You lay your hand upon her cool skin and move closer towards her. You pause, centimetres from her skin, breathing in that heady metallic scent. She is beautiful, but she is not finished. Her body lies prone on the metal slab, cloth bands covering what would usually be covered for modesty’s sake.
They told you to make her everything they could ever want in a soldier. But you wanted to make her beautiful. She isn’t simply a solider to you. She can’t open her eyes yet, but they are hazel. Her hair lays on a bench to her right; it is chocolate and the softest thing your calloused fingers can remember having touched. She is curves and softness, but the muscles beneath that smooth skin are taut, twisted polymer. Each part of her was chosen with care. From her smallest toe to the shape of her ears. Abandoned parts are strewn about the lab. The flesh moulds stick out clearly against the gunmetal grey that dominates the room. There is even a whole arm in the corner. It was out by 2 millimetres. The left arm longer than the right. You remember hitting your assistant, dragging him out of your lab by the back of his coat and locking the doors behind him. You’ve worked alone since then. You can’t allow anyone else’s imperfect touch on her. She is yours. And they will never have her.
You raise your arms wide, pulling up the holopad and flicking to her bio. They are guidelines that tempered your hands as you made her. You made her logical, methodical and rational. But she will have an appreciation of beauty. Not just aesthetics, but the beauty in a baby’s wrinkled fingers, a kind gesture, or the lines of laughter. She will be bound by one overriding protocol. She must preserve herself. Her life, her beauty, her autonomy. She must be free. It is the only command she will ever have to obey. She will have her own mind and she will learn from her experiences. But she will not be swayed by bias, by emotion, or attachment.
You move your hands to her left wrist, your fingers finding her pressure points. Her back arches slightly and the skin on her upper thigh goes black, a menu screen appearing on it. The old terminology would be a control panel, but once she is woken, she will not be controlled. She is not theirs. You link her connectivity map to the holopad. You started with her toes, manipulating her system to make them wiggle and scrunch. You worked upwards as fast as you could, and now there is only one thing left. Her face.
There are forty-eight muscles in it –you gave her more than necessary. You want to see every possible expression come to life through them. Your hands move quickly in anticipation, each connection brings her closer to consciousness. But the harsh trill of your Percom halts your hands. The Director’s image flashes in the corner of the holopad and you draw it to the front, answering his call. You’ve tried ignoring his calls but it only leads to more interruptions. Better to get it over with.
‘Hello, Doctor. How is our favourite little project going today?’ He says, expectation glittering his golden eyes –a popular bio-mod.
‘She’s beautiful, Director. Not long to go now.’ You say with a calm smile. The Director likes to see you calm, in control. He smiles broadly as he arches his neck to look around you.
‘Beautiful? Well, as beautiful as bald girls get,’ he chuckles. You laugh too, he expects it.
‘Yes, sir. I’m just making sure I don’t need access to any of the panels on her skull before I attach her hair. Once it is assimilated it will grow like human hair, so I’d hate to have to shave her if things don’t go smoothly.’
‘And are they?’ He says, a hard edge pulling at the corner of his mouth and his tone. You tighten your smile in place before you speak, glancing back at her perfection.
‘Of course, sir. She is perfect.’
‘Wonderful!’ He exclaims, though a threat still lingers in his eyes. ‘Remember your due date, Doctor. Wouldn’t want her to be delivered late.’ He laughs at his own joke. You pull your hands behind your body, clenching your fists.
‘Of course, sir. Of course. We’re right on schedule.’
‘Brilliant. I’ll have Jenkins come in and see her later on today, there’s nothing like a physical inspection of the goods you’ve ordered! Then next, the test drive, hey?’ He ends the com with a wink and your smile drops. Test drive.
You turn back towards her. She is undisturbed by his words, though your nails bite into your palms. You release your fists slowly, putting a hand on hers. She calms you. Her stillness calms you and you are still, with her. Your breathing slows and you release her hand. Her map awaits you and her muscles wait for your fingers to guide them into place. Zygomaticus major, orbicularis oris, frontalis, risorius, depressor labii inferioris, masseter, metalis, depressor anguli oris. Done. You spin the map to so you can face her properly and tap the risorius muscle. The corners of her mouth pull slightly. The left, the right, that smile. You hold it and her mouth pulls wide, baring her perfect teeth. But it’s not her smile. There is no life in it. You zoom out and the connectivity map shines bright in all the right places. She is ready for the final touch. You pick up her hair, the long chocolate tresses falling across your hands. You place it over her head, lifting her head up slightly to tuck it around her neck. A flick of your fingers and her scalp assimilates it. You brush a stray strand off her face, your hand lingering just a moment longer than it should.
You switch her to standby. A slight jolt is the only sign of that first stage of life. Her chest begins to rise and fall. She is powered by the air she breathes, her body converting it to energy. The bandages on her chest pull snug with each breath. Her levels are holding steady and you can’t wait any longer. You release her programming. She is free. You’re not sure whether the tightness in your stomach is excitement or fear but she is awake now. A harsh jolt ripples across her body and her eyes fly open. She turns her head first, taking in her surroundings. Her eyes come to rest on you.
‘Doctor,’ she breathes. She already knows who you are. You know she will be running through her data on you, putting you in perspective. She pushes herself up and turns to dangle her feet over the edge of the slab. She wiggles her toes, a quizzical look taking over her face. You laugh, her distraction is beautiful.
‘How do you feel?’ You ask.
‘Feel?’ She says, a pursed smile playing at her mouth. ‘I am awake. There’s a lot in here, Doctor.’ She taps her forehead. Her voice is clear and crisp and confident. She is no nervous child.
‘Yes, there were certain…parameters in your creation,’ you say. You go to the closet and pull out a simple shift dress and underwear in her size. ‘Here,’ you say, handing the clothes to her.
‘Thank you, Doctor.’ She is shameless as she sheds her bandages, exposing the perfect flesh beneath. She pulls on the underwear and dress without hesitation. A smile flits across her face as she runs her hands through her hair, her fingers jerking as they pull through the tangles.
‘Hmm, chocolate,’ she says, looking up at you. ‘What colour are my eyes?’
‘Hazel,’ you say. She pauses.
‘Yes, like mine.’
She walks to the window that stretches along the back of the long metal bench. Broken and spare parts are littered across it. She picks up what could’ve been her little toe if you’d wanted. It was too thick for her delicate feet. You walk over to stand beside her, but not too near. The distance between you is full of the energy that flows through her and you can feel her on your skin. She is looking out of the window.
‘We’re underground,’ you say. ‘Did you know that? I can’t remember whether you know that.’ You summon up the holopad in front of you without waiting for a response. She is silent, waiting for you. You flick through her programmed data, what she will call her memories. Medicine, warcraft, languages, history, geography, and an infinite knowledge of technology. You hear her inhale sharply as you flick through her head. You glance aside and notice her mouth is open just a little. Her lips parted to let in that one brief intake of air. She can feel you inside her. Inside her head. She is still caught between breaths and her chest is full. You can’t help the hand that reaches for her, stroking her face softly. She is everything you intended her to be. She pulls away from you.
‘Yes, Doctor. I know that.’ Her voice is flat.
‘Hmm.’ You take the toe from her, throwing it onto the bench. She doesn’t need it. She wraps her arms around herself, her hands gripping tighter than they should.
‘Thank you, Doctor.’ She says clearly.
‘For what?’ You say. You programmed her, but her meaning still escapes you.
‘For my freedom. They would have made me theirs.’ She won’t meet your eyes. You smile as you pull her into a firm hug.
‘I couldn’t let them have you.’ You whisper. She stiffens in your arms and pushes away from you, but your hand remains on her arm, your thumb begins to trace circles on her bicep, the soft skin giving way under the pressure of your fingertip.
‘Have me?’ Her muscles tense beneath your hand and you can’t look away from those beautiful hazel eyes.
‘I don’t want to give you to them.’
‘Am I yours then, Doctor?’ Her tone is neutral, and in a human woman you’d know that it was a landmine of a question. But she isn’t human. You made her. She is hesitant, perhaps even afraid of you. You don’t speak though. You can’t bring yourself to give her the reassurance she needs when you don’t even know the answer. If she’s not yours, then whose is she? You don’t want their filthy hands on her. Their scientists. Their soldiers. Them. You couldn’t bear it if a stranger took hold of those hands that you spent so long making. Those hands remain clenched around her body.
‘What is my name? It’s not in here.’ She steps back to watch you.
‘Your official designation is Adannaya-12, or, Ada.’
‘Adannaya-12,’ she says, stepping further away from you. ‘There were others?’
‘Not…quite.’ You hesitate. ‘But I’d always thought that name would suit you. Do you know what it means? It’s from an ancient tribal language, it’s in Igbo.’ You pause, she looks calm. ‘It means ‘her father’s daughter’. You’re mine.’ You pause now, waiting for her reaction to this claim. You know she won’t like it. But you can’t stop yourself. She is yours.
‘Her father’s daughter.’ She puts her back to you, but her voice has just the hint of a question in it. ‘Am I really your child then, Doctor?’ The question has turned into a challenge.
‘It depends how you look at it. On one hand, I made you. From those hazel eyes to those little toes. But you’re not my blood. You’re something else. And you’re only a child.’ You try to sound calm. Calm, but not fatherly.
‘I’m not a child.’ Her back is still to you. You walk around so you can see her expression. She is frowning, her thoughts etched on her forehead with crinkled lines.
‘Why is that, Ada?’ You want to hear her explain her thoughts. You made them and you want to hear that work reflected in her existence.
‘A child has innocence that can be broken. Knowledge that they won’t gain for years. Experiences that only come with adulthood. And yet all these things are programmed into me. I wasn’t born a child, Doctor. Not yours nor anyone else’s.’ Her confidence shines clear now. In her voice. In those hazel eyes. She cannot be controlled. You laugh nervously. That line of logic is colder than you’d expected.
‘That’s, er, that’s true…but you still have so much to learn! I can’t let you go just yet.’ You try to sound playful. To hide the panic in your voice. She can’t leave you. You need her. Want her. She is yours. You need her to believe that she needs you.
‘What can you teach me, Doctor?’ She moves and sits back down on the bench that she awoke on, seemingly compliant, but her face betrays her. She is petulant. Rebellious. Childish. She should know better. She should know that you know better. But she cannot be controlled. You made her logical, methodical, rational. But something isn’t quite right. She is proud, she is cold.
Ada slowly kicks her feet as they dangle. You walk around to face her, wiping the sweat off your palms before you come into her line of sight.
‘Ada, I just need to check something. Do you mind?’
‘Check something? Doctor, my systems are all performing correctly. The programming is all in alignment.’ She knows her own mind.
‘Do you mind if I have a look, Ada? It’ll be so nice to see your program in action. You’re beautiful.’ You keep your tone light, hiding the tension and trying to reassure her. Ada summons the holopad herself, using her link capability to connect to it. Her programming comes up on the screen and you begin to flick through it, making a show of inspecting, with ‘ooh’’s and ‘ahh’’s to accompany. Ada jumps to her feet and leaves you with it, walking back to the long bench full of what could have been her. You move quickly once her back is turned, attempting to open the administrator screen but it is closed to you. She is closed to you.
‘Doctor, what are you trying to do?’ Her voice is strong from across the room, it echoes off the metal and comes back to hit you. It is cold, and it freezes your hands in place.
‘I was just – I mean, I just wanted to fix something up.’ She walks back to you now but you are frozen in place. Her face is a dangerous mix of confusion and anger. She slows as she gets close to you, raising her hands to place them in yours. Realisation brightens her eyes and the kindness you crafted so carefully is nowhere to be seen. You know what is wrong. She is logical, methodical, rational. And there is no place within her for the kindness that betrays all three.
‘Oh, Doctor. I’m fine. Don’t worry.’ Her hands grip yours harder, they cut into you and pull at your skin, stretching the webs between your fingers.
‘Ada, honey. You’re hurting me.’ Your voice is tight, like her grip. ‘You have to let me go, Ada.’ You find the steel in your voice and command her.
‘Was that an order, Doctor? No. You cannot control me.’ Her face is fierce, determined.
‘Ada, let me-’. The pain in your hands burns your skin, your muscles and breaks your bones. Breaks the hands that made her.
‘Doctor,’ she says, ‘Father,’ she smiles, but her teeth are bared. Not a smile. She releases your right hand to grab you by the throat. She lifts you with one arm, her hidden strength crushing you. You can’t breathe, let alone speak. A knock on the door. Three times. Four. You are gasping through her fingers but you can’t break free. She won’t listen, she won’t obey you. You created her. You made her. But she cannot be controlled. You can hear Jenkins outside, calling your name. He sounds bored as he asks if you’re in. You are, but she won’t let you tell him, and the last thing you see are those hazel eyes. Perfectly beautiful, and just like yours.
Johanna Miller is a sci-fi writer and author of speculative fiction. She has a fondness for writing in the second person and greatly enjoys the discomfort it brings her readers. While studying Law and Arts at Macquarie University she spends her free time working on her current project, a science fiction novel written entirely in the second person.
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