Gran was broken down. The AI had been shunted off into a Retirement Zone. The body sat there like a rubbery life-sized replica. They were waiting for the program for the guzzlers to break down what was left into its constituent parts, but for now the thing laid there.

‘When is the program going to be available for download?’

‘It was an unexpected breakdown. The expectancy for these models is way higher than we got out of her. They were working on the breakdown program when we called them.’

‘Do you think Patrick knows we have this in here?’

‘On some level. It would explain the nightmares and the tantrums, wouldn’t it?’

‘Gwen, should we go and visit her in the Zone?’

‘It’s not her, Dave. It is an echo of her.’

‘It worked for a while, didn’t it?’

‘Surely. Patrick bought it.’

Gran was out there and would message them occasionally. An echo of a ghost.

Gran had faded into senility from early-onset Alzheimers at 55. They had built the AI from memories they had of her; video footage; interviews from before she evaporated; she was a pretty good approximation if you didn’t dig too deep. Enough to shepherd a child through the early years.

Dave touched the cheek of the thing they’d been duping their child with. The frozen lake inside Dave melted and began to draw liquid lines down his cheeks. Gwen found him sat beside it. He looked like it for a brief moment, and she wondered if she might use the same tactic herself if he passed. The thought massaged her stomach into violence and she threw up. They stepped out of the utility closet together, and Dave locked it. Both of them agreed they couldn’t wait for the program to be ready and the breakdown to be possible. Patrick wondered why his parents were acting so weird.

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