Rae says, “An autistic crafter of many things (from crochet to cross-stitch), they often try to convince their dog and two cats that writing is worthwhile and there is more to the world than pets and fetch. They sing and play a little piano, to their pets’ dismay. Has never been published as an adult, but they’ve got plenty of time to be pleasantly surprised.”
by Rae A. Shell
Remy got her name because Father’s only remaining family, Caleb, objected to naming her after the Predecessor. She sat in a lawn chair in the garage, her copper-plated cooling strings left-parted—the Predecessor wouldn’t have done that, her records stated—and wearing a frilly blue dress unlike anything the Predecessor wore after age 3. Even Remy could surmise this was something that Father liked, not the Predecessor, which almost irritated Remy, since she was only given two purposes: to emulate the Predecessor, and to make Caleb happy, neither of which she could do as a shoddy facsimile of a human being. Her legs were spread apart, both for efficient cooling and because that’s how the Predecessor had always sat, but when Father glared, she pulled her knees together. When Father wasn’t looking she fidgeted with the power button on the back of her neck.
Her optical units identified the tall, light-haired teenager slamming the door as Caleb. Caleb: the Predecessor’s brother, now a junior in high school. Likes include but are not limited to: soccer, scrambled eggs, coffee, possibly writing. Other Notes: teased the Predecessor often, Mother obtained custody after divorce. Remy calculated the outcomes, unsure whether to chase after him.
She opened her mouth, still unused to moving it. “Father, does Cay not like me?”
Father sighed, rubbing his graying semblance of a beard. “He’ll come around. He has to. Why don’t you go in the house. Do not go outside of the perimeter.” With that said, he commenced re-organizing his work bench, his special journal and tools strewn haphazardly.
With that dictated, Remy headed into the house. In the kitchen, a small amount of bleach permeated her senses, overwhelming her for a moment. Then, she noticed a light that indicated the coffee maker needed to be cleaned. That was simple. Calculations stated 1.5 liters of vinegar should suffice. As she poured white vinegar into the carafe, she heard Caleb groan.
“Stop, you’re doing it all wrong!”
He frowned, the same small, disapproving frown Father often wore, though without the prominent melolabial folds. “It has an awful aftertaste if you don’t dilute it. I swear I have to do everything around here!”
Remy froze. That’s right. The Predecessor hated cleaning and complained about the smallest of tasks. “I apologize, Cay—”
“—Do not use that nickname. You aren’t Emmy.” He hit the cleaning button on the coffee maker and focused on its pulsing light.
“That’s correct. I’m Remy.”
Caleb sighed. “Can you, like, speak deeper or something? Using Emmy’s voice is really creepy.”
She lowered her pitch. “Is this sufficient?”
“Yeah, I guess. Thanks.” He took a breath. “Look, I’m really sorry my dad gave you this bullshit mission. I knew he was working in the garage all the time, but I would have stopped him if I knew about you. Honest to God: I did not know about you until today.”
So her creation was what a human would call “miraculous.” How should she feel about that? Grateful she was created she supposed. “Clarify what you mean regarding this ‘bullshit mission,’” she said, matching his cadence. “Do you mean that making you happy is impossible?”
Caleb shook his head. “I’ll be fine. Grief is normal. A normal human being would process it and, oh, I don’t know, talk to their family about it instead of building a creepy robot replacement.”
She knew of the uncanny valley effect and compared her shoddy facsimile to photos of the Predecessor. But more importantly, he meant the other mission. “If I gather more data—”
“Remy.” His hand met her shoulder with a timid grip, like a child afraid of the stove. “You cannot imitate a person.”
“Caleb,” Remy said, “you won’t burn from touching me, and I am capable of learning. Please, teach me about the Pre—Emmy.”
