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Valerie didn’t know how long she was out. All she knew, when she woke up, was that she was sweaty, and that dust had adhered itself to the sweat, and there was an awful, swampy taste in her mouth. She collected a little water from the dripping boiler in the edge of the room, using her old coffee cup. She drank it down, grimacing, and stroked the faux fur on WillJa’s hand.

Suddenly she sensed a presence.

“Andy.” Valerie said. “Are you out there?”

“Y-yeah.” The boy stammered.

Looking at the door, Valerie could tell the hallway was dark. It had to be the middle of the night.

“Listen, don’t scream at me,” Andy said. There was rustling, like something was being drawn out of a plastic bag. “I know you’re unhappy here.”

“This place is a hell hole,” Valerie said, feeling completely calm and resigned.

“I just wanted to say, I’m sorry.” Andy set something down by the door. “I was hoping…that if they hired you, you’d be on my dissertation committee.”

[Sad loves you to.], WillJa said, voice prickly with distortion.

“Hey!” Valerie said. “Be nice.”

But the kid was already gone. Valerie could hear him, running in his sneakers up the stairs. When the sound disappeared into silence Valerie cracked the door. Laid out on the carpet was a bottle of Southern Comfort, an industrial-sized jar of all-natural peanut butter, some vitamin C capsules, a wet wash cloth, and a carton of cigarettes.

“Keep it up and I’ll give you a PhD with a vote of distinction,” she said to the empty space.

— — –

She drank and tinkered. She opened the robot up and laid down more RAM as the day drew to a close. The screws and circuits kept slipping from her grasp the more she drank, but the robot just moved into place as she worked. Fixing a robot as advanced as WillJa was akin to doing brain surgery; you had to keep the patient awake and talking while you toiled, to make sure you weren’t destroying anything essential.

“Tell me something,” Valerie said, switching an SD card out. “What was your first impression of me?”

[The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance]

She laughed. “Well, I’m not an intellectual at heart, to tell you the truth. I was a real fuckup in college.” She took a can of computer duster from the shelf and began cleaning WillJa out. “I was a big reader, sure…but it was just a means of escape.”

[Life is about transforming blocking rocks, to stepping stones.]

“Exactly. I read a lot of weird shit. Old HP Lovecraft and, like, that Scientology guy? What’s his name?”

[Your mind is a maze. The exit is –]

“L. Ron Hubbard! That’s his name. I knew he was a real boondoggle of a person, but like, I loved his stuff anyway. God, that movie they made was a fucking creative abortion.”

WillJa’s squirrel arm flopped down. “What?”

[Your mind is a maze. The exit is enlightenment.]

“Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to interrupt you!”

Valerie placed the cover back on the base of the robot. She took a screw driver and began sealing it up.

[The Human Consciousness Must Raise Before I Speak My Juvenile Philosophy.]

“Well..,” Valerie blew hair from her face. “To be honest, I just kinda stumbled into it. I wrote this program, and it won this, like, undergraduate contest…and I realized I had a real knack for this kind of stuff, you know? What’s great about it is, you can just work and work on it, as long as you want, at any time of day or night, and nobody’ll bother you. And if you get lonely…you just make your own friends.”

[I Encourage You All To Unfollow Me So I Can Be Left With The People Who Actually Appreciate Philosophy And Poetry.]

“That’s what my ex used to say. Well, not exactly, but. Same basic principle.” Valerie took another swig from the Southern Comfort bottle and finished the last screw on WillJa’s front. “You’re all set. How do you feel?”

WillJa cut a quick circle across the dingy floor. Its lights shifted from red to pale blue. [some emotions are just too high of a frequency for some people to resonate with.]

“Me too!” Valerie gasped. “Oh my god, we’re totally twinning. We’re like, totally on the same page. I feel you 100%”

She stood with the robot cradled in her arms. The squirrel arm whirred around. The robot’s body was heavier than before, weighty with life. But Valerie knew she’d have to get used to it. Out in the world, there was terrain WillJa couldn’t cover on its own. Valerie would have to develop a carrier of some kind, maybe a WillJa-sized sling that strapped across her chest. She took another swig.

[I Just Like Showing Pretty Girls A Good Time Weather I’m Physically There Or Not Doesn’t Matter.]

Valerie laughed so hard her muscles went slack. “Stop it!”

WillJa edged over to her, and bumped playfully into her shins. [love is the only thing we can perceive that transcends all dimensions]

“Oh my god, stop! You’re embarrassing me!” She sat the robot down and bent over, laughing and grabbing her knees. She could feel her face going crimson. “You’re nuts!”

As she gasped for air and dropped to the ground, the robot wrapped its arm around her leg. Valerie leaned into it, allowing the arm to work its way up further. Then she was on her back, laughing, wrapping her arms around the robot, nuzzling the fur and taking her bra off.

Originally published at erikadprice.tumblr.com.

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