trusted tablets Pre kept her Familiar™ hidden under her jacket, because she knew the sight of it unnerved people. The tiny metal figure, the size and shape of a chameleon, clinging to her collar or her sleeve. It was more than out-of-fashion—it upset people, this visible evidence of her deviation from the norm.
Her nearest flat-neighbor, Subomi, at least kept a sense of humor about it. “I can’t believe you’re holding out! The Implants, they’re so—intuitive.” She’d opened her hand then, palm up, spread the fingers, and the light flickered above her palm, the hologram emitted by her own flesh, a three-dimensional light sculpture. And the way the data hummed through your own nerves, Subomi described it as warm, thrilling. A summer breeze inside the body.
“Qua and I get along just fine,” Pre had said. The little robot had been curled up near her collarbone, a weight as familiar as a piece of jewelry, brilliant silver against her dark-brown skin.
But she’d been on the Transport enough times, on her way to work, and seen the looks in other people’s eyes. Well, if they were looking. Most of the time, they were focused on the holoregisters in their own hands, or staring at a stream of data across their retinas. But sometimes their eyes would focus, they’d blink, snapped out of that trance, out of that singular oneness of themselves and the data, and they’d see her staring there, with her Familiar, separate.
“It’s so—archaic!” said Subomi, still with that open wonder in her voice.
Yes. There was something archaic about it. She wasn’t unified with Qua. She had to work to communicate with it. She observed and Qua observed the same events, separately, and sometimes came up with different observations. Most of the time, the robot anticipated her needs, her responses. Reached out its small, three-toed claw and touched her bare skin. There would be that brief shock, the static electricity, and then the presence in her mind of what the robot had seen, images from a slightly different angle, and even stranger—interpretations, listed in an orderly fashion, World Data searches for relevant terms, the names of texts, the faces of people who might answer questions. When they saw a man playing a violetric at the Transport platform, she saw a man she didn’t know. Qua gave her his name, pulled from facial recognition against police records: he was a drifter, a thief, with several arrests for vagrancy. But the music he was playing was so beautiful—what was it? Qua answered, Composition *343, composed by Wellis Ọgụgụọmakwa, 20 years ago, debuted at the Abuja Opera House in the spring, on a Sunday night. It rained throughout the concert. Pre thought for a moment that she could hear the rain, and whether the sound was part of the music itself or whether it was the actual soundtrack of the actual rainstorm taken from some weather observational tower tucked amidst the minarets of that massive city where the music had first been played, she didn’t know. And she liked not knowing. She liked that moment when it was just her in her thoughts, in her head. And she liked the moment when Qua entered her thoughts, with its little electric sizzle. She liked that it felt like a conversation more than a data delivery. She liked that it seemed to be flavored by Qua, but she herself ultimately made the choice about what details to distinguish, what searches to pursue, what images to linger over.
She didn’t think that people with the Implants were given that chance, that split second. That free will.
But she couldn’t say that to Subomi, because Subomi was so happy, so unconcerned; she even seemed rewarded by being part of some instantaneous, never-ending hive mind. To be honest, Pre wasn’t surprised at her own silence—there was a lot she couldn’t say to Subomi. I love you, she couldn’t say. I want you—she couldn’t say. Even as she looked at Subomi, at the freckles over her high cheeks, at the caramel-colored skin along her throat, at the way her hennaed dreadlocks gathered and swung as she gestured enthusiastically. When they met in the Court, that common area in the enormous block of flats they both lived in, and Subomi sat with her, telling her about her day, asking her questions about hers, all Pre could do was think: Be quiet, shhh, so quiet. Don’t interrupt the flow of Subomi’s words. Don’t give her a reason to stop.
It was more complicated than a lack of confidence on Pre’s part. The problem was that Pre paid too much attention to the type of person Subomi showed desire for, and she knew that wasn’t her. When she was younger she might have tried to change it—might have grown her hair out or put on headdresses or enormous skirts or layers of sheath-dresses. But by now, in her late 20s, Pre was who she was: unadorned by any piercings or tattoos, her hair shaved in close black spirals on her scalp, her clothes plain and unelaborate. She’d settled into drone clothes and easy care and the little natural beauty she thought she had.
So, at the end of their conversations in the Court, Subomi would go back to her flat, and Pre would go back to her flat, those boxes meant only for sleep, and they would never invite one another in.
