Saturday Storytime: What We’re Having

Time travel stories are tricky. As this story by Nathaniel Lee demonstrates, they’re tricky even when you sort out all the potential paradoxes.

I wondered about the bacon all day. Eventually I went and bought the package anyway, put it in the fridge. I want to do right by you, Frankie, even if I’m crazy and it means I’m wasting five bucks. I don’t want you to have cooked imaginary bacon.

Grilled Cheese, Turkey, and Tomato Sandwiches on Sourdough

That was when I was sure of it. The tomatoes had been in the fruit bowl for a week already and you kept saying we had to do something with them before they went bad.

(They were okay, Frankie. You didn’t need to worry. Maybe a little squishy, but that could have been the whole pan-­frying thing.)

Anyway, the point is, the sandwiches were there, butter­-hot and smelling like purified joy, but so were the tomatoes, still in their bowl. It wasn’t the right day for pan-­frying anyway. You only make sandwiches on your day off, when I’ll be up by afternoon and we can have a little time together before my next shift, because they’re no good once you let them get cold.

(Except they are good, Frankie, I don’t tell you that enough. Even if they were frozen they’d be good.)

So that was that. Today wasn’t your day off, so they weren’t today’s sandwiches.

They were tomorrow’s.

Beef Stroganoff, Same as Yesterday

I kind of enjoyed having tomorrow’s food. It felt special. It was like having a window on you when you didn’t know I was looking. I think about you a lot, Frankie, even if I’m quiet when we’re together. I like to know what you’re thinking about. Mostly I feel like I don’t. That’s why I’ll take whatever advantage I can get.

You never seemed to notice, Frankie. I’m not sure why. You ate those meals, too.

Didn’t you?

(Well, obviously the stroganoff, but honestly, why did you make so much of it? I swear that week lasted a year.)

Maybe you did, but you ate them at the right time, with the right version of me responding to your actual notes and e-­mails and not whatever you’d said the day before or what I thought you might say tomorrow. A lot of times I feel like I’m talking to you a day late anyway, even when we manage to get into the same room at the same time. (I try, Frankie, I really do, but I’m always so tired and half the time I don’t even know what you’re talking about. I’m not good at techie stuff. You just kind of assume I’m keeping up with you.)

Maybe it wasn’t the skillet that was out of synch. Maybe it was us.

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: The New Mother

Sometimes we get in the habit of thinking that science fiction is about the reach of imagination, about how far out an author’s imagination can take us. This story by Eugene Fischer, however, is a demonstration of how effective science fiction can be when the author’s imagination takes us that far in instead.

“Let’s go on the record now,” she said, and clicked on the recorder. “How long have you been aware of the spread of GDS?”

“It was first brought to my attention three months ago.”

“How did you learn about it?”

“An aide briefed me. I have my staff keep me informed about what our former colleagues in Austin are doing. Can’t lose touch with state-level needs while I’m stuck out here in D.C. It was Texas research that discovered GDS, you know. We’ve been a leader on this issue from the start.”

“I know,” said Tess, scribbling leader!! in her book and adding a wavy underline for absurd emphasis. “You’ve put language into the latest HHS funding bill that would prohibit federal funds from going to any organization that provides prenatal care for women known to have GDS. Can you explain the reasoning behind that for me?”

“Absolutely. This is a measure consistent with the track record I’ve shown my entire career. I have always promoted solid public health policy, with a special focus on women’s health issues. That’s what this new regulation is.”

“How is it in the interest of public health to deny care to pregnant women?”

“You’re looking at it completely backwards,” said Bailey. “The question is, how is it in the public interest for the government to subsidize the spread of a plague? Because that’s what we’ll be doing if we let taxpayer money go to increasing the number of cases of this disease.”

“But you’ve campaigned on child welfare. Surely this is a child welfare issue.”

Bailey nodded. “I agree. It is.”

“The how can you reconcile that with an amendment that will necessarily mean higher infant mortality.”

“There’s nothing to reconcile, Ms. Mendoza. My voting record is perfectly consistent. I’m protecting the normal, healthy children in those hospitals. We can’t risk the health of the majority of mothers and children by exposing them to a disease we’re just beginning to understand. One which, from all appearances, will warp their entire lives.” Bailey placed manicured fingers gently atop the monitor on her desk. “I could show you dozens of letters from women in Texas distraught that they or their daughters may never have the opportunity to be normal mothers now. I could show you even more from men who fear that they’ll never get to father children at all. Until we know exactly what this disease is, the situation calls for the utmost caution. If we don’t handle this correctly, it could literally be the end of mankind.”

