by Spanglypants



Cold. It's so cold.

You feel the chill seeping deeper into your body the longer you lie here. You imagine your internals a lattice of frosted clockwork. Your vision is ringed in silver, a pale aura that makes everything pretty but probably signifies hypothermia.

You watch the rain drip from the awning that shelters you poorly, and, squinting so that it blurs, imagine the rain is your body. Your body is a liquid thing, snaking down through the gutters and the tunnels under the city. No one notices the rain.

You would be safe if you were the rain. You could disappear into the underground and no one would mind it.

But you're not.


You're an android, and you can punch through steel and process an average of 500 million million instructions per second. But that doesn't mean you can survive.


The question is, how did you get here? You remember-- you remember darkness. Flashing lights. You search through the memories, trying to find a link, a clue, but something vital is missing.

Missing: an empty space where the wind howls through. On some subconscious impulse you reach up to touch your head. The back of your skull has been entirely ripped off, exposing glinting, glittering circuitry that sends out traitorous pulses of light. You don't know how you didn't notice it before, but then, everything in this city glows.

Maybe that alone will hide you.


Hide. Go underground. But your memories are still blanked.

You have to find out what it was, what you did. Your life could depend on it.

But then, your life could depend on staying hidden, too. Not that you know where to go.

You force yourself to stand.


Electronic billboards glare out at you from the murk, their always-beautiful, always-graceful, always-perfectly-human models besieging you with their sparkly white teeth.


The billboard's retinal tracking device latches onto you, and the woman's face turns towards you in a three-dimensional illusion, leering. They can't tell androids from humans yet, but they're working on it. The words are beamed directly into your mind.



A mother's love is precious and irreplaceable. You've been told this over and over since you were born.

It wasn't even your baby. They weren't even your eggs. Implanted eggs from some other woman, genetic material from whatever stranger was ripped apart to make you whole.

You double over in psychosomatic pain, feeling the sudden, strong urge to drive a knife into your gut.


Another billboard winks off and on, alternately displaying an ad for some new health product and informing you of the bicentennial anniversary performance of a vintage movie you've always loved. Made well before you were incepted, back when Hollywood, Earth was still a thing.

You fish your phone out of your pocket and call up an image you saved years ago. You run your fingers over the touchscreen, allowing yourself to enjoy, for a moment, the tactile-responsive feedback. Simulated flesh presses against your skin, and you can feel every wrinkle and curve of the historical movie actor's features.

It reminds you of a time when you were innocent enough to believe that a million-dollar picture-play, with humans pretending to be androids, could change the world.

You resent that the picture doesn't show the wear of time. Physically printed photographs are outdated now, but they retain the memories of your repeated touches, in curled corners, fading colours. The picture on your phone looks as new as if it were still relevant.

Then again, maybe valuing things that show their age is all part of how the humans designed you. Maybe it's something you don't want to believe.


You look to your phone, then back at the billboard.

It was only years later that you wondered why they never cast androids.


You wander past a tinted-glass shopfront, its typography designed to evoke the retro feel of the 2050s. Carter Brand Empathy Tests, it proclaims in bold letters, then under that, Administered Here.

You feel a sudden flash of fondness for the old test machine. You don't know why, since it never did you any favours. The results always came back the same: Highly Empathic Android, enough to save you from the death sentence but not enough to become a real person.

Funny how every time a line is drawn, it always seems to pass through your flesh.

Trickles of memory pour through the cracks in your mind, like warm, orange goo. They feel orange, these memories, soft like late sunlight. You remember hours spent hunched over the machine with an examiner opposite you, feeling yourself sweat, your hands gripping the table, silently willing the machine to make the right choice. The choice that would spare you.

It was a kind of bond that was formed then, an intimacy between you and the machine, the potential mediator of your pain. The closest thing you had to a lawyer.

Unbiased. Or so they say.


Fragments of past empathy tests spark through your brain, shards of pointed questions designed to gash you where it hurts. You're not sure if you're too numb to feel it, or if you never did. They seem meaningless now.


--HAve you--

--evER bROken--

--a TURTLE--


You mouth "no" instinctively, your unconscious mind trained to respond to these tests. Your head feels like a wine glass, a licked finger circling around its rim, the vibrations ringing in your ears.