Caleb solidified his grip, dark eyes boring into her optical units. “Listen to me! You may have family videos or whatever, and probably Dad’s interpretation of Emmy, but you don’t know what she was like when she was with me, or at school, or with Ben… or…”
Ben: the Predecessor’s best friend since 5th grade. Data indicated that he and the Predecessor were due to get together in a matter of months. He would often come over to bake until some point in tenth grade, after which Father did not recall him visiting. He was asked to speak at the funeral, but declined.
“Why can’t you just teach me? Or if you don’t want to, perhaps invite Ben over to teach me.”
Caleb threw his hands in the air. “I’m telling you that it’s impossible! Look, I’m sorry my dad is doing this to you, but it’s a lost cause. Give up.” After sighing he climbed the stairs, and moments later Remy processed the sound of the door slamming.
She was not allowed to give up. She was programmed for success. She could not process a future without success. It was clear: she needed more data. The first stop would be the Predecessor’s room, across from Caleb’s. Remy crept up the stairs, aware that while it wasn’t explicitly forbidden; going into the room was probably violating a taboo. She paused, her digits five centimeters from the doorknob. While it would probably upset Father and possibly Caleb, she needed the information for her mission. Taboos are for humans. Explicit rules and guidelines were for robots. Remy fidgeted with her power button and opened the door.
The 12.25 square meter room was caked in dust. The bed was unmade, the scent of roses still clinging to the sheets. The dresser was in disarray from a few scattered cosmetics, jewelry, and crafting implements on the surface. That’s right, the Predecessor liked crafting, though Remy didn’t have much data for what crafts were done. Remy’s data did show that one of Father’s most-prized possessions was a hand-made journal. That Christmas everyone had received one of their own. Logically, that meant it was highly likely that the Predecessor had one as well. Humans like to match. It wasn’t hidden under the bed; the Predecessor surely was cleverer than that.
Remy turned on her scanners. Not much was hidden in the room though something was off about one of the hardcovers on the untouched bookshelf. She approached it. A smaller object was inside The Odyssey. She grabbed it, felt the weight shift around inside. The book’s pages had been glued together to hide a journal. This must have been it. Opening it, she realized it would take forever to read, because her optical units weren’t made for scanning handwriting. She started at the end: eighteen months ago.
I don’t need Ben. Fuck him. Nadia gives a shit about me, and that’s the only thing that matters. I’ll introduce her to Mom and Dad after New Year’s.
Who was Nadia? That name wasn’t in Remy’s records at all, even for the funeral. The Predecessor’s apparent disdain for Ben didn’t match the data, either, but why would the Predecessor lie in her own journal? Remy looked for further mention of Nadia in the 5 millimeter writing and found a single entry from a month earlier:
I shouldn’t have ever listened to Ben. Nadia may come off a bit gruff, but she’s definitely not a bitch. Honestly, looking back at it, maybe I was the stuck-up bitch, not her. We have an in-joke about the smoking thing now. She’s cute nice. I’m glad we’re friends.
Remy yearned to know Nadia, this mysterious girl who seemingly captured the Predecessor’s heart.
Two months earlier, one entry:
I’m gonna crawl in a hole and die. I thought Nadia was asking me out and I rejected her. She laughed in my face. She meant if I wanted to smoke. And obviously I can’t do that if Caleb is gonna narc. I looked so stupid and I just wanted the ground to swallow me up. How am I gonna face her again?
Remy noticed one of her fans kick on.
Three months earlier, one entry.
I’m such a failure I can’t even fucking drive. You know what, fine. Who needs a car? Nadia can drive. I’ll figure out how to explain it to Mom and Dad later.
Four months earlier, four entries:
Grounded for smoking because Cay is a fucking narc! He’s such a judgmental prick about the smoking thing. At least he didn’t mention Nadia. No anything for a week, and I bet twenty bucks that Dad won’t let me get my license for an eternity.
Remy’s databanks confirmed that the Predecessor never possessed a driver’s license.
Fucking Nadia commented on how friendless I am. She’s right. The only person I ever hung out with was Ben. I left club early and just hid in the bus shelter. What’s the point of art if you can’t escape your head?
