CurTis absolutely despised the Internet Cafes. Between the bad coffee, the lack of proper air conditioning, the sketchy losers that hung around them, and the ironically shitty Internet connections, nothing was worse.

He had no choice though.

Private Internet was abolished in 2041. The world wide web could now only be accessed at public “Internet Cafes,” which were basically a mix of the DMV and the worst Starbucks ever.

There were “upscale online lounges” available to those that could pay steep monthly prices and afford parking in the city’s more toney neighborhoods. 

CurTis could afford none of these luxuries. He was a hustler, and he needed to be one just to eat everyday. 

The location of the Internet cafe CurTis was sipping his bitter coffee at was actually a strategic stronghold for his primary hustle – scrapping employment aides. 

What was an “employment aide?” Robotic technology was advanced enough by the 50s that companies realized they could replace most corporate employees with advanced drones. 

Within a few years, every American downtown was crawling with corporate peon droids, doing the busy work of corporations

Naturally, things went to shit, quick. Droids proved more unreliable than humans and most companies went back to organic labor within 10 years. Some still stuck it out though and aides were now just a part of life, shuffling about town on their way to and from work on the streets of downtown. 

CurTis always sat by second-story window, keeping his eyes on the aides as they strolled up and down Broadway. It was the perfect place to scout out his next victim, see who was vulnerable, like a crocodile lurking in a murky lake, trying to identify the weakest of the herd stopping at a watering hole for a drink. 

He had developed plenty of best practices. Avoid anyone dressed in blue or gray, they belonged to one of the last-remaining gangs holding onto dear life in the endlessly-gentrified sprawl of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Avoid anyone that looked attractive. Those were new and assuredly had the proper tracking that messaged the police at the first sign of danger. 

You wanted to find the ones that looked down on their luck, but not completely broken down.

Unwashed hair. Dark eyes. Department store pantsuit. Moving at a slow jog like she was late to work. A general look of disaffection, but a strange sparkle. CurTis knew he had his mark at 8:54 in the morning 

He downed the rest of his horrid coffee and hurried out of the cafe. 

CurTis felt the cold as soon as he pushed himself out the door. It always felt odd when the temperature dropped below 60 in LA. The place suddenly felt like a different planet. The fat drops of occasional rain that fell down between the skyscrapers of downtown all around added to that feel as he hurried across Broadway in a rare break in traffic. 

He made it to the train of aides walking up and down the sidewalk, assumedly on their way to work, nearly knocking over a male aide decked out in an ill-fitting suit before he made it to the female aide he initially scouted. 

He made the transaction quick, looping her arm with his and walking her up the street with him. CurTis tried to act natural, telling the aide he was just taking her to grab a cup of coffee, but he also moved rather swiftly, he always wanted to limit the amount of time he could be seen with an aide by the public, given what he had waiting for them back in his apartment. 

CurTis’ apartment was in South Downtown, just below Broadway. The area called Skid Row that earned its nickname by being one of the worst neighborhoods in the country that was now just pure irony. Curtis’ studio apartment cost $5,000 per-month and he got a discount because he agreed to clean the facilities once a week for the landlord. 

He discovered his aide’s name was Flower just as he shut the door sealing them in his $5,000 per-month abode and grabbed a screwdriver off of the counter. 

“My mom named me Flower because I was born on the street, Flower, and Figueroa…

The word “Figueroa” was ringing in CurTis’ ear when he shoved the screwdriver through Flower’s neck, right behind her ear. He internally scoffed at her story, knowing that the corporate headquarters of the largest producer of companionship aides was located at Flower and Figueroa Streets. They must have programmed that story into her. 

He held the screwdriver in her neck until he heard three clicks and knew it meant Flower was officially decommissioned. He let her drop to the ground in front of him, her dark blue glassy eyes staring up from the stained carpet. 

This transaction of decommissioning aides was hard for CurTis at first, but had long been numbly routine. It was as simple as taking out the trash for him now. 

