This story is basically fresh off the typewriter with only a light dusting of editing, so it would be amazing if you could point out any mistakes you see, including with the formatting (I'm typing parts of this on my phone on holiday).
I'll be posting the first chapter in several parts for the heroine competition, and then I hope to carry on with this story! I'm kind of pantsing this one, which is new, so we'll see how it goes.
I hope you enjoy the story and thank you for reading!
When I woke up for the first time I thought I was dying.
There was a pressure around my legs and chest, crushing my ribs and squeezing the air from my lungs. Bubbles trickled in streams up from my mouth and nostrils, shimmering towards the blood-red surface of the water far above. Shadows circled there - ships - and objects kept dropping from them into the water with a splash and a meteor-trail of bubbles as they sank.
There were explosions in the sky behind, the claps muffled but the bursts of firey light illuminated the sea bed around me. Bodies, piled too many deep to count and stretching until they disappeared into the gloom, lay or sat or half-floated stiff and pale around me. Some were missing parts. Some were snapped and bent, at angles to themselves. There was machinery too; a huge metal factory arm lay on top of some of the bodies near me.
There was a detached head on its side in front of me, facing away. Its blonde hair was in two plaits; the top one coming undone in the water, wafting back and forth; the other was tied with a pink hair bobble, two plastic balls on the elastic.
Another splash, big, right above me; the shape fell, turning slowly. Panic lanced through my bones and I clawed at the bodies that were pinning me down. I heaved, straining every muscle. I could see what the shape was now; maybe a dozen people, packed together in a chain net weighted with rocks. They weren't all dead. My fingernails tore skin away from the corpse on top of me as I struggled against it, but it was too late; the net eclipsed the red light of the surface. It came to rest almost gently, bearing down and trapping me. One of the boulders pressed and pressed on my cheek, turning my head, my neck creaking, until a pop-
And then suddenly I could breathe. Sweet air flooded my lungs as I sucked it in, my spine arching off whatever I was lying on. There was a ripping noise as my arms seized, the bonds around my wrists straining. Fear beat through me and I tried to look, but had to squeeze my eyes shut and let my head flop as the world spun.
"Well, that was dramatic," said a voice nearby.
Gradually, my sense of gravity returned, and I dared to crack open an eye. There was the person who'd spoken; a teenager with dark shiny skin and blue eyes, her hair cropped at the sides and curled on top of her head. She was staring at me, hand frozen in the air above the keypad of a laptop.
I looked around, but there was no ocean, no bodies. Just a dim room, empty except for this one person, whoever she was. I was strapped loosely to an upright board; I leant my head back against it, trying to reconcile the jump but failing. Had that been... a dream? This didn't feel any more real.
The girl was watching me. I tried to smile, hoping my face was cooperating. "Hi!"
My voice sounded wrong. I tried swallowing a couple of times but it didn't help.
The girl glanced briefly around as if I was talking to someone else. "Um, hello.
"This place is nice," I said. Confident the dizziness wasn’t returning I could turn my head and look at more of the room. It was big, with a low ceiling, no windows. There were boxes and beds shunted up against the walls, and two workbenches stretching along its length covered in machinery and tools and tangles of wires. "You come here a lot?"
"I live here." She replied in my vague direction as she tapped away at her patched-looking computer. "Is this some kind of hospitality routine? We can skip all that. I need to confirm my ownership first, right?" Without waiting for my answer she began to recite from the screen, "Prime for new owner." She tapped a few times then looked up at me expectantly. I shrugged. "Okay, activate drone mode. Employ packet zero one."
I looked down at my body. I wasn’t wearing clothes so I could see that my body parts were all mismatched: my left leg was orange and rubbery, the other scuffed and blue; my arms were both floral, sort of porcaline-ish, and faded, one with little forget-me-nots and the other with large yellow blooms on green; my hands were a flesh-peach, like skin if you didn't look too closely; and my torso was grey and covered in firmly taped-down wires.
I flexed my hands and feet just to make sure they were mine. The proportions of this body felt alien – I had an echoing mental impression that it should be shorter and softer, not this arrangement of flat chest and narrow hips and long limbs. At least my limbs' lengths seemed to match, if not their colours or textures. I wondered what my face looked like.
The girl was still waiting for something.
"Did it work?" I asked.
"Well I don’t know, did it?" She gestured widely with the detached laptop screen. "Um… here, tell me what’s wrong with this instruct-code." She brought it up in front of me. I squinted at the various ordered bubbles and windows of text.
