What they were doing was illegal.
Tyri huddled in her coat, cozying up with her grief and the knot of anxiety in her belly. Life spent as a juvenile delinquent behind bars flashed through her mind before dissipating with a cloudy exhalation. But it was worth the risk of arrest – after all Nana had done for Tyri, the least she deserved was a proper funeral. Besides, Tyri and Asrid would probably only receive a fine. The androids gathered at the grave site would be decommissioned on the spot by a single bullet to their artificial brains.
The wind howled in b-flat minor through the dying leaves of the oaks drooping over Svartkyrka cemetery. Cirrus clouds whisked across the sky, and the sun performed a watery attempt at daylight as afternoon shuffled into twilight. It was a perfect day for a funeral.
“Such a waste,” Asrid said.
Tyri wasn’t sure if her pink-clad friend meant a waste of the android’s life or a waste of spare parts. Technically, they were breaking the law by burying the robot, instead of tossing her in the scrap yard like nothing more than a broken toaster. Tyri glanced at the others, unaffected by the cold.
The androids stood in a neat semicircle, four adults and a child droid with synthetic curls. None of them wore the armbands they were supposed to. They all looked so human anyway; their grief real even if they weren’t. Two male droids – of the type produced as personal companions – lowered the cardboard coffin into the dirt. The child droid began to sing – his voice a shattered-crystal treble – and Tyri batted tears off her cheeks with grubby mittens.
“You okay, T?” Asrid asked.
“Nana was like a mom to me. I’m going to miss her.”
Asrid gave Tyri a hug. “I’m sorry, but we should get going.” Her face scrunched in a frown, marring her impeccable makeup. She scanned the grounds as if she expected to find lurking cops.
“Give me a minute,” Tyri said and kicked her scuffed boots through the fallen leaves, all copper and russet. They looked like scabs, like a carpet of dried blood spilling into the open grave. She twirled the yellow anemone in her hand. Sunshine on a stick, Nana had said.
“Hope there’s sunshine where you are now, Nana.” Tyri dropped the single flower onto the coffin and wiped away the tear snailing down her cheek. Why Nana had chosen to permanently shut down and scramble her acuitron core, Tyri could only guess. Perhaps living in a world controlled by groups like the People Against Robot Autonomy had simply become too much for the android hard-coded to love and nurture her human charges.
“Sorry for your loss,” one of the droids said, looking at her with far too human eyes.
“Thank you for letting me know,” Tyri said.
“She would’ve wanted you here.”
Stuffing her mitten-covered hands into the pockets of her trench coat, Tyri turned her back on the androids. She traipsed through the cemetery that had long been losing the battle to weeds. Human tombstones, from back when there was real estate for corpses, lay in crumbling ruin covered in pigeon poop. No human had been buried in coffins for decades on the decaying grounds; when people died these days they were interred in organic pods and planted in parks. Now there were entire forests growing out of dead people.
“Botspit, I’m hungry,” Asrid said when Tyri joined her at the gate. “Where’re we going to eat?”
“I think I’ll just go home.”
“Come on, T. You can’t practice on an empty stomach.”
Tyri cracked a smile and let Asrid lead her past the marble angels standing sentinel, stoic despite one missing a nose and the other most of a wing.
Asrid’s eco-friendly bug sat parked in the weed-inundated parking lot, a shock of neon pink that matched Asrid’s shoes, handbag, and the ribbons holding up her blond hair. Even the vehicle’s plush interior was unicorn puke pink. No matter what she wore, Tyri always felt like a scruffy crow next to the peacock splendor of her best friend.
“Waffles?” Asrid asked and the vehicle took to the air.
“You haven’t eaten a waffle since you were thirteen.”
“I think a day like today calls for carbs. I might even have whipped cream with mine.” She grinned.
“Sassa, I don’t know. Maybe I should just –”
“No. Food first, then you can go home and make out with your violin.”
“You know how much I love the taste of rosin.”
Asrid’s grin broadened into a smile, and Tyri felt some of the tension drain out of her shoulders. She took a deep breath, and this time it didn’t ache as much to expand her lungs. The pain of losing her Nana was still there, a splinter in her heart. It was a mistake to love a robot. It was something her mother had said over and over again to Tyri as a child. No matter how complex an android’s AI, they could never love you back.
“Is Rurik coming or are we still pissed at him?” Asrid asked.
“It’s not his fault,” Tyri said. “His dad –”
“Is a corporate asshole and domestic dictator. But still. He shouldn’t have missed this.”
Just as Tyri was about to come, yet again, to her boyfriend’s defense, her phone rang, filling the bug with Massenet’s Meditation from Thaïs.
“Speak of the devil,” Asrid mumbled as Tyri answered.
“Where are you? Did I miss it?” Rurik asked, sounding out of breath.
