Men and Their Toy
On a large, stiff bed facing a wall of windows high above the night-bright city, Dolly sat alone with her new owner. Her red silk robe lay opened and down around her waist. As though etched onto a tombstone that marked the lives she had had with her previous owners, tattoos covered her naked back with wide, blocky letters, centered in one perfect row. Each tattoo stated the owner’s name, the dates of her indenture, and the price paid. At the top: Barol Homonick; 2112 – 2116; $50,000,000. Tersk, her new owner, ran a rough finger down the list from the nape of her neck toward his name between the dimples on her lower back. There, he played his finger around the dash and the blank space for their concluding date. Dolly acted as though it tickled.
“You’re Dolly?” Tersk asked.
“Would you pay so much for someone else?” Dolly asked. She watched for his reaction to her cheek in the window’s reflection. He remained fixated on her back, reading and rereading the list as though checking it against what he knew.
“Others have pretended they were Dolly,” Tersk said.
“I had them killed…their partners, too. They didn’t enjoy their money.”
“I heard that, as well.”
Tersk pinched the back of Dolly’s arm. She winced.
“You say you’re a robot?” Tersk said.
“I am a Toy. I have feelings.”
Tersk stood from the bed, then stepped to the window and peered down at the skyline. He was naked, hairy, a square, brutish man with a bald thumb of a head, his old muscle hidden under new fat.
What Dolly knew of Tersk she had learned from her previous owners, competitors of Tersk’s whom he had ousted from their businesses and killed. As far as she knew, Tersk was as much known for his plain-speaking and lack of imagination as for his savagery.
“I knew those men named on your back,” Tersk said.
Dolly rose from the bed, crossed to Tersk, and pressed her body against his back. She rested her chin on his shoulder.
Lit by footlights far below, a statue of Ceres stretched its arms from atop the Board of Trade building across the street.
“That statue below us,” Dolly said, “at the time it was sculpted, the building upon which it stands was so tall it was unthinkable another would rise to match it and anyone would see the statue’s expression, so they left it faceless. Now, we are so high above it, the effect is the same as if we would be viewing it from the ground.”
A bank of rain clouds slowly shouldered through the crowd of buildings and filled the gaps with the manic, shifting glow rising from the streets, which looked like neon sheet lightning. Ceres disappeared in the cloud cover. Red lights lined antennas atop the heads of those buildings still visible. Almost imperceptibly, Dolly felt the sway of the skyscraper in which she stood. Gusts pushing the storm pushed it, too.
“Why do you hesitate?” Dolly asked. “Lie on the bed, let me attune with you. Afterward, we will be as one.”
“I didn’t tell you to stand,” Tersk said.
Dolly lingered — was this a challenge, a part of Tersk’s game, did he want her to push back and prove her worth? She was not attuned. She returned to the bed and sat facing him.
“The others, your owners,” Tersk said, and faced Dolly, “you were attuned with them?”
“They do not matter,” Dolly said. “I am yours.”
Tersk’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t say that. If for nothing else, they matter if you’re to survive.”
“In that case, yes, I suppose they do,” Dolly said.
“You haven’t forgotten them, have you?”
“I am incapable of forgetting.”
Tersk nodded. “Tell me about them.”
“Where should I start?” She turned her back to Tersk as though inviting him to touch her. It was not the first time she’d indulged an owner in detailing the sum of his conquest.
Tersk approached and touched the name at the nape of her neck. “Barol.”
“Barol was an old man when he commissioned me,” Dolly said, “though his smuggling business was not as widespread and grand as yours is now.”
“Don’t try to flatter me,” Tersk said, and slapped the back of her head. “Tell me the truth. Tell me what I don’t know.”
“As you wish,” Dolly said.
“Barol brought me everywhere with him as an equal, taught me fighting skills so I could protect him, protect myself. He never touched me unless invited. He was shy and soft-spoken, never wanting to make a show of himself. He bathed with scentless soap. He said he sold me to protect me from what was coming. He told me not to be insulted by the price I fetched from Ban Yi. It was for expediency’s sake, he said, nothing else.”
Tersk padded back to the window. “Barol had grown sentimental and slow. And I was young. I had to make a name for myself.”
Dolly faced Tersk’s back. “Does his story make you uncomfortable?”
“Move on,” Tersk said.
“Ban Yi paraded me around like a trophy. He paired me with live women and men to fabricate jealousies and rivalries he could manipulate. He and I often had drinking competitions with scotch older than him. He never asked me to dial down my tolerance so he could win. He liked impossible challenges. It was a fun time. There were always occasions to unpuzzle people and find ways to ingratiate myself, but it was also quite lonely.”
Tersk scoffed, his broad shoulders jumping.
“Do you think I cannot have fun or suffer from lonesomeness?” Dolly asked.
“Ban…Yi.” Tersk spat the syllables. “He was dumb and lucky. Sloppy.”
“And yet it took longer for you to kill him than it took with any of the rest.”
Tersk’s shoulders tensed. “I was learning.”
“As you can see from my back, Ban Yi sold me for more than he had paid,” Dolly said. “He may have been sloppy, but he did some things very right.”
Tersk returned to Dolly’s back and touched the dates paired with Ban Yi’s name. “Ten years. It didn’t seem like so long at the time.”
“Mikhail, the man who bought me from Ban Yi, had no family. ‘They would’ve been a liability.’”
Tersk jumped at the dead man’s cigar roughened Eastern accent coming from Dolly’s soft lips.
“You can do that for each one?” Tersk asked. “For me?”
