Featured Story
Recent Stories
Stories by Topic
News
Enter any portion of the author name or story title:
small-go-arrowsearch
Sign up for free daily sci-fi!
  Subscribe to Daily Science Fiction
your email will be kept private

Breaking News
Get a copy of Not Just Rockets and Robots: Daily Science Fiction Year One. 260 adventures into new worlds, fantastical and science fictional. Rocket Dragons Ignite: the anthology for year two, is also available!
Kindle Edition
Kindle Edition
DSF stories are available in monthly digests for Kindle!
DSF for Kindle
Publish your stories or art on Daily Science Fiction:
Submit your story
Check story status
Stories
Everything we've published! Click on a topic to read...

Science Fiction
Aliens (75 stories)
Biotech (49)
Clones (15)
 
Fantasy
Fantasy (51)
 
Hither & Yon
Humor (21)
 
Date Order
Not just rockets & robots...
What is Science Fiction?
"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.
close






art by Alan Bao

Substitution

Brooke Wonders lives in the city by day and the desert by night. In between teaching creative nonfiction and writing liminal fantasy, she copyedits aliens for fun and profit. She is a Clarion 2011 alumnus and a current PhD student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her blog can be found at brookejulietwonders.com.
I'm training my replacement. Things I know about you that he'll need to know: You like your cappuccino made with skim milk, with a chocolate cookie on the side (you call it your morning defeats the purpose). You like sex with the lights off, high thread-count sheets, and your favorite color is blue.
I show him where the spices are kept, the way they're not alphabetized but rather organized according to frequency of use: lemon pepper, thai spice, thyme toward the front; salt, cinnamon, turmeric to the back. He nods absently through my explanation, his eyes drifting toward the basketball game blaring on the TV, and I check out the muscles under his muscle shirt and try to see what you see in him. When you come through the front door, just off work, you're graceful and elegant even with your brown hair fallen down around your face (is that what I'm supposed to think?), and his eyes unfocus as he looks at you. I wonder, when mine do that, if I mean it.
Today I trained him on the answering machine, taping over our old message.
"Hi, this is Jenny."
"And this is her live-in sexual companion."
"We're not in right now, but you can leave a witticism for us after the beep."
"Beep!"
Your friends left some good stuff after that beep. I know, because I could tell your real laughter from your fake laughter, the difference between them and me. Maybe that's why he's replacing me. He refused to leave a message, even after I'd erased us. I set it up so a neutral machine voice answers your missed calls now.
Mr. Jenny is what the kids at school call me. You loan me out to the nearby elementary school as a substitute teacher, five days a week while you're at work, and I mostly hang out in the special ed classroom. It's a job I love. There's Kara, who has Down Syndrome and drinks whole containers of gravy for breakfast; and Vincent, who loves screaming obscenities and falling down laughter; and David, who hates crowds larger than two. None of them ever throw spitwads at me, or do the robot, or try to get me to cry--which I've never done. I'm not sure if I can.
I didn't see it coming, when you said "we're through. I'm tired of your shut downs, your passive aggression, the monotony of us. I'd like you to meet John." My replacement. I remember your words precisely. I'd had some hope you were joking, that this wasn't really the end, until you introduced me to him.
"John's a musician. He works nightshifts at the Quickiemart, so you'll mostly be training him during the day, when I'm at work." Your voice imperious.
He held out a sweaty hand, and I shook it, but I couldn't take my eyes off of you in your corporate suit. God, I love your corporate suit, your sleeked-back hair, the way you button your sleeves and roll your collar with precision. One of the first things you ever said to me: "I play by the rules; I don't need to advertise cleavage to sell advertising," your diction clipped. I never knew what you did at work, not really, and I'd have waking nightmares of executives slowly unbuttoning each pearlized button of your blouse, if they were male whispering, "I want you," and if female, "When did you know? You liked girls, I mean?"
John doesn't make you coffee like I would, and he doesn't respond well to criticism. I saw him mix the last bit of your espresso grounds in with the Walmart-brand coffee he prefers, and he let us run out of chocolate cookies. Sometimes when you forget to turn me off (you've been forgetting more often lately), I'll watch the two of you sleeping together, his huge hands and strange proportions, you tiny and collapsible. With him, you leave the lights on.
