This page contains:
- Disregard for personal autonomy
- Mental health issues
Jackson sat at Kay’s bedside, one of her hands laid atop his, palm to palm, fingertips against the soft inside of her wrist. His fingers measured her temperature and pulse, her blood pressure, and her blood oxygen levels. She was no weaker or stronger today than yesterday. He was unsurprised and uneasy. Her vitals were regular with sleep. She had been resting when he returned from the shore.
He perfectly replayed the interaction on the beach in his mind.
Jackson had gone alone as he did every day, now that Kay was too weak to make it down the stone stairs. He had taken his shoes off before he reached the sand and walked to the water’s edge. The day wasn’t warm, and the surf stung his nailless toes with cold.
He had once asked Kay why she did this every day. “Because the sea seems to be as far from space as I can be.” He didn’t agree, but it seemed to be one of those things that a human believed poetically and wouldn’t want to rationalize.
He was watching the gullens, sea birds on this planet, wheel over the waves, loudly squabbling and unaware of any human or android strife, when he noticed the woman on the rocks on the other side of the cove, waving. Jackson didn’t look behind him as a human might, though he wasn’t sure at first why she would be waving at him. Eventually, he raised his hand in response. Did she know him? She was too far away; his optic sensors should have been upgraded years ago. Still better than human eyes.
The rocks on the other side of the cove weren’t as sheer. There was less need for stairs, but descending directly to the beach wasn’t a non-hazardous proposition either. The woman scrambled down the rocks. She was young; Jackson was sure he had been commissioned at least two decades before she had been born. He recognized her when he saw her face. Jessica, granddaughter of Paul Crane. That made sense. Crane’s house was on the far side of the cove, the mirror of Kay’s. The last time he’d seen Jessica was seventeen years ago. She had been only a child then, but the bone structure of her face was the same.
“Hello,” she called when she was close enough to be heard over the sound of the surf and the gullens.
“Hello,” he responded. He hadn’t moved toward her, still puzzling. How long had it been since he had become acquainted with someone new? It was only mildly distressing that retrieving the information took more than a nanosecond.
“I’m Jessica. Paul Crane’s granddaughter.” She offered her hand.
“Yes.” He took it. Her heart rate was elevated. No doubt due to the rush down the beach. Probably too elevated, considering her age.
“You’re a Jackson model,” she said. “You’re Kaylynne Moore’s Jackson model.”
It had been more than twenty years since anyone referred to him as anything but Jackson. He wasn’t offended; what she said was true. Not that he could be offended. He was war hero Kaylynne Moore’s Jackson model ’droid, who was partly responsible for averting a terrorist attack on Borgan IV and later instrumental in the Sorretian revolution. He was known. Infamous. Part of the myth of General Moore.
But the usage felt strange to him. As far as he knew, to everyone here, he was just Jackson.
“Grandfather left the house to me,” she was explaining. “I’ve only just been able to come and see it.”
Paul Crane had been dead for two-thirds of an annual. Over ten seconds passed, but Jackson couldn’t decide on a proper response. His interpersonal algos needed updating as much as his eye sensors. She probably thought he was glitching. Wasn’t he?
“I visited here once when I was a little girl,” Jessica said. “I remember seeing you, I think, and Kay—General Moore. Walking on the beach. But maybe it wasn’t because—” She left off, blushing. No doubt she had seen them together: General Moore and the ’droid that she was affectionate with.
He smiled, wanting to be kind and reassuring but also not wanting to betray any of his relationship with the woman to whom he had been a companion for twice as long as this woman had been alive. “Your grandfather and Miss Moore have been the only residents here on the bluffs. Not many of the townies bother with this beach.”
“No, I suppose not.” She looked out on the surf crashing against the rocks of the cove, glittering in the suns before swirling to green on the sands. “Their loss.”
He couldn’t disagree. Silence returned and filled the space between them.
“Do you think I could meet her?” she said finally, her voice nearly lost on the wind.
“You’re not blinking.” Kay’s voice was stronger than what might be expected from her body. It had always been that way, but more so now.
He closed and opened his eyes once, deliberately, and gave her the hint of a smile. He hadn’t felt her wake up; maybe she had been awake the entire time. Maybe being only with him for so many years had taught her the same bad habit of stillness.
“Don’t be a smart-ass,” she muttered. “What color was the sea today?”
What color had the sea been? He blinked again, putting aside the interaction with Jessica Crane.
“Jade in the shallows. Purple and indigo out at the horizon.”
