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The Words in Frosting

Mary E. Lowd writes stories and collects creatures. She's had more than one hundred short stories published, and her novels include the Otters In Space trilogy, In a Dog's World, and The Snake's Song: A Labyrinth of Souls Novel. Her fiction has won an Ursa Major Award and two Coyotl Awards. She also edits the furry anthology series ROAR and furry e-zine Zooscape. Meanwhile, she's collected a husband, daughter, son, bevy of cats and dogs, and the occasional fish. The stories, creatures, and Mary live together in a crashed spaceship disguised as a house, hidden in a fairy garden in Oregon. Learn more at marylowd.com. Read more stories at deepskyanchor.com.

Gary was a humanoid android, programmed to experience the complete range of human emotions. Right now, he was sad. His broad shoulders slouched, and his head hung, framing his handsome face with his beautiful raven hair. He had been designed to be beautiful.
Chirri wasn't sure what to do with this sad android who'd shown up in her bakery, so she served him a piece of cake on the house. The felinid-alien slid a gold-embossed ceramic plate in front of Gary, and the android stared disconsolately at the piece of fudgy caramel cake on it for several seconds--a very long time for an android--before saying, "I don't eat."
Chirri's tufted triangular ears splayed in consternation. "Where's your human?" she asked. "Don't you usually come here with that tall human woman?"
The human in question, Maradia, had been frequenting Chirri's bakery for years; she'd only started bringing the beautiful android with her a few weeks ago. Though, Chirri vaguely remembered another similar android a year or so back.
Gary looked up at Chirri and stared at her with piercing eyes. "She's not my keeper."
Chirri was the feline, but Gary's voice was far closer to a hiss. "My apologies," Chirri offered. "I didn't mean to imply anything."
"She is my maker," Gary mumbled. All of the fight drained out of him. It was like watching him deflate.
"Is she what you're sad about?" Chirri hazarded.
Gary wouldn't meet her eye, but his smooth furless face contorted with emotions like shadows of clouds--large and ineffable; out of reach, yet all encompassing. Chirri had never seen a humanoid face in such turmoil.
Chirri took the seat beside Gary, picked up the fork and started eating the cake she'd served him. She was considering kicking the sad robot out of her bakery when he finally spoke again.
"I've loved her my entire life." His words wrung with the weight of eons.
Maybe, Chirri thought, he was the same android who the human woman had brought around with her way back when. Maybe they were the same android after all. Though she could have sworn his face had widened a little. Maybe androids could put on weight. "Long time, huh?"
"Since before my processor was extracted from the computer where she programmed me and inserted into this android body."
"Damn," Chirri said, putting down her fork and licking a few crumbs of cake from the fur on her chin. "She programmed you?"
Gary nodded.
"Is that like being in love with your mother?"
Gary looked startled and then said, "No, nothing like that. She designed me to be the perfect companion for her in all ways--intellectual, romantic, everything."
Chirri thought that sounded kind of creepy, but it wasn't her place to judge. It was her place to bake cakes and to kick sad androids out of her bakery if they didn't shape up and start buying some cake, even if they didn't eat it.
Still, she couldn't bring herself to kick a robot when he was this far down. If she could just cheer him up a little.... "All right, so you're perfect for each other. What's the problem?" She took another bite of the caramel cake. It was delicious, as it should be. Chirri didn't usually have to deal with problems like this android; it was so much easier to cheer up organic lifeforms.
"I'm not the first android she's programmed."
Chirri thought about that. "She's a roboticist, right?"
Gary nodded.
"That's what she does; program robots." Chirri saw the displeasure on Gary's face and corrected herself. "I mean, androids."
"That's not the problem--I'm not the first android she's programmed to be her perfect companion. There's another one; he calls himself Gerangelo, and he runs Robots 4 Robots in the merchant quarter. I'm merely a replacement for him, and I only found out about it today."
Gerangelo must have been the similar robot that Chirri had seen Maradia with a few years back. "Wait..." Chirri said. If Gary was a replacement for Gerangelo.... How old did that make Gary? "I thought you said you'd loved her since you were first programmed. When was that?"
