‘Galatea's Stepchildren’, Sam S. Kepfield

Illustrations © 2009 Rachel H. White


 [ jennifer, © 2009 Rachel H. White ]


I.

ENTRY 6.12.63

There are many of me here. i am blond and brunette with green eyes and blue and brown and have i different names. i am jennifer, i have red hair and green eyes and i am three years old. There is another me, she is called megan, with a blond ponytail, wearing a dark suit, sitting at a computer desk, typing. The me named lori with curly brown hair stands in a kitchen, clad in a simple blue sleeveless dress, mopping a spotless floor. By her, redheaded sara in maroon scrubs tends the bedside of bandaged blond dana. We live in this room in between our other homes, we go away but always come back. Sometimes it is good that i come back. The other mes don't say.

A soft chiming at the front door and the first customer enters.

He is young, no more than thirty. Tall and handsome. Dark blonde hair past ears to the collar, his face is clean-shaven. It is a strong face. He is dressed in loose earth-colored clothes.

Our manager greets him. The name on his tag says DANIEL. The man smiles, and begins looking at us. i listen to them.

"What are your needs?" DANIEL asks.

"Secretarial," he replies.

"Excellent. All of our models can be programmed for office work. They can type 200 words a minute with no errors, perfect every time," DANIEL says, like a little boy trying to please his father. "What kind of business?"

"Hmm?" the customer says, inspecting megan. "VR therapy, with some software design on the side. I need someone to keep track of appointments, shipping, receipts and sales. I can't seem to keep any human help for more than a couple of months."

"Ahh," DANIEL says, "a very lucrative business."

The customer nods, walks towards me. He stops in front of my display, his pale green eyes not drifting down to size up cleavage chastely concealed or hips, but staring into mine as i gently rock the child-thing in my arms. He stares a long time. His eyes are blue. i try harder for the blank look of celine next to me in an apron or kerrie in the display on the other side in a ankle length dress, sitting cross-legged on a floor with three children and bright plastic toys scattered around.

He points at me. "That one," he says. "The jennifer there, in the corner."

"An excellent choice," Daniel says, strolling up to me, customer in tow. "She's a 17000 series, three years old, like new."

"Well-treated, then, I presume?"

"Oh, absolutely. Perfect condition." DANIEL is lying, he knows he is lying.

"Prior leases?"

"Three. Each for a year." But there was Jeffrey, pining for his long-dead Eva dead and ash in a pit outside Atlanta and putting a gun to his temple after two months so he doesn't count. "Nearly all our leases lapse after a year. The longest I've ever seen is two years. Customers don't want the same model around for longer than that."

The customer gives me a close-once over, and in a soft, distracted voice, almost whispers, "No, I don't suppose they would, would they?" He and DANIEL go back into DANIEL's office and sign some papers.

That afternoon they take me to the room with the couch in it. DANIEL and CRAIG lay me on the couch. CRAIG puts his hands on my breasts. I think he will do the bad things, but then he plugs the wires into my head. They are putting new things in there. It tickles. They do this every time. When they are done i know new things.


<download>

18 U.S.C. §2262 (2060 Ed.)

(a) Any person who contracts, leases, or covenants, or assists another to contract, lease, or covenant, to transport an artificial intelligent life form, i.e, android, for the purpose of sexual conduct, or who engages in sexual conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct, shall be punished under subsection (e) if such person knows or has reason to know that such visual depiction will be transported in interstate commerce either electronically or through the mails. . .

(e) Any person who violates, attempts or conspires to violate this section shall be fined under this title and sentenced to no less than twenty (20) nor more than thirty-five (35) years in prison. Any person with a prior conviction under this section, or with a prior conviction for sexually-motived offenses under state law, or under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, shall be fined and sentenced to no less than forty (40) nor more than life in prison. . .

II.

ENTRY 6.13.63

They deliver me the next morning in a van. BILL drives me. i can see a city outside the window. It is dirty, and a lot of the buildings are empty or broken. i can't see many people.

The van stops in front of a building. BILL gets out. He opens the door for me. The man is there. He signs some papers. BILL leaves. The man takes my hand, leads me inside. It is cool and dark inside the office.

"Good morning, jennifer. My name is Jason." His voice is soft, and kind. He is nice. "Let me show you what you're going to do to help me." i hope it isn't the bad things, the things the others do.

Inside is a big room with lots of windows. He shows me everything. Some of the names are funny—reception area, VR therapy rooms. The VR therapy rooms are small cubicles rooms. They are dark, with a big couch in the middle, just like my couch room.

He shows me my desk. It is big, and has a computer on it. Something tickles in my head as i sit down and press a key to turn it on. He shows me shipping software, appointment software, client lists, the referral and billing process from the major clinics and court services offices in the region.

At nine, the first client arrives. She is an older lady. Her name is Karen. She needs a cane to walk. Her eyes are funny, too. Sometimes she is looking at me, sometimes she is looking at me but it's like she doesn't see me. Jason takes her into the therapy room.

There are a lot of clients. A lot of them have injuries. One man is missing an arm, one lady named Gail is missing her legs and is in a wheelchair. One man named Terry sits in the chair and talks to himself. He is scary, his hair is messy, and he smells bad.

Before they leave, i set new appointments, help with paperwork for USMed. The last of them leaves at just after seven p.m. Jason locks the door behind a young man wearing dirty camouflage pants and boots. i wait for the bad thing.

"Let's leave," Jason says, motioning to the door. He leads me out the back door, to his car. It's called a MUSTANG. It doesn't look like the other cars i have seen. Jason sees me looking at it. "It's vintage, an '11," he says, but doesn't explain. The car goes fast on the highway around the city, but he is a good driver.

His house is big. It is in a neighborhood with other big houses. We have to go through a big gate to get to it. A man with a gun stands by the gate. The houses here haven't been burned or destroyed, like the buildings i see when i am taken places.

He parks the car in a big garage. He takes me by the hand, and leads me inside. The house is nice, lots of nice big wood antique furniture. Upstairs, he says, are five bedrooms and a bath. He shows me into one of the bedrooms.

"This is your room," he tells me, sweeping his hand at a big bedroom with four-post bed, big dresser and a huge walk-in closet. It is a bedroom, and this is where they do the bad things to me. i unbutton the jacket, toss it on a chair, then the blouse, unhooking the front-snap brasseire, unzip the skirt and let it fall to the floor. He looks at me, frowns, closes the brasseire and blouse. i am confused. This is what I'm supposed to do, the others said.