If she had invited Subomi in, she would have seen on the dresser the evidence, the secret reason Pre kept Qua. Two small robots, defunct. Not sleeping, but dead. They’d died the day her parents had. What data they had in them was locked away behind bioencoding; only her parents’ own living bodies could have unencrypted them, opened them up. Even so, she’d carried their little metal corpses from place to place since the day of their deaths. Each place she’d slept in, she’d made a corner into a shrine where she’d lay the robots next to each other, draping their limp, articulated limbs one over the other—into an embrace. Each night, this was where she laid Qua, next to the Familiars of her parents. She would hold the little robot in her hands, make a child’s wish over it, and set it down beside them. The little robot would circle the couple, chirruping, its scales rising and then falling together with a gentle clink. The robot would curl up beside one or the other of the couple, and relax into sleep mode, motionless.
It was a ridiculous wish. That one day Qua would unlock the barriers between it and the other robots. It would be able to access their memory, stored in the super-efficient crystals at the heart of each mechanical body, and it would share that memory with her. She would see her parents again—or at least see through their eyes. She would hear them. She would smell them. They would be in her head as concretely as the data was.
The real memories were stored inside her own brain, of course, and that was the failure. Those memories degraded. Each time she pulled them up from synaptic storage, she’d rewrite them somehow, without meaning to. The memory became about the emotion of now, no longer the emotion of then, and the details—sounds, smells, confirmations, contradictions— were missing, overlapping, smeared. A palimpsest. Unreadable.
The last time her parents had been alive, the last time she’d been with them, she’d been too young to have a Familiar. It wasn’t until she was twelve that her aunt got her Qua. From that point on, the robot could corroborate her own memories. But before that point, all she had was memory corruption.
So, despite the ridiculousness, despite knowing it was magical thinking, she would think hard and heartfelt at Qua when they were communing just before bed: Find a way in. Find them.
And the little robot would reply, a soft trill in Pre’s mind: Searching…
There were also those mornings when she would wake up, and Qua would be curled up on the pillow next to her head. Yes, she’d put it on the dresser before bed. Yes, she’d seen it shut down to rest. But still she would open her eyes, and there it would be, beside her face, in sleep mode. It seemed to know when she opened her eyes. Probably the shift in her body’s electrical field told it when she was no longer fully asleep, but it always delighted her—how as soon as she opened her eyes, it would open its own bright-bulb eyes and lift its tiny articulated head and emit a whir.
It seemed to say: Good morning.
If she waited too long, it would reach out a three-toed claw to her nose, to her cheek, and zap her. Connect. Fill her head with data all at once. The importance, the urgency of data. Propulsion. And Pre would reach up and remove the claw. “Too early,” she’d say. “Knock it off.” She’d close her eyes for a few minutes more—until she felt the tiny sharp of a single connection point, as if to say: Now. Why not now? Now. Why not now?
Of course she’d eventually give in. She’d sit up and let the robot climb up the length of her sleeping shift’s sleeve to perch on her shoulder. And she’d start the day.
At first, Pre had wondered if there was a malfunction in the robot’s battery. Was it running out of power at some time in the night and coming to her for what little kinetic energy it could pick up from her sleeping body? But she’d taken Qua in for service then—as difficult as it was to find technician, she knew of one, by word-of-mouth among other Familiar-users—and the technician had given its power system the all-clear.
Pre was left with the conclusion that the robot was making a choice to sleep beside her—though even the Familiars’ own engineers would not have said that the robot made personal choices, not in the information it presented, or in the moment it chose to present them. It was merely mathematical calculation, that split second between the observation and connection, and a host of algorithms finely-calibrated to Pre’s own mind. The engineers would argue that the robot was reading Pre’s own anxieties about lateness or laziness when it made her get up. She couldn’t help thinking that her own enjoyment of lying there should have been the overwhelming need that the robot might have picked up on, but then she knew that she was such a maelstrom of needs and fears and strong unconscious wishes that it was possible she herself misperceived what was the dominant, the ultimately more important. Maybe it was just that, given that minute separation, the distance between Pre’s skin and the Familiar’s metal shell, that observer’s standpoint, the robot knew her better than she knew herself.
She must be pretty far gone in her loneliness, she thought, to attribute agency, let alone wisdom, to a device.
