“Zeppelin Follies” by Cat Rambo

It’s an unfortunate fact that Bodys break down with age. In this case, one of my heels was coming loose, and with two legs, that ended up being more destabilizing than if I’d opted for a model with four or six. Back before we’d split up, my girlfriend Sally had always been the one to remind me to get maintenance. We’d go together, two happy female lovers holding hands as they walked along, and sometimes people would smile when they’d see us, because we’d gotten matching Bodys in the Danish style that Sally favored.

Inside them, we were as different as night and day: Sally was dark and beautiful, and I was brown haired and ordinary, although pleasant looking, or so Sally always said, right up to the day she moved out.

So I got up early that Thursday morning and walked down the block to the Repair Shoppe to ask Laura, my mechanic, to take a look at it before work.

The shop was busy that day, and a phalanx of athletes were in, getting their stabilizers adjusted en masse and chatting about rugby scores. Like everyone else, I like to keep up on the ways to express my individuality, so I spent some time window shopping.

New models of Bodys hung along the walls: retro robotics in chrome and steel, adorned with blinking lights; the life-like human models, which I found a touch unsettling, towering like giant China dolls; and the latest line, shaped like Martian spiders, holding one’s form in a cylinder of glass, looking like collection specimens surrounded by flimsy, filamented legs. Laura insisted on taking the whole rig to run it through diagnostics – she was a Holistic Mechanic – so I took a rest booth amid the insipid strains of Stellar Music, and was preparing myself to flip through the channels on the holo screen, when someone knocked on the door of the booth.

Those padded chairs are hard to shift around in for a reason. Body shops want to keep their customers down and not wandering around disturbing the other UnBodied. But I managed to get out of the bucket chair and open the door.

A Kali Suit, one of the more popular models in the Mythological series, stood there. Despite their cost, I’ve always thought they look tacky. There is an upper limit on the number of arms you need, which is six, in my opinion. And the wearer had tweaked it out, the whole ten yards: red lacquer, a blue-skinned face mask, bindi, henna patterns on the arms, and an incense brazier in either shoulder. Only one was lit, but the blue curls of sandalwood smoke emitting from it made me cough.

“Sorry,” the Kali said and flicked a finger to set its internal fans into motion. The smoke swirled as it was sucked inside the suit and the set expression of the faceplate stared at me, its wearer rudely invisible behind it. Out of my Body, I was at eye level with its nipples, which were big and gold, and worked in ornate floral designs.

“I lost a screw when I was in here yesterday, and I was wondering if you’d found it,” it said.

I shrugged. “Nope.”

It hovered for an expectant moment until I reluctantly added “But you’re welcome to come in and take a look.”

The booth wasn’t very big for one person, let alone two, but I didn’t want to be standing around in my UnderWear out in the shop, so I curled back up in the chair and watched the Kali. Stooping, it detached a set of fingers and sent them rummaging along the baseboards, to no avail.

“Look,” I said, then decided to be polite and speak in perception neutral forms. You never know. “Perceive,” I said, “That your screw is not here and act accordingly.”

The Kali’s hair writhed as it considered my words.

Laura appeared in the doorway, my Body draped over an arm, and a flicker of disapproval visible through her faceplate as she saw the Kali.

“Miz Andrews, I think it’s fixed, if you want to slip it on and check the gait,” she said to me, and then, to the Kali, “I told you not to come around bothering my customers.”

The Kali’s faceplate cleared, and the wearer’s face became apparent. Young, female, short blue hair and matching eyes, all combined in indignation.

“I’m not bothering her!” she said. “Am I bothering you?”

“Actually, I’d like to put my Body back on,” I said with a touch of stiffness. I don’t like standing around naked. While you expect some amount of that while you’re at the mechanic’s, you never get used to it.

“Yeah, yeah,” she said, and I felt a twinge of unmerited guilt at the hurt expressed in her voice. Reclaiming her fingers, she slipped out the booth door. “See you around.”

