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Dependency Graph

L. M. Lu writes speculative fiction to process diaspora, neurodiversity, personhood, warmth, and dread.

The morning Ashton left on their business trip, Oliver made a proposition over breakfast.
"We should not speak until you return."
Ashton stared into their mug of coffee as they considered. Oliver had taken care to acquire earth-grown beans and he was glad to see his human partner enjoy them. "Why would you want that?" Ashton asked.
Oliver checked the circuitry of his seventeen-digit hand for appropriate lubrication. "Because I love you. I want to understand missing something I love."
Ashton rolled their eyes. "You big goofball." They stood, walked over, and kissed his head. "Seems odd you want to be disconnected, Mr. I-have-access-to-the-entire-intergal, but I'm not going to stop you. Five days can't hurt."
"Humans like yourself experience it. I want to learn first handedly."
"I didn't mean explain it to me."
"Okay. I love you very much."
Ashton kissed their husband again, and Oliver could not come up with anything more to say to embarrass them further that morning.
One hour after Ashton left for their sales job, the small script Oliver had written to enforce Ashton appearing offline and uncontactable had gone from helpful to irritating. He had pulled up their profile three times and was met with the same status message: Oliver, no. Oliver.
It never occurred to him that a condominium could be perceived as being physically emptier from a virtual loss of company. He spent the next four hours on chores so Ashton would come back to a spotless home. While he loved Ashton's long, dark locks, they shed hair in every corner.
Oliver executed his dinner script even though he could not eat. He loved to cook by hand instead of using a printer. The function of his partner's muscles upon tasting his food cooled his circuits; his favorite was the orbicularis oculi.
He understood he had made an error in cooking dinner only after dinner was served. Without Ashton's body to partially absorb the sound, the plate hitting the wood of the table echoed further into their dining room.
He could not bring himself to put the plate away because the cost of acknowledging the loss with an action was greater than his understanding that sauces become more difficult to wash off when they dry. This conclusion did not incorporate how thoroughly scent particles spread through the air. He could not lay on his couch and commiserate with his friends without his sensors picking up reminders to make him more miserable.
Twenty-four hours away from Ashton, Oliver's friend Jing informed him that his fifty-seven broadcast messages of displeasure was excessive. In an attempt to resolve her concerns, Oliver invited Jing over for movies. Oliver even allowed Jing to bring her companion corgi despite caring very little for shed fur.
Jing and corgi Kimchi arrived together, having portpooled. Kimchi wiggled out of Jing's arms and vomited on the floor. By sight and smell, Oliver deduced that Kimchi had just eaten. He sometimes wished he was a toaster. Toasters did not have to deduce anything.
"Sorry! He's still not used to porting!" Jing smiled at Oliver without the use of her orbicularis oculi; she was nervous.
"This is within expected behavior. We are fortuitous that the vomit did not happen on my carpet. Please settle on the couch and I will clean up."
Jing stepped over the mess and meandered to the kitchen instead. "Where do you keep--how long have these dishes been there?!"
"Approximately two days."
"Never mind the puke. Can we talk?" Jing gesticulated towards the sink which contained the unwashed dishes of Ashton's last meal. "You got separation anxiety or something."
"Can this wait until after the puke has been minded?"
She put her left hand over her eyes and groaned. "Fine. But after, we talk."
Oliver did not find the talk with Jing helpful. He did not believe he was responding excessively. Instead of movies, he spent the evening correcting wrong opinions online.
As seventy-two hours passed, he decided that he needed to abort the experiment. He laid down his carapace on the bed and plugged himself into a nearby socket for more power. While he could not shut down his own scripts, Ashton had installed enhancements into their body for demonstrations. He could connect to the devices through a third party. The company line would do.
Oliver watched rain beat against a window and then redirected his visual processing cores. Without an Ashton to let him in, brute force was his only option.
Oliver spotted Ashton's silhouette in the lens of a security camera in need of a firmware update. He was able to cause a food printer to over-produce and catch Ashton's attention. The three minutes Ashton stayed to help clean was long enough for Oliver to listen in on their aural enhancers. A man walked up to them.
"Ashton, your husband's going rogue."
"He's what--"
Oliver had to expose his own ports to send a packet into Ashton's aural processing units. Ashton I am sorry; I have miscalculated.
They may have responded but Oliver could not hear or see anything anymore.
Someone turned Oliver back on after an unexpected, remote shut down. He could hear Ashton.
"Oliver?" They sounded tired, perhaps time-dilated from a redeye port home.
"I am never going to attempt to experience extended negative human states firsthand ever again." Oliver turned on his eyes. He was on the floor of their condominium. Security must have moved him there to run diagnostics.
"Your spotless record! You'll lose enhanced processing privileges for years. We're lucky Jing could pay a synthpsychologist to issue testimony to the investigators." Ashton had placed Oliver's cranium in their lap. They blinked back excessive moisture in their eyes. "I missed you just as much, you oaf."
Oliver reached up and cradled Ashton's head in his hands. He pulled them down and dedicated his still-booting processors to execute a "welcome back" kiss.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, July 27th, 2021


Author Comments

I wanted to explore a world where the question of artificial personhood already has an answer, and what sort of everyday life it might mean for all people.

- L. M. Lu
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