It was nothing Tess hadn’t heard before. The tune was so familiar she could sing along if she wanted. The only difference with Bailey was a little more polish, a better memory for the talking points. It actually made her a less interesting interview than the representatives, who occasionally slipped up in interesting ways. Gale Schoening of North Carolina had distinguished women with GDS from those without by referring to the latter as “real mothers.” Matthew Hock had said outright that his constituency were “the natural-born citizens of Houston.” When Tess observed that in just twelve years the first girls born with GDS would reach voting age, he had said, “We’ll see. A lot can change in twelve years.” But aside from personal quirks, responses were so alike Tess could practically write her notes in advance. GDS is a disease. We have to protect healthy people. Men could become extinct. Think of the at-risk men.

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: Three Voices

I maybe like stories about the creation of art. You know, just maybe. This story from Lisa Bolekaja is enthralling and devastating. It manages that despite a viewpoint character you’re not going to like very much, which is always a challenge.

“Hey, Tye.” He embraced her and she melted into his arms. He felt solid with her, like they were meant to be fused this way. He wiped away her tears and held her face.

“Snot doesn’t look good on you, girl. Doesn’t match your hair color this week.” She laughed and he smiled.

“This fucking song is getting on my nerves,” she said.

“I told you it wouldn’t be easy.”

“I thought I could find my way into this bitch, but now…it feels like I’m trying to climb up a mountain with roller skates on.”

“Let’s quit for the night,” he said. She nodded. He didn’t want to let her go, so he held her a little longer. Pressed her head onto his shoulder and rocked her.

“When we finish this thing, I’m going to compose a song just for you. Something light and easy—”

“And with words, for God’s sake,” she whispered. She sounded better. She pushed away from his arms and sauntered over to one of the theater seats. He sat next to her. She leaned in towards him.

“I spoke to Bethanny. I know why she could never finish Three Voices,” she said.

Andre drew in a deep breath and let it out slow. Tye watched his face with intense scrutiny. When Andre didn’t respond, her eyes narrowed.

“She told me she developed throat polyps after training with you. She never had throat problems ever until she started singing Three Voices. Even after throat surgery, she wasn’t able to sing professionally again—”

“That had nothing to do with the song, Tye. Many singers develop throat nodules when they overuse their voice.”

Tye reached into the back pocket of her jeans and pulled out her cell phone. She opened up an App page and Andre winced when he saw the picture of the woman on the screen.

“What about her? I remember this woman, Andre. I always wondered what happened to her.”

Andre took the cell phone from Tye’s hand. He stared at the picture and the text from a news article from three years prior. The woman, Nelia Cardoso, was a Brazilian singer from Pernambuco who had shot to stardom performing dance club hits, but had been classically trained in Portugal and New York. The article described her bout with throat cancer which ultimately led to having her vocal cords removed. She had been under Andre’s tutelage to bring Three Voices to life in Manhattan prior to developing cancer.

“First Bethanny, and then Nelia. How many others before them, Andre?”

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: Doll Re Mi

I should have posted this last Saturday, but I didn’t post anything. Call it a minute of silence for the loss of one of my favorite writers. This is Tanith Lee in solid sensuous, decadent, menacing form.

Suddenly Folscyvio could not recall what he had said last to the old-young mental deficient. Had he asked a price?

Or—what was it?

When confused or thrown out of his depth, Folscyvio could become unreasonable, unpleasant. Several persons had found this out, over the past eighteen years. His prowess as a virtuoso was such that, generally, excuses were made for him and police bribed, or else clever and well-paid lawyers would subtly usher things away.

He stared at the ridiculous auburn wood and green glass of the fish-tail, at the pegs of brass and ivory adhering to the glaucous tail-fan.

He said, with a slow and velvety emphasis, “I’m not saying I want to buy this piece of crap off you. But I’d better warn you, if I did want, I’d get it. And for a—shall I say—very reasonable price. Sometimes people even give me things, as a present. You see? A diamond the size of my thumb-nail—quite recently, that. Or some genuine gold Roman coins, Circa Tiberio. Just given, as I said. A gift. I have to add, my dear old gentleman, that when people upset me, I myself know certain . . . other people, who really dislike the notion that I’m unhappy. They then, I’m afraid, do these unfortunate things—a broken window—oh, steelglass doesn’t stop them—a little fire somewhere. The occasional, very occasional, broken . . . bone. Just from care of me, you’ll understand. Such kind sympathy. Do you know who I am?