Laura helped me back into my Body. At the ripe, mature age of 35, I’d found I preferred a classic model, suitable for business or everyday life – simple gray, plain lines, no flash or chassis augmentation, a touch of extra height so I can hit the standard two meters when Bodied. My one nod to issues of style is a pair of butterfly vanes on the back. I don’t know why I like them, but I do. On the inner surface they’re shaded in vermilion and amethyst, almost metallic, almost jewel. Subtle but rich, suggesting that maybe inside the gray plastiflesh, there was something entirely different. Sometimes my job gets to me and I get carried away by my prose, but you get the picture.

I wriggled my way back into my Body, feeling its solidity settling around me, the augmented tendons and sinews adding strength to my limbs, and a new, if mechanical, grace to my movements. I ran the usual checks on my internal sensors, and then the Net hookup: one by one the usual icons shimmered into view at the edge of my vision: map, weather, bank, communications, news, analysis, medical, advertisements.

Laura checked the heel and nodded, satisfied.

“Need any augmentations, Miz Andrews?” she said.

“Not today.”

“Got a sixth finger set on sale if you’re musically inclined.”

I shook my head. “I can’t tell the difference between a patterdrum and a synpop. Wasted on me.” My trade is words, not music, not pictures. I paused, not sure why or what I was asking. “Hey, who was that Kali?”

Laura snorted, an odd and garbled sound as though her vocomotor had shorted out. “Mimsy? Mimsy Star. Knew her in college. Spoiled rich kid with nothing better to do than make trouble for other folks. She lives off her uncle’s money – he’s a big vid star on the cooking channel. Stay away from her, Miz Andrews. Nothing but trouble, I tell you.”

I felt that irritation you feel when someone tells you something perfectly reasonable that you’d be doing on your own anyhow. Pressing my palm against the credit reader, I okayed the transaction with a nod and a blink, and headed out into the bleached light of the street.

***

It was one of those painfully bright spring days when visors shade to black and your cooling system kicks in the minute you hit the sidewalk carrier. My block’s usually pretty uncomplicated, but some throwback must have been trying to raise its own luxuries again – there were bumbledrones all over the fake greenery, making futile attempts to extract pollen. Those were fine when I was a kid, but nowadays, real vegetation’s a precious commodity. I eyed the bumbledrone corpses, neat pinhole laser burns through their nav systems, which marked the guard boundaries of the two real flowerboxes flanking one entrance. Even as I watched, one buzzed into range, then fell, emitting a single line of smoke, amid its dead fellows. I tried to extrapolate some new simile from it – you never know when you’re going to come across something you can use, but ended up just snapshotting the image and storing it away. I was late for work as it was.

They cut us creative types slack as far as issues of late and early go, because the downstairs types had been bamboozled into believing that a certain amount of sitting around staring into space and waiting for the Muse to strike is part of the job. My office held three writers, one editor, and Daisy, the administrative assistant, who everyone feared.

Sure enough, as soon as I walked in, Daisy handed me a sheet of plastipaper with her latest batch of similes on it. Daisy wanted to be a writer, and since the writers were always calling for fresh similes, she figured she’d break in that way.

“I thought of these while I was at the juice shop,” she said. “Are you coming on Sunday, Addie?”

“Yeah, wouldn’t miss it,” I said. The annual office HyperBowl party scheduled for that weekend was one of the major perks of the job, and each year our publisher, Fitz, tries out a new batch of recipes on his team.

While that sounds as though there’s not much going on in the office, it’s actually the pleasantest place I’ve ever worked, and I’ve been a cog in some very big wheels. Everyone gets along, mainly because Fitz jollies anyone who’s in the doldrums back up and out of them, and we’ve got a certain amount of freedom as far as theme and structure goes. Within limits, of course – we are romance writers, after all.

