PART ONE: ONE ALMOST SUSPECTS ONE IS ALIVE
Don’t Say That You Love Me
The Story of the Tattooed Lady
By Cypress Butane
“We’re the tattooed lady, and we’re never going to have a minute’s peace, the rest of our lives, until everybody else is tattooed, too.”
` ― J.D. Salinger
Part 1: ONE ALMOST SUSPECTS ONE IS ALIVE
Marie huddled with the other women in their broken wood shed at the edge of the fenced encampment, the home she came back to each night which they called the cages. Beneath the open roof the starlight shone down on her face, and their light from this distance bore no heat, she thought, in comparison. What stars are, the way they show themselves, is not the same as how they treat us. She wanted to cry then, but it was a hopeful thought, and she knew. Though it hurt to know. That tools left out, to the elements, as the Company treated its workers, like her and her fellow mechanics neglected and exposed to the elements… there is something inside them, if they are to be considered quality tools… that must resist rusting.
* * *
In the morning she was brought into the workshop with the others and chained at her place. Her first patient of the day was just who she had been hoping to see.
“They sent me in because one of the parents complained,” said Simone. The droid sat at the station before Marie’s mechanic’s desk on pale gold haunches. Scintillating with brightness offset by cold dark hard carbon press, glittering like the sun and moving with the luster of gunmetal.
“What about, Simone?” asked the mechanic.
Marie’s eyes looked into Simone’s when they spoke, while Simone’s ‘eyes’ stared back though Marie knew her attention was more that of a camera, eyes always noticing everything they took in. And the mind of the droid, her expertise, her past, she knew could read her face. She stared into its eyes intently.
“They said one of the children brought home a drawing of a woman – with a tattoo,” Simone said.
A high strung note tinkled in the air, like a piano wire taut and a key gently tapped by a delicate player, or a vision of the same wire around the neck, as delicately being garroted into silence.
Marie’s fingers moved involuntarily to her arm where a red rose was inked vividly,, grappling with the nervous response to comfort herself with a rub of omission. “Oh, I see,” said Marie. “Was it like mine?”
“Yes,” said Simone. There was a tinge in her vocalization. “A tattoo like yours, but I don’t know if it was a rose,” answered Simone. They hadn’t let her see the drawing. That was another difference. Between the people at the school where Simone was a teacher, and here, where Simone was a broken machine.
Marie pivoted on her stool, but did not stand. The chain at her side, linking her to the floor, limiting her motions, rattled.
“Well, it hardly matters, I suppose. A rose like mine, it is typical,” said Marie.
“It is? But..” The eye of attention, it shifted like a kaleidoscope. Like a globe with continents of meaning and cultures and definition, suspended in its golden frame, spun by the hand of a curious child. The frozen eyes of Simone glowed, and she answered this ‘typical’ label with a pause, computing. It read like consternation. Was there an echo of footsteps in the grand library, somewhere, of– perhaps, was it a teacher who might chastise the daring, of touching the delicate and expensive furniture of such an institution where one has been given the privilege to visit?
“What?” asked Marie.
“But… yours is so beautiful.”
Marie laughed. “When I say typical, I mean to say.. There are many like it.”
“I do not know many women… like you,” said Simone.
Marie blushed but thought twice when she realized she was talking to a machine. She sighed, “Simone, every time we meet now you speak in ways I have not heard you speak before. You say ‘beautiful’ as if you know what it… may mean?…”
Simone stared back. “You talk to me like no one else ever speaks to me,” said Simone. “If you tell me not to say such things, I will…”
“No!” said Marie. “It’s just. Well… Anyway, you said you don’t know women like me…” Marie sighed with exasperation but covered it with exhuberation in her return, “They’re out there! You can count on it!” said Marie. She picked up a tool to prod at Simone’s temple, opening her faceplate to expose her neuronal circuitry panel. “Just… Well, let’s say I don’t know many women like me either. Not the way things are now.”
“I don’t understand,” said Simone.
“It’s not something we talk about here,” said Marie.
