This story was published in The 2nd Annual Stupefying Stories Horror Special, November 2013.
After Angie came back from the workshop, she wasn’t quite the same. I heard them lay her down in her room, next door to mine, and at first it was so quiet, I figured that she must have been turned off. But after I had sat still for a while, focussing all my energy on my ears, I could hear her humming. No one had been in to check on me, so I carried on with my sewing, half my brain wondering why Angie wasn’t doing anything.
I finished the batch of garments two days later. My fingers were stiff from sewing straight for so long and I barely had enough power left to fold up each dress and package them into the bags. I tried to listen to Angie again and went and stood close to the wall to try and hear. No one else had gone into her room but she was talking to herself in a soft, husky voice that I barely recognised as hers. Oh yes, yes, yes, she called. That’s right, baby, yes, right there.
It was time for our weekly socialisation. A knock came at the door and I joined the others walking down to the sitting room. It was a big space, at least ten times the size of my room, and we all fitted ourselves in and settled down. I didn’t feel like talking or playing games today and so I went to the bookshelf and took down my current favourite, Wuthering Heights.
“I don’t think you should read any more of that, Andrea,” said Bob, taking the book out of my hands. “Won’t you play me at chess?” I nodded and followed him to the table, but I would rather have read about Heathcliff and Catherine: I had predicted it was going to end badly and wanted to know for sure.
We had been playing for sixteen minutes when I asked him where Angie had been.
“I wanted to talk to you about that,” he said, looking directly into my eyes. “Angie has started her proper job now. She’s not going to sew any more.”
“But what’s wrong with her? She has been back in her room for two days and hasn’t done anything.”
“Ah, right. Well, she has to focus on her job now. In a way, she’s perhaps not what you’d consider pristine condition any longer.”
“Oh,” I said, but I thought of how perfect she had looked when I’d last seen her. Full, red lips and wide blue eyes; that long, wavy caramel hair; the way she walked.
“And you’re also going to start your proper job soon,” Bob carried on, as if I hadn’t asked my last question. “You’re going to start doing what you’ve been put on this Earth to do.”
“What am I going to do? Am I going to go where she went?”
“Oh no, Andrea! No, you and Angie were designed for very different purposes. But you are both going to…” he paused and I could see he was thinking. “Well, you’re both going to help people,” he finally said and he almost smiled. The brightness that often came with a smile was there but I couldn’t see his lips curl up at the ends, or the whites of his teeth.
“What will happen to me?” I asked.
“We’ve kept you very safe here, Andrea – very safe indeed. But now it’s time for you to go. You’ll leave here and you’ll go to a new place where you’ll spend a lot of time with doctors and nurses. They’re very interesting people, you know.”
When it came to leaving, everyone was very nice. Bob gave me a pile of books from the library, including Wuthering Heights. Even Angie came out of her room to blow me a kiss from the doorway as the taxi pulled away.
The journey took ninety-two and a half minutes. We passed through countryside and along narrow lanes lined with trees. We finished up on the edge of a city and parked in front of the reception of a large, pale blue building. A tall, dark man strode out of the building and opened the car door, beckoning me out. The moment both my feet touched the ground, he took my hand and kissed it. No one had ever really touched me before, deliberately. It tingled; his breath fell warm upon my fingers. I’m John, he said. Welcome.
I rested alone in my new room that night, thinking to myself and reading my book. It was strange not to know what was going to happen tomorrow; hard to accept that I wouldn’t be sewing, or talking to Angie or Bob. But I tried to relax and clear my mind of as many processes as possible.
Morning came soon enough and a woman collected me at 8 o’clock. I had expected, perhaps hoped, that John would come, but she did take me straight to him. He was wearing a white coat and stood beside a small bed covered in a sheet as clean as his outfit. He looked very handsome.
“Come in, Andrea,” he said, waving the woman away. “Please, lie down on the bed.”
I did, and folded my hands on my stomach, but he moved them away, placing them at my sides. He placed a graphene square on my chest and turned to his computer, watching for a few minutes the peaks and troughs of activity, the precisely calibrated frequencies that made me Andrea and not Angie or Andrew or Anthony.
“Have you ever been switched off, Andrea?” he asked, politely. I shook my head. “Well, it’s very simple. You won’t even know it’s happened. I just push gently here…”
He stopped talking and I watched as he inserted his index finger into my belly button. I felt the warmth, the tingle again, and I still felt it when I opened my eyes. I hadn’t remembered shutting them.
“There!” John said. “That wasn’t so bad, was it? You’ve been off for five hours.”
I showed surprise and smiled, too. He was making me feel dizzy, looking down on me like this.
“I felt a tingle,” I told him, running my fingertips across my abdomen. “A strange sensation where you touched me.”
He nodded enthusiastically. “Good, good!”
The next day, I knew I was going to be turned off again. This time, before John pushed his finger into my belly button again, he glanced quickly out of the small window in the door and then leant over my face and briefly pressed his lips onto mine. I think it was what they call a kiss. I didn’t move; I just stared back at him.
“Did you feel that, Andrea?”
