art by Steven R. Stewart
by Allison Starkweather
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.