‘Robo-girl’- a collaborative short story (Hot Potato 2013)

2 Dec

 This Summer through an initiative called ‘Hot Potato’ run through ArtiPeeps seven great prose writers worked collectively on one short story passing it to each other on a fortnightly basis over a period of 16 weeks . What you’ll find below is the complete story edited together.  It’s amazing, and a credit to the writers, how one section flows into another with very little editing done to shape it into a whole. The fantastic drawings you’ll see illustrating Robo-girl  are by artist Deborah Sheehy especially drawn for this project. Robo-girl has been turned into a interactive pdf and will be the first story in a published collection of ‘Hot Potato’ collaborative stories in the future. Watch this space!

Robo-Girl

by

B.A. Cooper, Gail Aldwin, C.J.Sullivan,

A.K. Anderson, Laura Besley,

Gwendolyn Salzman & Natalie Elizabeth Beech

Illustrations by Deborah Sheehy

.

Robogirl,  Image by Deborah Sheehy

.

The robo-girl sat on the greyed splintered bones of the pier. Rivulets of rust stained her face ‘n sand had settled in her innards. Something in her stirred, something silently called, urged her forward. Time had sanded away her eyes, but her memory banks held. The carousel horses lay on their sides, but to her they still galloped ‘n happy music circled them. For the robo-girl he had been gone for a nano-second, she could still taste his warm lips, but paths bit into the ancient broad walk from her feet. The sea had faded her color, but her metal ‘n flesh held.

.
She leaned against the remains of the Ferris wheels where a tree once stood ‘n sang. “Keep it down!” the Raccoon growled from her nest in a seat. “Why do you even bother?” a Squirrel chattered from a rooftop, “She never listens”. The robo-girl wandered away ‘n her holograms painted the sagging walls of the pavilion with life: robo-hallucinations; a hundred years since a human voice heard. The robo-girl could hear him, “Step right up, knock down the bottles ‘n win a prize!” The bottles still stood ‘n he was a skeleton buried. The People of Blood, left long ago to spread the stars when their world held no more amusement for them, the fool stayed. That’s what they called Tom, but he was happy ‘n wasn’t alone, he had his girl ‘n a whole world to call his own. They were happy.

.
The robo-girl walked through the funhouse, through the shards ‘n sand her feet ground the mirrors into. Is she dreaming or is she remembering, the Swift wondered? “Is there a difference?” the Swallow cheeped from the rafters. Back when her memory banks were pristine, she smashed all the mirrors of the funhouse after he said goodbye to her with his last breath. With no updates for her head it was full of glitches ‘n bugs. She had forgotten he had left her ‘n she lost her name long ago. Her creaking limbs echoed through the cave that was the arcade, it once sung with pinball machines ‘n children’s shouting. Now the Rat children giggled at the silly clumsy creature crashing through their home. The Owl hooted them into silence ‘n bowed at the robo-girl.

.

Robo-girl, Owl detail, Image by Deborah Sheehy
Owl’s memory was long, but Owl Legend was even longer. She was the last half of The Lovers. The robo-girl walked through the beginning patters of rain, through the softening mud. To her it was a fine summer’s day. She picked a non-existent flower ‘n breathed in deeply ‘n smiled. The robo-girl gently swayed to music only she could hear, crashing through bramble up to a windmill to recharge. The Seagull cawed with laughter at the broken toy. The Dove squawked at him to shut it ‘n cooed with regret, she had lost her mate. Full, the robo girl wandered back to her haunt ‘n the birds resumed their discussion of The Wind.

.
Why doesn’t she leave for another world the Crow child wondered? “The past has blinded her, she can’t see us”, the Crow said to her chick. When the People of Blood left ‘n flared across the universe like a virus, the world they left behind took wing.

*****

Sitting on the beach, the stones lumpy underneath her, Chloe took another lick of ice-cream. The Mr Whippy slid down her throat, cold enough to choke her. Dad pelted pebbles at the empty can. He said the first drink of the day always brought him luck. Clonk, clonk, clonk. Being patient wasn’t in Dad’s nature and Chloe realised she didn’t have long to finish the cornet. Twisting her tongue and swallowing focused her attention. When she was done, she rubbed the sticky remains from her fingers onto her jeans.

.
“That’s my girl.” Dad flung his arm around Chloe’s shoulders and gave her a shake so that her head flopped from side to side. She giggled, it was his way of being friendly. When the sun peeped around the clouds, Chloe enjoyed the warmth. It wasn’t often that Dad brought her to the beach. Sunday’s usually involved trailing after him as he did the round of pubs to see his mates. She got a packet of crisps at each place and by the end of the day, she’d tasted the whole range of flavours.