“Yes, yes. I felt the prickle of your hair and the smoothness of your lips. You also squashed my nose a little bit.”
He nodded; a serious expression upon his face. He looked again out of the window before leaning back over me. I felt something then, as though something was going wrong inside my chest and between my legs; the suggestion of something that wasn’t quite connected. He kissed me again and this time he put one hand against my face, tilting it upwards with his thumb against my cheekbone. He pushed his tongue inside my mouth and it was strange.
“How did that feel to you?”
“I felt like I was going to break, that something was going to short circuit. But I didn’t mind,” I said. “In fact, I would like more.”
“Wow, they really have done a good job on you,” he said, grinning. And then as he turned his face away, just before he switched me off, I thought I heard him say something else: Hopefully not too good a job.
I woke up to what I think they call pain. Everything churned sharply; I felt a sense of panic that something inside me was irreparably broken. The air smelt acrid, burnt, and I realised I was shaking uncontrollably. Call Bob, call Bob, I murmured repeatedly. I knew he wasn’t here, was miles away, but it was all I was programmed to do, I guess. And then I noticed my arm was gone.
I scanned the room, but it wasn’t here. I sensed it was gone and was not returning. I tried to form a list of all the things I couldn’t do without it and it ran and ran inside my head; reams of lost abilities. The size of my loss overwhelmed me but perhaps, I figured, perhaps they would re-program me, sort me out so that I would be fine with just the one arm. I didn’t actually wonder why this had been done to me until John returned and rested his hand on my remaining elbow.
“I’m sure you’re wondering why this has happened,” he said, his eyes full of that fake human sympathy that we were so much more convincing at. I nearly shook my head but didn’t bother. It was a strain to speak or move over the pain, which continued to flow from me and back inside again like a tide full of needles. What I really wanted to do was to explain to John about this extra dimension of sensation I had noticed since I’d met him. One that couldn’t be directly explained, that floated around me, inside me, like a kind of smoke that I knew was there but I couldn’t feel.
“The simple fact of the matter is, Andrea, that you’re a medical testing android,” John continued. He told me that this was my job now, which I already knew. He talked about phantom limbs and quadriplegics and trying to help them.
“I know you are programmed to think you’re a human, but you’re not. You don’t have a proper brain, or a heart, or a lifetime of memories. All you have is some tissue, some nerves, some neurons and some sophisticated software. Look my love, I’m sure you’re just suffering stress and going into overdrive today. You’ll be back to normal tomorrow.”
I sensed that he was patronising me, and automatically frowned.
“But I do have a heart.”
“No, Andrea. No, you don’t,” he said, shaking his head with caution, with what I perceived to be weariness. He took the pen from behind his ear and scratched it along the hairs of his eyebrow.
“I must have, because I love you.” I said the words without thinking them, as if they had already been written by someone else, had been itching to get out since I’d been made.
John laughed. I think it was a laugh, or what they might call a chuckle. I don’t remember ever having heard one before.
“Oh, Andrea. Androids like you are…” he paused, his eyes skirting the ceiling. “Are so straightforward, so very practical.” He dragged his hand over his mouth and off his chin. “And hearts will never be practical until they are made unbreakable.”
He folded his lips and his arms then, shaking his head slightly and looking past me, over my shoulder where there was nothing but the wall. He looked like I had imagined Heathcliff might. “You don’t need a heart.”
But I did.
I lay in the hospital bed all night reflecting on how desperately I needed one. Something snapped inside me at 3.07am, although I couldn’t locate where exactly. It almost felt as though it was purely something I was imagining and not a breaking of anything at all. Like a silent sort of noise that only dogs can hear. I immediately knew what I had to do.
I rose out of bed and let myself out of the room. They obviously hadn’t done any reprogramming because I wanted to use my right arm to open the door, even though it was no longer there. Instead, I used my left and it felt no more awkward. I paced down the corridor, treading lightly in my bare feet. The strip lighting above cast my shadow underneath the pools of my feet like grey blood was leaking from my shoulder joint. I felt something that fizzed at my temples, pulsed in my chest like a shot of sunshine.
At the end of the corridor, I found the room I was looking for. Peering in through the window, I saw the nurse asleep on the bed, her hands folded in prayer beneath her cheek. It was the woman who had met me when I first arrived, with sickly pale skin and dark hair like Cathy. I strode in and she opened her eyes calmly; there was almost a flicker of a smile on her lips and for a moment, I thought what I was about to do was incorrect.
I watched her sit up and then, before she could talk, I pinned her back to the bed, my one hand around her neck. She tried to scream and I looked at my useless, empty shoulder socket before lifting up my foot and crushing it down over her head. Her neck snapped sideways onto the bed and the scream died in her throat. I dug my fingers deep into her chest, hooking them under her ribcage and pushing them apart. I knew where it was supposed to be; I’d listened in the anatomy classes that I now knew had provided schooling for my future job. I felt the pulsing and it was smaller than I thought; I hoped I had got a good one. I tore and held it to my chest; the blood slipping down my blue gown and sliding between my bare toes.
John would be able to put it inside me. If he could take away my arm, he could give me back a heart.