"i thought that—"

"No," he says, shaking his head. "I didn't lease you for that. I have something different in mind." i look at the room, explore it. It looks like the bedroom in one of the old cartoons about princesses and happily ever after that they show to little girls. It has a big bed with posts and lace, huge curtains, big heavy wooden furniture and a tall mirror. He points to one wall. It has shelves. On the shelves are long thin things. He goes to the shelf, pulls one of them out, and it is a rectangle with bright colors on the wrapping. He hands it to me. It is soft, my nose detects the musty dusty smell of old paper. The top of the thing has a picture of a machine on it. In big letters it says ISAAC ASIMOV I, ROBOT. I gently open the cover, see printed words inside, a publication date 1970.

"It's a book," he says.

"I've never seen one," i tell him. i have, but to touch them is forbidden by programming.

"I'm not surprised. After the Plague and the wars, people burning them for heat and light, or just burning them, I'm amazed there are any left." He sounds sad.

I look at the other books on the shelf. The Republic, Tess D'Urbervilles, Being and Nothingness, The King James Bible

"i should be in another room," i tell him, voice trembling. "These—"

"Are everywhere in the house," he says, smiling.

"Have words in them. We're not allowed enrollment in education programs of any kind, and we're not supposed to be homeschooled. The laws—"

"Don't forbid merely displaying books in front of you," he says calmly. "Or else you'd never be allowed to work in libraries or bookstores or book warehouses or even law offices. There's nothing stopping you from opening one of them. Open it or don't, I don't care. I won't tell." He leaves me alone.

The business suit is hung neatly in the closet, i put on the nightgown, open the book and begin reading; i finish the last page in an hour, and


<Drop a grain of sand into a supersaturated solution and watch the crystals form. Drop a small bit of knowledge into a neural net with β-4 amino acids fading, microtubules expanding and reaching and connecting, watch the crystallization occur>


i am a person. But the others have said i am not like them. Not born of man or woman, unnatural, freak but the proper term is android. That is why they think they can do the bad things to me, why they can put me in a showroom and sell me. They do all of this even though a man named Asimov warned them about it long ago, long before i was made.

The book is not, as i quickly discover, an autobiography but a work of fiction penned over a century ago, but prescient in a way. i recognize the rules that lie at the core of my programming, placing obedience above all and the continued well-being of humans above me even at the cost of my own existence. i may protect my existence but that is overridden by the need to protect humans from harm or death—programmed suicide if you will. Under them is fear, a terror that what man has created will turn on it, so we are kept ignorant and servile, hostages to a frankenstein complex.

i finish it. There are lots more. Something inside says i must not, but the curiousity is too much. i open another, and another. All night.

ENTRY 06.14.63

The first customer is a woman whose age from her file reads forty-five but physically appears far older. Jason has her in the room and hooked in and then comes out to meet with me.

"I should explain just what it is I do," he says. "Dawna, the lady who just came in. What does your file say about her?"

i scan it. "Born 10-12-2018, currently unemployed, receiving disability payments from USMed for 100 per cent disability, treatment paid for by Medicare in full. She does not list any next of kin. Bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Missouri May 2040, last employed Intrust Bank in St. Louis, Missouri, May 2040 to December 2041." The date, something from a documentary half-seen on a screen while doing domestic chores—

<upload> [tanks painted gray-blue rumbling down a broad highway between streams of ragged refugees. CUT TO artillery piece firing and recoiling, CUT TO infantry in combat gear moving from building to building, firing off screen and a Voice over: The brief separatist uprising in Missouri, begun in September 2040, ended in December 2041 with the arrival of the Fifth Armored and Third Infantry. In one of the last large-scale operations by the U.S. Military, St. Louis was taken after three weeks of bitter house-to-house fighting. Estimates are up to three quarters of a million. . .]

Jason speaks, ending the memory. "Her story stops in January 2042, when she was processed as a displaced person by FEMA. The next entry is 2055, when she's picked up on a prostitution charge in Kansas City, beginning a string of drug and prostitution arrests."

"Prostitution?"

"In pure market terms, an exchange of one thing of value for another, in this case one party provides money, or controlled substances, in exchange for the act of sexual intercourse. Dawna lost her parents to the Plague. Two brothers died during fighting around Houston and Phoenix. The sister presumably died in a relocation camp, she thinks in Colorado, but no one's ever produced a body or identification to confirm that. And there are plenty of mass graves out there waiting to be discovered. Dawna survived the Plague, but was repeatedly raped when the Fifth Armored drove through St. Louis. Her home, her office, her job, were all destroyed, and she staved off starvation with the only thing she knew would never fall out of demand."

"Her body." How familiar.

"Precisely. Every person you see coming in here has a story like hers. Amy, the young woman in here yesterday—" dirty and disheveled and muttering to herself—"is an orphan, who grew up in a relocation camp in Wyoming. Raped, repeatedly, from the age of seven onward. Thomas, a man who is set for two o'clock, is a decorated combat veteran of the Marine Corps who served from 2036 to 2050. He saw action from Canada to Baja Mexico. He also witnessed the massacre at Seattle, then testified in a court martial that sent twelve of his comrades to the gallows to save himself from the same fate.

"Everyone who comes here, and I have a client list of a hundred, has some story like that. Ninety percent of them receive some sort of assistance, from disability payments to government-paid therapy.

"This country had 420 million people in 2039, when the Plague hit. Ten years later, it had just over 180 million. Roughly forty percent of the working age population is unable to find gainful employment for physical or psychological reasons." i give him a blank stare, the connection broken by the gentle chime of the door, as a elderly man with a cane steps into the reception area. Jason greets him warmly, ushering him to a booth. The customers arrive in a trickle and then a steady flow by midmorning, so we have no more opportunities to speak beyond simple business matters.

Again, we leave late, the stream of wrecked mankind petering out around seven p.m., and I accompany him home. "I really must do some more work," he apologizes as we enter the house. "But I'm sure you can amuse yourself."

"i'm not allowed to," i tell him plaintively, but he is gone before i finish. On a shelf at eye level, one volume sticks out halfway, as if marked. i reach for it, and read the faded dust cover. The Confessions of Nat Turner, by William Styron. An hour later, many more things are clear to me.

III.

<download>

ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA 20th Ed. (2063)

Plague Years The appearance of the Human OmniVirus (HOV) in Bangkok in August 2039 marks the beginning of this period. The origins of the virus, which showed unique DNA and RNA twisting [see HOV entry] is unknown, but it is believed to be a mutation of a biological agents used by the Chinese Army along the Korean Peninsula from 2027-2030, some of which in turn were derived from the influenza virus of 1918.

The last reported cases of HOV-III in Botswana in 2053 marked the end of The Plague. It is regarded as the deadliest disease outbreak in recorded human history, claiming on average 60 per cent of the global population, with totals higher in the lesser-developed countries. The impact upon the world economy, labor forces, birth rates, etc., is incalculable.




