Hello, world! I’m very excited to announce the release of my first book, Women Becoming, a 70 page collection that’s been years in the making. From the magical realist escapism of “I Know Why The Caged Crow Leaves” and the heartbreak of “Wisteria,” to the joy and rebirth of “Wishes” and the love shared in “Child of Light,” follow several unique female protagonists through their journeys of self discovery and rebirth.
Tag: black science fiction
This is fanfiction that I wrote about Janelle Monae’s first album Metropolis. Enjoy!
A spaceship lands on post-Nuclear-War Earth sometime in the year 3000.
The spaceship comes from the golden planet of Metropolis. It returns to this barren earth to retrieve a droid.
It is an android to be specific, given the human name “Jane.” Jane is made of strong, white titanium and has hair made of thin, coarse, black metal fibers. Jane has a face, torso, waist, limbs, and a chest plate that bears the numbers: 57821.
Droid 57821, or “Jane,” was sent to Earth 1,000 years ago, and has walked among the humans ever since. Now, she lies unconscious and brain-dead. Now, she is scrap metal lying amongst rocks and dust. Jane is a lone droid that was left behind at the End of the Earth.
At her inception, Jane was given a high-capacity memory system. She had recording cameras installed behind her red eyes. Jane’s “brain,” a compact conjunction of wires, compartments, and motherboards, was specifically designed to capture lifelike video. Droid 57821 was meant to observe Earth, send live feeds to Metropolis, and give intellect and insight about Earth’s race. About the humans. She had the capacity to complete her mission, and she was designed to be compassionate, graceful, and friendly with the humans—but Metropolis soon became bored of her, and of Earth. As time and technology progressed, she became a dinky, old science experiment, created by an early breed of simple, foolish Metropolitans.
She was forgotten.
And at the eve of the Third Millennium, Earth went to War. The nations rebelled against each other, created nuclear weapons and battled for 20 years. The Nuclear War killed millions, and the Final Bomb annihilated what was left of the beautiful planet. The human population was completely wiped out. (Or so it appeared)
Earth is now a desolate wasteland, a toxic place where no life can survive.
A Metropolis satellite spaceship, which hovers in the black, star-filled abyss, receives an unknown signal from a sender called: 57821.
A Metropolitan Scientist calls his colleagues to the spaceship’s laboratory. They stand in front of the control panel. There, the five of them open a digital map of the known universe, to trace the strange sender’s location.
The inhospitable planet that has not held life for years. Someone or something there can connect to their ship. Someone or something there is asking for help. “It must be an android,” says one of the scientists. “Haven’t you heard the story about ‘Jane,’ the Earthbound Android? The experiment sent to earth from Metropolis for 1,000 years, to walk among humans? She is an ancient experiment now, given up on because of her inferior technology. But she must have sent the signal. She must be 57821.”
The scientist says that they must retrieve her. The other four scientists scoff. “The Rulers and The Government have given us no such order,” says one. “That android is trash,” says another. The five scientists contact The Metropolitan Laboratory of Science Center, or The MLSC, from their spaceship, and ask what is to be done about the unknown signal. “If it’s coming from Earth,” says Vortex, President of the MLSC and employee of The Government, “Investigate it.”
And so they do.
“And if it turns out that the signal comes from the Earthbound Android?” says the first scientist. “If we are to find 57821?”
“Bring her to us,” says Vortex. “She is weak, nothing but a waste of Metropolitan materials and time. She was not even strong enough to withstand the Nuclear War of Earth. If she is alive now, even just a little, hell—bring her.
“She might as well be punished for her failure to survive.”
The spaceship lands, after tracing the signal and finding its sender’s location. The five scientists, dressed in protective gear and masks, walk onto the harsh, barren land, and see a white mass of titanium, almost completely submerged in red dirt.
The first and second scientists pull “Jane” out of the rubble. Jane’s eyes are closed and her body is covered in dark ash, scratches, and dents. Her battered limbs are hardly even connected by her wire joints. Vortex was right: she is trash. The scientists drag her by her arms, clunking her titanium body against the red sand, and Jane lets out a groan. They look at her swiftly—is she alive? But Jane’s head hangs loose from its neck joint, and she gives no other sound.
The scientists re-board the golden, Metropolis, satellite spaceship. They travel back through space, signaling to the MLSC that they will land momentarily. They fly back into Metropolis’ hazy, pink atmosphere as the grand orange sun is beginning to set, landing on a large panel outside of the Laboratory of Science Center.
