The Quest

by Heather St. Claire

Episode one -- June 15, 2010

 As of this date, Becky and Rick Martin have been married exactly one year. They are young, and very much in love; they’re one of those couples who think there has never been a love like this before in all the span of humankind.

 Becky is so happy, in private moments she fears it can’t last.

 She’s right.

 She was 25, Rick was 23, when they had met a year and a half ago. He had finished school just a couple of weeks before they got married, and had an entry-level position in a stock brokerage. The hours were long, the pay was only fair, but there seemed to be a future. After all, they had plenty of time to build a life together; or so they thought.

 They had only been married nine months when Becky began to suffer sharp pains in her back and neck. It took several weeks for Rick to persuade her to see their doctor. The visit had been brief, and brought a referral to an oncologist.

 Now, on this date when they should be celebrating the first year of their life together, they’re waiting to find out how soon it will end.

 They’re sitting in side by side chairs, clutching each other’s hands with a desperate intensity; as if sheer force of will could keep them from being torn apart.

 The doctor sat down, and took a deep breath. “It’s not good,” he said. “Not good at all.” He tells Becky and Rick that Becky is suffering from advanced bone cancer; her body is riddled with tumors; that her remaining life will be measured in months, or perhaps weeks.

 As Becky begins to sob quietly, Rick asks, in a strained voice, “Isn’t there any hope--anything at all you can do?”

 The doctor stares off into the distance, as if trying to reach a decision. Finally, he looks at Rick and say, “This is beyond conventional medicine...but there is someone who might be able to save Becky....but neither of you might be happy with the results.”

 “I don’t understand.”

 The doctor reaches into a desk drawer, hands Rick a card, and tells him to call the number on it, and just what to say. He does as instructed.

Episode 2 -- The Next Day

 “What is this place?” a bewildered Becky asks Rick. She thought they were going to be seeing some kind of specialist, or maybe a practitioner of alternative medicine. She hadn’t expected what appeared to be some sort of high tech company.

 A tall, distinguished-looking gray haired man beckons them to sit. As he lays the offer before them, their eyes widen in disbelief. When it’s all done, Becky is the first to speak.

 “You’ve got to be kidding me! The way you can save my life is by turning me into a robot?”

 `”Yes, Mrs. Martin, that’s exactly what I’m telling you. There is no way to stop the cancer that’s riddling your body. But, we can transfer your mind, your memories, your personality, the essence of your humanity into a mechanical form. But there are a lot of conditions that the two of you may not agree to.”

 “Such as?” the Martins ask in unison.

 “Well, I hate to be so crude about this, but it comes down to a matter of money. Remember the Six Million Dollar Woman? Well, it’s not quite that expensive, but advanced robotics like this does not come cheaply.” The man picks up a gold pen on his desk, scribbles a figure on a piece of paper, and pushes it across to the Martins. They each look at it in disbelief.

 “But-- but we don’t have anywhere near this kind of money,” Becky says.

 “We both come from poor families -- I’ve got a good job, but we’re just getting would take me years...and by then....” Rick’s speech trails off. He doesn’t want to finish voicing the thought.

 “There is another way, then,” the mystery man tells them. “If you consent, we will do the conversion. However, instead of recreating your own body with artificial materials, we will create an idealized form for you. And while you will retain your personality and memories, you will be programmed to become an inexhaustible, insatiable sex machine. You will then be sold to the highest bidder.”

 “What the hell are you talking about?!” Rick shouts. “Who would ever--”

 The man interrupts. “I assure you Mr. Martin, there are many wealthy men in this world -- and quite a few women, too -- who want to acquire one of our robot women. The price I quoted you, as steep as it is, just covers our costs. On the open market, the demand far exceeds the supply, and your wife will bring many, many times that amount.”

 Rick sighs deeply. “What other conditions are there?”

 “You will both have to sign legal consent forms, and you will have to agree to have no further contact with your wife.”

 Rick and Becky look into each other’s eyes. Their faces display all the anger, pain and fear that raging through them. Rick is first to speak. “Darling,” he says. “I want you to do this, if you want it. I can’t bear the thought of life without you, but the thought of this world without you pains me even more.”

 Becky’s eyes well up with tears. She embraces her husband, kisses him deeply, and says softly, “OK....but go....go now....I won’t be able to go through with it unless we part now.”

 As Rick steps toward the door, tears filling his eyes, he hears the mystery man telling his wife, “You’ve made the right decision, Mrs. Martin. Soon, all your pain will be a distant memory. Ahead will be a life of pleasure...endless pleasure.”

Interlude -- Article, Business Week Magazine, March 7, 2040
 By Samantha Peters
 The $12 billion takeover of Howell Enterprises by Martin International this week has people throughout the business community scratching their heads over the latest move by financier Richard Martin.