Speaking of Trash, Flower was mostly that. CurTis groaned once he finished spreading her parts across his dining room table. 

He knew she was an old model, but he still expected to have more usable parts. All of her parts were too rusted, overused, nothing that could be resold for anything more than a dollar or two. He regretted what he had done. This old soul of an android should have been able to peacefully live out its days and not be taken apart in his living room. 

The thought of putting her back together came to CurTis before he spotted something peculiar sticking out the bottom of Flower’s severed head…a silicon memory chip. 

Aides weren’t supposed to have memories other than remembering simple patterns stored on hard drives at the offices where they worked. CurTis had never seen a chip in one. A closer look at the machinery revealed it looked homemade. Someone had personally installed a memory in this unit.

Had it been the aide itself? No. Not possible. It must have been a client. Either way, it was the only thing he needed to be motivated to immediately put Flower back together. 

Flower was soon back in her original form, sitting on CurTis’ couch, with eyes that were even-more dead than before, and they were pretty fucking dead before. Her dark blue pupils now staring back at him looking like the eyes of a great white shark staring him down. 

He wondered if he had officially broken her, until a tear rolled down her cheek. Or maybe it was just lubricant? No, she definitely was crying, confirmed when she spoke up. 

“You tried to kill me.”

Her body started to shake. More tears came out of her eyes. She couldn’t have looked more busted and more alive at the time. CurTis was speechless. 

“Why?” Flower went on. 

“I make my living stealing aides, breaking them down for parts, and selling those parts to the gangs that resell aides,” CurTis answered as matter-of-fact as possible, hoping that would help.

It didn’t. Flower cried some more. 

“I lost my job at the data center where I worked and I couldn’t find anything for two years. It was the only way I could find to make money, and live,” CurTis started to defend himself. 

She just kept crying, dropping her head, the part of her dark brown hair looking back at him and his deep guilt. 

“Look, I can help you get back out there,” Curtis went on. 

“I don’t want to get back out there,” she said and looked back up at him. 

She looked around the space all around him, taking extra long to look at his bed and his couch. 

“I want to stay here,” she added. 

He wanted to protest. She pulled out a small handheld device with an LED screen from her pocket and displayed it for him. 

“I hit this button, and it calls my manufacturer, who calls the police, who instantly track me to back here, who will be less-than-pleased to hear the story of what happened here when they arrive. You’ll go to jail,” she kept twisting the dagger deeper-and-deeper the longer she talked. 

“Okay, okay. You can stay,” he relented. “But how is this going to work exactly?”

How exactly it worked is that CurTis went about his daily life the way he always had and Flower lived at his house like a comfortable live-in girlfriend – watching TV on the couch all hours of the day, snacking on his food, using the bathroom (he was unsure of how that even worked), and going on walks around the neighborhood. She even made him dinner sometimes. It was somewhat domestic, and he kind of liked it. 

He wondered why the company she worked for didn’t seem to try to track her down, but he had learned that it was actually cheaper, and easier for companies to just let aides disappear if they didn’t come back. It was probably the case with Flower. 

CurTis rented a garage workshop space down the street to continue doing his “recycling work” to pay the bills while Flower lived with him. He felt it was in bad taste to do it at home with Flower in the house. He was afraid to do just about anything around her, constantly worried she was going to report him to a number of different officials who would ruin his life in a variety of unpleasant ways due to his dark career. 

Weeks went by with no movement from Flower. It was actually CurTis who first moved to change the situation. 

CurTis hadn’t received a message on the Dating System app in nearly a year. He actually kind of forgot he even had it until Mariane reached out to him on a Sunday afternoon as he watched Flower prepare him some sort of thin stew with shrimp in it for dinner (he had started buying different ingredients he enjoyed each Sunday to see what kind of meal she could come up with). 

Mariane was three years younger than him, lived in his neighborhood, enjoyed swimming in the ocean, worked as a network administrator for a university, and had a mousey look that CurTis found attractive, even though it kind of reminded him of Flower. He replied back to her general outreach message and started a conversation that led to them meeting at a coffee cafe that was much nicer than the one he used to scout out companion aides to decommission . 

