Extra Stories

Story Treat: Upgrading (The Cybernetic Tea Shop)

The below is a short story treat starring characters from The Cybernetic Tea Shop, as requested by Doug. If you have a scene you’d like to see with any of my characters, drop me a line over here before the end of December!

 

“I’m sorry,” Clara says, as gently as she can. “But there’s no such thing as a battery that can last forever.”

The box is still clutched loosely in Sal’s hands. She’s disappointed; Clara can tell that much from how the lenses of her eyes have widened, so that Clara can only see three or so of the concentric rings, rather than the seven or eight of when Sal is interested and focused. Her face doesn’t show it much, though; she just lowers that wide-lensed gaze to the box she is carrying.

“He told me that it was a new product,” Sal says. “That it was somewhat experimental. But it should be compatible with the old Sarah units, and charge through the energy created when I move about.”

It hurts, to try to discourage Sal like this. That Sal wants a guarantee that her battery will last isn’t a bad thing; you’re supposed to live when you’re alive, after all.

Clara takes the box from Sal and opens it, shaking the battery out into her hand. She examines it carefully, the shape, the manufacturer’s code, the product number. She even hooks it up to her screens to run a full diagnostic on it, just in case.

“I’m sorry,” she says again, finally. “This battery is pretty uncommon to see, so they probably thought they could pull one over on even the most astute users. It’s a proprietary brand for a specific farming robotics company—it stopped being used about ten years ago. Whoever sold you this must have bought up a stack of these from the company and repackaged them. It’s a scam, sweetheart.”

Sal nods slowly. She folds her fingers together, filling the space where the battery had been. “That’s all right,” she says. “I can make do.”

“It’s not really all right,” Clara grumbles. Discontentment churns in her gut “Someone out there tried to take advantage of your fears. That’s not all right.”

“I’m fine, though,” Sal says gently. She shifts over, unclasping her hands to put one on Clara’s shoulder. “See? I’m a little embarrassed. But that’s all. Except…”

“Except?”

Sal glances down again. “I can make do,” she says. “There aren’t many others like me, but those that are… are probably also wearing down. They might not have a mechanic like you in their lives. Someone they trust. To me, it might have been… useful? A relief, but a relief in thinking about the future, not the present. For them, it might be more …pressing.”

That discontentment wants to erupt into fury. Clara lifts a hand and squeezes Sal’s. “I’ll see what I can do,” she promises.

And she does. She starts with sending out messages to acquaintances of hers—her area doesn’t lie in ‘investigative programming’, as it were, but she’s worked in lots of places and has lots of contacts. It takes less than a day for the host of the online parts shop that Sal bought the battery from to take the site down, and only a day and a half for the robotics ethics committee to promise to follow up with the site’s owner, whose identity was uncovered by the host—and cross-referenced by a few of Clara’s contacts, so she’s sure that the name they found wasn’t a cover.

The rest takes longer. Clara has already done all the research on the best parts to swap into a Sarah unit, but Sal wasn’t the only type on the market from Artiface Industries, let alone from other old robotics manufacturers. Clara spends a while working with Sal to uncover a complete a list as she can, and then folds her contacts into that as well, starting up debates on what currently-available options are the best substitutes for parts that stopped being manufactured long ago, what converters might be needed, what additional items could be acquired, and from where. When she has more time she’ll add an algorithm sort through additional suggestions based on what a user is searching for and what they have purchased already. For now, getting a functional base is most important.

When she gets it online, it’s as complete as she can make it without delaying the release too much, and she knows it will only become more complete as new people find it and weigh in. Her contacts have promised to pass it onto their contacts, shop owners and resellers and unions and professors. They’ll list it where they can. She hopes it will become as widely available as possible, and easier to find than any individual scammer.

It’ll require a lot of work to keep updated, even with the automatic submission of items from trusted sources.

But then again, it’s a lot of work for the end users to keep themselves updated, too.

“I hope you don’t mind that I’m sharing hosting with your shop for now,” Clara says, as she finishes explaining. “It seemed like the fastest way to get the database up. I can see about moving it over later—”

“No, this is fine,” Sal says. “It seems appropriate. Cybernetics and tea.” She slides a cup of the aforementioned tea into Clara’s hands; Clara accepts it gratefully. Sal’s voice is warm. She seems impressed—no, Clara thinks. Not impressed.

Inspired.

Sal keeps her hands apart a little after handing Clara the cup, like she’s holding that hope in them again. She says, “You’ll need to show me how to keep this current.”

“I don’t mind doing it—”

“I know,” Sal says. She puts her arms around Clara and sighs, holding her between them too, warm and heavy and comfortable. “I just mean… for the future.”

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