Blank: Madam Doesn't Like That

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His wish to be elsewhere did nothing.

The stranger strolled through troves of winking data towers.

Still unseen.

Arlo strained to gauge the distance between him and the foreign footsteps. They seemed to clank towards him.

How could they know I'm down here?

With his wrist shackled to steel, he stood waiting.

Nearby, glowing machine lights went dark. He sucked in a sharp breath. He understood.

Soon, it would be much darker.

--

Two Hours Ago

Cascading eucalyptus leaves outlined the living room's wooden blinds, concealing the space station's twinkling sky simulation.

Razor lifted her boot-clad leg towards the ceiling and performed a perfect vertical split.

"Like this," she said to Poem, Arlo's fifteen-year-old sister. "Now you!"

Razor and Zen had let themselves into the cottage only minutes ago and the ice-eyed s-bot had already appointed herself as Poem's informal mentor.

As Zen stood in the kitchen doorway across from the duo--her expression unamused--Arlo barged in. His mother, Violeta Luna Fuentes, trailed behind wringing her hands.

"Razor, stop," said Arlo.

Poem fell backwards after failing to mimic the s-bot's performance. Nearby, a floating screen broadcast the nightly news:

Up next, should interbeing marriage be allowed? This farmer's s-bot has the Code, but instead of handing her over, he's fighting for her freedom.

As Poem leapt up to try again, the footage cut to a middle-aged countryman and his synthetic housewife.

She said yes. We should be allowed to wed. Period.

Arlo pulled his sister behind him. A stifling pressure to wall off his family from past decisions took hold of him. Decisions that had brought sex bots into their living room.

"We were just having fun!" said Poem, brushing off her mesh crop top and leggings.

Clenching his jaw, he lowered his voice and asked Razor: "Why are you here?"

With a hand on her hip and curled lips, the s-bot looked over his shoulder through the round beaded doorway. There, in the kitchen, a dated butler bot and a tiny robotic dog watched them with puzzled eyes.

"Hey Clunky," Razor said, "get grumpy his best tux, will ya?"

Violeta cleared her throat.

"Hijo, ¿esa es tu novia?"

"No," Arlo said, "she's not my girlfriend--"

"I'm his date!" said Razor, pushing Arlo through the beads. His mother followed with a stunned expression.

In the kitchen, the aroma of homemade cherry muffins filled the air. Sink plates piled up to emerald, orange-knobbed cabinets. Lemon trees papered the walls.

The weathered butler bot turned to Arlo.

"Sir?"

"¿Hijo?" his mother asked, wide-eyed with open hands. "¿A dónde van?"

Zen let out an audible sigh, then said: "Hurry up."

Arlo eyed the bots. Then his mother. Then his sister still tumbling around in the other room.

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