I never expected this. If I'd known, I could have gone back to school--maybe tried for a teaching certificate, done something with my... life? May I call it that? We could have adopted a baby, gotten a dog. What about the plush bathrobes, his and hers, and the monogrammed towels in navy? What about the crumpled bedsheets? Who will make the bed? I tried to teach him hospital corners, but he's hopeless. You were standing right there, and I thought you'd say something, because he was so clearly hopeless at the folding and tucking. But instead, right in front of me, he said:
"I'm not doing this. My feet need to breathe. How else can I wrap myself around you, if I'm all restricted?" And he grinned at you, a dopey, disgusting, sexual grin, and you smiled back. At that point I knew I was done training him.
When you finally disconnect my wiring, the whirring noises in my brain distract me, and you give me a reassuring shoulder pat, "You'll power down soon," and I think, maybe you'll change your mind. But no, to you I'm polymer stretched on an alloy frame, a collection of spare parts. I don't know what I am, let alone who I am to you. Woke up one morning a substitute teacher at Fairmount Elementary, knowing which spices went where and how to program the remote. Knowing there was you, that you were the important one.
I remember a wedding, hazily. Maybe I'm a reconstruction: your dead husband, a high school boyfriend, a body housing a brain you used to love. I saw ads for that on the Home Shopping Network. I remember a box; the smell of cardboard follicles made me sneeze. I remember you putting me together, plugging me in, turning me on, my nerves galvanized. You tease that I have narcolepsy, but I just forget to recharge sometimes. Pinocchio, that movie disturbed me, and you made a tactless, tactless joke, something about "I've got no strings to hold me down." I don't know if I'm a memory, a toy, a love, or an object. I don't know what I am, and you won't tell me. I don't even know where I was built, just my make and model. I'm an older edition.
I worry about those Fairmount kids, how they'll make do without me. I was indestructible, let them crawl all over me, comforted them at exactly the right intonation. The school district called this morning, left a message on the machine asking where I was. You could donate me to the school, to those kids; that'd be all right.
I'm happy you've found someone new, if only because I love seeing you happy. He just seems so absent, mechanically going through the motions of our daily lives. I know how to fold your socks, and he can't even keep track of which side of the bathtub you keep the salt scrub on, and which side is for the lavender body oil. I know you'll get bored of him eventually, take me out, dust me off. Will my mind be rebooted, my body pulled out of storage? I don't know how this works, and it's safer that way, or so you tell me.
Earlier today, I found my manual at the bottom of my storage box. You'd left it sitting out, conspicuous, taunting me as I went through my morning routine. Just in case I'd had any doubts that you were through with me. From Chapter 11, under Basic Care: "If your housebot is becoming unduly human, an extreme shock to his preprogrammed nervous system can act as a system reboot, restoring him to optimal efficiency." When my replacement wasn't looking--he was watching TV in the den--I took a butcher knife and cut through my pinkie. I had to keep from screaming, but there was no blood, just a bouquet of severed wires. I can't tell if the reboot worked or not, but I can't feel that finger anymore. I reaffixed it with black electrical tape from the kitchen catch-all drawer. You're almost out; I wrote "black electrical tape" on the post-it list on our fridge, and beneath that, "chocolate cookies."
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, December 6th, 2011


When I wrote this story, Id recently ended a relationship of several years and, after a reasonable length of time, moved in with a new guy. In the first few months of us living together, I found myself wishing Boyfriend One could come back and train Boyfriend Two in all my inconsistencies and idiosyncrasies. And then I promptly felt like a terrible person and wrote this robot story to get such absurdities out of my system. Thank you for reading!

- Brooke Juliet Wonders

RATE THIS STORY
Please click to rate this story from 1 (ho-hum) to 7 (excellent!):

Please don't read too much into these ratings. For many reasons, a superior story may not get a superior score.

5.1 Rocket Dragons Average, 6 Median

SHARE THIS STORY

JOIN MAILING LIST
Please join our mailing list and receive free daily sci-fi (your email address will be kept 100% private):  [join]
 
Copyright Info
Tell a Friend
Send Feedback
About Us