She liked it rough — she liked it with a rasp edging the honey in her voice. She liked to pretend that it made her songs profound, filled them with the angst so missing from her own life. But Mock liked it smooth. All post-jazz and synth-mellow. He would get in her hair when they made music together — the hard chestnut smoothness of his tortoise-shell standing out in her tangled blond curls. His tiny sharp claws would dig into her scalp, but the first chords would dull her pain. Mock’s beady eyes would glow amber and the hexagons on his shell would shift and rotate — faster, faster, till she grew dizzy imagining the blurring at their edges. And the song would grow — sunbursts of discord, moon-dream flows of melody — Mock knew how to meld them till her voice was hoarse from the work. Then he would vanish into his shell — for a minute or an hour — for as long as it took to Send. Mock knew how to Send all right. Not once in their six years together had he failed to get her a chartbuster. Magic resurrection of a fading career — Mock knew how to Send an aging diva back from her grave, back from well-earned obscurity, back into the priceless attention of all his fellow Senders.

She had found Mock on her keyboard one morning, after a long-short night with a self-proclaimed fan. Come to think of it, the kid had gotten the names of her songs wrong, but she had been too high to care. The kid took her places she craved — the new Games that cost too much to properly buy. The kid had an in with them, obviously. Only, she didn’t know who “them” were. She had been too high to see the glint of hypodermic in the kid’s hand, too wasted to care when she failed to feel the prick. In the morning, she had fixed her massive hangover the way she always had. With watered down shibukaya single malts — one after the other — till she forgot to wince at the bite of cheap pretend-Japanese whiskey, till she could focus instead on Mock’s amber eyes glowing in her darkness. Till she could sing, and hope the Senders would listen once more to her honey-gravel croon.

She never thought about the Senders. Not if she could help it, not if she had any shibukaya sloshing around in her glow-in-the-dark tortoise-shell mug. The mug came from Mock, like most of her toys. Mock shed his shell once a year — a weird artifact of his codebase that the kid never came back to fix. She felt pathetic each time she found herself waiting for the kid to come back — because Senders never reuse their constructs. She knew that. Everyone knew that. Funny that no one seemed to know about Mock. Or no one cared. Mock could be — she often found herself struggling to find the right words when Mock wasn’t writing with her — unsettling. That’s it. Unsettling. He had shimmered away into his shell — then his shell had shimmered away into nothing — the one time she was stupid enough to ask about the Senders. To be fair, she had been sober for eight straight days — not even the nanos for her daily dopamine fix — and it had made her stupid and slow. She felt everything hurting, needed to lash out, and picked on Mock. “I want to meet the other Senders — I want to know who you’re Sending to, Mock. I need to know. I need to know they’re real, they’re human, they’re not like you…” And Mock had shimmered. In ten slow-fast seconds Mock was gone. She panicked then. She thought of all the songs she had yet to sing, she thought of the low notes in her voice Mock never let her hear, she thought of all the Games released that day she’d never be able to pay for, and she hyperventilated — “please-come-back, please-come-back, please-come-back, please-come-back, please-come-back”.

When she woke, the kid was gone, Mock was on her keyboard, and she didn’t even mind the reset. Not that she wasn’t mad. It was rude, you couldn’t just walk away after a twelve month reset, not without explanations, not even if you were a construct from the Senders. But the kid had. He had also left her a shibukaya refill — enough for a year, and she was grateful. It was all for the best really. Mock made her three new songs that she hated, that the Senders loved, that her fans screamed along with — and she wondered if she should try again. Piss off Mock, see if he made the kid come back. But she had felt the first blood-metal yank of migraine then — very, very different from her hangover migraine. It took her back to her dark places, back to her early days of writing songs alone. Reminded her that resets were — what’s the right phrase — forever in beta. Come to think of it, the kid had mentioned that — once, or twice, or with each annual refill of shibukaya maybe — “… the Senders don’t like resets — it’s legacy code. They’re always pushing to drop the feature, and when that happens, I dunno … but I called in a couple of favors you know — just for you …” And she would always tune out — wanting to not know, wanting to pause the Game, wanting her super-powers back, wanting Mock back so bad her eyes stung.

She never remembered the needle, never felt the prick, never heard the kid leave, never eased into the relief of her migraine ebbing. Just woke up into her massive hangovers, so the questions in her head about the Senders would dissolve into the shibukaya before she became stupid enough to ask Mock again. Always for her, the anchor of Mock’s amber eyes — watching, watching. Always for her the pull of a new song, and — what’s the right phrase — the freedom of her voice soaring away from the cages of her mind.

Suchana Seth is a physicist-turned-data-scientist, compulsive reader, slow traveler, and photographer of empty chairs. Her day job is to prevent data dystopias. At night, she writes speculative fiction and poetry. Her writing has appeared in Litro Magazine and The Coffeelicious. Follow her writing adventures on Twitter @SuchanaWrites.

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