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Rhythm and Robotics

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It was only five weeks now since the Oladele household had gained a new member, and already they had had to replace all the dishes in their house—three times. Mr. Oladele, handing a stack of now all-plastic plates to this newest member of their family, cringed internally, and wondered if she would not find some way to break these ones too.

She only meant to help, he had to keep reminding himself, as a mantra against the increasingly frequent spikes in his blood pressure. Since his daughter had coaxed the massive Omnic into life, the metal being had made it her express purpose to assist her creator's family in any way that she could in-between her patrols of the city. Apparently, this missive included household chores, something that was no means a part of her initial programming.

She was trying her best, really.

"Thank you, Orisa," he acknowledged as the stack made it into the top cabinet without incident, a sigh of relief leaving his chest.

Her eyes whirred and shifted into a squinting shape.

"It is my pleasure," she replied.

The man patted the thick plating of her arm and set down his dishrag, shifting back to his work screen. He tried not to look when Orisa attempted to rotate a fragile potted plant on the windowsill. He could not be upset with having her around, even for all the trouble that she was. Efi was a bright girl, and a beautiful child, but when it came to other children she seemed to be at something of a loss. From the moment she could walk and hold a screwdriver, she had been a menace to their home, seeking to dismantle anything that was not bolted down—and most things that were. Schooling proved to be absolutely useless, and after he and his spouse had been faced with a parade of angry holovid calls from exasperated teachers, they decided that perhaps institutional education was not a place for her at all.

Efi did not seem to care. She was perfectly happy to stay at home and work in her lab (a space that had once been their garage; his truck now lived permanently on the street). She had remote access to the libraries of at least three different universities, and her reputation granted the girl a free pass to attend seminars that cost tenured professors thousands. She was a bright girl, but by no means a normal girl, and so this was the life they had grown accustomed to.

Still, he insisted she attend a weekly youth activities group at the local community center. He was not about to let her skip out on socializing with people who she hadn't built.

Even now, she was off working on goodness knows what while he kept the company of the metal mountain. Every one of Orisa's footsteps seemed to rock the whole room as she padded this way and that, through the paths they had made for her by repositioning half their furniture very, very far to the sides of the floor. He savoured the moments of quiet between the steps and took it all in stride. In time, he thought, he would grow accustomed to this as well. He straightened his glasses, and drifted back to his work.

That was when they heard the scream.

He knew his daughter's voice in an instant, and so did Orisa. Like a raging flood she tore down the hall to the lab, Mr. Oladele scrambling behind her. Had she hurt herself? He told her to be more careful with her tools. His mind flashed with all the worst possible images of her injured, and he cursed himself that they allowed their little girl to be unsupervised around such dangerous things. He hardly noticed when Orisa, attempting to open the door to the workshop, ripped it clean off its hinges and into the wall.

"Efi!" he shouted, scrambling past the Omnic's legs, "Efi, are you alright?!"

Efi was uninjured. She was sitting on the edge of her bed (after she had continued to fall asleep amongst her tools, her parents acquiesced and set one up in the room for her), staring down at a small screen. Her eyes were saucer-wide and her hands were shaking. She appeared to be out of breath.

Mr. Oladele's heart settled, if only by degrees. Her expression frightened him.

"Efi, what is it? What's the matter?"

Her face shifted indescribably, lips quivering and her brows twitching. She looked as if she was going to cry. She opened her mouth to speak, lungs heaving to catch air, her chest fluttering more and more quickly.

"L…" Her voice cut out as quickly as it came. "L…"

He jumped to her side, heart pounding. "Efi, what is it?!"

"LÚCIO RESHARED MY SELFIE!!"

"...What?"

Mr. Oladele sat down on the bed, nearly bowled over as his daughter shoved her phone screen into his face. He pulled off his glasses and squinted. On the translucent display there was a photo of Efi and Orisa, decked out with a number of hashtags. Up above it was the header and icon of an account by the name of "ampphibianbeats," with the commentary, "Check this kid out!"

He placed his glasses back on his face wearily. Efi shoved the image Orisa's way as well, to an electronic praise and artificial smile. Mr. Oladele frowned.