Pre had some warning of larger developments when her work superior called her to his end of the shared workspace. The echo-room seemed particularly brightly-lit and exposed that morning. She’d walked down the length of the slim work surface to him, past the line of her data-entranced colleagues, their Implants playing white noise or music into their ears to give them aural privacy, their eyes fixed on the thin, translucent screens in front of them. Their Implants logged them directly into the corporate data stream.
The new superior—what was his name? She couldn’t even be bothered. He looked up from his screen when she finally reached him and said, “Ekwensi. We need to talk about your data interface.”
She’d blinked at him, felt Qua shift slightly, its scales lifting just a little. Could her superior hear that small whir, like a question? Or was it just her?
“Your technology is obsolete. Statistics show that worker efficiency increases 27% with the Implants. Twenty-seven is not a small number, Ekwensi.”
“No, sir. It isn’t.” This superior was new, younger than the last one. He wore his management position like a newly-ironed shirt, preening stiffly so as not to wrinkle it. She reached for the explanation that usually seemed to calm such concerns. “I can’t afford the Implants right now.”
What would she say when the company finally decided to pay for its employees’ Implants? How would she fend that off? Mostly, she relied on the company’s never reaching that point—the board would never put aside their immediate greed for some uncertain future return. Better to make the workers pay for their own means to work.
Her superior was looking at her more directly than usual. “Ekwensi, I don’t think you can afford not to.”
“I’m sorry?” Familiars didn’t, couldn’t breathe, but Qua’s little scales raised and lowered themselves like gills. Pre felt the flutter of it inside her collar.
“You understand what I’m saying.” He let those words rest there a moment. Then, as he was turning back to his screen, he said, “This job requires new technology. You’re falling behind your colleagues.”
Well, of course he turned away from her on that statement. It was a blatant lie. Her numbers were still the highest in the section. It’s true that sometimes she wandered off in her investigations, and her analyses encompassed more complex factors, subtle contributions, tributaries of effect. , Where where the analyses of her colleagues were so shallow, so rote. How often had she wondered whether their search hypotheses guided their results? How often did they stop to consider their observational bias? Did they ever do more than the minimum scrutiny of either the research premises or the patterns in the data they thought they perceived?
She could raise her voice. She should raise her voice.
She felt the pinprick of one of Qua’s toes, right in the softness of her neck. A spark and then that voice inside her head (it always sounded like a version of her own voice, of course): Calm. This is unimportant.
If any device other than Qua had tried to give her that message, she would have bucked against it. But Qua added soothing images, a beach she’d visited with her parents when she was a child, choosing shells from the sand, rinsing them in the waves. The waves, clear, distilled, cleaned by the Transport-sized filters at the mouth of the bay. The water was cool, but not cold. It washed in and out. In and out.
She supposed that when they did force her to get the Implants, there would be scenes like this in her head all day long. She would never not need soothing. Of course, the Implants could adjust her hormone levels directly, dialing down the adrenaline, wafting gently higher the endorphins, until she was nothing but a bird in flight—lazy, contented flight. She wouldn’t even know that she was being soothed. Even before she was angry, she would be defused.
How would she know herself, under such conditions? And how long would knowing herself even matter?
You will outlast him. A shiver against her neck.
She smiled to herself. Yes, she’d outlasted other superiors. One more wouldn’t be too much effort.
That night, Pre was sitting in the Court with Subomi when Qua communicated the appointment. They had been mid-conversation when the robot, who had been sitting quietly on Pre’s thigh, reached over and touched her wrist.
Subomi noticed the pause while the message was communicated, and smiled as she waited. When Pre’s focus came back to her, she said, “What is it?”
“A reminder for a physician’s appointment tomorrow.”
“Ah, that’s sounds helpful, then. Are you feeling alright? I didn’t know you were going to the doctor.”
“Neither,” said Pre, “did I.”
Subomi laughed. “What do you mean?”
“I didn’t make an appointment.”
“Are you sure? Maybe you made it and forgot?”
Pre ran a finger down the length of Qua’s back. It was smooth, mostly, except for the minute ridges at the edge of each line of scales. Tiny, microscopic bumps, really. Slight raised lines. Braille.
Really? She she thought at the robot.
The robot hummed assent.
She should have seen the larger pattern—the conversation at work, and now this appointment made without her knowledge, on her behalf—but at the time, she simply found herself thinking: Did you make this appointment for me, Qua? Do you think I’m getting sick? What need are you anticipating now?
There was no answer to a question like that. Qua buzzed patiently in her brain, waiting until she phrased its search parameters in language it could understand.
