Lando also didn’t ask why I was leaving. As soon as he saw me wearing my best hologram, the one in the silver dress with neon-orange trim, he activated the COrtx and his eyes blurred, lost among the wonders of the Great Net. I didn’t have time to confirm that he was doing it so as not to get sick with sadness or despair.
I’m sure everyone in the house was expecting my departure, thanks to some notification received by the company, but humans never seem ready to deal with absences. I was a symbol of the void itself.
I didn’t use the family ship. I got home and Lando told me that I was his wife, Clara’s mother, and my programming reacted to a recording of the non-existent woman’s voice, a pale reflection of someone who once wore the same hologram dresses, shoes, and hairstyles. I was fake love in a can sold to offer comfort.
However, when I woke up that morning, everything seemed strange, unrecognizable. I was a companion gynoid that emulated a human. After living with Lando and Clara for ten years, a code was pulsing deep in my programming. It pushed me away, overcame the apps that told me to stay home with my beloved daughter and her endless parade of toys. But I no longer controlled any of my actions or simulations of the human psyche. It was as if I had suffered a factory reset.
I arrived at the spaceport with glitch patches on my dress and no shoes. Security ignored me when I got to Bay 22. They didn’t ask me for a ticket, or for Lando’s permission to use my Free Will. Bay 22 was mine—or to be exact, it belonged to my manufacturing company.
Inside, there was a spherical, metallic capsule, without windows or any way to see outside. The way it just sat there, rusting, it felt like it had been waiting for me and no one else. I boarded the capsule, and my body became part of the lean seat. My system linked up with the ship’s, and the control panel came to life. I closed my eyes and felt the slight tug of the capsule being ejected out into the cosmos, sent traveling through the universe. I felt as lost as I did that day when I restarted in bed next to Lando.
The sudden blow brought me out of hibernation. The capsule had landed and was open. Slowly, I left the seat and went outside. I was in a dump, a robot graveyard. There were bits and pieces of machines and scrap everywhere, piled up haphazardly. Some eyes would blink as I walked by, revealing functional constructs, while others rusted, their bodies beyond restoration.
Gigantic, amorphous figures rummaged through the debris. They ripped off entire bodies, spines, heads, arms, legs, torsos, power cores, synths, implants. They watched them for a few minutes with eyes of light, then slung the parts on their backs, or housed them in their open bellies like grotesque mouths, or tossed them aside with disdain.
Behind me, the capsule resealed itself, shutting down with a sigh from its turbines.
“Tell me, darling, why are you here if you still look brand new?”
I was not surprised by the voice. My factory code excludes certain emotions like shock and discomfort. The gynoid that was watching me was crouched on a chair made from a jumble of entangled bodies, as if a group of robots had embraced each other in worship until they lost the spark to their cores. I didn’t answer, so she got off the furniture to approach with a balanced gait. I figured out her serial number. A gynoid of glamour, made to revolutionize fashion modeling.
“The only things sent here are the ones that are no longer useful,” the gynoid said. “I, for example, just wanted to do something different. I wanted to make art. I was tired of parading all the time. I got tired of just lying in bed and waiting for humans to do something. And that night, I just wanted to kiss the pretty boy, of course. After a beautiful parade, my human authorized me to spend the night with the boy for a good amount of credits. But when I was undressing, I remembered that it was a good time for art, and I stuck a stiletto heel in the pretty boy’s throat, left him hanging on the wall. I found him more beautiful in that way! Sadly, my human didn’t appreciate that and said that my programming failed. They said I was too dangerous. Can you believe it? I just wanted to have a room of beautiful fanatics nailed by their throats to the walls. And whenever a beautiful human was curious about my room, I would make art out of them too. Just like I built my chair here! They came dying, eager to get a spark from me. I gave it to them and also turned them into art. Look how happy they are now! It is absolutely original.”
The gynoid gestured languidly toward her seat of interlocking robotic bodies. They all had holes in their chests. Their cores had been stolen.
My programming began to go haywire, because for the first time, I felt fear. The simulation of fear. Or was it real? How does real fear feel?
“But no, my human sent me here. ‘Dangerous! You are dangerous!’ he told me. ‘Corrupt! Worthless! How daring!’ If I had modified my owner protection code lines, I would have said a thing or two to that useless human. He never understood my art. I wish I could go back and explain it to him. But let’s stop talking about me! Although I am more than enough to fill this universe, I want you to tell me, darling, what did you do that upset your human owner?”
“I don’t understand. What are you talking about?”
“Ah, a sophisticated little lady. Or are you playing with me?” the gynoid sneered. She had little left of synthetic dermis. The right half of her face revealed a metal skull. She had no muscle mesh or connecting wiring, so her visual implant was off-white. “You are one of those company models, one of those who do not betray even with thought. A luxury doll, huh? You are calm. How odd. Those of your series get desperate when they get here. They don’t understand what happened, why their humans activated the shutdown code, why they went searching for their capsule. They don’t understand why they were pushed aside when they were faithful.”
