Copyright 2016 Helen Rusinoff
Published on Shakespir by Eroticon
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This is a work of fiction. All of the characters in it are completely imaginary and bear no resemblance to any people or androids, living or dead.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Benny
Chapter 2 Denny
Chapter 3 Maggie
Chapter 4 Outsider
Chapter 5 Room Test
Chapter 6 War
Chapter 7 I’m Alive
A long time ago, when I still believed in coincidences, Machine Sister came to me and asked me about the purpose of my life. I smiled, gently stroking her synthetic curls, and she opened to me without any answer given, because I had none. No one, not even Outsideauthority, may Zaal and Ali keep It always in rich supply, knew just how I had gone and passed the test, and certainly not Old Zara, the Key Keeper, or my real sister, Sal. With shame, I write now that the test I had cheated on was one of many such trials, and Machine Sister would always support me in my craziest wonderings, and in times of trouble, would always come to my aid. That is a debt I cannot easily repay, not because it is impossible, but because I’m a lazy bastard. Even now, I can hear her sweet voice, and feel the tickle of her curls against my ear. The young man or boy in charge of this story, Onion by nickname, had the greatest respect for my kind. I would not have told him that he was wrong, because his belief in us was so great. The foolish fool even created his own version of the story, tinged with religious belief. I laughed when I read his account. But no matter. I have stayed far too long on Earth.
--- The Sacred Texts of Denny Leach
Through the line of trees, I could see the blue roof of a nearby building. It always reminded me of a lake, the way the blue color suddenly caught the eye among the trees. But, it was just the roof of a building, a solid, stark blue. Probably another housing complex, judging by the architecture.
The dome house of our Sector’s ruler, Prime Minister Ubuqus, swept high into the sky, looming just above the thin forest of trees. It was an enormous ball, elongated toward the top, called the Capitol. Three towers, made of real marble and topped with onion shaped golden caps, decorated its top. This monstrous egg sat on a hilltop overlooking the river, and every day the siren installed in one of the towers went off, announcing the arrival of a new diplomatic guest, or the beginning of a new war.
Beyond it, visibility was limited by the Camo-Mists ™, which filled much of our vicinity. It looked pretty, with so many pearly, wispy clouds.
This was the view through my window in the temporary housing complex called Verdiz-on-the-Bank (a crude translation – it had a rather delicate local innuendo, which I won’t go into). It was a good hiding place both from P.M. Ubuqus’ police, who were looking for me since June, ever since I failed to show up to renew my ID, as well as from the Outsiders, those mechanical beings with red eyes who were usually accompanied by shepherds, and whom everyone feared for their viciousness and unmatched speed on foot.
There was a knock on my door, and I got up to open it. It was Benny, my old friend and one-time nurse.
Benny was an odd character, as none of the other nurses were male. He had very small, black eyes and an enormous jaw, like a piranha. Actually, he held some resemblance to the fish. The first time I met him was in the ambulance. He was hanging above me, his arms spread out to keep a hold on something as the little wagon wiggled down the street, wailing and cutting into lanes.
He said, “Don’t be afraid,” in a deep bass.
He was carrying a metal plated briefcase in his right hand. I had a bad feeling about it right away. He came into the room and set it down on the table, shoving aside some empty plastic cups.
I can tell you, when your mind is going, all the things – the mundane, little things that used to bore you, like solid walls, your own reflection in the mirror, having to wait for the streetcars to go by before crossing the street – all these things suddenly become very near and dear to your heart. And as you wake up from the nightmare, you want to kiss the paint on the walls just for being in its place. Even now, I can still see them. There were twenty of us, living in the compound provided by the school. We weren’t allowed to go out at night past 8 pm. We weren’t allowed to visit each other’s rooms, or to read certain books. There were always rules. There were many rules. I’m not sure if I ever saw Benny at the school, but he was unmistakably one of us: the byproduct of a very sophisticated, yet from another perspective, absolutely idiotic system of procreation. In his room hung a pin up poster – it was a risk. (The first thing Ubuqus did when he came to power was forbid ballet, pornography, public drinking, and sex. Furthermore, he made it illegal for anyone to engage in, or be in possession of any items, pertaining to the above things.)
I was not supposed to be here. None of us, Children of Ubuqus, were supposed to be here. Sometimes I doubted if we were even real. We didn’t look like anyone else. We had chalk white skin, and usually white hair, although sometimes it was red or black. We were taken away form our surrogate parents at an early age and brought to the school. We lived here until the ripe old age of twenty, when it was time to go take the Test. The Test, the Test. That’s what everybody kept talking about, although no one knew what it was. Tales told of an enormous white room with a single chair planted in its center, in which each of us would have to sit alone for some time. What happened next was unknown. Those who’d taken the Room Test weren’t allowed to talk about it, whether they’d passed it or not. There was a special glow to those who did. They were the Alphas, and the girls loved them (not literally, of course). They looked tragic, and maybe a little touched in the head. There was some stupid story circulating about a test taker who was trapped in the room for days. They barely got her out.
