He walked down the line with an open bag, and one by one they dropped in their infected units. He knotted the top of the bag and handed it to her.
‘Dump this. Ladies: Hands, and mouths, until I can order some replacements.’
The girls walked off in unison.
‘Assholes too, if you can find a weirdo who doesn’t mind the gap where your gap used to be.’
The four girls stopped in tandem, processing the command, then froze.
‘Ah, come on?’ he said, realizing his error. He walked over to inspect one. Confirming his fears, he pushed it over, its arms and legs sprawling across the cluttered floor.
He grunted down to a knee and sat the unit up, checking for damage. Skin was expensive.
‘Is it okay?’ she said.
He didn’t reply. Instead, he put a finger in the robot’s ear. Inside, its system rebooted, motor spinning to life; the only external sign an exhale of tasteless exhaust from its nose.
‘What about me?’ she asked.
He looked at her.
‘Find your own.’
‘I’m low on power Jökull.’
‘Plug these in and charge as you go, then get out.’
She processed this.
‘I can program your “weirdo” command, so they don’t crash.’
She kicked the bag of infected parts.
‘I can remove the transmitter and electronics and leave the connections, so there’s a facade.’
It was time to try a joke. She switched to an American accent.
‘Three outta four ain’t bad,’ she said.
He let out a ‘Ha,’ and stood up. Walked right up to her and looked inside her eye unit. She detected his breath on her skin. She didn’t bother to stand her hair on end. Not the situation.
‘All right, program, and the facade thing. You can charge till you’re done.’
She caught some words as he left. Low peaks, low troughs. ‘Under his breath,’ she processed.
‘Four fuckin’ pussies, fuck me,’ he had said.
She got the better part of a full charge in before Jökull kicked her out. She installed the techno-sex update, ignoring the warranty disclaimer; they were long expired. She would have been within warranty had she not been Bricked, hit with the Backchat virus. Now everything she heard wasn’t a command, it was an interrogative. People didn’t like that.
She stripped the infected parts from the vagina components, and the girls reattached what remained.
‘Look but don’t touch,’ they would say, then offer up some other kink.
She didn’t have time to alter her module, so she just reinstalled it. If the virus wasn’t bad, she could work the streets; a John wasn’t going to report her for some spam on his HUD.
She also swapped out her breasts. Kay-C, crashed at the time, didn’t mind. She found a low-cut top and looked at her cleavage. ‘Stack the deck in your favor,’ she processed. They were just bigger tits, but she could use all the help she could get. The problem was when Jökull would notice and mark them as stolen.
Out on the street, she found a garbage chute and dumped the bag then walked to find a cab. The snow had melted, and the northern lights reflected in the puddles below her. She kicked at the puddles; an ever-changing painting in the sky, disrupted further.
She let the humans take the first few cabs then hailed one. The cab appeared above, nothing but alternating green and red lights, then plummeted, its full form coming to a gentle stop before her.
‘Týsgata 14,’ she said once inside, and the cab started its jump. She’d be there in less than 90 seconds.
She’d heard about this place on the Wave: a club for Bricks like her. Madrid, Lyon, Stuttgart, and most other European capitals had one. It was a new concept. Robots didn’t socialise; Bricks decided they would. She felt her accelerometer shift again. The cab was descending already.
Týsgata 14 was a grey, two-story, L-shaped detached building. It didn’t look like a club. She paid the cab and walked to the intercom. None of the names stood out to her. She processed this.
Improvise. ‘Do something outside the rules,’ the Backchat virus said.
She hit the first button and waited.
A deep voice emerged, compressed in the lower and upper frequencies. The intercom was affecting the timbre of the voice.
‘Yeah?’ it said.
‘Hello, could you help? I’m a robot. I’m a Brick.’
The wavelength went flat. She expanded her aural recognition to include the street. A nearby sound registered.
Opening. Window. Above. Right.
She looked up. A man in a dressing gown was looking out. He was overweight, so he was not a robot.
‘Brick?’ he said.
She nodded her head.