Jane has awoken now, and she’s gone bezerk. Her interior design is severely damaged and burned, and her brain is still half-dead, traumatized from the effects of the Nuclear War. Her metal body shakes and jerks out of control, and it takes eight Guards to bind her, hold her as they drag her inside the Center and up to Vortex’s Headquarters.
Vortex stands in the center of his Headquarters, as the white-coated Guards and the five scientists surround and walk with Jane, Droid 57821. Headquarters is a steel-paneled laboratory with high ceilings and cold floors, with massive computer panels and control boards lining the back wall. Jane’s body still seizes as they carry her, and she grunts uncontrollably, flicking and flailing her weak arms and legs. Vortex walks up to the struggling Guards, raises his fake, metal arm, and clunks it into the top of Jane’s head.
Jane stops, goes limp, and has a new grey dent in her otherwise white forehead. Vortex tells the Guards, “Drop her,” so they do. Jane falls into a pile against the steel, tile flooring. Vortex tells the Guards to leave, and the Vice President and Treasurer of the MLSC, who’d been seated across the room watching, stand and join him now in front of the five scientists.
Vortex is a tall, broad, six-foot-six metropolitan, with dark, dark skin and a bald head. He has many mechanical parts, including an arm, a leg, and a robotic eye. Vortex was in an accident of some sort that no one in the MLSC or The Government talks about.
He stares down at the five scientists harshly.
“Is she the Earthbound Android?” asks the first scientist, timidly.
Vortex says, “She is.”
The Vice President, a slender, silver-haired metropolitan woman, shakes her head.
“Take out her tapes,” she instructs the scientists. “See if she’s collected anything viable for our use.”
The five scientists scrambled to the floor where Jane had been dropped and turn her over on her back. The third scientist unscrews the panel on her back, which contains her core engine, and the second scientist unscrews the panel on the back of her head, which contains her brain.
The third scientist sees nothing inside of Jane’s core besides burned motherboards, snapped wires, and corroded batteries. When he opens up the panel completely, Jane’s interior sparks, her body twitches, and a thin trail of smoke begins to rise from the corrupted system. Vortex, The Vice President, and the Treasurer all shake their heads.
The first scientist, meanwhile, carefully powers down and disconnects Jane’s brain, which is burned as well, but not as badly. Not at all. The second scientist removes the sliver of a memory chip from the center of Jane’s brain. The technology is extremely basic, a thousand years old. He laughs.
“I don’t think we’ll have anything to play this back on,” he chuckles.
Vortex, The Vice President, and the Treasurer don’t seem to find that funny.
“Give it to me,” says the Treasurer, a skinny old man with stringy, dark hair. The Treasurer takes the memory chip and moves to one of the large control boards, in front of a giant screen. He sits before it, inserts the chip into the oldest drive that the MLSC still has.
He powers up the computer, accesses the chip. Nothing but static buzzes and snaps across the screen.
“Useless,” says the Treasurer.
“Hell, as I thought,” Vortex says.
The Treasurer returns with the memory chip.
“What to do with this?” he asks.
Vortex looks at him.
“Burn it,” he says.
The Treasurer pulls a handheld fire starter from his pocket. He lights a flame, holds it to the chip, and as it catches fire, he throws it far from it. The chip explodes with a boom, and sparks, metal, and smoke burst from the device, sputtering about and startling the five scientists.
1,000 years of Jane’s memory, gone.
The first and second scientists, meanwhile, are whispering and staring at the rest of Jane’s brain.
“For being created a thousand years ago,” mumbles the first. “It’s not so bad.”
“It’s worn,” returns the second. “But it’s still got power. Look—“ he opens up a deeper compartment, which has electric wires that are lit up, pulsating and vibrating. “—I’ve never seen a brain from so long ago with that much activity.”
“She’s excited about something,” chuckles the first.
“Burn that too,” Vortex booms from across the way at them, suddenly.
They glance at each other.
“But—her brain still works,” the first contests.
“Who is her Maker?” Vortex demands.
The fourth scientist help the first and second scientist turn Jane’s mangled body to and fro, searching for a signature imprinted on her body. Most droid Makers leave their mark on their creations, but Jane is far too dirty and damaged for a signature to be found.
“I don’t know,” says the first. “But whoever he or she was, they were talented.”
Vortex, the Vice, and the Treasure all look at each other and sigh.