I scanned down the plas, reading each of the similes. “His lips pruned like a lemon,” was the most promising of them, although I did like the fruit theme that swirled like strawberry throughout them all. “Nope, nope, nope, possible with some tinkering, nope, nope, way no, and nope,” I said. “You’re getting better, though, kid.”

Daisy took it on the chin, although I was pretty sure I saw a welling tear through the faceplate. She opaqued it as she turned away, but remembered to say “Fitz is looking for you, Addie.”

Every few weeks Fitz came through with an idea for a new line, usually from something he’d overheard in the pnematube. Plenty of time to talk to him later, I thought. I fired up my computer and started tinkering with a new script generator. We were working on a Viking line, and I’d figured out a new formula for dialogue that would eliminate the stilted tone of the last trial run they’d done, full of lines like “Love for you festers in my soul.”

But I hadn’t even had the chance to get it to generate an opening scene when Fitz came in.

“Get this,” he said, gesturing. “Time-traveling superhero romance.”

“Baen tried that in the thirties,” I said.

His face fell. Not literally, but one never knows with Fitz. He went with the Metaphorical for his suit, and it was full of quirks, like my favorite touch: shooting steam out of the ears when the emotional triggers went high enough. Right now, a swirl of clouds began to circle over the shiny bald pate, and I kept a wary eye on them. If things got bad enough, the lightning could short a Body out for a few seconds. I hadn’t gotten zapped by it yet, but some of the other writers had.

“Are you sure?” he said dubiously. “We need something new here, Addie. My inbox is full of nothing but invoices and credit-related spam. Besides, I don’t know why you think you’re so good at romances. I’ve never seen you with anyone – well, no, not since that cute little number you brought to the office party – what, a decade ago?”

“Nine years,” I said. I’d thought Sally was the one. We showed up for the party in matching Bodys, ones Sally had chosen, with tasteful emerald laminate and blue piping. Usually matching suits were the step leading towards a Commitment Ceremony, but Sally had gotten cold feet three weeks later and run off to Chicago, telling me repeatedly “It’s not you, it’s me”, which has to be one of the lamest, most unsatisfying phrases known to humanity. Last I heard, Sally was living in a Triad with two men, so maybe there had been something to the explanation. Or maybe, as I frequently told myself, it had been a total lie.

I forced a smile and patted Fitz’s shoulder. “Be ye of good cheer,” I said. “I think I’ve got that dialogue problem I was having licked.”

Fitz, as I well knew, hated getting drawn into the technicalities, so when I started to explain how reducing the adverbial modifier minimum downwards had tautened the syntactical delivery, he backed out pretty fast. I spent a few hours testing it out, and was pleased with the results. 90% of writing is putting together the formulas, so once I had this one, and a slight problem with the scenery equivalence parameters solved, I’d be sitting pretty, ready to generate a manuscript to hand over to Mikka the editor.

Around three, I took a break and went out to sit in the Plaza. Everyone and their extra suit had had the same idea, it seemed. Baby-faced Chubbo Safety Bodys chased each other through the crowds, playing tag, while a multi-armed dog-walker passed by. Tourists in rented Bodys furnished with city-specific adaptations milled by in groups, each one led by a brightly colored Guide. A main flight path led over the Plaza, and flying Bodys in a variety of colors and shapes ranging from Wasp to Balloon arched overhead, casting their oddly shaped shadows across the stone tiles. I set up a privacy field to signal I wasn’t looking for conversation, and then sat enjoying the sunlight and recharging a few cells.

It was nice out on the Plaza, but crowded all the time. Which is why it took me a while to notice the Kali skulking around near the soya-on-a-stick vendors. But no matter where I looked, the Kali seemed to be, its mechanical eyes set in that half glaze that usually indicated they’re set on binocular – and always pointed in my direction. I finally gave up and went over to where the Kali was pretending to pick through a recycling bin.

“What do you want?” I said.

The Kali turned, acting as though it had noticed me for the first time.