They hit it off. CurTis thought she was one of those people you can tell has had something horrible happen to them in life though they’ll never tell you what it is. He liked that. 

They quickly dove into CurTis’ first true human relationship in years. Everything couldn’t have gone smoother, except for the fact that they had been on 20 dates and she had never been to his place. He always made the excuse that her place was closer to the bars and restaurants they usually met up at, but she wasn’t going to let that stand up any longer. She texted that she wanted to come over one night and wasn’t going to take no for an answer. 

CurTis had a pep talk with Flower. Could she stay in his closet while Mariane came over? She didn’t appear to be offended, she just wanted to know how that would logistically work, and if she could watch shows on his tablet while in there? Yes, with earbuds in, of course. 

They worked it out. Mariane came over the next night and he tried to act like it wasn’t weird it had taken so long for her to walk through his front door. 

Everything seemed normal to her. They shared a drink, some dessert, and then went into his bedroom. She had no idea an aide was in the closet in his living room the entire time binge watching a cooking competition show. 

Things got closer for CurTis with Mariane, making things with Flower (even) more complicated. He tried to talk Flower into moving out, going back to her past life, or whatever she wanted to do. She had no interest. 

The only thing Flower seemed interested in was reminding CurTis he was under her thumb. He did whatever he could to keep Mariane from his place and when he couldn’t keep her away, he kept Flower in the closet. 

It couldn’t last forever. One morning Mariane showed up unannounced. The car she was taking to work had broken down on the way, not far from CurTis’ place. She knocked on the door before CurTis was awake. 

Flower, who was awake (watching cooking competition shows on the couch), answered the door and floored Mariane, another woman standing there before her in her boyfriend’s apartment. 

CurTis woke up and started hearing their conversation about halfway through. 

“I thought I just had the wrong place, but I guess not,” Mariane said, her voice wavering all the way through, clearly losing her composure. 

“Sorry,” Flower answered back, flat. 

There was a long, awkward pause as CurTis got himself out of bed, his face starting to burn with rage and panic. 

He heard Mariane right before he threw open his bedroom door. 

“Who are you?” 

CurTis opened the door before Flower could answer. Mariane just looked at CurTis, dressed in his underwear, standing pathetic in the doorway. A single tear ran down Mariane’s face before she spat at him, told him to fuck off, and ran away. 

CurTis didn’t give chase even though he desperately didn’t want to lose her. He figured trying to explain the situation would be more embarrassment and shame than he was capable of handling. 

He just stood there, in the cold air of the Winter morning, regretting his entire life. 

CurTis proceeded to scream and plead with Flower, trying to get her to leave. He offered his entire bank account. Anything to just move on with his life. 

She didn’t budge. Instead, she put the rest of her cards on the table, for better or for worse, revealing to him a small cord on the inside of her armpit that would dial her owner and summon them should she feel threatened and decide to pull it. 

He was never going to get out of this. He just conceded this was his life and moved on. He went to a staffing agency that ironically was staffed by aides and gave them a resume that was mostly lies. 

The aides landed him a job at a data center underneath a skyscraper where his job was to stack new servers into an infinite amount of rows. It was a temp job, but the aide who managed him explained they had enough servers to stack that it was going to take them a whole year to stack them all, working 9 to 5, every weekday. 

It was comforting to CurTis. He had stability for the first time in years. 

He even started to like having Flower around again. She cooked, she cleaned, she answered the door when packages were delivered during the day on weekdays, and when maintenance needed to come by, and then she left him alone when he got home. Had he been born 100 years earlier, he probably would have referred to her as a Stepford Wife. But he wasn’t and he instead just wished he could think of a perfect term for what was taking place in his apartment. 

It would take three months for cracks to appear in the façade. 

CurTis was walking home from work in the dark. It was the dead of Winter so it got dark just before 5 p.m. and it was pitch black as he snaked his way through Skid Row. 