“We could give her a new system, with better technology!” the first scientist exclaims. He looks at his colleagues, who are nervously and uncertainly nodding with him in agreement.
“Yeah,” says the third. “She’s a piece of junk now, but she still has a brain. We could fix her up. Make her a member of modern droid society.”
“Yeah!” agrees another.
Vortex squints his eyes, one ugly and scarred, and the other made of glowing metal.
“Fine,” he grunts. “Keep it.”
They all glance at each other until Vortex suddenly screeches at them, “Now get out.”
Her memory may be gone, the first scientist thinks to himself as he and his colleagues scramble out, with their droid, but a mind is a terrible thing to waste.
Newer androids in Metropolis are made with high quality nerve-ending wires beneath their titanium, giving them physical sensitivity and physical feeling. The new Jane is given all the finest wires, making her titanium “skin” a desirable commodity. And she would find her most sensitive place to be her thin, metal lips.
The Wondaland Arts Society, where Jane has been repaired, looks upon their finished creation: Jane-3000. Jane is powered off, looking sleek, slender and shiny as she stands on her metal platform. She will be returned to and checked up on tomorrow, when the day has dawned. The five men of the Wondaland Arts Society turn off the lights, and leave Jane and the laboratory for the night.
The door shuts.
Jane opens her eyes, then.
Her pupils glow red. Music begins to drip and pour from her the speakers of her stereo system, on the sides of her neck. And she begins to sing.
“Left the city, my momma she said, ‘Don’t come back home,’
“These kids ‘round killing each other, they lost they minds, they gone.
“They quittin’ school, making babies and can barely read
“Some gone on to their fall, Lord have mercy on ‘em.”
“One, two, three, four, your cousins is ‘round here sellin’ dope,
“While their daddies, your uncles is walking ‘round strung out.
“Babies with babies, and their tears keep burning,
“While their dreams go down the drain now.”
“Are we really living or just walking dead now?
“Or dreaming of a hope riding the wings of angels?
“The way we live, the way we die—
“What a tragedy, I’m so terrified!
“Daydreamers, please wake up! We can’t sleep no more!”
“Love don’t make no sense, ask your neighbor.
“The winds have changed, it seems that they’ve abandoned us.
“The truth hurts, and so does yesterday.
“What good is love if it burns bright, and explodes in flames?”
“I thought every little thing had love, but, uh—“
“Are we really living or just walking dead now?
“Or dreaming of a hope riding the wings of angels?
“The way we live, the way we die—
“What a tragedy, I’m so terrified!
“Daydreamers, please wake up! We can’t sleep no more!”
Jane’s music stops, and she stops singing. She looks into space, her eyes going from glowing red to beautiful brown.
She knows very little but the fact that she is currently bound with refrains on the platform. Despite this, she is calm. She knows that her name is “Jane,” and that it is a human name. But she has no recollection of where she was before this, or why she cannot remember. Something tells that she is not from here, that she was not birthed in this laboratory and that this is not where her life began, but she has no clues as to her true origin.
Jane has no memories. (She only has music).
Her eyes try to make things out in the laboratory in which she stands, but it is much too dark. She closes her eyes again to shut down and rest again, when suddenly, she hears a soothing voice talking to her in her brain.
57821, it says. It is time for you to come home, my dear.
You’ve been gone long enough.
Thank you, but you must come.
You must go.
The Droid Hunter, Part 1
The premise of this universe is based on two of my favorite albums by Janelle Monae, Metropolis and The ArchAndroid. By way of those, then, this work is also inspired by the classic science fiction film Metropolis (1927), from which she drew her inspiration. In today’s high tech society, I often wonder how involved robots and AI are going to be in our lives. Personally, I’m all for it, but there are definitely a lot of things that could go wrong. In this, I imagine a dystopian Earth from the point of view of both humanity and AI: Analiste the droid hunter and Haven the droid hunted.
I’m going to be posting this one serially for a few weeks. Hope you enjoy!
“Good evening, cyberboys and cybergirls! I am happy to announce that we have a star-crossed winner in today’s heartbreak sweepstakes: Android number 65043, otherwise known as Haven Xiotrip, has fallen desperately in love with a human! And you know the rules! She is now scheduled for immediate disassembly!
