the ancient china hutch in the corner. Of course, I could never have entered that house with any kind of weapon without the house’s security system detecting it before I crossed the threshold. But I knew that there was an antique handgun in the upper right hand drawer of the hutch. It was the service revolver of Edward Han’s father, kept in careful repair as a family heirloom. It was not normally loaded, but I had been informed that today it would be. Neither of the Hans knew that I knew it was there, and were therefore quite unprepared when I turned around with the gun in my hands. I raised the pistol and pointed it at Edward Han’s chest. “I’m sorry about this, Mr. Han,” I said. Before he could react, or even speak, I pulled the trigger. Even though I had been expecting it, the blow from Eleana’s hand almost knocked the pistol from my grip. My shot went wide, of course. Even if she hadn’t struck me, I had never had any intention of shooting Edward Han. But Eleana couldn’t know that, and reacted appropriately. She came at me again. I dodged a lightning quick karate blow that would have sliced through steel had it connected. I danced backwards and as she drew back to strike a third time, I fired two more shots. Not into her head of course – behind her beautiful features, her skull was quite empty. Rather, I shot her in the chest. Her curvaceous breasts covered her central processing unit, and it was the CPU that I had to disable. The heavy caliber bullets tore a gaping hole in her body, more than enough to accomplish my purpose. She collapsed to the floor, gushing out both blood and coolant fluid, for ninety percent of her was organic. Before she completely ceased to function, she managed to force out one word from her stiffening lips. “Edward…” she gasped, and then she was no more. Edward Han had been frozen into immobility by the sudden violence, but her call seemed to release him and he sprang to his wife’s side. He knelt and gathered her up into his arms. “Why?” he sobbed. “Why did you do this?” That was a question with many answers, and so I chose the simplest. “I was hired to do it.” “Hired?” he gasped. He stroked her hair with more affection than I had seen most men display toward their wives, human or not. “Who would hire you to do such a thing? Who is it that hates me this much?” “It was not done out of hatred,” I replied, laying the pistol down on the desk and bending down beside him. “It was done out of love. Your children tolerated your little idiosyncrasy at first, because they wanted you to be happy. But they became alarmed as they saw you slipping further and further into your delusion. They were afraid that you might lose your grip on reality forever. They stopped visiting you because they couldn’t stand to see you treating her as human. Eleana would never allow anyone to confront you with the truth. Her Asimov functions would interpret it as attempting to harm you. So there was only one way to save you – by destroying her, right in front of you, and shocking you into seeing the truth. It was painful, I know, but it had to be done.” ‘I understand,” he said softly. “And yet…she was so beautiful. She was the most perfect thing that I ever made.” “Yes she was,” I agreed. “But you were losing sight of the fact that that was what she was. And the harm that would have caused you eventually would have been far worse than what happened to you today.” I helped him up and called in the human, but quite unflappable Dudley to fetch the authorities and a stiff brandy. I sat Han down on the couch and called my employers, who were waiting right outside the house. They swiftly entered and gathered around their father, to help him through his time of grief. As quickly and as quietly as possible, I slipped away. I was not needed here anymore, and the sooner I left the better. I had not killed a human being. I had merely deactivated a machine – a cleverly designed, carefully programmed machine – but still just a machine. Yet, Eleana Han had looked so much like a human, and more importantly, had so strongly thought of herself as human, that it was difficult for me to keep that fact in mind. I badly needed to get to a reconditioning unit. My own Asimov functions were acting up something fierce.
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November and the year’s end inspired me to present this robotic tale. What’s a robot got to do with Thanksgiving, you ask? I’m thankful that such things are still the province of stories like this one. How about you? Replies and comments to the BBS. - GM