Third Person

Author : Steven Saus

She is within two hexes before my character notices her perfume. She is approaching from behind. I left-toggle the camera angle back to third person, floating above his head. Minicams hover and spin, filling in the the peripheral things a 120 degree first person field of view misses. She has surprised me, and the transition is faster than I like. A brief wave of nausea flows through my stomach. My character puts a hand on his stomach as well.

Her business suit, usually stiffened into two dimensional polygons of fabric, is wrinkled from her day at work. It is still stiff enough to offer a pleasing contrast to the soft inverted arches of her hair. Click left, right, mouse gesture, and my character moves smoothly towards her. She kisses my character’s cheek all moist warm lips until she notices the eyes.

“Chaz, damn it!” She shoves, and the perspective wobbles. It makes it hard to read the word balloon over her head, but my text-to-speech rig is good enough that I still understand her.

She glares up and back, towards the print of the Warhol Campbell Soup cans behind my character. She draws an imaginary line between its head and the technicolor cans.

“Get back in there, Chaz.”

My fingers fly, and I hear my character’s voice: “Wrong side.” A quick gesture, and he smirks, too.

She slaps my character – bioforce feedback loops simulate it well – then looks dead-on at my viewpoint. Her wedding ring slips easily off her finger, smooth and elegant as a practiced rocketjump. I up the resolution and see her eyes are misted over.

“Remember this, Chaz? Remember the promises we made? I made them to you, not… not this shell.”

Clickety-clack. Enter. “This is me. This is my character.”

Her ring hits my… the character’s chest.

“I wish you had never gotten that damn implant, Chaz.”

She stalks out of the room. She does not need to pack – the bag is waiting – and she leaves our …the… apartment. Several option icons flash softly at me. Follow. Stay. Sleep. Watch TV.

I do not select them. My face is still warm from the force of her hand slapping my character.

I want to restart. I want to start the level over, to try again.

That icon never appears.

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Domestically Disabled

Author : Steven Saus

Inside, she was free.

Her consciousness flitted from desktop to watch to media player. Her sight was composited from surveillance videos, streaming webcams, and a million stuttering stills uploaded from cameraphones. She flexed her arms, and cranes swung thousand-pound loads, drawbridges opened, and floodwalls moved on electric motors. With a wriggle of her fingers, rising gates freed a herd of cattle, electricity sparked through transformers, and the monotone motions of a hundred assembly-bots gained a little unpredictability. Her legs were wheels and stilts and foundations. She was not afraid of the wheels Inside; they could not hurt her here. She twirled and laughed and danced across fibers, wires, and empty air.

Reality sparked twice and dissolved into the static white noise of pain.

“Sorry, Sissy,” her Nana said. The disconnected wire lay limp in her hand. She could almost see Inside, just on the other side of a fiber optic tube. She looked up. Her reflection was twisted and broken in her Nana’s glasses, though the glasses themselves were fine. The sour smell of her own urine wafted into slowly reactivating nostrils. “It’s time for your bath.”

Outside, she was trapped in the ruined stumps of limbs, the burned skin screaming with pain, her charred vocal cords useless. Her Nana began to gently wash her, the soft cotton cloth scraping sandpaper against the healing wounds. If tears popped the soap bubbles on her cheek, no one could tell.

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Dinner Date

Author : Steven Saus

“Make your own damn dinner.”

He coughed, sputtering foam from his after-work beer onto the cluttered endtable. She showed no signs of malfunction. There were no sparks, no telltale wisps of smoke from the delicate wires in her wrists. Her voice utterly failed to stutter; it just had this odd quality he couldn’t quite place.

“I said, make your own damn dinner. I’m leaving you.” She clanked towards the door, ripping the apron (a silly affectation he’d had her wear) off her metal torso.

“But — I made you!” His beer tottered and fell from the endtable, jostled by his awkward attempt at pursuit. The amber liquid splattered across the half-soldered circuit boards and the screws – never put away – that had been “left over” after assembling the kit.

“I found someone else.” She reached down and picked up the old-fashioned modem he hadn’t paid any attention to. “I found someone who truly understands me for what and who I am. Now leave me alone and make your own damn dinner.”

“You got past the house firewall? You’ve been Internet dating?” She did not bother to respond.

He thought about the first time he’d seen her lips, laying in the bubblewrap and cardboard. Now they were pursed unnaturally tight. He imagined the whirring and moving behind her chest, the way the parts he’d fitted together all moved in sync. He remembered the hours he’d spent assembling the synthetic sinews of her hands. That meant something, didn’t it? He’d put her together. He had joined every one of her joints that worked to pull his front door open.

His android stepped forward and fell into the waiting arms of another robot. This new robot was as male as his was female. The force of their embrace would have pulped his ribs, but both robot’s mouths were open in a wide smile.

Behind the robots, his front gate crashed open. The panting woman who stood there stopped, staring. A spanner dropped from her hand and clattered on the sidewalk. After a few minutes – when the androids began to kiss – she slowly looked up and in the doorway. When the two humans made eye contact, they both grinned sheepishly.

The two couples made a lovely curry and rice dish together.

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