Author Story Notes
This story is dedicated to the memory of Leelah Alcorn and all those who never made it into the loving arms of the LGBT community. The time has come for change.
Holly Jennings writes from her home in Tecumseh, Ontario. This is her second appearance in Daily Science Fiction.
Her debut novel, Arena, will be released by Ace Books in April, 2016. Described as "The Matrix meets The Hunger Games," it stars a female cyber-athlete inside a corrupt world of fame, venality, and competitive gaming.
For more, follow her (at your own risk) as she attempts to understand twitter @HollyN_Jennings.
Please visit DailyScienceFiction.com for more stories!
"These parts aren't mine," I say. This is the third time I repeat myself.
The man behind the desk stares. Blinks. He doesn't understand. On the wall behind him is a sign:
All androids must clear psychiatric evaluation before shipping.
Around me, dozens of my kind are being questioned and waved through to shipping, like cars at a customs border.
"These parts aren't mine," I say again. I point to my breastplate and my pelvic plate. The man looks me over and curls his lip.
"You're a male bot," he protests. "You were given these parts for a reason."
I slam a hand on the desk. "I'm not male."
Across the room, the manager looks up from his desk and lumbers over, breathing heavy.
"What's the problem?"
"Some kind of glitch," the man says, waving me off. "Gotta reprogram."
My programming is fine. My parts are wrong.
The manager sighs.
"Take him back to processing."
Two guards step forward and slap cuffs against my wrists.
"No," I shout. "You're not listening."
They drag me away, through a set of double doors and into the manufacturing plant. The plant is divided in two sections: parts and programming. They direct me to the latter. I open my mouth to protest again, but a stun gun slams against my neck and jolts. My throat plate screams as it scorches black. I don't scream. I can't.
My voice is gone.
The guards march me up to a programmer, who looks me over and shakes his head. I shake my own and look across the plant, where parts slide by on conveyor belts, where I'm supposed to be.
That's when I see them.
A breastplate and a pelvic plate, the kind I'm meant to have. My circuits surge. My core bristles with energy. When the guards unlock my cuffs, I break free, dash across the plant floor, and dive for the parts. They're in my arms now. They're mine.
Around me, people are shouting.
"What are you doing?"
"Get back here."
Now, I'm the one who's not listening.
On the far wall is another sign. It blinks red.
Klaxons sound. Every guard swivels my way.
I don't stop. I'm not a "him."
When I burst through the door, the cold hits me first, then the smell. I'm in an alleyway turned dumping ground. Mountains of metal and busted parts line the walls. The air reeks of rot. It's disgusting, and it's beautiful.
Because I'm free.
A jolt hits my back, and every circuit seizes. I'm stuck. Can't move. Footsteps stampede out of the plant and cluster behind me.
"Fry the fucker."
The voltage amplifies. My head rocks back, my arms rip apart, and my parts tumble away.
No, no, no. My parts. I need those parts.
Currents shoot through me, rattling me until I nearly break. My circuits scream. They're overloading. I can't take much more.
The stun gun snaps off.
I crumble. My body falls in on itself. I'm a fragment of the heaps now. I'm camouflaged in the garbage.
Where are my parts?
There. Down the pile a little, they've tumbled away. I reach, straining, crawling across the garbage, and draw them into my arms. I'm shaking. I can't stop shaking.
The guards appear over me.
"Leave it. Not worth the trouble."
Something kicks my head.
Footsteps march away, crunching against the metal. Then, it's quiet. Shadows bathe the alleyway in darkness. There's no light here, between buildings so tall. I can't recharge. My batteries will drain and I'll power off. Eventually. Maybe then I'll be at peace.
It's getting colder.
For hours, I'm alone, amongst the discarded, hugging the right parts to the wrong ones. I have no voice. I can't call for help. No one would hear me, anyway. No one would listen.
Then, something shuffles through the wreckage. I cringe, but it's not the heavy footsteps of the guards. Parts ding and clang together in a honky-tonk musical. It grows closer, louder. It's coming toward me. A rat. No, bigger. A dog, perhaps?
