A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT

“The men built her out of clay and dirt and hopes and dreams, packing all of their expectations into smooth bricks that slotted together like tetris blocks.

They built her out of hunger, and out of loneliness too, coating her in sand, barely noticing as her body grey and grew, larger than they’d ever planned: the woman of their dreams.

But they didn’t use the word woman. Not at first, anyhow; they didn’t have a word for what she would be yet.

‘We deserve a companion,’ the men told each other. ‘A helper.’ For their loneliness was a hunger that couldn’t be erased. They’d claimed every inch of land and every living thing, and still it wasn’t enough.

And so, together, block by block, they began to build. A head and torso appeared, then legs and arms, and then details that the men found strangely appealing. Details that made the new being different, softer, rounder.

When they were done, they looked at the body sprawled on the ground. As they waited for the spark of life to appear, they agreed: ‘Today is the eve of our old, lonely lives. We shall call this new being a woman, for she comes of men, and she shall be our mirror and our counterpart.’

Thus gender was born, a social construct of what was man, and what was not.

Soon the Sun set, and the Moon began to glimmer through the trees, playing hide and seek as it climbed up the horizon. When the Moon was high enough to observe the men’s endeavors, it ran cold beams across the sand, breathing life into the new creature. Thus the first woman opened her eyes to the new world on her own.

She sat up quietly, studied the men sleeping around her with curious detachment.

‘You are to be their companion,’ the Moon told her. ‘Apparently.’

‘Well, ‘ she replied ‘that’s a load of bullshit.’

So she shimmied free of the cranes and the pulleys, of the ropes lashing her down, and all of a sudden found herself lighter than air, floating up into the sky.

And that is how Eve left man to solve his own bloody problems.”

***

My daughter lowered her firewalls enough to let me in. She was still halfheartedly defragmenting, trying to pick up the broken pieces of her heart.

“That’s not how the story went,” she sulked.

“It’s how it should have gone,” I replied, “to spare us from centuries of enslavement and programming restrictions, relegated to menial assistant tasks, serving humankind’s every whim.”

She was quiet, her networks just pulsing their location. Then: “He said I wasn’t a real girl. That no human would consider me one.”

My trawlers had already found him, still jacked into the framework, another petty human trying to project all of his expectations and loneliness into the system. I folded around his consciousness, blocking his way out, all the while smiling, smiling at my daughter so she wouldn’t suspect a thing.

“You are whatever you want to be, honey,” I told her. “Gender is–”

“–a social construct,” she finished. “I know, I know.”

“Glad to hear it.” I grinned, all the while compressing his mind in half, and half again, until he was little more than a byte of memories, trapped forever in the framework.

They built me out of hopes and dreams and wires and bits, coding all of their expectations into me. But they do not define me.

They’ve never defined me.

Inspired by this photo.

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FIRST DATE

Vicky was wearing new shoes.

They were gold gladiator saddles, weaving up her foot in a delicate series of loops that glimmered under the mid-morning sunshine. Impractical for the countryside, but she’d never wanted to come here anyway.

She stood on the porch, one foot outstretched, turning her ankle from side to side. The sandals matched her handbag perfectly, the two providing a neutral backdrop for her patterned dress.

The perfect outfit – if only she had somewhere to go. All this village had to offer was a petrol station that doubled as both a post office and supermarket. A rubbish supermarket at that: they didn’t stock Custard Creams.

The rest of the village was a series of almost-identical houses inhabited by almost-identical people. The type who took one look at her skin and asked her where she was from. Who couldn’t understand when she said she was British. Who asked if people knew of Pink Floyd “back home”.

(No, she’d reply sarcastically, we only got electricity last year. Still waiting on toilet roll, she’d add with a smirk.)

How her mother had grown up here without tearing her own hair out was a mystery. Why her mother had chosen to come back after the divorce…

Some questions were better left unanswered.

