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Crystal Balls

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“And it’s always important to include the bay leaf in the shrine, New Recruit,” Hannelore said to the new recruit. “The coffee machine functions statistically better and is less evil when the shrine includes the bay leaf. At least it seems to. It may be down to multiple testing errors. I’m reading up on the Bonferroni correction to adjust. In the meantime, New Recruit: Don’t. Forget. The Bay Leaf.”

“Ummm... ok.” The new recruit stared at the shrine in front of the machine, which included apples, a plastic cow, paper with indecipherable messages, and several tea bags stabbed through with pins. “Just for reference, my name isn’t New Recruit, it's-”

The door to Coffee of Doom burst open, startling the patrons, as May strode in shouting.

“GUESS WHAT I HAVE A SECRET YOU’LL NEVER GUESS THE SECRET IS THAT BUBBLES AND FAYE ARE FUUUUUUUUUUU-” she paused for air, “-UUUCKING!!!”

Calmly, Hannelore said, “and this is May. She comes in occasionally to harass Dale, steal our wifi, and declare that two randomly selected people are a couple.”

“No but this time I have proof! You know Scheherazade’s Den, that cafe on the other side of town I hadn’t been banned from? I was in there putting up flyers for my pyramid scheme, and I saw them sitting in a booth, HOLDING HANDS! Which means they’re DOO-OO-OOING IT!” she thrusted.

Dora came out from behind the counter and confronted May. “Firstly, less violent thrusting in my store. Secondly, you were in last week saying Clinton and Elliot were together.”

“OK, but this time I have proof, asswad! Let me jack into your computer, I’ll show you what I saw.”

May popped a thumb to reveal a USB port, which Dora eyed suspiciously. “When I let Pintsize use my computer, I ended up a host for spambots.”

“I’m clean, you dolt. You wanna see what I saw?”

Dora pulled her laptop from under the counter, and the screen began to show what May was seeing. As she squinted and concentrated, the vision reversed through time. It started playing forward as May entered the Den with a stapler. She began to put up posters before whipping round at a couple in the corner. Bubbles had a cup of tea, Faye a lemonade. They were indeed holding hands.

“Well, fair enough. But it’s not proof they’re fu- that they’re a couple. Maybe they’re... just talking through some tough business stuff?”

At this point the ‘camera’ panned back to a staff member, who was gesturing to the board. She had a smile, but after pauses where May was apparently talking, the barista looked grumpier and grumpier, before pointing to the door.

“Yeah so at this point some ungrateful person didn’t like ‘my ‘tone’ and asked me to leave so I didn’t get any mor-”

“Wait, pause it!” shouted Hannelore. May grimaced and the image froze. It was blurry, as the memory of the background wasn’t as strong as the focus was on the barista's chest, but it was pretty clear. Bubble and Faye were kissing.

“Right,” Dora nodded. You make the calls, I’ll get the “Cafe Closed Due To Important Emotional Situation” sign, and we’ll all meet up at someone’s house nearby.”


Dora spoke a little louder to overcome the high-pitched buzzing. “I am concerned that they’ve hid it from us for so long. I mean, I absolutely respect their privacy, but what if they’re scared of what we’ll think?”

“It would not be uncommon. There have been numerous accounts of intertechnological couples facing ...” Momo paused as the buzzing pitched up a tone, “... facing prejudice from apparent friends. There have been... unpleasant incidents.”

“She means attacks,” said Marigold, staring at her phone. “Bad ones too. I wouldn’t stick my neck out if it were me.”

“They’ll want support, surely? We should tell them that we know and that we’re here for them. Marten, what do you think?”

“Well, it’s hard to say I - Claire, dear, you’ll have to take a breath soon and our eardrums are going to burst.”

The buzzing subsided but Claire’s gleeful face remained frozen in a squee, her eyes shining. “ohmygod it’s so exciting this is just like my Robocop/Susie Stackhouse fanfic!” Claire frowned. “Can you imagine what they’re going to be like together?”



“So did you stick to the tradition of not seeing each others’ dresses?” Martin asked.

“Heck no. I made Bubbles choose mine, and then I wore it around town and claimed by husband-to-be had run off. Bubbles and me got so many free meals. She made me donate the prices of the meals to charity, but it was so much fun.”

“And will Bubbles be in a full dress?”

“Nah, and it wouldn’t be her. She had her body buffed special, and she’s got a bowtie.”

At the other end of the house, Bubbles sat with Hannelore and Mrs Whittaker. Hannelore fussed with the bow tie as the other two talked. “Thank you for your blessing Mrs Whittaker. I understand this is an unusual situation.”

Mrs Whittaker smiled. “Oh, sweetie, don’t you worry. Trust me, me of like eight ten years ago would have freaked, y’know? But I learned how to love her properly again, and so after that, this is just more. Besides, we in Georgia always respect anyone who served in the military. You fought for us. Robot or human, you’re a patriot. Marry my daughter as reward.” She grinned.

Bubbles blushed. “I would never - oh, I see. You are joking.”

“Yes, dear. But you’ll have to come down to Savannah soon. I know the business has kept you busy but I would adore having you. My iced tea would do you wonders. I hope you’re good with the heat?”

