Hello, friends! Today I’d like to introduce you to two of my fictional friends – Clara Gutierrez and Sal, the fantastic main characters in Meredith Katz’s The Cybernetic Tea Shop, which is one of the first novellas I ever read and fell in love with. I hope you love them as much as I do!
Clara Gutierrez is a highly-skilled technician specializing in the popular ‘Raise’ AI companions. Her childhood in a migrant worker family has left her uncomfortable with lingering in any one place, so she sticks around just long enough to replenish her funds before she moves on, her only constant companion Joanie, a fierce, energetic Raise hummingbird.
Sal is a fully autonomous robot, the creation of which was declared illegal ages earlier due to ethical concerns. She is older than the law, however, at best out of place in society and at worst hated. Her old master is long dead, but she continues to run the tea shop her master had owned, lost in memories of the past, slowly breaking down, and aiming to fulfill her master’s dream for the shop.
When Clara stops by Sal’s shop for lunch, she doesn’t expect to find a real robot there, let alone one who might need her help. But as they begin to spend time together and learn more about each other, they both start to wrestle with the concept of moving on… (via Goodreads)
Q: Hello, Sal and Clara! It’s nice to see you! Why don’t you each tell us a little bit about yourselves?
Clara: Sure! I’m Clara Gutierrez, I’m twenty-eight and a Raise AI technician—well, I say ‘Raise’ specifically, but I work on most of the major brands of mechanical animal companions, you know how it is. I work both on the coding side and in mechanical repairs, though I do a little more on the coding side. Nice to meet you.
Sal: Is this how we’re introducing ourselves…? I’m Sal, I’m two-hundred and seventy-nine. I was created by Artiface Industries. Ah—that’s spelled ‘f-a-c-e’. Over the last century, I’ve usually seen it misattributed in print. But they were very insistent about the branding implications.
Clara: Is that really a self-introduction?
Sal: I thought—
Clara: [Throwing an arm around Sal’s shoulders] Anyway, this is Sal, she makes the best tea in the world, she wears a lot of pink, and she likes cute animals and sunny days.
Q: What do you like best about yourself, and each other?
Clara: About myself, probably my confidence. It’s my policy to do my best to own all my decisions and try to understand myself better as a result. I do my research, I’m not reckless or anything, but I’m always up to try something new and experience the world in new ways. My favorite things about Sal are endless, but probably her determination. Things haven’t been easy but she’s always pushed herself to get or keep the things she wants, even when it’s really rough.
Sal: My favorite thing about Clara is her consideration. She listens well, and is never afraid to give her opinion on anything. But she won’t push. She hands her thoughts to you like a gift and silently acknowledges that they are no longer hers. Once she gives them to you, they’re yours.
Clara: Oh, jeez. Thanks, Sal.
Sal: [after a pause] …I suppose waiting won’t make the other part go away? I think I like my feelings. I know that’s not a very traditional answer. But I have spent a long time both developing them and coming to identify and understand them. And they are often painful, or complex, or mixed, but they make up a large part of myself.
Q: What do you like the least about yourself, and each other?
Sal: I get maudlin easy. I miss the things I have taken comfort in when I don’t have them in front of me. I take the words of others to heart easily if they are negative and not if they are positive. When I don’t have habits to fall back on I end up at a loss and uncomfortable.
Clara: That’s a long list.
Sal: Let’s sum it up to say that I dislike how easily I can get tired of myself. I’ll… answer the other after a chance to think.
Clara: Admit it, you want to see what I say and match how serious or not that is.
Sal: I’ll admit it.
Clara: Okay, well. Sal called me thoughtful but I think I can be thoughtless. I’m a reactive person, so I’m not always the most sensitive to other people’s feelings. I do try to be considerate but I’m not sure they’re always the same thing.
Sal: Well, when you notice you’re being thoughtless, you’re considerate about it.
Clara: Something like that! About Sal, I guess, the same thing she dislikes in herself? Not that I dislike it on my own behalf but it’s painful to not be able to do anything about that. Especially because I don’t like having a routine, so I know I’m often the one taking away those comfortable habits. So it’s not that there’s anything wrong with her but I dislike seeing those moods and knowing that I contribute.
Sal: I suppose that’s fair. It’s hard to match that one. Then, I suppose, what can I say… Clara is messy.
