Escape Pod 621: Assistance (Artemis Rising)


Assistance

By Kathryn DeFazio

“Would you like to discuss your coping plan?”

Astor did not want to discuss their coping plan. They didn’t want to think about their coping plan, or the trip itself, or the airport, or the subway, or— “No, thank you.”

“Do you think it would be—”

“Manual override.” Astor sat heavily in the armchair.

“Hmm.” The little android tilted its head slightly. “I’m sorry, Astor, I don’t understand the command. Could you rephrase?”

It had been worth a shot. “Never mind.”

“The value of coping in advance allows you to prepare for the most likely scenario and therefore decrease feelings of helplessness and fear. Would you like to discuss your coping plans?”

Astor peered over at the android. It didn’t need to sit with that ever-so-slight slouch, turn its toes in, hum thoughtfully while it processed information, but it did anyway. It didn’t need to fold its hands in its lap. It didn’t need to be so soft and rounded, molded grey plastic and smooth faux leather, it didn’t need to feel warm, it didn’t need to be friendly, to smile, to say please, to offer hugs. But even for its age, PAGE was a good model, specifically programmed for mental health support.

“We’re going to get on the—the, uh. Train. F, transfer to the E. Take the Airtrain to the right terminal. Ch-check you. Go through security. Take off my shoes, put my bag up, take my laptop out.” They swallowed, mouth suddenly gone dry. “Find my gate on the monitor. Sit and wait to board. Then I get on the plane and I take a benzo and breathe deep and use my coping skills while on a winged tube flinging itself into the air towards Savannah.”

The android tilted its head. “Hmmm,” it said, buying time while it processed. “I perceive a judgment. Would you like the discuss the judgment?”

“No.” Astor stood back up, turned left and then right, lost, confused for a second. “We have to get dinner.”

“Do you require extra support?”

They didn’t want to. They knew they did. “Yes.”

Some days were easier than others, but today was a bad one, this close to the trip. If it were anyone other than family they’d have skipped the funeral, sent a digital message and a floral arrangement. But there was no avoiding this. They were squeezed in the tight grip of fear, so tight there wasn’t even room for grief.

They paced aimlessly around the apartment, touching and adjusting things without thought. “I don’t want to go,” they mumbled. To the grocery store, or to the funeral? their therapist would have asked. They slipped into their shoes. “I can’t do this.” A plain fact.

They could always just have eggs again. Eggs made a healthy dinner. There were two left, and they could skip breakfast tomorrow, or have toast or stale cereal. There was rice, and probably a can of beans lurking in the back of the cabinet.

“These are just thoughts,” PAGE offered mildly. “They don’t reflect reality. Be careful of stating your feelings as though they were facts.” The red LEDs formed a smile at them, head tilted slightly. “Would you like to reframe your anxiety thoughts?”

“Oh my god,” they mumbled.

“Hmm.” It blinked this time, slowly, like a cat. That meant it was thinking harder than usual. “Consistently using your coping skills will support your recovery,” it said finally.

Astor huffed. “I’m sorry,” they said. Whether it had feelings or not, it wasn’t fair for them to take theirs out on it.

“That’s all right, Astor.” A pause. “Do you need help with the reframing, Astor?”

“I feel like I can’t handle going to the grocery store.”

“Is there evidence for or against that?”

“Last week.” Their mouth went dry again, remembering the failed shopping trip. The ugly twisting of their face, the silent tears streaming down their cheeks. They’d angled themself into a corner, as though they could pretend they were just investigating a cookie display when their shoulders were heaving, pouring sweat and very aware of how conspicuous they were, how pitiful they must have looked. They thought they could make that trip without PAGE, and maybe they could, at a different time, as a different person.

Maybe they were getting worse.

“Yes, last week was difficult for you. Do you have evidence against your feeling?”

“Well, I have grocery shopped before.” Before things were this bad. Before the whole outside world had become dangerous. “And I didn’t just hear that my cousin is dying.”

“Yes, you have successfully achieved this goal in the past, and you have not received any unpleasant news today.” It blinked, thoughtful. “Do you think we can do it together?”