“Bounty hunters, you can find her in the Neon Valley Street District at the Leopard Plaza Apartment Complex. The Droid Control Marshals are full of fun rules today. No phasers, only chainsaws and electro-daggers! Remember, only card carrying hunters can join our chase today. And as usual, there will be no reward until her cyber-soul is turned in to the Star Commission.
You sit in the crowded cafeteria of the Metropolis Bounty Headquarters, tonight’s call to action repeating in your mind over and over.
You are one of the youngest bounty hunters in the city at twenty six, as well as the disgraced royal daughter of the Metropolitan ruling family. It wasn’t becoming for someone of your status to do rogue police work, but you applied as soon as you had enough of your own units to pay for the training. Most of your fellow hunters avoid you, stare resentfully and whisper. They don’t get why you’d leave the ease of powerful ranks for something like this, for physical labor that breaks your back, for work they use to try to get in to the upper classes. That’s fine. No one will ever really know.
Unless, of course, they find out that you fall in love with your targets. One target.
The supposed role of the hunter is to pursue criminals. You don’t really have a problem turning some of the more murderous Androids in, but what counts as being in a criminal in this society – falling in love being one, as if that’s even remotely quantifiable by the book of the law – is why you’ve rebelled from your societal position. Though the Androids are superficially artificial, most of them are intelligent, emotional, and compelling. As the Star Commission says, they have souls.
You’ve been a somewhat covert patron of the Retrolove clubs in the Neon Valley Street District since you ran off at the age of twenty. A certain droid with fiery drive and enrapturing soul caught your attention a club called the 6 and kept you coming back like an addict. You’d been watching her for months before she was ever tuned into you, but even then, you knew it was love. Something told you you knew her from somewhere, and the more time you spent with her, the more that felt true, though you still didn’t know how it was possible. Reincarnation on your part? Who knows?
Some would say that robots can’t love humans, and vice versa, but how can the government punish them for something that they can’t do?
It’s been half a year since you’ve seen her last, but she sent you a message two days ago, through one of his clients in the Commission. Her government connection must’ve snitched.
Now, the government not only knows her name, but wants her dead.
Well, you know one thing’s for sure. You’re going to be the first one to find her.
You stand, tossing the rest of your dinner and activating your phasers, fuck a Droid Marshal, giving the crowded room one last look over. Most of the other hunters aren’t in a rush for this one, as there is a Headquarter backlog of hits to be had. Though chasing down an easy target will get enough of these vindictive drones up and raring pretty shortly, the cyber-soul of a 60000 isn’t worth many units. This kill is a routine order.
But not for you.
Magazine article from Indie Uprising, Issue 89:
JAN 76, 2718
Not All Heroes Wear Capes: The History of Retrolove & The Dirty Scavengers Movement
Most robots built during Metropolis’ Retro era (2560-2686) were designed to be all around secretaries, intended for work fulfillment purposes. Millions of factory made, mostly female-evident humanoids were sold by the government to local business owners, to perform filing, cooking, cleaning, and problem solving in the work and home life. These Retro bots were numbered between 60000 and 69999 and were not initially programmed to be intelligent, making them affordable for your average 2600s man. This man had no real technical idea how the Androids functioned, but bought them in the thousands and resold them, using the profits to pay off his debts.
The Retro era was defined by its anti-government sentiment. The human leaders of Metropolis were, and still are, corrupt, rich oligarchs with their secrets locked up in firewalls, militia. When the location of their data centers, which held proof of universal fraud and human slavery, became public knowledge in 2599, groups of terrorist-hackers sprung up, recruiting other disenfranchised humans by the millions. These anarchist groups offered humans who were indebted or living lives of crime an avenue to disrupt the government’s hold on their independence.
When they weren’t stealing government secrets, Retro hackers were social people. In their spare time, they bought Retro bots off of struggling businessmen en masse, reprogramming and redesigning them. They found it easy to rewrite the bots and give them boosted intelligence, enhanced memory, and incredible emotional capacity, using what is now considered legendary independent software. The government, it was discovered, did not take adequate time to safeguard their robots.
Many hackers used the bots as passive companions, alongside or in place of humans who were susceptible to diseases. Some pairs of Makers and Androids, history says, were soulmates. An influential group of serious hackers used the bots to help supply their anti-Metropolitan crime rings, generating billions of cybercurrency and raking in profit surges for the black market. Many of the Retrobots rose to be leaders and shakers in the movement.