“A storm coming?”
“Not today, and it’ll blow north tomorrow.”
“Better make sure the shutters are barred.”
“I’m hurt.” He winced in a performance of pain and slipped his hand from hers.
“Weather prediction isn’t your forte.”
“I can’t help it that my algos are a decade out of date.”
She smiled, and it was good to have normal rhythms. He helped her sit up and brought water from the tap in the bathroom.
“How’s the pain?” he asked.
She made a noise by way of answer. He started to prepare a vial of morph, but she stopped him. “I just woke up. I’ll deal with it for a while. What were you thinking about? Earlier. You were pretty gone.”
He sat back down and resisted the urge to gather more data about Kay. Was she squinting? She did that when the pain was at a certain level, as though it pinched her eyes. He could discern so many vitals, but pain was elusive. “Paul Crane’s granddaughter is up at the house. I met her on the beach.”
“Is she attractive?”
It wasn’t the question he expected. He considered. Jessica Crane was petite. She had a round, smooth face, blue eyes, and a bob of honey hair that made her face all the more moon-shaped. “She’d be considered appealing, I suppose. Not in very good shape considering her age.”
“Did she know who you are?”
Who. Not what. He had always been who to her. “She says she saw us once when she was visiting as a girl.”
“And she recognized you?”
“I have one of those kinds of faces.” A joke. He had the same face as any Jackson model, except for a scar below his right eye where he’d never bothered to have the skin polymer properly repaired. “More likely, she remembered you being here and deduced that I am me.”
“Is she staying?”
“I don’t know.” Maybe that was what bothered him about the interaction. He hadn’t done a good job of collecting real information.
“You’re terrible at being nosy,” Kay confirmed.
“That’s what I get for spending all my time with a curmudgeon. She’d like to meet you.”
“Would she? What did you tell her?”
“I didn’t tell her anything.”
“Were you rude to her?” No, not squinting. Not now. Her eyes glittered with her smile.
“If I were human, I’d be embarrassed over the immense glee that you’re suddenly showing.” He rose. “I’m going to get your tea and lunch started.”
He had walked away from Jessica Crane without saying anything at all.
Perhaps he had handled it poorly. It had been many years since they had settled here. Kay had made it clear to those around them, to the townspeople nearby, and to their only neighbor, Paul Crane, that they would not be harassed or gawked at. She—they—deserved the right to live quietly.
“They’re old Midwestern stock here, Jackson,” she had said then. “They’ll leave us alone. Live and let live.”
Jackson had been dubious, but if they gossiped (of course they gossiped), they kept it to themselves. No one who lived here bothered them. Over the years, politeness had become friendliness, and neighborliness had become protectiveness. After a while, Kay relaxed and entertained occasional attention. But for some residents, Kay Moore was the eccentric who had lived on the bluff their entire lives. The Jackson model was so outmoded these days that some might even believe that this Jackson, with the scar beneath his eye, was just some strange younger man who took care of her. They had seemed closer to the same age when they first settled here.
Jessica Crane was an outsider. She didn’t know the social contract. He had been rude to her and perhaps, he shouldn’t have been.
“I want to meet her,” Kay called down from the bedroom.
“What? Why?” In the kitchen, Jackson sighed. Again, performative, but he performed out of habit and for no one but himself. He put the kettle on the burner and returned to their bedroom.
Kay was up, working a brush through her short hair, once dark but now silver. “I want you to ask her to dinner.”
He leaned in the doorway. “Why, Kay? She wants to meet you to tell a good tale.”
“Maybe I want to give someone a good tale.”
“I’m curious, and maybe we should have been more open to new people.”
“You want her over tonight?”
“Brunch, not dinner.”
“Fine,” Jackson agreed. Kay usually felt better in the mornings. Lately, he tucked her back into bed not long after their evening meal. Hopefully, Jackson would have Miss Crane gone by early afternoon.
The invitation was handled by the house-to-house messenger app. A quaint way of doing things, but Jackson was thankful he hadn’t had to deal with Miss Crane’s immediate reaction. Kay was in good spirits the next morning. “I thought we could eat in the kitchen,” she said as he helped her dress in blue pants and a lavender blouse with sleeves long enough to cover the med port in her arm. The color made her eyes look like the summer seas during the dry season.
“Dining room seems too formal and, no offense, but I don’t trust the weather enough to eat on the deck.”
“Yes, that’s fine.”
She took one of his hands and ran her thumb over his knuckles. “It will be fine.”
