Her skin is pale with a hint of blue, like a porcelain doll crafted by a mortician’s hand. Crystalline-like eyes sit in sockets too large for her pixie-like skull and when she brings the poison apple to her lips for dramatic effect, she looks human. But she’s not. She’s a Dolbot: G-43 model, the most realistic android in production. For me, they aren’t hard to spot. I build them for a living.
People shove past me to get a photo of her and the other cosplay princesses. The cosplay competition finals are today and I don’t know what aggravates me more: the fact that the competition finals are today or the cheating competitors. This shit happens every year. The rich and privileged pass Dolbots off as live contestants.
I march in the direction of some patrons loitering near a giant, cardboard Optimus Prime. My brass armor gleams under the amber lights of the hotel ballroom and I swing my sword high above my head, pretending to strike a fatal blow to the enemy. A bald man dressed as a clown (who looks more like a grasshopper in a fruit dress) wraps his arthritis ravaged hands around a balloon animal. He stares at me while a much younger man eyes that damned Snow White.
To stir the crowd’s attention back to me, I remove a dagger from my belt and pretend to throw it. My palms are layered in nervous sweat. The dagger slips from my grip, bumping and hopping on my fingertips before its final dive to the floor. When I lean over to retrieve it, a bobby pin slips out of place. The right side of my costume wig falls away from my head. The rest follows suit when I stand erect.
Stupid, Nora. Stupid, Nora.
A few of the other cosplayers giggle. Incontinent Clown can’t manage to hold in his mighty guffaws.
A boy wearing a Batman mask turns to his friend, “That’s a raw Xena costume, but she can’t act the part.” He avoids eye contact as soon as he notices my malevolent expression and I resist the urge to ask Old Man Clown if he needs a lift back to the nursing home, or the funeral home. It’s hard to tell.
Mr. Steam, the director of the cosplay competition, weaves through the crowd. He smiles and hands out compliments and good luck wishes. He’s the type of man who knows where to find the best hookers and cocaine and nothing else. Steam inherited his idiocy and has never struggled financially. He’s one of the most selfish lovers I’ve ever had, an insufferable douche bag. I could go on for days.
I use my sword to make a trail, slapping the side of the blade on the stomachs, thighs, and legs of those in my path. People move and glare. I’d glare in return but I’ve got a bone to pick with Fuckface Steam.
My black wig dangles from my fingers like a severed head. I approach Steam and plant my feet wide.
“And what can I do for you, Ms. Nora?” For once he doesn’t call me “Beast,” my pet name.
“Snow White’s a Dolbot.” I point to the pixie head with the apple.
“Don’t ask don’t tell, am I right?” he shrugs with a joker’s grin.
“It’s against the rules.”
“Just enjoy yourself and quit being so, so serious.” He’s whispering now.
I clench my jaw. “How is it fair to compete with something that’s made to the same specifications as a fictional character?”
“Look, Beast,” he says with slipping patience. “Snow White’s owner lost his wife to cancer last year. Cosplay was her thing. I’d be a cruel man to disqualify him.”
“But it’s cheating.”
His red painted lips, like two earthworms, stretch into a smirk. I can feel the veins protrude from my neck as I hate when Steam blows out excuses, as common as he exhales. Bullshit is the permanent stench of his breath.
“I already allow you to use real weapons with your costume. What more do you want?” The flippant bastard pats my armor and then fades into a group of Ninja Turtles and anime bullshit. He’s likely received a generous donation from the Dolbot’s owner.
I feel like grinding my teeth to dust.
Snow White saunters past the water wall and ascends a curvy staircase that twists in the middle of two floors. Her short, vintage hair style bobs behind a massive white collar. I need a break too, but only until the judges announce the winner of the competition.
When she reaches the top of the stairs, she crosses the hallway and disappears into the ladies’ room.
The bathroom door is a heavy, wooden behemoth but I quietly pry it open. An apple and a yellow clutch lie on the counter near the sink. The sound of fluid hitting the toilet behind the only occupied stall gives away her position. She must be draining that crappy apple cider they’ve been serving.
I lock the heavy door behind me with a click, click. I set down my wig and wait like a tiger in tall grass. The toilet flushes. I hear the adjustment of her thousand-layered petticoat under waterfalls of satin. I yank the melee ax from my belt.
I wield the ax and bring it down with brute force. Her head drops to the floor with a wet thud. The rest of her body falls back into the stall. A ribbon of smoke rises from the Dolbot’s detached head.
I kneel and dip my fingers into the bluish-black blood that smells like burnt plastic. Her beauty doesn’t falter, even as a severed head. Stupid android. The engineers at the plant would have my head for this. I laugh at my pun. I possess a talent of assembly or rather disassembly and do not appreciate the design as they do.
The bathroom is quiet and slightly reverberant. Water drips from the faucet. The chrome air freshener mounted on the wall spits out a single bubble. It floats to the center of the room and bursts with a scent of sage and lavender. Strange, as I enjoy the mixed smell of nature and burnt Dolbot.
I guess I didn’t need the poisoned apple. The thought makes me chuckle. The Dolbot’s head jerks with a sharp, sudden, twitch and I jump. My elbow bangs on the neighboring stall and I fall backwards onto my ass. Her eyes lock with mine. She’s terrified. Her mouth opens and her bottom lip quivers like a child in need of her mother. That’s not supposed to happen. Dolbots aren’t sentient.
Her eyes flicker back and forth. It makes a sickening mechanical sound. I can’t make sense of it. Her head falls silent again.