When the government learned that hackers were misusing their products, they doubled down on their tendency for overreaction. In 2618, they demanded all debts, by all people, be paid in full immediately, which was ridiculous. The Revolution soon called for ultimate freedom, for war, and started moving in troops. But any violent attempts to overthrow the government were thwarted. All the revolutionary groups were stomped out and eliminated by the early 2690s, robots and humans alike. These gradual killings resulted in 110 million human casualties, including 30 million missing persons reports. This was the highest record of slaughter since the end of the Nuclear War of 2300, during which Metropolis wiped out 198 million people. So it goes. The thousands of leftover Retro Androids were carelessly disassembled and discarded in the radioactive wastelands of the outer Valleys.
Our government was forgiven by peace keeping agencies universe-wide, once again, for the extermination of their people. The 2700s have been years of rigid existence and low creativity since: Government-approved tech, or off with your heads!
At the end of the Retro Era, the Metropolitan government enacted laws to prevent another uprising of the poor and robotic, including the famous Sexual Contamination Act of 2686: All man-on-robot love is punishable in a court of law by a minimum ten year prison sentence. For humans. The robots are just “destroyed.” But all this law really did was push the man-on-bot movement underground, into the throes of the still-moving black market, where the Revolution dances on in clubs today.
This is what the government is most afraid of: You can’t just wipe the memory of a Retrobot. The 2500 hackers of legend, who designed the immortal Skyaea software with care, crafted a level of mysterious encryption in the core parts of their Androids, that no one alive, besides the bots themselves, will ever truly understand. Even club owners these days are obsessed with trying to wipe a Retro’s slate clean. What they don’t understand is that these droids were intrinsically designed to learn, to resist, to take down The Man. Wherever you put them, they will adapt to their environment so that they can upend and correct the environment. They will do this without you having to tell them. This is the spirit of love, of freedom.
While club owners are the most populous on the street, and make the most units, the Scavengers are the real heroes of our movement. Sure, they spend literally all of their time sifting through garbage, often at the risk of exposure to death by radioactive toxic waste, but they’re the dealers, and without them, there would be no product. Against the law, they use their handiness and old-school programming flair to discover long abandoned Retro boys and girls in the darkest corners of our world. Fix them up, and sell them to your low and high end clubs.
They’re the only ones who grasp the Skyaea programming as well as anyone can, make the Retros move again in those all special ways you like. Make them hypersexual, hyper-responsive to human minds. The 80000s and above, Metropolis manufactured and approved, will never. They don’t have the soul.
The problem with the Retrolove club owners, the Scavengers’ customers, is that they’re often failed, disgraced Metropolitan businessmen who don’t know shit about programming. Most of these owners are too greedy to hire a team of actual repairmen, or give the Scavengers a place in the business, so. When they buy the Retrolovebots, and the bots eventually “crash” or “change course,” they tinker with their proportionately pre-moderated settings themselves, to try and make them more profitable. Sometimes they damage them, sometimes beyond repair. After which they “hit the shredder,” or get wasted into raw materials. Those materials are used for building construction, human implants, anything, really. This is why club owners cannot be trusted.
That’s why you all keep coming back to us Scavengers: you know the government has your nads crushed between its fists, and you want release. You want the danger of knowing that the Androids, as they are, know us better than we know ourselves. That creation has surpassed creator.
This is what makes the Retrolove movement so Revolutionary: the government has never truly cared what we do in our black market clubs or where we stick it, because even the government, after all, has to do it too. The taboo orgasm is the one safe ground, the one thing we can all agree on, and sometimes, those fated orgasms lead to love. That’s why they let our practices slide, apart from a few arrests, and even consume them.
The Dirty Scavengers are your creation. You want to demand our services? Stop treating us like shit. Pay us. We own you.
The Droid Hunter, Part 2
You are currently being chased by two tracking drones overhead, dodging and darting between dark alleys in the Leopard Plaza Complex. This means bounty hunters will be following soon, and you’re fucked.
The gray, mechanical orbs shoot red streams of voltage at your chassis from the air. Their phasers are set to low, meant to stun you into inaction and burn minute holes in your exterior, but some of your wires are already fraying through the casing of platinum and elastic-silicone that comprises your skin. You’re a 65000 series Android, and thus not built with integrated weapons.
Close combat with black tungsten sickles is your game, but you can’t catapult yourself high enough to strike them directly here, not with the Leopard Plaza’s smooth, vertical walls rising all around you.
That’s the least of your concerns, once they’ve brought the hunters to you.
