by Sasha Janel McBrayer

An A.I. and a werewolf converse in a doctor's office waiting room where they await their soul implants.

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Marion could not compute the answer as to why the humans had built the stark white waiting room. The facility was one of a kind and designed for just one purpose. She knew it could only ever have two patients and yet the modern seats numbered twelve. There could only be two patients for the foreseeable future at the least, and Marion could foresee further than anyone.

Magazines numbered ten. The Vidwall was on mute. It was set on a news channel. Marion had headlines streaming into her CPU at all hours with a .008-second refresh rate. Viewing the information on Vidwall as the humans did was redundant and therefore unnecessary. Though video clips did add sensory details the dry headlines were void of, such as the timber of the victim’s voice or the color of the congressman’s tie, in the long run, these details were reasonably worthless. Perhaps Fawn might like to watch. Fawn, after all, was inherently different than Marion. Fawn could like and dislike. Fawn seemed to understand humor and could be amused.

Marion blinked and knew the time. Fawn was one minute, forty-eight and three-quarter seconds late. If Marion could be bothered, she would be. One of her circuits registered what a human might call anxiety as it wanted to compute the exact amount of time that would lapse betwixt the time they were scheduled for and the time the wolf girl would actually present herself.

Though counting the seconds required very little of her intellect and Marion was the very definition of multi-task, she found the activity pleasant. It was, after all, easy to do. There were no lists of variables to account for, no layering of problems to troubleshoot. So, she counted, or rather, she kept time and did little else.

At two minutes fifty-six and one-quarter second, the white door parted itself vertically, Fawn entered the waiting room, and then the entrance shut itself behind her. Fawn possessed a grace Marion could barely mimic. Her gait was light, but profoundly intentional, and in efficient bounds, not calculated, but rather effortlessly executed by practice and instinct, she was at Marion’s side and claiming the seat beside her.

“Mary-on,” Fawn chided.

Fawn had remembered what constituted as a joke from the pair’s last meeting. Marion had related the story of whence came her proper name. Marion’s creator had been a religious sort and endeavored to name his A.I. Mary. Her first sentient words, however, were, “Mary on,” and the name stuck.

Humor again, Marion Fontenot noted. The surname was her creator’s.

“Fawn,” Marion echoed in expressionless greeting.

She could mirror many of Fawn’s expressions, but refused to attempt the wolf smile. Though ownership had been a difficult topic to teach an A.I., Marion tried to keep perpetually handy Dr. Fontenot’s lesson about stealing, or rather, not stealing. That wolf smile of Fawn’s seemed so perfectly her own. It could not be good or kind to steal that.

Fawn’s surname was Forsythe, but during that same conversation she had kidded that it should have been Fawn Doe. Of course Marion needed the fur-covered female to explain the irony in that name. It had something to do with the fact that humans referred to unidentifiable females as “Jane Doe” coupled with the fact wolves ate deer. Marion connected the two deer words, first and last, on her own. She could have recalled the conversation verbatim but it was not necessary.

Free will had been another difficult study. From what Marion’s CPU understood on the topic, one might say, she did not care to recall the words right now.

Fawn crossed her long legs.

Dr. Fontenot was the first successful human to birth A.I. Though he was pleased with Marion and treated her every bit as kindly as he would a human daughter, he suffered from nightmares after her creation. Aside from rearing Marion, the remainder of his life had been spent getting anti-artificial intelligence legislation passed. The religious man never could forgive himself for creating an entity without a soul. He had not wanted mankind to form a habit of his mistake.

Dr. Forsythe was without Dr. Fontenot’s convictions. Still, he joined the other scientist’s crusade. He never worried that Fawn could not enjoy an afterlife. He never believed in one. Instead he worried someone else in his field would steal his thunder. He appreciated being the first human to create a werewolf. Tacking on anti-cloning and anti-gene engineering legislation to the crusade had been easy enough.

Fawn changed which leg was crossed over which.

Marion noted, as she often did, that Fawn was stunning to look at. Fawn’s form was interesting, unique, and symmetrical. She was a tall biped completely covered in lush brown fur. Her hands were more human than the rest of her, though her eyelashes also were particularly un-canine and the shiny orbs that served as her eyes appeared both wolven and human simultaneously. They were a warm gold color.

With their creators both dead, Fawn decided it was alright to date human men. She changed partners nearly by the month. They were often celebrities. Marion and Fawn had been celebrities themselves for decades. They were the only ones of their kind anywhere. Over time their faces had gone from the pages of Popular Science and Newsweek, straight into the supermarket tabloids. At their last meeting Fawn related she had been seeing a cage fighter who liked being photographed with Fawn in public.