“What’s your pain level?”
“I’ll be fine.” She smiled, but he could see the tension in her muscles.
Lunch was set for eleven thirty. At a quarter after, Jackson said, “I’m going to go collect Miss Crane.”
“Oh? Is she expecting you?”
“Are you going to talk her out of brunch?”
He supposed he could have come up with an excuse to put off Miss Crane and convey fictional regrets, but Kay would find out the truth eventually. Jackson was, by design, a terrible liar and had never developed any skill at it either.
Jessica Crane hadn’t changed anything about Paul Crane’s house yet. In the time since Crane’s death, his house had mirrored his lifelessness. It wasn’t just a hyperbolic thought that Jackson conjured. The flowers in the planters beneath the windows, orange Bauxus dahlias that had clashed with the off-yellow paint of the house, had died but surprisingly left the dwelling poorer for their absence. The bird feeder was gone, too, not that it ever attracted anything but rude gullens. All the curtains were pulled closed.
Jackson went to the door and knocked.
“Just a moment,” Jessica Crane called from inside. He waited and knocked again. One of the side window’s curtains fluttered before Jessica Crane yanked the door open.
“Oh, I didn’t expect …” she fumbled for a way to address him and failed.
Today, she was fresh-faced and tidy. She wore a pale yellow sundress with pink and green flowers that made her look schoolgirl young.
“I wanted to talk to you, Miss Crane, and thought perhaps you wouldn’t mind the walk. The day is very fine, and it takes less than ten minutes to skirt the cove.” A light green two-person motor sat near the front door. If she didn’t want to walk back later, she could call it. The weather was nice, at least for the moment. The sea had been a pale turquoise this morning, but the storm that had darkened the far seas yesterday was still impending.
“Yes, I suppose we could. Just a moment.” She ducked back into the house and returned with a box and a small bouquet of flowers. “It’s a gateau from the bakery in town. I thought it would be good for dessert.”
“One of Kay’s favorites.” He took the box from her to carry and wondered if Miss Crane had asked at the bakery what cake local celebrity General Kaylynne Moore liked.
They walked half a block in silence.
“What did you want to talk to me about?” she asked, finally.
Jackson had thought about how he wanted to go about it, but as was often the case, those preparations no longer seemed appropriate. “Miss Moore is not a young woman,” he began. “She is, in fact, quite ill.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. If she’d like to postpone to another time …” Miss Crane stopped walking. They hadn’t been keeping a very quick pace, but her cheeks had pinked. She did look concerned.
“No, that won’t be necessary, but, Miss Crane, I hope you’re not intending to spread gossip or rumors. Miss Moore has been retired for over twenty years and values her privacy.”
“Yet, she invited me to lunch,” said Jessica.
He frowned. “I don’t know, exactly.” He decided not to share his contention that Kay’s decision was to annoy him. “She’s curious about you.”
“And I’m curious about her.”
“You can read anything you want about her in several well-written history books.”
“But it’s different, isn’t it? Miss Moore, the woman, is different from General Moore.” On the beach, there had been a moment when Jackson had seen a shrewdness in her manner, that she was not surprised that Kaylynne Moore was her grandfather’s neighbor. He saw that shrewdness again now.
“Please, Miss Crane. Do not make life difficult for us.” He spoke quietly and knew that he was as terrible at being intimidating as he was at lying and predicting the weather.
“Do you have a designation?” she asked.
He blinked. Consciously. “A designation? You mean a name?” The fact of the matter was that he didn’t have a real name, and he had never minded until this moment. “Jackson.”
“Jackson,” she said, “if you don’t trust me, we can come up with an excuse, and I’ll go home and not bother General Moore. And I’m fairly certain that you still have connections enough to make sure that any tales I have to tell don’t make it off-world.”
She wasn’t wrong, but Jackson preferred to avoid the drama. Again, he didn’t know what to say to her. “We should continue walking. I’m afraid I’ve made us late.”
Kay was on the deck when Jackson arrived with Jessica. She had a set of pruning shears at hand, but none of the potted plants had been touched.
Jackson made the introduction, “Miss Crane, Miss Moore.”
“Kay.” Kay offered her hand.
“Well, Jessica, I see that Jackson didn’t scare you away.”
“Miss Crane brought dessert,” Jackson said as he ushered them into the house.
“And these.” Miss Crane handed Kay the flowers.
“That was very nice of you,” said Kay.
