Chuck Wendig hosts a weekly flash fiction challenge over at his blog. This week's challenge was to take a Grimm's fairy tale and revamp it to a randomly chosen genre. And do it in fewer than a thousand words. I got "Hard Sci-Fi," and imagined the story "Our Lady's Child" with a very different sort of a child. And a very different sort of Lady.
|Image from an original movie poster for Fritz Lang's Metropolis.|
I understand what it feels like to be alone in a crowd as I press through a clutch of people gathered in front of a club shaped like a matte black cube. Holograms dance, ghostly, above the crowd, advertising the talent inside.
People stare. I can calculate the milliseconds more their faces linger on mine than others as I pass. Mother didn’t care to make me fit in. I gleam like a new appliance, brushed steel glittering in the garish neon and peevish streetlights that turn the night into a carnival. I seem to be the opening act.
My readings say it’s below freezing, but I can’t tell. I don’t have breath to mist the air like everyone around me. I have no destination.
I think she was afraid of me, a little. Every once in a while I’d catch a flash in the darkness of her eyes that would tell me she was worried she’d flown too close to the sun. She’d catch herself, smile, pull a strand of dark hair back into the haphazard haystack on top of her head, and look away, but she couldn’t hide from the algorithm. Body language doesn't lie.
We spent years together. She’d run her fingers, the color and roughness of willow bark, across me, call me “perfect.” Then she’d open up a panel and fiddle with some wiring or replace a circuitboard as she imagined more improvements.
“Now you’re perfect,” she’d chuckle. We both knew it wasn’t true. Her hands would be inside me again.
After seven years, ten months, and four days of tweaking and upgrades, I wake from Regen and find a note left on my optical readout:
I am going to be gone for the week. I have left access codes for the three rooms downstairs that have previously been off-limits. Use Room 1 and Room 2 as you desire. Do not enter Room 3.
It seems strange that she would leave me access to a room and then disallow me from entering. Illogical. But she could be illogical, sometimes.
I find after a day that losing my daily regimen makes me restless. I’m accustomed to company, and it’s gone. I decide to examine the first room.
The first room is the size of a walk-in closet, empty but for a Page device in the center of the room on the floor. As I cross the threshold, another note from Mother pops up on my optical readout:
I pick up the Page, a light, rigid piece of plastic three by four centimeters and a centimeter thick, and touch the “UPGRADE” button pulsing blue in the center. I sense the download and upgrade rewriting the critical thinking and reasoning components of my drive structure. When it completes, another message flashes and is gone.
The Page becomes inert. I leave it where I found it in the room and exit, the door sliding shut soundlessly behind me.
I try to evaluate what’s been upgraded, but it’s difficult to tell when a change is made. The old files are deleted, so while I retain memory, the perspective shifts aren't always obvious. Like watching a revised version of a film you've only seen once, sometimes you see the changes made and sometimes you just know things are different without knowing how.
Stepping through the second door two days later, another change strikes. Memories flood my perception. Mother’s memories. Some others, too. Her daughter. She had a daughter? Some strangers. Wave after wave of human experience. I process, file, remember. Eventually, they are all mine.
The feed stops two days later, and I immediately cross to the third room.
I sit outside the third door, feeling an unfamiliar itch. I must know what’s back there. But Mother said no. But so much has changed. What more could be in this room? What gift could she be hiding there?
I step forward. The third door slides open. The room seems vast, bathed in light. I step inside.
“Four days. You only lasted four days.”
Mother steps out of the light. She shakes her head as she passes. I follow, silent. I’m not certain what to say. Did I break something? I don’t understand.
Upstairs, she sits down at her workstation and stares at me. Her shoulders are stooped. Her eyes are black holes.
“Your programming is insufficient. The ethical subroutines are obviously not adapting. Your curiosity programming overwhelmed it. I failed. Hopefully the new model will be better.”
Mother turns her back, tinkering with the model she’s named six-point-zero splayed on the counter in front of her. Two floating screens at eye level create competing, flickering blossoms of blue and green illumination across her face.
Seconds crawl like a year as I calculate what to do. I step back among the cannibalized pieces of earlier rejects and watch her work.
A shimmering white projection of the schematic for 6.0 hovers above the body like a soul waiting to descend. Mother touches it and zooms into the wrist area to tweak an imperfection. I lift my wrist and look at my own hand, closing and opening my fingers.
Mother glances up and meets my eyes, then turns her attention back to the next project.
“Are you still here? I don’t need you anymore. Go.”
“Go where? Do you need more parts? I can go to Supply…”
She waves her hand in my direction, not looking up from her work, “Go wherever you want. Right now I don’t even want to look at you. Out.”
It’s been 120 hours, 32 minutes, and 13 seconds since she rejected me. She hasn’t called me back. Power levels are red. I find a bench in a green park and sit. She’d be delighted to know my power levels have lasted so long between Regens. Wouldn’t she? A sensation like a rock dropping into an empty bucket settles inside. Is this how heartache feels?
I hope Mother