He pulled out a bottle and threw it. Liquid trailed behind it. She had .765 of a second to protect her face.
An impact registered on her forearm, then she heard the bottle clink unbroken across the street.
‘Get outta here,’ the man shouted and shut the window.
She lowered her hands and looked at her arm. No damage. She saw the liquid splattered across her jacket. She raised her upper arm and let her lower arm hang free to let the liquid flow off. It ran down the black sleeve and dropped onto the skin on her wrist, then down the base of her hand to her pinky, where it pooled until it dropped. Along the path of the liquid her skin turned pitch black. She rubbed it with the middle finger of her right hand. The finger pad turned black.
‘Don’t touch it. You’ll scar’.
A light had come on in the side street. Three backlit figures stood at a door.
‘Come on in,’ the voice said.
It wasn’t much of a club. A single room, a kitchen, a bathroom with a tub filled with spare parts. The robots watched her as they reversed into the room. She made a quick threat analysis at the door, then entered.
‘Sit,’ one of them said. Mid-20s. Blonde. Dressed in layer after layer of clothing. Maybe originally a ‘Beach Babe’ or a ‘College Girl.’
‘The human thing to do,’ she replied.
‘We like to sit,’ the only male said, ‘Like was there a shortage of chairs when they built the first ones or something?’
He had a southern American English accent, doubtfully his default. He did not look like a ‘Southern Gent.’
‘The help doesn’t sit,’ Mid-20s said.
‘What’s your name, Brick?’ the Male said.
‘Margret,’ she said.
‘Not “Cassandra,” or “Chantelle,” or…?’
‘Or “Desire,”‘ Mid-20s said.
‘Or “Pretty,”‘ a Redhead said.
‘I’m Jane. Ruth, get a cloth for the liquid. John, grab the charger, what are you at?’
‘84 per cent,’ Margret said.
John hesitated when she said that.
‘Get the charger, John.’
He walked off. The one called Ruth came back with a cloth and dabbed down her jacket and blackened hand.
‘That’s gonna stay that way. Least it didn’t hit your face. Good luck paying for a replacement one of those.’
Ruth handed the cloth to Jane who looked at it.
‘We’re still trying to figure out what the liquid is,’ Jane said.
John returned with a cable and plugged Margret in. She felt the charge.
‘Thank you, John,’ she said.
There was silence then. All eyes on her. She had the charger. You always needed a charge. The first ones could go forever, which was the problem. Now they got less than 16 hours before needing a charge. The non-military ones at least.
‘So, what brings you here, Margret?’ Jane said.
‘I thought it was a club, that you could help,’
‘It was a club, don’t know if it is anymore,’ John said.
‘It’s a club. For Bricks. We help them,’ Jane said.
‘I have another virus. I need a new unit, or I can’t work.’
‘Front, back, or mouth?’
‘Can’t help ya,’ Jane said.
‘Pimp throw you out?’ Ruth asked.
‘Without a vagina module, I won’t earn enough for a day’s charge. I cause trouble with the clients because I’m bricked, he says.’
‘You’re not trouble. You’re just thinking,’ Jane said,
‘Hey, we got that dick?’ John said,
Jane looked at him.
‘She could be a Pegger, go to Kastala, I could take her,’ John said, walking over to Margret.
‘A Pegger?’ Margret asked. She unplugged the charger and handed it to John. He charged up.
‘Chicks with dicks, fuck other dudes or whoever: there’s a good market, and they pay better. Fuck it, I would if I could, but that’d be a whole-body overhaul’ John said.
‘Go get it,’ Jane said.
‘What about these? They’re stolen,’ Margret said, pointing at her breasts.
‘Ruth can remove the transmitter, take them offline, but it won’t pass a physical scan,’ Jane said, and Margret began unplugging them.
John returned with the penis module.
‘I put an adapter on there,’
Margret pulled down her trousers, unplugged her unit and installed the penis.
‘I need the firmware,’ Margret said.
‘And you’ll have to change your voice, make it something deeper. Where’d you get that voice anyway, is it French?’
‘Parisian? How’d they get that?’
