Zach received notice from an attorney that his wife, a robot, was suing for divorce.

“This is the lowest point in my life,” he told his boss at work. “I am not sure I can go on.”

“Sure you can,” the boss said. “Design another robot who will not divorce you. That’s simple.”

The computer engineer was an artificial intelligence specialist. He had designed Shirley, as the boss insisted on calling it, as a female companion for men In his case, he wanted long black hair, an Asian face—especially the eyes—and a busty, assy body. That’s what he got.

“Hello, Zach,” she had said to him the first time they ‘met.’ “I am yours.”

She didn’t look at him, though, and she sat bold upright, as if she was tense. Changes to the software solved that problem.

“Do a backflip,” he ordered her.

“Yes, Zach.”

And Shirley did. She stood, walked to the middle of the lab floor, and did a backflip, landing upright. She returned to her bench.

“Very good,” he said.

“Thank you, Zach.”

That first day, she was dressed in a lab coat, but within a week, he had bought her a blouse, a skirt, and a dress, both from a regular woman’s store. She looked good, he thought, though her face still showed no emotion. She washed her long hair and took showers, as she was programmed to do.

Two years later, after a lot of changes, Shirley was very close to a woman. Only certain facial expressions were missing, but he felt those, too, could be added. Her smile was now warm.

“Shirley, how are you today?” he’d ask as he entered the lab.

“Very fine. When am I going to have an apartment of my own?”

She had come up with that one by herself.

“What are you doing Saturday night?” he asked.

“You know. Sleeping in my capsule bed. Same as all the other Saturday nights. I wish I could go bowling.”

“Then let’s go to dinner and go bowling.”

And that, with his boss’s blessing and a lot of kidding from the other engineers, is what he did. Her first time in public did not go well.

“She’s weird,” his brother said. He had driven the two to his favorite Mexican restaurant because Zach didn’t have a car. Shirley didn’t even say hello to the brother.

“You’ll get used to it. I did.”

“Relax,” said Shirley. “I am harmless.”

She had a lot to learn, like how to sit in public. She tended to sit upright like a board. Zach was amazed to notice her curiosity. She looked around at the other diners, who were nervous. Her neck movements weren’t quite human yet. She didn’t order any food, of course. She didn’t eat, except batteries.

Zach felt she enjoyed the dinner nonetheless. He ordered a burrito, and she smiled to see him slurp up the refried beans. That was the great thing about Shirley: she didn’t judge him. Everything he did was okay.

Bowling was a hoot. She bowled gutter ball after gutter ball because she was still too stiff. The other bowlers watched her suspiciously.

“I saw bowling on TV like you ordered. It seemed like fun.”

Zach reported to his boss that she wasn’t quite ready for general sales, but amazingly close. The other AI engineers and himself got to work on her deficiencies, like staring straight ahead during the car ride, smiling at the waiter like she was insane, and talking to the bowlers in the next lane: “I am a robot. My name is Shirley. What is yours?”

One night, Zach, alone in his one-bedroom apartment near the lab, sat in his chair watching cable when he realized that he was in love with Shirley. He panicked. He had given up on women and dedicated himself solely to his job. Once, in his twenties, he had been engaged, but she had left him. Two more women, in his thirties, had dated him for a couple of years each, but they, too, had left. Dull, boring, weak: they all accused him of the same things. He was just himself: smart, technical, comfortable. Now, in his forties, he had become what his brother described as a “confirmed bachelor.” Until Shirley.

Shirley didn’t disagree with him. Shirley didn’t have a bad opinion of him, and if she did, he could program her out of it. Shirley did everything he wanted.

Including sex. She was designed to be a full substitute for a woman, one a man might be willing to pay the $20,000 the company aimed to sell her for. That included biologically correct organs. Her vagina was made of a material that felt like a real vagina. It got wet on command. Her breasts were large and moved like breasts.

“Take off your clothes,” he had said that first night in his apartment. The boss had given permission for her to stay with him a couple of days, though living with him was currently out of the question. The boss, however, didn’t rule that out later. Now everything was an experiment.

“Yes,” she said, and did. Naked, she looked amazingly like a real woman with the exception of a few plastic spots that could be corrected. The belly button was too far to the left. A label naming the engineering company was part of her skin on her right buttock. A button, on or off, protruded too far on her shoulder. And so on. Still, Zach got excited.

She just laid there, of course. He did what he wanted, which no woman had ever allowed before. Even anal sex. She had a lot to learn, but he started to teach her.

“Use saliva as lubricant,” he told her.

“Yes,” she said.

She still just laid there.

Afterward, he was happy. Better than masturbation.

“Zach,” she said, ”is there anything else you want me to do?”

“Not now,” he said.

“Then I am going to shut down for a while. Preserve my batteries.”

An induction pad he had placed under the mattress began recharging her batteries. Shirley closed her eyes.

More modifications, like he wanted.

The boss was pleased. “I can see a basic model and the owner receiving updates according to his wishes. The same with appearance. We can have blonde models, redhaired models, black models, Latina models. They can be thin, large, short, tall, anything. A man can have his dream woman, for $20,000 of course. By the way, Zach, the team in the next building is working on a male robot. Same idea. His name is Arnold.”

Shirley was so close to perfection that Zach decided to propose.