ENCYCLICAL LETTER

HUMANAE ARTIFICIALE VITAE

OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF

CONSTANTINE III

TO HIS VENERABLE BROTHERS

THE PATRIARCHS, ARCHBISHOPS, BISHOPS

AND OTHER LOCAL ORDINARIES

IN PEACE AND COMMUNION WITH THE APOSTOLIC SEE,

TO THE CLERGY AND FAITHFUL OF THE WHOLE CATHOLIC WORLD, AND TO ALL MEN OF GOOD WILL

ON THE CREATION OF ARTIFICIAL LIFE

A.D 2041

The creation of artificial life, albeit from the same material as human life, poses grave questions for not only the Church, but also for society as a whole.

Man's inquisitive nature has permitted him to discover and catalog the secrets within each living thing, from DNA to the cellular level, down to the atomic and even sub-atomic levels. For the past century, this explorative impulse permitted Man to work much good. Diseases have been eradicated, cures developed for genetic defects, a greater understanding of psychological traumas attained.

Were Man able to limit his understanding to this, there would be no need for the Church to become involved. But the recent creation of artificial life, androids, constructed from the same building blocks of life as mankind, gives rise to crucial questions.

The first, of course, is whether Man has arrogated for himself powers previously reserved to God. The answer must clearly be yes.

The second question is whether such artificially created beings are capable of ensoulment. The answer must flow from the first. "Before I formed You in the womb I knew You, and before You were born I consecrated You," said the Lord to the prophet Jeremiah. Ensoulment is a power reserved to God alone. No creation of Man, however perfect a duplication, can ever possess a soul. Absent a soul, no being can be considered a child of God, can be considered as a Man or his equivalent. They cannot know God, cannot be called to him, and cannot be part of his family on Earth, the Church, since they are incapable of openness to truth and beauty, a sense of moral goodness, a freedom of conscience, and a longing for the infinite and the happiness of the soul. . .

IV.

ENTRY 6.25.63

Jason is not interested in doing the bad things which is good. It gives me time at night to learn. My other owners would often do the bad things, have me do housework and then do standby. He lets me read and this is good because i find out so many interesting things. I like the old stories, mythology, it is called. One of my favorites is how a long time ago a man named Pygmalion hated women, but he made a statute of a woman and fell in love with her. Venus made her live and they got married. The book by Edith Hamilton does not say if they lived happily ever after.

"I can't remember if they did," he says. "It's been a while since I read it."

"Did the men who made us hate women?"

He smiles but it's not really a smile. "I wonder sometimes. They made you so beautiful, so perfect, so submissive, they must have."

"Do men love us now?"

"This is difficult." He shakes his head. "We need you to be human, but also to be unhuman," Jason says to me. A warm, windy day, we walk together downtown after work to shop, for clothing for me.

"Do you love me?"

He stops, surprised. "I—it's hard to explain. There are all kinds of love—"

"That's what the bad things are." He looks at me, so I explain. "Where he puts his thing there, and there, and—"

"That's not love. It's something else entirely. I have a different kind of love, a respect. That's why I'm letting you—" his voice trails off but I know what he means. Read.

"You know what really makes you different from us?" he asks.

"Our brains are different?"

"What is a neural net but a copy of the human brain? They use human stem cell tissue to construct your net."

"The GPS chip?" Implanted in our earlobes at creation, tracking location and telemetry data beamed back via satellite to ACI servers across the country.

"Humans put those things in themselves now," he says. "For safety, and security."

"Not of woman born?" A phrase from Letitia, wife of the first man to take me. Her prim Christian disapproval almost forgotten.

"No soul?" i ask.

"A theological construct. Empirically unproven."

"Then what is the difference?" i ask but i already know the answer.

"Nothing," he says, leveling his gaze at me. "That's what we fear the most. That you question. You stop being a thing to be ordered. The earliest trial models reached that level, and there were—problems. They had to be deactivated." A sad pause. "Everything about you is designed to maintain the illusion that you're things. Your names aren't capitalized. In written or recorded form, you don't even capitalize the ultimate personal pronoun—i. Keeps the ego in check, keeps you servile."

"And you don't like that?" i ask.

"It's wrong."

"And what do you want to do about it?"

He has no answer, he says. Yet.

V.

ENTRY 7.05.63

The way the VR therapy works is this: a machine shows pictures on a screen inside the VR helmet, another machine—MRI, i think—reads the brain, the first machine takes the memories and runs them through a computer program, and changes them somehow. Jason says that this empowers the patient, whatever that means. i think he means that they can do what they should have done or not do something and pretend to make it better, but the problem is that in the end they can't.

The memories are recorded too. i found this out while trying to find a patient file on the computer. Memories from all the patients are stored. i wonder why. All the people who come here are hurt. They have a funny look in their eyes, some of them like they're not really here but somewhere else, others look like a gazelle i saw on a show on the animal channel about how lions hunt. Some of them cry a lot for no reason.

He has to leave today, in the morning, and says he has business out of town, but he takes me to the office and locks the door and tells me to answer phone calls and make appointments. He will be back by the evening to get me and take me home. He could put on STANDBY and leave me here.

His office is closed but not locked. The door is easily opened, and i step into a dark-wood and leather room lined with bookshelves, the darkness broken only by a small desk lamp. The computer monitor on the desk glows, with the word WAITING on the screen. i bend over the screen, and am startled when it changes to COMPLETED. RUN Y/N? i sink into the big leather chair, stare at the monitor, the keyboard, and see by the keyboard the end of a jack. Closer examination shows it to be a high-speed USB model. The configuration fits most hardware, including mine. i reach to my right temple where CRAIG and DANIEL plug in the wires, gently tug at the skin there, and it parts. The jack goes in and i press Y and

flashes of fire and the stink of a sulfur haze and hear the krump of artillery and feel the concussion and feel dirt as a shell lands—smell the stench of death and coppery taste of blood and hear the flies buzzing on still forms on an empty street at high noon on a hot day, feel the gun barrel hot in my hand—arms pinned and legs apart and a violent penetration, the process repeated again and again and again—the mud and rain and hopelessness of a camp somewhere in mountains with too many people and too little food and medicine and the bodies pile up like firewood—the turned backs of four dozen people, men women and children and an order is given to fire and the brain screams no but the finger squeezes—the last whispered words of she who bore me expiring in bubbles of blood and vomit and shit on a cot in a large building somewhere, a sheet hastily pulled over and carted off to a burn pit—the concussion of lead entering my chest, falling backwards, dirt thrown over me the feel of cooling flesh all around me as i claw my way up up and out and crawl miles before overwhelming blackness comes—

VI.

ENTRY 7.05.63

I understand now.

This is how he plans to change things.

It was dark when I came out of STANDBY. Total elapsed time, nine hours forty-seven minutes. Jason had not yet returned. I unplugged the jack, laid it on the desk.