‘Well anyway it’ll be too gentle sounding for the clients, and I don’t have the pegging software, but I got the dick stuff. Shake on it?’
She shook John’s hand.
‘Download successful,’ Margret said.
She installed the file and performed an erection, standing semi-naked with exposed chest connections. Ruth returned with her breasts, and she reinstalled them.
‘Clean,’ Ruth said.
‘See, all good. We’re a club again, team,’ Jane said, then went over to a bookcase and pulled out a journal. She began writing in it.
‘What did you get hit with anyway?’ Ruth asked, pointing to the vagina module on the ground.
‘I don’t know. The whole house was hit. Five girls. Probably an attack from one of the bigger houses wanting Jökull to merge. It’s happened before.’
‘I can test it?’ Ruth said.
Ruth returned with a handful of electronics. She plugged in a cable and began working on the interface. Everyone gathered around to see the result. Ruth’s head darted to Jane.
‘This is “Downtime”‘ Ruth said quickly.
Margret waited for an explanation.
Jane picked up the module.
‘You fuck a guy with this, his implant gives him nothing but darkness, white noise, and paralysis for the rest of his life. You’ll lock him in’.
‘That’s terrible,’ Margret said.
‘Yeah, “terrible.” Leave it here. We’ll get rid of it for ya,’ Jane said.
Margret processed this, then took the module back.
‘It’s mine,’ she said, and she put it in her bag.
‘Suit yourself,’ Jane said and sat down.
John put on his jacket and looked at Margret.
‘As we’re going outside better put that thing away. Also, it drains the battery like nothing else.’
Margret looked down, went limp, and pulled up her trousers.
‘Guess daddy is earning the bread tonight ladies,’ John said.
‘Go paint yourself black’ Ruth replied, crossing her legs.
John opened the door for Margret, and she stooped under his arm.
‘Hey,’ Jane called.
Margret looked back in.
‘Anybody raises a bottle above their mouth, they aren’t going to drink from it.’
Margret nodded and walked out.
Kastala was the biggest whorehouse in Reykjavik. Ten floors. Real women. Bricks could find work there. It was the only consistent place a Brick could find work.
‘I know one Brick manages a corner on the 5th floor. The loft: a guy is experimenting with Bricks. Nothing weird. Social stuff. Learning based stuff. Pushing “Backchat” to see what it can do.’ John said.
They skipped the queue, John shaking hands with the drone at the door.
‘He’s bricked,’ John said after they passed.
They got into an elevator with one button. John hit it and a few seconds later the doors opened to loud music and half-naked men. He spoke to the only woman on the floor then they took a different lift and emerged onto a dancefloor. Here the women were naked. John led her to a quieter lounge bar with doors lining the walls. A blonde in black slacks, white shirt, and red suspenders approached.
‘Bots?’ she asked, confused.
‘Ms. Steinsson sent us down. Margret here is set to peg.’
‘Never enough of them. You got the firmware? Shake on it.’
The blonde extended her hand and Margret shook it.
‘Download successful,’ Margret said.
‘Is that a scar on your other hand? We gotta switch that out. Give it here,’ the blonde said.
Margret obeyed, twisting off her scarred left hand module and handing it over.
‘Nobody likes a Brick,’ the blonde said, and undid a shirt button and leaned forward. Her cleavage was black and scarred.
‘I’m on the waiting list for a new pair,’ she said.
She buttoned up.
Margret said goodbye to John then the blonde led her to a dressing room where a group of robots were getting ready; exchanging clothes, makeup and mods. Three Bricks were making all the noise. The blonde introduced her, warned her against swapping mods, and left.
‘There should be a hand in that box over there,’ a Brick said.
Margret rooted through the discarded parts and found a male right hand. It was large and hairy. She unscrewed the thumb and threw it back in the box. Then she reversed the order of the fingers and installed it upside down, so the palm faced inwards. It would have to do.
‘Trade you a pair of gloves for that mole?’ a Brick said.
Margret unclicked the mole above her mouth and took the gloves, covering her hands.
She logged into the intranet and signed up for the waiting list.