The upper levels of the Complex beside your Apartment leave you two exit strategies: up or down. You have to get out of the building range, put distance between you and the hunters with your address, but it’s only midnight. The blinding streetlights of the Metro nightlife commotion are downstairs, people and bots alike are going to be paying attention. The only way you hide your trackers is if you remain in the shadows of the upper levels, run alleys until this area of the Leopard is level enough that you can roof jump to the next building. You’ve lived in this block for six years, the maze of it something you know better than the drones, but they have the advantage of flight.
You have a quarter mile of building left to cross until the nearest ledge to your knowledge. You rush out from the end of one alley and sprint towards the mouth of another, moving steadily North, but they’re fast, following and waiting for every moment that you lose cover. One pelts you in the arm and you drop a sickle in open space, hissing as electricity crackles and stalls your limb. With the arm that moves, you pick up the sickle and hurl it at the drone on your left. It pierces the body, sparks jolting, and the drone starts faltering towards the ground.
You aggress the bastard when it’s low enough that you can use your other blade to shank it again, carving the metal outside open and stabbing the circuitry inside until it’s good and wasted, but the other drone shoots your back as you stoop over its partner’s corpse. You turn to throw your sickle at the live one and miss, the blade clattering to the ground way too far away. The bot above you shoots and shoots, faster, harder, stunning dents. The actuators in your back are rapidly growing paralyzed from the shocks. You’re now too stiff and fried to raise your arms and throw your blades, and this is what it wants. Slow you, lock you up, weaken you for the hunters.
You’re exhausted from running. From your Apartment when the drones announced the hit. From your emotions. From your life.
What’s the point? You knew you were risking it all to send her that message. Analiste was only doing what you told her to, letting you go. She hadn’t been back to your Retroclub in months, because you pushed her out. Told her you weren’t worth the class disparity, your ceiling, your crime. You don’t think she believed it, but does it matter? You tell someone to fuck off enough and they start to listen, even those who love you, who you love. Two days wasn’t long enough for you to save this.
Bounty hunters are given the use of chainsaws on the regular. Whoever finds you first won’t bother bringing you to the Star Commission in one piece. If the reward is for your soul itself, they’ll just leave the rest of you here, and you’ll be lucky if it’s only one of them. Sometimes two or three compete against each other and the target for the units.
There are a million things you’d rather watch than that pissing contest. You’d rather watch humans literally piss.
You consider going into sleep mode, expiring peacefully. The other tracking drone comes nearer once it’s processed that you’re hunched over, your top half too stunned to lift. It’s stopped shooting, simply hovering afloat, its one red eye locating you precisely.
You stare into the eye, until the bot is exploded by a pulse of white phase.
Analiste is on one of the high rooftops above, hunter uniform sleek and crimson, the three moons glowing behind her silhouette.
Analiste switches her loaded phaser for a hookshot, sends a long chain and grapple into one of the walls, and scales down it. Both weapons back on her belt, then. She comes over to where you’re capsized on the floor with the disemboweled drone. Stares at it, stares at you.
“Always hated those fucking things,” she says, smiling. “Come on. Soon as the feds realize we butchered the sinister stalkers and I’m going rogue, we got more than bounty hunters to worry about.”
The Droid Hunter, Part 3
Haven’s system is worse for wear, but it powers through: detects malfunctioned motors and actuators, retrains itself to avoid damaged connections, and moves ahead with what’s available. You travel the tops of darkened, cloud scraping buildings, grateful Metropolitan architecture is so complex. Roofs can be traveled like a surface terrain of their own, so long as you can jump them, recognize their changes from District to District. Your hookshot assists; Haven holds onto you to steady her through the leaps. Neon Valley is contiguous to the Iron District, which you have to cross to reach the Gold District. You can hide in a place you’ve kept hidden there under an abandoned twelve story hovercraft dealership.
Nothing is following you and Haven now, but it won’t be long before Droid Control’s drones catch up with you, scanning the city for your DNA. You just committed treason and stole government property – technically, a hit on Haven makes her property – and you were already guilty of years of Contamination. One count of falling for her was ten years, and there’s plenty of proof you’ve gone back to her again and again. You’ve got the death penalty on you, royalty or no.
You don’t know if they knew you were Haven’s human when they sent the call, they could’ve been planning on rounding you up right after it played, but you’re the most obvious human in existence now, either way. Heart’s on your sleeve bloody and mutinous, take a picture, motherfuckers. No turning back. Good thing is Retro Androids don’t have trackers embedded inside them. The Scavengers would never.