The two women settled in at the kitchen table. Jackson put the flowers in some water and left the women with tea and a light self-serve lunch of sandwiches and fruit. He liked keeping Kay company when she ate; he even liked tasting food. But today, he made himself scarce. None of that felt appropriate.
She had asked his “designation.”
He puttered around the house as the women talked, but he could hear everything. Kay controlled the conversation asking about Jessica’s background.
Did she like her grandfather’s house?
Yes, it suited her.
Was she going to stay in May Heath?
Possibly. She hadn’t expected to like the place as much as she did. She was an artist and poor but had fallen in love with the house and the sea.
“I know how that is,” said Kay. “We were going to retire to a station in Alpha Core, but we stopped here and never left.”
“That must have put your—put Jackson at a disadvantage.”
“He was actually very keen on us staying on a rim world. The sacrifices he made for me were already in the past when we settled here.”
When General Kaylynne Moore had finally been forced into retirement, through politics as much as her own fatigue with certain situations, the obvious choice to Jackson was to accompany her. He had cut ties with the Service during previous altercations. Connection to that network had been severed, mainly to avoid knowingly sharing data with them. He had never considered it a sacrifice that he’d made for her alone. When she walked away from public life, what else had there been for him to do? Being on the rim just kept him, technically still “property,” out of sight and out of mind.
The rain started not too long into lunch. Neither of the women seemed to notice. Jackson checked the seaside windows and the planters on the deck, but the wind didn’t pick up enough for him to take any action. The storm was fairly tame. His prediction hadn’t been correct, but he hadn’t been entirely wrong either.
When he returned to the kitchen, Miss Crane had cut the gateau, and the women were finishing their pieces. Kay sat with her shoulders squared. Jackson could read the lines of stress at the corners of her eyes and around her mouth.
“Miss Crane,” he said, “the weather has taken a slight turn. I’m afraid you’ll have to call your motor. Miss Moore and I don’t have one at our disposal. Reception gets chancy during weather systems, even small ones. You should probably call now.”
“Oh, yes. I guess I should.” The younger woman fished her comm pad from her pocket and entered a series of commands.
“You didn’t leave any windows open at home, I hope,” said Kay.
“No, I checked the weather forecast this morning and made sure everything was closed up just in case.”
She didn’t notice Kay’s significant glance in Jackson’s direction. “It wasn’t expected until later in the afternoon, though.”
“Prediction algorithms do have their faults,” Jackson commented. He started to gather plates from the table, but Kay touched his wrist.
“I hate to be a poor host, Jessica, but you’ll have to excuse me,” she said. She rose, steady on her feet, but her fists were clenched, and her knuckles were white. “I’ll have to leave you in Jackson’s capable hands until your motor gets here.”
“Of course,” said Miss Crane, who rose from the table as well. “Thank you again for lunch.”
“My pleasure. Thank you for dessert.”
Jackson followed Kay from the room and offered her a steadying hand on her lower back on the way up the stairs.
“Don’t say, ‘I told you so,’” she whispered.
“I’m fine,” she said as he passed her to open the bedroom door. “Really, I’ll manage. See to our guest, please.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said and almost saluted.
“Don’t be a smart ass,” she muttered.
Jessica Crane was in the den when he returned. “I came in here to get a better signal,” she said. Her comm pad was in her pocket, and she was looking at the bric-a-brac on the walls and shelves.
“The storm must already be affecting it,” said Jackson. He watched her from the doorway like she was a creature of still unknown danger.
Miss Crane paused at the plaque of medals that had a less than prominent place behind three primitive ceramic figures.
“Those are kif birds, or they’re supposed to be,” Jackson explained. “A group of schoolchildren read that General Moore’s favorite animal was the kif bird. Their art teacher thought it would make for a good sculpture lesson. They voted and sent the three best to Miss Moore.”
“Are kif birds her favorite animal?”
Jackson shrugged. “Probably not.”
Somewhere in her pocket, her comm pad pinged. She turned, and again Jackson saw what he’d call shrewdness in her face, but also sadness. “She’s really sick, isn’t she?”
“Is she dying?”
“Aren’t we all?”
Miss Crane shook her head. “I don’t know. Are we?” Her emphasis was on the last word.
“My nuclear core has a half-life. My parts fail. My algos go out of date.” He crossed his arms over his chest. He didn’t die, exactly, but almost.
“You’ve been with her a very long time?” she asked.
“You know the history.”
In the dimness of the den, with the storm picking up outside, a frown creased Jessica Crane’s forehead. “You’re the same Jackson.” She stopped before adding “model.”