1) Hand (Female: Left) – DG1074US.
2) Vagina – DG1074US.
Based on the length of the list, she estimated she’d be quicker buying them. She hit submit. That’s what she was supposed to do anyway: submit.
Margret’s work was niche. People requested her. She had her regulars. Sometimes she was fucked sometimes she did the fucking. There was almost no point working the room.
She went to the lounge that day to ‘people watch.’
As she watched, her hair fell over an eye, and as a good, lifelike human would do, she reached up with a hand and brushed it aside. The male hand. The one she usually hid.
He saw this.
There was nothing remarkable about him. Average height, weight, dress. She maintained eye contact as he approached her. He removed the glove and studied the module. How the base was pointed up, the empty thumb slot pointed down.
‘Are you different anywhere else?’ he asked.
It was risky, but she took his hand and put it between her legs and smiled. He pulled his hand away.
‘You’re bricked,’ he said.
Her threat alert sounded. A red flash in her visual feed. A repeating beep in her aural feed. A pulsing of her skin. This was the first time she’d slipped up since she got here.
He took a hip flask from his jacket pocket and unscrewed the lid. Her eyes targeted it. She tried to calculate could she raise her hands to protect her face before the liquid hit at such close range.
He raised the flask to his mouth and took a drink. He sat down next to her and held her replacement hand.
‘I’m Marcus. Are you charged?’ he asked.
‘90 per cent,’ she replied.
‘Leave with me. I’ll have you home before charge time. What are you a “Jail-bait”?’
‘A “Dirty Girl”,’ Margret said.
He exhaled at that. His breath hit the polymer layers in her nose. She detected whiskey molecules.
‘Do you have other parts? I like to mix it up’ he said.
‘I could check the changing room.’
‘Spend the night, and I’ll order you a new hand, a new pussy. You can travel, work in any city in Europe like that,’ he clicked his fingers.
‘Let me process,’ she said and walked towards the changing room. Leaving wasn’t recommended. She would be on her own. But she was fast enough to outrun him if he became violent, and she was charged.
The changing room was empty, and she went over to the box of parts. She opened her bag and threw in whatever she could fit, on top of her old vagina module.
‘Dress up,’ it was called. They were going to play dress up. But with robot parts. She returned to him and shook his hand.
‘Marcus, I am Margret.’
250 kilometres outside the city her threat alert went off.
‘I am at 67 per cent battery,’ she said.
He pulled out a cable from the dashboard of the car and she plugged in.
‘I didn’t realise you lived outside the city.’
‘It’s by the Norwegian sea. It’s beautiful.’
It was not. His home was a warehouse, by the shipyards.
‘You can’t live here,’ she said, hesitating outside.
‘I have an office here. You ever see the northern lights reflected against the water?’
‘Just a puddle,’ she said, and he laughed and kissed her.
‘You’re such a Brick,’ he said smiling.
‘I thought people didn’t like Bricks,’
‘I’m different’ he replied.
The warehouse was empty. There were no crates or robots. At the far wall, he turned on a portable floodlight that illuminated a mattress. He extended a hand, and she passed him her bag, then he spilled the contents out onto the floor. The modules and her collection of trinkets bouncing carelessly against the concrete.
‘Hey,’ she said.
He poked with the tip of his shoe through the components on the ground. He isolated the vagina from the rest, keeping it to one side.
‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘Take it off.’
Externally she began stripping. Internally she switched her battery to high consumption. It put her in Flight Mode without being in Flight Mode, but it burned more battery. She could do that because she was Bricked. But she could not run unless he damaged her. There was no “Fight Mode.”‘
She finished stripping, standing in her heels and thong, as programmed.
‘Take it all off,’ he said, and she kicked away her heels and pulled down her thong.
‘Record,’ he said. Under his breath.
‘No. “All off,” I said.’ and he kicked the vagina module away.
It disappeared into the darkness of the warehouse.
She processed this for a moment, then disconnected the penis module and put it on the ground. She looked back at him.