How many friends was one expected to have? Remy was also friendless, though she wanted to call Nadia a friend, which was of course unreasonable.
Ben is the fucking worst. He had the balls to try to cheat off me in Pre-Calc after everything he said to me! After club, Nadia followed me and apologized about last week. We smoked at the bus shelter for a bit. I opened my dumb mouth and asked why a soccer player would smoke. This caused her to laugh. She has a pretty laugh All I got was “same reason I paint when I can”. That answer kinda pissed me off, but then we talked about what a douchebag Ben is. I could have talked all day about what a douche he is, but a girl’s gotta I’m not gonna blab everything to a stranger first thing. That’s asking for trouble.
It seemed probable given the context that Nadia and the Predecessor were in the same Art Club. Remy didn’t know the details; it seemed likely that Father never asked. Remy’s current conflict was how best to learn about Nadia, and digesting soccer information didn’t seem efficient.
I shouldn’t have told Ben. He didn’t get it at all. And now he’s ignoring me. Nadia or another jock bitch asked if there was trouble in paradise when I tried to get his attention. I don’t think he’ll tell anyone, which is good. I’m keeping it to myself until I’m out of this fucking school.
Personally, Remy felt it had to be someone other than Nadia. She didn’t seem like a heckler. Remy didn’t even know what Nadia looked like, but images of soccer players scoring goals at their game came to mind. No. No soccer information right now. Focus on information about the Predecessor.
Remy turned pages, trying not to spend processing power on Nadia. A Nadia-free entry five months earlier caught her eye:
What’s wrong with me? I don’t [the rest of the entry is unreadable.]
While Remy did want to know about this hidden side of the Predecessor, the desire to know more about Nadia filled Remy like a third purpose no matter how hard she tried to ignore it. Before she could check earlier pages, she heard someone coming up the stairs and quickly returned the journal and The Odyssey to their proper spots. She stepped away from the bookshelf before the door opened.
Father frowned from the doorway. “I didn’t tell you to come in here yet, Remy.”
“I apologize, Fath—”
“—Emmy wouldn’t say that!”
It’s true. Her journals had made it clear that the Predecessor said “Dad” instead of “Father”. Remy ignored the heaviness in her CPU, and changed her wording. “I’ll do better, Dad.”
The disapproving frown she had grown so familiar with in development changed into a grimace and he drew closer, looming over her. “Emmy spoke at a higher pitch. Do your normal pitch.”
She raised her pitch. “Caleb requested—”
“Emmy called him ‘Cay’.”
There was a flutter of discomfort in her chassis. A cooling fan kicked into high-gear. Her fingers itched to touch her power button. “He requested that I lower my pitch and not use the nickname.” Remy met her father’s red-tinged eyes. “I know it conflicts, but priority two is to make him happy.”
Father nodded. “That’s correct, good job.” He stroked her head.
Should that make her happy? It was approval from her Creator, a pseudo-familial affection. But she was positive that the Predecessor wouldn’t approve. Reaching into videos of the Predecessor’s last birthday, Remy said, “I’m not a fucking dog, Dad.”
He chuckled. “Perfect response! You’re perfect, Em.”
She didn’t correct him before leaving the room. Coffee maker. Her clock said she’d been in there 56 minutes, and the coffee maker took 45. She went over the steps internally as she descended the stairs. As she poured the vinegar mixture into the sink, she noticed her cooling fans were back to normal. Humans are sensitive to vinegar, thus she ran the cleaning cycle again with only water. The burning query in her mind could only be sated by checking Father’s journal; while he would disapprove of her snooping, all the new data and contradictions advised against asking Father about Nadia.
Remy closed the door to the garage after herself. The journal was on the workbench, as always. She opened it and frowned at the 8 millimeter scribbles. She already couldn’t read cursive; did it need to be messy too? The only things she could make out were the dates. This journal hadn’t been used until after the Predecessor’s death.
Remy jumped when the door opened.