Skid Row maintained the name even though a two-bedroom condo in the neighborhood had long cost a million dollars per-bedroom. CurTis had never seemed the slightest bit on edge walking through the area except one time when a woman’s Bearnese Mountain Dog got a little too aggressive with him. 

Yet, on this night, he felt a chill that went well beyond what he should have been feeling given the 62-degree temperature. Why? Because someone was following him

CurTis had yet to get a glimpse of the face of who had been following him since he left his office, but he could tell they weren’t large. They walked softly and delicately and had a small shadow. He thought they might barely be five-feet tall. Maybe it was a kid? A teenager of rich parents who just got off on fucking with people. Surely that would be the only kind of troublemaker in this neighborhood. 

He had a plan. There was a small park coming up on the right between two apartment complexes with a children’s play area that had a Vision Box in it. He would lure his stalker in there and then have some fun with him, or her. 

Vision Boxes were steel squares put in children’s parks lined with digital screens on the inside. Children went inside and were given a choice of endless locations to create to give themselves different surroundings to interact with. 

You could walk into a Vision Box in Chicago on a frigid January morning and have your kids play on a tropical beach in Tahiti by going into one. You couldn’t interact with the environment that much, but the temperature in the box would change. You could pick up a conch shell and throw it into the water and get splashed from a water reserve in the box. It was fucking magical. 

CurTis’ life on the edge led to him knowing a lot more secrets about the urban world that he lived in than most people and he knew how to override a Vision Box so you could control it. He had done it before to his advantage, usually just to impress a girl. 

This was different. CurTis had sinister intentions when he hurried into the Vision Box and turned on his mobile device. He pulled up the Wi-Fi of the Box and turned on a router-altering application. 

He picked up the strategy once when he had to spend a weekend in jail after getting caught with stolen aide parts in his backpack a few years before. It was well worth the time in captivity. He was able to use it almost anywhere and basically turn any networked environment into his own personal God mode.

He had everything he needed set up when his stalker stepped in. He cued up his mobile device and pulled up an environment only a few were aware of – Hell. 

The Box went from pitch black to red hot in color and temperature. A fireball of heat that even CurTis wasn’t prepared greeted the small person who was following him. Someone must have turned up the setting, because he literally felt fire come out of the walls of the Box. 

“What the fuck?” CurTis heard a familiar voice scream out as he closed his eyes against the flames that whipped at him from every direction. 

It was a female voice he knew, well, but whose exactly he still wasn’t sure. 

He was sure once he was able to get the flames to die down. He saw Mariane standing before him with her face scalded, her skin peeling off her delicate face right in front of him. 

“What the fuck CurTis?” Mariane pleaded.

CurTis moved quickly, lying to a critically-injured and dazed Mariane, telling her he was leading her to the hospital when he was really just taking her to his apartment. She was at least temporarily blinded. She wouldn’t know until it was too late. 

He ushered her inside and set her down on the couch. He groaned when he heard the toilet flush and knew Flower would be in their presence any second. 

He held his breath and tended to Mariane after he heard her start to cry. 

He moved closer to her on the couch, sliding her little body into his lap. He looked down to her face and thought he could see the silver shade of her skull through what was left of the meat on her face. He wasn’t a fucking doctor, but he knew she didn’t have long. 

She spoke to him, softly, losing the grip on her consciousness. 

“I came back that day and talked to Flower. She told me what happened. It took me a long time, but I came to terms with it, but I lost your number. So I didn’t know how to get a hold of you. I remember you said you liked to walk through Skid Row, so I was just looking for you, but you were way ahead of me,” Mariane explained. 

“Why didn’t you call out to me?” CurTis asked. 

It took her a long time to reply. She winced in the deepest pain. It hurt him just looking at it. Well, he was also just in horrible pain in general. He hadn’t looked in the mirror, but he anticipated he had serious burns on his face from the Box as well. 

“I did, you have headphones on,” she explained. 

CurTis realized he had his headphones on with, with music at a low volume the entire time. He reached up to them and felt his hand melt into the plastic upon touch. 