“Yes.” He hadn’t considered that there might be confusion about that.
She looked at him a long while, her eyes traveling over his face several times. He made sure to blink while being scrutinized. “When I was a little girl, I saw you and Miss Moore walking on the beach. I didn’t know who either of you were. You had your arm around her, both of you looking at the waves. And the way she leaned on you, I thought you were married. I wondered if you had a little girl that I could play with.”
Jackson smiled. He couldn’t know what day she meant. He had walked with Kay on the beach the first day they had lived in the house on the bluff and so many days after.
“You’ll continue for a long time after she’s gone.”
“What will you do?”
Of course, he had thought about it, but it wasn’t anything he wanted to discuss with anyone but Kay.
“Will you miss her?” Miss Crane asked when it became obvious that he wasn’t going to answer the other question.
“I’ve spent the majority of my activation—of my life—with her. I’ll know her absence.”
Jessica Crane made a noise in the back of her throat. An expression that Jackson thought might either be pity or pain crossed her face. Who had she lost? Jackson wondered. More than the grandfather that she had rarely visited.
“Your motor is here,” he said. He heard the hum of its electric engine before her comm pad beeped to herald its arrival. He moved out of the doorway to give her room.
She stopped even with him. Her eyes were blue like deep ice but not as cold. “Thank you for the hospitality,” she said quietly. “Please, thank Miss Moore for me. I hope I’ll be able to visit again.”
“I think she’d like that,” said Jackson.
The next day, the sea was pink. It was like that after strong storms, though Jackson hadn’t thought the rain and wind from the evening before warranted it. A type of phytoplankton caused the vivid color churned up from the depths of the warm waters. Jackson didn’t find the color pleasing. The light red was jarring, a color that in most of his data sets wasn’t considered “natural.” The gullens only made it worse, diving for fish that gorged on the distressingly pink microorganisms. The whole situation had only ever made Kay laugh.
Despite her overexertion, Kay had slept well. In the morning, she had dressed and taken breakfast in the kitchen. When Jackson returned from the beach, she was sitting on the deck, her face tilted to the minor sun.
“Let me guess … Pink?”
“Some maroon in the shallows, at least.” He picked up a pair of pruning scissors and set to work on the box violets that edged the deck.
“The irony,” said Kay, not for the first time, “of an artificial man disliking a color that ninety percent of his data considers artificial.”
“Appreciate that I was programmed well enough to recognize the uncanny.”
At sea, the gullens squabbled over fish and horrible pink plankton. The blue-green of the “violets” were much more pleasant but as much of an incongruity.
“Have you thought about what you’re going to do?” Kay asked.
“When I’m gone.”
“Were you eavesdropping?” He found that he didn’t want to discuss this with Kay any more than he had with Miss Crane. He sat down in the deck chair across from her and pulled the planter of blossoms into his lap.
“Of course. So, what are you going to do?”
“I’ll probably return to the Service.”
“They’ll decommission you.”
“Most likely. I intend to wipe before they do.” While most of history was, indeed, history, there were still a few things the Service didn’t need to know about General Moore and Jackson.
“That will be the end, then,” said Kay. “Of me. No one will remember me.”
“Aside from all the school children who will read about you in textbooks. And the documentarians who remember you around Independence Day. And the story-seekers like Jessica Crane, whether they’re tabloid or not.”
“That’s different, and you know it. That’s not me.” She closed her eyes again to the wind and the suns. “You’re the only one who knows me.”
“Would you rather I didn’t wipe?”
“Even if you do, I’d rather you didn’t go back to the Service. I’d rather you continued to exist.”
“What would I do alone?”
“Maybe you need someone else to look after.”
“Who? Jessica Crane?”
“Why not?” He couldn’t tell from her expression if she was kidding or not.
“Jessica Crane doesn’t like me.” Kay raised her eyebrows. “And I don’t know enough about her to trust her yet.” He fussed with withered leaves on the underside of the fuzzy plants.
“Maybe you should reestablish database connections.”
“Do you want to know more about her?”
“Jackson, there is no reason. She can’t hurt me or you. She’s a nice girl, though I don’t think she has any clue what to do with herself. The world can’t give her purpose like it gave to me. Or to you.”
“My purpose was programmed.”
“Yeah, you were programmed to lead a revolution.” She rolled her eyes. Frail and dying, but still made of steel. He could still see her young and fierce. Yes, that would be lost if he were to wipe.