.
“Can we go on the pier?” She hoped to make the most of this good mood.

“If you like. I’ll give you a ride on the dodgems.”

.
“But I don’t want to go on that pier.” Chloe remembered the last time. Dad had spun the wheel one-handed and driven the wrong way around the track. He’d collided with every other driver and Chloe was so jolted by the end, that her head ached and her legs wouldn’t work properly. “I want to go on the other one.”

.
“No-one goes there. It’s all broken and it closed down years ago. Look at it, one big wave and the whole thing will go under.”

.
“That means we should go now. I could find a gap in the fence. It’d be much more fun.”

.

Chloe and Dad, Image by Deborah Sheehy

.
“Not likely.” Dad took a second can from the pack and springing back the ring, it hissed. He took a few glugs then turned his face to the sun and he closed his eyes. “Think I’ll have a little nap.” He flopped back onto the stones, and the beer spilt.
.
Chloe stared at the old pier, hunched above the waves and she listened to the rattle of her Dad’s breathing. It’d be hours before he was ready to move, so Chloe made a plan. Dad wouldn’t mind if she checked out the pier. He might even be pleased if she discovered a secret entrance. He couldn’t complain then. Not that he usually minded jumping over barriers. He did it often enough at the train station to avoid paying the fare. Turning Dad’s wrist, Chloe read the time on his watch. If she came back within the hour, he’d never know she’d been gone.

.
The stones crunched as she walked towards the promenade and she skipped along the path to the pier’s entrance. Squeezing between the struts of fencing, Chloe wiggled through to the other side.

Chloe travelled the abandoned carnival grounds with tentative steps. With petite feet, she pranced around empty plastic bottles, untouched by time.

She didn’t want to curse herself by making contact with the bottles. It was bad luck. Plastic-making was now forbidden; only reusing existing plastic was allowed. Plastic had been one of the reasons for the Great Exodus.

.
Her daddy had told her many times the dangers of harming the world, from injuring trees to killing animals for sport, not to mention creating waste. So much plastic garbage filled the land and oceans now that the growing number of humans had no choice but to escape to the stars. The small camps of people who stayed behind did the best they could to reuse what was there, to fix what had gone so wrong, but there was just so much of it.

.
As she walked further into the carnival, Chloe’s eyes lit up. She imagined what this magical place might have been like with electricity coursing through it. Often she and her father came upon places that no longer functioned — places like this. Sometimes he would tell her how machinery used to work, and sometimes he would remain silent, almost sorrowful with his eyes so distant. During Daddy’s quiet moments, she didn’t want to make him angry with silly little girl questions. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t still curious.

Passing the round ride with the tent and the horses, she traced the fancy painted word CAROUSEL on the side of it with her fingers. Dust collected on her hands, and she wiped it on her shoe. How did this ride used to work? She imagined the wooden and metal horses, their paint now chipped, had gone around in a circle. Yes, she could see the track just barely now under a film of dirt. How fast had the ride gone? Did the children laugh? Did they have a wonderful time in the Age of Electricity? Were the horses beautiful then, their paint vibrant and fresh?

.
Then she heard it: a sigh.

.
She jumped. Covering her mouth so as not to shout, she froze. Her heart pounded in her chest. The noise she’d heard — it had sounded almost human. Almost, but not quite. And it had come from behind the carousel, over there by the small building with the sign that said ARCADE.

.
All but tip-toeing, she crept toward the building. A movement to her right made her jump again. Another rush of adrenaline coursed down her arms. Be brave, she thought. Be brave!

.
She took one more step, and an ugly grey rat ran from beneath the carousel. Gross!

Had it been the rat she’d heard before? She was sure it had been something else. Something that sounded like —

.
She heard it again: a humanoid sigh that carried a feminine tone, but underneath lay something metallic. It was coming from inside of the arcade; she was sure of it now. Carefully, she peered into the little building and gasped.

.
On the floor beside one of the dusty, defunct games lay what looked like a woman. Only this woman, who was curled in the foetal position, wasn’t a real woman. She had her back to Chloe. Her head was missing a patch of hair. There, instead of a skull made of bone, were wires, stretching across a plate of metal, flashing with spurts of blue light.

.
She took another step closer and reached out her hand, readying herself to touch this strange robotic girl, to somehow rouse her from her slumber.