Clara: Oh yeah. Super messy.
Sal: I find her laundry everywhere.
Clara: I mean, I try to mostly keep it in one room.
Sal: It’s a studio apartment.
Q: What part of your life are you willing to spend more money on for quality?
Clara: [instantly] Food and travel! I like going out to restaurants and ordering nice meals and being comfortable while heading across the country. Also, since I’m on the move a lot, I don’t like to own too many things since that can be annoying to deal with, so impermanent things like that suit me better.
Sal: Oh, I like things a lot.
Clara: I wasn’t saying it’s annoying that your things—
Sal: I know. I’m just answering. But my belongings aren’t really the things I like spending money on. I prefer to get them secondhand. It’s a habit after so long running the shop. I suppose… teas? The base teas I purchase need to be good quality or they lose the distinct notes to their flavor, as I understand it. I can’t taste them, but I’ve done this a very long time.
Q: When do you consider it an appropriate time to lie?
Sal: If it’ll discomfit customers if I tell the truth.
Clara: Yeah, that. Not about the actual thing I’m doing for them or what’s up with their Raise or whatever, I’m always going to be truthful about that, but if they’re playing out some kind of personal drama at me like I care. It’s just good customer service.
Sal: ‘Sir, I promise, there is nothing I want more right now than to help you.’
Q: What is your most treasured possession?
Clara: Joanie, of course, although she’s more like a friend. Joanie’s my Raise. I’ve turned her off for the interview, since otherwise you’d never hear a word we say over the sound of her chatter.
Sal: I have a dress I bought about thirty years ago, for my tea shop’s two hundred and fiftieth anniversary celebration. It’s a very sweet and fancy thing. There are carousel horses around the hem. It reminded me of a fairy tale when I bought it. …It’s a little too much to wear out for most occasions, so it’s stayed in good condition.
Q: I know that Clara is a chronic mover. If you two could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? Why?
Sal: I don’t intend to settle down right now.
Clara: Me neither! It’d have to be a place where I could change things up a lot. Hang on, let me search.
Sal: What are you—
Clara: Apparently Argentina’s probably got the most diverse terrain in the world. Waterfalls, mountains, plains, desert. Sal, look at this.
Sal: [leans over]
Clara: Want to go to Argentina?
Q: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Clara: I try not to worry about that too much. I don’t feel the need to change anything, I guess?
Sal: I … actually, I think I had better pass on this question. It is one of those obvious, impossible things, and we’re not bettered for my saying it.
Q: What is the happiest day of your life?
Sal: I think, probably, when I began to learn to cook. Karinne… Ah, Karinne was my previous owner. Karinne was in high spirits, and started to sing out the recipes. I was mesmerized.
Clara: A lot of things make me happy. Is it cheating to say I assume it’s not happened yet?
Sal: Probably. You’ve no way to tell.
Clara: Oh, well. Then… when my parents moved home to be with the family. Lots of joy, lots of tears, lots of laughter.
Q:How do you measure success?
Clara: How happy I am with my choices.
Sal: I don’t know yet. I spent too long fixated on one possibility. But I’m working on learning what it really will mean to me.
Q: What would you like to be remembered for after your death?
Sal: I don’t like to think about Clara dying.
Clara: Me neither, but that’s all right. Hopefully it won’t happen any time soon! Hmm… I guess, mostly, I’d like to have some friendships that stick. Sometimes, moving around as much as I do means I get close to people and then that just… becomes too much for one or both of us to keep up. I’d like to have some people in my life who’ll look back and think about my laughter, or things I did to help them out. My ‘high spirits’, like Sal remembers with Karinne.
Sal: I don’t know when I’ll break. It could be hundreds of years more or ten or five or one. I don’t know what I’ll do between now and then. But I’d like to be remembered for being myself, rather than “that’s the robot who” did whatever I’ll do, if that makes sense.
Clara: Well, whichever of us goes first, we already know we’ll remember that about the other.
Sal: That’s true.
If these two sound like people you’d love to know, I highly highly recommend The Cybernetic Tea Shop. It’s only 65 pages, but this story is unforgettable and so perfect. Plus, it’s only $2.99 on Amazon! Go!
Disclaimer: All links to Indiebound and Amazon are affiliate links, which means that if you buy through those links, I will make a small amount of money off of it.