“I was just following my commander,” he said.
“Oh, the things we tell ourselves,” she said.
Jackson was out early the next morning. The lesser sun was skirting the horizon, and the major only slyly adding a sliver of light. The sea had resolved into a rich purple at the depths, greenish in the shallows. The breeze was cool.
He glanced toward Paul Crane’s house. Now, Jessica Crane’s, he supposed. Considering the hour, he was surprised to see Miss Crane out on the deck. She was painting on a canvas, facing the sea. Yes, she had said she was an artist. How different did the sea look through her eyes?
It came as no surprise a few days later when Jackson received a message via the house-to-house.
“Would it be okay if I came one afternoon to sketch the view from your side of the cove?”
Dutifully, Jackson passed the request to Kay.
“Our very own artist,” said Kay. “Tell her she’s welcome to stay for dinner if she comes tomorrow.”
“Do I get a say in this?” Jackson asked.
“Only if your say is an unequivocal ‘yes.’”
“I can’t quite manage unequivocal. Dinner is going to have to be a humble affair.” Jackson hadn’t needed to buy much more than the basics for Kay in a long while.
“I’m sure she won’t expect much. Here, I’ll send the message.”
Jessica Crane arrived the next day not much past noon. Kay greeted her, and Jackson made provisions for her to use the deck where it overlooked the cove, the complementary view that she had at her house.
“This is perfect, thank you.” She had brought with her a portfolio case of supplies.
Jackson had wondered how social Miss Crane would be while she worked, but once she started, she seemed fairly oblivious to what wasn’t in her field of view. She worked until Jackson interrupted her around dinner time. By then, she had moved on from sketching the cove and the rocks far on the horizon to shading with tinted pencils to mimic colors of the sea and sky.
Miss Crane was quiet at dinner. Jackson served and took the seat not quite next to Kay with a small plate of food. He didn’t need to eat, but, unlike the earlier brunch, he thought it might be rude to excuse himself entirely. If he had one talent, it was blending into the background, though maybe that was less about talent and more about how most people treated androids.
“Was your day productive?” Kay asked.
“Oh, yes,” said Miss Crane. “Maybe a little too productive. I’m lost in my thoughts this evening.”
“No, that’s wonderful. I’m glad the cove is being good to you.”
“How have you been?” Miss Crane asked.
Kay’s eyes flashed. How good she felt, how well she was, Jackson knew these were things Kay didn’t like to contemplate, much less speak about. She smiled tightly but didn’t answer the question.
To her credit, Jessica Crane seemed to notice her faux pas. She was about to offer some apology when Jackson decided to offer a safe harbor.
“Miss Crane, I hope the food is to your liking,” he said. “It’s a recreation of an old Earth dish: fried chicken and mashed potatoes.”
Miss Crane jumped at the reprieve. “I’m not familiar with the original, I’m afraid. It’s good, though.”
“Not like I used to have growing up,” said Kay, “but Jackson makes a good go of it with kastro meat and savoy root.”
“You cooked this?” She turned more fully toward Jackson. “Of course you did. I’m being silly.”
“There’s not a lot of difference between cooking and laboratory procedures,” said Jackson. “Jackson models were originally conceived as laboratory workers.”
“You weren’t a tech, though,” said Miss Crane.
“Doesn’t mean that he didn’t jack the algos,” said Kay, with too much pride.
“I didn’t ‘jack’ anything. I just didn’t turn down upgrades that weren’t appropriate to my current situation.”
“What let you do that?” Miss Crane asked. “Not every Jackson model went around with every skill offered.”
Jackson shrugged. “I can’t know what in my programming allowed it. It always seemed that my current situation was uncertain enough that any algo could be applicable.”
“Ultimately, it turned out to be useful.”
“Well, this is tastier than anything I can make.”
“Oh, same here,” said Kay. “I never took to cooking.”
Dinner concluded with Kay assuring Miss Crane that she was welcome to the deck anytime.
“You don’t even need to check in with Jackson,” said Kay. “Just set up and paint.”
“Thank you. I really do love the views on both sides of the cove. I’ll try not to impose.”
Jackson expected Jessica Crane to set up on the deck the next day. He was uneasily surprised when he didn’t see her painting on her deck either. He wasn’t quite sure what glitch accounted for his distrust of a civilian woman. Perhaps in her chiding, Kay had a point; maybe he should reestablish database connections.
The sea was pale green at the horizon and emerald and blue-gray in the shallows.
