The Accident

by Heather St. Claire

It’s a typical evening in the Austin household. It’s a home like any other in this upscale suburban neighborhood; a four-bedroom split-level that reflected high income and good taste. Daughter Stephanie was first to arrive home, from cheerleading practice; she’s upstairs right now, hitting the books for a while before dinner. Her older brother Chad probably won’t make it from football workouts in time for any studying; it will just be a quick shower before he heads for the dining room.
The dad, Bill Austin, is just pulling up in the driveway now in his BMW. If you saw him stepping out of the car, dressed in dockers and an open-necked sport shirt, you wouldn’t know that he was the C-O-O of one of the top research firms in the country; but that was the way he and his partner, Mike Gates, wanted things. Keep the working environment comfortable, and innovation will flow.

It had certainly worked for Gatestech. They were now the leader in robotics research, though their work was not widely known to the general public. Most of their work was for the US government, and carried “top secret” classification.

Working happily in the kitchen is the mom of this family, Cindy Austin. She and Bill have been married for 18 years now, and she’s devoted her adult life to making him happy, raising successful, well-adjusted children, and creating a warm, nurturing environment for all of them. Her thoughts at this moment might be of the sneering woman she met at a party the week before.

“So you’re just a housewife?” the woman had asked with more than a trace of condescension.

“Just a housewife?” Cindy had replied. “It’s only the most important job in the world!”

And that was exactly how Cindy had always felt. There was no higher calling, no greater fulfillment, then her husband, children and home.

Bill walks into the kitchen, looks at his wife working at the cutting board, and his heart is filled with love. He loves Cindy as much as he did the day they married. She’s tall -- almost 5 feet, 10 inches -- and slim. Maybe a bit too skinny for some men’s tastes, but Bill finds her proportions to be absolutely beautiful. He loves her slim, graceful legs and arms. He admires the elegance of her long, swan-like neck, and he loves the oval face that’s set off by her dark auburn hair, large doe-like brown eyes, and full mouth.

She wears a frilly apron over her simple blue housedress. She’s totally engaged by the onion she’s chopping. Bill hates to break the spell of the moment, but knows it’s time to speak, “Hi, honey!” he says cheerfully.

Cindy, startled for some reason, turns, and the sharp knife slips out of her right hand and slices into the flesh of her left forearm. She cries out in pain. Bill runs over, fearing what will be revealed. Cindy stares at the huge gash in her arm with amazement. The cut was deep, probably to the bone, she had thought. Why was there no blood; why did there seem to be nothing exposed but a tangled mass of circuits and wires?

“Honey, are you OK?” Bill asks anxiously. Cindy continues to stare at her arm, blankly. For a moment, Bill fears that the shock has temporarily shut down her system.

But she’s just dazed. After a long moment, she turns to Bill and says quietly, holding up her arm, “I don’t understand...what is this?”

“That’s your arm, honey.”

“I know it is, but what’s this inside of it? It looks like the inside of a robot!”

“Honey...that’s because you are a robot,” Bill says softly.

Now Cindy laughs, that sweet, almost musical chuckle that Bill loves so much. They really did get every detail perfect, he thinks to himself. “Of course I’m not a robot,” she insists. “I’m a human being.”

“Come on,” he says, taking his wife’s hand. “Let’s go sit on the couch, and I’ll explain everything.”

Bill continues to hold Cindy’s hand as they sit, and he takes a deep breath. “Remember the auto accident you had five years ago? That drunk driver who plowed into you when you were on your way home from the store?”

“Of course I do,” she answers. “I was unconscious for a while, but I know the car was twisted into scrap metal. I know they had to cut me out of the car. When I woke up in the hospital, you told me that it was a miracle that I had survived with just a few scratches and bruises.”

Bill sighs. “That’s the point. Those are false memories I had programmed into you. You didn’t survive the died back then.” He begins to choke up.

“Darling,” she says, “this is making absolutely no sense. What do you mean, ‘I died?’ If I’m dead, how can I be sitting here with you right now?”

Bill continues. “Remember the company... You know what we do! Manufacture robots, cyborgs and androids! They cut you our of the car, all right, but you were critically injured. When they got you to the hospital, they told me there was absolutely no hope...that it was just a matter of time before you expired.

Cindy was speechless, starting at her husband with total fascination.

“At that point, I called Mike and told him what happened. You know that I run the business side, and he runs the scientific side. I don’t understand a tenth of what we do and don’t pretend to, I just keep things running smoothly. “Anyway, Mike did his best to console me. When there was a pause in the conversation, he told me there might be a way to keep you alive, but we had to act quickly. I was willing to agree to anything if it meant not losing I agreed. Before I knew it, one of our company vans arrived at the hospital, and you were whisked away."

"Go on."

“As I said, I really don’t understand all that happened. But I understand that before your body died, all of your memories, emotions and personality were downloaded into a mainframe computer. The next step was to use your body as a template for creating a perfect android duplicate of yourself. When your new body was ready, your -- your ‘self’, for want of a better word -- was downloaded into the android's brain. The whole process took just a couple of days.

“Mike assured me that, except for the false memories of the accident and its aftermath we implanted, you would be exactly the same. And you have been. No one -- your parents, our kids, our friends -- suspects a thing. You haven’t known. And in just a short while, you’re not going to know again either.”

“What do you mean?” Cindy asks, a bit fearfully.

“I’m going to call for some techs. They will take you away, repair this damage, and reprogram you to forget the entire incident. You’ll have a bandage on your arm for a couple of days, and everything will be fine.” He pauses, and his voice chokes up again. “I hope you can forgive me for what I’ve done to you, my love.”

“Forgive you?” she says “How can I ever thank you! You gave me back my life! Maybe this isn’t my original body, but as far as I’m concerned, the essence of ‘me’ is still inside. Don’t worry about a thing, honey.” She closes her eyes and kisses him tenderly. “When will the techs be here?”

There is the sound of a van in the driveway. “I think that’s them now.”

They stand; Cindy embraces Bill, smiles and says, “See you later, honey. Tell the kids not to worry about me. I’ll be back soon. Good as new.”

He watches as she leaves with the men from his company. Bill walks upstairs to tell his children, “Dinner’s going to be late tonight, kids. Your mom had a little accident. Nothing serious, but she did need to go to the hospital for a few stitches. She said to tell you not to worry.”

Bill turns away. If only, he thinks, if only it was as easy to program a human brain to forget as it is an android’s.

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