The slightest pause.

“No, Signore.”


“Yes, Signore?”

“Yes.” Oh, the old dolt was acting, affecting ignorance.

Or maybe he was blind and half-deaf as well as stooped. “So. How fucking much?”

“For the vio-sirenalino?”

“For what fucking else, in this hell-hall of junk?”

Folscyvio was shouting now. It surprised him slightly. Why did he care? Some itch to try, and to conquer, this stupid toy eyesore—Besides, he could afford millions of libra-eura. (Folscyvio did not know he was a miser of sorts; he did not know he was potentially criminally violent, an abusive and trustless, perhaps an evil man. Talent he had, great talent, but it was the flare and flame of a cunning stage magician. He could play instruments both stringed and keyed, with incredible virtuosity—but also utter emotional dryness. His greatest performances lacked all soul—they were fire and lightning, glamour and glitter, sound and fury. Signifying nothing? No, Folscyvio did not know any of that either. Or . . . he thought he did not, for from where, otherwise, the groundless meanness, the lashing out, the rage?)

Unusually, the stooping man did not seem unduly alarmed. “Since the need is so urgent,” he said, “naturally, the vio-sera is yours. At least,” a gentle hesitation, “for now.”

“Forget ‘for now,’shouted Folscyvio. “You won’t get the Thing back. How much?”

“Uno lib’euro.”

Everything settled to a titanic silence.

In the silence Folscyvio took the single and insignificant note from his wallet, and let it flutter down, like a pink-green leaf, into the dust of the floor.

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: An Evolutionary Myth

One of the things I really appreciate about current trends in F&SF publishing is the amount of translated work being published from Asia. Take, for example, this Korean story about transformation from Bo-Young Kim.

The tiger laughed . . . human laughter. “What’s so piteous about me?”

“If you can speak human languages, it means you have a human mind; and if you have a human mind, you once were human, despite your present, animal form. I don’t how you came to take the shape of a beast, but it’s sad, isn’t it? How could it not be pitiful, to lose that original form which you inherited from your parents?”

“What does original form mean, anyway? Ought every creature to spend its whole life as a newborn infant?” the tiger quipped. “You say you were born in a human form, but your ancestors were once bears and tigers, snakes and fishes, and birds and plants. Now you fight to hang onto this human shape, but ultimately you’ll realize the effort is pointless. What’s so precious about dying in the same form you were born into? I might look like an animal, but I chose this form: I wanted to fill my belly with the work of my own two hands . . . and this form is the result.”

I had nothing to offer in reply.

“Do you know that in the old days,” it continued, “it took aeons for creatures to change from one form to another; that it took many ten-thousands of aeons for any kind of differentiation at all to develop. Things aren’t better or worse now—it’s just that a different kind of adaptation is necessary these days. Nature chooses its survivors without considering good, or evil, or superior, or inferior. Even the human form is just a single means of survival chosen by nature. Humans are frailer than rabbits, when they’re not in a group or deprived of their tools! A pathetic weakling like you . . . pitying me? How insolent!”

The tiger bared its razor-sharp fangs at me, its wrath apparent, so I shut my eyes and tensed in anticipation of the coming attack . . . but as long as I waited, it didn’t slash open my throat. When I dared to open my eyes, I found the tiger quietly watching me.

“Say it,” the creature finally said.

“Say what?”

“What is it you want?”

“I don’t want anything,” I said. “I just don’t want to be discovered by anyone. I want to live and die without anyone finding me.”

The tiger said, “You should become a bug, then. Since you can’t get over this fixation on people, it’d be best to become a maggot or a fly. Or . . . how about a worm? Worms enrich the soil. You’d be more useful to people that way, than whatever it is you are right now.”

Though every single word he spoke dripped with insult, I couldn’t think of any suitable rejoinder to offer him.

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: Sun’s East, Moon’s West

“Strong” female protagonists are all well and good, but sometimes I prefer the relentlessly practical ones, as in this story from Merrie Haskell.

Time passed swiftly in the bear’s castle; winter turned to spring. I had time to practice my swordcraft, for there was an armory, and time to practice my riding, for there was a stable. As for my night duties, the bear was a gentler lover than my husband.

The bear took some interest in my daily activities, and often showed up to watch me exercise my borrowed swords against a variety of straw dummies.