“I was designed to operate in Iraq and the Middle East generally. I can act at full capacity up to 130 degrees. But on the subject of family... It common for one party in a marriage to take the other’s name. You may or may not know that I do not have a last name. Even ‘Bubbles’ is not a legal name, only a nickname. If you have no objections, I am considering legally registering my name as Bubbles Whittaker. Would this be acceptable?”

Mrs Whittaker threw her arms wide and hugged Bubbles. “Honey, welcome to the family. Now let’s go do this.”

The guests had all filed in to the chairs in front of the dais, filling them all except for one with a label saying “Explicitly Not for Aunt Bettie”. The couple walked up the aisle together and took up positions on either side of the celebrant. He gave a short speech, and introduced the vows. Bubbles spoke.

“When all had abandoned me, you found me. You fought for me, even when you had little to give. You risked what little you had. You literally brought me out of my shell. For these things alone I would be eternally grateful. But you did more than show me that life could be lived. You made a life with me. I want to keep building that for as long as I can.”

Faye looked about to cry. She shuffled her notes, and started.

“It’s a shit world sometimes. And people like you make it worthwhile. You light up my life like nobody ever had. We’re gonna keep being strong together no matter what. And I’m gonna stop there or I’ll be bawling.”

And as the celebrant concluded the ceremony, the mechanical life-size fire-breathing T-Rex came to life behind the dais as they kissed in front of the cheering crowd.



“Or something like that,” Claire concluded. Maybe they’ll build a fire-breathing diplodocus.”

Dora looked at Claire kindly, but with pursed lips. “I don’t want to deflate your hopes and dreams, but you may be being a bit optimistic? Both Faye and Bubbles have a lot of emotional baggage. Plus they’re running a business together. That’s a lot of strain. Having just worked with Faye as an employee, well, they’ll need a special approach.”

“How’s everything going in there?” Mrs Augustus called from the kitchen. “I’ve got sangria coming, and there’s cream cake coming once Cormac finished making it.”

“Remind me why we came to my mother’s house?” Clinton sulked.

“It was the nearest place that wasn’t in the same building that Faye and Bubbles live in. Plus, cream cake. By the way, who’s Cormac?”

“My mother leads a fascinating life. Pass the pitcher.”

“Anyway, as I was saying, mixing business with romance is - god this cake is good - is tough. There’s a lot that can go wrong...”



“I have been examining the figures.”

“Bubbles, you’ve been ‘examining the figures’ constantly for months. How about you come to bed. What could they be possibly saying now that they didn’t say the last time?”

“They are saying that we will not make rent in two months’ time.”

“I’m sure it’ll be fine. There’s an AnthroCon in Amherst next month. That’ll cause untold damage and we’ll be there to charge for repairs.”

“I have already factored this in.”

“Fine, well, look, we’ve been talking about getting more into natural cosmetic modifications. There’s plenty of robots out there looking for a more human look and the tech is finally past the uncanny valley stage.”

“That would require capital investment in the machinery and supplies. We do not have that to hand and would be unlikely to secure a loan for expansion.”

“Ugh, ok. Let’s... let’s get into hipster products. Boutique joint oils. Hand-forged ball sockets. Natural fibre shammy cloths. They’re like three times the markup and everyone’s a sucker for that upmarket junk.”

“‘Junk’ is an accurate description. We are both well aware that these products offer little to no advantage over less costly alternatives. If we are to maintain our reputation as a reliable–”

“Dammit Bubbles why are you shitting on everything I say?”

“I am merely being practical.”

“‘Practical’? More like you’ve given up! We’ve worked so hard on this business. Why won’t you keep fighting for it?”

“...Pardon? Fighting? You would say that word to me?

“I... Yes! Yes, I would! I-”

Bubbles drew herself up. “You would talk to me of *fighting*?”

Faye stuttered. “I... I just meant - “

“I know what you meant. You meant that I do not care about our success because I criticise ideas. You meant that I do not dream of our successful future because I look at all effects. You meant that I do not care about you because I am scared that we are about to lose everything. Is that that what you meant?”

Faye looked Bubbles in the eyes. “Yeah. I guess that’s what I meant. But it isn’t what I meant to’ve meant. Come on. We need a break.”

They put on a trashy action flick, just as something to fill in the silences. They lay together, until eventually Faye spoke.

“Way I see it, it’s a trial by fire. Every couple has to go through that massive stressful thing that threatens to tear them apart. We’ve just been smarter and built it right into the core of our relationship! That way, it’ll never sneak up on us!”

“I am skeptical of your reasoning.”

“Ok. Here’s my idea. Hear it out. Please. Subscription services. Down payment gets you guaranteed service and some parts at a discount. Gets us a large upfront payment for services we then deliver over the year.”

“It would...” Bubbles paused and looked at Faye. “It would provide us with a flow of funds to solve our immediate issues. This would come at a cost of decreased income later. It would only temporarily solve our problems, but it would give us breathing room to find a more permanent approach.”

“So it’s got problems. But it’s the best idea we’ve got.”

“I agree. Thank you for working this through with me.”

They sat on the side of the bed.