“Yeah, we just left,” Tyri said, managing to keep some of the hurt she was feeling from seeping into her words.
“Botballs, I’m so sorry, T. Like, really sorry. How can I make it up to you?”
“Buy me waffles? Asrid refuses to let me go home without sustenance.”
“That funky place in the south,” Asrid shouted from the driver’s seat. “Täppgatan. We’ll be there in fifteen.”
“I’ll see you there,” Rurik said. “Promise. No excuses this time.” With that, he hung up and Tyri sighed.
“Can I invite Sara, since this is turning into a double date?” Asrid asked.
“Of course. And you know, Rik would’ve been there if it weren’t for his father,” Tyri added.
Asrid flicked loose hair off her face without comment before she gave the necessary voice commands to her cell phone to call Sara.
While Asrid chatted, Tyri stared out of the window at the lights of the city reflected in the frigid Baltic, at the painted walls of the old town, at the blurred faces of people and robots zipping past them in hovercraft of varying description.
Eventually, the bug slowed and Asrid cruised up and down the trendy south island streets, choked with people and ’craft since Friday ‘after works’ had begun. Having found a free tether, the girls alighted and headed into an even trendier waffle house that catered to all the latest dietary fads.
Rurik was already there, seated at a corner booth. He folded Tyri into an embrace before she’d even taken off her jacket. She closed her eyes, savoring his warmth and the familiar scent of his lemon-zest body-wash. Once again, all her precisely arranged verbal ordnance failed to fire in his presence.
“I’m sorry,” he said and kissed the tip of her nose. If Rurik were a song, he’d be in D major.
“Everything okay with your dad?” Tyri asked as she shucked her jacket before settling beside him at the table.
“Could be worse.”
“He being an ass again?” Asrid asked and Tyri gave her a pointed look across the table, willing Sassa to drop it.
“When is he not?” Rurik ran a hand through his dark curls, fine lines crinkling the corners of his hazel eyes as he attempted a lopsided grin.
“Still, it really sucked you missed the funeral,” Asrid added. Tyri tried to kick her in the shin but Asrid dodged. “You should’ve been there.”
“Yeah,” Rurik said. “I wanted to be, but instead I got to spend two hours being lectured by my father on all the ways I’m a fuck-up.”
“You are not.” Anger stirred in Tyri’s belly.
“Attending an illegal bot burial would definitely have been grounds for his disapproval.” Rurik’s acerbic laugh made Tyri’s insides sting. Asrid rolled her eyes.
“Does he think you’re going to get corrupted by some bot-loving hippies at school or something?” Asrid asked.
“Oh, they’d love that,” Rurik said, his lips twisting on the they. ’They’ included his father and Gunnar, his older brother – the golden boy – and ring leader of the People Against Robot Autonomy.
“You should do it,” Asrid said. “Just to piss them off. Those PARA people are...” Asrid made a circle at her temple with her index finger. Again Tyri tried to kick Asrid and this time she hit her mark. Asrid stifled a yelp, but the damage was done.
Rurik’s eyes narrowed, a frown gathering like storm clouds on his forehead. “Those people are what? Crazy for trying to preserve the future of humanity?”
Tyri wished Asrid could’ve kept her damn mouth shut; she was so tired of hearing Rik echo his father’s political sentiments.
“No, just the way PARA goes about it,” Asrid said.
“They have real concerns about robots rights, you know, concerns –”
“I’m starving,” Tyri interjected. “Let’s eat.” She nudged Rik’s shoulder and, thankfully, he turned his attention to the menu. Asrid raised her eyebrow at Tyri, and Tyri mouthed an apology, which Asrid graciously accepted by pulling her tongue.
With the topic dropped, Tyri laid her fingers over Rurik’s beneath the table. He squeezed her hand and pushed his knee against hers. In that moment, she could almost forgive him for missing the funeral. Rik had spent his entire life trying to live up to his father’s expectations while drowning in his brother’s shadow. She could cut him a little slack. And the Engelberger opinion of robots was one shared by many across the country.
The waitron arrived to take their orders. Tyri and Rurik selected the most traditional, least fad-addled option while Asrid did the opposite, making sure to add whipped cream to hers.
“You heard anything yet?” Asrid asked once their drinks had arrived.
“No, but I should soon,” Tyri said. “I’m trying not to think about why it’s taking so long.”
“It’s been less than a month,” Rurik added.
“They promised to let us know in two weeks.” Tyri slurped on a bubble tea the waitron had recommended. “Urgh, this smells like gym socks and tastes like it too.”
“That’s what you get for trusting a robot,” Rurik said. Asrid glared, but Rik seemed oblivious to the bullets she was shooting him across the table.