Kay was awake when he returned. She was in the den with a book in her lap, but she was not well. Her skin was waxy, sallow. The hair that framed her face was drenched with sweat.
“I shouldn’t have come down,” she said.
Jackson took the stairs two at a time to reach the cache of drugs in the bedroom. One dose of morph would make her comfortable enough to move back upstairs.
Kneeling next to her chair, he connected the syringe to the port in Kay’s arm and touched the button. The morph steadily pushed into her system. Her pain was severe enough that even after the dose, she didn’t let go of the book she was clutching. Dante’s Paradiso, Jackson noted. At least it wasn’t Milton.
“Maybe you should give me two of those,” Kay whispered. “Or more.”
“I can up the dose, but let this take effect first.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
He couldn’t look her in the eye. “I know that’s not what you mean.”
“Jackson, please. I’m in so much pain, all the time.” She let go of the book and fumbled for his hands. Her fingers were ice, her pulse racing.
“I can’t. You know I can’t.”
“Can’t or won’t. Your programming has allowed for other flexibilities.”
Her words stung. Yes, how many things had been possible? But this? What she was asking … He couldn’t even directly approach the thought, so strong were the programmed inhibitions against causing direct harm to a noncombatant. He couldn’t give her relief in a way that mattered. “There is no flexibility in this. I can’t.” He brought her hands to his lips. He still couldn’t look at her. “Kay, I can’t.”
One of her hands slipped from his and touched his cheek. “I know. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”
When the morph finally took effect, he scooped her from the chair and carried her up to bed. He tended to her until she fell asleep and then sat again with her hand between his because there was nothing more pressing to do. Night passed that way and the following morning. The minor sun was high, and her pulse and breathing were stronger when he finally left her side.
In all those hours, he hadn’t once thought of Jessica Crane. Her presence on the deck, with an easel, canvas, and paints caught him uncharacteristically by surprise. How long had she been there?
“Oh, hello. The house was so quiet, I wasn’t sure anyone was home.”
“Kay sends her regrets,” he said. It was a clumsy statement, but he hoped it was good enough.
Jessica Crane gave a slight nod. “I hope I’m not intruding.”
“You’re not.” She wasn’t, at least in no rational way.
“Do you appreciate art, Jackson?” He glanced at the canvas she was working on. Her medium was paint-tints, an old form of creating images. Layers and layers of shimmering paint were applied to suggest color and depth. The work was in progress, of the sea and sky, sketchy and unfinished.
“I’m fairly well-versed in theory and history,” Jackson answered, allowing his thought processes to shift.
“More algos you’ve jacked?”
“More books that I’ve read.”
“But those things are different from appreciation. Do you like art? Do you find things beautiful or ugly?”
He considered. “I suppose that I don’t. I judge things by criteria that have been laid out by others, by social and cultural conventions. I can judge technique. I can theorize on what the artist might have intended and whether they have successfully attained that intent. If I have any preference, it is for art that is done well. But as to a gut reaction? No.”
“Do you have a favorite color?”
Jackson thought about his dislike of the pink seas after storms, but that color in other situations could be appropriate. “No.”
“You wear blue a lot.”
“It brings out the color of my eyes.”
She laughed at his joke.
“I’ll let you get back to your work,” he said and left her.
Kay’s breathing woke him. Not that he slept, but it was nicer to think of it in those terms. Even the old computers were said to have sleep modes. But it was her breathing, thick, heavy, that once he heard it, he was functional, diagnosing. She was conscious, thankfully.
He pumped a steroid into the port in her arm. Her breathing lightened.
“Kay, can you speak to me?”
“More than a nod. Can you speak?”
She nodded again and added, “Yes.” It was a whisper. She frowned as though confused by the lack of strength.
“Breathe in,” he prompted. “As deeply as you can. Slowly.”
She sucked air in.
“Does that hurt?” He knew the answer.
“So much.” Her hand groped for his, and when she found it, her fingers clung. Not strong, but persistent.
“Breathe out. Slowly.”
“Let’s get the oxygen mask on you.”
She grimaced. She hated the thing, but there was no choice except to acquiesce. He pulled his hand from hers and slipped the mask over her face. For a moment, he concentrated on the fit of the mask, the richness of the oxygen. He didn’t want to notice how small she suddenly looked, how diminished, the wideness of her eyes as her lungs didn’t do their job as well as she expected.
“Slowly. Try to be even.”
She closed her eyes, concentrating on such a basic thing. He took her hand again and sat on the edge of the bed.