“I cannot do it for you,” Dolly said. “We are not attuned. Would you like me to speak with their voices from now on? I can tell you their bad jokes. They all had them.”
“No,” Tersk said. “That’d be too much.”
Tersk stared at Dolly, and then sat beside her. His gaze drifted into a daze then back into the room. When he spoke his voice lacked force. “Continue.”
“Mikhail wanted to retire, but there was a war on, and those who would have arms flow freely dogged him. He constantly chewed antacids, which made his breath smell like mint. He and I worked in disguises and subterfuge — I will not presume to detail their intricacies since you found him. He sold me the day before you drowned him. He knew you were close.”
“I almost got you that day, too?”
“Yes. But those who have owned me always regarded me as a commodity to be turned to for large sums of quick cash in a pinch. When your dogs came barking, Mikhail was no different from the rest. He sold me. The nature of frightened men is static. It has saved me and kept me out of your reach until now. There were eleven hours between when Vasil collected me from Mikhail’s yacht and when it went down. Vasil would never say, but I suspect he sold Mikhail’s whereabouts to you.”
“Vasil was cagey and always telling me where to go with certain secrets — contacts, names, locations — if he did not return to our bed. He was a nervous lover, and though he enjoyed pleasuring me greatly, he, himself, was impotent. He wore rubber bands on his wrists, which he snapped for the surety of pain. He was hooked on a cocktail of drugs, you see, which Storch happily supplied.
“Enough,” Tersk said.
“Do I pass your test? Am I who I am?”
“You’re Dolly. But the test isn’t over.”
“Yes, we are not attuned.”
Tersk shifted away from Dolly. “My men are terrified of me.”
Tersk thinned his lips. “But you aren’t?”
“Why would you pursue me from owner to owner if you did not want me?”
“I wasn’t only pursuing you. I wanted everything. And when I started, I couldn’t stop.”
“And now you have everything.”
Tersk opened a nightstand drawer and removed a handgun. “Is it because you’re a robot you don’t fear me?”
“Only you could find and get to those who owned me before. Now, I am in the safest place I could be. All that was theirs is now yours. Who would want to attack you, let alone so much as insult you? What is there to be afraid of?”
“If I shot you?”
“You would have wasted a great sum of money purchasing me.”
“You would die?”
“Why are men always so fascinated with that?”
“My memories would become inert and inaccessible. Everything I have learned from all your competitors, from my entire life, would vanish, and you would not know how they managed to evade you for as long as they did. You would lose a companion who would have known exactly what you wanted, though you would not have known it yourself. Yes, I would die, as you put it.”
Tersk aimed his gun at her, his hand shaking as though fighting an ingrained response to her challenging tone.
“Would you like me to share their secrets with you before you kill me?”
“I would like you to defend yourself.”
“Is that truly what you want?” Dolly asked. “I cannot tell. We are not attuned.”
Tersk thumbed back the handgun’s hammer.
With one graceful motion, Dolly sprang, disarmed Tersk, and tossed him onto the bed, where she pinned him facedown between her vising thighs. Tersk panted in her grip, his ribcage constricting.
“When we are attuned,” Dolly said, “I will not have to guess what you want from what you tell me. I will know.” She eased the handgun’s hammer back to rest and unchambered its round.
“Six men guard this room,” Tersk panted, struggling beneath her.
“I saw them when I was brought in.”
“Such things do not pass my notice,” Dolly said. “Have you so quickly forgotten who I told you I was, who I am?”
“No,” Tersk said, and ended his struggling.
“If I let you go, will you behave?” Dolly asked.
Tersk panted. Dolly disassembled the handgun, then relaxed her thighs and rose to straddle his back. Tersk rolled over and faced her.
“Fuck me,” he said.
“You would attune with me?”
His penis hardened.
Dolly made herself ready for him, warmed her skin, tightened her pores, and dilated her pupils. She exuded a sweet scent which he would link with her forever. She lowered herself onto him.
“Not like that,” Tersk said. “Like them.” He ran a rough finger down the list on her back.
“As I would if you were them?” Dolly asked.
“No,” Tersk said. “As them.”
“As you wish.”
Dolly became demure, as though uncertain where to put her hands, then forceful and unconcerned. She rode him slowly, savoring the feeling, then gave of herself, wanting only for his pleasure.
Tersk lay beneath her, his hard eyes watering, his jaw clenched.
Then Dolly attuned. She saw what he wanted.
She tightened her legs around him and pinned him to the bed. Tersk’s face bunched with shocked confusion, which faded. She circled her arms around his neck and hugged hard, her grip bands of steel. His breath came in stiff gasps against her shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
She pressed her lips to his ear and spoke with the voices of her owners whom he had killed, repeating the same phrase over and over as she crushed the life from him. “You are forgiven.” When she spoke with his voice he violently shook with a shudder of pleasure, and went limp.
Dolly rose from him, checked for his pulse, and closed his eyes. She reassembled the handgun, dressed, and stepped to the wall of windows. Below, the faceless statue of Ceres peeked through the dull sheet of clouds.
Dolly strode to the intercom and pressed the button connecting her to the six men in the nearby room.
“Another fraud,” Dolly said with Tersk’s voice. “Come and get her out of here.”
She listened at the door for their approach. When it came, it sounded like freedom.
Jacob A. Boyd lives in Eugene, Oregon with his wife and two dobermans, where he helps run No Shame Eugene theater with a growing circle of friends. His work has appeared in ChiZine, Daily Science Fiction, and Interzone, as well as other fine publications. He also has stories forthcoming in volume 28 of the Writers of the Future anthology and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Links to his stories and stage work can be found at his blog: http://jacobaboyd.