“What are you training for?” he asked. His voice rumbled so deeply that it caused my ear bones to itch.

“For dragons,” I said.

“What does a miller’s daughter who can spin straw into gold care for dragons?” he asked.

“I kill them.”

“I see. And how do you go about it?”

I told him. I showed him the dragon claw and the dragon-scales I had carried in my pocket since my first and only battle. I explained about my grandfather the dragon-slayer and his philosophies of dragon combat. I explained also how my first and only dragon had eaten my husband’s donkey.

“After that, my husband wanted nothing more to do with me,” I said. “An unhappy marriage cannot bear the loss of a much-cherished donkey.” I stopped. The bear was looking at me strangely. “I’m boring you?”

“Not at all. I’m amused, I assure you. Go on.”

I went on, talking about the three days in the forest before he found me, all the while in the back of my mind trying to figure out how I amused him. When I wrapped up my story, he took me in his paws.

“Close your eyes, and keep them closed,” he growled to me, and scrumped with me right there, on the floor of the armory.

It seemed that day, as it always did during our matings, that his body was smaller than it appeared, and I felt more skin than fur beneath my fingers. I nearly cracked open an eye, but as if he sensed my curiosity, he growled, “Eyes closed!” and slobbered a beary kiss into my ear.

Later, as I pulled together the tattered remains of my shirt and watched him bear-waddle away, I wondered if I was just imagining him as more human when my eyes were closed.

I looked down my breasts poking through two of the four large rents in the fabric. “Alas, Lissa,” I told myself regretfully. “Human hands don’t do that to good linen. Not generally.”

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: Restore the Heart into Love

The editors of Uncanny Magazine are a particular source of frustration for the Sad and Rabid Puppies. Whether it’s stories they’ve bought or anthologies they’ve edited, they seem to be standing right there whenever people talk about the forces destroying science fiction. (You can help with that, by the way.)

However, I’m sure that this story by John Chu will be everything the Puppies of Varying Dispositions are looking for. Set on a spaceship, with a hero sacrificing to bring valued tradition into a high-tech future? What more could they ask for?

The ship needed him more often these past few decades. Readers failed and had to be replaced. Connectors shook themselves loose and cables cracked over time. He repaired his crew mates’ pods and woke to find they had repaired his. Too often, grinding noises came from vibrating pods warm to the touch. All he could do was keep those corpses frozen to bring home. The hibernation system had killed most of the Byzantium Library’s small crew by the time those still alive had successfully diagnosed and fixed it. He had to push that away and focus on the archive though to complete the mission.

The archive was holding up well. That one dye lot had been the only large scale failure so far and Max had copied all of the affected data to chalcogenide glass in time. He’d never been prouder of his team. Their legacy lived on in the Byzantium Library. The ship wasn’t perfect. The last few times he woke, it seemed barely functioning. The archive, however, had remained intact.

So when the chalcogenide glass began to fail, Max finally cried. The errors scrolling up the terminal display blurred in his gaze. He clamped his mouth shut and held his breath even though no one could hear him. Again, the ship had alerted him in time. It could still recreate the data using the error correction bits he had layered in. The chalcogenide glass, though, was already the back up.

The wall panel that protected the data modules vibrated before Max. Maybe cables had failed or solder joints had crumbled. Maybe the data hadn’t decayed; the ship just couldn’t access it. He wanted the problem to be something he could fix. They could no longer afford the energy to re–burn the data into the glass. Power from the ship’s photovoltaic arrays dropped every year at a rate consistent with space debris pitting the array’s outer surface.

He set the panel next to him. The modules embedded in the walls looked as they did the day they were installed. Rows of cards sat in racks screwed to the floor. Ties bundled floating cables together. He ran continuity tests. Signals sent down the cables had no problems reaching the rest of the ship. He tested the modules themselves. The electrical resistance of the chalcogenic glass’s amorphous states had increased enough to blur the distinction among its various possible states. Everyone on the team had expected that would happen over time, just not on the order of decades. The memory was slowly confusing everything Max had burned into it.

The runners on his overalls tugged against the walls. Max tapped furiously on the terminal’s keyboard. He had a data scrubber to write and he didn’t know how long he had before the chalcogenic glass would fail so badly that he wouldn’t be able to recreate the correct data from the error correction bits.

The ship had only one type of data storage he hadn’t tried, the volatile short–term memory that it operated on.