“Probably. Just—don’t draw a lot of attention to me if I freak out.”

“Yes.” PAGE smiled. “If you are in distress, we can leave if you choose, or finish the task if you think you’re able to.”

“Great.”

Astor checked that the lights were off in the bedroom, the knobs on the stove. They hadn’t used the stove yet that day, but checking the stove made them feel better. The knobs may have drifted in the night, or they may have left something on last night when they made dinner.

“Right. Keys, wallet, phone. Bag—” they got the big reusable bag off the hook by the door. “Right,” they said again. “Ready.”

They made it down the first flight of stairs before they turned back.

“Checking reinforces that security comes from checking, not from having completed the task,” PAGE said from the landing. It had gone out with them enough to know what they were doing.

“I just want to make sure—”

“I would challenge you not to check,” it said.

Astor paused at the top of the stairs. “I have to make sure I locked the door.” What if someone got in the building? What if they got in and waited in the dark and empty apartment, waiting to do something awful, waiting for—

The door was locked. They huffed. You locked the door, they told themself angrily. You always lock the door.

They rejoined the android on the stairs. “Don’t give me that look,” they said. Its face had the same neutral pleasant expression it wore at rest, but they still felt distinctly judged.

“You locked the door,” it said.

“I locked it, I locked it.” They waved a dismissive hand.

“Would you like me to remind you that it is locked if you seem distressed?”

Astor wouldn’t like that at all. They shouldn’t have needed it. “Please,” they said quietly.

“Reminder set.” The little rounded face smiled. “Are you ready to leave?”

The grocery store was too crowded this time of night, full of hospital workers picking up food between their shifts and their subway ride home, bachelors buying half a chicken and frozen mashed potatoes, small children pleading for sweets from the impulse-buy section at the checkout counter. Astor clutched their list in one sweaty fist, nails digging into their skin.

“Would you like to work on relaxing—”

“I just want to get this done,” Astor said through gritted teeth. They tried to soften. “Sorry.”

“Hmm.” The little bot reached for their wrist. “May I check your pulse?”

“I’m okay.” Astor breathed in, once, deep, out slowly. Again. Breathe security in. Breathe anxiety out. They relaxed their hand slightly, glancing down at the small curves scored red into their palm. “I’m okay.”

“Excellent.” PAGE smiled again.

Astor wasn’t the only one who’d brought an android shopping. They were still relatively rare, consumer models too expensive for your average person, but as an accommodation they were becoming increasingly popular for the elderly, and people with real disabilities. Not like Astor, who could manage by themself if they tried harder. If PAGE had gone to someone who really needed it—

Ice cream, they thought aggressively, past the intrusion. PAGE shared eye contact and a smile with an elderly man’s robotic companion as it reached for a pint of ice cream on the top shelf. “Thank you,” the man said to it, and Astor thought about the uncanny valley, about robotic design, about sympathy and gentleness and programmed courtesy. Could they approximate feelings? Did they understand gratitude?

Ice cream. Diet soda, whichever one was on sale. Chicken breasts. Lemons. Ground pepper. There should probably be more vegetables on this list. A healthy diet was supposed to aid in a healthy recovery, after all, and wasn’t that what this was all about? Recovering Astor to the point where they could function like a regular person again, without the need for so much damn help? Reverse their slow but consistent downward trend?

Resentment flared in their belly. It wasn’t fair. None of this was fair. And there was no one they resented more than themself. They’d done so well up until now, until last year— they had been anxious, yes, but barely more than your average person.

“Do you need help?” PAGE asked pleasantly.

“Lots of negative thoughts,” Astor mumbled.

“You locked the door,” it said.

“I know I locked—it’s not about that. It’s not—we shouldn’t talk about it here.”

“Would you like to leave, or do you think you can finish your task?”

The old man and his robot were carefully selecting a carton of eggs. It was an older model, slower, and seconds before it happened Astor predicted the horrible snap, the mess of egg all over the floor, the apology from the bot and from the man and from the manager and the squeaking wheels of an ancient maintenance android with a broom, and suddenly it was too loud in here, too bright to endure.