Kay finally fell asleep again when the suns began to rise. She passed in and out of consciousness for the entire day. Jackson set up a nutrient drip, something that hadn’t been necessary in nearly a year. Her breathing remained belabored until near sundown. She opened her eyes and knocked the mask away.
“I’m fine.” Her voice was small and hoarse.
“You’re not,” said Jackson. But he slipped the mask off her head and put it aside.
“No, I’m not,” she agreed. Her breathing had calmed, but her eyes were clouded.
“How’s the pain?”
He loaded a syringe of morph.
“What color was the sea this morning?” she asked.
“I didn’t go out.”
“You should have. You missed it.”
Jackson shook his head. He’d been afraid that he’d miss other things. The sea was still there, would still be there, would be there long after even he was gone.
“Come to bed,” she said, words hardly more than air.
Jackson lay down next to her and put his arms around her. He tried to keep her warm and noted her heartbeat, thready, and her breathing, shallow.
“Promise me,” she whispered after he thought she had fallen asleep, “that you’ll go out to the sea in the morning. Promise me.”
“I promise,” he said against her hair.
The sea was the deepest sapphire blue that Jackson had ever seen. The sky at the horizon was a delicate purple-gray, washed out against the vivid color of the water. The shallows were jade but picked up tones of the sky, reflecting them back where the deep ocean swallowed every wave of light except for burning blue.
He had left his shoes at the bottom of the stairs. The sand was not quite warmed by the suns. He walked until the water lapped at his ankles and farther until the tide pushed against his knees. For a moment, Jackson considered what might happen if he continued to walk into the sea. He had low oxygen requirements, but eventually, those would deplete, and systems would go on hold. Would the creatures of the sea find his polymers edible? Would gullens fight over bits of him? What color was the pink phytoplankton when it was at the bottom of the sea?
He didn’t hear Jessica Crane come down the beach. He didn’t notice her until she silently took him by his arm.
She was completely unlike Kay.
He followed her, still barefoot, to her house, Paul Crane’s house.
The floorplan was the mirror of Kay’s, but the differences made it utterly foreign. Boxes crowded the floor.
“Are you leaving?” Jackson asked. The possibility was strangely unsettling.
“No. No, I’ve decided to stay. I just need to get rid of some of Grandfather’s things. Can I get you something?” It was the sort of politeness offered to a human guest.
“Water, please,” he said, the sort of answer that a human guest might give.
She ducked into the kitchen, but Jackson stayed in the den. He had tracked sand and water into her house. He looked through the window at the deep sapphire sea and the house that stood on the other side of the cove. After a moment, Jessica Crane returned with a tall glass of water for him and a smaller cup of coffee for herself. The water was cold and had the tang of reclaimed ocean, as all water did here. Jackson forced himself to look at her, to evaluate. She looked frightened and sad.
“Miss Moore died during the night,” Jackson said, he thought evenly.
Tears threatened the edges of Miss Crane’s eyes.
He turned away, back to the window, and finished the water.
“Did you love her?” she asked.
“I don’t have feelings,” he said.
“Yes, but did you love her?”
The house on the other side of the cove was small and gray, almost the same color as the sky, while the sea leeched color from it.
“I remember every moment I spent with General Moore. And I remember every moment I spent with Kaylynne Moore. I remember every walk we took on that beach and every shade of the sea.
“The first morning we lived here, the sea was the palest of blues. The summer had been so hot and still. From the top of the bluffs, you could see the bottom for miles.”
He felt Jessica Crane move behind him but didn’t turn toward her.
“You humans have brains that will forget things, soften things. My memory will glitch, too, eventually, but not in the same way. I don’t feel pain at remembering, but my existence at this moment is uncertain. All those memories, all those colors. The certainty of the past is a harsh contrast. It’s unpleasant. I considered wiping my memory after Kay was gone, but the sea today …
“How could it be a color I had never seen before?”
Jessica Crane was working on a triptych. Two of the canvases were square. One, he had seen her working on: the view from Kay’s house. The complementary square was the cove from Paul Crane’s deck. Both featured the colors of the sea, but also the sky with its wispy, reflective clouds. The middle canvas was as tall as the others but half as wide. It connected the sea and the sky and added the shore with its tan-white sand. Near the middle of the composition, a single figure stood on the beach looking at the colors of the sea.
Editor: Aigner Loren Wilson
First Reader: Paula Keane
Copy Editors: Copy Editing Department
Accessibility: Accessibility Editors