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Envy

Francis Strauss was among the nobility of the entertainment industry. He resided in a palace built precariously on a cliff overlooking a stretch of coastline. The enormous structure dug into the edge of the bluff seemed in itself a statement of defiance, an arrogant challenge to the mighty forces of nature, embodied in the Pacific to just try and take down his opulent fortress.
Francis was a composer and a very well renowned one. His scores were featured in dozens of movies and tv shows. His unseen hand emotionally supercharged dramatic moments. His highly discerning ears expertly layered the melancholy piano and swelling strings into scenes that aroused the deepest felt human emotions.
Through the pitch and arrangements of notes, Francis could connect with humanity. Still, in all other aspects, his social skills were terminally deficient, and because of this, despite his immense wealth and notoriety, Francis was never loved by anyone.
A vague inkling his life was lacking something, and the nagging human need for companionship prompted Francis to purchase a synthetic lover and partner. One that was engineered to suit his needs and lacked that part of humanity that everyone besides himself seemed to have, a part that seemed to want nothing to do with him.
As was typically the case, Francis was in his home studio. He was hunched over a soundboard covered with countless dials and switches. Three flat-paneled monitors in a partial dioramic layout were arranged before him.
His teeth were grinding, and his right leg trembled. His air-dried eyes stared obsessively on an isolated measure that he had been playing on a loop for longer than the obsessive musician was even aware,
Strauss was a perfectionist. His ears told him something wasn’t quite right. He manipulated every note in ways imperceptible to most people, but no matter how long he spent at it, he couldn’t seem to correct the problem or even quite identify what it was.
Francis made another minor alteration to the measure and hit play. Again he was still missing the mark. The door opened, and Clara, his cybernetic bride, entered the room. Her sensors must have alerted her to Francis’s frustrated state. She came in holding two glasses of wine, with her perfectly sculpted body covered by a thin layer of silk.
“How’s it going?” she asked.
“Fine,” Francis grumbled.
“You’ve been working all day. Maybe you can take a little break,” Clara suggested in a seductive tone.
“It’s just this last measure. Something’s off about it.” Francis explained irritably.
“Can I hear it?” asked Clara.
Francis rolled his eyes. “Yeah, sure, why not.”
The measure played. Clara stared thoughtfully for a second. “Here, let’s try this.”
She leaned over Francis’s shoulder. Her firm breasts in the transparent garment pulled the composer’s attention away from the monitor while she made a few quick adjustments.
“Here, now listen,” said Clara.
Far from expecting any miracles, Strauss played the measure again only this time it sounded just right.
“That’s it!” he exclaimed. “Shit, you nailed it!”
Clara smiled and shrugged. “Well, you did want a girl who knows a thing or two about music, didn’t you?” she said coyly.
Francis looked Clara up and down, and a mischievous grin spread across his face. “Let’s go to the bedroom.”
When Francis awoke, Clara’s side of the bed was empty. He went through the morning routine of checking all his social media feeds before finally mustering up the will to swing his legs over the side of the frame, getting his feet to the floor, and his day started.
“I guess I should work on the mastering,” Francis mumbled to himself.
When he got to his studio, Clara was already there, sitting in his chair.
“Good morning,” she chirped.
“Oh, uh good morning,” Francis replied, somewhat surprised.
“What are you doing in here?” he asked.
“Oh, I saw how happy you were after I helped you with you that measure last night, so I thought I’d look over the entire score for you to see if any other improvements could be made.”
Francis furrowed his brow, “Is that right?”
Clara didn’t need to sense the change in Francis’s vitals to know she had struck a nerve.
“Not that improvements were really needed,” she assured him. “Just some minor tweaks here and there.”
“Tweaks?”
“Yeah, just tiny little alterations, that’s all,” Clara said. “Sorry, I’ll get out of your way now.” she quickly stood up and left.
Francis took her place in the chair and started looking at what Clara had done. She was right; she had fixed the score. Not only that but the entire time she was sleeping she had gone in and made alterations to several of his pieces to his dismay he realized she had objectively improved everything. As good as his ear engineered by nature was it couldn’t compete with the software in Clara’s head.
Francis sat there for hours listening to the new versions of the compositions Clara had truly beautified. His heart raced, and his blood felt like molten led in his veins. Finally, something in him broke. He pulled a guitar off the wall and smashed it against the mixing board.
Once the board was just a pile of plastic and wires, he pulled another guitar off the wall and went to look for Clara. He found her in the kitchen, preparing him a lite breakfast.
“Hello,” she smiled. “You seem upset about something, so I thought I’d make your favorite. Poached eggs with-
Francis smashed the guitar into Clara’s face mid-sentence. Her head whipped back, but she stayed on her feet. Francis gritted his teeth and swung the guitar again. This time the instrument exploded into wood and plastic fragments, and Clara fell to the floor.
“You’re not better than me!” Francis howled. “No one can do what I do! Do you understand me?!”
He grabbed a knife from the counter and plunged the blade into Clara’s very convincing imitation flesh. He thrust the blade in and out and again and again. There was no blood. Instead, frayed wires and bits of plastic burst from the fissures. Clara’s body began convulsing, and the speech being generated by malfunctioning AI become a jumbled word salad.
“Breakfast..I...walls..love...grocery delivery…”
Her body became still and rigid, and the light faded from her round glass eyes, with pupils staring into unfolding nothingness.
Francis sat next to her for a moment and tried to calm down. He studied Clara’s shattered body and let out a sigh.
“Next one isn’t going to know shit about music,” he muttered.

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