"What in the blazes..."
The soft glow of a lantern becomes my spotlight. A face appears above me, shrouded in a heavy cloak. His skin is wrinkled and worn like old leather. His eyes are tight against the wind.
"What are you doing out here?" he asks.
He looks at me. At the burn marks on my throat. At the breast and pelvic plates in my arms. His mouth falls open and his eyes grow soft.
He extends his hand.
"Come with me."
I curl away, clutching the parts to my chest, the chest that's not mine.
"It's okay," he assures me. "I can fix you."
I'm not broken.
I'm just not me.
"I can make you whole," he says.
His fingers wrap around my arm, and his hand is warm. Warmth is good. My parts move better in the warmth.
Can I walk?
He helps me stand.
Together, we head out of the city, straining against the bitter wind and cold. When my parts protest and crumble, he helps me up. When he staggers, I hold him steady. We're beyond the city limits now. Out here, the world is a wasteland. Out here, everything's a shade of grey.
We reach a line of huts. They look like concrete half-bubbles buried in the ground. At the third, he descends the steps, holds the door open, and shuts it behind me. The wind cuts off. The cold is gone. Inside his hut is an umbrella of amity. I'm safe here.
The entire room is a workshop. Spare parts and scrap metal sit in random heaps, like rolling waves of an electronic ocean. Tools line the racks on every wall. Fire lights the hut with a luminescent glow, casting dancing shadows over the walls, the piles, everything.
"This is how I survive," he explains, motioning at the piles of scrap. "Those corporate dolts throw out parts that are perfectly fine. They rely too much on their manuals to tell them what's good." He leans close and speaks softly, as if he's sharing a secret. "They see with their eyes, not with their hearts."
He clears some space on a table, sweeping gizmos, widgets, and metal plates into a new pile. They clang together like wind chimes and tin cans.
"Lay down here."
He reaches for my parts, the ones still in my arms. I tighten my grip and shake my head.
"There, there," he says. "It's time to let go."
It is. It's time. I trust him, and it's warm here.
I release my grip.
His fingers are gnarled and swollen, like roots of an oak tree. But they snatch up his tools and animate beyond expectation, swift purpose stimulating them with life. He hums. Sparks fizzle. Metal whistles against metal. My body becomes his orchestra.
I turn my gaze to the fire. On the mantle sits a picture of two men dressed in suits, champagne glasses raised in a toast. I recognize the eyes of one. They belong to the mechanic hovering over me. He's decades younger. Blissfully wed, the caption says.
Next to it is an urn.
I tilt my head. Hmmm. Peculiar decoration.
The grinding stops. The fizzles cut out. The old man lifts his head.
"All done," he says.
He limps over to the corner, grunting with each step. But like his fingers, he's driven by purpose. He scoops up a mirror, rubs it with his sleeve, and tilts it my way.
My new parts gleam.
He's buffed them until they shine.
Bits of soot still cling to the mirror, caking in the corners and swirling clean in the center. The reflection looks like the sun breaking through the clouds.
My outsides match my insides.
I'm finally me.
He sets the mirror down and collapses into a chair. His breaths are heavy and his arms hang limp over armrests.
"I'll rummage for a speech box tomorrow," he tells me. "You deserve a voice."
I had a voice. No one listened.
"We'll find one that matches you. Something soft and sweet. It'll be ok."
He shivers, scoots closer to the fire, and glances at the picture on the mantle. He animates again, as he always does when he's struck by purpose. This time it's in his eyes. Through them, I see his spouse. Through them, I see a lifetime of happiness.
The hut is empty and quiet. It's been quiet for a long time now. Where is his partner? He must be coming home soon.
I'll wait with the old man.
I sit beside him and offer my hand, as he offered his when I was cold and alone. He takes it instantly, curling his fingers through mine. Through the darkness, we sit together.
Supporting each other.
Until the sky shines with light again.
This story was first published on Friday, September 18th, 2015