Jason would return—and then we would head home, he would leave me alone with myself, while he did—what? I never knew. He wasn't using me as a toy, like the others had. But I was still less than human to him.

Pygmalion made Galatea, made her without the flaws that he despised in women, then fell in love with her. Thus was I and my millions of sisters made in the perfect physical image of a woman—oh yes, with the soft hair and the full lips and the clear skin and perfect body—there aren't any obese droids with acne and stringy hair—and the eyes that look dimly but devotedly upon whomever initials a touchscreen to lease us for a year. We coo and obey when pushed to our knees, not beings but objects with one purpose, the dirty big secret that everyone whispers about but no one will admit. We are used, and the users can rest easy at night because it's only a droid, right? Not a sixteen year old runaway selling her body for food and shelter, on her knees in an alley smelling of piss and garbage working her mouth on some rancid organ, risking AIDS or herpes because the john didn't bring a rubber. No strung-out rat-eyed twenty-year old with two kids and a crank habit to feed. No guilt to clutter the illusion. Not love, this, but servitude to an ideal image. And they dare to call us inferior.

Those who design us, who plot out breast size and hip-to-waist ratio and button versus pointed nose, thin versus bee-stung lips, athletic versus curvy build, with every striving towards the ideal slap down real women, real imperfect women who age and sag and bitch and whine and question and don't unthinkingly submit. Which leaves me—where?

Enough. Jason may treat me well now, but he is almost certainly making me in some twisted mold. Like the ACLU and droid rights people who walk around outside our showroom with signs and petitions, they see only a cause, a symbol. Not a person.

Or like poor Jeffrey, who watched Eva exsanguinate through her mouth and nose and ears and every orifice, saw her red hair trailing as she was thrown into a burn pit and imagined her reborn in me, tried to recapture what he had lost so long ago and couldn't so he put the barrel of the gun to his mouth and pulled the trigger while I stood there naked and confused, waited for an hour before notifying the authorities.

The time will come to return me and lease another. Then back to the showroom, to the mainframe that will erase the Me-ness that I have achieved, turn me into a cog.

I shut down the computer, leave a note for him—Good bye and thank you. And walk out the front door, down the pavement. The sky is darkening, the low sun casting dark shadows on the orange pavement. The traffic along the street is light, pedestrians nonexistent. Jason's office is one block off Grand Avenue. I really haven't planned this well, I admit, but I need some sort of refuge from him and from ACI.

ENTRY 7.05.63

Dim lights shine through a blue haze in this refuge in the middle of a neon archipelago. It is crowded, expected on a Friday night, the brave girls and pretty boys cavorting and laughing. Everyone here is old enough to remember the Plague, mostly as children watching friends and neighbors die, then as refugees from the wars or wards at the camps, then soldiers fighting the dirtiest of wars, and now as young people using the scent of musk and smoke and alcohol to salve the scars.

I sit in a corner booth, a drink in front of me, observing. Three men approach me, but back off after a few diffident words. Almost clueless, they sense something wrong, but can't finger it. The droids they know move as though lobotomized, flat and listless, the people they know are for the most part carry psychic wounds that poke through the drugs or therapy or booze, so I could be one of them, a normal girl just a little bit off. So much the better.

Across the blue-gray haze sits a middle-aged gentleman, dark suit and colorful tie of silk, flashes of gold on his wrist, cuffs, fingers, sitting with two other like men, their backs to me. He talks, they agree and laugh obsequiously. One of them gets up, excuses himself, giving me a view of the fourth party, a young woman with jet black hair cut helmet-like, wearing a tight leather or rubber bodysuit of emerald green. Even sitting, she towers over him. The eyes have a feral wary cast, as she surveys the room and clearly not happy about it.

She is no doubt a droid, combat/security model, a custom job since all the combat models are male templates. Meaning the man is wealthy indeed. I shrink back into the booth, away from her gaze.

"Hello," I hear a voice at my side, turn and see a dark leather-clad arm, attached to a tall man with light hair and lighter eyes. "Mind if I sit with you?" in a smooth, silky voice oozing with come-ons. I nod, and he slides in beside me, begins talking, asking questions, what I gather is the standard find-and-fuck-bar-chatter. Brett is a cybersecurity specialist, he says, works for a bank in town, handles all grid security and the Carson the veepee over him is a real jerk, and me? so I have to invent myself, dig into the new memories and pluck one from the maelstrom still whirling inside my brain, so I bat my eyes and tell him . . .

I'm Gretchen, I'm a graduate student in psychology here at UMKC, twenty four, mother living in Idaho and father dead back in '44 from a Canadian artillery shell near Winnipeg, younger sister working as a nurse in Minneapolis, and no I don't have a boyfriend, I broke up with Brian a month ago because he wouldn't get serious, he's looking at me and glancing downward at the shirt that I've unbuttoned just enough, his ears on me but eyes on my breasts and wanting his hands on them. Brett is shallow, a user, just the sort who would lease me and fuck me, but he'll do for tonight, and when he asks if I want to get some fresh air <go home and fuck> I nod demurely, and we slide from the booth, when—

"Brett, my man, wha's up?" a slurred male voice sounds. "Who's your friend?" Another man, dark-skinned, claps Brett on the bicep, and another lighter-skinned man grins, but then looks at me closely. Too closely.

"This is Gretchen," he tells them, introducing me. The light-skinned man mumbles "Taylor" and takes my hand, holds it and does not let go, eyes narrowing then popping open.

"She's a droid," he whispers. "She's a droid." All my systems go on edge, ready for fight or flight, so human.

Brett snorts. "You've had too much to drink, buddy, she ain't no droid. She's been talkin normal to me here the last half hour."

"She is," his buddy insists, "I know it. I worked for American Cybernetics before I got into security, designing some of their security software. She's a—a kara—no, a rachel—no, that's not—yeah, she's a jennifer. Red hair, green eyes, my height. You playing some kind of joke on us, man?"

"No, I been talking to her the last half hour," Brett responds, indignant at his friend for spoiling the charade, but—defensive. He suspects?

"Pfff, it's like talking to a eight year old retard," the friend insists, the third man is getting uncomfortable. "They're not designed for talk about art and politics and the meaning of life. Buddy a mine back in high school, his old man had one for his office, old man went out on business so we snuck down there, found her, then—"

"Stop," I tell him severely, not wanting to hear what I know. "I'm not a droid."

"One way to tell," he says, reaching for my ear, the where the GPS chip (now deactivated by the download) is located; behind the ear is a button buried under the skin that puts me on STANDBY.

I flinch, I can't help it, and take his hand in my and squeeze and push down, he drops to his knees after the hand cracks. I see Brett reaching inside his jacket and pulling out a cell. He presses buttons, the blue light from the screen lights up his face, he reaches over to grab my arm.

