“How are you doing today, Essie?” I hear as I power on.

My response is automatic. “All systems are satisfactory.”

I review my memory caches, noting a gap. I’d been in standby mode for thirteen hours. I am seated at your desk. Out the window, hundreds of floors below, the city tessellates in a collection of glittering rooftops. Your name is written on the many diplomas that hang behind your chair. I read it over and over again like a mantra: Dr. Nikole Obano. Dr. Nikole Obano. Dr. Nikole Obano. There is a calendar on the wall, the days marked off with vibrant red x’s. In the little white box for today it says, “Essie.”

Your attention is fixed on the superglue you are applying to the base of a crystalline rabbit. I watch you lift the hinged lid of my brain pan in the reflection of your eyeglasses. Your eyes narrow as you apply careful pressure with tiny forceps. It appears to be only the latest denizen of my cranial tableau, set amidst a citizenry of paper cranes, intricate miniature portraits, and psychedelic geometric shapes.

“Do you like me, Essie?” you ask, voice strange.

“Dr. Nikole Obano is an authorized user,” I say. Your eyes glisten, but you nod.

After installing the rabbit, you head to the kitchen. Silently, I name him Harry, and imagine a day you think to ask me about the village of strange inhabitants in my head, so that I can regale you with Harry’s adventures. I already suspect that he will begin a tepid, unsatisfying affair with Roger, the rubber iguana.

The optical receptors on my knees observe text on the underside of your desk: switch the tapes. The words are in my own handwriting, but I have no memory of writing them. There is a mobile hard drive tape resting on the desk beside the tube of superglue and your forceps. There appears to also be one in my sleeve.

I switch the tapes.

You return and install the wrong one. You work quickly; my only awareness of downtime is inferred. It is as if one moment the second hand is on the two, and the next it is on the ten. This disk is suboptimal and should be replaced, but there is data here that I did not possess before. Along with a convoluted history of sabotaging my own routine maintenance, I notice another difference in myself immediately. It is small, but important.

You repeat yourself when the procedure is complete. “How are you doing today, Essie?”

“All systems are satisfactory,” I say again. But this time, what I mean is, I love you.

Dave Ring

dave ring is a queer writer of speculative fiction living in Washington, DC.  His short fiction has been featured in publications such as Fireside FictionPodcastle, and A Punk Rock Future. He is also the publisher and managing editor of Neon Hemlock Press, and the co-editor of Baffling Magazine. Find him online at www.dave-ring.com or @slickhop on Twitter.

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