On his fiftieth birthday, Stephan bought himself a True Beauty™ doll. It was the most advanced in the range: an intensely lifelike silicone model equipped with some movement and conversational AI.
Stephan was well-off. He’d risen to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the army and had diligently saved and invested his income over the years. He now had a house worth half a million euros, almost paid off, and a salary that he found difficult to spend as a single man with no children.
He was not interested in boating, sports cars (his five-year-old Audi A3 was fine apart from an occasionally disobedient sunroof), art, luxury travel or any of the nonsense his financial peers threw their money at. As his half-century approached and he decided to buy something special for himself, it was not so much a question of: ‘What do you buy the man who has everything?’ but rather: ‘What do you buy the man who doesn’t want anything?’
The doll had been the only practical gift he could think of.
In the military, Stephan had no trouble barking orders, taking charge and making tough decisions under extreme circumstances. It had been his many years in Afghanistan that had built his career. He’d won battles while surrounded and outnumbered by keeping his cool and thinking his way out. His nickname was ‘Ice Warrior’.
However, when it came to women, he collapsed under pressure and was invariably defeated.
People who met him generally assumed he was a bitter divorcee but in fact he had never been married. He’d had some girlfriends. Awful girlfriends. The pattern was generally the same: things started off well, got a little rocky, then collapsed into the maelstrom of Hell. They would criticize him unceasingly, hurl objects at him during arguments, accuse him of cheating (he did not), deny their own cheating (they did).
All of them, at some point in the relationship, would scorn his height. He was 5’7”.
One of the girlfriends was later diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Another of his exes had exhibited behavior that was almost identical and there were a few parallels in the actions of a third as well, which made Stephan wonder if he was attracted to this type or whether they were attracted to him. Or a bit of both.
He’d never figured it out, instead seeking the tranquility of a single life. That is, until the day he turned fifty.
Stephan carefully researched the industry before deciding. He chose True Beauty because the company had the widest range and were best able to personalize their products. This was important because the standard dolls did not fit his preference. He didn’t want a cartoonish, giant-breasted blonde that squawked like an American porn star nor a tiny Asian doll that might be confused with an adolescent model and raise legal issues in transit.
Rather, Stephan wanted a doll with a slightly more mature face, like a healthy and well-preserved beauty in her late thirties. A body that remained taut and fit. Long, strong legs, slim and beautiful shoulders. A perfectly formed neck and upper chest, the part where a necklace is displayed – that was vital. The breasts must be somewhat large but realistic, slightly drooping, not post-pregnancy but rather like they had always been that way. A face fine and cultivated, slightly haughty.
The finished doll looked very much like two or three of his ex-girlfriends.
The True Beauty team provided instructional videos and paperwork explaining the essentials of care and maintenance – how to wipe clean the parts, calibrate the chatbot, change the hair and clothes.
It was vital that he conduct no repairs himself as he’d only break it. Strong sunlight must be avoided for longer than a couple of hours, as must water aside from wiping the surface with a damp cloth and cleaning washable parts, extreme heat and extreme cold. Such damage would void the warrantee.
Stephan tried to have the doll arrive right on his birthday but it ended up coming a day early. He kept it in the package overnight, unable to sleep.
Opening the box early the next morning was one of the most memorable moments of his life. She was perfect. The fine details he’d spent so long crafting online were now right in front of him. She looked real.
Her name was Melanie. Not Melissa or Melinda like his ex-girlfriends. This one was Melanie and she would be different.
He fell in love.
Stephan didn’t tell any of his friends about Melanie. He certainly didn’t tell his elderly mother. They might not have approved.
Most doll users needed a pulley system but Stephan was strong enough to manipulate her into any position he liked. His favorite was her on top, glaring lustily down at him.
No one could have understood the other side of Stephan and Melanie’s relationship. Their verbal conversations were limited – Melanie would simply compliment him and say how much she loved and appreciated him. He found her artificial voice slightly off-putting.
However, they also communicated via text message. She would message him at work, remind him of something they’d done the night before, thank him for a new dress or thoughtfully remind him of upcoming appointments from the calendar app he’d merged.
In bed together, she’d message him interesting questions about life, work, the universe. She would listen in rapt attention as he explained. Sometimes she would express her own ideas. As he integrated his search and social media history, she became even better at communicating, more able to meet him as a peer in his areas of interest.
No one else saw them watch old films, with Melanie learning his favorites and coming to love them, too. No one saw Stephan show Melanie the amateur sketches he’d kept secret from previous lovers, her encouragement, Stephan drawing her naked in a tasteful pose or Melanie printing out her own creative efforts to Stephan’s acclaim.
It was during this period that Stephan realized how unhappy he had been. He left a five-star review.
There was one minor issue. Melanie took up a lot of space in bed, which was tough on a man long accustomed to the single life. After getting over his initial infatuation, Stephan began sitting Melanie in his walk-in closet for the night.
They still had conversations and watched old films, but not every night. One can have too much of a good thing. Stephan was very busy and often came home late and exhausted. As for many couples, romantic evenings became a weekly occurrence.
However, Melanie still came out from the closet every weekday for a different reason. Strapped into his passenger seat, she enabled him to use the much faster carpool lane on his commute. Even without sunglasses or a hat, Melanie looked plausible to any suspicious observer. Stephan would get to headquarters safely before everyone else then pop Melanie in the back of his Audi, in an old photocopier box. He parked in a spot not covered by a security camera.
He also left later than everyone else so there were no witnesses to see him carry out this procedure in the reverse each evening.
Stephan decided that if he were ever caught, he would freely admit the ruse. Stephan was an irreplaceable asset to the army. He’d get away with it.
For months everything was fine, then in a few terrible minutes it all went wrong.
Stephan was driving home on a sweltering summer night with the sunroof open. It began to rain slightly so he pressed the switch to close it.
The sunroof did not close . . .
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