He screamed in startle, but not in pain somehow. Maybe he was in shock? He could feel molten plastic sizzling on his fingers, yet it didn’t hurt. It was just concerning. 

Mariane’s state was equally concerning. She was outright fading away right before CurTis’ eyes. 

He snapped his fingers in front of her eyes and brought her to life for a second, but all that seemed to do was make her aware of the pain she was experiencing again. 

“What happened?” Marianne dribbled out through sad and tired lips, breaking CurTis’ heart for the first time in his life.

“I, I, I, don’t know,” CurTis got some words out as he watched Mariane pass away. 

He tried to wake her one more time. He shook her and got no reaction. Her neck was loose and limp and her face twisted away from him, dead weight now just hanging off of her torso. 

He immediately saw something that concerned him behind her right ear, machinery that looked a lot like the machinery he saw behind Flower’s ear when he broke her open. 

Was Mariane an aide?

He didn’t have any time to think about it because the bathroom door opened right on cue. Oh yeah, Flower. He had almost forgotten about her for a moment. 

Flower didn’t seem the slightest bit thrown off by the bizarre scene in the living room.

“Come to the bathroom,” she said as soon as she locked eyes with him. 

He watched her bite her lip, concern finally growing on her face. He heard her mutter…

“Oh no.”

She led him to the bathroom, flicked on the light, and showed him himself in the mirror. He quickly found out why she said “oh no.” His face was blow torched almost as bad as Mariane’s.

He immediately lamented dying with only an aide by his side. 

Ah shit, who cared? There was no real human being in his life that was closer to him at that point anyway, no need to get precious in the final seconds of the fourth quarter. 

He reached out and put a hand on her shoulder as he started to cry in front of someone else for the first time ever. He sobbed for a few moments and was glad she was there truly for the first time since he had tricked her into going into his apartment. 

The 30 seconds of tears he had in his body were gone and it was time for him to recoil from Flower. He had yet another stunning realization the second he did that, catching a glimpse of the back of his head in the mirror and seeing some familiar-looking machinery just behind his ear. 

That memory chip system he had seen in Flower and Mariane he had removed from so many unlucky aides in the past – it was behind his ear. He let out the breath he had been holding since he first heard Flower’s flush when he was back with Mariane in the living room. 

Flower sat CurTis down on the toilet and dropped down so they could be eye-to-eye. 

“You’re going to have to listen and just go with it or this isn’t going to work,” Flower explained. 

He didn’t protest. Anything to live. Anything to live. 

“You’re not going to like it though,” Flower went on as she led him out of his apartment. 

Flower led him to the workshop he rented around the block. She unlocked it with the key ring in his pocket. 

She immediately started sifting through all of the random parts CurTis had stored in there. 

“What a mess,” she lamented as she tossed around countless robotic arms and legs.

“Arms and legs have almost no value,” CurTis explained, almost proudly, a man still interested in his craft, even in his dying moments. 

Flower found what she was looking for. A raw motherboard that instantly flagged CurTis’ mind as he looked at it. He couldn’t remember exactly where I he got it. He just remembered he felt like it was something he should hold onto when he found it.

CurTis tried to sell that motherboard device, but no one would ever buy it. Yet, here was Flower before him, hooking that thing up into the hard line Internet and setting up a power supply. 

He watched as the motherboard lit up and let out a powerful whir once she had everything set up. 

Then she turned to him with a rather somber look on her face. He could tell she didn’t want to say whatever she was going to say next. 

He didn’t have the energy to fight her off when she reached around the back of his skull and ripped out what he assumed to be the memory chip he saw in Flower and Mariane. His entire body went numb as soon as he felt her hand pull away from him. 

Then everything went black. 

CurTis’ senses came back to him. Well, except for sight. He couldn’t see shit. He could definitely feel and hear though. 

He also couldn’t explain anything. He couldn’t vocalize. He was feeling things, but if you sat him down today and tried to get him to explain them to you, he couldn’t articulate them. 