“There you are,” Caleb said, eyes on the journal in her hands. “Were you snooping?”
Her CPU was overheating. “Yes.”
Caleb approached her. “It won’t help you. He only started using anything Emmy gave him after her death.” He took the journal.
Caleb paged through it. “People conflict. So far everything in here is a note about you. Not Emmy. I’m pretty sure you’d already know this stuff.”
She knew her own architecture well enough. “Then may I see yours?”
“Why? It’s poems. Nothing about Emmy. She didn’t know about them.”
Remy recorded that fact. “Then, tell me about Nadia.” Caleb seemed a much safer choice to ask than Father.
Caleb grimaced. “That’s not recorded?”
He sighed. “Nadia was her new best friend after something happened with Ben. I dunno what. Emmy stopped telling me anything ages ago. And…” Caleb rubbed the back of his neck. “It was icy. Nadia drove them off a bridge.”
Remy’s CPU felt hollow. “How’s Nadia?”
“Fine now, probably. She went to some school in Minnesota. I think she broke her arm in the accident? It’s not like we talked.”
Remy purged the dread from her system. An arm injury seemed unlikely to affect soccer, unless Nadia was goalie. “Why didn’t I know about her,” Remy asked, with more volume than intended.
Caleb stared at Remy, like the answer was obvious. “The same reason she wasn’t invited to the funeral: Dad.”
Remy’s fans hummed more and more, sounding shrill. She was not allowed to give up. She was programmed for success. She could not process a future without success. But she was clearly a failure. Failures were often relegated to free parts bins. She re-entered the house and Caleb followed. He said something. Remy couldn’t process it over the sound of her fans. Her Nadia begged her to rest, but regardless she trudged up the stairs.
Remy was unsurprised to see her father was still in the Predecessor’s room, now fussing with the jewelry scattered on top of the dresser. “Emmy,” he said, lifting up a pair of stud earrings, “you know, I should have pierced your ears.”
Remy heard Caleb sigh, could visualize his grimace. “Adam,” Remy said, with a CPU feeling like lead, her sensors overloading, “either decommission me or give me a new purpose.”
“What? Emmy, I can’t,” he said, and Remy hated him.
“Adam. This has been an absolute failure. It’s absolutely impossible to imitate a person, especially one that you didn’t know very well.”
Adam’s eyes filled with rage. “What are you talking about, she was my daughter.”
Her optical units were failing. Remy spoke calmly: “Emmy was Mother’s daughter too, and she was Caleb’s sister, Benjamin’s ex-friend, and something to Nadia. And I have to be a different person with each of those people. And you get upset when I do that.”
The air seemed to freeze, and Remy could feel her skin form goosebumps. “How do you know about Nadia,” the broken man asked, his volume increasing as he loomed over her.
Her CPU begged for release. She could no longer sense her fingers. “From—”
“—I told her, Dad. Don’t you get it,” Caleb said as he wedged himself between the two. “You drove away Mom and me because you were in the garage for eighteen fucking months to make a robot designed to ‘make me happy’, when you’re the one who needed Remy all along.”
“While it is my duty to imitate the Predecessor and to make Caleb happy, I have determined these are contradictory tasks,” Remy said while her voice rapidly fluctuated in pitch. “Not only that, but I have come to the conclusion I cannot imitate a corpse,” she said before her legs buckled.
Someone knelt over her, touched her shoulder, and hissed, probably burnt. Caleb. “Dad. You need help Remy can’t provide. You’re killing her!”
“Remy! Emmy, no, I can’t lose you again. User: Root, Password: Emmy, Create New Purpose: Remy is to find a new purpose, whatever she wishes.”
The third purpose sang to her. “N-Na, I” she said right before she felt someone press and hold the power switch tucked behind her copper-plated cooling strings.
“Just take a rest for a bit,” Father’s voice said, before Remy’s arms relaxed and she shut off.
Copyright 2021 by Rae A. Shell