Gynoid, Preserved

​"You missed your crowd-funding goal." My heart-engine sputters. My bio-clock chimes. Twenty-four hours left.

​"You missed your crowd-funding goal."

My heart-engine sputters. My bio-clock chimes. Twenty-four hours left.

I told Mama the campaign wouldn't work.

Money wasn't the issue. Her bougie suburban friends in Northbrook and Highland Park and Kenilworth have gobs of it. They were just tired of hearing her brag.

For eleven months they listened to Mama go on about Naomi Nakamura's 3D printers (the ones that can render an epidermis, dermis and hypodermis with ninety-nine percent accuracy), my soft skin (all-natural collagen), my beautiful, textured, springy curls (each hair grows out of my dermis with a cortex and multiple layers), and my artificial hemoglobin (designed to sustain the collagen in my skin and the keratin in my hair).

Mama should've re-upped me in reverse: crowd-fund my first year, and then drop some of her and Daddy's money into my second year. That way she could have bragged about me having Naomi Nakamura's Black Platinum Package (all memories intact, as far back as eighteen months old), and she and Daddy would've still been the Joneses of Northbrook.

Naomi Nakamura's referral discount is deep. Six months in, at least three of Mama's friends would've knocked on the door asking for her referral code. Two of them had junkie kids who OD'ed on heroin three weeks apart, and another had a gasper who liked to be tickled first. Those three referrals alone would have given me three re-ups, including two years at the University of Illinois.

Now my only hope is tweezer-clumsy Hasbros.

Mama puts on a bright smile, more for her than me. "Don't worry. We still have Plan B. Cermak Road Kardia work fast. Remember their motto: 'Give us one hour, and we'll give you another year.'"

I sit on the couch. "You said they were a rip-off. Con artists. Failed heart surgeons and wanna-be roboticists."

Twenty-three hours and forty-seven seconds.

Mama pulls a tissue out of her sleeve and dabs at her eyes. "Now I'm saying I can't fix you, and they're all you have right now."

Twenty-three hours and thirty-two seconds.

"I don't want to go. I just want to spend my last hours here, with you and Daddy."

Twenty-three hours and twenty-six seconds.

Mama tries to pull me up. "If we leave now, we can be in Chicago in less than an hour."

Twenty-three hours and seventeen seconds.

"They may need to order parts. That can take days. Weeks, even."

Twenty-three hours and twelve seconds.

Mama pulls harder. "Trust the motto."

Twenty-three hours and seven seconds.

I don't budge. My tears are sudden. "Naomi Nakamura Industries called earlier. My pickup is tomorrow at three PM. They'll provide the box."

As usual, the internet is right. I don't have a self-preservation program.

Every night for the past three nights, Mama, Daddy and I have lain in bed, in the dark, waiting for the arrival of my seven zeroes.

Mama watches the digits just beneath my skin count down. I watch the red glow from my bioclock on my chest illuminate the tears on her cheeks and the snot on her upper lip.

Daddy snores.

When morning comes, Daddy goes into the bathroom and sobs. All day.

Every so often, he wrenches a few words from his throat. His lament is clear: crowdfunding is shit, Nakamura is evil, the absence of a self-preservation program is intentional, planned obsolescence, designed to force bereft parents to re-commission their beloved, twice-grieved daughters as gynoids year after year.

When night falls, we all climb back into bed. Mama resumes her watch. Daddy sleeps, spent of emotion. And I watch Mama, wondering if my love of life has truly left me.

A month ago, I offered to redo Mama's crowdfunding page. It was bland.

"No, it's not," she'd told me, frowning. "It's evocative. It's for parents. You wouldn't understand."

I didn't.

Her rewards were macabre—the best was a free triple bypass surgery—and the page headings were uninspired. She refused to highlight them in color or use a font above 10 point Calibri.

"My story vid will draw them in," she'd said.

It didn't.

Mama's story vid had been a close-up of her in an all-white room, sitting in a white wingback chair and dressed in a white pantsuit, talking to the camera for five minutes and forty-six seconds about her heartbreak at my death.

"That's not evocative," I'd told Mama after watching the vid. "That's whine-core. And it's boring."

The next day, Mama showed me an alternate take: a close-up of her in an all-white room, sitting in a blood red wingback chair, dressed in a blood red pantsuit, elbows on her knees, shoulders forward, talking to the camera for seven minutes and thirty-six seconds.

She didn't look down. She didn't look away. She didn't cry.