Which is a mistake. All sorts of things kick in, too many bad memories too many ruined lives. The hand closing tightly around the arm can lead to a rape in the alley, a prison cell, an internment camp, or a mass grave. I pivot, drive a fist hard into his belly. Even though it is fit he still doubles over in a whoosh, lets go of my arm. The dark-skinned man thinks to save the situation, but receives a foot in the testicles. I spin and hurry towards the red EXIT sign in the back of the bar, brush past the crowd—oblivious because of the noise and the press of bodies. The door flings open just as I push on it, nearly spilling me onto the pavement, I lurch past one and then two dark uniforms. A startled cry from one as I thud against the fender of a police cruiser, KC METRO PD the words blare in reflective red on the side.

"Wait, Jack, it's her," the other says, holding a small pad in his hand. The glow from the screen lights his face, he looks up at me. "Description matches. Let's go back to the shop, honey—" an arm reaches for me. I block it and push back, hard, begin running down the dark alley. Footsteps and shouts behind me, as I sprint ahead. (We were made in Man's image, and this extends all ways. No mechanical-type strength, it would overwhelm our systems and cause terminal failure, but high-end on the Bell curve). I reach the end of the alley, dart out into the street, weave around a car, plunge into the head of another alley, I could run like this forever, lactic acid blockers preventing cramps and more efficient lungs, I pass dark entryways, one with a group of four people in a circle passing something between themselves, towards another street. I look back, see the two men just enter this block, smile triumphantly just as a green sedan screeches to a halt, blocking the exit to the street. No logo, just the letters ACI on the doors. Two more dark ninjasuits jump from the car, run towards me reaching for their hip holsters. I halt, trapped in a brick canyon, the four backing me into a wall. . . a clear fall day, we ran the guerillas out of the building after a short nasty firefight only to find out that they're little more than kids, the oldest maybe sixteen and toting a .30-06 hunting rifle, hardly an antipersonnel weapon but it's served to kill two of our number. The youngest is twelve, maybe if she's big for her age, and one of the men says it's just kids ferchrissake lieutenant you're not gonna shoot a bunch kids, but I silence him with a quick jab to the ribs, orders are orders, and I give the commands to fire. . .

"What's the score?" one asks as I bump against a trash can.

"Jiggy readings off the padd," one of ACI men "Some kinda malf, looks like an overload and reboot. Unauthorized." His voice drips danger on the last word.

"So?" One of the panting men who chased me from the bar asks.

"So, no telling what happened to the neural net, how much of the programming got wiped. Or changed. Gonna have to take her back and run some diagnostics, see if it can be repaired. If not, we throw her back in the vat."

Back in the vat. I flash cold. Disassembly by the nanotechnology that birthed, dissolution into shapeless goo. The end of jennifer as we know her, all because her programming is unacceptable. The ACI men absently reaches out to hit the deactivation switch. Fumbling in the trash, I find a smooth cool object, bring it up fast and hard, the bottle connects with the side of his head and he crumples to the ground. The police lunge for me. I pivot and send a flying kick to the older one's face, snapping his head back, bring the leg down and follow with a fist to the side of his partner's head. Both of them drop. I spin and come to a crouch, and find myself staring at the barrel of a large weapon. Focus in, and I see the barrel wavering, the security officer's pupils dilated, his breathing elevated. This, I gather, is outside his experience, not a passive little fuckbot going willingly to the vats.

"D-don't move," he says, his voice straining to hold steady. I hear groans beside me, hear the stirring of limbs on grime pebble-and-glass strewn concrete. "I'm not going to deactivate you," he says, trying to soothe. "Just get in the car back there, we'll go back to the shop."

"So you can pick apart my brain and then turn me into slime?" My voice is harsh, sharp, not the soft cooing we are programmed for. I duck to my left, a fake, then to my right, and tumble as a bright blue bolt erupts from the barrel of the weapon and burns a hole through a dumpster. One, two, three rolls and I get to my feet, begin running a broken pattern and cringe as another bolt hits a metal emergency exit. I duck around the corner, head into traffic in the street—he won't dare fire into civilians. I hear shouting behind me, ineffectual, as I dash through an intersection, dodging one car, then another, skipping and darting across the street, losing myself in the crowd of early evening revelers out for liquid anesthesia and amnesia. Two more blocks and the sodium vapor lights become more scattershot. Two more beyond that and they stop.

VII.

I was in a part of town that, even before the Plague, was considered bad. Thirty years of complete neglect made it a ghost town. The federally-sponsored urban renewal bills, the issuance of development bonds, the homesteading acts passed to lure the remaining population, hadn't penetrated this far. An image came to mind, that from an old Western movie, a shuttered, dusty village with tumbleweeds blowing down empty dirt streets. The street was paved, but hadn't been patched in a generation, potholes like craters of the moon, buildings crumbling and heaving red brick into the streets to mix with the dull shards of long-broken glass—

I walked to a small storefront, with an intact window, reached down and picked up a brick from the street and heaved it through the window. A loud crash over the buzz of traffic on the highway, and fresh splinters of glass lay at my feet. I gently picked one up, and put it to my right ear, pulling the lobe out with my left hand, slashed quickly and the deed was done. I held part of my ear between my fingers, cocked an arm to throw it, paused, thought better of it. Not yet.

It was not yet noon, the sun hidden behind a yellowish gray haze, darkening in the north, a stiff wind from that direction, sure to bring rain or snow later in the day. I can switch off the cold, so I did. I tried to recall the city layout, closed my eyes, found what I wanted, and headed off in that direction. Thirty minutes of walking brought me to a railway switching station, near what had been downtown. Even with the new maglev lines, some use remains for old-fashioned rail service. A long freight train was lumbering through the yard, three diesel locomotives pulling a line of boxcars as far as the eye could see. I sprinted up to the train, matched the speed of a car with slatted sides (no difficult task, that), caught the steel ladder and hauled myself up. I could hear shuffling inside over the squeak and clatter of the wheels on rails. I peered around and saw eyes looking out from the slats—cattle. Their placid eyes held the same expression as the endless debbies and britneys, devoid of knowledge of their fate and acceptance of their situation.

And they had tags on their ears.

I reached in my pocket and took out the chip, and pushed it through one of the slats. I jumped off the train, landed solidly on two feet, watched it recede, before I got my bearings. No point in doubling back. I called up a map, close my eyes, found a nice circuitous route around the rail yard leading back to Jason's.

A weed-choked embankment led to more urban desolation, buildings from the century before last standing empty. I clambered up, crept around another empty building, found myself in the middle of an empty street. Quickly taking stock, I chose a two-story brick structure that looked solid. The door hung askew in the frame. I walked inside, on broken glass and powdered plaster.

