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art by Richard Gagnon

Lyria

Miah Sonnel is a two-time finalist in the Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing (under her given name, Miah Saunders). She has recently graduated with a B.A. in Creative Writing from High Point University, and currently resides and writes in Charlotte, NC. "Lyria" is her first professional publication.
***Editor's Warning: Disturbing subject matter, and adult language. This story is not for sensitive or young readers***
Lyria sits naked on Aaron's workbench. Her knees are pulled close to her chest, back paneling peeled open at the spine. Lyria's insides are neatly packaged. The thin blue and red wiring wraps around the knobs of her vertebrae like twisted veins, pulsing blue and humming with the echo of her heartbeat. The skin around her waist is warm and soft under Aaron's steady hand. Lyria is his favorite--the most advanced among his girls, his greatest achievement by far.
She shifts restlessly.
"Hold still," Aaron warns, using his scalpel to gently push a knot of wiring to the side.
"Sorry, Dad," she whispers.
Dad. She's the only being--human or drone--who calls him Dad.
"You're going to have to stop calling me Da--that," Aaron murmurs, hating himself for choking on the word. "I'm not your Father. I don't own you, anymore." Aaron swallows his bitterness.
Lyria shakes her head vehemently and he hisses as the wires vibrate with the jerky movement. She slouches, stilling obediently but saying sullenly, "I'm still yours for another ten hours. He--Mr. Weston--doesn't own me yet."
Aaron doesn't answer. It's useless arguing semantics. He finds the small paneling at the knot of her spine, just beneath the base of her neck.
"Be very still." He reaches for his drill with his free hand.
The drill fits between his index and middle fingers like a pen. It hums. He presses it to the small panel and it screeches against the metal. He stops. "Are you okay?" he asks.
"Yup," she answers, popping the word with her lips. Of course she answers yes.
Aaron switches the drill back on. The screaming continues. The cold dread gathering in his chest has spread to settle into a blanket of nausea in his gut. Stupid. It's stupid to do this while she's still awake. It's reckless, dangerous. One nick to the wrong wire could send Lyria crashing.
This is why he puts the girls to sleep before he customizes them. When they're in standby they're nothing but hardware to play with--cracking them open is easy... fun even.
When they're awake, it's harder to remember that they're not real.
But tonight is Lyria's last night, and she doesn't want to be put into standby. She doesn't want to sleep, not even for a moment.
"Dad?" Lyria asks. He can barely hear her over the drill. He stops it. The tiny screw is almost loose.
"Yes?"
"Who will you activate next?"
Aaron hasn't really thought about it.
"I don't know. Do you have a suggestion?"
They both look at the wall. His girls are stored side by side in their containment units. The dolls stare down at them, dead for the moment, waiting for Aaron to process them, to charge them up and bring them life.
"Abigail, maybe?" Lyria offers the name grudgingly. "If you have to choose, I suppose she'd be best. Better than Marion, definitely." Not better than me, is silent but understood.
Aaron wonders how different the Abigail-class drone will be from Lyria. He wonders if Abigail will have the same mannerisms, the same stilted, child-like speech patterns, or learning curve. Will he favor her half as much as he does Lyria, or more?
"Do I really gotta go?" Lyria asks. It's a quiet question. She already knows the answer.
He'd spent weeks on the phone with the county parole office, with his lawyers, begging, pleading that they do something, anything to keep Lyria in his custody. But the law is the law.
"I'm sorry, sir," the parole officer says over the phone. She doesn't sound sorry at all. The only one who'd really be sorry is Lyria. "But Youth Weston has an 85.67% chance of relapsing. His therapist assures us that the drone will be essential to his rehabilitation into normal society."
"You mean Lyria will be a perfect target."
Aaron knows how the world works. An artificial girl is worth far less than a breathing one. Lyria is worth less.
The parole officer is not fazed by Aaron's anger. Aaron can hear her tapping something against her desk. "The Lyria-class drone is a perfect match for Mr. Weston's... unique temperament." Of course she is a perfect match, Aaron wants to scream. Lyria is perfect in every way. She can mimic the mannerisms of a child at any stage of development--she can scream like one, cry like one, beg like one. She can be the perfect victim without the consequences.
Aaron sucks in an angry breath, but the parole officer continues on, "You knew there was a chance that one of your products would be requested by the parole board when you contracted with the state."
"That was before..." Before I created Lyria. Before she called me 'Dad.' Before I knew I'd be catering to sickos like Youth fucking Weston.
The parole officer is unsympathetic. "The collectors will come by Monday morning to retrieve the drone. If you refuse to comply you will be held in contempt." She hangs up. Several minutes pass before Aaron feels strong enough to place the phone gently back on the hook instead of smashing it to pieces against the wall.
Lyria looks at Aaron over his shoulder, waiting for him to answer her question. He wants to say: I tried. I tried so hard for you. And I'm sorry. I wish I could have spared you this. All that potential--wasted. Instead he answers simply, pathetically, "Yes. I'm sorry."
Lyria sighs. Aaron watches a wisp of her dark hair blow away from her lips, dancing in the recycled air filtering from her lungs. "I knew I'd be sold eventually. I just wished I could've stayed longer. Even just one more day, you know?"
She trails off. When it's clear she won't say anything more, Aaron switches on his drill.
The screw pops loose, the panel pops open. The key to Lyria's nervous system is nothing more than a compact number pad surrounded by humming machinery. The buttons are far too small for his fingers. He drops his drill and picks up his stylus, pressing the point to the keypad.
He enters the first code.
A jolt goes through Lyria's spine, and it sparks blue. Aaron disengages her firewall. One more code. His stylus trembles.
Lyria jerks, shudders once, and then goes absolutely still.
"Lyria?"
"Sorry. I--" she shifts, swaying from side to side. "I think... I think I feel cold." She sounds delighted. Goose pimples are bubbling to the surface of her back. The curves of her buttocks are reddening. The bench must be freezing.
"I've activated your sensory cortex. How does it feel?"
"Weird." She runs her hands down her legs, feeling for the first time how smooth they are. Aaron's hand returns to her waist. His thumb smoothes a path down the curve of her abdomen.
She giggles and shies away. "That tickles, Dad."
Aaron grips the drill and the screw. "Just, try to stay still, Lyria. This is going to hurt."
Lyria stops running her toes along the cool edge of the workbench and goes completely still. "Right. Pain. I think I can handle it."
No, Aaron thinks, you really can't. He has to drill the base of her spine to screw the panel closed. Aaron can't even imagine the agony.
"I can put you into standby," he offers, he begs.
"No," Lyria says resolutely. "I gotta get used to pain eventually." Aaron winces. "I know you tried to protect me, Dad. This is what my--what Mr. Weston wants, right? For me to feel it? For it to hurt?"
Lyria drops her head to her knees once more, staring at nothing. "I swear I won't scream."
He turns on the drill.
Lyria doesn't scream, not once, though he can feel her shaking from the force of it rattling inside her throat. When he seals the raised edges of her skin closed, she cries. (A new development; installed just days ago at the request of her new owner: Youth fucking Weston.) Her tears are thicker than his, and they stain his shirt where she rests her cheek against his chest.
Aaron puts her in standby at dawn. Her eyelids droop but don't close all the way. Her body curls in on itself, knees tucked securely under her chin. He cradles her in his arms and, just for a moment, presses his nose to Lyria's crown and whispers goodbye. He packs her carefully into her traveling carrier. She lies on her side in a fetal position, looking soft, beautiful, and so very young. She is half submerged in chrome and plasma.
Aaron closes the carrier, locks it, and stares at it until the collectors come to take Lyria away.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, September 27th, 2012

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