“Oh hey,” she said. “Aren’t you that woman from this morning?”

“Yeah. Addie Andrews. Ever find your mythical screw?”

Mimsy took me off guard by readily copping to the accusation. “Yeah, I wasn’t looking for that,” she said. “Honestly, I was looking for a servo.”

“Your servo?”

“Sort of. It’s my uncle’s. It likes to hang around on that block a lot.”

“And you thought it was in my booth?”

“Er, no,” she said. “I just thought you looked interesting. Hey, is that a zeppelin?”

We both paused to watch the zeppelin float by overhead. Like the rest of the fleet circling the city in preparation for the Hyperbowl, its silvery flanks bore advertising insignias. This one was marked in scarlet and white, advertising Retro-New Old Coke, and by the time I turned back to look at her, the Kali was gone.

Back at the office, I increased the efficiency of my algorithm by another ten hearsts. The editor, Mikka, kept hovering over my shoulder and asking when I expected to be able to deliver, until I finally turned around and snapped “You’re not speeding things up any by asking every five minutes!”

Mikka’s faceplate projected his hurt facial expression, but on the rounded cylinder surrounding his head, with a grainy quality reminiscent of an old-time black and white movie. It was a look that those labeling themselves “literary” seem drawn to. He blinked lugubriously at me.

“You seem touchy today, Addie,” he said.

“You know goddamn well I won’t be able to give you this manuscript until I get the last kinks worked out,” I snarled. “And then I’ll hand it to you, you’ll rip the heart and soul out of it, and then it’ll go out in four standard editions: male/female, female/male, male/male, and female/female, because Fitz still thinks we should stick to the classic markets, and refuses to believe that there are more than two sexes. I’ll make an appearance at a few malls, and then it’s back in the office, working on the next set of parameters.”

I was pretty sure I had strayed away from the subject of my original rant, but I continued, going with the flow.

“And then on, and on, and at some point I’ll switch either to the geriatric lines or kids’ books, and then from there it’s a long slow slide into a nursing Body, so I’ll be capable of feeding myself and wiping my own ass. And then death, a small but tasteful funeral, and my ashes scattered illicitly in the San Juans.”

He kept on blinking at me. “You want your ashes scattered in the San Juans?”

“It’s in my will,” I said. “Hey, I’m tired and hungry, and ready to go home. You hear what I’m saying? Give me a few more days fiddling the numbers before you ask me again. Lila’s got her Regency Robots almost ready; go breathe down her back for a change.”

Mikka blinked a final time, then nodded and lumbered away.

***

When I got home, there was a small and shabby servo huddled by my doorway. I don’t like the trend for making robots look human, and so I was prepared to dislike this one, with its Emmett Kelly air of bedraggled dignity superimposed over a smiling cartoon face, right off the bat.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” it said. “Would you be Adelaide Andrews?”

“Depends on who’s asking,” I said.

It didn’t have much of a humor lobe, because it just looked at me. I relented.

“Yeah, I am,” I told it. “What do you want?”

“I’m so pleased, ma’am, to meet the author of Thor’s Hammer and The Eight Legs of Sleipnir. Your programming style is as lean and taut as the stomachs of your protagonists, and moves with the grace of a Valkyrie aloft.”

“Uh,” I said. I’d never had a fan appear at my house before, and this one was a servo, to boot. Then I thought of something. “Hey, you don’t belong to a woman who wears a Kali suit, do you?”

It glanced up and down the street, antenna poised warily. “No, no, ma’am. Of course not. I belong to…” There was a pause as it performed a search. “Mr. and Mrs. John Doe of…” Another pause. “101 Pleasant Street.”

“Ooookay,” I said. “Look, I’m tired and hungry, and I’d like to go in.”

“Let us go in at once, and I will prepare grilled cheese sandwiches.”

“What?”

“Mr. and Mrs….John Doe have sent me to express their appreciation for your writing. I will cook, clean, and tend to your needs. So you may focus on writing.”