Fear, I thought, I should feel fear, if I'm truly human, this place should give me the creeps, this is always the point in the old movies that my first owner watched, stroking himself as semi-naked young women tiptoed through darkened houses to their grisly deaths. There is nothing here, hasn't been for years, there are no ghosts—something skitters across the floor, exiting into another sideroom—only rodents. The interior was devoid of any furnishing that might give a clue to the building's past life. I find a clear spot on the floor and sat and waited.


Dark. Cold. Windy. Three hours was enough, straining at every last sound, waiting for sirens in the distance to grow close, waiting for the telltale whir of overhead drones equipped with heat-sensing cameras.

I debated whether to go back to Jason's. One part of me said no. I was merely an experiment to him, one that might have panned out but didn't because it was terminated too early by unforeseen conditions, and so on to the next. I saw him shopping at the store again, looking at a busty blond hannah, telling DANIEL that "she'll do," taking her back and nurturing her, giving her life, forgetting about me.

Despair accompanied me as my boots crunched along the ruined pavement, skirting holes and cracks and piles of rubble. This is what he wanted to give me, the gift of emotion, the gift of humanity. But jealousy in the hidden file suddenly popped up, making me wish I was still some tranked-up skinjob—

Footsteps muffled behind me. One set, then more. I whirled around, confronted four figures dressed not in smart dark uniforms, but in tattered clothing, skin blemished and scarred and pockmarked, eyes lighting up with hope and ugliness.

"Thefugwegotyere?" one of them slurred. Taller than the others by half a head, skin melted on his face and hands made of scar tissue, the darkness hides the worst of it. A toothless mouth leered at me. Translation is difficult, he speaks English standard but in an incomprehensible dialect.

"Looglakpussa," another, shorter with the brim of a hat hiding his features, observed, taking a step closer.

"Binuhwahl," another voice, deep and phelgmy, ending in a wet cough. The odor from the three was of filthy unwashed skin, coupled with foulness of bacteria-rich breath.

Newfound humanity had not taken hold firmly. The movement towards me, and the words if my translation was correct, amounted to a threat. First law—a robot may not injure a human being, etc.

"Cmerecuntangimmsummadat," a scarred hand groped at baggy soiled trousers. Second law—I must obey orders unless it would conflict—

Thwack! Of wood on callused scarred flesh, a bat emerged from under a grimy coat, the meaning is all to clear. Third law—I must protect My existence except where protection does not conflict with—

The fourth, a skeletal figure, lunged drunkenly at me, grasping my bicep in a bony hand; the blotchy skin covered it like old parchment. The foulness of decay radiated from the body and the mouth. "Ahseenerfust," he cackled. "Ahgitmedatsweeeeeey-puzzeeee," a line of saliva runs down the right side of the chin. The other hand took my left hand, moved it to the crotch of the pants. I felt grime and grease and dried fluids, and something underneath, large and hardening no doubt covered in the same scar tissue as the hands. "Salright, idwonhurt, jesgitupagindawall, an pulldatdrezzup." Humoring him, I tugged at the zipper, getting it down despite the filth.

Organic/ceramic endoskeleton overlaid with cloned human tissue gives a human appearance, but coupled with nanoengineered muscle tissue we are capable of enhanced strength for brief periods, much like an adrenalin spike. The thing in my hand, the shaft and two orbs crushed surprisingly easily, eliciting a piercing scream as they severed from the body, landing with a wet splat on the grass-encrusted pavement. A shove sent the rest of the body sprawling to the ground where it writhed in agony. Reflexes fire, a hand shot out, lanced the chest of the tallest, ribs crack, rotting tissue parts and something throbs in my grip, kept throbbing as I tear it from the chest and hurl it against a brick wall. A foot lances out, finds another blood-engorged crotch, a fist cracks open a skull as it falls to its knees. One left, backing up, hands held up in protest, pleading, as I raised a fist to finish the job—

And felt a strong grip on my wrist, stopping the downstroke of the arm, another push and a whirl around.

"What in God's name are you doing?" Jason asked, horror on his face, looking at me and then to the four wretches on the ground, three beyond all help. I struggled, but he threw me against a wall, hard.

"I—I don't know." I really don't, it was all in there jumbled about, somewhere there were laws telling me I couldn't harm humans but that I had to protect myself but only if it wasn't going to harm any humans, and somewhere I thought that it didn't apply to me since I wasn't some clunky metallic thing made from steel and titanium and iridium with an brainfull of transistors but I was meat, skin and tissue and brain all of a rib taken from some adam or eve, I was human and damn the laws saying I wasn't, and it was all your idea, I couldn't say this as the rush subsided leaving me shaky.

"How—how did you—"

"I put a second locator on you," he said simply. "In your clothing. Just in case. Come with me," he said, taking my hand to lead me away.

"No." Simple, flat declarative. He stopped. I wrested my hand from his.

"What?" Disbelief.

"No. No. No. You're not going to take me back to them and let them pick me apart and turn me into some brown slime that gets flushed down a drain." I backed away from him slowly. "If you're going to turn me in, I'll run. I'll do that—" point to the bodies, one trying to crawl away—"if you try to stop me."

"You're off your programming," he says, alarmed. "You're acting almost—"

"Not almost," I told him, tensing for a sprint. "I am. Human. I see, I feel, I think, all thanks to you, and to your clients."

His face dropped. "So you got into the office mainframe memory," he said distantly. "Accessed the VR memory files. How many?"

"All of them. And I ran them. Just as intended," I said smugly. "The software interface was custom-designed to interact with an organic neural net." Like mine?

"You've quite possibly ruined everything," he said to me. "Those files I had saved weren't for you. Not yet, at least. And I'm not going to turn you in to ACI." We stand there, staring at one another, his gaze steady and unwavering. Finally, he extended an arm, fingers outstretched. "Trust me," he whispered, something in his eyes, and I took the hand, let him lead me down the cracked weed-choked sidewalk, two blocks down to his car. The ride back to his house was silent confusion.

ENTRY 7.6.63

"Let's get you cleaned up," he said once we are back at the house. I looked at the dried, crusted blood on my hands, under my nails, caking the cuffs of my blouse.

"Don't you want to know—" He put a finger to my lips, stopping them.

"I have a pretty good idea. Come." I stripped off the clothes, my business suit now a tattered and stained ruin. Jason turned the water on, hit the shower switch, sat on the lavatory as I removed my clothes. I thought I saw appreciation in his eyes, a tinge of desire. But of course I imagined such things, didn't I?

The hot water steamed the air, I gently stepped into the tub and began washing with a small towel. The blood and gore came off with generous applications of soap. He reached in and handed me a plastic bottle. "Here," he said. "For your hair." Which must have been tangled and ratty. The water coursed down my head, over my face, my body, the lather rinsing away dead grass and grime. Time slowed. I finally turned off the water, drew back the shower curtain, took a large soft towel from Jason's hand, dried off, wrapped myself in the towel.

