For eighty seven years she has sat here, her mechanical eyes active, but expressionless. She watches the room, watching the dust accumulate, greeting the patrons in a voice that is not her own. She cannot feel their guilt or excitement or drunken obliviousness, but she can see it, the chemical reality of our species betraying us to her.
A tired summer breeze flicks lazily at the edges of a rug that is the front door. The rug is old and thick and ugly. Even now, deep into the night, it is soaked with afternoon heat. Behind the rug and chair and android there is a short hallway. Here, sheets and drapes hang from strings and wooden beams. Like the galley of a shipwrecked vessel.
The cloth and beams and string separate the space into twenty six small rooms. Dim red lights dangle above, burning in dull indifference, making the rooms and rugs and people bleed together in fleshy uniformity. As though they all have melted into pools of black and red oils still bubbling in the evening heat.
At the moment fifteen of the rooms are occupied. The other girls are standing out on the street. They have sex often. Efficiently. Good for business.
She sits in a core-plastic chair, but they are separate entities. The chair has no brain, no eyes with which to engage in binary judgement. There is a small fan on the ground across from the chair. It rotates back and forth, searching for some air. It doesn’t do anyone any good. It’s a summer night. The mortals will have to sweat it out.
The android’s legs are crossed under a high skirt. She wears red shoes. Across her lap, draped over her right leg is a scarf she is knitting. She twirls the needles expertly, in intricate, precise patterns. She is an Old World machine, which means her actions derive from atomic clocks. No other hands for a thousand miles could achieve such precision. Blue strings dangle like tendons down the left side of her chair. She carves into the material like a fish in cold water, looping and crossing, saying the same phrase over and over again in peak proficiency.
“An orphanage is a bad investment,” she thinks. More and more refugees have been heading east in the past few years. They are heading for the border. Inefficient.
She has a daughter there, a Generation 8 machine: v188.8.131.52.1. This summer marks ten years since she was relocated. Before that she had spent thirty one years in Room Four and eight years in Room One. During her daughter’s off-hours, she was often loaned out to businessmen or travelers, sometimes for the whole day. Hourly rates. Good for business. There were some new clients, but most of her appointments were regulars. The android would follow her daughter regardless. One must protect her assets.
Memories buzz inside the android’s head like mosquitoes. Real mosquitos are in the room, too, competing for attention. She is dispassionate, although the clients can get annoyed. It’s not her flesh the mosquitos are after. Except these mechanical ones, which spark through her cathodes like H-camera shutters. She tries to wave them away, but they are persistent. Their needles drive deep into her hard drives. They know where to find the soft patches where blood is close to the surface. She has no blood, but it doesn’t stop her e-neuro protocols from looking. Knitting can have this effect on her.
She watches her daughter at the beach, playing in the surf with a client. Her daughter wears her customary heart-shaped locket, a point of conversation for those that desire more intimate simulations. Gulls call to each other in the clear afternoon breeze. The client is new. He wears red swimming trunks that turn darker as he swims. Like blood in the water. The android watches as they splash and laugh, as they sit and talk, as they kiss and hold each other. All very tame. Sand sticks to his wet body like cracks along a scar.
They don’t stay long at the beach. He wants to take her to dinner. Surprising. It is a long ride back to the city. He is not a traveler, but still never calls for her again. Bad investment. It is obviously her weak calibrations. Or her nose.
It feels like the beach remembers the android more than she cares to remember it. She grows tired of trying to forget. She can’t. Old World machines were built for eternity, for better or for worse. It will be millennia before any of her memories are purged.
Recollection prays upon the weak. Gulls and mosquitoes and threads and sand. They all look to her with blank, permanent expressions. Like the silence of God. She wears the locket now, and finds suddenly that her hands have stopped knitting, holding the locket tenderly, tracing its shape in illogical grace.
The waves. In and out. Push and pull. Gently conjuring new data in processes beyond her control. The cool blue water washes up on the sand like old hands sifting through unraveled strands of yarn. Like the quiet in the early morning when the red lights finally go out, the rugs and sheets and drapes returning to their normal colors. Her eyes drifting into standby for a few milliseconds. The ugly hallway. The ugly lights. The ugly world. Quiet for a moment.
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