.
“Chloe, wait!” her father cried from behind her.

.
The Owl saw the child approaching the fence, and wondered what this was about. What new Legend was about to be born?

.
The Owl dove at the glass box inside the arcade. It held a mannequin. And the mannequin held tiny cards. Just as the mannequin had dropped The Lovers through the crack in her box so many years before, she slid another card to the Owl.

.
The Owl picked the card up with her beak and rushed to the rafters to contemplate this new portent, and to observe.

.
Robo-girl’s memories were disturbed by the rush of air and feathers. She realized, sadly, that she was still alone, and sighed.

.
Was she remembering? She thought she heard human footsteps, that she could sense the heartbeat of a person of blood. Oh, how nice it would be to have a friend again. After her Tom had been gone for fifty years, her loyalty circuits were supposed to reboot. A new human could claim her with a simple touch.

.
Robo-girl heard more footsteps, tiny, hesitant. She sighed again. She listened to the tiny footsteps, wondering what child 100 years ago had moved so, to give her a memory this vivid.

.
“Chloe, wait!”

.
A man’s voice echoed through the arcade. Mice and rats, Swallows and Sparrows, Larks and Finches departed in a feathered cloud. Who was this man to destroy their carnival nest? A man. A human man’s voice.

.
Robo-girl slowly pushed her torso into a sitting position.

.
A human man like her Tom. Would he claim her? Would he be kind? Would he want to make love with her on the beach?

Her eyes had long since worn away, the sensors filled with corrosion. She used her other sensors to locate the short, breathing human who was warm, only a few arms lengths away.

.

Robo-girl, detail, Image by Deborah Sheehy

.
“Touch my hand,” she said to the child, holding out her arm. Her voice modulator still worked. She had a lovely human face, Tom had told her many times how lovely she was to him. The child would be drawn to her smile.

.
The small human took a step away from her.

.
“Daddy?” a girl’s voice said, shaking.

.
“Chloe, don’t touch her,” the man’s voice said, his footsteps heavy on the planks.

.
“Just touch my hand, Chloe” she repeated, keeping her voice set on the soft, nurturing tones. She had a lovely human face, Tom had told her many times how lovely she was to him. The child would be drawn to her smile.

.
When she smiled, she heard the child step away again. What was wrong?

.
“What is she, daddy?” the child asked as the adult footsteps grew near.

.
“A discarded toy,” he said, his voice filled with something Robo-girl’s sensors could not register.
“Is she a person?”

.
“No. Stop calling it ‘she’, it is not a woman. It has never been a person.” The adult took a step away. “Come on, Chloe, let’s get out of here. Leave that thing where it is.”

.
The Owl tilted its head and watched as the father and daughter left the fairground.

Robo-girl tilted her head as she listened to their steps and the scrape of their clothes against the gap in the fence.

.
Long after they had gone, robo-girl stood. She shambled to the windmill and recharged her power. Long after the sun stopped powering her solar relays, she followed her newest data, and slipped through the gap in the fence.

.
The Owl pecked at the card from the arcade machine. She wondered what it meant as it fluttered to the wooden floor onto the place where robo-girl had lain.

.
The smiling face of the Star peered up into the night sky.

.
But it was too late. As the echoes of her father’s cries rang out around the abandoned carousel hall, Chloe had already touched the strange robotic girl, with sparks of blue light flashing intermittently out of her open head.

.
“No,” her father whispered.

.
Chloe turned to face her father and looked pleadingly into his eyes, as she had done many times as a child. Am I in trouble? her eyes asked.

.
Her father took a step towards her and as he did the robo-girl moved her arm, which clanged into the dilapidated fence with a thud, sending a ripple around them.

.
Chloe turned away from her father and faced the robo-girl. “Hello?” she asked quietly.

.
“Are you okay?”

.
“Chloe, let’s go,” her father said. “Now.”

.
“But Dad, we can’t just leave her.”

.
“We can.”

.
“How can you be so mean?”

.
“Chloe, you’ve never seen one of these robots before. They were all destroyed before you were born. You’ll need to trust me. We have to go.”

.
Chloe took one last look as the robo-girl stood up, swaying gently on her thick metal legs, and stared straight past Chloe. She turned to see what the machine was looking at: it was her father.

.
“Jeff,” the robo-girl said, in a voice higher and more human than Chloe could ever have imagined.

.
“No,” her father said gently, one hand outstretched as if to ward her off. “My name is Pete. Peter David.”