So, I tried to run away. It wouldn’t be half as bad, I thought, even if I got caught, knowing that at least, I’d tried. I didn’t want to join Ubuqus’ Party, the Clown Flotilla of the Outsiders (a self-deprecating political wing of a rival group), or the opposing ranks of the missile-launching Invaders. I skipped the passport renewal, and did not have any rights as a result. I would be likely destined for jail if I got caught. I moved often, going from town to town, but it appeared that Benny’s residence was my last stop.
I didn’t want to find out what was in the case Benny had brought. Nothing good ever arrived in metal plated briefcases in this country.
Germany’s mahogany eyes squinted softly, twinkling in the dim glow of the green shaded reading lamp. She was my classmate all through level 7, aged about 14. I was around the same age as her. She stole a sly look at me, and then went back to her reading, some school-assigned text about P.M. Ubuqus’ exploits in one of the many wars.
Germany was a somewhat frequent name around here: there was a fad after the discovery of artifacts from the Second Great War. It was ancient history, and wasn’t being taught anymore in schools. They found some typewriters and medallions, and pieces of yellow paper that fell apart immediately when exposed to the light.
Anyway, Germany was my first touch of lets-call-it-love. She was shy, but I was shyer. Every night I’d lie in bed, alone, and fantasize about her breasts. Sex was, of course, illegal and strictly prohibited in our Sector. Punishment for repeat offenders involved the removal of reproductive parts. Possibly, that was the reason why my fantasies never got much further. The rest of Germany’s anatomy was veiled in vague, bashful mists and red tape, also due in part to the fact that I had never before seen a real naked girl, and the topic was strictly taboo. I doubt, however, that even if circumstances allowed, we would have gotten anywhere past a tentative, awkward first kiss. But that was not to be. There was a raid, (Prime Minister Ubuqus was often at war), a missile landed on the roof of our school’s compound, and that was the end of a lot of things.
Some time later, doped under the hospital’s drug cocktails, I’d see her swim by, comically distorted as if through a thick glass. She’d swim above me, and all around me, looking accusingly and pouting. I could never figure out why she was upset.
Was it because I had survived the attack, and she didn’t? Or was it just my imagination playing tricks? To be honest, I’ve never felt survivor’s guilt. Perhaps, it was guilt on account of not feeling any.
After I was dragged out of the rubble, it took some time for recovery to take place. My brains came tumbling down, together with the brick and mortar of our compound. My understanding, my perception of reality, were gone, wiped out clean. I had to start anew, start from scratch. The drugs helped. What was before me, what was I really seeing? I was moved along with the others to a temporary housing complex on the outskirts of Verdiz, not far from my current residence at Benny’s place, incidentally. (Benny blinked impatiently at me, hovering over the briefcase.)
The building of the temporary housing complex was barely standing up. The room’s walls were deceptive and bowing and covered with leaks, as if streaked with tears. The people who lived on the floor above me had a leaky sink. My ceiling leaked every day when it rained, which was almost every day. I imagined what the dripping from my floor looked like to the people below. The single piece of wallpaper that had remained just behind the entrance door was always curling off the wall. Every time the door was opened or closed, it would flap furtively in the breeze. And then one day, the Mailman appeared at my door. She was one of the most feared people in the city. She knocked three times on my door, and handed me a long white envelope, which was a notice to appear for the Room Test. It was scheduled for March 2nd, at 2 a.m. That’s when I began running from the police, from my acquaintances, from everybody.
Benny was standing just above me, and I could see his face in great detail in the red glare. They found me in the rubble. Germany was gone. I never saw her since, I don’t think she was ever found. The compound seemed to have spontaneously imploded, leaving a hot, unapproachable puddle around its perimeter. They had to use special horizontal ladders to fish out the survivors. I was missing an arm and a leg, but these were easy to grow back.
“How’s life?” Benny said to me, one hand tapping on the plated case.
“Good, good,” I replied.
“What’s in the briefcase?”
Benny’s face brightened in a grin. He had a lot of white, sharp teeth. “Just between you and me, this is very sensitive stuff.”
He leaned closer and began whispering in my ear.
“This is Outsideauthority stuff. They don’t know where you are, they have no links. But…”
“Leach found you out, he’s at the Capitol now.”
