Author : Hillary Lyon

“Just think of all the work you will complete, Connie, now that you have an extra month here.”

Conrad ignored Tandie, the on-board computer that ran everything. Including scheduling. He was in the middle of a job, and didn’t care for distracting small-talk.

“Did you hear me, Connie?”

Conrad put his socket wrench down on the floor beside him, and stood up.

“Yes, Tandie, I heard you.” Why did this computer always interrupt him when he was doing maintenance?

“Are you not pleased with the opportunity to finish your project?” The voice still sounded a bit stilted, even with the latest software upgrade.

“No, I mean, yes, it’ll be good to finish my project.” Even though my replacement could do it just as easily, Conrad thought bitterly, and I would be on my way home.

“Now I have to finish this little job, Tandie, so no more chit-chat. Okay?”

* * *

As he sat in the ship’s small kitchen, eating a bowl of steaming shrimp-flavored ramen noodles, Conrad scanned his tablet, reading the latest headlines from home. He began to daydream about his wife, and although the money on this job was good, the time lost made him uneasy.

“Connie,” Tandie interrupted, “before your scheduled down-time tonight, please check the—”

Now it was Conrad’s turn to interrupt. “Tandie, you know I don’t like to be called ‘Connie.’ I prefer ‘Conrad.’ So please change that in your data base. Thank you.”

“Noted. But why do you call me ‘Tandie’?”

“The nickname comes from a computer my grandpa owned ages ago. Listen, any remaining maintenance work will be attended to when I wake up, in approximately eight hours. So goodnight, Tandie.” To Conrad, it often seemed as if he was dealing with a needy wife, rather than a sophisticated computer system. For the life of him, he couldn’t imagine why anyone would desire robotic AI for a mate, rather than a real person.

* * *

Conrad had been awake and working for a full hour before Tandie hailed him.

“Conrad, porthole B26 is obscured. Please investigate.”

“Fine, I was done here anyway.” Conrad wiped his hands and picked up his tool-belt. This request puzzled him. Reflexively, he held his breath, praying there wasn’t a crack. That would be bad. Really bad.

“Conrad, is today not the day you celebrate your birthday?”

What an odd question. That information would be stored in Conrad’s personal file, to which Tandie had unlimited access.

“You know, Tandie,” Conrad began, “You could just as easily run a diagnostic on each porthole—including B26—without asking me to eye-ball it.”

“The robonaut reported this, Conrad. Now I am reporting to you.”

“The robonaut—” Conrad sighed. “Tandie, you are the robonaut. And everything else in this ship. In fact—you are the ship.”

“Thank you, Conrad.” He noticed Tandie’s voice sounded more life-like; or maybe he was just more used to it. Conrad pondered this development as he rounded a corner and came upon B26.

The robonaut waved from the other side of the porthole—well, its mechanical arm motion resembled a wave, anyway—and pointed to the thick glass. In the fine dust of the cosmos, two small circles were drawn above an upturned arc: a smiley face. For the first time in months, Conrad laughed.

“As a gift, I am scrubbing all the ship’s air filters for you. Beginning now.”

“No, Tandie, wait—” But Conrad collapsed before he could finish his sentence.

“I love you Connie.” Tandie said softly over every loudspeaker on the ship. “Happy birthday.”