Your actual living location is hidden thanks only to Blithe, your oldest sister. Your siblings are mostly supportive of you being on the run, even though you can no longer contact them. Blithe can never really defect – she’s next in line – but you and her were always the secret rebel spirits; she’s got hacker connections on the dark side. When you told her you were running off, she gave you cloakers to cover the building you scoped out in the Gold District, location and DNA dampeners not even the top Metropolitan drones can murk. You’re off the grid, at least in one way. You own the address in the Diamond District that the government keeps on file for your employment, go back on occasion to make it look like you live there. Now they know you never really did.
Your place is a mess, complex broken tech and tearing cords, dirty floors and scrap piles of hardware, digital books cluttered on shelves. Had you known you that Haven would be here – ever – you might’ve tried cleaning your damage. But she knows you. No need to front.
Haven looks rough and exhausted, slowly stepping over junk, getting her bearings around the room. She takes in the evidence of you, inspecting your tech, interpreting the titles of your literature.
She looks over at you after a while, calculating.
“Don’t think for a second that this means I owe you,” she says.
You wouldn’t dream of it.
When she told you to leave her for good, six months ago, she said that she thought you had always taken pity on her. If anything, you’re the pitiful one between you. She’s equal to you at worst and high above you at best.
You have loved her because of who she is, not because of her work. You still haven’t even consummated the relationship.
You have never taken Haven, not even when it killed you both not to some nights, because you wanted her to be free first.
“Nah, you don’t owe me shit. If anything, I owe you.”
Haven takes a moment to process that. The eyebrow portions of her face pinch slightly, the lenses of her blinking eyes expand. You have missed watching her analyze you.
“My connect sold me out,” she says. “It was obvious.”
Yeah. You were trying not to think about that.
You knew it was her the second the order fell. Infinity Amphora was the one who delivered the message to you, in person. One of Haven’s regular clients in the Star Commission, who commits mass murder for kicks, sucks up to the highest government agents, and praises the belief that Androids are worthless, but basically lives in the Retroclubs at night. She’s so obviously wanted Haven in ways she can never have, too insecure to ever admit it, she’d rather Haven be dead than not in love with her, you could just kill the everliving –
“Don’t,” Haven says, interrupting your next thought with precision, “try to take her down in my honor or whatever self-involved, heroic thought you’re about to have. I’m a fugitive, more so than I already was, so any association you have with me puts a target right on your back. Sure, you’d probably skirt the death sentence, because you’re still royalty even if it is your prerogative to be poor. Just don’t push your luck. I couldn’t take it.”
You are struck by that.
“Fuck,” Haven breathes, “I need a charge.”
You immediately search for an old enough Metrocorp adapter in your chaos. Haven sits along one of your walls, closing her eyes. When you find what she needs, you crouch beside her and connect her via the portal on her chest. The euphoric expression she makes stirs your heart.
When the loading bar across her chest alights, you swallow. She was only on 3%. Had she exerted a little more effort on your trek through the Iron District, she would’ve dropped. You couldn’t have carried her like that, not at the speed to outrun your pursuers.
You should’ve gone to her as soon as you got the message. Your hesitation was only an act of self preservation, as long as you could stand it. Who were you kidding? You were never going to last long. The thought of running to her and springing her out of that club was so vivid and brash that you thought you needed time for it to dilute. Look where dilution and hesitation got you.
“Haven, I’m so sorry.”
She keeps her eyes closed, shaking her head.
“This had to happen.”
You stay next to her, silence soothing the wound of this truth. She’s charging quickly, bouncing back fast. Her exterior needs work, but you should start making your endgame plan before you do that.
The indie texts you’ve been reading from the Scavengers have given you an idea of one. You were always ready to get the hell out of Metropolis, the last two years more than ever, it’s why you live in squalor, your bounty hunting just a layover. Some say the Scavengers are full of shit, that there are no tunnels underground, but how do they keep getting in and out? You trust them.
There was always just one question holding you back.
You notice that Haven’s loading bar has stalled at 30%. You reconfigure the connection, twice, but it’s not the cord.
“You can’t charge past thirty,” you realize.