* * *
When Simone first came to see Marie, she was not Simone. She was just ‘Teacher’, as all the students called all the droids of her make… Or, to Marie and the Company, S1M-483… and a string of digits in a serial code, indicating certain configurations. The S1M was the make of droid she belonged to from the company, a standard model being used across the entire confederated districts these days to take charge of classrooms. The idea was it had been deemed important to communicate a uniform lesson plan to children. When many of the teachers had been rounded up in the expulsion, and experts had access limited to technology, many things changed quickly. Marie had been one of those instrumental in the creation of the droids, but the new oversight which had taken charge of most of the organization of society almost overnight had seen her as one of those it was best to have removed. Things were admittedly up in the air about the finalization of the new form, but in the meantime, everyone referring to the leadership, the oversight, the enforcement arms, the whole apparatus as ‘The Company’ had become the norm. Accepted by all without much need to dispute the phraseology.
The droids were imprinted with programming, but they were autonomous, to a degree. Artificial intelligence needed some degree of independent thought to maintain autonomous motility, and thus S1M-4837942… was both highly adaptable but also highly specialized.
It was Marie who gave her her name.
On a routine check-up, the two of them were having a discussion, which Marie often had with her repair jobs. There were simply not many others to talk to in her life.
The android told her about a child at school, with the name Marie.
“Like your name,” said the droid. S1M-483794 spoke with interest about the child Marie, as she told her mechanic, her robot psychologist, of the child’s brightness, even the way she danced around the classroom.
“Though, you are not permitted to dance I suppose,” the droid said to the mechanic.
Marie noticed her then, a trip up in the unconscious routine. “As your programming says, A time and a place for everything,” sighed Marie.
“You seem upset,” said the droid.
As they talked some more, the mechanic asked her what she thought of the name ‘Marie’. “I’ve always been very cognizant of the religious connections it had for my Mother, who gave it to me,” she said.
“But it sounds like you and your Mother…” S1M-483794 trailed off.
“We had our disagreements,” admitted the mechanic. “Just like any parent and child,” she said. The droids face stared back, there was no access to what she may be thinking with her neuronal circuitry panel unexposed. But Marie was not so inhumane as to manipulate a nascent consciousness with direct access to its flickering lights of response.
“There are some people who think beings should choose their own names,” Marie said.
“I would not know how to choose,” said the droid.
“I think those who choose their names,” explained Marie, “often do so to make a name that they would like to hear called. Or a name that for them, calls into being something.”
The droid paused, and then said, “I would not know how…”
Marie laughed. The droid acknowledged that she did not seem so sad now.
“That’s alright!” said Marie, and she slapped the droid’s thighs in jest, which clonked with the absorption of the shock. “You seem a bit more bushy-tailed than some of the other teaching bots though. And I have been waiting for a chance to try a name out. So how do you feel about the name, Simone? S1M-483794… how about Sim-one?”
The droid’s eyes blinked with recognition.
“I used to know a dancer at a club in Chicago who went by that name.”
“I would like to know more about her,” said the teaching droid.
Marie got still, her sudden sadness had the bite of frozen ground, but Marie turned her face up like the sun and shook it off. “She had this tattoo on her back that, well…” Marie said, smiling.
“I do not understand,” said the droid.
If blushing in front of a machine is foolish, tears would surely be a bold miscalculation. “I’ll tell you some other time. But really, what’s to understand? You’re my girl, Simone.”
I’ve got plans for you, she thought.
* * *
When a courier from the company, a grunt in brown uniform with better places to be, came to pick up Simone for transport back to the school, and Marie danced around her necessitated submissive stance with lowered eyes and terse unfriendly-friendly reponses, she gave S1M-483794 a clean bill of health. She was in tip top shape and could return to teaching, no issues. Marie watched the droid loaded onto a dolley and as she was being rolled out across the dirty warehouse floor, out the door until who knows when she might see her again, Marie called out.
The courier looked back with a glare, not knowing what it all meant, while Simone’s face caught a beam of light from the windows high overhead and said nothing, and Marie smiled, secretly, then the door swung closed.
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