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The Second Julia

Marco's "I hate you" reverberates along my electric synapses. His door slams shut behind him, rattling in its frame.
"See," Pilar says, "I told you it was too soon. We should've waited till he's twelve."
"He already suspected, though." I sit across from the woman whom my memories say is my wife--but those memories are older than Marco, and aside from the first few months when I was novel and Pilar seeking any balm to her grief, she hasn't wanted me. She's only kept me around for Marco, and to honor the first Julia.
I've stayed for the same reasons.
Pilar chews her pancakes ostentatiously. She gets like this, sometimes, finds any little way she can to remind me my body isn't human. I can eat, and do to keep up the charade, but the clean-out process after is tedious. Better to avoid the whole process.
"Julia wanted to wait till he was twelve."
Pointless to remind Pilar that I'm Julia, too. Early on, Pilar went through a phase where she insisted on calling me other names--Juana, Joanna, Judith. Never in front of Marco, though he was just a baby then and wouldn't have known the difference. But in private, in texts, on video calls. Whenever I tried to explain that her words hurt, that she was causing harm, she'd spit out another dig that I wasn't human and so couldn't have human feelings.
"He's a smart kid. He would've figured it out, and then resented that we didn't tell him."
Pilar stands and dumps the rest of her pancakes, then Marco's, in the recycler. "We should've waited. For Julia."
The house announces that Pilar's autocar has arrived and is on standby to take her to her hospital shift. She strides toward the great room, but then pauses at the threshold. "Play it," she says, so soft I think the first Julia's ears wouldn't have heard. I don't rise from my place at the table. It forces Pilar to shift so that I'm in her peripheral vision, but she focuses on the holo beaming from my left eye, absorbs the sound spewing from my open mouth.
Pilar weeps as she places Marco, four months old, in my arms. Gurgling and cooing, he reaches for Julia's earring--mine, now--where it dangles from my ear. "No, no," Pilar says, placing her finger in Marco's way so that he grips it rather than the earring. "That'll hurt"--an aborted choke--"Mommy."
Though I only woke up yesterday, the action is instinct: Humming, I plant a kiss on Marco's hair. The lullaby is a fish underwater, part of the ocean's depths even when unseen from above.
Pilar places her hand on my shoulder and rubs the collarbone. She's no longer crying.
Another reason why I've stayed: Pilar doesn't request recordings often, but when she does, it's always of me, not the first Julia.
Maybe it's the only way she knows to apologize.
It's past noon when Marco comes to lurk at the entrance to the living room. I focus on swiping my tablet at regular intervals as if I'm truly reading. It's best to let him go at his own pace.
He scuffs one socked foot along his leg. "Tell me what happened to my real mom."
I set down the tablet. If I were human, my stomach would be clenching, my throat dry and full. I was designed with tear ducts, though, and Julia's memories--my memories--are enough to set them leaking.
I bite back the unhelpful words, I am your real mom. My memories are those of the first Julia's; my personality is that of the first Julia. I love Marco just as much as the first Julia. If not more, because I've been here to see him grow and learn and become Marco.
But Pilar's reactions taught me to treat the first Julia as a different person rather than myself, so I'm careful to use the third person. Still, I remember the pain, the blood, the treatments that didn't work. "She was already sick when you were born two months premature. She died four months later. But she"--I--"couldn't stand the thought of not being around for you, so she signed the papers for a cognitive transfer. It ate up all her inheritance." I allow a ghost-smile. "So you'll have to get a college scholarship or go to a state school. Sorry, kid."
Marco's expression doesn't flicker.
My smile fades. "She wanted... me... to have the most human-like body possible."
"Why didn't you tell me before now? Other kids--" He snaps his mouth shut.
I wince. Marco is smart; of course his peers are, too. Like calls to like. And the times he's had friends over, when they've observed me, maybe made out the near-subsonic whirs of servos-- What have they been saying to my baby?
It hurts, learning someone you've known all your life isn't what you thought they were.
"We did what we thought was best, but we were wrong. All three of us. And I'm sorry."
Throughout our conversation, he's been drifting closer to the couch. Now, he lingers at its arm. Finally, he sits at the very edge of it, then after some hesitation sidles next to me. Slowly, to give him the chance to leave if he wants, I wrap my arm around my son and squeeze.
"Can you at least do something badass, like shoot lasers from your eyes?"
It doesn't matter that I don't have a heart. Hearts pump blood, not love. "We'll look into some upgrades."
Quiet. Then, so soft I almost don't hear it, "You're still my mom?"
My throat is too full and, I swear it, my stomach clenches. I squeeze him tighter. "Always."
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, April 9th, 2019
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