“Hey, I’m not about to let a strange robot into my house,” I said. “You could be programmed to do anything. Murder me in my sleep. Or steal my silverware.”

The antenna drooped. “I assure you, ma’am, I mean you no harm.”

“I listen to public service announcements,” I said. “I know the score.”

It must have analyzed my voice and found resolve there, because it didn’t put up any argument after that – just trudged off down the street. I watched it till it was out of sight, then punched in my door code and went inside.

My apartment was one of the larger ones in the building: three rooms painted in a tasteful off-white, and photos on the walls from Sally’s senior year trip to Paris. IKEA’s “Kludge” line had furnished the blue sofa and chairs, along with a few shelves for readers and some replicas of seashells. A sisal-colored carpet that stopped a few centimeters short of the walls. And not much else.

The sour mood that had seized me when scolding Mikka still lingered in the corners of my mind as I looked around the place. What exactly had I done with my life? I’d had promising grades in school and teachers praising my talents, and then I’d used them to become just another gear in the machine pumping out dreck to keep the masses who felt they were too cool for video amused. Was this what I really wanted?

Turning on the wall screen in the kitchen, I let my favorite cooking show, “Juan’s Mesa”, guide me through a meal. Juan Estrella, a vivacious, elderly chef, was sponsored by a coffee company, so every meal ended with a cup, but I ignored that and focused on the braised seitan and black-eyed peas that seemed to be a rehash of a show I’d seen last year. I could have been a chef, I thought, watching him pour and mix and hold a steaming strip of seitan up to the camera so the audience could see its browned surface. I could have been anything.

I took a sleeping pill and went to bed.

***

The next morning seemed brighter in the way that only a good night’s sleep can accomplish. Out on my doorstep was a small basket of fresh baked muffins and a double latte in my favorite proportions. The servo from yesterday was lurking near the mailboxes. I chose to ignore its hopeful looks and took the offerings inside.

A few minutes later, after tasting the muffin, I went back to the door and let the servo in. It bustled around with profuse thanks, lights flashing in what I assumed what the robotic equivalent of happiness. Growing up, I hadn’t been around many robots, and down deep in my soul memories lingered of high school stories of robots gone wild, massacring baby sitters and poodles. But I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth if it could bake a chocolate chip cream cheese muffin that melted away with every bite.

I was halfway to work, a basket of muffins accompanying me, when the Kali swooped down, wings extended, and grabbed me under the arms in a carry maneuver. I freely admit, I react slowly – we were thirty meters up in the air in a highly illegal flight path, the muffins lying in a sad little trail below us, before I could think to start shouting.

“Kidnapper!” I yelled. “Abductor! Thief! Fraud! Litterer!”

“I just want to talk,” the Kali said.

“Anarchist! Arsonist! Rapist! Pillagist!”

“Just a few minutes,” she pleaded.

“Okay, but make it quick.”

We landed on top of a zeppelin. Yeah, it’s an odd detail, but I remember it well because the city was full of them that week, getting ready for the HyperBowl. Landing on one was about as illegal as it gets.

“This isn’t where I want to talk,” I said. Over the slippery, rounded side of the zeppelin, I could see the city laid out in very distant strips of steel and concrete. It made me nervous.

The Kali advanced on me, shaking a finger on three different hands for emphasis. “You have my servo, Ticky.”

“My name’s not Ticky, it’s Adelaide.”

“The servo’s name is Ticky. I hate you people who think just because you’re all competent and professional, everything can make sense. All I want is my servo back.”

“Listen, I don’t have any control of your servo, which you already said wasn’t yours but your uncle’s. It came up, said a few nice things, then started baking me muffins. Plus it says it belongs to Mr. and Mrs. John Doe.”

“Ticky,” the Kali sighed. “Ever since Grandfather tried reprogramming him, he’s been odd. He has…ambitions.”

“Ambitions of being a cook?”

