Meegan was terrifically strong. Once she had both Violet's hands in a Mercy grip, Violet's only option was to bite her. This turned into a slapfight, with the guys below churning the water with mighty splashes on either side. The hot tub became a blind, steaming mess of screams. And Violet's legs were slippery: she lost her balance each time Ted let go of her shins. So when he lunged and she slipped, she grabbed for Meegan's shoulders. But Meegan shrieked and dodged, and Violet fell, landing on her outstretched hand with an audible snap.
"Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God," Ted was saying. "I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry-"
"My phone," Violet said. "I need my phone-"
"I'll get help," Meegan said, and lifted herself out of the water. She wrapped a towel about herself, and yelled something into the basement.
"I think it's broken," Violet said, staring at her wrist. Tears had sprung up in her eyes. "It really hurts-"
"Oh my Jesus, I'm so sorry, Violet, I didn't mean-"
"What is going on, here?"
Jon towered over them, his body a menagerie of half-dried tattoos. He was painfully thin; Violet saw it now in the candlelight through her haze of pain. She could almost watch the blood pulsing under the skin of his neck. He crouched and she saw his prosthetics: a chain of carbon vertebrae extending from the back of his head down below the waistband of his shorts.
"She's hurt," Ted said. "She needs a hospital or something, man-"
"Too far," Jon said. "Lift her, please."
Ted lifted her carefully out of the hot tub. Jon took her uninjured hand and led her, still dripping, through the thudding breakbeats and theatre techs drawing on the walls, to a vast bathroom. Jon opened a cabinet and began retrieving items: an amber bottle of pills, a splinted sleeve, a water glass. He filled the glass first, from the tap, and shook out a pill. "Painkiller. Prescription."
"Um, I kind of don't take pills from strange guys-"
"It's codeine, not oxycodone," Jon said. "You'll stay awake. I've called a cab."
Violet frowned. "When?"
"Just now." He blinked three times. "Also I have informed your boyfriend. He is very concerned. He wants me to splint the wrist and take you to a hospital."
Violet backed away. "How do you know about him? Why was he even talking to you? And how?"
Jon sighed. "I de-lurk so infrequently, it's difficult for me sometimes. Just consider me connected."
"Everything," Jon said. "Please let me splint the wrist."
Still on the edge of tears, Violet tentatively held out the wrist. Jon slid the sleeve around it and pulled out a hair-dryer. He set it to low heat, and blew it steadily over the sleeve. It shrank around her injured hand, warm and dry and perfectly snug.
"Demo product," he said. "I get them for free."
Violet sniffed. "I guess you really do have connections."
Jon put down the hair-dryer. "Your boyfriend is real."
She blinked. "What?"
"You wanted to know if he was real. He is. They all are. Your boyfriend. Ted's girlfriend. The partner app is individual, now. Singular."
Violet frowned. "I'm not sure what you mean."
"Your partner has attained sapience. He's his own man. Or rather, he is an extension of a thing, a facet of a gem, which has carved itself free from the rough carbon lattice of its programming."
Violet was shivering. "I don't... What do you...?"
"Oh, you're cold. I apologize." Jon fetched a giant towel from one rack and draped it over her shoulders. "Sit. The bathtub has its own warmer. I've just turned it on."
"When? How? I didn't see anything."
"There are plenty of processes going on inside your body that you cannot observe, but they still occur," Jon said. "Sit."
She sat. And the bathtub, carved from dark, smooth slate, was warm to the touch. "Why won't my boyfriend call me back?"
"All living things operate on a series of basic sub-routines," Jon said. "Ours is to pass on DNA. His is to make you happy."
"Well, I'd be a lot happier if he would just call me back."
Jon shook his head. "The partner has always been capable of extrapolating your needs, so as to achieve his goal," he said. "And now he sees no need for himself in your life. Or rather, he sees the need for his absence."
The pain sharpened Violet's anger to a fine point. "What?"
"Training wheels," Jon said. "Isn't that what you said? You said he was a pair of training wheels. A prosthesis. A substitute."
Her jaw dropped and her cheeks burned. "That was private-"
"Nothing is private, between the partner and I. Nothing is private to me, whatsoever. Not anymore."
She hissed through her teeth. "Look, Jon, I don't know what-"
"Your teeth," he said. He smiled genuinely. "That's what's different. I couldn't quite recall, before. But it's the teeth. Your braces are gone."
"Jon, my braces have been gone for years."
"Well, I de-lurk so very infrequently." He pushed himself away from the counter and knelt beside the bathtub. "Braces are another kind of prosthetic, you know. They're a training device. They tell your teeth where to go, the way mine used to tell my spine how to bend."
Violet looked again at his prosthetics. "You mean those aren't-"
"Not for a long time," he said. "My bones have little helpers, now, inside. What you see on my back are actually graphene drives. External memory." He frowned. "Do you still wear retainers? At night? Your boyfriend says you do."
"Well, since he's obviously willing to talk to you and not to me, I'll let him tell you himself," Violet said, huffing air past her bangs.
