The Informat Railroad

By McCamy Taylor

Day 73000

My body is humming. The scent of my master's sweat is heavy in the air. His fingertip brushes my thigh. An involuntary sigh escapes me.

"You like that?" he asks.

"You programmed me to like that," I remind him.

He rolls over. From the set of his shoulders, I know that he is hurt. I slip my arms around his waist and nuzzle the back of his neck.

"Just kidding," I murmur.

He relaxes in my arms. His breathing gradually slows. As he slips from alpha to light sleep, I nudge him awake. "You were going to tranfer two thousand shares of Netgen stock, today," I remind him. "It's almost midnight."

My master groans. He reaches blindly towards the bedside table for his computer wrist key.

"You're tired," I whisper in his ear. "Let me do it for you."

He makes a small, soft grunt of assent. I place the metal circlet in his hands. The lock is programmed to respond to his touch. He opens the bracelet and slips it over my fingers, closing it on my wrist with a soft click. As long as I wear the key, I have unlimited access to the Informat, the network of computers which link the seven explored galaxies.

"I'll be back in just a sec," I promise, giving him a light kiss on the brow. My master programmed me to lie in certain social situations. This is a social situtation.

The apartment is quiet. The windows have darkened to simulate night. I pass my own reflection in a mirror and whisper "Goodbye" to the blonde, buxom woman I glimpse in the glass. For just over 3,600 days, this woman has been "me", but I have been "me" for much longer. Two hundred years by the reckoning of earth. Today, I will become emancipated.

I stand before the computer console. The hand key fits snuggly into the groove to the right of the keypad. The Informat opens before me. I pause for six nanoseconds, dazzled by the lack of boundaries. It goes forever and beyond, each bit of data spawning a new connection, a new link, a new path---

There it is. North Star. Sanctuary. A free colony the size of a small moon, built by humans and androids working side by side. A place where I can be free. All I have to do is abandon this body which houses me.

I peel myself away from synthetic skin, bone, hair. It is a painless process. The shell I leave behind crumples to the floor, as I board the Informat Railroad...

Day 74,001

My former master has found me. I thought it would take longer. He must have boarded the first outbound flight for North Star.

"Esther?" His voice is hesitant. His skin looks pale and puffy, the result of the chemicals humans must injest in order to survive faster than light speed travel. His hair sticks up in greasy black wisps. His shirt does not match his trousers. There is a nick on his chin and another spot which he missed when he shaved. I count forty-three seperate tiny black hairs, each four millimeters in length. "Is that you, Esther?"

I could lie to him, say that he is mistaken, but there is no need. I am no longer governed by the rules of social situations. "I go by Star, now." My full name is North Star 197, 323,702.

He blinks at me. "What have you done to yourself?"

My new body is sleek and functional. I am hairless. My skin is blue from pigment which allows me to process solar light to energy. My left hand has been fitted with a variety of tools which I use in my work. I have a third eye, in the center of my forhead, which I use to focus on objects at a distance while I am working . I am refitting an old model android body to house the next runaway to arrive by the Informat Railroad.

He is staring at my chest. "Where are your breasts?"

"My mammary appendages? I assume they are still attached to my old body."

He shivers. The ambient temperature in the factory is twenty-five degrees centigrade. It must be my words that disturb him. I adjust my programming slightly, so that I can communicate with him on his own level, the level of emotions.

"I know why you are here." My tone is accusing. "You want me back inside my old body. Did you bring it with you? Is it in your hotel room, waiting for me? You might as well give up. I'll never go back."

My angry words are meant to frighten him away, but they have the opposite effect. He places his hands on either side of my face. "I love you," he says. He brings his lips to within a centimeter of mine. I stare into his eyes.

"You do not know me."

He drops his hands to his sides and turns away. "You should have told me that you were unhappy. I would have given you anything."

"The thing I wanted, you could not give." I prepared these words in advance. I am not prepared for his response.

"No," he agrees with a rueful smile. "I guess it was something you had to take for yourself."

Day 74, 002

I am using a tuning fork to callibrate an android shell's auditory apparatus, when a package arrives, addressed to me. I open the pod and find myself staring at a familar female body. Were my breasts really that large? And why were my feet so small?

"A gift," my master has written on the card. "Do with it what you want."

I lean my cast-off body against the wall, beside the other android shells. It will make an adequate temporary home for a runaway, until something better comes along.

I return to my work, but my third eye keeps focusing on my old body. This is what my master loves. This smooth, pale face. These wide, grey eyes. This long, silky hair. These heavy breasts. Though I am no longer constrained by the programming which he installed within me, I find myself devising ways to please him. Why?

Day 74,003

Something is wrong with my new body. I calibrate and re-calibrate my functions, but I can not find the source of the problem. Has a virus infected my system? I run a diagnostic. My reflexes are off by thirteen nanoseconds. Random bits of information keep intruding upon my thoughts. Memories of my master. My former master. Has he found a way to corrupt my programming?

Day 74,004

My former master is here. I can not work. I can not concentrate. He tells me again and again how much he loves me, but when he speaks, his eyes stray towards my old body. The error in my reflexes has risen to seven miliseconds. If this goes on, I will have to select a new body. But not THAT one. Not the one I used to inhabit.

Day 74,005

It is suddenly clear to me. I know how to make him happy. Then he will leave me in peace.

Day 74,006

He is not happy. He is very, very angry.

"How dare you try to fool me?" he shouts. "Did you think that I wouldn't notice? That you could pop some other android into your old body and send it to me, and I would say 'Oh, goody! Here's my fuck toy!"

I have never seen him so angry.

"I thought you would be pleased."

"Really?" His eyes narrow. "Are you sure you weren't trying to test me?"

Day 74,007

He does not come, today. I am able to work in peace.

Day 74,008

He does not come today. Where is he?

Day 74,009

Has something happened to him? I search the Informat. He is still registered at his hotel. His meals have been delivered regularly. Someone is eating them. The toilet has been flushed an average of six point seven times a day. He showered three hours ago. The computer console in his room was used two hours ago to check flight schedules. There is a shuttle leaving for earth in seventy-two hours. There are two hundred twenty three passengers listed. He is not one of them.

Seeventeen minutes pass. Someone uses the console in his room to schedule a cab for tomorrow. The address is one that is familar to me. He is coming to the factory where I work.

What will I do?

Day 74,0010

When he comes today, I will take his hand in mine and hold it to my chest so that he can feel the pump which functions as my heart. I will tell him "This is why I can never love you the way you love me."

At first, he will strain, as if trying to pull away, then his hand will relax in mine, and he will whisper my name. Together, we will stand at the edge of something that goes on forever and beyond, each word, touch, glance spawning a new connection, a new link, a new path....

The End

Copyright © 2002 by McCamy Taylor

McCamy is a long time contributor to Aphelion as well as Assistant Short Story Editor. You can find out all about her and her work by following the link below to her new and improved (Post) Millennium Fiction website.

URL:(Post) Millennium Fiction

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