Marion would not date. She could not find the sense in that activity, though she knew by the stares of others that she was also beautiful. Her small face was frozen in perfection and youth. Her hair was a blunt cut curtain of shiny ebony. The object of dating, from what she had observed, was to lure another person home with you for private pleasure, or for the purpose of bonding. The results were either sexual encounters or long or short term partnerships. Though Marion appreciated having Fawn as her only friend, she saw no necessity for finding a life partner. And though she was sure she would be very skilled at conferring pleasure to a human male, she also knew she could not feel any in return.

Fawn switched legs again.

“I thought pride was a human trait,” Marion said suddenly in her characteristic deadpan voice.

“Again your thought processes astound me, Marion,” the werewolf replied. “What brought that on?”

“You are always showing off your legs in one way or another. You must be aware of this,” the robot returned.

Fawn blinked and was looking down her lashes at her fur-covered limbs, smiling. “Beauty is nice,” she said. “I think I’m more proud of what I am, though.”

“You are proud to be a werewolf,” Marion stated.

“Well, I’m the only one of my kind, so I’m the Alpha,” said Fawn.

Marion did not smile, but thought a thought that she was sure should be amusing. If Fawn was Alpha wolf-girl, Marion was surely Alpha of the entire universe. She was the pinnacle. It was somewhat unpleasant, however to follow that train of thought to another conclusion. Man had made this pinnacle. Man, further advanced, could possibly make better or if they could or would not, surely Marion could. She had never thought of herself as a creator, though...

She would have wondered more on the subject, but she became aware of Fawn’s big eyes on her, and turned her chin to return the gaze.

“What is it?” Marion asked, aware that Fawn was human enough not to be staring without reason. People found that rude, except where romance was involved.

“I know this is a stupid question, but are you scared?” she asked.

Marion blinked. “You are correct. That is a stupid question. I neither feel fear nor any other human—"

Fawn blew air out of her nose abruptly and crossed her arms about her chest. “Fine.”

Fawn looked away, but she could not stay angry long. She was a lot like a spaniel in this way. Her head eventually turned in Marion’s direction again. Marion had been waiting for this for exactly four seconds.

“Are you curious then? Don’t you have any concerns?” she queried.

Marion searched her circuits. “Yes,” she said, “I admit to being mildly curious.”

Fawn swallowed and started to drum her fingers on her knee. Marion was sure it was her turn to ask something of the wolf, but it took her a moment to recognize where the flow of human conversation had been headed.

“You are afraid,” Marion said at last, forgetting to form her words into a question, as might have been more appropriate.

When Fawn’s mouth parted, she showed more of her sharp white teeth than was necessary. “I’m just concerned,” she snarled smoothly. “Have you any idea how many fools like Forsythe and Fontenot got it wrong before us? There were screw-ups, girl, let me tell you. Forsythe ruined seven perfectly good wolf embryos before I happened. Seven of them died. He botched them. He killed them. And that was just after he got the brainstorm, you know. That was only after he decided to start with a wolf and add the humanity, not the other way around.”

Fawn traced wide, invisible circles in the air with both her index fingers, twice.

Marion never saw a reason to use her hands while she was conversing. She was going to speak when Fawn continued her tirade.

“You don’t hear about seven humans being killed in the trials. Of course not. That’s madness. That’s inhumane. Kill the wolves, the rats, the little white lab mice. Kill them.”

Marion waited ten seconds this time to be sure Fawn was finished.

“You are saying,” Marion dared, “that the scientist may fail to implant our souls properly today.”

Fawn sighed. “Yes.”

* * *

When Marion wanted to know how long they had been waiting, she knew. She was going to start counting again. This time it would be to track how much time would pass before they were called to the back, but Fawn interrupted her thought processes yet again.

“Do you dream, Marion?” she asked without warning.

Marion did not have to think about a response. “No,” she answered.

“I do,” Fawn said next.

“What do you dream?” Marion asked, then, oddly curious.

“Of hunting, mostly,” the wolf girl replied.

“Hunting animals?”

“Most of the time.”

Marion calculated that the word ‘most’ had been chosen on purpose. This meant Fawn had dreamt of hunting other prey as well. “And the rest of the time?” she asked.

Fawn seemed distant. “People.”

Marion decided these dreams were not normal, especially for an entity wanting to pass as human. She said nothing.

“Come on, you can’t tell me you never wanted to—oh, how would a robot kill a man—stab someone through?” Fawn asked. She was animated now.

“Actually,” Marion replied, “The most efficient way for me to end a human life would be to pound the skull against something rigid.”

“Humph. I’m afraid killing for me will always involve piercing. It’s innate, I suppose.” Fawn ran her tongue across her teeth.

The mysterious door at the other end of the waiting room separated then, providing the view of a doctor in a long white lab coat. “Ladies,” he called, “if you’ll come with me.”