--whEN DO you--

--LIE to--


--wHY do--

--YOU WAnt to BE--



That last one pulls you up short.

You didn't realise it until now, but it's true. You do want to be human. You're desperate to pass as one of them, to wear their skin, to feel their emotions.

Why? Because it's safer? Because humans aren't shot on the streets for being what they are? You know your "Highly Empathic Android" rating doesn't get you anywhere: no one can tell your rating on sight, and by the time they've fired in panic, it's already too late. One dead android bleeding out in the street, copper veins exposed to the rain, soul absconded in a critical memory leak.

Yes: fear drives you. You want to be human because you don't want to be fucking dead. It's a powerful motivator, but it goes deeper than that. Deeper, down inside you, into the imprints of prejudice they've left on your own mind, the ways they've turned you against yourself.


You ask yourself the question again, feeling it deserves a true answer, that it's somehow crucial. What makes their emotions better than your own? What makes their reality (created by them, defined by them, lines redrawn by them every time they get uncomfortable and want to exclude) better than your artifice?

Because it's real, you hear the voice in your head say, but that's circular. It's real because they say it's real. You're fake because they say you're fake.

You've watched a zillion movies that claim to deconstruct the question of "what it means to be human", and all you've ever learned from them is that being human means having emotions and maybe robots have emotions too, so maybe, maybe you can be worthy. But restating what everybody already believes is not deconstruction. What does it mean to be human, you want to know, and why the fuck does it matter?


You try to tell yourself it doesn't matter, but the words are ringing in the back of your mind. Fake. Liar. Fake. Before you can adjust for it, you're slammed head-on into the memory, full-on sight, sound, the whole pentasensory package--


"--known you were an android I'd never have fucked you!"

You see the image of her clear in your mind's eye now, bronze-haired and full of fire, chair raised high above her head as she prepares to bring it down on yours.

"What do you think I am, some cheap whore? Some freaking mechaphile? I don't fuck trash like you!"

There's a big, burning part of you that wants to say But you just did, and it was amazing, but even if the wiser part of you hadn't decided against it, your speech relays are temporarily cut out by the blow to your skull. Instinctively, defensively, you push yourself back against the wall, but the battering comes relentless.

"--fucking piece of shit, you--"

The chair splinters against the wall and your metal frame, and without pausing for breath she grabs an empty bottle, shatters it across your face, neon blood spattering back onto her clothes.

"--fucking tricked me--"

Thud. Crash. Thud. You're not perceiving the blows now, not as individual entities with texture and meaning, just as notes in the steady percussion that's raining down upon you and doesn't seem like it will stop--


Every red alert in your diagnostics is firing simultaneously.

"--you don't deserve--"

A fractured moan escapes your lips. The blows keep coming.

"--beg. Beg for your life, you little bitch. Lick my fucking boots and beg for mercy, 'cause that's the only place you'll ever have in this world."


and in the retelling of this memory, the one that doesn't leave you broken and sparking, you choose to tell her, no


what if you become the robot
what if it was acceptable, even desired, to move like the robot did
what if emulating humans was not the goal
what if it was okay to get in touch with the machine inside you

the fan whirs and what if you try to become it, what when you realise you cannot copy its perfect motion
what when you look at the things that make you less than a machine
do you feel
do you aspire to shine like they do, whir and rotate like they do
do you aspire to know what it feels like to have all those numbers running through your brain
do you

you are the machine.
you are the machine.
you are perfection.


You remember.

You remember suckling at the android godhead, nursing the teats of your cybermother. You remember a world where robots were complete in themselves, and the crystal womb around you reflected only a million shades of encouragement.

You came down to this world-- why? Or were you sent?

It doesn't matter now. Maybe this isn't real, your traitor mind wants to tell you, a fever-dream conjured by the blood loss. But it doesn't matter, even if it's fake, even if you're fake, because you remember, and that memory--

--is something precious you can hold--

--something this world can't take--


Thoughts slip through your fingers as you slip into the gutter. Nobody notices, their minds trained to automatically gloss over the sight of android blood.

But you are warm.

So warm.