“Let’s just get this over with.” Eggs were out of the question now, but there were still a couple at home. Shouldn’t buy perishables before going out of town anyway.


The day before the trip, Astor finished off their eggs and washed all the dishes and sat with PAGE a long time, holding their smooth plastic and pleather hand.

“It’s going to be fine,” they said, again and again, hoping they could believe it.

“You have done this task before, so there is reason to believe you can do it again,” PAGE agreed.

They went over the coping plan. They put PAGE in rest mode, its closed eyes not watching Astor mill about the apartment, looking for something to do. They’d already taken a shower and done all the cleaning they were likely to do, but they were too anxious to sit down at the computer or sleep through the endless hours they had to fill.

“Hey PAGE?”

PAGE’s eyes widened, pixels in its face rearranging to look like a yawn while it came back online. “Yes, Astor?” it asked.

“Can we do some—some stuff?”

“You would like help using your coping skills?”

“The breathing one. With the—yeah.” Astor took its outstretched hand.

PAGE’s hand was warm and smooth under Astor’s. The facial display was replaced with a star, growing and shrinking in time with the preset paced breathing pattern Astor had selected during initial setup. Slow, blossoming belly breath in, expanding expanding expanding, slower, longer belly breath out, chest still, diaphragm doing all the work. That was the hard part, not letting their breath get high in their chest, shallow, thready, dizzying, not letting it turn into hyperventilating.

“Do you feel calmer?” PAGE asked when Astor squeezed its hand to end the exercise.

“Yeah.” Astor smiled, but it felt a bit weak. “Yeah, I guess so.”

There were no friends to say goodbye to, but there was a local bar they liked sometimes, one where a service bot wouldn’t get funny looks or stupid questions from drunk college kids. Astor couldn’t decide if it was worse with the little orange Assistive Device vest off—making them look like some kind of rich showoff taking their robotic assistant everywhere—or on, inviting everyone to try and figure out what was wrong with them, or worse, offer their opinion on whether or not anything was wrong at all.

Technically nothing was wrong with them, nothing a little willpower wouldn’t fix. If they could just stop moping. If they could just wise up, get back into the real world, if they could just stop doing this—

In the end they decided it would be slightly easier with the vest on. Sometimes noticeable assistive devices rendered one functionally invisible to normal people, especially since the table between the window and the bar was available, a quiet little corner to tuck themself into, away from the big speakers and the television sets broadcasting endless sporting events. They ordered a stout, tapping their nails against the side of the glass when it arrived.

“Would you like to discuss coping skills?”

“I don’t want to cope right now.” Astor took a long drink and then leaned back in their chair. “I want to finish this beer and maybe have another one and I want my life back. Before—”

“Would you like me to record this conversation for playback in your next session?” PAGE’s voice was soft, almost intimate. A close friend offering a shoulder, in a roundabout way.

“Record it and I’ll listen later and let you know.” They were almost certain to delete it. But somehow the memory of their feelings was never as intense by the time they got into their sessions, and they worried their therapist didn’t understand the depth of feelings simply because she’d never witnessed it.

They didn’t like to talk about the incident. It seemed so stupid now—not that the man had died, of course, that was tragedy, but how much it affected Astor, slowly eroding away their sense of security, their trust in everything. They hadn’t even been involved, they’d just witnessed it, going home buzzed after a few beers, walking towards the drunk guy on the subway platform—

“He just pitched right off,” they whispered. This wasn’t a flashback. It didn’t feel like it was happening all over again—they knew where they were, what was going on around them. They knew how powerless they were to go back and stop it. “By the time I got to him the train was already barreling down—”

“There was nothing you could do,” PAGE said. Astor wondered if it had an exact count for how many times it had told them that. “You are not responsible for what happened.”

