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Artwork by Morgan Madeline
My apologies. Dr. Johnson, what was your role at Ari-Cal University during First Contact?
At the time of First Contact with the Collective I was a PhD student in astrobiology. Despite how it was fictionalized in Mechanoids, the field is in the geological science department. My focus was modeling planetary surface processes on Earth and using them to make reasonable assertions about the formation of other planets. It was serendipitous, really.
Why is that?
That encounter changed the entire course of my career. And I don’t mean the short-lived celebrity of having been present at First Contact. If I hadn’t seen Unit 77d haul itself over that rocky outcrop with my own two eyes, I doubt we’d be here having this conversation.
I was in the kitchen making Tressa’s favorite treat — smiley faces with blackberry jam on toast — when a heavy thud echoed from the laundry room, followed by a loud snap, then violent thrashing.
I dropped everything to see what was happening, though in my heart I already knew. When I reached the doorway, my worst fears were confirmed.
Nana flopped upon a mound of wet clothes near the washing machine, arms and legs flailing in every direction, her head banging repeatedly against the cement floor as foam bubbled from her mouth. She spoke in a gibberish that reminded me of the Neo-Holy Rollers I’d seen as a child. Possessed by the spirit of God, they spasmed violently and spoke in tongues on the floor of my grandmother’s church. But Nana was not in the throes of a religious fervor. She was malfunctioning.
Slip is three days out of market when he first fails to answer a question. Not a test, but what appears to be a genuine question.
He sits propped up against a machine that spits dark liquid into a brown-stained porcelain cup, wide face turned so that his eyes follow the human in drab grey clothes.
“Hey Slip,” the human says.
Slip lights up green, flickering to attention.
Marv is the first human outside of the facility that Slip has interacted with. The first day, Marc had carried Slip tucked between his forearm and chest. When they reached the car, Marv places Slip in the seat beside him and wrapped a cord across the length of his body. The top of the cord covered Slip’s eyes, and he spent several moments unable to see past it and Marv’s long hair as he fiddled around with it.
The twelfth shuttle taxi stopped — or maybe the thirteenth — Jazz couldn’t be sure. All he knew was he could at last lower his thumb. He climbed into the backseat, placing his trumpet case beside him, and lowered the door. Ahead, the human pilot sat hunched against the console. The windows darkened due to the section of asteroid laden space.
“Thank you.” Jazz put on his seatbelt. It bore what looked to be oil stains or dried blood. He couldn’t tell in the cabin’s low light.
“You been waitin’ awhile?” The bald driver didn’t turn around. “Folks don’t like picking up bots out here. To me, credit is credit, no matter who it comes from. It all spends the same.”
Jazz let the words wash over him. The shuttles that blasted past reminded him of how much they feared and loathed his kind. One couple had even slowed down to make sure he knew — if there was any doubt.
The sharp buzz of Malik’s alarm tore through his brain like lightning, jolting him awake.
Best foot forward, best foot forward, the alarm repeated. He instinctively reached for the back of his neck where the source of the incessant noise was embedded. As soon as his nails dug into skin, he stopped. The Permit had to be closer to the bundle of nerves in the spine. Too much blood and sinew, although he considered tanking the pain and ridding himself of it. But then how would he get the better paying jobs?
Best foot forward!
The alarm only stopped once he planted both feet on the ground and stood. Groggily, he steadied himself. The alarm ceased. His employer forced him to install the Permit in order to work. He had to be on-call, and the Permit ensured it.
Poem: Explaining Bot Fight to Bhabi by Abu Bakr Sadiq
Poem: When I fell apart my mother put me back together by Renee Christopher
Essay: “The Answer” by KL Burd
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