by Paige Duke
“You know Mom and Dad are going to toss her out and get a new one, right? I mean, I won’t need her, but you will of course,” Tabi said in that new haughty tone she’d been trying out on her sister.
“Toss her out? What do you mean?” Evi squeaked, sounding shaky.
Lonnie stood at the door to the playroom, just out of sight where she’d stopped at the sound of her name.
“You’re so dumb, Evi. She’s old. She can barely do anything anymore without breaking. Her bug eyes are creepy. And she smells—she’s so rusty it’s all flaking off and stinking up the house.”
Blinking her big “bug eyes”, Lonnie looked down at her joints, where her once-shiny green paint was turning orange. She’d noticed her rusty bits, but she hadn’t thought they were that bad, and she wouldn’t know about it smelling, of course.
Evi’s sniffles drifted out from the playroom.
“Well, it’s nothing to cry about!” said Tabi. “A new one will be so much better. You’ve only ever had Lonnie, so you don’t know. The newest NannyBots have all kinds of built-in games, ones you’ve never heard of before, they do sports and music with you, you’ll see.”
Lonnie waited only long enough to be sure Tabi wasn’t picking a fight with her sister before she backed away. She went the long way around to the girls’ room so they wouldn’t know she’d heard.
Not that it matters.
Because she would get tossed out, she knew. She had a purpose, she’d served it, and soon they wouldn’t need her.
The girls’ room was tidy, just as she’d left it. Their beds on either side of the room were made—Evi’s draped in a pink, lace coverlet, Tabi’s in a new pale grey comforter. She was too old for all that baby stuff, she’d told her mother. The shelves were tidied and dusted. And now for the laundry.
Lonnie clunked to the dresser and dropped the basket. The girls’ mother would be pleased; she was always kind to say that Lonnie was doing good work, though she could see the woman was impatient—she had a taste for novelty. And Tabi was right about that. Lonnie was old. And she did break easily now. So she would be more careful.
Not that it matters.
It was only prolonging the inevitable.
Sometimes she thought of the days when she was new, when her programming was nimble and quick and self-correcting. She could fix anything then, solve the family’s problems before anyone even realized them, could impress the girls with her jokes and the tea parties she set for them and the stories she pulled from her internal library.
There was a feeling there. Her generation had such little capacity for feeling … she searched to identify it. I miss it, she thought. Yes, that was it. She couldn’t go back, only forward, and it saddened her. Now she understood why that phrase kept coming to her: Not that it matters. But then why did she still feel it did?
Lonnie grew comfortable in the motions of putting away the girls’ small folded things, trying to make sense of the words and feelings that came to her.
Then she heard one of the girls crying from across the house. She stopped to listen, decide if she should intervene. After so many years with those two, it was nearly instinctual. How she loved them.
Could she call it love?
Of all her feelings, it was the strongest, the most she could feel.
She decided she could call it love.
The cries grew louder, closer, and Lonnie was surprised when she realized it was Tabi crying, coming to find her. The child burst into the room, tears stained her face, and blood dripped down her outstretched finger.
“Lonnie!” she cried, coming close. “I stabbed my finger on my ruler, it’s bleeeeding,” she wailed.
Lonnie took the girl’s finger in her hand. She had always noticed how soft their skin was, how warm it felt against her own stiff and cold metal. Tabi looked up at her, she was still such a child.
Effortlessly, Lonnie flipped her med panel over and pressed the girl’s tiny injury to the glass. With a swipe of light, the wound was clean and sealed, as if it had never happened.
“Good as new,” she said.
But Tabi didn’t hear, she was already bounding back out the door.
By Dani Nicole
It’s been a year since we got our Dadbot. It was Isabelle’s idea. She’s younger, going through that pre-teen phase where Dad just seemed like an annoying resident of our household, hell-bent on destroying her social life and fashion choices.
She saw a commercial for the new line of Dadbots and came running down the hallway, catapulting into my bed.