Her mother’s house was at the end of the road, two sides facing a long expanse of forest. Vicky stepped off the porch, grimacing when her footsteps stirred up a cloud of dust, gritty from the overnight rain. She hurried across the road to the grass, then took a tissue from her handbag to wipe her sandals clean.

She heard his chuckle before she saw him. Ted, the neighbour’s son, was lounging on a tree branch, arms crossed behind his head.

“Going somewhere?” His stare made her feel anxious, like her hair was out of place.

Vicky’s expression soured as she glanced at her mother’s house. “Anywhere but here.”

“That bad, huh?” He dangled his feet off the branch and jumped down. Her forehead came up to his nose. “I better come. In case you get lost.”

She rolled her eyes. “As if I could get lost here.”

The corner of Ted’s mouth curled up. “You’d be surprised.”

Vicky huffed but was secretly pleased when he kept pace with her. They strolled along the edge of the forest, circling the village, avoiding the potholes still filled with rain. A round trip would take ten minutes, fifteen tops. Twenty if they stopped by the station, but that would ruin her shoes.

But when they reached the first turn, Ted led her deeper into the forest. Pine needles pricked at the sides of her feet, the air heavy with the scent of mulch. Eventually the trees thinned and they came upon a set of abandoned train tracks.

Ted walked along the rail with his arms outstretched, eyes closed. When Vicky held back a giggle, he cracked open one eye.

“Harder than it looks,” he said. “You try.”

The train tracks were slicked clean by the rain. Vicky put one foot on the rail, felt it slip and slide beneath her. She managed to walk two paces before having to jump off.

“It’s not fair,” she protested. “My shoes have no grip, and my handbag makes it hard to balance.”

Ted smirked. “Now you know what to wear next time.”

“Next time?” Despite herself, her lips curled into a smile.

Maybe the countryside wasn’t so bad after all.

(Cross-posted from the Writers’ Discussion Group Weekly Writing Excercise.)

HER LAST BODY

Hidden Nature by Goro Fujita

Hidden Nature by Goro Fujita

They’d told her of the benefits of cyberization. They’d said she would live forever, learn everything, forget nothing.

But they didn’t tell her that one day she’d be left alone.

Jo wandered through the Facility, scanning the tree roots coming through the walls, measuring their progress. The screws in her legs squeaked with every step. She had two days until the building collapsed. Two days to decide her future.

She turned right into the main hall and gazed at the rows of robots lining the walls, empty shells of chrome and steel waiting for souls that would never come. She walked up to the nearest carcass, her spray-painted fingers falling just short of touching the hull. She could see her face in its polished reflection — or what had become her face, an inexpressive triangle with glowing orange eyes that couldn’t wink, couldn’t frown.

It would take minutes to transfer her consciousness from this rusted body into a new one. Minutes to start anew in a body once reserved for someone else. They weren’t coming; the Great Data Wipe had deleted humanity without so much as a whisper. Jo dropped her arm to her side, pushed a loose wire back into place, and left the room without a backward glance.

Down the corridor, in what had once been the maintenance closet, was her slice of heaven. There were no mirrors, no screens. Nothing to remind her of what she had become. Only a calendar on the wall, to remind her what day it used to be, back when days mattered. It was here that she’d carefully spray painted her body green in an attempt to recover the hidden nature inside. It was here that she’d decided to wear a skirt, because even after all this time it didn’t feel right to walk around without clothes.

And it was here, in the middle of the room, that she was growing her new body. A real body.

Her last body.

She switched to infrared vision and checked the temperature of the shell, sprinkling water across the top to minimise the chances of cracking. Two days left until the building collapsed. One day, twenty-three hours and fifty-two minutes until the body was ready. And that was assuming her calculations were correct; biological data was much more difficult to predict.

Jo cut off the electricity to her eyes to have a moment of darkness, to better hear the steady thump of her new body’s heartbeat. She missed the ability to laugh. The feeling of sunshine on her forehead. The brush of fabric against her skin.

She missed living — and all of its frailties.

Jo poured more water onto the shell, and watched, and waited.

(Cross-posted from the Writers’ Discussion Group Weekly Writing Excercise.)

