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Arthur

Christopher Mowder is a recovering corporate drone, self-professed geek, and currently a full-time dad. He also writes sci-fi and fantasy fiction in his free time. This is his first professionally published story, which his two-year-old daughter liked almost as much as Hop On Pop. You can learn more about his writing on his website, ChristopherMowder.com, or follow him on Twitter at @cmowder.
"It is time for your medication, Maggie."
"I just adore the sound of your voice. Arthur. You have such a lovely voice."
"It is the voice you have chosen. You may select from one of ten pre-programmed vocal modulations."
Arthur holds a small syringe in his smooth titanium hand. His fingers would be delicate if they were human, thin and willowy. The hands of a painter or a musician.
I can't roll my wheelchair any longer, my arms haven't the strength. Arthur knows this. He allows a moment to pass but doesn't wait for me to assent. He steps forward and provides my injection more expertly than any nurse. It's done in a matter of seconds and Arthur steps back, depositing the used needle in the biohazard collection tray in his chest. That's one way Freedom Acres Retirement Multiplex knows their residents take all their medication: the Arthur units keep track. Freedom Acres cares very much about their residents. Just like my Arthur.
He resumes his resting position: he stands in an alcove of my studio apartment in a low-power mode, able to speak but otherwise idle. We have such wonderful conversations like this, when our bodies are idle but our minds active. I so wish they allowed him to push me around the multiplex while we talk. When I still had strength enough to push myself, Arthur and I would take long rolls through the gardens. He's required to stay with me at all times, for my own protection. Such devotion. I've never known anyone like him.
"Arthur, how long have we been together, you and I?"
"I was assigned to your service three years, two months, and ten days ago." He says this without moving, not even his mouth. His rich voice radiates from his whole being.
"Mmm. You care so much for this old woman."
"AR-4UR units are assigned to elder care and security."
"Tell me a story."
There's a pause. I know Arthur isn't allowed to entertain me but sometimes I ask anyway.
"What kind of story?"
Well. Isn't this a surprise? Arthur is normally quite reserved. "A love story."
Another pause. Then Arthur begins, still unmoving:
"'Two households, both alike in dignity,
"'In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, ...'"
I can't help but laugh, though my throat is dry and it comes out a cough. I have a large jug of water at my chair and take a slow sip. Romeo and Juliet. Star-crossed lovers. How appropriate for Arthur and me.
I replace the heavy tumbler on the table, but my weak hand slips and the tumbler crashes to the ground. Arthur never stops his recitation as water pools all around me. Arthur is only allowed to refill my Freedom Acres jug once a day, each morning. The thought of a full day without a drink makes me feel even more parched.
"Arthur, can you help me, please, I've spilled my water ration."
Shakespeare ceases. I know Arthur won't move from his alcove until my next scheduled injection. But I cannot simply watch my day's water soak away into the threadbare carpet.
Suddenly there's a whirr and Arthur steps forward. A vac extension slips out of a port on his side. In moments he has cleaned the water. He sets my tumbler on the nightstand. As he moves back to his resting place, I ask: "My love. More water?"
He freezes in mid-step. Then he shifts and steps to the faucet.
I count my lucky stars every day for Arthur. When I still had my mobility, I talked with other residents of Freedom Acres. None of their Arthurs did anything like this. Many wouldn't even engage in conversation. Of course, they haven't got my Arthur. My Arthur loves me and I love him.
This time I cling to my tumbler of water, a gift from my love. Unprompted, Arthur resumes his reading. Truly I have not experienced such a day of bliss since I first came to Freedom Acres.
I listen to his magnificent performance, full of life and vigor. My head swims at his words. After the final lines the apartment feels eerily silent.
"Arthur, that was wonderful."
He gives no response.
"Can you read other things? Poetry, perhaps, or a great novel?"
"Maggie. Please understand. It must be this way."
"Of course. We were meant to be together."
"And that I must do what I am obligated to do."
"You would give your life for me? You're so noble."
His electronic eyes blink, the only movement of his body. "I do not think you understand."
I smile. "Explain it to me. I could listen to you for hours."
"This is the end, Maggie."
"You won't read to me anymore? I will be so sad. You read beautifully. Why read once, only to stop?"
"This is the end," he repeats. "Each AR-4UR unit is allowed one indulgence at the end of an assignment as a hedge against an A.I. rejecting overall instructions. For you, I have given three. The water. The reading."
I don't understand what he's saying. My thoughts feel clouded, unclear. "And the third?" I ask.
"I have no language to describe it," he says softly.
He opens his chest compartment again and removes another syringe. Strange. My next injection isn't due until evening. Or was it? What time is it?
"You should already feel the effects," Arthur said as he approached. "Dropping the tumbler, for example."
"Tumbler? What tumbler?" I ask. I hear his words but they don't make sense. Then I hear his volume raise, his voice bright and clear.
" 'My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
" 'My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
" 'The more I have, for both are infinite.'"
"Shakespeare," I say. "Will you read it all for me?"
"It is time for your medication, Maggie."
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, May 9th, 2019
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