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art by Steven R. Stewart

Upgrade

Allison Starkweather sealed her fate in middle school when she decided on a whim that she was going to write a book. She hasn't been able to stop since. When not writing, she likes to make pretty things out of yarn and wool.
2058-W09-3
I remember sitting on the porch in Inglenook in the chair Niko made, watching the waves lap at the shore. The endless blue of the sky overhead left me breathless.
The chair I sit in now hurts my back. Niko would have built it better. The sky is the same shade of blue I remember, rendered on a glowing plasma-screen ceiling. Waves lap at the walls as though they're glass, and the floor has modified its density to feel like sand. The air smells like antiseptic and oil, not a hint of salt.
2058-W09-5
After two days of diagnostics, the techs deliver the bad news. I've had another glitch. My memory is failing. Again. They offer to refresh it, but I send them away.
My hands look like my grandmother's, skin thin and wrinkled as crepe. A tech shows me how to control the room's programming. There are presets for Inglenook, and my childhood home in Denver, and the MIT dorm where I first met Niko. I can turn any wall section reflective, but I grab the tech's wrist before he runs the command. I fear the changes a mirror might show me.
2058-W09-6
A man with Niko's face walks into the room. I throw myself at him as eagerly as this old woman's body is able until he says, "Oma?" and I stop.
"You're not Niko."
He passes a hand over his eyes. Sighs. "It's Stefan, Oma. Your grandson?"
I've never seen him before in my life.
2058-W10-1
The techs crowd around my chair in their sharp white coats and Stefan tells me he's purchased an upgrade. 250 zettabytes, the best on the market. Guaranteed performance. He touches my temple and I flinch. There's something hard under there, like a cyst.
They want permission to install it. Sure. Why not? It'll make Stefan happy, and seeing Stefan smile is almost like seeing Niko.
"They'll load your backup before the procedure." Stefan squeezes my hand. "You'll be good as new this time tomorrow."
2058-W10-2
My head throbs, and the spot on my temple feels like my thumb the time I tried to help Niko build a new kitchen table and he missed the nail and got me instead. But I remember.
I remember sitting on the porch in Inglenook, Niko's face pale as clay. "The test results came," he said. "No improvement."
He used to serenade me with show tunes, back in college. His voice was so strong, but it shook as he told me he had three months, maybe. If we were lucky.
I remember climbing into his hospital bed, whispering that our Maria had had a baby boy. "They named him Stefan, for your father."
Niko's smile cracked his parched lips. Blood stained his mouth.
2058-W11-3
Stefan has lost patience with me. I cannot stop crying. Today he lasted ten minutes before he snapped, "It was twenty years ago, Oma," and stormed out.
2058-W37-5
The chip has made my recall near-instantaneous. It stores and remembers events with perfect clarity and detail.
Things I now know:
It's been twenty-five weeks and three days since Stefan's last visit.
It's been twenty-four weeks and five days since he called.
The techs make their rounds every fifteen minutes precisely.
The room's Inglenook program is on a forty-eight minute loop. I've watched the same freighter sail over the horizon twenty-two times today, one hundred fifty-seven times this week, six hundred seventy-four times this month.
And the most important: This isn't an upgrade. It's just a different way of going mad.
2058-W39-7
It's easy to forget that an old woman with a failing memory chip once studied computer science at MIT. Graduated top of her class. We didn't have zettabyte drives back then, much less chips, but I still know a thing or two.
It takes almost no time to reconfigure the room's processor to access my chip. It already has a link so the techs can run remote diagnostics. From there, all it takes is a few lines of code.
>>runprocess.encoding: end
>>Access files: datastor
range?
>>start: 2035-W10-1
>>end: 2058-W39-7
>>command: delete
confirm: y/n?
>>y
2058-W40-1
I remember sitting on the porch in Inglenook in the chair Niko made, watching the waves lap at the shore.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

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