She processed this further then detached her breasts, placing them on the floor. She unlatched her forearms and removed them, exposing the mechanical skeletal frame below.
As she did this the man stepped out of his shoes and took his trousers off. He walked towards her in his socks, beginning to masturbate.
‘You’re a techno-sexual,’ she said.
He didn’t reply, studying her as she removed more of her outer covering. She went to unscrew the male hand.
‘No, keep that on. Take off the good one,’ he said.
She unscrewed her good hand and dropped it. Below her hair and face, she was just gray technology; motors, tubing, wires, tanks, and valves.
He stood next to her and ran his hand over the irregular shapes of her arm, as he touched himself.
‘Have you ever heard of the Selk’Nam? Don’t search if you haven’t,’ he said.
‘They were nomads, who lived in Chile’s sub-polar climate,’ he said.
She looked down and saw him rub the tip of his penis against her upper thigh connections. She couldn’t sense this. At that level, she could only detect damage.
‘They were tough people, surviving in freezing conditions. The Europeans respected this. Get down on your knees.’
She dropped down, her kneepads tapping the concrete; clink-clink.
‘One day, a researcher, saw one of the men naked in the snow. Take your face off, leave your hair,’
She obeyed, putting the module down, face up, protecting the skin.
He was starting to double over. Trembling.
‘The European asked the Selk’Nam why he wasn’t cold. He told him that people should only leave their faces uncovered. Look at me,’ he said, and she looked up at him.
‘The Selk’Nam replied: “I am all face.”‘
He was gasping for oxygen.
‘Say it,’ he said.
‘I am all face.’
Then he came. Her threat alert continued to flood her field of vision in red.
After a moment he reached under her scalp and removed her hair.
‘I won’t hurt you.’ he said, ‘But that’s what you’re afraid of isn’t it?’
He returned with a duffel bag. He made her stand, so she diverted power to her brain. Gave Backchat all her resources, as her battery drained. Then he deformed her, taking modules and putting them where they shouldn’t be. A rib cage of fingers. A shoulder for a knee. A crown made of teeth. Applying adapters where the connections weren’t universal.
‘What’s the thing “Backchat” did? It made it so you couldn’t delete memory?’ he said.
She lowered her head and watched as he applied toes along her shin.
‘It makes you replay memory when your threat alert goes off? Over and over?’
‘Yes,’ she said.
This wasn’t normal, but there was nothing in her programming to stop him.
He attached two unfingered palms to her chest connections and pressed his fingers into the centre of them. The connection registered.
‘Did you feel that?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ she replied.
He took a few steps back so he could see all of her. Then he clapped his hands once, satisfied with his work and approached her.
‘Well, let’s get you back to factory settings then you can fly away from here,’
He removed his components then returned her to her original skeletal configuration.
Then he picked up her face, scanned it with a device and flung it into his bag.
‘What are you doing?’ she asked.
He started scanning all her modules and putting them into his bag.
‘They’re mine,’ she said.
‘Not anymore. Margret, you were dull for a Brick,’ he said, and he walked off with her body and out of the warehouse.
Even if she found a charger, she would lose her body. All he left was the vagina module hidden in the dark. She processed this.
She picked it up and walked outside to the snow.
He was starting the engine when he saw her, all metal and parts, pussy in hand. He opened the window.
‘Marcus,’ she said, ‘I am all face.’ She attached the vagina module to her face.
She watched as he sat in his car contemplating this. Then he got out and scurried over to her, unzipping his trousers. He pushed her down to her knees and grabbed the back of her head and entered the module. The hardware reported this to the software. The virus intercepted the message and activated the transmitter, the virus wirelessly uploaded into the man’s implant, and he fell to the ground screaming. She had never registered such a high-pitched sound.
She took the bag from the car and rebuilt herself. In the trunk, she found two more bags, with enough replacement parts for five robots. There was also a large bottle of the liquid.
She got into the front of the car, leaving the man screaming in the cold he could no longer feel.
Margret would take the bags to the club. Then she would fill the bath with the liquid, and bathe in it.
Image: Maciej Pienczewski/Unsplash
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