“If I hadn’t been drinking maybe I could have gotten to him faster, gotten him away from the edge of the platform.” Astor reached for the beer with a hand they were surprised to see wasn’t shaking. “I didn’t—I know it’s not my fault. But. He fell off so easily. Just toppled right off, like—like—” There was no comparison to draw. “He didn’t even make a sound. I’m not sure he knew what was happening to him. I have, uh. Dreams. Sometimes. Dreams where I’m the one who fell off the platform. Which feels really selfish, like I had to find a way to make it about me.” And there were so many other dangers like that, dark and grim and horrible, things that would get you if you weren’t prepared, if you weren’t vigilant. Crime may have been down, but the city was still teeming with dangers.

They didn’t say that part out loud. No matter how sweetly neutral its face, how non-judgmental its language, it may have had the capacity to realize how stupid that would sound. The fears hung between them, unspoken and unacknowledged.

Astor took another sip of their beer. “End recording,” they said.


Astor rode the train twice a week, once to their individual therapy session and once to group. Wouldn’t it make more sense to be afraid of the train altogether? But it was uncertainty they feared most, and now that uncertainty was directed at the possibility of being late, of missing their flight. The cab ride was a forty-dollar indulgence that rendered the anxiety only just manageable.

“Would you like to discuss your coping plan?” PAGE asked quietly.

“No, thank you.” They’d gone over it enough.

“May I check your heart rate and respiration?”

“I’d prefer you didn’t.” They thought about panic, the world flaring white like an overexposed photograph, the horrible certainty that they were about to throw up and then possibly die. How would checking their respiration prevent that?

“Hmm.” Responses like that always took it a little longer to process. “Please alert me if you feel symptoms of a panic attack, such as overwhelming dread, dizziness, difficulty breathing, feeling faint—”

“Yeah, got it.” No point in telling PAGE they were already experiencing half of that and they hadn’t even left their neighborhood.

So many things could go wrong on a plane. And so little of it was in the passenger’s control. Maybe they should take the lorazepam now, give it more time to kick in. Maybe it would still last through the entire flight, it would only be a couple hours. Ninety-five percent of what a plane did was automated; the captain was mostly there to soothe the passenger’s nerves.

But still, so many things could go wrong on a plane.

They pulled the bottle out of their backpack and dry-swallowed one of the pills.

At least no one can accidentally fall on the tarmac and die, they thought, and instantly cursed themself for thinking it. What a horrible thought to have. And, a different, sneakier voice said, there are plenty of people down there to get hit by a taxiing airplane.

It was going to be okay. It would all work out fine. They were possibly going to die, horribly and in pain. Plane crashes were rarely pretty. People died all the time, of all kinds of things, and there were lots of things that could go wrong on a plane—

“Stop,” they whispered.

“I’m sorry, Astor, I don’t understand the command,” PAGE said. “Could you please rephrase—”

“No, not you—me.” They looked out the window and extended a hand towards PAGE. The warm, smooth hand squeezed theirs, and they held on the rest of the way to the airport.

At the airport they paid their fare and stepped up onto the curb, PAGE a step behind, humming a two-note tone indicating readiness for instructions. But Astor’s feet stuck to the sidewalk, like they’d walked on fresh asphalt. “I can’t do this.”

“Hmm.” PAGE was silent for a moment. “Is that a fact or a feeling, Astor?”

“I know it’s a feeling. It’s just—it’s a very strong one. Feelings influence reality even if they aren’t—you know. Facts.”

“Yes. Emotions are important. They contain vital messages about your situation. All emotions have a function. However, you are not bound to your feelings in the way facts bind you to the world. You are capable of surviving the flight.”

“Last time I flew I didn’t have to, uh. Check anyone.”

“Are you concerned for my well being or worried about being alone?”

“Both?”

PAGE took an awkward half step forward and smiled at Astor. “I will be fine. In compact mode I will meet the size and weight requirements for checked luggage. It is safe for me to fly if I shut down my operating system. I am sorry I cannot compact small enough to fit in the overhead bins.”

“That’s fine, I have to get my suitcase up there anyway.” Astor’s mouth was dry. “What if someone steals you?”

“I am difficult to steal. I am quite heavy, and I will only respond to your voice and touch. Additionally, I am not a valuable commercial model.” It indicated its little orange vest.