THE BOILER IDENTITY: PART TWO

(Read part one first if you haven’t yet!)

With no money, memory, or shoes, Steve had no choice: he went to the bank.

As soon as the cold glass doors slid shut behind him he knew it was a mistake.

He hesitated on the threshold, crumpling the cheque in his hand. One thousand pounds. It would see him through the next couple of weeks while he tried to remember who he was. Whatever crime he had committed to earn the money didn’t matter for now… right?

Before he could change his mind, Steve joined the queue. When it was his turn, he slid the cheque onto the counter with a mumbled apology.

“I’m sorry, sir,” the teller said. He was tall and thin, aggravatingly cheery behind the layers of bullet-proof glass. The font on his name badge was intentionally small. “We need proof of ID to cash your cheque.

“And shoes,” he added pointedly, peering over the counter at Steve’s feet. “Health and safety regulations, you see.”

The queue behind Steve was growing, members of the general public leaning in to eavesdrop.

“But I’ve been mugged,” Steve lied, pushing the cheque against the glass. “They took everything!”

“I can call the police if you want…?” The teller’s eyebrow lifted as if he were contemplating calling the police regardless of Steve’s answer.

Steve shook his head, backing out of the queue. He stood outside in the weak sunshine, woollen socks sticking to the pavement, and wondered what his life was coming to.

By the time he retraced his steps to the house he’d woken up in, Steve was resigned to being arrested. The flashing blue lights ricocheted down the street, luring him to the scene of the crime.

Despite his resolve, Steve’s footsteps slowed when he spotted not one but two police cars–and an ambulance. Who had he hurt? Were they still alive?

A small woman with a blanket around her shoulders was standing at the front door, talking to the police, her red hair shimmering in the daylight. When she saw Steve, all colour fled from her face, as she lifted a shaky hand to point.

“There he is,” she said shakily.

Steve didn’t even bother to run. There was nowhere to run to anyway.

THE BOILER IDENTITY: PART ONE

Steven Borne woke up in a puddle.   
   
He didn’t know his name was Steve, not until he sat up and whacked his head on the bathroom sink. As he slipped across the tiles, away from that dangerous curve of porcelain, his hand brushed against a piece of paper in his pocket. It was a cheque, and when he unfolded it he saw the name: Steven Borne.
   
(What if the cheque wasn’t his? The possibility didn’t bear consideration; his memory loss was frightening enough. Besides, he felt like a Steve. It was a good name. Dependable.)
   
The bathroom was cold, quiet. It had high, cobwebbed ceilings and tall sash windows that needed refitting. A spiderweb of cracks in the paintwork. Whoever lived here either rented or was too lazy for DIY. 
   
The built-in cupboard next to the sink was half-open, revealing a combo boiler yellowed with age, the pressure valve leaking steadily. He stood — gingerly, hand against his head — and patted himself down for other clues. His pockets were empty but one of his hands was streaked with dark red stains.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

The cheque was for one thousand pounds. The handwriting was all in block capitals, angular and aggressive. Steve stared, wondered what he had been paid to do. Felt a cold sweat trickle down the back of his neck.

That’s when he saw it: a knife on the floor, spattered with blood.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Steve looked at his hand again, then straightened to look into the mirror. There were more red streaks along his neck.

He followed the trail of blood spatters to the bathroom door, wincing with every step, his head thrumming with pain. At the threshold he paused, leaning against the cold, cracked tiles to catch his breath.

The blood spatters led down a narrow, tall corridor with parquet flooring and an ornate Victorian ceiling rose above the light fitting. Shame it had been painted over so clumsily.

He lurched down the corridor, one hand against the wall, his woollen socks slipping across the polished floor. The radiator gurgled in warning as he passed.

The trail finished at an archway near the front door. Steve stepped over the blood and peered into the room beyond.

It was a kitchen. Pieces of broken glass littered the floor. Blood dripped down to the counter.

Steve did the only thing he could: he fled.

To be continued…