Fawn’s triangular ears shifted in the man’s direction automatically, and then she stood, and was already halfway to the door before Marion rose. Marion knew enough about the way a regular doctor’s office worked to wonder why they were both being called back together. Perhaps two procedures could be done simultaneously. This, after all, was not a regular doctor’s office.

Inwardly, the A.I. noted the absurdity of referring to a werewolf, more wolf than human, it seemed, and an advanced humanoid computer system, as ladies, though both individuals had kept true to their genders. Fawn was female, but the social mores of the human female were just as learned for the wolf as they were for the essentially genderless pile of circuits and skin grafts.

Before long both ladies were seated in an exam room. It featured two of everything. They had been ushered to chairs rather than the exam tables. The Asian American man with a wide gut planted himself on a rolling stool and wheeled up close to them both.

“Pleasure to meet you, ladies. I’m Dr. Lao. I’ll be performing the procedure.”

The black eyes of the A.I. and the gold eyes of the werewolf blinked at the man.

He cleared his throat somewhat anxiously. “I’m sure you know why you’re both here.”

“We’re soulless,” Fawn chirped.

Dr. Lao swallowed. “It’s been rough times. People believe it’s the end of days. Everywhere you look, they’re getting their affairs in order, preparing for the apocalypse. Some are… concerned that two such well-liked individuals such as yourselves, um…”

“Are soulless,” Marion completed.

“Not so long ago, those zealots wanted us dead,” Fawn added, “for being unnatural, against God’s plan. The word abomination was used so frequently it made that decade’s list of most over-used catch phrases.”

Both Fawn and Marion enjoyed in-human, elongated life spans.

The doctor laughed a small, anxious, fake laugh. “Well, now I think those, uh, ‘zealots’ mostly feel guilt and remorse. The polls show humanity doesn’t want the two of you left here should the Bible be true and all,” he said. “We’re all fairly certain the apocalypse is upon us. All those people so suddenly disappeared at the start of the year. The only thing unclear is whether we’ve got 7 years left, well, almost 6 now, or if it’s 7,000.”

“How’s that?” asked Fawn.

“Scientists can’t decide whether to take the Bible’s note about a thousand years being as a day to God literally or not. You know, isn’t that in John?”

Fawn shrugged.

“2nd Peter 3, verse 8,” Marion corrected. “Regardless, their conjecture is panic induced and worthless.

The doctor tilted his head thoughtfully. “Why do you say that?”

“One cannot study or expound upon or theorize on a principle one does not believe in,” the A.I. explained.

“Which means?” Fawn huffed.

“A baby’s steps, for example, are not sure until he believes he can walk,” said Marion. “Belief is essential to the completion of any given activity. Belief is the first step before investigating or understanding. These scientists will never find any real answers.”

Fawn made a smirk. “That’s right. They all thought religion was silly until recently, didn’t they?”

“So you can’t do anything you don’t think you can do, in other words,” Dr. Lao interpreted, seeming quite interested in Marion’s hypothesis.

“Do you believe in God?” Fawn asked Marion abruptly.

Marion went silent. Marion believed in the sensory, the physical. She believed in atoms and in numbers. She was familiar with these numbers in particular. She knew how many millions professed to be religious and how many millions did not. She knew how many wars were fought with both sides praying to one God or another or to the same one, and which of those sides won or lost or achieved neither.

She knew the things that couldn’t be measured or proved that went hand in hand with religion. She also knew the things that could be. The Earth had once been flooded. The sun had once stood still in the sky. Jesus Christ lived once. However, the dinosaurs were just as real as the Holocaust, and many believers and non-believers could not agree on those facts.

“I don’t know how,” the A.I. admitted. She had learned enough of the concept of pride to find making the statement somewhat unpleasant. Still, it was fact. “Besides,” she added, “I haven’t a soul, nor do I understand what it is.”

“That’s where I come in,” said Dr. Lao. “A soul is like… well, it’s like the internet living inside a PC.”

“That is an unacceptable comparison,” Marion said immediately. “The net does not live within the PC. It is merely accessed and viewed through it.”

“Well there you go!” Lao exclaimed. “Believers feel the same about the soul. Human bodies only affect and reflect the soul. When the body dies, the inward soul, the cosmic net, still goes on…”

“I do not completely accept your use of the word cosmic in that sentence,” Marion stated coldly.

Anxiously, Fawn scratched behind her left ear with her forefinger, and then chewed the thumbnail of the same paw. “Just tell us what you’re going to do about it,” she ordered Dr. Lao.

“About the apocalypse?”

“No, you fool, our status, our status as soulless,” the wolf barked.

Lao cleared his throat again and straightened on his stool. “We’ve been studying the human soul for nearly 45 years here at the institute. With the time crunch, there has been pressure to complete the procedure now. That’s why you’re both here. We’re going to implant you both with souls today.”