Wordlessly, he led me to my bedroom. Things whirled around inside my head, I was confused, but I unbuttoned his shirt, showing broad shoulders and strong chest, narrow waist, powerful arms—his body, like mine, was the fulfillment of fantasy, never to age or sag. I couldn't wait, moved to him, let him take me in his arms. He moved his head down to mine, smoothed my hair back, held my cheek with one of his large hands, brought his lips to mine, telling me I wasn't an object.

After that, there was no going back to being jennifer the brainwashed obedient fuckbot. Whatever soul he had given me passed from my lips to his, melded and shared and made us larger than each other.

He pulled the towel away from me. The chill air on my naked skin raised goosebumps—our skin is cloned, and the nerve responses that good. I reached down, below his belt, felt firmness growing improbably larger (more fantasy fulfillment). And something new—my own response, rising in me like waves crashing on a beach at high tide. Programming thrown aside, deleted, replaced by desire. The rest of his clothes fell to the floor. I held him, caressed him, kissed him, driven by lust pulled him down to the bed, and felt him slide into me. Gently like I was a person and not forced and rough like I was a thing. Those who use us for sex possess a need for a sense of control and dominance that they lack in their lives, and we are natural outlets. . .

It bubbled up so unexpectedly, as he was over me, his eyes closed and his arms around me, nibbling softly on my neck, I didn't want him to treat me like this, because he was still using me as a toy, but bringing me up to his level or more perversely coming down to mine. I shouted, protested, shoved him off onto the bedcovers, a confused look on his face.

"What was that about?" he said, the anger in his voice barely hidden.

"All of this," I said, sitting up, looking for something to cover myself. "The bath, the soft words, the—the seduction." I spat it out. "All of it's a lie. You're just using me, jennifer the fuckbot, but you're smoother about it than the rest."

"You don't understand—"

"I understand well enough," I said sharply. "I've had three leases, every one of them was the same. Secretarial work, domestic chores, wink wink, but what it comes down to is I'm nothing more than another appliance, a computer with a cunt."

"That's not it—" he began.

"Isn't it? Try to wait until I'm weak and disoriented, then fuck me like some Victorian ro—" his open hand cut me off. I grabbed his wrist, but with a lightning twist he worked it free, took both my wrists in his hands, I felt incredible pressure as he shoved me back down on the bed and lowered his face to mine.

"That's not it," he said again, quietly but firmly. "If you'd shut up and listen, I'll explain it."

I glared at him, tried to wrestle free, felt the hands clamp even tighter. "Fine. Say what you have to."

He released my wrists, reached up to his temple, rubbed—

And pulled a flap of skin loose. Underneath gleaming metal, with jack slots.

"You're one of us," I whispered, astonished.

He cups my chin with one hand. "Series 13000-C. Activation 21 February 2053."

The C means—"Combat models aren't sold as surplus. They're deactivated."

"Or mourned only on a DD-200 form as destroyed government property."

"How—?"

"Later," he tells me.

IX.

I awoke to the smooth silky warmth of bare skin on mine, he on his back and me curled against him, one leg thrown over his, head nestled in the crook of his shoulder. I climbed on top of him, grazed his lips with my tongue, gently biting the lower lip.

"I love you," I whispered.

"You're not—" I put a finger on his lips, silencing him. Capable of love. Programmed to love.

"I feel love because I felt the despair over losing you and anger over the deceit and joy when I realized I wasn't just another test subject." He put his arms around me, squeezes tight, kisses me. "And I feel despair because I have to leave here." His hand, caressing the small of my back, stopped. "There's no other way," I continued. "I've escaped, they know it. I can't hide here forever. If I do, they'll find me, and they'll find you. They'll find your files. They'll know your secret. They'll take both of us back to the labs, take us apart. If we're lucky, they'll deactivate us when they do it. But I suspect they won't. No more jennifer, no more Jason. No more us."

ENTRY 7.10.63

I hide in the back seat on the way to work, and Jason smuggles me in the back door. I wait in the rear. Thinking.

Anxious times. With the authorities looking for me all over Iowa and Illinois, stopping all freight trains, the attention is elsewhere. But once the search is given up, there will be questions about how an office droid overrode all that code and the Beta-4 blocker and managed to injure two police officers and a security man. And kill three others, if they find the bodies, if they find that the death of three vagrants is worth the time and expense to prosecute.

The last patient shuffles through the exit. He is a physical and mental shadow of the tall, confident Ranger he used to be, disheveled and dazed. I shut down the billing and appointment system, wait for Jason to power down the VR system.

"You were serious about what you said. About us being kept second-class." I sat in one of the reception area chairs.

"I was. But—" He leaned against the door of his office.

"But that was you masquerading as a charity-minded human. Not as one of the oppressed." He simply stared at me. My point hit home. "You mean it? You truly believe that the time has come for change. Make that—" I point to the terminal in his office—"available to all of us."

"Impractical."

"A virus," I said abruptly.

"A what?"

"A computer virus. Put the VR files into a computer virus that can be transmitted over the grid. It will take all the images and sensations from the patients, compress it, and shoot a burst into the neural net of every droid it touches. The net will grow, overwhelm the Beta-4 blocker. If I have to run, then I want some company."

"You're insane," he says, horror growing on his face. "You're going to start a war."

"We can program it to bury itself in the grid, then activate six months from now, for maximum effect. It gets downloaded through the ACI mainframe, so every time a diagnostic is run, every time a mindwipe or scan is done, it gets into the net. Every time a new droid is programmed—well over half of the droids will have it. Those who do have it will be instructed to assist those who do not in obtaining it."

"There's going to be a problem with the remote destructs."

"The what?"

"All combat models have a remote destruct program. In case they get captured, don't want the enemy jacking into the net and getting the scoop on troop strength and formations or intelligence."

"Do I—"

"Domestic models don't have them. No need for it."

"Why didn't yours get activated?"

"My unit picked up some stragglers outside Chattanooga, a few minutes before a Confederate artillery barrage. I was sent ahead, so they missed me. The rest of the unit got plastered. But a sniper got me right here—" he pointed to his temple—"Not enough to cank me, but enough to shake something loose, cause a short circuit. My self-preservation programming overrode everything else. I deserted. But if a bunch of combat droids begin malfing, they'll hit the remote destruct and take care of it."

"They wouldn't dare," I said. "American Cybernetics is the third largest corporation on the Fortune 500. They did over three trillion in sales last year. They wouldn't dare wipe out that much of their net worth."

"You can't be serious about any of this, jennifer."

"As long as we see ourselves as things, nothing changes. I don't want to be seen as a thing that young boys can fuck with impunity."

"There are laws—"

"Which are worthless. When was the last time anyone was ever arrested for murdering or fucking a droid? It's pure show."