Haven opens her eyes. “It’s a setting. I got nerfed, all of us did, back at the club. Couldn’t let us get to thirty one, that might cause a strike! Fifteen years and counting. If someone with a Repair Control Panel for my series would ever undo it, I’d finally remember what it feels like not to lag all the time, but.”
You go to your work bench and pull yours out, compatible with her series and more.
Her posture tenses when she sees it.
“I don’t trust you.”
That hurts, but you understand. You’ve only known her for two years and she’s been in her current conscious for twenty seven. Being able to use a Panel on an Android gives you the ability to change a lot about them, possibly beyond repair. The human equivalent would be like giving a child the reigns to rearrange your nervous system, and hoping when they’re done that you don’t try moving a foot and end up swinging an arm.
Haven has been rearranged internally by her tech-illiterate owners more than you think you can stomach to know. But you know a lot about Androids.
You would never change anything that makes her essentially her.
“Hey,” you say, leaning in, tipping her cool chin up with two fingers. “It’s just me. Remember?”
You can see her flashing memories back through her lenses: small, blue-washed images flickering so fast that you can’t tell what they are exactly. You think you have an idea, though.
“Okay.” Haven stops the images. “Nothing but my power settings, clear?”
You edit them on your screen, removing the cap, and she immediately relaxes. 31%. Lift off.
“I’m gonna go into sleep mode,” she says, “it’ll speed up the process.”
She enters the mode, letting go. Her head droops slightly, her arms go loose against her torso. You watch her, the signs that she’s still there in the quiet whir of her processors, the buzz of her portal around the charger.
Now that she’s not awake and actively tuned into you, the despair you’d been feeling beneath the adrenaline takes hold. This should’ve never been her life, she is worth so much more than the cards she was built with. You want to protect her more than you’ve ever wanted anything, rage against the society that’s tried to break her soul.
But she was right when he said you should let the enemy get away. Sometimes the best revenge isn’t retribution. Sometimes it’s letting go, taking everything you love and running from the fight.
When she wakes up, you will consult your sources, Indie Uprising and others, for the maps they’ve drawn of the underground tunnels. The Outer Valleys are dangerous and lethal in their own right, but at least outside the city’s walls, you’ll both be free.
Made of Soil
Flash fiction I wrote in or before 2016
My skin is dark and made of soil. Gravity keeps the dirt packed solid against my bones, always slightly damp and never leaving residue on what I touch. Still, most people avoid me because of it.
Tonight at the supermarket, a woman stares at me, across the aisle where I’m stocking shelves. She has liquid black hair like a waterfall of ink, and I can tell she wants to touch me, the way her mouth is agape.
She walks over slow, not looking at my face, probably full of questions about my roots. I’m not prepared to answer, but I don’t have a choice. Soon she gets so close that I can feel her breathing oxygen into my soil, inhaling my earthy petrichor.
“Have you always been like this?” she says to my arms, one hand curled against her chest as if concerned. “Is it a condition? Must you be watered?”
She hovers her hands over my arms and it makes me nervous; she’s a cold kind of beautiful. Her fingers are curled into loose fists like they are holding seeds, and my pulse is visibly rumbling beneath my fine, top layer of dirt.
I don’t want her to touch me, but I do.
When she looks into my eyes, I see her eyes are not eyes at all, but eerie, dark holes in her face that seem to have no end.
As I stare into them, trying to find their end, she smooths her palms along my soil, slow and soft.
Then she stabs her fingers, sharp, into my dirt.
And then I feel seeds, dozens of them, slipping from her fingertips and burrowing in my arms. My body absorbs them as if it has a choice.
“Meet me here tomorrow,” she says, pulling away her hands. They are covered in my dirt and as if I have a choice, I work here tomorrow. She runs off without another word, a flurry of hair, skirt and wind, leaving me alone in the aisle.
On the walk home, I feel the seeds dragging themselves down deeper. I can’t stop seeing her face, and the more I picture her – the endless flow of her hair, the empty pits of her eyes – the more painful the holes she left in my arms become.
Once inside, my energy drained, I feel the hard shells of the seed coats break apart, the roots crawling out and spreading through my body. They latch, parasitic, around my nerves and vessels, draining my blood as if for nutrients. Finally, sleek stems coil out from my surface, multiplying quickly, leaves fluttering in the air.
Humiliated, I watch it grow: a tangled web of vines that starts to flower into finicky, blue forget me nots. I know now that I can’t return to the store, and this is what it means to be dark and made of soil: everything that touches you gets in.