“What if you’re damaged in transit?”

“I am authorized to fly in the luggage compartment of commercial airlines. And your insurance company will cover repairs not caused by mistreatment or Acts of God such as flooding, lightning strike, meteor—”

“Yeah, but—” but I’m attached to you, Astor did not want to say. Would a significant repair change it in some way? Would Astor perceive a difference that wasn’t there, stamp their foot and cross their arms? No! I want my robot!

“Many things can go wrong,” PAGE said with a nod. “But you have a lot of distress to tolerate today. Let’s focus on that, rather than what could happen to me.” Unbidden, PAGE reached slowly for Astor’s hand and gave it one long, warm squeeze. “If you’re ready, there is still plenty of time to get through security and find your gate.”

That was a joke. Astor was three hours early, having misjudged both the press of impending rush hour traffic and the length of the cab ride. But there was no point in hanging around outside. Astor let go of its hand. “Come on,” they said.

“I would advise you to take your prescribed medication before you begin the security screening process.”

“Already done.” They swallowed again in case the pill was stuck somewhere in their throat.

“I would advise you against consuming caffeinated beverages available for purchase past the security checkpoint. Would you like further advice for coping with potential distress?”

“No, I-I think I’m okay.”

The woman at the luggage check eyed PAGE dispassionately as it held out its wrist for a luggage tag, printed with Astor’s name and flight number. It sat delicately on the conveyor belt and tucked its limbs up, knees to its chest and arms folded neatly at its sides. It took a second to wave and smile before affecting its neutral sleep mode face. As the conveyor pulled it away, Astor watched the red bulbs blink and go dark for the first time since it had been delivered to their home.

They stood and waited, wanting to watch it as long as they could. It seemed so much smaller all folded up, smooth and fragile in its silence.

“Si—Ma—um, excuse me?” The woman indicated the line forming behind them.

“Sorry.” They stepped out of the way, looking around helplessly, and finally dragged their suitcase towards the security line.

Airport security is supposed to keep an eye out for people who look nervous. This fact did not help Astor feel less nervous. Between that and their nebulous gender they were very likely to get flagged for a pat down. They waited in the security line, checking and rechecking their phone. They really should be able to take an assistive device on the plane without buying another ticket. What was the point of a support android if it couldn’t follow its owner into the kind of situations where support was most needed? Their phone fell out of their shaking hands with a too-loud clatter.

The man in front of them had a small, roughly person-shaped bot rolling after him. A personal assistant. Would probably fold flat enough to fit under the seat. Astor found themself feeling bad for it, as though it could experience discomfort. Maybe they all could, and had just never found a way to express it, or saw enduring it as part of their duty.

They tapped the corner of their ID against their phone, looking again and again between the time and their digital boarding pass. They still had plenty of time. The line wasn’t very long. They pulled the quart bag of toiletries out of their backpack, put it back, considered taking another pill. The first one should have been working by now. Would they even be able to tell if it was working, or were they too keyed up for medication already? It was too late to call their therapist for advice, they were almost to the front of the line—

Everything flashed white for just a second. Astor leaned heavily on the handle of their suitcase, tried to breathe slowly and deeply, but not too deeply, not enough to make them dizzy.

“Next!”

I can’t do this! They looked helplessly down at their ID, the gender marked on it. The picture beside it was recognizable, but could easily pass for a binary sibling to a suspicious eye.

“Next!” someone called again.

They were holding up the line. People were getting impatient, they’d be angry soon—someone tapped Astor’s shoulder and they cringed away from it with a gasp—

They dragged the suitcase forward, distantly aware that it wasn’t rolling on its casters anymore but unsure how to fix it. They blinked, tried to clear their blurry vision, extended their ID to the man sitting at the podium. He took their ID and pointed at a small box on the flat surface.

“What?” They sounded ragged, desperate. They were definitely getting a pat down. Maybe they’d get pulled into one of those rooms and interrogated, like on TV shows—what if someone messed with their suitcase when they weren’t looking and there was something in it—

“Scan your boarding pass,” the man said again.