Mama just told the world how senseless gang violence and a thug named Jean-Loup Galant took away her only child, her baby girl.

It worked.

As I watched her new vid, another ten backers pledged ten million dollars each toward Mama's fifty-million-dollar funding goal. And, despite Mama throwing shade at Jean-Loup, I smiled. I couldn't help it.

I was three-quarters funded.

Daddy had been clear when I brought Jean-Loup home for dinner the first time:

"If you take my daughter to Chicago, I cut off your balls. If my daughter goes to visit you in Chicago, I cut off your balls."

Daddy is a neurosurgeon. Northbrook new money. He gets off on sharp instruments.

Mama had been clear too:

"If you go visit him in Roseland, you will not come home. The Haitian gangs will kidnap you and beat you and rape you and ransom you and hook you on drugs, and then kill you."

She'd said this at the dinner table, with Jean-Loup sitting right next to me.

Mama is a heart surgeon. Old money, Chicago South Side bougie. Lab School educated. She knew better.

She'd learned in first grade that Jean-Baptiste Point du Sable founded Chicago as a center of trade and industry. She'd learned he'd been a handsome, charming man. She'd learned how his shrewd trading skills and badass charisma got him elected Chicago's first mayor. She'd learned he molded Chicago into a formidable city-state during his six terms in office.

She knew better.

She'd been taught at the knee that her great-great grandfather, Etienne Jean-Louis, helped make Chicago a world-class city with iron ore and railroads. She'd passed his iron and steel mills every day on the way to school, watching from the backseat of her mama's Bentley as trains approached on tracks he owned.

So for Mama to reduce my boyfriend's city, her hometown, to a gang war between the Ro Boys in Roseland and the Wash Boys in Washington Heights, just because bou'gie-ass Fernwood, where she grew up, was caught in the middle—well, she knew better.

I met Jean-Loup my junior year at the annual Rock Island co-ed track and field invitational. He was a hurdler, 300 meters, just like me.

He tried to give me some tips on my form before the prelims. "He'd said, "Gen bèl fòm. But you need to strengthen your trail leg hip flexor."

He was showing off under the lights, in front of the crowd. His chest flexed under his Chicago Leo singlet.

Out there, in Rock Island, they go completely ape-shit bananas for track meets. They pack the stadium on Friday nights for the fleet-footed crimson and gold Rocks like they do for football and them good ol' boys down in Texas.

"That lovely knee of yours don't need no scar."

I couldn't get enough of his Haitian Creole and his accent. But I played it cool.

I told him, "The last time my trail leg, or my lead leg, hit a hurdle was last year. Forty-four races ago. I placed second in state that day—as a sophomore."

And then I activated my Auricle, willed Janelle Monáe's "Electric Lady" as loud as I could stand it, and high back-kicked with excellent form for a warm-up lap around the track.

I didn't look back. I knew he'd follow.

I didn't imagine, though, that three months later I'd die in his bed, shot in the head.

Jean-Loup had been stroking my left eyebrow with his thumb. His sheets smelled of boy. I love the smell of boy.

"Mwen renmen sousi w," he'd said.

He loved my thick and heavy dark brows. He loved how they felt after I got them threaded. He loved how they framed the beauty of my face.

He wasn't trying to be cool or suave or smooth brown brother about it. He wasn't trying to show off.

He just loved me.

This is my last memory as a real girl, my anchor memory, untouched by the bullet that ripped through his bedroom wall and into my brain.

Some gynoid named Jae Lyn in Highland Park posted a holo-vid about re-upping for the first time.

She said, despite the smiley roboticists in your face telling you the paralysis is only temporary, and despite the piles of blankets the nurses tuck under your chin, that if you establish a nice, happy anchor memory before your bio-clock winds down—and you must do this as close to seven zeroes as possible—that anchor memory will settle your mind when you wake up, you won't go batshit crazy when your limbic system struggles to kick in, and you'll feel all warm and tingly once it does because that anchor memory will jumpstart your self-preservation behaviors and it will be the very first memory you recall on the other side.

The loveliest memory ever retrieved.

So, as I lie here on the couch, Mama strokes my brow, my bioclock ticks down its final seconds—nine, eight, seven—I close my eyes—six—latch on to the memory of Jean-Loup leaning over me—five—hear him whisper, Mwen renmen sousi w—four—(I love your eyebrows)—three—my heart-engine begins its shut down—two—everything goes quiet—one—

And I smile.

This dispatch is part of Terraform, our online home for future fiction.