Where the Tide Takes Us

Entry for the heroine-writing competition.

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3. 1c

 

   I’m not sure when Tomo came back, just that she was suddenly next to me shaking my shoulder.

 

   "What’s wrong?" Before I could answer she was pulling up my eyelids, putting hands on my chest, telling me to move my fingers, which only just obeyed. "Oh, wait a minute!" she exclaimed, then disappeared from view.

 

   She reappeared, dragging a black box attached to a cable. I shied away when I saw the plug at the end.

 

    "Chill out, I’m not going to hurt you – can you feel pain?" I nodded as emphatically as I could, "Interesting… anyway, it’s just a power cable, look." she kicked the box beside her, "Battery. It says in the catalogues you’re supposed to self-monitor for low power, not swoon, but I don’t think you’re exactly the typical model, are you?"

 

   Wary, I tried to see if she was lying, but it wasn't like I had much choice; clenching my teeth I turned my head, exposing the back of my neck. Tomo went to plug in the cable, then paused.

 

   "Can I ask something? I was just curious, according to all the catalogues there were so many safeguards in place, and the history books don’t exactly give many details. I always wondered if that’s because they didn’t know what caused it or whether they just didn’t want people trying to replicate it. I mean, I don’t know why anyone would want to, but maybe if we knew what happened we could be sure to avoid it the next time…"

 

   I had no idea what she was going on about, and the dizziness really wasn’t helping matters. I tried to keep breathing steadily; not for the oxygen, or cooling down (I didn’t need to at the moment; I was too cold, in fact), just for something to focus on.

 

   "Not that there will be a next time, of course, you’re just an experiment. I mean… Just," she took hold of my chin and turned me to face her, our eyes meeting, "would you ever… could you harm a human being?"

 

   I shook my head.

 

   She dropped my face, satisfied, and I jolted; the same fizzling spine sensation as before, but warm rather than painful. I sighed in relief as my head cleared, the cold fled from my limbs.

 

   "See? It worked." She sounded too relieved for me to imagine she’d known it would for sure. I didn’t say anything, just sat up and moved away from her. "Okay look, I’m sorry about before, it’s just – I thought you could help with something. I mean, that an android could help with it. Do stuff I can’t. I didn’t know you were… the books didn’t exactly mention this particular type of defect-"

 

   "Hey!"

 

   "Well you are. By definition."

 

   I bristled. "Why don’t you sell me then? I’m sure you could swap me for some stupid code bot!"

 

   She smiled wanly. "There isn’t exactly a huge market for that kind of stuff around here. Sorry, people say I can be blunt, I didn't mean to be. You’re much too interesting to disassemble."

 

   "Oh," I said, a little mollified, and quite relieved. The gleam in her eyes when she said 'interesting' wasn't super reassuring, though. "Okay." I scratched the back of my neck. The charging plug was tingly.

 

   "So..." she began, "did you remember anything whilst I was gone?"

 

   "Do you mean skills to help with your non-specific work?" I said, not at all pointedly, "I don't remember knowing anything about computers, but I can lift heavy stuff."

 

   I looked around, settling upon a wheeled pull-cart filled with metal nozzles and piping. Squatting and putting a hand under either end, I lifted it with only a little effort. Tomo's eyes bulged.

 

   "Woah, okay, I believe you! Please put that down, gently, Mrs. Hawbrush will kill me if it’s more broken next free-day than when she left it."

 

   I eased its wheels back to the ground, and she shook her head.

 

   "I meant about anything. What you used to do, what things were like..." She pulled a small screen and stylus out of her pocket without looking away and sat poised to write.

 

   I thought about the- what was it, a dream? A memory? That had taken over when I first woke up. If my memories were all like that one, I didn't want them back.

 

   "No. Sorry," I replied, and she looked disappointed.

 

   "What about a name? Can you remember anything like that?"

 

   I thought hard about that one but nothing came back. "Why don't you ask whoever you bought my 'me' part, my brain, from?" I probed, gesturing to my head.

 

   Her face fell fractionally. So there was something up with that. "That's not really going to work. Maybe we should just give you a new one."

 

   "Like what?"

 

   "I don't know, um..." She starting listing off strange names, telling me to interrupt her if I liked the sound of one. "-Spring, Summer, Autumn, Scyther, Bale, Worm, Fawn, Rabbit, Kit, Bee, Honey, Pollen, Fern, Moss, Spongemoss, Beardmoss-" she caught my look, "Okay, those are usually last names, I'm sort of running out of ideas here, um... Shepherd, Fisher, Blueberry, Blackberry, Redberry, Spikeberry, Marbleberry, Frostberry, Lemonberry, Sugarberry-"

 

   "Why so many berries?!" I interrupted, mostly just hoping to pause the barrage for my ears to catch up.

 

   "There's a legend that one of the barbarian civilisations tried to solve overpopulation by having infants choose a berry to eat from a number determined by how badly their resources were taxed, and one of them would be deadly poison."

 

  "That's awful!"

 

   "Yeah, it's probably a total myth. It's just that there are a lot of berries in the hedgerows, and people around here tend to name their babies after what they see."

 

   "I can tell, those aren't real names! They're plants and things."

 

   Tomo shrugged. "It's how they do things." For the first time I wondered exactly what part of the world we were in. Tomo spoke English, like me, albeit with a strange accent and inflections and contractions.

 

   "Your name isn't like that, though."

 

   Her face went all tight again. "My mum chose it. She came from somewhere else."

 

   "Oh no. She's dead?" Sorrow suddenly tied itself around my windpipe.

 

   She startled out of her thoughts. "Hey, calm down. Lots of people have dead parents."

 

   I couldn't help it; there were tears swelling in my eyes and dropping fatly onto my cheeks. "But that's sad. You're young, too, when did she die?"

 

   "A long time ago. Don't worry about it. Your emotions are going to turn out to be interesting, I have a feeling" she said. "You are the king of emotional stability so far. The queen? Leader? You don't have any genitals, obviously, but do you have a preference?" She asked this whilst collecting some of my tears in a cup, and tasting them on the tip of her finger. "Water. At least you're not leaking any important fluids."

 

   I sniffed and wiped my cheeks off. The sadness cleared as quickly as it came, and I smiled. "I'm a girl. Or I was, I think," I said.

 

   "Interesting," she said again. Then, "How about Sun? For a name. Or Sunny, Sunshine, Sola, Star, Ray-"

 

   "I like Sun," I said. I was thinking of the warmth coming through the window earlier. "Maybe that one."

 

   A new life, then, starting today. And Tomo was all I had in it so far, even if I couldn't trust her yet.

 

   There was a ticklish sensation in the back of my throat and my face stretched into a yawn. Stifling her own subsequent one, Tomo started questioning me and making notes on the screen. Yes, I did feel tired, yes, I did think I could actually fall asleep, quite easily, but no, I didn't know why I might need to. And yes, I'll tell about the experience when I wake up.

 

   This questioning didn't actually seem to be for helping the situation however and after I briefly nodded off sitting on the steps Tomo suggested I sleep in her bed whilst she stayed up to do 'a spot of research'. The stack of books she carried over to her desk looked like a sizable spot but I was too tired to ask, or even to be too concerned about her taking advantage of my unconsciousness to tamper with my brain. So I carried my battery over to the side of the bed and fell in, pulling up the blanket and wriggling until I found a position on my side that the charging plug didn't make uncomfortable. I was asleep quickly.

 

***

 

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