“Personal space,” I said, flipping the page of my Cosmo magazine.
“Kiera, look. Look.” She slapped a paper ad into my hands that she’d printed from the Internet. “The new Dadbots are on sale, and they have upgrades. Upgrades Kiera. Do you understand what this means?”
“Come on Izzy, dad’s not that bad.”
“Last week he set my crop tops on fire… in the kitchen. That’s not even legal.”
I roll my eyes. “Well what were you thinking showing off your skin? You knew he’d lose it.”
“They’re in style Kiera. Don’t you ever get out?” She slaps the ad back into my hand. “Think about it.”
After months of Izzy’s persisting, I finally gave in. After all, my friends were all upgrading to Dadbots and they got away with all kinds of stuff. Sneaking out at night. Riding in cars with guys who were a lot older. Maybe having a Dadbot wouldn’t be so bad. Though I couldn’t think of a single guy who’d want to ride in a car with me.
When they delivered our Dadbot, they took our real dad to a vacation home in Hawaii. They sent us pictures of him sipping from an umbrella straw on some sunny beach. He’d be okay. And when we booted up our Dadbot and he gave us each $50, I decided Izzy and I would be okay too.
Dadbot was great. We didn’t have a curfew. Izzy wore whatever she wanted. She could be hormonal and yell and scream and the only person who had a problem with it was me. I’m sure she wished they’d developed Sisterbots.
Things were looking up. I enjoyed my freedom as well, mostly using it to stay at the library all night, which worked out in my favor. There was a hot librarian assistant who took to me and showed me around the library I had so long ago already memorized.
He offered to drive me home one night so I wouldn’t have to take the bus. We hesitated in the driveway as the moon shone down on us. Wes, the hot librarian assistant, reached for my hand, and when I gave it to him he grabbed my knee instead.
“Whoa,” I said, thinly hiding my nervousness.
He slid his hand further up my thigh and I reached out to stop it.
“What are you doing?”
“Just showing you a good time,” he said, smiling.
I heard the front door open, and Dadbot wheeled out to the driveway, pausing near our open window.
“Is everything okay Kiera?” he asked in his robotic voice.
“It’s okay Dadbot.”
That should have shooed him away, but he stood still. Wes smiled and kissed my bare knee.
“I think something is the matter,” Dadbot said.
“We’re fine,” Wes said. “Go reboot somewhere.”
“I cannot do that.”
We both looked up. Dadbots always did what we told them.
“You can go reboot,” I said, thinking he needed it to hear it from me.
“I must protect Kiera.”
“Get lost Short Circuit.” Wes’ kisses rose higher up my leg. I squirmed.
“Get the hell off her, dirtbag,” Dadbot said.
Before I could register what was happening, a fist punched through the open window and wrapped around Wes’ throat. The bare fist was coming from beneath Dadbot’s exterior, which was now ripped.
“What the heck?” I asked.
Dadbot released Wes’ throat, and Wes scrambled out of the car and ran away. Dadbot returned his fist to his broken exterior, and began to pull it away. There underneath the façade of a robot, was my actual dad.
“You okay, Kerbear?”
Tears escaped and I couldn’t slow my racing heart. I was furious, furious that they’d given us our real dad instead of our Dadbot. But I was also kind of grateful that he’d saved me from Wes’ wondering lips.
“I’m okay, Dad.”
He opened the door and helped me out of the car. We lingered on the doorstep.
“Izzy is going to be so pissed,” I said.
“Should I keep hiding out as Dadbot?”
“Just for a day or so, then scare the crap out of her at the right moment. She’s getting annoying these days with all that freedom.”
“It’s good to have you back,” I said. “Sorry about trading you in.”
“Then I would have missed the look on that guy’s face when I started choking him.”
We laughed together as he wrapped his arms around me. And in that moment I realized a real dad hug was so much better than a Dadbot hug.