Flower was hunched over the motherboard in the near dark, the machinery in her grasp the only thing giving off light. It wasn’t easy, but this was the only way it could be done. She was communicating with CurTis by connecting wires that were barely thicker than dental floss and barely longer than a few millimeters. 

She cursed as she worked, using the understanding of aide coding she learned while ironically working at the aide manufacturing company where she worked before CurTis stole her to wire the thoughts into CurTis’ mind, to answer his questions before she put him back together and had to answer them all again. 

His questions were rapid fire. She watched them scribble across a tiny monitor at the back of the motherboard in bold and she answered in italics on a keyboard she had hooked up. 

When did it happen? Was I born this way and just didn’t know.

No. This may be ironic to you, but there are actually hyper-aware aides who specialize in ripping off the bodies of organic human beings and selling them to aides who are looking to implant themselves into real bodies. It seems like this aide must have incapicated you one day, implanted a memory chip into your body, and then put his mind in yours so you wouldn’t know who you were.

Wait, so I’m an aide and this is a human’s body?

Yes, that’s precisely what happened.

So am I an aide that’s lost in a human’s body or am I a human lost in an aide’s body floating somewhere out there in the world?

That’s up to you. It’s believed that the organic tissue of humans’ bodies can eventually corrode the chip and infuse organic thoughts, memories, and sense of self into it after a while so the person realizes what happened, that’s probably what happened to you. 

What can I do about it?

She didn’t answer. She instead started to build him a body with the shitty parts he had lying around. 

She had a sloppy CurTis Frankenstein’s monster built in about an hour. She called him Frank in her head as she built it.

She sat him down at the motherboard once he was awake and only slightly horrified about the way he looked, having only slightly seen his reflection in a piece of metal machinery.

“I made a copy of your chip while it was here. Now, I can show you,” Flower said as she hooked up a small monitor to the motherboard. 

She pulled a video of what he could recognize as him working at the data center the day before. Then she went into rewind, in hyperdrive. He watched years go by in seconds. 

Then it stopped. CurTis thought he could remember that day. It was one of those forgettable 75-degree Spring days in LA that are just like the rest and he was posted up in the Internet cafe on Broadway just like he always was, but now he remembered the guy who robbed him of his being as he watched it happen in the footage. The fucking guy who was in the bathroom for 10 minutes when he really had to take a piss. 

CurTis distinctly remembered the guy because had one of those faces where the man was 35, but you could tell just what he looked like when he was eight. A red-faced white guy with some freckles, big teeth, and close set eyes. CurTis laughed wondering what the hell aide designer decided to make a fake human look like a cartoon bully from an old movie or TV show. 

Someone had though and that aide decided he needed a human body eventually choosing CurTis as the one for him. 

Either way, Curtis was going to get revenge on him, and put his life back together. Literally. 

Flower was willing to help, but CurTis had a hesitation, why was an aide willing to help a guy who made his living destroying aides?

“Simply because the world needs to get put back together,” she explained. “Or, because I want you to go away. If you get your old body back will you get a different place?”

“And just give you my place?” CurTis asked. “Why would I do that?”

“I’ll pay rent, I just like the place.”

“Fine, but just help me.”

Flower led a barely-alive CurTis to about the only part of LA that had never been gentrified, the area by the LA River just South of Downtown. The neighborhood got labeled as as historic district just as it was about to be taken over by yuppies in the 20s and corporations stepped in, deciding it should be housing for aides. 

What resulted was a filthy slum filled with the corpses of dead aides, empty containers of the various lubricants and stimulants the aides used to survive, and computer equipment. No one figured out why aides loved computer equipment, but they collected it like memorabilia, even when it didn’t work. It was like decorations to them. 

CurTis was incredibly nervous. He couldn’t go into this turf. The aides knew him as the grim reaper. They had to. He was probably their fucking urban legend. 

He started to vocalize his fears to Flower. She kindly told him to “quit fucking worrying,” he wasn’t that important. 