"Who is this Lúcio?" he grumbled.

Efi stared at him incredulously. "What do you mean?"

"I mean who is this Lúcio who is sharing your photos?"

"Baba you know who he is!"

"Oh, he? Who is this boy who is talking to my daughter?"

"Babaaaa…" she whined. "Orisa, tell him!"

The Omnic 'blinked.'

"I am sorry, but I don't have that information in my database."

The girl bounced on the bed, agitated. "Orisa, I showed him to you! I know you've seen the posters for his show. You too, Baba. He was just in Numbani last month."

Mr. Oladele shrugged. "I have no idea what you are talking about. I don't know of any man from any poster. And I don't like you talking to strange boys on the internet."

Efi ran her palms down her face and groaned, then glared between him and the Omnic, as though she had experienced a deep betrayal. Finally, she pouted at him, and threw down her hands.

"It's the man from the cereal box."

"Oh," he said, as though it was a profound revelation.

Of course he knew who Lúcio was. Beyond the fact that he and his partner had considered purchasing Lúcio-Ohs by the pallet for the girl who inhaled them on a daily basis, Efi was constantly talking about his music, and it had been big news when the performer had visited the city. He still lamented that they were unable to get tickets for her; they were already sold out months in advance, and even the leftovers from her grant, combined with their earnings, would not have been near enough to cover the fees that the scalpers were requesting. Even knowing this, she was brokenhearted for days.

"Well then," he said, clapping her on the back. "I'm glad that Mr. Cereal noticed you." She crinkled her nose at the acknowledgement, but didn't complain. "Maybe you can ask him to give you a discount on his products, ah?"

Efi folded her arms. "Baba, I hate you."

"That's fine," he said, "You can hate me." He pulled himself off the bed. "Just don't scare me like that. And no more talking to boys on the internet, you hear me?"

She stuck her tongue out at his back as he walked out of the room.

It was not until he was back in the hallway that Mr. Oladele was able to appreciate what a mess Orisa had made of the door. He began calculating in his head the costs of replacing it. Maybe the workshop didn't need to have a door after all; it never did much good at blocking out the noises of drills and arc welders anyway.

As horrid of a scene as it was, it was worth it, to know that Efi had someone who cared so much for her, even if that someone was artificial. Even if she was a strange girl, awkward around her peers and perhaps too intelligent for her own good, she had a chance to feel important and loved, to be noticed, and to know that she was someone. If what it took was not the adoration of the scientific community, but a token acknowledgement from a stranger whose music she adored, to make her feel that way, then so be it.

Even if he would rather see her play outside sometime.




In a hotel room in Bangkok, a world-renowned DJ kicked up his feet. He was scheduled to make another public appearance later that evening, but an early morning press event had already left him wiped. He searched through a long list of songs on the floating screen of his tablet, finally setting it to random play, and beamed the music to the set of wireless buds in his ears.

He sat back, relaxed, poking at the various apps on the screen. As usual, his blog feed indicated zero notifications—he had set it not to show him any. There were simply way too many people wanting to talk to him in a day. Every once in awhile, though, he liked to flick through, just to see what people were saying, even if he lacked the time to reply to most of them. He was checking through the priority feed, the one showing only his mutuals, when the indicator sparkled, and a message popped up to say there was a reply to one of his postings. He pulled it up.

"BluButterfly29: OMG!!! I can't believe you follow me!! I love your music soooooooo much. Youre such a big inspiration to me!!!!! You know Im learning to play drums in my music club! I'm not very good yet but I think im getting better! I asked my music teacher if we could play some of your songs & she said OK because she loves your music too!! Anyway I just wanted to say hello and also Orisa says hi!!!!"

A grin spread across Lúcio's face. Honestly, he loved his young fans the best. They were always genuinely excited to meet him and never expected anything weird out of him. This girl who sent the reply, Oladele, was especially impressive. He had seen a few news clips about her recently and, truthfully, he was stunned. The kid was going to do amazing things someday, even more than she had now. He just knew it.

He pulled up the reply box and started to type.

"That's awesome! We should totally jam together sometime."

He smiled to himself, and hit 'Send.'

Somewhere in Numbani, there was another scream.