Nigel was watching the rain from the windows of the forty-seventh floor boardroom when a reflection caught his eye. His holographic simulacrum stared at him, tapping its fingers on its knee. Nigel shifted in his seat, realizing that he was doing the same thing.
“Your machine’s becoming quite convincing, Ellen,” he said, turning to face the wide oak table.
The scientist gave a brief smile as she worked on her laptop. The simulacrum shimmered, transforming from Nigel’s appearance — a greying man in his fifties who wasn’t hitting the pool as often as he wanted — into the young man’s form they called ‘Owen’.
“Ok,” said Ellen. “I’ll leave it to you. Remember, it’s only programmed to chime in once. I’ll be with Sir Roger. Brozai’s on his way up.”
She left the room and Nigel waited with Owen. The simulacrum stared ahead, a not-quite-neutral expression on his face. It seemed remarkably real, down to the movement of breathing and the occasional blink.
The doors opened, and Brozai sauntered in, flashing his lowercase ‘b’ hand gesture in greeting.
“No champagne?” he asked, adjusting a pair of white rimmed sunglasses.
“But of course,” said Nigel, motioning to a cabinet.
“So, what’s up Nige?” asked the young man, popping a bottle of Dom Perignon and clumsily pouring into a crystal glass. “Squad’s waiting for me. Brozai’s gettin’ lit tonight! Every minute wasted here is a minute I’m not livin’ lavish.”
Nigel clasped his fingers together, irritated by the entitlement and lack of respect for the team that had engineered Brozai’s success. Thirty years in the industry had seen him work with some self-centered individuals, but his disdain for rising stars had never been stronger. The thrill of helping craft a persona and watch an album rocket up the charts had long-since fizzled out. People hardly bought albums at all anymore, and most of the label’s artists were little more than merchandise shills who couldn’t sing a damn if not for auto-tune.
“Brozai. We wanted to share some updates,” said Nigel, turning to his companion.
“How did you enjoy your twin-show last week?” asked Owen in an earthy voice. “It’s the first time that one pop-star has performed in two cities simultaneously.”
“Sick, man. My robo-hologram thing is proper legit. He even does the Brozai dance moves just like me!”
“Indeed,” said Nigel. “Our engineers truly outdid themselves. Press coverage has been outstanding. I particularly enjoyed Headline’s piece. Rising pop star rocks a new era with holographic performance.”
“Sweet ass. I’m, like, twice the star now.”
“How are you feeling about the new single?” asked Nigel. “Pump n’ Swole has hit number three. I expect that this will be the first number one entirely written and recorded by AI.”
“Gotta tell you Nige, I never thought a robot could sing just like me. Maybe from now on it can do the hard work. You boys send me the checks. I’ll stick to the partying!”
He laughed and guzzled another glass of champagne.
“Anyway,” he said. “What you guys need?”
Nigel slid a manila folder across the table.
“I’m giving you notice of termination of contract,” said Nigel calmly.
Brozai paused, then lifted his sunglasses.
“Thank you for your contributions.”
“You can’t let me go!” shouted Brozai. “I’m your biggest star!”
“In fact, you’re simply the raw data. ‘Brozai’ is the star.”
“Huh!? I am Brozai! You can’t do this! I’ll sue!”
Nigel smiled. “No doubt. Your legal counsel reviewed our agreement. It’s iron-clad, they’ll assure you. When you agreed to participate in our program to create the world’s first holographic, AI-powered simulacrum, you gave us lifetime, worldwide, and exclusive rights to use its image in any way.”
A pair of security guards entered the room, wearing menacing looks on their faces implying that trouble would be ill-advised.
“This is extra! That machine isn’t me!”
“Kevin,” said Nigel, relishing the use of the young man’s real name. “Brozai is a brand, that we invested in and built. Now with your simulacrum’s abilities well-proven, we can host simultaneous concerts around the world, record new songs, sign product endorsements… All the benefit of Brozai’s brand with none of the cost and… irritations.”
“You’re gonna hear from my lawyers!” screamed Brozai as he was led away.
“Have a lovely evening, Kevin!” said Nigel, stepping over to the drinks cabinet.
He poured himself a scotch and glanced back at Owen. Ellen had returned and was by the simulacrum’s side with her laptop. At her command, it began to speak. This time, it did so in Nigel’s voice, hidden speakers replaying his words from the recent conversation.
The door opened, and Sir Roger stepped in.
“Magnificent work, both of you! Ellen, did you get what you needed?”
“I believe so,” she said. “We’ll re-train the algorithms tonight through a few scenarios. We may want to use more of Nigel’s phone call recordings to ensure voice is at parity, but holographic acuity is near-perfect. I’m confident his simulacrum could run the next meeting.”
“Excellent,” said Sir Roger, turning to Nigel. “No offense, old chap. You know a machine could never truly replace you.”
“Ellen and her team have done an amazing job. I wonder if anyone will even know it’s not me?”
Sir Roger poured himself a scotch and topped off Nigel’s.
“If I’m to lose my greatest executive to retirement, I want the next best thing. Your experience and professionalism shall prevail.”
They sipped their scotch and gazed outside. The rain clouds were being blown away, and Nigel smiled. He was eager to get up to the cottage and spend time with his grandchildren. He wasn’t sure what he would do with the free time afforded by retirement, but he was rather looking forward to it.
The light shifted, making the room reflect more clearly in the glass. Nigel caught sight of his simulacrum again, once more a mirror image of himself. It was staring out the windows, with a smile upon its face.
Paul Alex Gray enjoys writing linear and interactive fiction starring sentient black holes, wayward sea monsters, curious AIs, and more. His work has been published in Nature Futures, McSweeney’s, Asymmetry, and others. Paul grew up by the beaches of Australia, then traveled the world and now lives in Canada with his wife and two children. On his adventures, Paul has been a startup founder, game designer and mentor to technology entrepreneurs. Chat with him on Twitter @paulalexgray or visit him online.