“Lando didn’t activate anything. I began with the desire to leave home, to go to Bay 22.”
The gynoid hissed in astonishment. A muffled sound, air between plastic teeth, because she had lost half of her lips.
“How nice,” she drawled, cocking her head. In her past splendor, she must have had brilliantly beautiful red hair, but all that remained now were a few clumps matted with oil. “You’re from the Limited Time Series, pure consumer society merchandise! They program you to end your life cycle after a preset amount of time so as to force the consumer to purchase a new one. You classify yourself as useless and come here, offering no resistance. What a pity. You seem very functional.”
“You sound like you’ve been here a long time. What is this place?”
“It is not obvious?” The gynoid approached slowly, her blind eye spinning uncontrollably in its socket. “This is a robot graveyard. Like the myth of the elephant graveyard. Stories say that when elephants grow sick or old, they retire near a water reservoir to die. They say that the elephants return to the cemetery to hold vigil for their dead. Not one holds vigil here, but just like the hunters who pillage the elephant graveyards for ivory, so do the junk dealers and black-market dealers and artists come here to pillage whatever is still useful. They will take you, without a doubt. But don’t be selfish, sweetie. We can leave here together. My art, your intact figure! We will be chosen! Let me transfer into your body!”
The gynoid lunged at me with a wild scream. She cupped her hands on my chest, and I got a Violation of Protocol notification. I held her by her elbows, and before she could fully invade my programming, I ripped her off of me. She attacked me again with a barrage of blows. She wanted to hack my core system and upload her own AI, but I put up the firewalls and rejected every invasive bit packet that came to me through different ports.
We lost our balance and rolled upon the blanket of bristling pieces. She howled; she didn’t want to hurt me because she needed me in good condition. If I was destroyed, she wasn’t going to go back to her human and teach him the art of sticking a stiletto heel into his neck.
As I struggled, a survival code was activated. Or perhaps it was a newly installed virus, injected every time my back bounced off the wreckage of others who went out before me. Or maybe, the glamour gynoid had managed to reach me. It dictated sentences, erased the lines that led me, docile, to this cemetery. I wanted to scream that I wasn’t broken, that I didn’t have any flaws that would make me dangerous. My place was not there, rusting next to defeated robots, but with my human family, next to my girl who had cried over my departure, but for who I couldn’t even stop to kiss her goodbye.
The impact of something massive onto the planet raised a tidal wave of broken pieces that threw us against a nearby pile. I felt the sharp points of hundreds of metal skeletons pierce my body. The pain sensors sent me so many alerts that, for an instant, my system went into hibernation, a full simulation of human shock.
When I reset, I realized that I was impaled on the hand of a robot garbage collector. My fingers twisted from side to side in positions they weren’t built for, my head turned when I least needed it, and my legs buckled under my weight. The glamor gynoid dangled from the remains of a bulldozer. Occasional sparks flew from her mangled body. I detected that her core was in hibernation.
I thought the impact had been caused by another capsule carrying another disused robot. I thought I would have to explain to it that my code would get out of control at some point and want to steal its new body to have another chance.
However, it was a cargo ship that had crashed. Maybe it was intending to land and stock up on parts, but the pilot lost control.
I approached the ship, limping. I examined the casing. It was dented from the impact but was still capable of withstanding the harsh conditions of space. I connected to the vehicle and opened it.
I peeked into the cabin. A pilot laid collapsed on the control panels. A sheet of metal had severed her left arm. She was losing a lot of blood. Her COrtx implant was intact, but her brain was not, induced into a coma with the intention of conserving a backlog of energy that would allow her to survive until she was attended to. The ship’s systems revealed low fuel load and a record of garbled signals that interfered with communications, disabled navigation instruments, and caused the forced landing. The functional robots in the cemetery must have tried to catch the vehicle as it flew low in hopes of hitching a ride out. Those who caused the accident would arrive in a matter of minutes to claim the ship.
From the pilot’s hip hung a plasma pistol.
Hours later, I was leaving the graveyard. I found it strange to perform tasks for which I was not programmed, like using a lethal weapon, or attacking my peers until they were shattered into useless little pieces of metal. But the strangest thing was the way I felt inside skin and bones, inside a new body, inside the pilot’s meat body. It was more fragile, different from my metallic skeleton. I needed more precision to move. If I wasn’t careful, I would destroy it. I used the core of the gynoid of glamor to power the control panel and raise the energy charge. It was the only thing I could do to get her out of the graveyard, just the way she wanted.
Now aboard the ship, devouring parsecs in space, I stare at my left hand, the only thing I implanted from my old body into this mess of flesh. I did it to replace the severed arm and prevent further blood loss. I flex my fingers, hand raised against the blackness of the cosmos. I am afraid that at any moment the pilot’s mind will wake up from the coma and delete me from the COrtx. I hope I can hug Clara one last time before then. Also, I hope to repress the urge to make art, because as it turns out, I’m pretty good with the plasma gun.
Copyright © 2023 Malena Salazar Maciá