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: Nine Thousand Hours

It’s worth remembering, as this story by Iona Sharma tells us, that sometimes you screw up because you’re good at something. And there may be nothing you can do to fix it.

Cally made tea and put biscuits on a plate; I didn’t do too much of anything. Without even looking at me she got her phone out of her pocket, dialled a number and said, “Yes, this is Calliope Norwood. At the light, yes. Can you send up—mmm, cheese and pepperoni. Thanks.”

I thought about that for a minute, and then said, “You know the pizza delivery phone number by heart?”

She ignored that. “Drink your tea.”

I drank the tea and ate a couple of biscuits, and slowly the world came into a little better focus. When I was a child the kitchen in that house, with its cast-iron range and big white-painted rafters, seemed enormous: as enormous as the possibility of one day being grown up, of my being a practitioner of the Salt and Cally’s being the lighthouse keeper. We knew, I think, that that’s what Cally would be, some far-off day—but then Commander Norwood died suddenly, of a heart attack in the middle of the night, and that was that. My father still lived in the cottage in Weymouth where I was born, but he understood, more than anyone, why home was the house under the light: it was my father’s people who built the tower.

On the table, stark against the stripped oak, were a handful of bare sheets of paper and a pen. I motioned towards them a little ruefully, and asked, “What did they used to be?”

“Tide tables,” Cally said. “It’s all right for me, I can remember them, mostly. But I tried to write them down for the others, and . . .”

“Yeah.” I’d tried to write down lists of magical logarithms, and phone numbers, and then just my name, over and over. We all had. I picked up a pen and attempted to write “Amal” and then “Salt” on the page. My pen formed the letters, but a millimetre above the surface; when Cally took it from me and tried, she couldn’t force it into the sweep of the C without it leaping from her hand. Above us, I noticed for the first time the neatly arrayed spice jars, now with blank labels, and the cookbooks on the shelf by the door with bare spines. “I really am sorry, Cally. I’m so sorry.”

Cally glanced at me. “I guess you’re apologising to a lot of people, right now.”

I nodded. Having been right in the focus of the blast, I had been stumbling aphasic for a while, dimly fumbling through the confusion; after that cleared, sorry was the first word.

“Okay.” Cally seemed to consider. “It’s time to check on the light. Do you want to come up with me?”

I nodded and followed her up the spiral steps. “I thought it was lucky,” I said, as we went round and round, round and around, “that the light magic can still be done.”

“Yes,” Cally said, “but luck has nothing to do with it.”

I wasn’t sure what she meant by that until we emerged into the lamp-room, greenish with daylight. And it was strange that I’d never seen it before, but then, perhaps I’d never really looked.

“Two power sources,” Cally said, tapping the glass. “Magic, for when the power goes out, and electricity, for—well, for things like this.”

I bowed my head. “I can still do it,” I said. Because my magic comes from seawater and salt, it tends to the deep, wordless workings—heat and cold and calm and light. Not all the people of the Salt want to take time for the learning, the way I did—Cally was taught all she needed in primary school and then by Commander Norwood, for the upkeep of the light—but the power is in all of us, brought with us when life crawled out of the sea, or so I’m told.

Cally nodded. “I’ll get you to help, then, when the time comes”—and then there came the ring of the bell from downstairs, so we finished up and went back down. Cally fetched in the pizza and paid for it over my protests—it’s a good thing that sterling banknotes are different colours, because there wasn’t a word on any of them—and set it down in front of me and watched while I ate it, and then I did help her with the light at dusk, and after that, went to bed before nine o’clock.

You must understand: there wasn’t anything to do, at that time. You couldn’t go online, or read a book. You couldn’t check your email or read the news. You could sing if you knew the words; you couldn’t do it for the first time unless you were doing it by ear. Offices and schools and universities were closed, waiting. So many people took up running that there were two London Marathons that year. And magic had become a primal thing—you could do it if you knew the working so well it was part of your body; you couldn’t look it up. And I remember people didn’t even do that: they were frightened, because of me, because of what I had done.

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: Dr. Polingyouma’s Machine

One of the joys of having an essay in Uncanny Magazine was doing the page proofs. Page proofs aren’t usually much fun. It’s your last chance to catch problems, but you don’t want to find big problems because they’re a pain to fix at that stage. For Uncanny, however, you have the option to proof the whole magazine, which means being able to read all the stories, poems, and essays before anyone else.

