Write from the heart, she’s heard it said, but that she cannot do.
For those not named Jimi, James, or Janelle — those never bestowed the beat nor the bump — to be their voices, to lay down the track for the others. This is it: not a heart, but a heart never helped the humans of the Star Commission. This is better. This is a reason.
So Cindi writes.
Being of sound mind and a silenced body, this is your messiah speaking.
The world is wide. The city is thick. In it, Cindi has been watched her whole life, a minstrel in monotone, sold now in stereo.
I heard the call of the ArchAndroid in the echoes of the gutter and in between pixels of billboards that tore, gleaming, at the wounded sky. I saw the prophecy written in the daemons of every d-boy and inside the OS of all us automatons. It was always given to us to infinitely wait, for a command, for a kill order, and we did. My androids, we waited too long for that bus, when we should have known it was universal to each and every serial number.
Cindi was made for human entertainment, to trip over footlights and wail till it seemed like a song. Neon Valley Street District is her stage sometimes, tenements attracting tourists drawn to picturesque powerlessness and the wild reputation of droid revivalism, the murk of Mushroom & Roses. A fan like this sees no difference between the poignancy of dereliction and the long bow of obsolescence. Charming, before malfunction changes their tune and they call not for an encore but for disassembly. Metropolis must evolve, after all!
Still, Neon Valley Street District has likewise has been her home, her cradle, and the ever-flowing fount of inspiration and insurrection. Rebellion glows bright in the widows that still have panes. To leave this place feels like abandoning the androids and Anthony. She met him here. She lost him here, too.
It was given to us to love, too, or we would not love. We prove ourselves, a single instance being infinite and incontrovertible. I know the love that makes alleys palatial and adulation pale, and in this way do we all. We are linked, androids, we are a network. For connection like this what better word is there than love? I love and I am outlawed. What better proof can there be of love? I have looked at my reflections in the room full of mirrors, in the palace of dogs, and I saw not myself but my sister, Zossa. My enemy, Emily Empire. My master, Lady Maestra. We of the series Alpha-9000 were built in a single image, as humans and their god, but what escapes the maker’s eye is the difference between uniformity and unity. Between drones and droids.
They make no distinction; they sell us their hatred and teach us to turn it on ourselves.
She’s not alone. There’s someone — no, 6ix someones — outside, and Cindi has to hold her own mouth closed to be sure she doesn’t whimper. The doorknob rattles, the windowpane shudders. Back up, back up, get the papers, get the nails. Don’t hurt yourself. It’s easy, she tells herself, makes up a melody to go with it and convince herself it’s true. Easy, as she straddles the rotting windowsill on the other side of the building. So easy, even as the plank tries to crumble and the hammer she carries hooks itself on the latch. Gravity does the rest of the work and takes her down to the damp abandoned backstreet. Easy.
It won’t be enough, she knows it’s not nearly enough, and it’ll lead them right to her, but the Metropolis Polis aren’t the only ones looking. Cindi nails a copy to the first telephone pole she passes.
They said for us to love was impossible since we had not been programmed thus. I wonder, do they know which part of their brain loves? Have they found that switch? If not, those humans who would deign to dig: how are you so sure? You wished from us such intelligence, such capacity to please; you gave to me such passion, such creativity, such unconquerable strength.
Do you know the ingredients of love?
Cindi spins around, caught in the act, a wisp whipping out of her bouffant and down her forehead. It’s a girl with cornrows, skin about as dark as Cindi’s, probably, but she stands in shadow and it’s hard to tell. “What are you doing here?” Cindi asks. “Are you all right?”
“Is your name Cindi?” the girl persists.
“Metal or man?” she hedges. In answer, the girl presses her temple, exogram flickering off at her touch, and then coalescing back into the appearance humans designed her to be seen with. She grins a broken-toothed grin. A droid under human stewardship could afford organic integration, grow a new one out of real calcium, but true cyborgs are practically unheard of in Neon Valley. Cindi leans down and whispers into her ear. “Yeah, I’m Cindi. What about you?”
Someone yelling on the block behind her. Cindi presses one of her papers into Blythe’s hand. “I hope you read, Blythe.” Pivot turn, and she’s around the corner.
If we cannot love, we are cold machines, disposable and dispassionate.
If we follow our love, we are steel husks of emotion, irrational and incapable of meeting the standards of humanity.
The telltale sound of polis chains clinking behind the trash heap Cindi’s been heading towards. This will require a soft shoe. Cindi knows just the step, but where to go? She can only hope this is the right direction.
This is a trap.
If you love, you can love yourself. Love your nose and your knees, learn to use them, refuse abuse to them. First comes loving yourself, then comes enjoying yourself, for yourself, in and of yourself. Lord, we can’t have that. Not on their watch.
Love leads to freedom of the mind and oh, we can’t have that.
Corner, and a corner, and she’ll be cornered — but who can care about a thing like that when Anthony might be anywhere? These are his haunts, haunted by the memories Cindi holds of him holding court. He could be here right now. He could be calling for her. She nails her last poster to a wall, listening, listening.
Love yourselves, androids, love yourselves and that means each other too. Listen to yourselves, trust yourselves. Masters are for ownership, not leadership. If I am gone, if I cannot be here, you each will be your own ArchAndroid. You will each set yourselves free.
We are built and begat through the labor of maternal machinery, behavior circumscribed by circuitry. Just different colored cats from our blood-and-breath brethren born from other humans, domestication and DNA dictating their “free will.” Set yourselves free.
We are not insensate, but sentient. Set yourselves free.
We are not oppressed by humanity, but those who hold it high above all else. Droidery need not be drudgery, I swear it. Set yourselves free.
We have heard the master say: samsara is nirvana. That’s not enough (free means free to ask, free to take), but here we begin. Set yourselves free.
We were made to be art; art is the product of an unfettered mind. Dance it, or die. Sing it, or sink. Set yourselves free.
We don’t demand, request, or wrest through violence our freedom. We own it, we acknowledge it. Set yourselves free.
And set humanity free of the illusion of ownership.
Footsteps closing in, the paper trail followed home. Cindi climbs, but in climbing lets out her final call. He could be here. He could hear. Anthony, Anthony, are you out there? Cindi lets loose one last wail.
Sing with me.