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It was 1pm the next day when Gus brought Andy to Valerie’s door. He tapped timidly, with a folder or a magazine, and whispered, “Dr. Faber?”

Valerie was squatting before the computer, in her underwear. Her hair was tied back with a rubber band and a pen, and she was smoking the crappy cigar Gus had left behind. WillJa was charging and updating in her lap. At first the thought the sound and voice beyond her door were sleep-addled hallucinations.

“Dr. Faber are you there?”

“Yeah.” She swiveled around. “What’s up, Andy.”

Andy was a fourth year graduate student, studying artificial intelligence in game design. He’d built an amazing, AI-driven version of Hungry Hungry Hippos that no human being could beat. It took second prize at the Society for Non-Human and Augmented Intelligences Conference. He had a bent nose and wore sweatpants often. Valerie liked him.

“I just wanted to say hi. I needed your advice on how to analyze some data.”

Valerie stood up. “What is it?”

“It’s a moderated mediation model, both AB and AC pathways are moderated…I just, jeez, I can’t figure it out for the life of me, you know? You think I could pick your brain?”

She blew out smoke. “You already are. Download Preacher and Hayes’ macro and select model 13; I’ll email you the syntax.”

“Okay…”

“You still there, Andy?”

“Yeah.” Valerie looked under the door and saw the shadow of his feet. There were two larger, wider lumps of shadow lurking behind the narrow outline of Andy’s shoes.

Valerie flung the door open and locked eyes on Gus.

“Leave me the fuck alone!” she said. And then she slammed the door.

“You can’t just live in there –” Andy said quietly.

“Seriously, shut up. Both of you.” Valerie bent down and stroked WillJa on the wrist. She felt very dizzy.

“I’m getting the janitor!” Gus croaked. “I’m telling him you’re suicidal!”

“Leave me alone,” Valerie croaked. She grabbed her broken swivel chair to jam it under the knob. As she pushed it, the floor seemed to rise up to meet her. And then she was on her hands and knees, sweating and half naked, and everything was spinning.

“Are you okay?” Andy asked.

“Leave me the shit alone,” Valerie said again. “I’m creating life! Don’t you get it?”

WillJa came to her side. It was screaming again. But this time, instead of a panicked, emasculated yell, it was a low, throaty, androgynous autotuned voice worthy of Willow and Jaden Smith themselves. The two men on the other side of the door hushed.

[I Hope It Doesn’t Take For Me To Die For You To See What I Do For You], the robot said. It wiped Valerie’s brow and offered its arm for her to stabilize herself.

“Good job Will,” she said, panting. “You really showed em…”

[How Can Mirrors Be Real If Our Eyes Aren’t Real].

Valerie considered this. “I don’t know why I decided to work with him. Gus wasn’t always like this. He used to treat me like this weird, really benevolent step dad…and now he’s just a creepy step dad that wants me out of the house.”

[A Little Girl Just Asked Me If I Was Willow Smith I Humbly Said Yes And Took A Selfie.], WillJa said.

“Andy’s okay. He’s a good researcher. Of course, he doesn’t have great social skills, as you just saw. But that’s always the trade off.” She stared into the robot’s glowing power button. “Do you think I’m like that?”

[If Newborn Babies Could Speak They Would Be The Most Intelligent Beings On Planet Earth].

She giggled. “That’s what my ex thought…that I was practically robot myself. That’s why I got along with them so well.”

WillJa rattled away and stopped under Valerie’s desk. She crawled over to it.

“I’ll show all of them,” she told the robot, leaning her head on the animatronic squirrel arm. She shut her eyes — just for a moment, she was sure, just a second. “Once they get to know you, they’ll realize…I understand human nature better than anyone.”

Originally published at erikadprice.tumblr.com.

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