“You’ll get in, T,” Asrid said. “I’m sure of it. You’re brilliant,” she added before Sara arrived in a swirl of frothy skirts. She bestowed on Asrid the kind of affection Tyri hadn’t received in months from Rurik. He was still keen to get naked whenever he was home from university, but the pressure his father so generously dolloped on his shoulders was clearly starting to get to him. She could see the tension in his body even as he sat hunched over his food.
Tyri sliced into her waffle, enjoying the destruction of artistic confectionery, while Sara and Asrid gossiped about their dance studio and upcoming recital. Rurik ate despondently, spreading puddles of syrup around his plate with a half-eaten strawberry.
“Hey, you okay?” Tyri asked quietly between bites.
“Of course.” Rurik straightened his shoulders and slipped a smile onto his face before joining the conversation. But his eyes were still guarded and his laughter was too forced. His waffle remained mostly untouched.
Tyri had yet to annihilate the last of the lingonberries on her plate when her phone trilled.
Asrid and Sara stared at her across the table, faces expectant.
“You going to check it?” Rurik asked.
“It could be anything.”
“Won’t know ’til you look,” Asrid said.
With the waffle turning to concrete in her belly, Tyri pulled out her phone. One unread email sent from the Baldur Philharmonic Orchestra.
“I can’t.” She put down her phone before looking to Rurik or Asrid for help. “Until I open it, everything is possible. I don’t want to know.”
“Want me to read it?” Asrid asked, and Tyri nodded. She held her breath while Asrid swiped open the mail. She frowned a little, and Tyri swallowed hard, trying her best to keep the artistic confectionery in her belly though it seemed determined to claw its way back up her throat.
“Aw, T. That’s too bad.” Asrid showed Sara the phone, and they shared a pout.
“Guess you’ll have to miss our matinée this weekend,” Sara said. “Because you’ll be at rehearsal.”
“What?” Tyri’s heart stopped beating.
“Rehearsal. Royal Opera House. One sharp.” Asrid slid the phone back toward Tyri, her faux sad-face crumbling into a smile.
“I – what?” Tyri sucked in a breath, and it kick-started her heart.
“You got in!” Asrid pirouetted out of her seat and scooped Tyri into a hug. Sara joined the crush and Tyri couldn’t breathe again thanks to the arms wrapped around her chest.
“You got in! You got in!” Asrid squealed on repeat. “Told you so.” She high-fived Sara behind Tyri’s back.
Comprehension dawned slowly. She was in. Three seats had been available in the violin section of the Baldur JPO. She’d auditioned because her mom had forbidden it. She’d auditioned because ever since she was four years old and snuggled a violin against her jaw, she’d known that playing music was all she ever wanted to do.
Asrid and Sara released her, and Rurik took their place.
“I knew you’d get in,” he whispered in her ear before kissing her. He tasted of syrup and strawberry and everything good in life.
Light-headed, Tyri let Rurik guide her back to her seat. She read the email. The words blurred together and ran like wet ink across the screen.
“Codes! I got in.” Tyri repeated it to herself until she was sure she believed it.
“We need to celebrate,” Asrid said.
“We already are.” Tyri tucked away the phone, her smile starting to hurt her cheeks.
“Round two then?” Sara asked.
“Maybe just a cappuccino, with caramel syrup.”
“Make it four,” Rurik said. “On me, of course.” He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and she snuggled into his side.
They ordered and basked in their ebullience until the drinks arrived.
“You know you’re going to have to tell your mom,” Rurik said, shattering Tyri’s joy.
“Do you think she’s right?” Tyri frowned at the milky fern frond on her coffee. “Do you think I’m being selfish wanting the ‘Bohemian non-existence’ when I could have a ‘sensible and society-assisting’ career in robotics?”
“No,” Sara said. “Life is too short not to be true to yourself. Happiness comes first. Your mom will just have to deal.” Her words were steeped in eighteen-year-old wisdom.
“Be your authentic self,” Asrid agreed. “Your mom will get it. Eventually.”
“Or she won’t,” Rurik said and met Tyri’s gaze. “But I know you won’t let that stop you.” His lopsided grin was back in place, but Tyri wasn’t sure she could trust it.
“So, do we know how we’re gonna tell her yet?” Asrid asked.
“I’ve got a week until the first rehearsal,” Tyri said. “That gives us some time to figure it out.”
“We’ve got this, T.” Asrid gave Tyri’s hand a squeeze across the table. “You’re gonna be famous. I can see it now. One day they’ll read about the greatest violinists ever and there’ll be Tyri Matzen alongside Joshua what’s-his-face and that girl something-Mae. Am I right?”
“Thanks, Sassa. It means a lot.” Tyri let Asrid’s words warm her without paying any attention to the well of silence from Rurik. She’d been waiting all her life for this opportunity, to prove to her mom that music had meaning, that it was a worthy pursuit and more than just a hobby. Tyri was ready to make her mark on the music world; she only hoped she wouldn’t leave a stain.