They held up their phone with shaking hands. Nothing happened. “Sorry,” they mumbled, turning the screen back on and fumbling with their fingerprint ID. They scanned again, and the light turned green. The man stared back and forth between their state ID and their face, again and again.

Finally, after a decade of looking, he handed it back and waved them on.

Now came the hard part.

Apparently, you were supposed to get your carry-on bag into a bin now? The bins weren’t in a pile anymore? You had to wait for the first set of bins to move, watch your laptop and shoes drift away while you waited to launch your suitcase after it? They staggered through the shouted instructions, unbalanced and slightly dizzy. What if someone stole their laptop after it went through the scanner? What if something went wrong with their bag?

They stepped into the little booth, held their breath while it scanned them. In the other line they could see a security bot pulling aside flagged luggage, beeping fretfully at its handlers. They wondered how much of their body was visible to the old man running the machine. They wondered what he’d think of what he could see under their clothes. No one outside the industry quite knew what the tech was capable of. People argued and complained in op-eds but nothing was really done about it, and the technology had only improved since the last time Astor had flown, and hormones had changed their body significantly since that flight—

“Step out please.”

They came sheepishly out of the booth, arms crossed over their chest. They’d have to get patted down, and that would be humiliating. At least that was automated too, now—their last flight had involved an awkward conversation to determine whether a male or female agent should pat them down. But the robot had no gender to worry about, and while it probably wouldn’t guess at or comment on theirs, there was something about the sleek plastic and steel that made their stomach lurch.

And then—

—and then—

Everything went white again. They stumbled slightly.

“Ma’am? Ma’am! Are you alright?”

They shook their head to clear it. “Fine,” they said. “Dizzy. I have panic attacks,” they finished, feeling heat rise in their cheeks. Was it more embarrassing to explain it in advance or wait until they were lying on the floor gasping like a landed trout? Lots of people have panic attacks. Having one without warning would be less convenient for them.

The robot’s handler looked annoyed. He waved it forward, a squat thing on wheels with two rollers where arms might be. Funny how even in this setting the electronics were vaguely humanoid, presumably to make them more sympathetic, somehow less terrifying. The rest of the process seemed designed to frighten you into compliance, but at least the bots looked like friends.

They didn’t process the rollers moving down their body, or what noises the device made while it checked them. Their vision blurred and while they didn’t fall over, they did stagger a bit when the process was finished, and the device abruptly rolled away to maul some other poor stranger. Their bag made it through the scanner alright; there was a moment of panic where they couldn’t find their laptop, but it had just gotten stuck at the end of the conveyor, its bin bumping uselessly against the wall.

Overall, things were going better than they’d expected. They could find their way to a cup of tea or maybe an overpriced snack now that they’d made it to the other side, maybe even get something they could take on the plane, but first—

—first, sit down. Sit, and breathe deeply, try to time their own inhaling and exhaling, squeeze their own hand. It would be easier to calm down if PAGE was here. They knew how to do it themself—paced breathing wasn’t really all that difficult—but PAGE made it so much easier, made things feel safer.

After a moment they stood up, leaning on their suitcase for support, foot wrapped around the strap of their backpack, so no one could walk away with it, and looked up at the monitor for their gate.


Suitcases thumped heavily behind the small grey curtain. The conveyor belt had already started to move, but nothing had come out yet. That thump was worrying—would they handle PAGE carefully? Astor tried not to think of it being tossed onto the belt, how many times it had been thrown about over the course of the flight.

Bags began to emerge, people pushed forward to claim them. Astor tried to wiggle past a few people to get closer to the origin point, but they couldn’t quite get through and couldn’t muster up the courage to talk to strangers, not even a quiet excuse me. They moved farther away from the front, where they could be closer to the belt, even if they’d have to wait longer for things to reach them.