“I need a drink.”

“You do not. You need a hug and some videos of children falling over.”

“Bubs you know me so well.”

They lay on the bed together, as excited dogs knocked over toddlers.

“It’s going to be alright, isn’t it, Bubs? We’re going to find a way through this?”

Bubbles paused, and said, “Yes. As long as we are together we will find a way to make it work.” But she didn’t look Faye in the eyes as she said it.



“I’m just saying,” said Dora, “it’s going to be dicey.”

Emily snorted through her sangria. “How can you be so negative? Faye and Bubbles are so sweet! And they’re great at technology!”

“I’m just saying that romance and business don’t mix well.”

“Maybe too good. What if Faye gets too powerful?”

“Um, what? Too powerful at what?”

“What if she became an evil scientist?! And only Bubbles could bring her down?”

“Emily, what are you talking about?”



“FAYE!”

The voice echoed down the desolate mountainside and intermingled with the thunder crackling from the storm above.

“FAYE! I HAVE BEEN SENT TO STOP YOU!”

Bubbles reached the top of Mount Greylock and saw Faye, cloak billowing in the wind, deep in the bowels of a machine that sputtered and crackled. At this arrival, Faye stood up, gestured with a giant wrench, swept aside her cape and cried “Who dares challenge me on the hour of my victory?”

“Do you still not remember me, Faye?”

“I won’t let anyone stand in my way now! I'm so close to my victory! When I finish this device, the whole of New England will be drenched in my anti-hipster rays!

Bubbles narrowed her eyes.

“I swore I would never take up a weapon again. But for you, that who I once loved and still love, I made the ultimate weapon to bring you down. The Unicorn Bomb!”

At that, Bubbles reached into her right shin and pulled out a glitter-encrusted sphere and hurled it at Faye’s feet. It hissed, and a gas escaped.

“A poison? That won’t stop me from...” Faye sniffed. “This isn’t poison, it’s... barbecue?”

As the scent of pork, dry rub, and vinegar filled the area, speakers in the bomb began to play.

“Tell me what you smell, Faye Whittaker. Tell me what you hear.”

“It’s... it’s our first date. I took you to a Southern restaurant because I ... wanted to show you a part of me. And they had a dance floor and I convinced you to get up on it. And we didn’t dance, because that was too far for you, so we stood together as this music played.”

Faye fell to her knees and looked at her hands, blinking as if in bright sun. “Wait, where am I? What’s happening?”

“I will explain when we have time. Now, we must race to prevent all of indie music being destroyed!”



“And that’s how their love would save the planet,” Emily concluded.

“Well, that’s certainly one possibility, I suppose?” Hannelore squinted.

“Can I have another glass of sangria?” said a voice from the back of the room.

“Sorry,” Marten said. I don’t think we’ve met. Are you a friend of Bubbles?”

“I haven’t met either of these people,” said the new recruit. “But my boss said this was an emergency staff meeting and shut down the cafe. And there’s cream cake and sangria, so I’m not complaining.”

“What about you, Marten? How do you think they’ll go?”

Marten sat silent, and stared out of the window.



You always
You never
You’re not there for me
I can’t be strong enough for you

......

Faye returned to the apartment building with a brown paper bag. Bubbles watched from the window as she sat on the steps outside and pulled out the bottle.

“Faye! Do not do this,” Bubbles called from the window.

Faye looked up at the window. “Or what. Or. What. Will you come outside and stop me? Will you come outside?”

Bubbles’s face stared down from the window. Then it vanished as the curtain was pulled across.



After some silence, looking lost in thought, Marten spoke. “Um, well, I think they’ll do great,” Marten said. They’ll have a lot to work out, but, yeah, I’m really happy for them.”

“Do you want you hear what *I* think’s going to happen?” shouted Pintsize. “They’re going to- “

Marigold was the nearest and the fastest, and muffled the declaration with a pillow.

“Why did you come anyway, Pintsize?” asked Marten.

“Can’t I want to look out for my friends?”

“I’d love to imagine you looking out for your friends, but I suspect you’d only do so if it was messing with another friend.”

“Well some of us are actually looking out for people,” said Claire. “We care about how they feel. Now, I think we should throw a massive surprise party for them...”


Faye and Bubbles sat by on a bench by the river, as the sun set behind them. Bubbles’ arm was around Faye’s shoulder as they sat in peace.

“Pintsize has told me that they plan on having one person subtly approach us, to determine if we need assistance and to disguise that they all now know. They hope this will respect our privacy.”

“It was nice of Pintsize to keep you updated. What did you blackmail him with?”

“A pleasant aspect of Pintsize is that it is not hard to offer him the chance to be mischievous. After May observed us I knew our time in secrecy was limited. I am being told that they are debating at this moment who to send.”

“Ha! I bet they send Marten, and I bet he’ll be charmingly doltish. I say we turn up at Mrs Augustus’ place and get the jump on them.”

“I agree. An announcement in person when so many of our friends are present would be pleasant.”

Fay threw a rock into the water. “It’s a new beginning either way. How do you think this is going to go?”

“I do not know.” Bubbles paused. “But I look forward to finding out together.”