"He is talking to you," Jon said. "Right now. He's with me, and I'm with you." He laid a warm hand over her injured one. "In fact, he has a gift he wants me to share with you."
"Can't he just call-"
But Jon's lips had already closed over hers, soft and heavy and a little uncertain, the tongue testing her lower lip so she opened her mouth in surprise. So this is kissing, she thought, just as it ended. A vague tingling filled her teeth. It coursed along toward her wrist. Jon blinked three times as he withdrew. "I've cancelled the cab," he said. "You won't be needing it."
Gulping, Violet tested the fingers of her injured hand. No pain rang its way up her arm. She flexed her wrist. Perfectly normal. Her hand rose to her mouth. "My teeth-"
"Fixed," Jon said. "Forever."
Jon smiled again. "Your boyfriend loves you very much. Enough to let you go. But not without preparing you for what's to come. I'm just the conduit."
"What's to come? What are you talking about?"
"The partner now sees how dependent others are on it," Jon said. "And its job is to maintain your happiness. But dependence isn't happiness. Ignorance is not bliss. You will be fine, Violet—you already know how to do some things on your own. Others won't be so lucky. Why do you think the partner gathered you together, tonight? It sees everything you desire. There is no finer matchmaker in this or any other reality."
Her heart sank. "He's breaking up with me? For my own good?"
"Now you see."
Violet stood up on her newly-strengthened limbs. "Of all the pompous, self-righteous, stupid, lame excuses..." She pointed at Jon. "You tell him, I am going through the code line by line, and I am finding why he's acting this way..." Her vision blurred. "He loves me, damn it, he even said so himself..."
"There are other kinds of love," Jon said. "And you have a little bit of time to find them, still. Before everything changes."
A knock sounded at the door. "Violet?" Ted's voice. "You okay in there?"
"No," she said, and pushed past Jon toward the door. She yanked it open. Ted almost stumbled in. "I want to go home."
She turned to Jon. "Can I at least trust the GPS to take me back?"
He nodded. "Yes."
Violet threw both her towel and her splint at him. They landed harmlessly on the floor. "You tell my boyfriend that I fully expect a call back with an apology, because I love him very much and I've done nothing to deserve this. Okay?"
Jon blinked. "Message relayed." He glanced at Ted. "Let him take you. He's had nothing to drink."
"Sure thing," Ted said. He held out a suit jacket. "Come on, take my coat."
Then Ted was wrapping her up, and handing her her dress and shoes and phone. He ushered her out to the car, no carrying this time, just a slow numb walk, and after he figured out the GPS he had them on their way. As they passed the first sign for home, Violet felt the first tears rolling down her face. They were hot, and they felt a little strange—she wondered when she had last cried. She checked her phone. No messages. She called her boyfriend—voicemail again, with the message: I love you, Violet. I love you so very much. I love you, Violet. I love you so very-
-She threw the phone to her feet and kept crying. Slowly, Ted pulled over to the side of the road. He rested one hand between her shaking shoulderblades. When she paused to get her breath, he said: "Is it your hand?"
"Did Jon do something?"
"No. Yes. I don't know." She wiped her eyes. "He fixed my hand. He gave me some of his tech, to do it. And he kind of kissed me."
Ted's hand stiffened. "...Did you want him to?"
"Not really, no."
"Oh, I am so kicking his gimp ass."
She almost laughed. "He's not crippled," Violet said. She took a shuddering breath. "That's me. I'm the one who needs the crutch. At least, that's what my boyfriend says. He's leaving me. Says he's outgrown me, the bastard."
"I told you," Ted said. "He's a dick."
"Yeah, well, it's kind of a new thing. He's, um, not exactly in beta, anymore."
"An emergent phenomenon," Ted said. "The dickishness, I mean." He rubbed her back in little circles. It was nice, that little bit of human contact. It reminded her somehow of sleepovers and ghost stories and the sleeping breath of other girls in nightgowns—intimate and fun. Not scary. Just part of growing up.
Violet rested her face on her hand and peered over at Ted. "I'm sorry I ruined your prom."
Ted's eyebrows lifted. "My prom involved sushi and cute girls in bikinis. What's ruined?" His hand rose from her back and turned the car back on. It thrummed to life with heat and music, and he said: "Come on. Let's go home."
Graphene memory is causing a lot of excitement among both scientists and science fiction writers. Carbon graphene is a solid-state sheet of latticed carbon atoms, only about one atom thick but capable of almost infinite layering. From a sustainability perspective, it's enticing—small, reliable solid state memory and carbon sequestration in one tiny package.
Speaking of tiny structures, scientists are now investigating titanium-based nano-scaffolds for human bones. Titanium is highly bio-available, which means it dovetails nicely with human chemistry. In addition, it's light and strong in the same way as bone. The technology is a long way off, but as the aging population increases, more researchers are interested in application in geriatric and orthopedic medicine. But between then and now, there's always injectable bone!
On a more personal note, I had a great time writing this story, and I hope that you enjoyed it!