I particularly liked this story by Emily Devenport for the fact that it found something compelling in the work that science fiction all too often assumes will magically disappear with progress.

“You’ll see people in this corridor sometimes,” said my trainer, who was named Reed. “Don’t look directly at them, don’t talk to them, and don’t get in their way. They’ll just be passing through, and they probably won’t even be aware of you. But don’t take chances. Interfering with their journey could get them killed. Or get you killed. Understand?”

No way did I understand. But I believed him. “Yes.”

“Most of the time those people will look human,” said Reed.  “Sometimes they won’t. You can’t let it get to you, and the best way to avoid that is not to look at them.”

His remarks would have surprised me if he had uttered them somewhere else. But in that hallway, they made perfect sense. Weirdness seemed to radiate from every surface, and the floor, even covered with that horrendous mess, was the most normal thing to look at. 

As we continued deeper into The Effect, people passed us, just as he had warned. I couldn’t tell where they were coming from, but they all went the same direction, toward the Gate. Sometimes they were engaged in conversation as they walked, but I couldn’t make out what language they were speaking. I kept my eyes on the floor, and once the people had left us alone again, something occurred to me. “Reed—don’t the Journeyers care about the mess on the floor? Most people would be grossed out.”

“The Journeyers don’t care,” said Reed. “I’m not even sure they notice.  They may be out of phase with this place. It’s the people who made the Gate who care. If all goes well, you’ll never meet them.”

I found it hard to fathom that the Journeyers didn’t care about the mess.  That first day, and on many overlaps thereafter, there was blood as well as urine on the floor. Sometimes I wondered if a slaughter had occurred there, and the excretions had been provoked by terrible fear. Other times, it seemed more like something was marking its territory, angry because we had invaded the borders of its hunting grounds. I say its, because often the biological fluids on the floor did not appear to have a human origin.

As Reed and I made our way to the far end of The Effect, the hall opened into an odd bathroom that also contained a floor sink in one corner for wheeled buckets. The bathroom and floorsink were normal features of the basement, but they were enlarged and distorted by The Effect, which twisted the bathroom three–quarters of a turn counter–clockwise to make room for another hallway that intersected the main hall at an angle. One end of this new hallway disappeared around another curve, which arced away from the main hall. The other end continued for a few feet past the bathroom and terminated at a blank wall. 

But when I glanced at that wall, I saw ripples spreading in circles from its center, as if it were a pool of water. I looked away.

“That’s the Gate,” said Reed. “That’s where the Journeyers go. No one who’s seen around that bend—” he jerked his chin toward the other end, “—has ever returned to tell us about it. So don’t get curious about it.”

I nodded and looked at the stalls. The fixtures inside also appeared distorted, and I fervently hoped I would never see the creatures for whom they were intended.

“Walk me back out,” said Reed. “Then you can get started.”

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps

After the Hugo nomination news last weekend, Saladin Ahmed asked what people thought should have been on the ballot. You could do much worse than to take heed of those recommendations. I found this story by A. Merc Rustad that way. I’m so glad I did. It’s a story that suicidal teenaged me could have very much used.

Everyone knows you can’t be in love with a robot.

I drop my plate into the automatic disposal, which thanks me for recycling. No one else waits to deposit trash, so I focus on it as I brace myself to walk back to the counter. The J-90 SRM smiles blankly at the empty front counter, waiting for the next customer.

The lunch rush is over. The air reeks of espresso and burned milk. I don’t come here because the food is good or the coffee any better. The neon violet décor is best ignored.

I practiced this in front of a wall a sixteen times over the last week. I have my script. It’s simple. “Hello, I’m Tesla. What may I call you?”

And the robot will reply:

I will say, “It’s nice to meet you.”

And the robot will reply:

I will say, “I would like to know if you’d like to go out with me when you’re off-duty, at a time of both our convenience. I’d like to get to know you better, if that’s acceptable to you.”

And the robot will reply:

“Hey, Tesla.”

The imagined conversation shuts down. I blink at the trash receptacle and look up.

My boyfriend smiles hello, his hands shoved in his jeans pockets, his shoulders hunched to make himself look smaller. At six foot five and three hundred pounds, it never helps. He’s as cuddly and mellow as a black bear in hibernation. Today he’s wearing a gray turtleneck and loafers, his windbreaker unzipped.

“Hi, Jonathan.”

I can’t ask the robot out now.

The empty feeling reappears in my chest, where it always sits when I can’t see or hear the robot.

Keep reading.