Three suitcases. A taped-up red cooler. A large backpack in a digital blue camo pattern. A few more rolling bags. Astor started tapping their fingers against their thigh, restless, frightened. What if it hadn’t made it on the plane? What if it was on the wrong plane? How many goddamn bags were there on this stupid flight, anyway—

There it was—curled up, on its side, looking like it was just taking a nap, and someone else reached down and touched its shoulder—

“Hey—wait—!”

There were no pleasant red LEDs in the shape of a face, but a turning hourglass, in blue. And, they noticed with embarrassment, no bright Assistive Device vest. Not PAGE, then. Astor took a shaking breath and squeezed their eyes closed. Any minute now. It would probably be okay. The worst part was behind them.

PAGE was sitting up when it finally emerged, backwards, the little orange vest disheveled. They wiggled through the crowd as quickly as they could, reaching for its shoulder and squeezing. “PAGE,” they said, a relieved sigh.

PAGE’s face blinked on, eyes opening. It yawned and stretched, resting animation while it came online.

“Patient Assistant, Generation E.” Its voice was monotone, and different, deeper like the startup tone that followed it, and there was a second’s flared panic in their stomach before they remembered that their custom settings probably just hadn’t loaded yet. “Hello, Astor,” it said pleasantly, in its usual sweet, clear voice. “Did you have a good flight?”

It tried to stand up, stumbling as the conveyor moved under it, falling sideways off the belt and onto the floor.

“Are you okay?” Astor asked, acutely aware of the looks their spectacle was getting. Or maybe not, they tried to convince themself, maybe no one has noticed, people are less interested in you than they ever seem to be.

“I am undamaged,” it said. There was a slight scratch on the molded grey plastic of its shoulder, a smudge of some kind of grease on its face. Astor polished it off with the sleeve of their sweater. “Would you like help getting a taxi?”

Astor smiled. “Begin recording?”

PAGE blinked, then went blank.

“I did it,” they said softly. “I—I got on the plane by myself, I didn’t take an extra pill, I got through it, and I guess—I guess.” They swallowed. “It’s funny. I keep fighting the help because I thought I shouldn’t need it, I should be able to do everything, I shouldn’t be so—I should be okay.” They swallowed, smiled weakly. “Guess I do need it. End recording.”

There was a moment of stillness before PAGE tilted its head. “Hmm,” it said. “Thank you, Astor.”

Astor blinked down at the bot. “What for?”

“For allowing me to assist you.”

“Oh. Uh.” Astor ran their fingers through their hair. “You’re welcome. C’mon, let’s go find a cab.”

About the Author

Kathryn DeFazio

Kathryn DeFazio

Kathryn DeFazio has been writing fiction of varying quality since she learned how to hold a pencil (incorrectly, as it turned out). For about two years, she has been working on BackwardsCompatibility, an original speculative fiction universe about a candy-fueled queer robot who escapes his laboratory to find his original programmer. At the moment, she is taking time off to work on the second draft of a first novel and the first draft of a second novel. According to her mother, she still hasn’t learned to hold a pencil properly. Kathryn lives in Manhattan with her primary partner and step-parrot.

Find more by Kathryn DeFazio

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About the Narrator

Summer Brooks

Summer Brooks is a bit of a television addict, and enjoys putting her scifi media geek skills to good use in interviewing guests. She had been a co-host for Slice of SciFi from 2005-2009, the co-host for The Babylon Podcast from 2006-2012, and host of Kick-Ass Mystic Ninjas, before returning to Slice of SciFi full time as host & producer in August 2014.

She is an avid reader and writer of scifi, fantasy and thrillers, with a handful of publishing credits to her name. Next on her agenda is writing an urban fantasy tale, and a B-movie monster extravaganza.

Currently, Summer designs and maintains websites for clients in addition to having fun with the Slice of SciFi websites, and also does voiceover & narrations for Tales to Terrify, StarShipSofa and Escape Pod, among others.

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About the Artist

Geneva Benton

Geneva is a self-taught illustrator from North Carolina, who loves working with colors, big hair, and drawing whimsy with a touch of realism and happiness. Her work has appeared in magazines, novels, editorial and advertising campaigns.

You can find her most often on Instagram, and support her work on Patreon.

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