Friday, May 29, 2015

Uncanny Valley Girl (Blog Series at MerSea Waves)

Here is Chapter One of a blog series at MerSea Waves, crossposted for your perusal. Thanks!

Betsy developed crushes with her whole heart at least once a month, involving the usual pining, and conniving among friends of her current objet d'amour to launch campaigns on her merits. The latest guy to catch her eye had shared a conference coffee with me. As recent college grads, Betsy and I dragged one another to any Con we could find that summer, convinced festivals were passéfor life beyond the playa, a.k.a. real life.

As I prepared for grad school by wrapping up my project in the robotics lab, Betsy took a part-time retail position and lived with her grandparents while searching for a job as an accountant. Her college internship had fallen apart over a coworker love relationship, which was no surprise to anyone in our circle of friends, some of whom called her “No Boundaries Betsy” behind her back.

I was sympathetic to her plight, for facing life without college roommates compels one to look harder for a partner in lieu of settling into the 20s singles culture. Since living with her grandparents, Betsy had become particularly desperate. Her bubbly personality threatened to burst into neurosis if she didn't mate soon.

So when she caught up with me in the commons swinging her swag bag, I'd already imagined the lithe professor before me would suddenly become exactly Betsy's type.

“Oh, my god! You look just like the guy in Some Kind of Wonderful!” she exploded with one gesturing hand, tossing the bag onto the table with the other, narrowly missing my free mug bearing a serpentine startup logo.

“Eric Stoltz, this is Betsy.” I smiled, cringing slightly.

“At least I don't look like the Caprica Eric.” Robert smirked.

Betsy frowned at the missed reference. “I mean your hair is totally red and you're skinny, you know, hopelessly, heart-throbbingly cute. I had such a crush on him in that movie.”

“Actually, I'm Robert Hopeless, nice to meet you, Betsy.” He rose slightly and nodded.

Betsy appeared triumphant before she caught herself. “Ugh, I'm bored, Trin,” she whined to me, her arms collapsing onto the table as she sat in an empty chair. “This dumb guy was on and on about going to Mars. Like, whatever, there's no Starbucks on Mars.”

“You might have been listening to my exciting talk, 3D Bioprinting: The Bridge Across the Uncanny Valley,” Robert retorted, running a hand through his auburn mane. “May I grab you a coffee, Betsy? How do you take it?”

“Lying down,” She answered with a grateful smile.

As soon as Robert ambled off to refill my mug and fetch one for Betsy, she leaned into my face, begging, “Please, I can haz nerd?”

“How can I deny you anything, what with your perfect grammar and adorable sniveling?” I answered, patting her hand.

Although I had prepared myself for her instant attraction, my heart dropped a bit as I realized how much I'd been enjoying Robert's banter with me, pre-Betsy. I shrugged it off as folly. I was too busy for un amour d'été. Betsy's French phrases were rubbing off on me, but she could keep her romantic subterfuge. And this summer love.

It didn't occur to me then, since attraction is not a decision of the logical mind: No matter how nobly I behaved regarding my own feelings for Robert, a selfish side of Betsy I had found easy to ignore became glaringly obvious in the way she never guessed my own attraction to him. But I admonished myself for such petty thoughts as I saw him first. If he found her as charming as I imagined he already did, jealousy served no purpose.

He returned with the coffees, and I withdrew subtly from the chatter, denying my seething regret. I mentally wadded up my list of questions about his talk and shut down my enthusiasm. Gratitude and grace covered my tracks well.

A few moments later, a dinner date with Robert secured, Betsy slinked off to her next talk, already glossing her lips for another possible encounter with geeky destiny. I wondered if Robert guessed at her endless list in which he was merely a prospect.

As we stood up to leave, he inquired about my own itinerary. “Next stop: Psychology and A.I. I'm sure it will be the most poorly attended talk of the conference. I assisted on the research as an undergrad.” I rolled my eyes. “Not exactly a mech concern.”

“No.” Robert laughed. “But of particular interest to me. Empathy is the missing link in A.I. I'm coming with you, if you don't mind.”

I blushed. “Of course, you don't need my permission.”

And in a moment of odd caprice, he took my hand and grinned. “Then let's go together.” 

- Christiane Lopez

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