 Martin, one of the richest men in the country, has built an empire while remaining a man of mystery. He makes no public appearances, grants no interviews, and by all reports, lives an almost Spartan lifestyle.

 He is said to dwell in a simple four-room apartment on the top floor of his headquarters building. He employs no personal help, and reportedly has no passions outside of his business except staying healthy and young. “When he’s not working on deals, he’s working out,” said one former top staffer. “He seems to be obsessed with holding onto his youth. But no one has a clue as to why.”

 Martin was married for about a year, almost 30 years ago; his wife, Becky, died of bone cancer. He’s never remarried, never been seriously linked to another woman. His singular goal, as best anyone can tell, is amassing the world’s largest fortune.

 He has pursued that aim with an unmatched single-mindedness. He’s built his empire through shrewd horse-trading and timely acquisition of under-valued firms. So why, Wall Street is asking, was he willing to pay twice as much for Howell as it was actually worth?

 There’s not even much in the way of informed speculation.....

Episode three -- Howell Enterprises building, March 9, 2040

 A rented limousine delivers Richard Martin to the front of the Howell building. As he steps out of the cab, he looks up at the stone edifice. For the first time in -- how many years? -- there is a smile on his face.

 “Be sure to wait,” Martin tells the driver. “I don’t think this will take long, but I want you here when I get back.”

 The elevator carries him to the top floor. The door opens into a lavishly-appointed reception area. He notices the large oil portraits of the first three Thurston Howells, and wonders how disappointed they would be at this moment in the fourth member of their line.

 A sad-looking secretary presses an intercom button. “Mr. Howell....”

 “I know, I know,” Thurston Howell IV interrupts. “Mr. Martin is here. Send him right in.”

 The double doors swing open, and for the first time in almost 20 years, Richard Martin and Howell are face to face.

 “Howell, you know why I’m here.”

 “Yes, our course, Martin, you’re here for Ginger.”

 “You mean Becky. Of course, that’s why I’m here. That’s why I’ve spent the last 30 years building a get my Becky back. I thought it was going to be simple....Once I had a few million, I could track her down and buy her back from whoever had bought her.

 “But you had to make it tough for me, and tough on yourself. You wouldn’t sell at any price. Not when I offered 5, 10, 100 times what you paid for her. All because of some stupid obsession with your father!”

 Howell suddenly exploded, “Stupid! That man gets to spend years and years on a deserted island with one of the all-time Goddesses of film....and he’s too damn dumb to do anything about it! I had to have her! I had to!” For a moment, Thurston Howell IV looks like he is ready to cry.

 “Howell, I didn’t want to have to drive you into bankruptcy, but you gave me no choice. But I tell you what, you do have a good head for business. I want to offer you the job of running my companies...we’ll start you off with a package with bonuses and stock options that should net you somewhere between 30 and 50 million a year.”

 “You’d do that for me?” an astonished Howell asks.

 “Sure,” Martin says. “I’ve won. I can afford to be generous. And now that I’ve got my wife back, I’m ready to retire.”

 “Thank you,” Howell says quietly. “I accept. And per your instructions, you will find her aboard my--er, your private jet at the airport.”

 “Thanks, Howell, and good bye.”

Episode four -- aboard the former Howell jet, later that day

 When the reunion finally comes, neither of them can say anything for the longest time. They hug, they cry, they laugh, they hug some more.

 “I can’t believe it,” he says, “You are the living image of Ginger Grant.” Ginger Grant. Never a famous name in films, the starlet of the early 60’s spent well over a decade stranded on a desert island with six other castaways, including Thurston Howell III. Becky’s new body is a perfect re-creation of her statuesque form, clad in one of slinky gowns the starlet was always wearing. She looks a bit like a taller, red haired version of Marilyn Monroe. This is what Howell IV’s money had brought him.

 Now, Martin will enjoy the spoils of victory...not only does he have his wife back, the two of them are on the way to that same desert island, which has been transformed into a private getaway paradise.

 Until she shows him the two diodes at the base of her neck, hidden by her hair, he can’t believe she’s a robot.

 “I get programming through there,” she explains. “And that’s where I’m hooked up for battery recharges.”

 I know, Martin thinks to himself.

 “And how about you, darling? I swear you don’t look a day older than you did 30 years ago.”

 “I know how to take care of myself,” he says, still smiling
 Suddenly, Becky-Ginger looks very sad. “What’s the matter?” her husband asks tenderly.

 “It’s--it’s just that, you’re only going to have what--20, 30, more years to live? And as a robot, I’ll go on a lot longer than that. I can’t stand the thought of us being parted again.”

 “You don’t have to worry about that, love.”

 “What do you mean?”

 Martin lifts his pant leg, and rolls down a sock. There, sticking out of his ankle, are two diodes.

 “I had myself robotocized not too long ago,” he explains. “I always knew we were destined to be together forever.”

 “Forever,” she agrees, and kisses him again.

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