Cheater: A Short Story


Copyright © 2009 Keith B. Phillips

David watched his wife Michelle climb into bed, wearing a robe over her usual nightgown. He made a mental note of that and added it to the list of odd things that he had noticed lately. He rolled over to kiss her goodnight, but she turned her back to him and mumbled, “Not tonight dear, I’m tired.”

“Goodnight,” he sighed. His heart felt as if it were sliding eerily into his stomach, like ice-cream melting into its dish. All the joy was draining out of his marriage. He’d seen the signs and did what he could, but something was working against him. He just couldn’t figure out how to fix it. They used to love each other, but Michelle spent more and more time away each week that passed, leaving them no time to work on their relationship. No time to be together.

David got up and went to the living room. He reached for his visor, slipped it over his eyes, brought up the virtual keyboard with a flick of his hand, and typed in “Private Investigator.”

One of the ads grabbed his attention more than the others. “Do you have a domestic problem? Want to know what’s going on?” A stunning blond looked right back at him. “Call us now. It’s time you knew. Your secrets are safe with us, and your satisfaction is guaranteed!” The ad played convincingly, enticing him to enter. He did so with a touch of his finger, and glided into a virtual room with the beautiful blond.

She wore a grey business suit, the skirt was a short enough to show off her legs well, he thought. She was busty as most of the AI’s in sales were.

“Welcome Mr. Denial, I’m Morgan.” The AI said, picking his nick up from some cookie in David’s computer system, and holding out a hand to shake his virtual one in. “How may we help you?”

He hesitated, “Well I was…was wondering if you could investigate my wife.”

She walked closer to him, warming to the new information, her crystal blue eyes looked right into his. “I’m sorry to hear that Mr. Denial. So many couples are struggling these days, and it can be quite painful,” she said with amazing sincerity.

“Uh yes, well I’m not sure that she is doing anything wrong at this point, I just need to be certain, in case…well incase I need to make some decisions.”

“I totally understand your position and I’m certain we can help. Please, have a seat and we can discuss the details.” She sat down on a burgundy leather couch, crossing her long perfect legs. David waved his virtual self into a sitting position on the other end of it.

“Now, we’ll need your information first. If you could send me your bio file, we’ll need your credit card to get things started”

“Yes, just a moment.” He manipulated a file transfer deftly with his left hand. A piece of paper appeared in the graphical representation of his hand, and he passed it to hers.

“Everything seems to be in order here, Mr. Duncan. Tell me, what is your wife’s name?”

“Michelle. Michelle Duncan”

“I see. Well I think that we can have one of our operatives start observing her tomorrow. We have an opening that just came up.” She appeared to be consulting a computer screen which looked totally blank to David.

“Now, she won’t know that she’s being watched will she? I don’t want her to know.”

“Mr. Duncan, please. We are experts in surveillance. Your satisfaction is guaranteed, as is stipulated in your contract.” She handed a long form to him for his inspection.

David brought the form up and read through the first few lines, but as he was doing so he heard Michelle calling from the doorway in the living room.

“David? What are you doing up?”

“Nothing Dear, I was…just checking work email.” Flustered, he hurriedly stamped his digital signature onto the form and disconnected the session by removing the visor. His heart was pounding in his throat wildly as he placed the visor on the shelf and returned to bed with his wife. Tomorrow, he thought, he would know something one way or another. No more sitting here, wondering and feeling helpless.

When he arrived for work the next morning at Advanced Lunar Systems, he entered the locker room and changed into his flight suit. They called it a flight suit, but he wasn’t going to fly anywhere. David was part of a unique team of lunar construction specialists, whose job it was to build moon bases for NASA. ALS had been contracted to build the bases prior to human habitation. The first base had been launched up in modules and put together, but now it was much safer and cheaper to use laborers that worked from here on earth to build them, since virtual control systems had advanced so far.

He got into his cage and plugged in, ran his diagnostic, and the indicators came up green. Everything was checking out. He was ready to leave earth for the next four hours.

“Duncan, ready for launch. I’m green here.”

“Roger, Duncan. We see you green as well,” Matt said.

“Davey! Ready for another day at the beach?” It was Ben, one of his crew, and a good friend.

“Hell yeah, let’s get out of here,” David replied.

David dropped the shield on the helmet, which blocked out all light from his eyes. An ultra high definition screen charged up on the inside of the shield. He could feel the suit around him, but he couldn’t see anything. Slowly the light returned, and it was very bright. He was standing on the moon, a black sky above him, dusty regolith below, he could even feel the grit on the bottom of his feet. The sun was gleaming down on him, and he felt the warmth of it.

Tycho crater spread out ahead, fifty-four miles across. The central mountain structures dominated the scene to his left with their extreme beauty, rising 5,249 feet from the floor of the crater. He turned to gaze at them, waiting as his vision shaded out in grayish scales presenting a visual representation of the transmission delay. The peaks were fantastic by any comparison to earthly mountains. They lacked the snow cover, but their stark beauty had their own appeal.

“All right, enough sight seeing, it’ll be there tomorrow too.” Ben chided him.

David turned and saw his friend’s head superimposed on the head of his construction bot. It looked convincingly like Ben was walking around in a bulky mechanical space suit without a helmet in the vacuum of the moon. He clapped him on the shoulder and felt the cold steel contact on the palm of his right hand. “Sure thing, lets get rollin.”

They spent the morning assembling the solar panels that would power the base. For maximum output they had to bolt them on tracking mounts that would automatically aim the panels. This required some skill, as two people had to hold the panels in place while another secured it to the mount with the bolts. Considering the transmission delays involved in this procedure, and the reaction times of the crew, it was a delicate maneuver that took a lot of patience and coordination.

It was getting on 10 o’clock, break time. They took moon breaks because powering down and un-suiting would take more time and work than just staying connected. David loved these times.

He took a little jog bouncing along the surface in great bounds. His mechanical body was capable of amazing strength, and the low gravity of the moon allowed him to get quite a bit of air with each stride. Stopping to explore a small crater, he climbed down into it, and lost view of the base. He sat down and felt the cool rock beneath. Up here on the moon he felt free, free from the nightmare that his marriage had become.

A light flickered in the corner of his helmet, and he looked to the side, down in the bottom of the crater. It was Morgan, wearing a bright red dress.

“What the Hell?” He said, startled.

“Hello David. I noticed you were on break, and I thought this would be a good time to talk.”

He looked at her, so beautiful and out of place in the airless vacuum of the moon. He knew that she was just a computer generated image on his helmet visor, just a sentient computer program, but he could even smell her perfume.

“I think we need to get better acquainted, and besides, it’s in your contract. Satisfaction guaranteed.” She smiled at him seductively and approached, pressing up against his virtual body. He could feel the warmth of her. Overwhelmed, he gave in to her kisses. Here on the surface of the moon, he was the cheater.

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