"Three weeks ago." He said the words simply, as if it was nothing at all to discover that a sentient creature in a fully adult humanoid body was actually a mewling babe only a few weeks old. Perhaps it shouldn't be. Robots don't age like organic lifeforms do.
No wonder Gary was overwhelmed by his own emotions. He had no practice handling them. Chirri hadn't signed up for counseling a newly sentient lifeform. Most of the time, the only therapy she offered came in the form of mood-stabilizing hydrangea flour baked into her cakes.
"Does she still love Gerangelo?" Chirri asked, feeling totally out of her depth in the realm of human-android relationships. In her own species, romantic relationships were kept to an absolute minimum--quick trysts designed to produce offspring. From what Chirri had seen of the humans on Crossroads Station though, they were weird about their relationships, clinging to them regardless of whether they served any reproductive purpose.
"She loves him as a friend, she says." Gary was looking at Chirri now like she might actually know something. It was deeply troubling.
"Does she love you?"
"Yes. But she used to love Gerangelo--then something changed, and she replaced him with me."
Chirri thought about that and gave him the only answer she could, "Bring her a cake."
"You're afraid of her replacing you? Then bring her a cake." It was a self-interested answer. She wanted to get this android out of her bakery and sell a cake at the same time. Besides, if he was concerned about losing this human woman's love, then a cake couldn't hurt. Maradia had been buying cake from Chirri for years; she clearly loved it.
The more Chirri thought about it, she realized that she'd never seen the previous android show the slightest interest in cake or Chirri's bakery at all. Yet here was this one, moping all afternoon at one of her tables. "By the way, what brought you here?" Chirri asked. "Why come to my bakery when you don't eat?"
Gary shrugged. "It made me think of Maradia, and I knew she'd be unlikely to look for me here."
Chirri didn't know what had happened with the previous android, but she had trouble believing a roboticist would go to the trouble of programming an entirely new android--clearly an expensive one--only to plan on replacing it. "Whatever went wrong with Gerangelo," Chirri said, "you're the fix, right?"
"Is Maradia a talented roboticist?"
Gary didn't have to answer. The glow of pride in his eyes was clear.
"Then she's not going to make the same mistake twice. Take her a cake and tell her you love her. Better yet, let me write it on the cake for you."
Chirri helped Gary pick a chocolate cake, dusted in Aldebaran sugar crystals that she knew from Maradia's previous orders that she would like. She offered to write I love you on top of the cake, but Gary pointed out that his servo-controlled limbs would offer greater precision. So she taught him how to pipe the frosting himself, and he penned the words, Made For You, in ornate cursive flourishes on top of the cake. With a little more instruction, he encircled the cake with intricate frosting vines and rosebuds. Chirri had never seen cake decorations more perfect and beautiful. Gary had a real eye for aesthetics and a robotically steady hand.
"You know, maybe what you really need," Chirri said, "is a job to distract you from worrying about your relationship."
"I don't know," Gary hedged. Yet he was clearly enjoying himself, adding more and more tiny details to the already exquisitely decorated confection.
"Tell you what," Chirri offered. "Any time you get upset, come here and I'll give you cakes to decorate. If you do it too often, we'll make it a job--otherwise, you can just take some home to your beloved roboticist."
"She does love cake," Gary conceded, still totally focused on the frosting.
"And you love decorating...." Chirri didn't press the point any further, but by the time he left, the three-week-old android was much more cheerful. Chirri had no doubt that she'd found herself a new cake decorator.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, July 3rd, 2019

Author Comments

I've been writing stories about Maradia and her robots for years, but they all started with a story called, "My Fair Robot," about how she created a robot designed to love her. Being loved by the robot she'd made changed her, softened her, made her more compassionate--but the robot didn't change, and so he didn't love the person she became. The story ended with a throw-away, jokey line about how she was still happily married to Gary, the next robot she'd made. In this story, I thought it would be interesting to examine how Gary felt about the situation.

- Mary E. Lowd
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