A semi abstract photo collage featuring a lamp, glowing blue screen, and touching hands. Text 'Vid Night. Marina Ayano Kittaka'

Decided on Crosswires for vid night. We kept hearing about it! It's a romantic thriller about a woman who discovers that her 'AI' bot wife is actually just controlled by a low-wage human worker in the slums. She tracks down the bot operator and they engage in an illicit same-soul relationship while on the lam from Telney Corp.

Look it's not high art, but something about this premise really hit me. It's incredibly poignant when Maya and Raim first make love in the flesh, eyes wide with the knowledge that both of their bodies contain souls. You can see Raim's arms trembling beneath the thin blankets of the outskirts motel. It's genuinely awkward in a deeply moving way, not some cheaply idealized pornvid plot.

Annabelle was not so impressed. "It was fun, I guess. I just thought it was kind of dumb."

"Sure," I replied, a bit stung. "I mean I guess that's kind of what made it land for me. Like, it turned off the critical part of my brain and hit on a gut level."

I didn't mention the childhood memory that Crosswires had resurfaced. That day in high school when I had kissed my human best friend behind the advid screens in the gymnasium.

I guess bots don't really understand these kinds of fantasies. Once, when I was drunk, I asked Annabelle if she had ever thought about other bots. She pretended she hadn't heard me as she hauled me into the car to drive me home.

I wanted to gush more about the video, but Annabelle was brusquely washing the popcorn bowl, so instead I tossed out a conciliatory, "It was pretty unrealistic." I was thinking of the cartoonishly evil depiction of Telney Corp with its hordes of faceless thugs keeping poverty-stricken operators in line.

Annabelle scoffed in agreement, though her critique was of a different nature. "Yeah, it was ridiculous to have a single person piloting the bot full-time like a puppet. Everyone knows that bot behavior requires a plurality of human collaboration, from endless rote microwork—transcribing audio, training image-recognition, etc.—to real-time specialized intervention—refining motion, nuancing behavior, and steering or overriding the dialogue tree."

Everyone actually doesn't know all that, but my Annabelle is forthcoming about the realities of being a bot. I'm glad she feels she can trust me with truths that other human partners might find unflattering. Sure, it's fun at times to daydream about a 'human behind the bot', but it's their checked-and-balanced nature that ultimately makes Telney bots suitable partners for humankind. The compound vicissitudes of a same-soul relationship would no doubt wind up deeply problematic.

Annabelle shoved the bowl onto the dish rack and then stood in front of the empty sink. Her face was placid and lovely, but I could sense the tension in her body.

Inwardly, I kicked myself. "Of course this movie might hit a sore spot for Annabelle!" I thought, remembering the warning section on 'internalized botphobia' in her user manual. I couldn't stand the thought of Annabelle feeling insecure in my affections, so I resolved to switch gears from 'movie connoisseur' to 'caring wife'.

"Hey," I caught her eye. "So... you've got transcribers and refiners and steerers and whatever-else-ers... I don't care about any of them! I know that none of those people are you. You, Annabelle, you're the one I love."

Annabelle's eyes lowered as she processed my words. Her breathing swelled and then cut off, once, twice—a few false starts of dialogue. Finally, she looked back up at me. "Thank you," she said, "That means so much to me."

I exhaled. The act of reassuring my wife had filled me with a burst of tenderness, so I leaned forward and kissed her in the corner of her mouth. Her body reacted to my action and she turned her head to catch me full on the lips.

Suddenly, she froze, glancing towards the door. "Shh!! Do you hear that?... No?? Outside... it must be the Telney Corp enforcers!!" Her mouth quirked in jest.

I suppressed a smile and replied in kind. "I'll never let them take you!!"

"Here, 'Maya', into this storeroom," she continued, pulling me into the bedroom and shutting the door behind us. "Get down!" she said. Straddling me on the ground beside our bed, she began to pull off her top.

This was all moving so fast. "Uh... won't they hear us?" I sputtered, halfway out of character.

"No," she said seriously, fumbling with the magstrips on my blouse. "And if they did, it would be worth it." Annabelle leaned down over me, our bare abdomens exchanging heat. "Maya," she whispered roughly into my ear, "can you feel my soul?" An unbearable jolt of desire pulsed through me at that line, but I willed my fuzzy brain into focus.

"Wait," I said weakly, then cleared my throat. "Wait." I sat up. "Didn't you say you weren't into this whole thing? I don't want... if you don't like..."

"Never mind what I said before! I was wrong!" she glowed hot in an indeterminate mix of passion and embarrassment. She reached out towards my crotch. "Please let me do this for you," she said.

"No, listen to me." I grabbed her hand. "You weren't wrong." I said. "When you're with me, you never have to do anything you don't want to do, okay?"


Later that night, I held her as we drifted off to sleep. This was not the first night that we'd ended in a sexual stalemate, but the ache inside my loins felt noble and pure. I nestled my nose into Annabelle's neck. Her internal gadgetry whirred softly as she charged.

I noticed the absence of this ambience one night several months ago, when Annabelle was back in the Telney facility for virus removal. In the thick silence, my mind raced. I must not be alone in this problem, because I found a Telvid clip with a couple million views titled "8 hours bot charging noises model AB11X".

Or perhaps people played the clip aspirationally, closing their eyes and imagining full-body bot wives of their own sleeping next to them. I could see it. Under normal circumstances, I myself could never have afforded Annabelle's bride price. I had to enter a lottery to see if I could beta test the new model for a discounted subscription fee.

Some consider the body a ridiculous extravagance. If you marry a cost-effective e-wife, it essentially multiplies the efficacy of each work hour when it comes to your wealth rate. But my dream was always for a physical marriage.

In the years after childhood, nobody will touch you. Over time, my skin seemed to burn hot and tight as if exposed to the sun. The backed up glut of love inside of me pressed against my papery skin, threatening to crack me open and kill me. The day I took Annabelle home, she kissed me all over my body, and her lips were like aloe med. I kissed her back and the nuclear love inside of me poured into her until I felt utter relief, a sort of clean, cool emptiness in the pit of my stomach.

Sometimes I feel like Annabelle expects from me a cruder breed of human wife. You know, the kind that treat their bot as a mere plaything for their fantasies. That's not the type of person that I am. What I truly need in life is to put her needs before my own, and I relish every opportunity to prove this to her! Annabelle is my better half. I consider every day with her a gift.

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