She led him to a crumbling house on stilts at the end of a cul de sac choked with rusty cars that had probably been there since living, breathing, organic humans owned the neighborhood. CurTis feared they would fall through the floor of the porch as they stood there with Flower knocking, hard. 

The door was eventually answered by a man who looked a lot like CurTis did at the moment – a collection of random aide parts, glued together (poorly) with dead eyes. 

This was Simpson. He was flanked by his gang, about 20 more disasters just like CurTis, some human parts, and some aide parts, all looking for an answer. 

Simpson just stared at Flower for a long time, waiting for her to make the first move before he committed to doing anything. It was the aide way. You don’t lead, you follow. 

Flower didn’t recognize Simpson, but she knew what he looked like a few weeks ago. The great part about being a renegade aide who used trashed and stolen aide parts to create their bodies was they could change and upgrade their parts at any time. 

Simpson was a lot worse for his wear the last time Flower saw him. 

Flower was as well, and that’s why Simpson was so hesitant to open up the conversation with her. Aides that were able to quickly upgrade their parents were dangerous. Simpson knew this because he himself was able to do this because he was dangerous. 

“He needs some help,” Flower broke the ice and nodded over to CurTis. “And fast, or he’s going to die.”

Simpson swallowed some lubricant in the back of his throat, not because he was nervous, but because he did a shitty job of hooking up his neck to his skull. 

“Come in,” Simpson said quietly as his eyes scanned the bright world outside. 

Simpson was able to pay for his constant upgrades because he maintained a database of rogue aides. He, and his gang, did this through simple intimidation and assault. Every aide, even the ones who wanted to stay hid from organic humans, registered in Simpson’s database because they knew it was only a matter of time before they were destroyed by him and his gang if they didn’t. 

Simpson charged anyone who wanted access to the database whenever they wanted it, and he charged quite a bit. 

CurTis chewed on whether or not he was willing to all but empty his savings account for access to Simpson’s database that would lead him to the aide who was walking around with his body somewhere. It hurt, but he agreed and let Simpson run his bank account on a fucking cell phone. 

It was worth it. Within seconds of feeling his stomach drop into his guts as he watched Simpson plug his bank card into a mobile device, CurTis was looking at the Baby Huey face of the aide who was stealing his life – Adam. 

Simpson added that he’d be happy to have his gang track down the whereabouts and employment location of the aide, for an extra price that CurTis could not afford. 

CurTis had to go into serious debt to an aide gang to make it happen, but he soon had the address of where Adam worked. In an ironic twist, it was a data center on the other side of downtown. 

CurTis called in sick to his data center job so he could properly ambush Adam when he came out of work on Monday. He also figured out the nearest park where he knew a Vision Box was that he hoped he could lure Adam into, where he would pull off his trade. 

It seemed the world knew CurTis’ plan, because it poured down rain the entire day he set up his plan for. It was so bad, literal rivers of rainfall were rushing down the hills of downtown, overflowing the gutter, and limiting vision with it’s powerful flow coming down from the sky. 

Every molecule of CurTis’ body seemed to hurt. He went into even more debt to have Simpson hook him up with new replacement parts and liquids that were able to keep him alive. It hurt like shit though, only giving him more reason to want to take out Adam and get his real body back. 

CurTis stood across the from the street. Adam walked out the front door shortly after quitting time. Simpson and Flower told CurTis aides weren’t allowed to drive or take public transportation so they had to walk to and from work, meaning he would have to walk out of the front door of his office and he assuredly lived somewhere very close to the building. 

He was relieved to see Adam walking right toward the park where he wanted him to go anyway. CurTis started following him, closely. 

The rain helped Adam from seeing CurTis, but it also prevented CurTis from properly seeing Adam as well. He continuously lost him in the crowd, the only thing signifying him being that he didn’t use an umbrella. Aides didn’t use umbrellas, because they had no real reason to feel discomfort, so who cared about the rain?

CurTis, had to jog to try and catch up with Adam before he walked right past the park. He really risked tipping off Adam to what was happening by being so frantic, but he just had no other choice. 

Then, Adam walked right into the park CurTis needed him to. He couldn’t believe it. 

CurTis stealthily followed Adam into the park, his eyes on the Vision Box the entire time. His hands sweated. His plan became seriously neanderthal at this point. He knew it would work though. 

CurTis ran up on Adam and wrapped up like a football defender. He overpowered the slightly-smaller Adam and carried him over to the Box, pushing him into the darkness, praying there weren’t kids in there. 

Adam and CurTis were greeted by darkness in the Box until CurTis pulled up his preferred surrounding on the screens all around them. He retired using the Hell setting, instead going with a frozen North Pole setting. 

The North Pole seemed extra icy and cold given how soaked to the bone Adam and CurTis were. It froze them both in their stances. 

CurTis stared into Adam’s eyes trying to get out the dramatic and ominous line that he had rehearsed. He wasn’t able. Instead, he just stood there, trying not to cry, looking into Adam’s tired, sad, and defeated eyes. 

CurTis almost thought about not taking the screwdriver he had in his pocket and driving it into Adam’s neck for a second. 

Then he just did it. 

CurTis quickly found himself back in his workshop, hunched over the motherboard that Flower had been using, Adam’s body perfect behind him, with just the memory chip removed from him, his body hooked up to a blood circulator to keep him as alive.

The screen above the motherboard came to life and CurTis was presented with a screen which allowed him to scroll through Adam’s memories. He put in a command that took him to the middle of the fifth year of the memory’s life, around the time when he first felt that he could remember his life.

He was shocked when he saw a completely different life. This memory was taking place in New York City, right in the middle of Manhattan. CurTis had never fucking been to Manhattan. This wasn’t his memory. 

He kept Adam hooked up to the blood circulation situation and went back to the apartment home he had just signed over to Flower. 

Flower answered the door right after CurTis knocked, practically startling him, as if she was waiting for him. He looked at her, soaked in the rain, sad, and desperate for a few moments before he displayed the memory chip he had pulled out of Adam and tried to speak. 

Flower sat CurTis down at the brand new computer that he wondered how she purchased, but whatever? He had more-important fish to fry. 

She did a quick scan through the memories on the memory chip. Yep, they definitely weren’t CurTis’ memories. This wasn’t surprising. She thought this might be the case. 

She laid it out to CurTis as simple as possible. 

“Look, all the time, people steal memory chips out of people, and aides, and put them into other vessels. It’s just the world now. There’s no way to know where you really are in the way that you’d really like to define yourself,” she explained. “I might have been a real person, at some point.”

He stood there staring at her. Waiting for something else. 

“I’m sorry,” she added. 

She opened up her posture and invited him onto the couch. He obliged. 

“I feel bad for the way things unfolded,” she started in. 

CurTis was concerned. Did aides have “bad” feelings? He thought they just did what they did because they did because it was their programing. 

Did she…

She cut off his thought by putting a soft hand on his shoulder. 

“You can move in here. We can share the space,” she continued, making strong eye contact. 

Her eyes appeared moist…how was that possible? CurTis questioned. 

He then thought about ripping her throat out for a moment. He could turn her into just another job. No. She had that strategy where she would put him in more trouble than he already was if he did that. 

So, he went with it. He took Flower’s invitation. He would move back in. He would see how that would go. Could you have sex with an aide? He would likely find out. 

He just had one more thing to do. 

CurTis went back to his workshop, unhooked Adam from the circulation system, and took him out to the alleyway. Once in the alley, he wrenched the memory chip back into Adam and watched him come to life in front of him until Adam was standing upright, giving him a dumb look.

“Get the fuck out of here,” Curtis muttered. 

Adam gave CurTis one long blink and ran off. 

CurTis went back home and crawled into bed. He hadn’t gotten a good night’s

 sleep in a long, long time. 

Flower slipped into the bed and laid next to him just before he couldn’t keep himself awake anymore and drifted off to sleep. 

He had one last thought before slumber came. He was better off than he had been for as long as he could remember.