.
“Darling Jeff,” the robot said. “I’ve missed you.”

.
“I’m Peter, not Jeff.”

The robo-girl started walking towards him, tentatively at first and then more sure on her feet.

.
Chloe looked at her father in confusion.

.
“Run!” he shouted, grabbing Chloe’s hand. They ran through the rusty ruins of the carousel and out into the fresh September air. ‘We need to get to safety and phone it in,” he yelled, between gasps of breath. “They’re all supposed to be dead.”

.
They could hear the heavy footsteps of robo-girl behind them. Ever louder, ever closer.

.
Suddenly she was on top of Peter, forcing him to the ground. Her weight was more than Peter could stand and he was struggling to breath. A flash from robo-girl’s head flew out and killed him immediately.

.
“Dad?” Chloe said. She shook him, but his body was limp.

.
The robo-girl stayed on top of him so close his ribs bent under her weight. Chloe shook his shoulder again. The robo-girl was the only one who reacted. She turned her head slowly the movement a clean pivot on a metallic spine. She blinked at Chloe.

.
“Get off him!” Chloe shouted, and shoved the robo-girl, hard.

.
The robo-girl moved a second later than the push, following the force of will rather than the force of movement.

.
Her father’s face was red and black, and bleeding. Burned from jaw to hair, and swelling while Chloe watched. She shook him again. She wasn’t sure that skin and blood could do that after you were dead, but he didn’t move. He didn’t yell at her to stop her whining, or to stop her shaking, or to stop her stupid little repetitions of his name.

.
“Dad?” she tried one more time.

.
“What happened?” the robo-girl asked.

.
Chloe didn’t answer.

.
“I killed him?” the robo-girl said. Chloe had never heard a sentence so even. Maybe because it should have been broken. Maybe because it was set in contrast to her own voice.

.
“No,” Chloe pleaded.

.
The robo-girl was turning her head again, another clean rotation as she leaned toward her father. She touched him with one finger, drawing a long line down the side of his face. If she noticed the blood on her finger, she didn’t care. She drew the line again with two fingers. It was so clearly a caress, Chloe wanted to slap her hand away. Then robo-girl laid her palm flat against his cheek.

.
A jolt shook her father’s whole body, snapped at Chloe’s hands where she was holding his shoulder. She felt backward after the jolt ended, hands burning, heart pounding.

.
Her father’s body shook again. A third time. A fourth.

.
“Stop it!” Chloe said.

.
The robo-girl didn’t look at her, didn’t stop. Chloe thought she saw her father’s eyes flash open, then clamp shut the way he did when he was four beers in and one thought too heavy.

.
“Stop!” Chloe screamed. She threw herself at the robo-girl. Together they toppled to the side. Chloe stared in surprise. She had expected to feel the impact more, like when she’d tried to push the robo-girl off him before, but it had been like knocking over a stack of cans, each part heavy and disconnected from the rest.

.
The robo-girl blinked up at her. Once. Twice. A third time. A fourth.

.
“Chloe?” she asked, her voice a note too deep. It was perfectly even, and sounded exactly like her name in her father’s mouth.

.
“W-What have you done!?” Chloe squeaked, timidly hovering over her father’s body.

.
“Chloe.” Robo-girl’s voice feminine and nurturing once more “ Jeff was a bad man!”

.
“My daddy was Peter, HE TOLD YOU HE WAS PETER.”

.
“Jeff would trade you as scrap just like he traded me. If Tom hadn’t saved me, I would be just like your father, oil leaking into the sand, parts broken.”

.
“You are just an old unwanted toy!” Chloe bellowed the words from the very pit of her stomach, throwing all the bile and nastiness she could behind the words.

.
“I’m exactly like your daddy, Jeff made me!”

.
Chloe, head now spinning, reminded herself of the grandfather of whom her dad had never dared speak; how he had been abandoned and left by the technologically-obsessed father for pastures new…How he would never even speak his name…

.
“He looked just like Jeff… spoke the same, same nose… same eyebrows same hair… same old beer breath.”

.
Back when he was a young man, Jeff, had built robo-girls and boys and robo-women and robo-men. He was obsessed with the cables the nuts, the bolts, people called him robo-victor, mish-mashing together parts into his beloved robots.

.
He also had a family, a wife he was forced to marry, because she stupidly got knocked up when she was 15 and that annoying little brat Peter. Hardly speaking until one day they shared their first beer, from an aluminium can, the old familiar beneath Jeff’s fingers.