"That's code?" I asked, and her mouth got thinner.
"Is it the voice command? Did I not integrate the programme right? Do a diagnosis."
"Um..." I started hesitantly. Her jaw clenched. "I'm... sorry?"
"Are any of the things I tried to embed accessible?"
"I don't understand," I tried to tell her, but she was pacing away, talking to herself.
"Just great!" She tugged at her shock of hair with both hands. "Six months of work and I pick up the wrong type of A.I. or something," she exclaimed, then sat down hard in front of her laptop, stabbing at the keyboard with one finger. "This was a mistake," she sighed, passing her hand over her face.
I got the feeling it wouldn’t be a good idea to interrupt her but after several minutes the straps were getting sort of uncomfortable. "Hey, do you think you could let me down?"
"What?" I nodded down at my body. "Oh, sure, why not at this point." She stood, reached round the back of my neck and pulled something out. There was a popping noise and a bolt of pain down my spine, stars shooting across my vision, but then I saw her holding a plug with a single prong, the cord leading to her laptop. She peeled the straps from my limbs and waist with ripping sounds and I stumbled forward, immediately having to make a grab for the floor. Reflexively she tried to catch me by the arm but I was too heavy – my knees hit the concrete with a dull clang.
"Guess I'm not quite used to this yet," I said, embarrassed. "I don't mean to be rude, I would introduce myself but I can't seem to remember my name. What's yours?"
"Tomo," she replied, taking away her hand as I sat back, stretching out my legs.
"And," I continued, gesturing at the rough-walled room, "where are we?"
"Ah, right. Of course." I nodded. "...Why?"
"Because I built you." She was starting to sound as if I should know these answers, I thought. "Or rebuilt you. So you could learn skills which it turns out you don't seem to be able to."
"Oh, okay. Built." I looked down at my hand, turned it over, held it up to the light. The flesh was a little translucent. "Because I'm-"
"An android. A synthetic, a drone-" She took a small step away from me. "You knew that, right?"
Of course I did. Of course I did! I just forgot at first. I tried to reassure her but too slow, she turned away and started pacing again.
"Wow, okay, this is… I though information would just be programmed in. Is that what's damaged? You do have some, obviously, or you wouldn't be able to talk, or walk or anything." She glanced back at her desk, at the open laptop and pile of books. "Do you have memories? I mean, does the stuff up there," she gestured to my forehead, "have memories?"
I put my fingertips to where she was pointing.
"I don't think so. Should I?"
"I don't know. I haven’t really been doing this very long," she admitted, then glanced at the restraining board. "Hey, maybe you should climb back up, I’ll see if I can fix… I mean, I’ll see what I can do, maybe replace…" She trailed off, thinking, picking up and weighing the plug from my neck in her hand.
Involuntarily I backed into one of the workbenches, sending a couple of bolts rolling to the floor. "Um."
Tomo looked at me strangely. "Are you scared?" she asked. "This doesn’t violate any of your self-protection protocols, I’m your owner. It’s just maintenance." She held out a placating hand.
I felt my way around the workbench, putting it between us. My chest felt knotted again. Getting plugged back in felt like real danger. Life-threatening. "I don’t… Couldn’t you get a different android? One who can do all that computer stuff?" My mind was racing; where else was there to go?
But even running wildly seemed better than getting back on that chair, suddenly, because what if it meant going back? That doesn't make sense, said a part of me, but the rest didn't care; if she tried to stop me, I could use one of the metal tools- no!
I felt nauseous. My knuckles creaked gripping the edge of the workbench, or maybe it was the wood. "Please. I don't want to."
She looked over at the skewed mountain of books – I could see now they were catalogues, anatomy books, blueprints, maintenance guides – paper worn thin and yellowed. Her hand, the one with the plug unit, sagged. "I don’t think you’re supposed to act like this," she said slowly.
Me neither, I thought, buy she carried on, "You're not thinking straight, just come back here, I can help." I backed up further. "Come on. Now! I'm your owner."
A chill descended my spine and I snapped back, "Why?" She stopped, looking aghast when I raised my voice. "Why did you build me? Rebuild me, I know I existed before this even if I can't remember. Are you working for someone? What did you.. why am I thinking wrong, why am I so scared?" I put my hands to the sides of my head. "Even I can tell you’ve messed me up!"
Her eyes flashed, her knuckles white about the plug in her hand. "Then get on the table and let me fix you," she said evenly, stepping towards me.
Then there was a knock at the door.