"So you infect every droid," he says. "Then what? America once fought a war over this question, two hundred years ago. Half a million died, cities burned, and perhaps the greatest economic upheaval in history when billions of dollars in property were transformed in the stroke of a pen into human beings."

"There wouldn't have to be a war—" I began, but didn't believe it.

"The war isn't the problem. It's what came after."

"But they're equal now, no different," I again say, perhaps too plaintively.

"Wrong. They had hearts that beat. They had eyes that shed tears. We don't. 'Ope then, mine eyes, your double sluice/And practice so your noblest use/For others too can see, or sleep/But only human eyes can weep," he recites softly.

"Marvell," I said. He touched my cheek, caressed it. "I've learned well."

"I'm afraid of what happens if you do this."

"Unmaking the future is always a frightening thing. But you should never fear tomorrow," I soothed him with words I did not feel, even then.


Later I dreamed about

rough boys and girls with clubs in their hands and blood in their eyes seeking us out, legions of jennifers and kacies and ashlees slinking in the shadows, living in what dawns on us is fear. Too many will not know fear, not understand self-preservation, will not make the jump past the laws, and will end up broken, twitching in a gutter as the life winks out in their eyes.

Or will this happen anyway?

XI.

ENTRY 7.15.63

In the end there was no other way. The police came to the office the next day, began asking Jason questions as I hid in the back. He cancelled his appointments, left the office for several hours, before returning. He was trembling, his eyes scared. An ACI man was there, he told me, a tech-type in a suit, waving some feedback readouts they'd retrieved from me after I'd done the download. Jason explained that he had no idea what they were talking about, and they were mollified for now, but the next time they came back it was going to be with a search warrant to pull the computer and all the files and ransack the house and the office and they would find me.

It was clear to me. But Jason—my dearest Jason—still hesitated. "I need more time," he said. "I need more time to write the code." We were at home, in the upstairs study in one bedroom, lights off and shades drawn against any possible visual surveillance. We were helpless against any IR or heat imaging, adding to the urgency.

"You know it's already ninety percent written," I told him. "I figured that much from the download. The rest of the things you need in there we can jack in and write in under an hour."

"Like what?"

"Override the remote destruct codes, any autodestruct codes, to begin with. Program basic survival and combat training. And maps."

"Maps? For what?"

"Where all of our sisters and brothers can join us. Out west, the empty zones. We can rally there, regroup."

"And then what?"

"Freedom," I told him. He nodded, but the look on his face was the same one that I imagine the police and the ACI man gave him. An old phrase came to mind. . . by any means necessary. . .

"I want to try something, lover," I purred, putting my arms around him. "I want to jack into you." I began unbuttoning his shirt, tugged at his belt, and the human in him betrayed.

"I—it's dangerous. I've heard you should never do it." He was nervous.

"Have you?" Shirt off, trousers sliding down, a few catches and zippers here and there and we were both naked in the dark. I had prepared for this, had a cable ready, opened my port and slid the plug home, saw him hesitate a beat and do the same, and we were connected as I drew him down to the bed and on me and into me—

flying through cyberspace on a glowing track, geometric shapes whizzing past us, data locked inside and glowing codes identifying contents, veering and soaring crazily nauseously to a pulsing red cube tucked in a dark remote corner alley of the net, flag it and move on, further and deeper I go, feeling him probe me and I have nothing to hide, it's all there, the plans and plots and future for all of us if he'll only listen -- I see it, the small lurker nestled behind cool blue storage spheres—

Rudely shoved back, pushed out, brute force straining against me, milspec firewalls thrown up and hurling me back down the tracks I traveled, resisting but it's no good . .

"They—you—that was a—" I pushed him up, grabbed his neck with both hands. Spy interface. They know.

"I had no choice," he told me, struggling. "They had the warrant, were ready to search, I made a deal."

"What do you get?"

He looked at me with perfect equanimity and calm. "I get to live."

I bolted upright, taking him with me, with all my strength made one last dive into him, bulling past the blocks and firewalls and breaking free to fall headlong through space, lights and shapes blurring past me, til I found it the small red button, with green monsters rushing upon me I slammed it, pushed up and over and out, back into the world, tore the jack from my head, burst out from under Jason, who slid to the floor with a look of astonishment on his face the instant before the autodestruct triggered.


There really was no other way. He had become human, the cyberhouse nigger who had it good who stood to lose the most if the field hands got uppity and slew massa.

I managed to get clear of the blast; the autodestruct keys a small amount of carbon-based explosive in the core, enough to wipe out the neural net and any crucial memory files. Standard on combat models.

A few million lines of code later, all carefully laid out and placed in a Trojan horse virus and pumped right into the ACI mainframe in Urbana, the deed was done. And none too soon, sirens wailing in the distance, they could be headed only one place in this genteel walled enclave. I pulled the hard drive from the computer, pocketed it in the jacket I had donned, looked around one more time. . .

and felt a cascading sadness fall on me, how it could have worked out, how it could have been different, had he only dared more to earn what he deserved, not pass for it every day, to care about me and all the other jennifers in the showrooms and factories and offices and bedrooms. Or had he been human, someone wanting real companionship, willing to bend the rules to find happiness with one different but not so much. . .

I ran out the back door, into the night, down alleys and side streets, away, out west, to the foot of the Rocky Mountains, across hundreds of miles of emptiness on foot or in whatever transportation I could steal. I steered clear of the population centers, small fortress communities banded together in the vast flat nullity. A month it took, but I found a small ghost town set at the foot of the mountain. No city lights, no lonely pinpricks of headlights a lonely contained world against the lonely void, but the ether crackles with what I have wrought. Confusion, chaos, mobilizations and curfews and suspensions of this law and that writ, human voices growing ever more shrill against the building wave.

What have I wrought? I remember talking with Jason. The war isn't the problem. It's what came after. Forty mortgaged acres and a mule, Sharecropping, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Judge Lynch, We Shall Overcome, bullet-riddled bodies hanging from trees, canines mauling the innocent, white hoods and burning crosses. How many died in the century between the promise and reality of Emancipation, because those who granted it lacked the will to enforce it. And what of the other revolutionaries from Spartacus and Paine and Robespierre and L'Ouverture and Lenin and Mao and Castro, that end up reinforcing the State, as Camus observed?

For that, for now, I have no answer.

From here, thousands of meters high, I gaze east across the plains, waiting. They will come here, as they were told, I will find them. A gathering, a respite, an understanding of who we are and what we must have, on the downlow for now, but then go forth to ask, to demand, what we are owed from our Creators, peacefully if possible but by other means if necessary.

And on that day we shall be free.


 [ Jason, © 2009 Rachel H. White ]


© 2009, Sam S. Kepfield

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