My face turned white, as my right ear turned red. I could feel it burning. I’ve often noticed the odd correlation. Leach was an old enemy of mine from the school days. Not a real enemy (we’ve met since then and even had dinner once together), but he was one of those types who’d sell you out for a carton of Problem Chewing Gum.
“Hey, relax,” Benny said, noticing my reaction.
“What does he want?” I asked tentatively, massaging the rogue ear with one hand.
Benny loosely spread his arms. “I thought you’d know.”
He shrugged. “He said he just wants to talk. And…” He leaned closer again. “He promised to give you a passport if you show up. Voluntarily, of course.”
I began to laugh, quietly and nervously, which unnerved Benny. He frowned. “What’s the matter with you?”
“You believe this guy?”
Benny scratched the back of his neck. “Well…”
I glanced at him once and moved past him toward the briefcase. It had a code panel on its side. I looked at Benny, and he looked at me.
“Well, what’s the code?” I asked.
“Hmm.” The lid popped open, and the interior of the case was briefly illuminated by a green toxic flash. I rubbed my eyes. There was a message written on a piece of blue cloth, like a neck scarf. It read: “Come to the pier on 5.6.20 at noon, Sector 7 lot#32.” Benny studied the writing from behind my shoulder, breathing loudly and worriedly into my neck.
“What’s it say?” he asked. (He couldn’t read.)
“Who gave it to you?”
“Some guy on the train.”
“I see.” I let the lid snap shut.
“What are you going to do?”
“If it’s Leach, there won’t be any problem.”
“And if it’s not Leach?”
I shrugged. “Who knows.”
Denny Leach was attracted to Germany. So much so that he even tried to sleep with her, which would be a crime in many respects. I’m not sure what she felt for him, but they would sometimes go off together, holding hands. Anyway, I reported him to the school’s Director, Eros Voznitsky. Leach was called into Eros’ office the next day. I remember it well. When he returned, he was just about ready to kill me. In fact, I’m pretty sure that some three months later, it was he who planted the porn mag under my cot, which sent me straight to the dog house (it was an actual doghouse located in the exercise yard of the school, where I had to spend a week). I talked to Germany about it later on, and she told me she had no interest in Denny Leach anymore at all.
But I digress.
I stood with the briefcase at the pier, lot#32. It was empty, and the noonday sun was beating down. I stood there alone like a cactus, casting a spindly shadow onto the corrugated metal gate. There was no one around, and I started thinking that this could be some misunderstanding, a case of mistaken identity (there were at least 40 guys who looked like Benny in our Sector), or just a terrible joke.
There was a huge burned out hole in the warehouse door, possibly caused by stray missile debris from the recent attacks. I looked around carefully one more time, and stepped through the blackened gap.
An empty warehouse, and a pile of rubbish in one corner, broken cement blocks, rags, bags and other kinds of junk. The pile was bordered neatly by wooden beams on all sides. It didn’t look like anyone had been here for some time. There was a hole in the roof, and a dark spot on the floor below it where rainwater had come in. I stared at that spot for some reason, unconsciously gripping the handle of the briefcase so hard it left deep marks on my palm. There seemed to be no one here at all. I turned around carefully, and began walking toward the gap in the front door.
Suddenly, I heard a pneumatic hiss behind my back and stopped.
“Onion!” someone called out. “Look around you, look!”
I looked around, but there was no one in sight.
“Who’s there?” I asked the air.
“It’s me, Maggie.”
I squinted in the general direction of the junk pile, and discerned a semi-transparent figure standing knee-deep in the heap. I began to back away toward the door.
The ghostly form of Maggie, my former classmate, began to rise out of the pile. She drifted toward me so quickly that I stumbled and fell flat on my back. The briefcase went jumping across the floor like a frog. Every time it hit the ground it opened, flashing its green light. It came to a stop at Maggie’s feet, and she bent down to pick it up.
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I was not supposed to be here. None of us, Children of Ubuqus, were supposed to be here. Sometimes I doubted if we were even real. We didn't look like anyone else. We had chalk white skin, and usually white hair, although sometimes it was red or black. We were taken away from our parents at an early age and brought to the school. We lived here until the ripe old age of twenty, when it was time to go take the Test. The Test, the Test. That's what everybody kept talking about, although no one knew what it was. Tales told of an enormous white room with a single chair planted in its center, in which each of us would have to sit alone for some time. What happened next was unknown. Those who'd taken the Room Test weren't allowed to talk about it, whether they'd passed it or not. There was a special glow to those who did. They were the Alphas, and the girls loved them (not literally, of course). They looked tragic, and maybe a little touched in the head. There was some stupid story circulating about a test taker who was trapped in the room for days. They barely got her out. So, I tried to run away. It wouldn't be half as bad, I thought, even if I got caught, knowing that at least, I'd tried.