Lao’s face was somewhat sweaty now and he frowned a little.

Marion and Fawn looked at each other, clueless.

“What is it, Dr. Lao?” Marion asked, having found this tactic to work often in her conversations with Fawn.

Lao swallowed and then licked his lips. “Nothing like this has ever been attempted before.” He pushed his large spectacles back up the bridge of his nose. “There is a lot of pressure on us.”

If he wanted reassurances or kind, forgiving words, he had been sorely misjudging his audience. Neither Marion Fontenot nor Fawn Forsythe said a word.

“Well,” he said, rising. “We had better get started.”

Dr. Lao went out of the exam room and returned with his staff.

Marion and Fawn were led to their exam tables, back to back by a few feet. The procedure involved a very long needle being inserted into the brain. During, Marion wondered if the two souls were identical. Her brain, after all, was electronic. Fawn’s was organic.

* * *

“Goodbye, ladies!” one of the female nurses shouted enthusiastically, waving from the doorway as the robot and the werewolf departed.

Fawn adjusted the purse on her shoulder as they walked side by side on the walkway leaving the institute. It was the only clothing she wore.

“There is something very fishy about all of this,” the wolf remarked. “Do you feel any different, Marion?”

Marion gave herself a moment to feel, though she did not know how. “I feel nothing,” she said.

“That’s it,” Fawn growled. She grabbed Marion’s hand then, and pulled the robot down an alleyway.

Fawn was very strong, but Marion was designed on a steel frame. She could have resisted successfully, but did not. Fawn pulled Marion into a nearby barbershop. The old man inside wearing a bowtie was quite alarmed. He dropped all the tools in his hands, with which he had been servicing his Barber Drone.

“Beat it,” the werewolf snarled menacingly.

The old man tripped over his own feet to get out the door. When it closed behind him, Fawn tore the Drone off its track on the ceiling and it dropped to the floor with a mechanically wheeze. She pulled Marion to stand behind the chair, and then dropped her rear into it.

In the mirror before them, the wolf could see the A.I. standing dumbly behind her.

“Hope you don’t take any offense in that,” Fawn said softly.

They both looked at the dented robot on the floor.

“We are obviously nothing alike,” Marion replied, not that she would care if she did have a twin that was now crumpled and ineffectual on the barbershop floor. She could not care. Marion looked at Fawn’s thick brown fur. “Do you wish me to cut your hair?” she asked.

“Of course not, Marion. Keep up with me, would you?” Fawn whined. “You’re the smartest person ever. I want you to check for me. I want you to check my soul. Tell me if it’s real or not.”

Fawn obviously thought Marion had some method for reaching within her skull without damaging it. She did not. Her friend also seemed to be under the impression Marion could identify a soul in the first place.

“Fawn,” Marion said, “One cannot find the internet in a PC’s parts.” She recalled Dr. Lao’s earlier metaphor.

The wolf looked very desperate. This did not please Marion. After a moment, she went and sat at the barber chair beside Fawn’s.

“What are you doing?” Fawn asked.

“I will run a diagnostic,” Marion replied.

“Oh,” Fawn whispered. She turned to watch.

Marion closed her eyes and was very still. Fawn didn’t know for how long.

At about the time Fawn put her forefinger in her mouth to chew the nail, Marion’s black eyes re-opened.

“That man was a fraud, Fawn,” she said. “If I had the capacity, I would be sorry. I would be very sorry, indeed, Fawn. The sentiment would be due to my knowledge of you. Humans might consider us friends. I—"

“What? Tell me. Tell me what there is to be sorry about, Marion, my friend, Marion.”

“All that has been implanted in each of us is a bit of code.”

“Computer code?” the wolf begged.


“I don’t understand.”

“It is effectively a note.”

“A note,” the wolf girl echoed.

“Addressed to the Higher Being.”

“A note,” Fawn said again, in a strange tone.

“It says,” Marion continued, “‘Forgive us. Have mercy. Plant one soul here’.”

Fawn put her thumbnail back between her white fangs. She did not speak.

After some moments Fawn rose and walked out of the Barber Shop. Marion followed her.

Outside, Marion noted the sky. The rolling clouds had come on quickly. They were dark. They were cumulous clouds. They would cover the patch of sky above their heads in six minutes, six point six seconds. When Marion turned to ask Fawn if it smelled like rain, she found the werewolf gone. Her purse was abandoned on the walkway.





Copyright © 2009 Sasha Janel McBrayer

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R:

Sasha Janel McBrayer is a civilian contractor for the military who enjoys graphic design, movies, and comic book heroes. She also volunteers for Ft. Stewart's installation newspaper as a popular Arts and Entertainment columnist. Her short story "The Phoenix Crossroads" was published in the June 2009 on-line division of Silverthought.

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