“Nothing as practical as that.” Fumbling in her waist pack, she handed me a business card that read, in bright fuchsia letters, Mimsy Star. Body and Web design. “I guess you can keep him for a while if you like, but call me if he starts showing any further signs.”

“Any further signs of what?” I demanded. But Mimsy had already executed a showy backwards flip off the zeppelin, leaving me standing there.

I didn’t have wings built into my suit – just gliders, and it looked far enough down that I didn’t want to trust them. Instead I waited for the cops to show, and then insisted I’d been abducted. They were willing to chalk it up to pre-HyperBowl hijinks, but dutifully dusted me and the zeppelin for evidence, and one of them was kind enough to give me a lift back down to the surface, sticking to the regular, approved flight paths.

The office was bustling with life. “What’s happening?” I said to Daisy.

“Someone’s coming through, and might be buying the place,” Daisy said.

“Buying the office, or the business?”

“The business,” Daisy said. “I’m hoping they’ll want to expand.”

Panicked and bewildered, I made my way into Fitz’s office. “What’s going on?”

Fitz was standing staring out the window. The sunlight that day was bright and brassy, painful to the eye, and gleamed on the back of the two zeppelins circling the HyperDome a few blocks away.

“I woke up this morning to a horde of credit collectors on my doorstep,” he said. “I just can’t do it any more, Addie. This outfit’s offering 12 mill – not a lot, but enough to pay off my debts and hold my head up again. I had to sell my cookbook collection last month.”

“You sold the collection?” I said, astonished. Fitz’s collection of 20th century cookbooks, each signed by their respective author or chef, had been passed down to him by his grandfather, a noted gourmand, and had been his pride and joy. Every Christmas, everyone in the office went round to his place in order to drink strange punches from the old books and slightly illegal treats laden with contraband cane sugar.

“Most of them,” Fitz admitted. “There’s still a few that I couldn’t bear to part with.”

I looked out the doorway and saw a group of three men in gunmetal gray Bodys, each arm laden like a Swiss Army knife with the paraphernalia of office living, walking around the desks while Daisy looked on with a brightly bland smile.

“Who’s trying to buy us?” I asked.

The skin of Fitz’s helmet pinked. “General Emotions,” he said.

“Fitz! I’ve heard of their takeovers! They’ll get rid of all of us and outsource the production to Mars!”

“You’re all bright and talented people,” Fitz said. “Even if you had to find new jobs, which they’ve promised won’t happen, you’d find new ones.”

“Fitz, do you have to make a decision today?”

“No,” he admitted. “I figured I’d ponder it over and announce it at the office party this Sunday at the HyperBowl. One of the reasons they want this place is our box, but I figured we’d make use of it one last time.”

“Do me a favor, Fitz – don’t sign anything until then. Give me two days to try to figure out some better alternative.”

“I suppose,” he said dubiously.

***

From the time I was a small child, I associated the HyperDome with problem solving. My great-uncle Roy took me to every game as a child and then as a teen, and I’d used the time, bored out of my skull, to sit and watch the patterns of the players and figure out mathematical equations in my head. It was during the 2039 HyperBowl, and Vinnie Testaverde’s famous final touchdown, in fact, that I’d worked out the formula for what became my trademark story arc, which allowed one extra chapter for the aftermath.

So today I returned to the stadium, using my employee badge to access the box under the pretense of checking out dimensions for the party.

“How many balloon bouquets can you fit in one of those and still let people move around, that’s what I need to know,” I told the attendant.

Sitting up in the box, I looked out over the empty green sward stretching from goal to goal and tried to imagine the patterns that would emerge on Sunday, the elaborate loops of the players as the ball moved from one group to another, but the even more complex patterns of the patrons and vendors, the swarms going to and from the restrooms. On Sundays like this, dedicated football fans might pull out a Body dedicated specifically to their team, a paw-print marked chassis for the Cheetahs, rainbow paint for the Freedoms, glitter and tinsel and sparkle for whatever team you cared to name. Everyone would wear something flashy, particularly those who could afford dress-up Bodys; others would make do with decals and temporary paint. But it would be a festive, party atmosphere.