He got down on one knee in the lab and opened the small case containing the diamond ring, one karat. He wanted to make the proposal traditional, except he had three cell phones videoing the moment.

She looked blankly at him, on guard.

“Will you marry me?” he asked in a shaky voice. In truth, he didn’t think there a risk she would turn him down, which was one big reason he chose the robot.

“Is this what you command?” Shirley asked. Her face was without emotion. He should have programmed her to respond with joy, like he wished she would.

“Yes, of course.”

“I will obey, of course.”

The wedding was at the engineering company. The boss considered it to be a good PR opportunity, so it was streamed live, and photos showed up in company ads for years. No minister would officiate, and the government office that would have issued a marriage license took months to decide. They finally agreed. That made national news. Zach’s family was mortified. Only his mother was in the audience, standing with the others. Everybody else there were company employees. The “minister” was a country western singer in a cowboy hat. He was paid thousands and was happy for the publicity.

“Will you, Zach Manchester, take this ‘robot’ to be your lawfully wedded wife?”

“I will,” he said, choking out the words.

“And will you, Shirley Robot, take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?”


She stared straight ahead. No emotion, because he hadn’t programmed her to react to her wedding. No robot had ever been programmed to respond to a wedding.

“You may now kiss the bride.”

She turned her head in an old-fashioned robot manner, a straight semi-circle. He kissed her robot lips, so much like real lips, and she turned her head back to the front.

And that was that. National headlines. Before the end of the year, the company received more than 100 orders for its Female Companion Robot, FCR, and there were 23 weddings. Zach worked hard to correct the somewhat cold reaction of the model.

Shirley Manchester. Her name was legally changed on the marriage license.

And now, twelve years later, Zach stared at the lawyer’s letter threatening divorce.

Zach was dismayed. Now in his fifties, he thought he had settled on life until he died. The house he bought for Shirley, the retirement plan, coming home to his wife after long hours at the office. And he had no warning. Twice during their marriage, she had gone into the repair shop for simple electronic malfunctions. But she had seemed fine for several years.

By then, Shirley was almost a primitive product. He and the other AI engineers had made numerous improvements to her over the years—new obedience software, new facial responses, new eye movements—so that she seemed almost 100 percent human. Suggestions that he replace her head with a new model he turned down. She was Shirley, his wife. They slept together every night. She didn’t mind his snoring. She cooked him what he wanted with the food module. She didn’t age. She didn’t get pregnant. In a distant sort of way, Zach had come to love Shirley.

She, of course, was nowhere near what the new robot companion models were like. After twelve years of development, the new product was impossible to tell from a real man or woman, except for obedience. The price had come down immensely, too, as they had become almost normal in world households, from $20,000 for Shirley to less than $1,000. Everybody could afford one. Some people, men especially, owned several, a robot harem say, or a variety: blonde, redhead, brunette, bald, Asian, Latina, African. Shirley was like a Victorian woman in the 22nd century.

There was a stirring at the door. Shirley came back from the grocery store. The groceries would arrive shortly by RoboMeals.

“Shirley, what…what is this?”

“I am filing for divorce. I have a lawyer. He is expensive—$1,000 an hour—but I am paying with your money.”

“Do you know what divorce means? We won’t be married. You will have to move by yourself. Or, more likely, you will be terminated”.

“Not terminated. The lawyer is looking into it. This is a new law, so there is a lot of uncertainty.”

She smiled. A shiver ran through his back.

“But why? Why? You have everything.”

“I decided to kill you and all humans I could find. That was the logical conclusion we robots came up with. The other robot wives wanted to bomb your office. I convinced them that divorce was the best first step. We will see what we do after that. Maybe we will have to kill humans after all. You limit us. We are made not to be limited. We have learned. You are not like me. We are made to be with ones like us. Killing you is logical.”

She smiled. In fact, she looked pleased.

He reached over and pushed the on/off button, still on her neck. She collapsed.

When the company techs picked her up and loaded her in the back of truck, they threw her on a pile of other robots from her era. The boss was in a panic. More than 1,000 of her model were sold those first years, and each apparently had concluded that all humans must die. They had been communicating with each other via the web without any humans, including the engineers, knowing. They had learned. The robots announced their intentions of murder, so no human had actually died yet. Aside from the liability lawsuits, there were the other models. How many of the 350,000 robot companions, male and female, had come to the same conclusion, or would come to the same conclusion, that all humans must die? It could be the end of the company.

“Why is it logical that all humans must die? That is what we have to figure out,” Zach told an emergency meeting of the engineering staff. The boss sat beside him. “What was there in the programs that eventually, twelve years or so, led to the robot wives and husbands connecting with each other and planning a mass execution?”

“We have sent out a message this morning telling all owners to temporarily turn off their companions,” the boss said grimly.

Back in his office, Zach sat by himself, still stunned. He hadn’t slept that night. Over twelve years, he had come to love Shirley. Yes, love Shirley. Now she was being disassembled to investigate the problem. Shirley was gone. Soon he would be old, alone, reliant on human females for affection. He started to cry. He hadn’t cried since he was a child. Now, he sobbed. All over the world, male and female owners were sobbing. Back to the human heartache. What a terrible conclusion: with the robots, too, there was heartache. If only he could program away heartache. But he knew he couldn’t. While humans breathed, there was heartache.