The homes of Braling and Smith, situated in a city in the future.
Braling - Regrets his ten-year marriage.
Smith - Friend of Braling.
Braling Two - Robot created by Marionettes, Inc. for Braling.
Nettie - Smith's over-affectionate wife. Mrs. Braling - Braling's wife.
Braling, who wishes to have time away from his wife.
Braling Two, the Marionettes, Inc. robot look-alike who will take Braling's place at home while Braling goes to Rio.
Braling Two declares his wish to no longer be boxed in, as well as his genuine love for Braling's wife.
Braling Two replaces Braling permanently.
The main theme is the abuse of technology. The creation of an android look-alike allows Braling to escape from his wife and indulge in pleasures otherwise denied him - specifically, a trip to Rio. While this may seem ideal, what this doesn't allow is a mature handling of the situation, one where responsibility is claimed instead of shunted to the most convenient piece of technology available. Having handed over that responsibility to his marionette, Braling is horrified when the marionette wants complete responsibility - actually loving his wife and wanting to take care of her. Building off that, a related theme is the danger of the creative imagination. The marionettes in the story are able to develop feelings and to imagine a world beyond their servitude.
Though it's Braling's first night out in years, he insists on returning home at ten. Smith blames this on Braling's awful marriage. Braling had met his wife in 1979 while in Rio, though the trip was never finished. Now, ten years later, Braling will return to Rio and his wife won't even know he's gone. Smith wishes he was going with Braling, as he suffers from a too affectionate wife. Braling and Smith arrive at Braling's home, where Smith sees a duplicate of Braling inside. They are greeted by this double, dubbed Braling Two; Smith is told to put his ear to Braling Two's chest, where a ticking sound reveals that he is a robot. Braling tells Smith that this machine was created by Marionettes, Inc. Braling gives Smith the business card for this company; Smith wishes to get his own look-alike and use it sparingly, for relief from his wife's attentions. Smith goes home to his wife, Nettie, and finds the money he planned to use for his own Marionette isn't all there. He checks Nettie and hears a ticking in her chest.
Meanwhile, Braling Two talks with Braling about several things: of not wanting to be left in the cellar, of the unfairness of Braling going to Rio, and the feelings Braling Two is developing for Braling's wife. Braling Two tells Braling he's in love with his wife and when Braling tries to call Marionettes, Inc., Braling Two stops him and locks him in the box in the cellar. With the intention of buying a second ticket to Rio, Braling Two joins Mrs. Braling in bed and gives her a kiss, something Braling hadn't done in years.