So she went back, complacently, to the satisfaction of chatting with Subomi.
When Pre signed in at the physician’s office, the receptionist didn’t even bother to look up from the holograms on her open palms.
“I’m sorry,” said Pre, not sorry at all for interrupting. “But could you tell me what reason was given for this appointment?”
“One moment, please. I’m accessing that data.” The woman’s eyes flitted back and forth, her head not moving. It was odd, thought Pre, how much it seemed like the rapid eye movement of sleep, more than the natural motion of an eye reading data. “It looks like you’ve already had your preliminary assessment. Congratulations, Mx. Prelude Ekwensi, you have been approved for implantation today.”
Pre went very still, then, and if she didn’t know better, she’d say Qua, nestled in the crook of her arm, under her loose sleeve, went a few degrees colder. “I’m sorry, what?”
“We no longer require fasting on the day of implantation, and all your blood results indicate compatibility, so, yes, I don’t see any obstacles to going forward today.”
Pre felt her body reacting. She felt the rush of blood into her limbs, she felt the release of adrenaline, which felt like fear. “I didn’t make this appointment,” she said.
“Ah,” said the receptionist, her eyes still on the data. “Yes, we’ve been seeing this a lot with the old Familiar users. It’s a glitch. The appointments don’t get logged by the diary function, but they do get logged by the calendar function, and so the appointment reminder comes as a bit of a surprise.” The woman bared her official smile at Pre, but still didn’t look at her.
“I’m telling you, I didn’t make this appointment. I wouldn’t have made this appointment.”
The woman nodded as if in sympathy. “I am sorry that the engineers haven’t isolated the problem with the Familiars’ code on this matter, but it’ll all be moot, won’t it? After today. You’ll have your glitch-free Implants.”
What white noise, what corporate doublespeak was playing in this woman’s ears that she didn’t hear, couldn’t hear what Pre was saying? Pre leaned close to the receptionist, trying to get into her line of vision. “I did not make this appointment. I do not want implantation. I need you to put in a stop-order now.”
“I don’t understand, Mx. Ekwensi. I show all the authorizations have been acquired. Your psychological evaluation indicated a particular eagerness to transition to the new technology. If other factors have arisen since your assessment, you can inform the doctor and –”
Pre slapped her hands against the woman’s desk. “Gods, woman, I never had that assessment. You don’t even know that the Implants are compatible with my biology. You might be killing me. Do you understand? I could have a fatal reaction. I could die!”
Even now the woman wouldn’t look at her. Her official smile had dropped from her face, and Pre could see her racing through the data, the holograms flickering on and on and on.
“You’ll need to discuss this with the physician, Mx. Ekwensi.”
No, Pre knew. No. Things would proceed as scheduled once she was inside the office. An anxiolytic would be administered—if not outright sedation. She would be trying to mumble her objections through lips that could not move.
It was then she noticed the silence. Qua wasn’t communicating with her. As far as she could tell, the robot was still attached to the inside of her sleeve. It was curled up like a large pill bug, a round bead that swayed when she moved. But no communication, no contact. No data outside of her own mind.
It should have panicked her. Instead, it made her calm.
Above all, she advised herself, seem cooperative. “All right,” she said. She gave her best show of false contentment, arranging the furniture of her body into something nonthreatening. “You’re right. I’ll discuss this with the physician. I’ll take my seat now.”
The official smile returned. The receptionist’s body relaxed. The flickering holograms settled into an even, untroubled flow.
Pre turned her back on the desk. She paused, looking around at the other people in the waiting room. To a person, they sat in a relaxed position, their palms were lying open on their thighs, their eyes only taking in the holoregisters that flashed and flickered and spun. No one’s eyes met hers. No one seemed to even have noticed the exchange with the receptionist. But they must have, they would have, wouldn’t they? Because those Implants not only displayed—they recorded. What were they recording now?
Slowly, carefully, she walked away. Out through the doorway. Down the bright, narrow hallway. Past the entry guards, who didn’t seem to be looking for her yet. Into the sharp light of morning. She wondered if people with Implants could walk away. The movement of muscles was, after all, just electrical impulses. Could the Implants be used to stop you? To paralyze you? To hold you in place?
She didn’t know where she was going. But she could keep walking, so she did.
