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Uploading Ken

Gretchen is a first-year undergraduate student pursuing a degree in English and Literature. She hopes to write professionally in the future, however, earns her rent as a barista for now. "Uploading Ken" is the first of her creative works to be published.

The barista served Jenny a tired smile. "The usual for you two?" she asked, nodding towards Ken.
"For me, sure. For him, um...." Jenny's head rotated towards Ken, but her eyes remained fixed on the barista's pea-green visor.
"I'll just take a black Pike," Ken said.
He has his voice, too.
The barista perked up a little, likely surprised by the change of order. This reaction was peculiar, considering a change in order was the only constant that humanity could rely on.
This didn't make the transition any easier, though.
Jenny and Ken stood in unpracticed silence while they waited for their drinks. Jenny wondered if Ken's hand ached as hers did. Would the indelible instinct to be held somehow have transcended the Uploading process?
The couple made their routine walk towards the table in the corner, the one by the tinted casement window. Ken had often enjoyed fogging the glass and drawing obscene doodles with his fingers; a habitual act of rebellion.
Ken sat in the chair farthest from the window.
Jenny's heart fell silent.
She cleared her throat and took her place across from him. Her coffee spilled a little when she set it down.
She wasn't used to this view of the cafe. It was definitely a hot spot for couples.
Jenny steeled herself to stay strong.
"Did you two come here often?" Ken asked, but she didn't hear. His smile lacked the warmth that smiles were meant to impart. His foot had found hers under the table. Whether by accident or on purpose, this trivial action triggered the tears Jenny had been hoarding since she first saw Ken's figure again, unbruised and unbloodied.
Keeping her gaze fixated on the supple grooves of table wood, she spat, "Quit pretending you care. He wouldn't have wanted this. He thought that donating your body to science meant med students prodding at your limp balls." Jenny's eyes carried eyebags resembling a roosters' wattle and her voice sounded thin and raspy, though it wasn't like that when Ken was alive.
Uncanny valley instructed Jenny to keep her head lowered, but grief rose her gaze to meet his.
The pupils in his crisp blue eyes remained stagnant. Jenny sobbed harder now, garnering the attention of the other customers.
One kind old man took action, and came to Jenny's side. He scowled at Ken, pointedly pushing his spectacles up. "Pardon me young lady, is this man bothering you?"
Jenny recognized this man as one of the other regulars. He'd likely seen Jenny and Ken laughing over coffee, before the crash.
Hysterically, Jenny grabbed onto the old man's polo and gave a pathetic whimper into his potbelly.
"This isn't a man, it's a robot."
The cafe was spelled into silence. Even the baristas at the bar had seized activity to watch the scene. Jenny had the insane urge to run Ken over again.
Ken's expression was emotionless. It was a vacant inertness that no human could dream of mimicking.
He addressed the gawking man. He explained, "Her therapist thought it might be good for her to see her boyfriend again." This pragmatic man was very unlike the Ken that Jenny had loved.
She jumped to her feet, sending her chair flying, coffee long forgotten. An accusatory finger found Ken's Adam's apple.
Ken rose to his feet, gave the old man a nod, and picked up his Pike.
He was going to leave before a human's hysterics got him shut down. He didn't have the software to understand this side of people. He was an early prototype, and there was much ambiguity in his manual. If any of the irrational onlookers decided to deal their disgusted looks with physical violence, he wasn't sure what the outcome would be.
"WAIT! Tell me: do you remember anything? Anything at all?"
Ken glanced over his shoulder. If one looked closely, one might notice the seam where Ken's arm had been replaced.
Jenny's ponytail had fallen out, and her face flushed an ugly shade of red. Distraught as she was, there was barely a wrinkle knotted on her face. She was so young. If Ken could care, he might feel bad for this squishy human. She lacked the capacity to understand Ken's Uploading, and why it was significant in humanity's development.
"No. Ken isn't conscious."
He strolled out the front door, leaving the sound of a shattering soul in his wake.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, November 28th, 2022

Author Comments

The inspiration for this story came to me during my break at work. I myself am a Starbucks barista, who has witnessed one too many dates gone wrong in our cafe. The arguments are usually petty, and couples have no shame in causing a scene. I thought I'd like to write a short story regarding one of said couples. However, I'd like to think the conflict in my story is a little more interesting than those I overhear in real life. Usually, the topic of argument is the size of the drink ordered. If the boyfriend orders anything less than a venti, he is inadvertently calling his girlfriend fat, or so the girlfriends say. Additionally, I'm a sci-fi junkie, so spicing up my workplace setting with some android drama was super fun for me!

- Gretchen Russell
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