The armor feels heavy on my shoulders. My ax and nose point to the tile. I’m conflicted. The image of the Dolbot’s last moment clings to my mind like an iron cobweb. I’ve disabled hundreds of Dolbots and I’ve never witnessed that reaction.
I use the tip of the ax to rotate the head so I can inspect the inside. The main cerebellum circuit, normally mounted at the base of a Dolbot’s skull, is missing.
A lump rises in my throat but I swallow it down, nearly choking. I drag the body from the stall and use my dagger to cut the skin away from the forearm. Inky fluid bubbles out. The serial number, etched in the metal radius, reads 978-0553382563. It doesn’t belong to any Dolbot from the factory. The prefix 978 belongs to a new series of Dolbots named “Star16.” They’re designed to host a human consciousness after a person dies.
But they haven’t been built yet. This technology hasn’t even entered its testing phase. I remind myself that the Dolbot’s owner bought his way into the competition and likely other avenues. I’m a factory worker, a peon. I’m not surprised the corporate executives have kept their sphincters tight to avoid a cash leak, or jail time, or both.
My eye twitches.
I stare at the mangled Star16. So what if it had a mind of its own? Cheating is still against the rules. They both should have known it would upset the other competitors. Despite efforts to calm myself, my heart gallops like a spooked mare.
I pick myself up off the floor and wash my fingers in the nearest sink. I splash water on my face and look in the mirror. My reflection stares back. The dim lights and the fine, smoky haze from the initial axing make it hard to see the tears. I can feel them, I know they are there.
Someone pushes the bathroom door from the other side and the lock catches. They try again, one more time. “The hell is this locked?”
I recognize that whiny, dainty voice. It’s Cinderella. That woman would not only turn me in, she’d masturbate to the memory of my punishment.
“Someone in here?” Cinderella knocks again. I hear her slap an open palm against the door like a little bitch. My hand could cover her entire face but I still won’t chance the conniving wrath of a privileged brat who probably buys glitter toilet paper.
She presses her body against the door.
I didn’t plan this. My brain shoots into overdrive.
As I bolt towards the last stall, my sandal catches the slick, inky Dolbot blood and I skid to the wall. The next room over is the storage room. I’ve stashed props in there on many occasions.
I raise my axe and hit the wall as if I’m chopping wood. The wall does not protest and immediately gives way. Cinderella fights with the door. I fight with the wall. Each hit glides effortlessly through; I kick and punch out more chunks of wood and dry, powdery crap. Between blows to the wall, I can hear someone talking to Cinderella and jingling keys.
The hole is barely large enough for me to fit through. As I slink into a dark room my armor catches on a jagged piece of wood. I free myself by shaking like dog fresh out of the pool. The room smells like dank blankets and stale laundry detergent. Metal shelves are stacked so high that I cannot see the tops. There is a red EXIT sign glowing above a door that isn’t visible.
I slam my body below the EXIT sign and pray everything works out. I stumble into a narrow hallway and head for the outdoor escape, another exit sign with a visible door.
Move feet, move.
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
It’s sprinkling outside and the cool air whips against my face. A fire escape made of diamond-sheet metal greets me. Zipping down its zigzag design to the parking lot below, I don’t slow down enough to realize the rain has made it considerably slicker. As I round the last corner, my feet slide out from underneath me and I fall sideways on my left knee and one of the fire escape’s raised diamonds penetrate my skin, my axe clanging against metal.
Pain explodes through my knee and warmth trickles down my leg. I get back up and don’t slow down. I have to reach the trees on the east side of the parking lot. I need to hide. Beating my legs hard against the asphalt, I concentrate on the goal, the forest, my haven.
My concentration is interrupted by someone’s verbal whistle. A man screams, “Yeah! Go Xena!” He’s standing next to his shitty, yellow car about twenty-yards from me, no costume, just a fan of the convention. The idiot draws the attention of others.
An umbrella dotted crowd is lined up outside. They hear this asshole whistling and rubber-neck, trying to figure out what the fuck is happening. As soon as they spot me running, they erupt in cheers.
Inky fingers, powdery upper body, blood dripping down my leg, I’m a mess, a real warrior princess.
I point my ax up towards the gray, pissing sky. This makes me happy.
They clap and whistle as I approach; the ax held behind my head, ready to smash a fucking skull. I smear blood from my knee down my face starting at my forehead and working it down. It’s beautiful. The crowd screams louder. Home run. I pass so close to the line that they hold out their hands and I high five them as I fly by. I want to stop but fear pushes my legs forward towards the forest haven.
Turning the corner of the building sucks, my knee protests but that is the least of my worries. The forest lies straight ahead. I know I need to disappear, but I have to listen for them. Are they coming? How close are they? How many cops did they summon? All I can hear is the distant whoosh of a car as it passes on the freeway.
Oh shit. I throw up my hands and bury my face in their powdery inkiness. My wig is still in the bathroom. Fuck me. No one else could have chopped their way through that wall. I’m missing from the contestant line-up. I complained to Steam about Snow White, who is now dead on a hotel bathroom floor. All evidence points to me.
I think of Steam.
He’s my only ally. He’s an idiot but can pull major strings. If I can just get back into the building and speak with him in private, this situation can be corrected. I’ll suck his dick, he’ll give me a pearl necklace, hell, I might let him fuck me, and the truth will magically disappear. He’s quite a trickster, that guy, a real Joker.
I smile. Before I embark on the next adventure to locate Steam, I need to take a little detour.
I have time for one more lap.
Bio: Clara Brown is a speculative fiction writer and blogger from Phoenix, Arizona. She created the website “Suck My Words” as a platform for topics such as fiction, religion, science, philosophy, activism, and sex.