At some point, Pre looked up and realized she was in unfamiliar streets. She’d never been in this neighborhood before—it was an old part of the city. The walking surfaces were broken-up, cracked, uneven. There were odd arcs of stain on the buildings—something between a charcoal residue and a mildew infestation. The streets were too narrow for Transports, and even narrower alleys branched off all too often. It was a neighborhood of foot traffic, a neighborhood of hiding places.
Reset coordinates? said her own voice in her head. Except of course it wasn’t her own voice. It was Qua. She hadn’t even noticed the jab of connection.
Where have you been? She she thought angrily at the robot, though it wasn’t the robot she was angry at. She should have checked on Qua before now.
Qua answered, or showed her what Pre thought was an answer. Images. Some of them came from advertisements. So many types of clothing, so much intricate jewelry to choose from. A set of plain sandals next to another set of plain sandals. Do you want it in blue or red? Did you want jollof rice or coconut rice with your balangu? Some images came from entertainments. A person puts aside personal interest for duty. A person chooses violence against another. A person chooses which person they desire. Then changes their mind, desires another. Desires someone who does not desire them. From a list of texts in the data, a child chooses a text, reads it. Chooses another. Which texts did she choose?
It was your decision, the robot seemed to be saying. If you’d wanted to go ahead with the Implants, I wouldn’t have stopped you.
She decided, just for now, not to cry. She was standing in unfamiliar streets. She would not cry.
Reset coordinates? the little robot queried again. It emerged from her sleeve and climbed out to ride on her hand.
She couldn’t go home. She knew that, in the sick pit of her stomach.
She also knew that they couldn’t track her, not using Qua. It was something the engineers had been worried about from the beginning—the Familiars being used as location chips, turning every person who used one into their own private homing beacon. They dealt with it by scrambling the signal—each time the Familiar contacted the data stream, it did so using a rapidly shifting protocol, generating false and random location signifiers. The Familiars ricocheted in and out of the data like excited electrons, appearing and disappearing and reappearing unpredictably.
But if she returned to her usual paths, they would find her again. They would take away Qua, and they would fill her body with machinery that made her theirs.
Even so—no more home meant no more Subomi. No more home meant leaving behind her parents’ Familiars. She would never know what they were thinking that day when their hearts stopped.
She supposed she never would have.
It occurred to her that she was making a target of herself, standing in the walkway. People walked past and around her, and here in the old part of the city, she could see a few people wearing Familiars openly, though she did notice the robots were damaged or in ill repair. Still, even here there were the Implanted. Even here, the Implants could use the eyes of the people walking by to identify and locate her. That man, there—were his unfocused eyes actually reporting her presence?
She started walking again, almost running. She had to get out of sight. She had to find somewhere that she couldn’t be observed.
But there were so many alleyways, branching off, into dim mystery.
Which way? Which way?
Left, said Qua with a shimmer.
So she went left.
The robot guided her down a honeycomb of alleys, further and further away from the populated streets. The walkways were increasingly narrow, the walls of the surrounding buildings nearer and nearer. The smell of the alleys changed; stale air was laced with rot and refuse. There were points where she had to turn sideways to pass between two buildings, like thread being pulled through a needle. Then the last alley opened to a small yard, lit by sun high above, shining down through the vertical vent made by the surrounding buildings. At the far end of the yard, she saw the skeletal remains of an abandoned factory. Qua reported that it had once housed machinery to fabricate Transport parts, before tax incentives had persuaded its owners to move their business outside the city. The large double-doors that served as entrance were held shut with a chain as thick as Pre’s arm, not rusted through enough yet to be weak. The building’s wide empty window frames held here and there the remnants of glass. Sharp teeth in so many gaping mouths.
Qua recommended that she climb in through one of those broken windows, so she did.
The sunlight from high above the yard streamed a good way into the building—it did not hurt that the high roof above was punctured in places, so more light got in. She picked her way among the abandoned machinery, the gargantuan shelves of parts waiting to be assembled. She found a space, under a worktable, against one of the far back walls. It was a good hiding place, because she would be in the dark, but the area around her was well-lit. She could see someone approaching. She would not be surprised.
She climbed under and curled up, holding Qua in close to her chest, shielded by both of her hands. And then she cried herself to sleep.
She never knew if the guards found her because the system had correlated all the data from all the Implants she’d passed during her flight, or if the guards were simply surveying the factory routinely. After all, it was one thing for the factory owners to abandon the machinery because it wasn’t worth the cost of moving it, but it was another thing entirely for the neighbors to attempt to salvage what had been left behind, to rescue it for reuse. No, that was thievery, and had to be prevented. There was a reason that she’d had machinery to hide behind after years of abandonment.
All she knew was she was dreaming one moment—hummingbirds had surrounded her, hummingbirds that she hadn’t seen since she was a child, a cloud of jewels that darted and danced around her head—and then she was being hauled out from under the worktable, into the harsh light of halogen headlamps.
She couldn’t help it—Qua fell from her hands as she was dragged. She prayed the little robot woke quickly enough to deploy its limbs before it smashed against the concrete floor.
Large gloved hands held her upright, immobilized. The light mounted on the guard’s head shone directly in her eyes, and she blinked away, trying to look only at the soothing dark. Night had come, and the factory was otherwise pitch black.
In a low, bored voice, the guard said, “Identifying.”
How considerate of his Implants to give her a status report.
There seemed to be two more guards, behind the one who held her. At least, there were two more sources of painful light.
“Ekwensi, P. Trespassing. Among other crimes, I’d think.”
The hands dropped her, and she fell backward onto the concrete. She felt like she was falling forever, but then she landed so hard, so hard. She hadn’t hit her head, though. That was something.
The head lamp’s focus ranged over the ground around her, until it settled on a single location. There was Qua, lying unmoving on its side, sparkling in the spotlight.
The guard made a sound of disgust. He lifted his leg with its heavy boot.
“Why would you do that?” he said, almost to himself. “Why would you keep a part of yourself separate?”
He was bringing his foot down on Qua, then, his boot with the steel-enforced sole.
Pre heard the impact, the crunch and the squeal of metal against concrete, and all she could do was scream.
It was at that moment the Familiars swarmed.
The lights of the two far guards went out in a single flare, at the same time Pre heard the men yelp in pain. Then a chattering, clicking wave emerged from darkness into the light of the remaining guard’s headlamp. The robots—hundreds of them—climbed the remaining guard’s legs like rising water, their metal reflecting the last of his light in sparkles that jumped from dark surface to dark surface.
Pre heard him cry out, a deep guttural sound. Then he fell, or the robots gently lowered him, working as a single organism. He wasn’t dead. They weren’t killing him. But he landed on the ground, seizing, kicking out, his arms flailing. His lamp swung back and forth, the beam strafing the darkness.
A gentle light came on then, a warm, glowing brightness. Pre realized another crowd of Familiars surrounded her, and they’d all switched their eyes on full brightness, and from this sweet, collective light she could see. She scrambled forward toward the wreckage that had been Qua. There were almost no noises she could make that seemed right, that seemed to voice her grief, but she tried them all out anyway.
A voice from behind her said, “Gather it up. We can fix it.”
She knew that voice. She looked up into Subomi’s eyes.
“But you –” she said.
“I know,” said Subomi, “But that was just camouflage.” She leaned over and ran her hand tenderly over Pre’s head. It was the most human affection Pre had had in years.
What was the conspiracy? Nothing more than those in power retaining their power—or consolidating it. Pre supposed that, from a certain angle, she too was part of a conspiracy now, being part of the Resistance, but in this case it was a conspiracy of the masses, not the advancement of a select selfish few.
The Familiars and the people who worked with them did fix Qua. Luckily, the robot’s processor and memory crystals had been undamaged. It was hard for the Resistance to get parts, of course, but they rigged up what repairs they could. They couldn’t replace the robot’s right eye, or quite fix that wonky bend in its tail. It lost some of its sense of balance. It couldn’t scramble quite as nimbly as it used to, climbing into its favorite place next to Pre’s neck. But it didn’t seem to mind if Pre helped it out, lifting it into place, making sure it was steady.
Every night, she laid it in the makeshift shrine in whatever small corner of that night’s hideout she could claim. She laid it next to her parents’ Familiars, which Subomi had managed to bring with her when she fled the flats. Pre let Qua have a moment beside those precious, silent bodies—the other Familiars had confirmed that they would always be silent, there was no way inside that data, there was no way back. She didn’t bother to sort out whether it was she or Qua who was more comforted by this brief moment of proximity, of remembrance. When enough time had passed, she scooped Qua up gently, so gently, and took it with her to bed, where the robot divided its time between nestling its damaged head against Pre’s ear and spooning contentedly with Subomi’s Familiar.