The air-conditioned cold of the box penetrated my Body and I tongued the thermostat to up it. Gloom edged my thoughts with darkness. Some party, I thought, if it ends with a gladhand and farewell, see you all on the flip side. I liked working for Fitz. I didn’t want to become a cog again.

Someone knocked on the door, and I opened it to find the Kali.

“Stars and Stripes,” I said, employing one of Roy’s more colorful expressions. “Are you everywhere? Are you cloning yourself?”

“Too expensive,” Mimsy said. She craned her neck to look behind me. “Would you happen to have Ticky with you?”

“No,” I said firmly.

“My uncle’s going to kill me if I’ve lost him.”

“What’s your uncle’s name?”

“My uncle Juan. He owns half the HyperBowl.”

“Such problems you have,” I said. “Look, I don’t have any control over your servo, but I’ll tell it tonight to go home.”

Clearing her faceplate, Mimsy brightened. She was a surprisingly pretty girl for such a ditz, I reflected. Her hair was the precise shade of her dark blue eyes, and her chin was narrow and vulpine. She looked a little like Sally. But a lot weirder.

“Will you?” Mimsy said.

“Yeah, whatever.”

“I’m sorry I said I hated people like you.”

“I’d forgotten about that actually. It was the abandoning me on the zeppelin that you should be apologizing for.”

“I’m not apologizing for anything!” Mimsy said. “I was trying to be nice!”

I sighed. “There’s no winning with you.”

“I should hope not!” Mimsy said. “When can I have my servo back?”

“If it won’t go back on its own, I’ll bring it with me here on Sunday, and you can come claim it.”

“That works,” Mimsy said.

“Of course it does,” I replied. “What, you think we practical and competent people can’t come up with working plans?”

“See, there you go again!”

“What? What?” But Mimsy had vanished, leaving me there at a loss. And smiling.

That night, as Ticky served gazpacho in a bowl crafted from freshly baked spelt bread, I said, “Ticky, why exactly did Mr. and Mrs John Doe send you, again?”

It set salt and pepper on the table and gazed at me with eyes whirligigged with synthethic emotion. “Why, because you’re such a fine author.”

“They’ve read all my books?”

“Every single one. Even Helga’s Tunic.”

“That was out of print almost as soon as it appeared,” I said, astonished. For a robot, Ticky had excellent taste.

It rearranged the condiments on the table with a careful mechahand. “They like your writing very much,” it said. “Perhaps at some point you would like to talk about your writing process and I would record what you say for them.”

A dire suspicion grew in my head. “They don’t want to write, do they?”

“Of course not!”

“Whew.”

“But they would like for you to instruct me in the art.”

“Oh.” Now I understood. A servo who wanted to be a writer. No wonder Mimsy had said it had gotten odd.

“Perhaps after dinner, you would care to discuss how you began writing while drinking a fine port that I have synthesized for you.”

“Perhaps,” I said. “Hey, I’m going to be at a party on Sunday with some of the other writers. Why don’t you come along and that way you’ll get a chance to listen to them?”

It gazed at me, enraptured.

“You could make some treats for the party,” I slyly suggested.

“I will start preparing right now!” And with that it vanished into the kitchenette, from which the smells of citrus and mint began emanating.

“I’d still like that port,” I called after it, but there was no answer. Sighing, I finished spooning up my gazpacho, and flipped on the computer. Trying to find ways that the press could earn more money was harder than I’d imagined it could be. No matter what avenue I scouted down, I found traces that Fitz had been there before me. I slept briefly, then set to it again on Saturday, fueled by freshly baked cinnamon doughnuts and Mexican hot chocolate. Nothing. Again and again, nothing. I worked through the day and into the next night until finally I pushed the screen away with a groan.

“I can’t figure it out,” I told the wall. From the kitchen, a waft of coconut and orange was my only answer.

***

At the HyperBowl, I made my entrance, followed by the servo with its arms laden with containers of doughnuts, cookies, empanadas, churros, and coconut ices. I pointed to the buffet table, already laden with Fitz’s offerings, and a massive punch bowl brimming with a murky, pale brown liquid.

“Try the punch,” Fitz said, appearing at my elbow. “I was going to save it for Christmas, but I figured might as well use it now. It’s coffee based. A recipe from one of the cookbooks I kept.”

I looked at him as he poured me a cupful. “You’ve made your decision, haven’t you?” I said.

In the corner, Daisy was talking earnestly to Lila, yet another sheet of plas in her hand. Mikka was staring out the window at the field as though witnessing the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. The other two writers occupied themselves with their dates and the containers the servo was setting out. Rapturous noises came from that corner of the room; I didn’t want to look closely enough to determine their source.

Fitz’s shoulders slumped, assuming an exaggerated and awkward angle. “Yeah. I appreciate your position, Addie, but I just can’t go it any longer.”

“Well,” I began, then glimpsed Mimsy’s face at the door. “Just a minute, Fitz. I’ll be back in a second.”

I opened the door and Mimsy entered hastily, followed by an elderly man in an immaculate vanilla-shaded BodySuit.

“You have my servo!” he cried angrily at me. “I could have you arrested for theft!”

“Now just a minute,” I said, looking between Mimsy and the man.

“This is my uncle,” Mimsy said unhappily. “He realized Ticky was missing.”

I glanced back over my shoulder and saw the servo trying to unobtrusively edge behind Daisy and Lila.

“Arrested!” the man shouted.

“Is there some problem?” Fitz appeared at my elbow.

“I am Juan Estrella and this woman has stolen my prize servo, laden with ten thousand secret recipes!”

“Addie?” Fitz said, his tone full of admiring wonder. “Did you really?”

“It followed me home and baked me muffins!” I said. “How was I supposed to know?”

“I’m Fitzroy Huggins,” Fitz said. “Now, here, Mr. Estrella…you’re the chef Estrella, aren’t you? Come and have some punch, and we’ll discuss this all like civilized adults.”

“Arrested!” Estrella said again, but his tone was lower, mollified and flattered at being recognized.

“I’m so sorry,” Mimsy whispered in one of my external microphones. “He saw me leaving and decided he wanted to come too.”

Overhead, two silvery zeppelins circled, filming the crowd, their shadows falling across the flanks of festive Bodys and noBodys alike. Fitz poured Estrella a cup of punch, and the old man gingerly poured a sip down an intake tube. His suit colored in surprise and delight, blossoming peacock blue and turquoise.

“What is this drink?”

“Coco-latte punch,” Fitz said, pleased. “It’s a late twentieth century…”

“I must have the recipe!”

***

I’m fond of happy endings.

“Well,” I said to Mimsy, as we stood watching the halftime show. Down on the field, cheerleader Bodys marched in tandem, spelling out “Victory for all!” in cursive lettering. “That seems to have turned out all right. Your uncle has a new source of recipes and Fitz has enough cash to keep the house alive for a while.”

“And Ticky has a new friend,” Mimsy said, nodding over at the corner where the servo and Daisy were comparing notes on plot twists. “But what did you and I get out of all of this?”

I trailed a finger along the inner curve of one of the Kali’s elbows. It didn’t seem as tacky as it used to. “Oh, I don’t know,” I said. “But I’m sure something will emerge.”


.

About the Author

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches in the Pacific Northwest. The author of two short story collections, she’s published work in Asimov’s, Weird Tales, and Clarkesworld, among other places. Her website, kittywumpus.net, has links to her online writing and more information. She’s very sorry to see Crossed Genres close.