.
“What is it about these… toys? Why do you spend more time with them than with us?” The boy Peter had asked about himself and his mother.

.
“Well.. for starters they speak when spoken to and don’t ask me annoying questions… They don’t get themselves pregnant at 15 and give me a son I don’t want.”

.
Peter left, kicking the parts that would become his father’s new obsession to the ground; scattering them… Not stopping to notice the heavy, stray would-be-robo-organ flailing towards his mother’s head, knocking her to the ground.. cold…

.
“MUM!! SORRY SORRY SORRY.”

.
“I always knew these robots would be the death of me.” She smiled showing her teeth, her dark wit beaming from eyes…

.
“No more beer, you hear me… You will get a headache as bad as mine… I love you Peter” With that she was on the ground… cold…. dead.

.
Peter stared down at his mother’s body. “You see what you did, you see what these things caused… I HATE YOU… I HATE YOU…. I HATE YOU. ”

.
They would never see or speak to each other again.

.
Peter ran and he ran long, not stopping until his legs gave out underneath him. He ran, as he would see Chloe run decades later… On that fateful day when they had decided he was her daddy and she was his daughter and they became each others’ family.

.
“You are just scrap… we should have thrown you into the land years ago… You don’t feel, you don’t bleed, you are nothing like him NOTHING.”

.
“I have his voice now, we share a father, we both love you. “

.
“Feel a beat in my chest?” She asked placing Chloe’s hand across her heart-like circuitry “It doesn’t pump blood, but it feels like your father’s felt against your hand doesn’t it? Jeff made sure I was his most perfect model.”

.
“Nothing.” Chloe defiantly insisted under her breath…

.
“Well, perhaps not” robo-girl resigned. “But, I am at least like you.”

.
Grabbing Chloe by her wrist, robo-girl took her finger and ran it along the middle of Chloe’s right arm… Blue sparks flying, cutting her open down to what should have been bone.

.
“Most perfect until he made you, that is, the beat of your circuits even fooled me.”

.
Chloe looked down, felt a sinking in what she thought was a human stomach, and uttered one single word-

.
“How?”

.
With that… fell a new card, Wheel of Fortune, Owl Legend was again renewed.

.

You can find out more about the writers here:

B.A. Cooper

http://bencooper666.wordpress.com/
@BenCoopEr666

Ben’s Robo-girl section can be found here.

Gail Aldwin

http://gailaldwin.wordpress.com/
@gailaldwin

Gail’s Robo-girl section can be found here

C.J. Sullivan

http://cjsullivanauthor.blogspot.com/
@CJSullivan53

CJ’s Robo-girl section can be found  here.

A.K. Anderson

http://authorakanderson.wordpress.com/

@A_K_Anderson

AK’s Robo-girl section can be found here.

Laura Besley

http://www.laurabesley.blogspot.co.uk/
@laurabesley

Laura’s Robo-girl section can be found here.

Gwendolyn Salzman

http://apprenticenevermaster.wordpress.com/
@ApprNeverMaster

Gwendolyn’s Robo-girl section can be found here.

Natalie Elizabeth Beech

http://natalieelizabethbeech.com/
@nataliebeech

Natalie’s Robo-girl section can be found here.

Deborah Sheehy

http://www.thehoneybeeandthehare.com/
@honeybeeandhare

.

My thanks to all the potatoes concerned in this first collaborative story. Your skill and your talent is apparent.

*If you would like to take part in the next ‘Hot Potato’ in March 2014. Please do get in contact via either the comment box, contact form on the ‘What’s On’ Page, or via @ArtiPeep

Advertisements

3 Responses to “‘Robo-girl’- a collaborative short story (Hot Potato 2013)”

  1. AK December 2, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

    Reblogged this on A.K. Anderson | Science Fiction and Fantasy Author and commented:
    In case you’d like to read all of Robo-girl in once place 🙂

  2. ArtiPeep December 3, 2013 at 4:09 pm #

    Here’s a comment about Robo-girl that I’ve been asked to pass on to the writers, from Gill O:
    ‘”Seamlessly, page-turningly good – kept me gripped from the first sentence right through to the end. Can’t say any more – you have to read it!”

    Thank you Gill, I’ll make sure this is passed on to the potatoes. Your support of this collaboration is very much appreciated.

    Nicky

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Robo-girl | The writer is a lonely hunter - December 3, 2013

    […] to illustrate the work and the final product is now available on the Artipeeps website. Click here to have a read. Another ‘Hot Potato’ project is scheduled to take place during March […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: